Coming into this College Hockey season, there were very few “new age” programs at the top of the polls. Denver, who’s got just as many national championships as anyone else sat at number one. Minnesota, who’s arguably got the most storied program in the country was number two. Neither of those teams are really in any danger of missing the national tournament at all. The rest of the pre-season top ten is largely another story. Q-Pac and Michigan are totally fine and still in the running for a 1-seed themselves. Minnesota State and Notre dame are fighting near the cutoff for at-large bids. Then you’ve got the likes of North Dakota, UMD, Northeastern, and UMass who are all on the outside looking in today. Many of these teams are making a strong push to finish the season, but only time will tell if it’s too late or not.All of those surprises in the world of College Hockey have made room for “new bloods” among the “blue bloods” in the sport. Among those teams are the likes of Penn State, who didn’t even have a D1 program until 2012, but is now able to compete with anyone one the ice. They’ve embraced the sport as a major asset to their university and treated it as such. Because of that, they’ve seen rewards on their investment. They encourage students and alumni to attend and cover it on social media as well as anyone for those that can’t. Sure, they get the benefit of playing in the Big 10 where they’re more TV money and built in exposure than anywhere, but you’ve seen other schools follow their lead because of how well they’ve done. With more parity in the sport than ever before, NOW is the time for programs to invest if they want to be taken seriously.
Explaining the Minnesota Rankings:
1. University of Minnesota – Gophers
The Gophers DEMOLISHED Sparty over the weekend. The two wins may have been expected by the elite hockey minds like myself, but the manner in which they won was simply disrespectful. The 6-3 drubbing that took place on Saturday could only be outdone by the 8-0 embarrassment on Friday. This is what you should expect from this roster when the team is running on all cylinders.
2. St. Cloud State – HuskiesAnother weekend this year where the number one program in the nation GOT SWEPT BY AN UNRANKED TEAM. That’s right, the Bulldogs of Minnesota Duluth took the opportunity presented to them and humbled St Cloud. Remember when some idiots were complaining about how little coverage the Huskies were getting for being number one?
3. Minnesota State – Mavericks
The Mavs keep on trucking. They are 8-0-0 in their last four series and undefeated in the 2023 calendar year. Sure, those wins came against teams with a combined 40-64-5 record, but that is besides the point. Wins are wins in this sport and that’s what all the Minnesota State fans will tell you.
4. University of Minnesota, Duluth – BulldogsTHE UMD BULLDOGS JUST SWEPT THE NUMBER ONE TEAM IN THE NATION! It was just their third sweep of the year, but with the wins, the Bulldogs went from 32 to 24 in the pairwise rankings. Not only that, but they are now the only team in the nation other than Michigan who’s swept two teams currently ranked in the top 12.
5. Bemidji State – Beavers
Believe it or not, Bemidji split another weekend series. At this point, you could set your watch to it. Hell, with all of the errors in the calendar throughout human history, it may be more consistent than time itself.
6. St. Thomas University – Tommies
The streak is over. St Thomas failed to come out of a weekend series with a win or tie for the first time since November 19th. Because of that, the Tommies fall back down to 7th place in the CCHA, just 7 points ahead of Lake Superior State.
National Rankings Roundup
This is the *checks notes* 908,734th time I’ve brought up the detrimental effect of being ranked number one in the country. St Cloud has taken a four spot tumble by most analysts, after being atop the polls last weekend before promptly being swept by UMD. Cornell and Harvard continue to do their part for ECAC alongside Quinnipiac. Should all three keep this level of play up, it would be impossible not to see all of them deep into March. Near the bottom of the polls, Merrimack continues to fall in the ranks and has now found themselves on the outside of the national tournament, looking in should the season end today. Conversely, Northeastern hasn’t lose since New Years day and is STORMING their way up the Pairwise and the Hockey East standings, sitting just one point behind Boston University.As always, rankings that deviate from the average (high or low) are highlighted for transparency. The Pairwise impact on polls is becoming more and more evident as the deviations are harder to find. While there’s still some flaws in the system, it’s gotten just about everything right and is the best system used in all of college athletics. If you don’t think so, DM me on IG or Twitter and I’d be happy to tell you why you’re an idiot.
Note: The National Rankings RoundupTM weighs each of the ranking sources instead of treating them all as equal. This takes into account the credibility of source, potential committee influence, what data they utilize, evident bias, and amount of teams ranked.
Minnesota College Hockey Games
#10 Western Michigan @ Minnesota Duluth – Fri & Sat, Feb 3/4
24.1 – PP% – 26.1
74.8 – PK% – 77.7
50.7 – FO% – 48.1
1.595 – GF/GA – 0.868
.895 – SV% – .897
Vibes: The Bulldogs are HOT right now. They’re on their FIRST (!!) three-game winning streak of the entire season. Considering they’re a team that was ranked #5 to start the season, that is an absolutely WILD stat. Those wins coming from defeating conference rival North Dakota before sweeping (then) number one St Cloud State were no easy task either. That type of effort, puck luck, and sustained pressure is going to be needed again in order to continue the climb.
While Western Michigan has the top scoring line in all of College Hockey, the talent doesn’t stop there. Mcallister (40), Polin (35), Sasson (31), Grainger (27), Galambos (22), and Berger (22) ALL have more points than UMD’s point leader Ben Steeves (20). Where Western succeeds on offense with their tenth-ranked power play and scoring more goals than any other team, they fail on defense. They’ve got the six WORST penalty kill in the nation and near average goaltending. If UMD is able to find a way to stifle the offense, their chances of success SKYROCKET. The Broncos are 0-6-1 in games where they’ve been kept to three points or less on the season.
Prediction: Bulldogs maintain their streak, hitting four in a row before succumbing to the firepower of the Bronco’s top line on Saturday.
#12 Michigan Tech @ Bemidji State – Fri & Sat, Feb 3/4
14.2 – PP% – 23.8
88.6 – PK% – 79.8
46.0 – FO% – 47.7
1.367 – GF/GA – 1.015
.924 – SV% – .901
Vibes: Michigan Tech may be the most one-sided team in the country. They’re the exact opposite of Western Michigan, outlined above. Tech’s got the ninth-worst power play in the country, but boasts the nations top penalty kill. A lot of that can be attributed to their STELLAR goaltending from Blake Pietila, who is absolutely in the Richter conversation who’s got two more shutouts than any other goalie in the country.
Luckily for Bemidji, scoring a lot of goals is not usually their key to victory…or is it? For a squad that’s known for the trap scheme and defensive play, Bemidji has only won THREE games while scoring three or fewer goals this season. One of those games was decided in overtime as well. All of that stacked against them, this Beavers team has swept Mankato and beaten St Cloud State in addition to beating and tying Tech earlier in the season already. These Beavs maintain their long-standing reputation as being one of the peskiest teams in the sport.
Prediction: Tech is the better and more complete team but until I’m proven wrong, I’m legally obligated to call for a Bemidji State Split.
St Thomas @ #13 Minnesota State – Fri & Sat, Feb 3/4
17.0 – PP% – 25.7
79.2 – PK% – 84.1
47.9 – FO% – 58.8
0.739 – GF/GA – 1.576
.894 – SV% – .902
Vibes: This lopsided matchup is not at all what St Thomas needs after a tough weekend in the desert. Minnesota State is on an 8-game heater and still hasn’t lost in 2023. They’re #1 in the CCHA and don’t look like they’re in any position to be giving that spot up. St Thomas can take some solace in the fact that they had the Mavericks on the ropes in both games earlier this season, but need to forget how both those games ended. They won’t be able to beat Minnesota State in the physical game, so they’ll need to keep their heads and play smarter hockey. Sacrifice the body a little bit in big situations and anything can happen in College Hockey. Well…almost anything.
Prediction: I know it’s been close this year and St Thomas has come a long way…but Mankato fans celebrate two more wins.
Miami @ #5 St Cloud State – Fri & Sat, Feb 3/4
18.0 – PP% – 26.0
74.4 – PK% – 76.0
45.3 – FO% – 52.6
0.520 – GF/GA – 1.596
.882 – SV% – .915
Vibes: I really thought the St Thomas vs Minnesota State series was tilted one way, but this series is as one-sided as it really gets in terms of stats. Miami has really fallen off as a program since it’s back-to-back appearance in the frozen four in 2009/2010. They had a few bright spots, making it to the NCHC championship game in 2014 before winning it in 2015, but promptly lost to 4-seed providence and have never fully recovered. One of the few teams that can relate to losing as a 1-seed like that is their opponent this week, St Cloud!
All joking aside, the Huskies are sure to come out hot. They’re back on the ocean that is their olympic-sized home ice, coming off of a devastating weekend, looking for two statement wins. I’m honestly not sure what the line(s) or spread are on this game, but I would HIGHLY doubt it’s big enough for anyone to take the Redhawks. Look, it’s the NCHC so anything can happen but Miami’s already earned their miracle win this season. Expecting it to happen again seems foolish.
Prediction: Huskies come back with a vengeance, taking both games convincingly.
Other College Hockey Games to Watch
#2 Quinnipiac vs #8 Harvard – Fri, Feb 3rd
25.2 – PP% – 22.1
81.3 – PK% – 86.7
56.5 – FO% – 52.0
2.125 – GF/GA – 1.580
.917 – SV% – .913
Vibes: The only ECAC rematch that REALLY matters. If Q-Pac, Harvard, and Cornell all played 10-games of one-on-one-on-one against each other, I think the Bobcats would take four, with both the Crimson and Big Red earning three wins each. I know that sounds crazy with how much hype Quinnipiac has been getting this year, but the numbers don’t lie. Q-pac has beaten Harvard. Harvard has beaten Cornell. Cornell has beaten Q-pac. It’s really a vicious circle for these programs. Q-Pac and Cornell have the advantage in net with Perets and Shane, but Harvard’s got the upper hand down the middle with their size, talent, and experience. I know this’ll come as a shock, but I’m not the biggest fan of east-coast hockey. They get enough shine as-is. With that being said, I am a fan of good hockey, and I’ll definitely be tuning into this matchup.
Prediction: Quinnipiac stumbles for the last time in the regular season, falling to Harvard.
#9 Penn State @ #7 Ohio State – Fri & Sat, Feb 3/4
17.2 – PP% – 21.1
77.6 – PK% – 88.5
54.6 – FO% – 48.7
1.320 – GF/GA – 1.492
.905 – SV% – .915
Vibes: After a shift in the national standings, it’ll be the second week in a row that the Nittany Lions of Penn State are facing off against the #7 team in the country. For as strong as Penn State came out of the gates, they’ve certainly cooled off a bit in recent weeks. The high-energy play and goal production both seem to be absent while simultaneously giving up premium chances. They’re not a bad team, but they are making a few bad mistakes. Ohio State, on the other hand has seemingly gotten stronger throughout the year. Yeah, they did drop a game to Wisconsin their last time out, but they’re 7-3 in their last 10, dating back to the start of December. Second only to Michigan Tech on the penalty kill, the Buckeyes can afford to play it “fast and loose” more than any other team in the Big 10. Look for that to be the case this weekend again.
Prediction: People have (definitely) been calling Penn State the Bemidji of the east based on their propensity for conference splits. It’s for sure a thing that’s happening. As DJ Khaled says: “Anotha One”.
#14 UConn @ #20 Northeastern – Fri, Feb 3rd
17.6 – PP% – 18.4
85.5 – PK% – 85.9
46.1 – FO% – 51.8
1.229 – GF/GA – 1.279
.912 – SV% – .923
Vibes: After one hell of a bump in the road, the Northeastern is HUMMING right now. At one point, this team had fallen to the mid-thirties in the pairwise with almost not hope to make a run at the tournament. Now, they’re closing in on a sure-fire poll rank from both sources with eyes on the Hockey East title. UConn, on the other hand has lost a little bit of the steam that they were clinging to before Thanksgiving. A lot of that is due to their two losses to Northeastern after the Holiday break too. If you don’t think the Ice Bus wants to run over the Huskies (bad image), you’re absolutely crazy. It’s just a matter of whether or not they’ll be able to get it done. Northeastern TECHNICALLY has every advantage in the stats, but every single category is so close, you can’t really rely on that at all.
Prediction: Northeastern Huskies upset the UConn Huskies to keep the train rolling.
#17/20 Notre Dame @ #17/19 Michigan State – Fri & Sat, Feb 3/4
18.2 – PP% – 17.9
76.8 – PK% – 80.4
48.8 – FO% – 48.6
0.908 – GF/GA – 0.908
.922 – SV% – .906
Vibes: There is no doubt about it that this is THE point of inflection for each of these schools. A split doesn’t do either school any good as they’re similarly ranked which would open the door for teams to leapfrog them in the standings. Getting swept this late in the season would mean being left out of the running for an at-large bid. Earning a sweep likely puts you within the top 16 teams in the nation with a little breathing room to finish the regular season. While not the most storied rivalry in sports, this weekend matchup will be the deciding factor for these two programs and the boys will HAVE TO find a way to get up for it.
Prediction: Notre Dame takes the sweep and remains hopeful for an at-large bid to the tournament.
Previous Previews & Picks:
Don’t know whether you can trust the picks or input? I don’t blame you. I’m not anywhere near a “Big J”. In fact, I’m just some idiot with an outlet. An idiot who watches more college hockey than 99% of the nation, but an idiot nonetheless. Take that how you will.
Alternative College Hockey Media:
Hate my predictions or don’t fancy yourself as much of a “reader”? Lucky for you, there’s plenty more College Hockey information coming out of the 10K Takes family! You can listen to The Has Beens podcast (or follow them on social media) as former College Hockey players/National Champions (Gage Ausmus and Trevor Olson) talk with guests about their path to College Hockey, how the sport impacted their life, and where it led them after.
This week’s guest: Jude Hull. Yes, we asked about the decision to become a goalie with his family’s famous bloodline.
I’ve been hit by cars three times, which is an indication of how stubborn I am.
I write about everything across the board, but focus on Hockey and the pain that is Minnesota sports.
Argue with me on Twitter: @venividiveech