No lengthy prologue this week. There’s no need when the slate of College Hockey games is this good!
Explaining the Rankings:
1. Minnesota State – MavericksMankato had an off-week to rest up. I’m not sure how they dropped in the overall rankings having not played another game, but that must just be the power Michigan holds. They’re the most complete team in the state and they have been for the majority of the season. I don’t see that changing this week.
2. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs
Despite starting goaltender Ryan Fanti leaving Saturday’s game after the first period, the Bulldogs were able to grind out a Win against the #3 team in the country, on the road. That would be the Pioneers first home loss and just the sixth total loss this season. UMD remains the only NCHC team not to be swept by a conference opponent all season.
3. University of Minnesota – GophersDon’t look now, but the Minnesota Golden Gophers are STREAKING. They’re coming off of two weekend sweeps in a row for the first time all season. The wins against Ohio State last weekend were big statements for the program. With a couple Olympians coming back into the fold soon, this team is about to be a PROBLEM.
4. St. Cloud State – Huskies
The whole college hockey world is talking about how good Western Michigan is this year. Well, St. Cloud just took them to overtime on Friday and followed it up with an outright win on Saturday. The Huskies depth and experience are showing the longer the season goes on.
5. Bemidji State – BeaversNo games last week, but the “Pesky Beavs” continue to linger. I wouldn’t expect too much from them in terms of a long run, but those Bemidji boys have got fight in them at the very least.
6. St. Thomas University – Tommies
Traveling is tough. Traveling all the way to Alaska is tougher. Getting waxed two nights in a row and then having to travel all the way back may be the toughest of all.
National Rankings Roundup
For the 3rd week in a row, there was really no movement in the consensus Top Five in the nation. While Michigan took over the weighted top spot, Mankato still holds on to #1 in both rankings formats. With a HUGE matchup between Denver and Western Michigan happening this weekend, we could see some more movement come next week. The same goes for Hockey East at the bottom of the rankings. UConn will be taking on UMass for a series where the Huskies continue to try and climb. Then, there’s the series between UMass Lowell and Providence fighting to stay as high as possible in the pairwise. Conference tournaments are coming with final cuts shortly thereafter and these teams are needing to win.
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. Rankings that deviate from the Pairwise by more than 5 are highlighted.
NCHC College Hockey Games
#9/10 North Dakota @ #7 Minnesota Duluth – Fri & Sat Feb 18/19No rest for the wicked as UMD is set to play their 4th top-ten rated team in a row. A sweep in any one of these series and the Bulldogs would have a guaranteed ticket punched into the top five of the national rankings and likely a fully-secured playoff spot. But that isn’t Bulldog hockey. They prefer the grind of the season. They love having every game matter, they care about their fans that way, you know? All kidding aside, this may be the Bulldogs best chance at getting a sweep against North Dakota in a LONG time. Despite some BIG wins, a sweep in this series hasn’t been pulled off since UMD did it in Jan. of 2018.
As far as the Fighting Hawks are concerned, they’re just trying to keep up. It’s funny to say that when they’re currently 2nd in the NCHC standings and 10 points ahead of UMD, but their season record doesn’t look nearly as good. They’re 17-11 on the season, but 3 of those losses came against a PLUMMETING (he said gleefully) Cornell team and Penn State. Their defensive scoring star Sanderson is out, and there are questionable health diagnosis about a few other players too. They don’t have the scoring talent that NoDak fans are used to, but they do still have one thing…the culture. Expect North Dakota to be scrappy and keep both of these games close, even on the road.
Prediction: Split. They always split. It’s inevitable.
#8 St. Cloud State @ Nebraska-Omaha – Fri & Sat Feb 18/19
UNO is coming off of the programs most devastating losses of the season. Getting swept in the NCHC is not something that’s usually season-changing. However, when you get swept by a team like Miami after the season they’ve had to date, it really puts things into perspective. The sweep by Miami also gave the Redhawks three of four wins on the season against the mavericks. While it’s humbling, the Mavericks are not out of the playoff race just yet. A couple wins in their last three series against teams like St. Cloud, Denver, and North Dakota and these boys will be right back in the conversation.
For as well as they’ve played recently, St. Cloud has just one regulation win in their last seven games. The Huskies took Western Michigan, Duluth, and North Dakota into shootouts during that stretch, winning just one after a questionable goal review and UMD going off the post. For a team with as much experience returning as St. Cloud, I don’t see that trend continuing against Omaha. Look for the Huskies to put up 3+ points both nights.
Prediction: Huskies sweep the (unranked) Mavericks
Big 10 College Hockey Games
#5/6 Minnesota @ Penn State – Fri & Sat Feb 18/19
This Gophers team is different than the one that we saw in the middle of the season. They’re battling for a full 60 minutes every night. Not only that, but they’re not letting leads slip away either. They have not been losing at the end of regulation in their last 6 games, and only lost one in OT. The Gophers have also climbed to the top of the Big 10 Standings in that timeframe with a tie-breaker over Ohio State thanks to their sweep last week. With Olympic reinforcements on the way, the conference is theirs to lose…yes, even over Michigan.
Penn State, on the other hand, is not having the season they had hoped for. At 5-14-1 in the conference and 14-15-1 overall, it’s clear that the familiarity of the Big 10 has not been kind to them. Even though they’ve got 96 goals for and “only” 98 goals against, the bounces just have not been going their way. I don’t know for certain what the most frustrating part of being a Penn State fan is, but if I had to guess it’s the fact that they have more shots than anyone else in the country and nowhere near enough goals to show for it. At only 8.1% shooting percentage, these boys have worse aim than the emperor’s clone army.
Prediction: Minnesota Sweep
CCHA College Hockey Games
Bemidji @ #1 Minnesota State- Fri & Sat Feb 18/19
Mankato has been sleepwalking through the latter portion of the season. They’ve dominated in each of their last three series, collected six wins, and outscored their opponents 29-8 in that span. Bemidji is bigger, more experienced, and has had more recent success than any of those other teams and could be a good test for the Mavericks. It’ll be the last series played without Nathan Smith burying pucks or Mike Hastings behind the bench too. They’re guaranteed a spot in the NCAA playoffs no matter what happens, but you can’t let the players think this series is anything less than crucial. Don’t want to get soft for the Conference tournament…again.
The Beavs just do not quit. Like any rodent, they’re difficult to get rid of, not matter how hard you try. Even though they’ve lost 6 of their last 8 games, Bemidji still managed to find themselves 7 points in this weeks USCHO poll. While that’s still on the outside of the rankings looking in, they’re in the conversation. You know what would propel them into the rankings quickly? A win against the #1 ranked team in the nation, that’s what. If Mankato were playing AT the Sanford Center in Bemidji, I might have enough confidence to call for a split in this series. The fact that they’re playing IN Mankato after both of these teams had a bye week has me less enthusiastic about the potential.
Prediction: Mankato sweeps the Beavs
Lake Superior State @ St. Thomas – Fri & Sat Feb 18/19
St. Thomas has finally hit rock bottom. They’re dead last in the Pairwise rankings for the first time all season. For full transparency, I’ve only been checking the last few weeks, so I’d be lying if I guaranteed that fact to be 100% correct, but you get the picture. These guys have 588 shots on the year, which is good enough for 56/59 in the country while playing (at least) 5 more games than each of the teams below them. More importantly, they have fewer wins than anyone else in the country and they just got DUMMIED by Alaska last weekend. The Tommies should be angry about that showing and full of piss and vinegar. I hope they are because I’d really like to see them come out and take one from Lake State.
Lake Superior State is out of the race for the CCHA regular season title and all but out of the race for a playoff spot. They are currently 33rd in the Pairwise and don’t even make the “honorable mentions” of the USCHO poll. None of that matters to the guys in the locker room though. They want to end their season on a high note. After splitting with Northern Michigan and then sweeping Ferris State, they’ve put themselves in a position to take over 3rd or 4th place in the CCHA standings at the end of the season and finish with a positive record. Wanting to prove they are better than their record, look for them to put up a similar fight to Alaska last weekend.
Special game note: This is an all-time bad mascot matchup.
Prediction: Lakers take the season sweep of the Tommies.
Other Games to Watch
#3 Denver @ #5/6 Western Michigan- Fri & Sat Feb 18/19
These teams are tied for 3rd in the Pairwise ranks. A split here doesn’t necessarily do much for or against either one of these teams directly. They’ve both already punched a ticket to the NCAA playoffs, there’s no doubt about that. However, Denver is just 2 points ahead of North Dakota and 7 points ahead of Western Michigan for the Penrose Cup. While regular season trophies don’t mean a damn thing in the long run, it’s always a point of pride in the NCHC given how physical and competitive the play is all season long. Both of these teams want it, and they want it BAD. I’m not saying it’s going to get ugly…but I’m not saying that it won’t either.
Prediction: The Lawson Lunatics make the difference in one game and get the Broncos a home split.
Week 17 – College Hockey Preview: Olympic Level Talent . White Text for Readability
Week 16 – College Hockey Preview: Time to Grind . White Text for Readability
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.
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