Week 2 – College Hockey Preview

Gophers Hockey NCAA

After a week 1 slate of College Hockey games that went (pretty much) exactly as expected, we’ll see what this weekend has in store. Minnesota will be hitting the ice for the first time this season against unranked Mercyhurst. UMD and Bemidji will be facing off against one another after one warm-up exhibition game each. St. Cloud and Minnesota State will battle it out and try to stay perfect on the year while St. Thomas will be searching for their first win as a DI program.

Explaining My Rankings:

  1. St. Cloud State – Huskies
    • Previously ranked #1 in this poll, yep. Did what they had to last week. It’s simple, until they don’t live up to the expectations, they keep the top spot. If the Mavericks want the top spot, they’ve got an opportunity to take it this weekend.
  2. Minnesota State – Mavericks
    • Incredibly impressive wins against the reigning national champions, but I can’t put them above the previous #1 team in Minnesota when they also took care of business on their end.
  3. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs
    • Exhibition win at a neutral rink against a Wisconsin team that’s going to be competitive in the Big 10. Warmed up all three goalies and looking ready to pick up right where they left off.
  4. University of Minnesota – Gophers
    • Did they do anything “wrong”? No. Did they do anything “right”? Also no. They didn’t do anything at all. This is a show-me league and if you show me nothing and others show me something, you’re going to drop.
  5. Bemidji State – Beavers
    • Hard to climb up the rankings when you drop your first (exhibition) game of the season. They played North Dakota tough and looked pretty good in the loss though.
  6. St. Thomas University – Tommies
    • They gave up 12 points in their first game and got shut out in their second game. Yes it was against St. Cloud and yes better days are ahead…just not today.

CCHA Games

St. Thomas @ Northern Michigan Fri & Sat Oct 8-9

In the only conference matchup for all the Minnesota schools this week St. Thomas looks to take on the Wildcats of Northern Michigan. I’ll be 100% honest with you, I don’t know a thing about Northern Michigan. Well, that’s not true, I know that Eagle Harbor and Copper Harbor are criminally underrated small towns in America. I also know that there probably isn’t a bigger snowmobiling destination in the US. What I should have said is that I don’t know a goddamn thing about their hockey team. They do have a great logo and color scheme, but they still manage to look like a high school squad somehow.

The beginning of last year for the Wildcats was rocky. Going 2-10 to start the season was “not ideal” as the youths would say. What WAS surprising to find out, however, was that they seemed to hit their stride in February and March after goalie Rico DiMatteo joined them from the NAHL. They racked up some impressive wins against Bemidji St. and then beat Minnesota State to go to the WCHA championship game. I don’t know who they’re trying to fool by listing TWELVE freshmen and only five seniors on their roster this year, but they’re not the young team they were a year ago. They were able to keep up with Michigan Tech in a 4-4 tie during their exhibition game last weekend, so we’ll see how that translates to the rink moving forward.

St. Thomas will look to bounce back from the drubbing that St. Cloud State put on them a week ago. After 2-12 and 0-2 losses, the guys on the roster have seemed to have settled in a little bit more. I’m looking for an angry Tommies crew to come out with something to prove. Nobody likes losing and these guys (along with Rico Blasi) want to show everybody they belong and that they can play with the “big boys”. Look for a close matchup in both games, but plenty of points to be had between the two squads.

Prediction: The Tommies (gross) get their first win as a program in a 1-1 Series Split

Non-Conference Games

#5 UMD (NCHC) @ #15 Bemidji State (CCHA) – Fri & Sat Oct 8-9

The Bulldogs meet up with the Beavers in what I’m now officially calling, “The Battle of the Northland“. The fact that’s not a thing is honestly criminal. You’ve got matchup titles like the “Red River Showdown” and “Civil Conflict” in college football, why not bring that kind of passion and rivalry to Hockey? Sure, it doesn’t carry the same weight since the two aren’t in one conference (anymore), but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun with it! If you bring a “Battle of the Northland” sign to the game(s) and get on TV with it, I’ll personally send you a 10K sticker and ten American dollars. Twenty if you’ve got a 10K logo on the sign to accompany the slogan.

All gimmicks and genius ideas aside, this is going to be a bigger game that people are giving it credit for. The Bulldogs are starting their season off with a GAUNTLET in the matchups that are on the schedule and the Beavers need quality non-conference wins to stay relevant in the polls. Both teams have experience on their team carrying a number of seniors and 5th-year players on the rosters. The Bulldogs are returning three goalies while the Beavers lost Zach Driscoll to North Dakota in the offseason. I believe that will be the difference in this matchup.

Prediction: UMD outlasts Bemidji in physical, low-scoring affair two games in a row, 2-0

Mercyhurst (AHA) @ #4 Minnesota (Big 10) – Fri & Sat Oct 8-9

Usually, we’ve got to wait until spring to be left with blue balls by the Gophers hockey team. This year they teased us with an opening matchup against Alaska that was postponed due to Covid spiking in the most northern state. This week, however, the Gophers will look to take advantage of a middle-of-the-pack team from the AHA in Mercyhurst. If Gopher football has taught the university fans anything, however, it’s not to overlook anybody.

While the Gophers are ranked Top 5 nationally in both polls, Mercyhurst is nowhere to be found. In fact, they’re not expected to finish above the Mendoza line in their own conference. Almost nothing has changed on the Mercyhurst roster from last year. Although they won’t be as small and young as they were last season, I don’t expect much for improved skills either. If Minnesota can’t manage a couple of wins against Mercyhurst, prepare yourselves for a long season. (Note: Mercyhurst may be a serious contender for the only mascot worse than St Thomas with their wannabe Popeye the Sailor in “Luke the Laker”)

Prediction: Gophers sweep Mercyhurst handily 2-0 and send the catholic schoolboys back, praying for better play.

#2 St Cloud State (NCHC) @ #1 Minnesota State (CCHA) – Fri & Sat Oct 8-9

This is the big one. Maybe the only time all year where we’ll see #1 and #2 in the nation face off against one another. The USCHO and USA Today polls each have one of these two at the top. Despite the differences of opinion there, everyone can agree that based on expectations coming into the season and performances last weekend, both belong at the top for the time being.

Each team took two VERY different approaches to start the season. The Huskies beat up on the newest D1 team in the nation, while the Mavericks swept the previously #1 ranked team and reigning national champions in UMass. Each theory has its merits: warm-up against a lesser opponent to get the nerves out and shake the rust off or force yourself to come out of the gates at full speed and try to carry that momentum. Friday and Saturday, we’ll see which one was the right choice.

Prediction: St. Cloud State re-takes the throne as unanimous #1 in national polls, but splits the series 1-1