Week 20 – College Hockey Preview: Biggest Week of the Season

Gophers Hockey NCAA

Not to be dramatic, but this is the single most important week of the college hockey season. Let’s be clear, I mean the regular season so don’t be a dick about it. A few of the conferences have already handed out their regular season trophies; congratulations to Mankato and AIC on doing exactly what was expected from the beginning of the season. Good job on not having a catastrophic collapse, I guess. Meanwhile, the Big 10, ECAC, Hockey East, and NCHC all have yet to crown their regular season champions.

The Big 10 and ECAC will both be decided after this weekend as their seasons are coming to an end. Michigan is looking to win their first Big 10 title ever. Minnesota had a rough patch in the middle of the season, but they’re looking strong and in the middle of a late push. In the ECAC, Quinnipiac has been the top dog (cat) all year, but Clarkson can still pull off the upset if the chips fall in their favor.

Hockey East and the NCHC both have two more weeks of play left. Not only that, but both conferences have TIGHT races at the top of the conference. The top SIX TEAMS all have a legitimate chance to win Hockey East. What’s more important though, is the fact that all six of these teams will be fighting to climb in the Pairwise rankings as only three of them would currently make the NCAA tournament. North Dakota and Denver both have challenging matchups as they’re look to secure the Penrose Cup. If NoDak wins, it would be their third in a row. Some people celebrate regular season trophies, while others have bigger aspirations.

Shoutout to the boys at ECH for the assist, as always

Explaining the Rankings:

1. Minnesota State – Mavericks

A full-on sweep of Bemidji, as expected. What wasn’t expected was beating them in such convincing fashion, 5-1 both nights. Mankato’s secured the CCHA title for this year, so we’ll see if they rest any players or take it easy against Michigan Tech this weekend.

3. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs

The Bulldogs lost two tough games against North Dakota. They shot themselves in the foot over and over on Friday with all of the penalties and then followed it up with brutal turnovers leading to goals on Saturday. Following that debacle up, they played St. Cloud State on Tuesday which went to a shootout…again. The Bulldogs pulled out the victory, largely due to the phenomenal play of goaltender Ryan Fanti.

2. University of Minnesota – Gophers

In a phenomenon not often seen in the wild, we got to watch Gophers dummy some Nittany Lions. Minnesota went to Pennsylvania and pulled out two big wins to outscore Penn State 9-5 on the weekend. The wins are piling up faster than plates at a buffet for Minnesota lately. Winners of their last six, they’re getting hot at the right time.

4. St. Cloud State – Huskies

Woof. The Huskies have won just one of their last NINE games in regulation. This team lost two in a row to unranked Omaha on the weekend before dropping a shootout loss to UMD on Tuesday. With Colorado College coming to town this weekend, they’re in desperate need of some wins to get the confidence back on track.

5. Bemidji State – Beavers

Wrap it up, the season’s over for Bemidji. Yes, they could still win the CCHA tournament for an auto-bid to the tournament. However, after the showing I witnessed this weekend, I am personally guaranteeing that will not happen. It brings me not pleasure in saying that as a fan of Northern MN hockey, but the Beavs are on to next season.

6. St. Thomas University – Tommies

STOP THE PRESSES! The St. Thomas Tommies have won their third game of the season! It was easily their best win of the year and nice to see them finally break through. Unfortunately, they’re still dead last in the Pairwise rankings. I expect them to finish the year there.

National Rankings Roundup

In the surprise of the century, Michigan is still in the weighted top spot. Minnesota Hockey fans can take solace in the fact that Mankato is still #1 in both National Polls, for what that’s worth. Other notable moves include Minnesota cracking back into the top five with Quinnipiac losing another game and Cornell continuing to drop like a Russian jet in the Ghost of Kyiv’s airspace.

Feb. 21 – College Hockey – Rankings Roundup

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 5 or more are highlighted.

NCHC College Hockey Games

#8/9 Minnesota Duluth @ Miami (Ohio) – Fri & Sat Feb 25/26

Bulldogs vs Redhawks

This weekend, the UMD Bulldogs might have a fully healthy roster for the first time all season. I can’t put enough emphasis on MIGHT because every time it’s close, something always seems to come up. With that in mind, however, the timing could not be any better. No matter their depth, skill level, or schedule, the Bulldogs always seem to find themselves battling their way into the postseason only to make a hell of a lot of noise once they get there. A healthy roster will only help that.

UMD hasn’t had a matchup this favorable (on paper) since the last time these teams matched up in the middle of January. In that series UMD dominated the Friday game and then fell (in one of their many shootouts) on Saturday after putting up FIFTY shots. While there are haters out there wishing the worst for the elite school from Duluth, I would expect a similar game script for this weekend. Miami only leads Duluth in one major category and that is power play efficiency. As long as the Bulldogs learned their lesson from the past two opponents and can stay out of the box, they’ll have the edge. If Miami gets a little hot-headed, they’re among the worst in College Hockey on the penalty kill, so they’ll have to play smart.

Prediction: Bulldogs sweep. They HAVE TO keep a grasp on home ice advantage in the playoffs.

Colorado College @ #11 St. Cloud State – Fri & Sat Feb 25/26

“RoCCy” vs “Blizzard T. Husky”

Am I using this Huskies Logo because it’s ugly? No, absolutely not. Am I using this logo because they got swept by Omaha last weekend when I used it, maybe. Much like the Duluth, St Cloud has all the advantages in this matchup on paper. Every fan watching is expecting them to win both games in this series. Unfortunately, that’s the same mentality that they had going into last weekend against Omaha. With the cold streak that the Huskies are on, they’ll take wins any way they can get them and they don’t have to be pretty. They just have to be in regulation.

If Miami has to be worried about staying out of the box, Colorado College will have to make a conscious effort to do so. They’re in the bottom THREE in the nation on the penalty kill and going up against the number one team on the power play. Nobody asked for my opinion because it’s obvious, but that’s a recipe for disaster if you’re CC. If you’re a Tigers fan reading this, I’m not sure how you got here but it’s not all negativity here! You’re on a two game winning streak and you’ve taken St. Cloud to overtime already this season! Time to build off that!

Prediction: Huskies sweep the (unranked) Tigers. <- Ope! Same language as last week too.

CCHA College Hockey Games

#1 Minnesota State @ #13/14 Michigan Tech – Fri & Sat Feb 25/26

Mavericks vs Huskies

Mankato hasn’t lost a single game since Jan. 14th when they fell to Northern Michigan. Not only that, but the Mavericks haven’t even been in a one goal game in that stretch either. I’m not willing to look through everyone’s schedule or find the information anywhere else, so I’m just going to say it’s the best stretch in the nation. People are asking if they even remember how to play in a close game!

While Mankato has almost nothing to play for in this series, Michigan Tech might have more motivation than any other team in the nation. As it stands today, they’re 12 in the Pairwise and 13/14 in the national polls. If they were to get swept this weekend, they’d potentially drop as low as 16 in the pairwise and be on the bubble for elimination from NCAA tournament play if they didn’t have a strong performance in the CCHA tournament. A win against the top team in the nation, on the other hand, would certainly keep them where they’re at, even if they did get blown out in the other.

Prediction: Mankato takes their foot off the gas and splits with the Huskies.

St. Thomas @ Bemidji State – Fri & Sat Feb 25/26

Tommies vs Beavers

I legitimately do not know what to say about this series. St Thomas is coming off of one of their biggest wins in program history. It’s less than one year old at the division 1 level, so I’m not exactly sure what that means, but that’s besides the point. The Tommies record is not indicative of how they’ve played in a lot of games in the second half of this season. It sounds crazy, but if you were to put the over/under on doubling their wins from this season, it’s something I’d legitimately consider. With more commits and talent on the way, it’s not out of the question.

Bemidji on the other hand is coming off of another weekend of missed opportunities and disappointment. Being outscored 10-2 is a brutal way to end a weekend. That’s especially true when it was your last opportunity to make up any sort of significant ground in the rankings. For a team that made it to the national tournament last year and beat the Hobey Baker winner in the opening round, this has been a bummer of a season. Losing a phenomenal goalie that kept you in a lot of games is never easy, but there’s more going on with this team not capitalizing. They’ll have a chance to go into the CCHA playoffs on a high note if they can play like they should against the Tommies.

Prediction: Bemidji earns two meaningless wins to close out their regular season.

Big 10 College Hockey Games

Wisconsin @ #4 Minnesota – Fri & Sat Feb 25/26

Badgers vs Gophers

Wisconsin came into this season with a lot of high hopes given how they performed last year. They obviously lost Caufield to the NHL and a few other players with him but the step back in play has been significant. With that being said, they still managed to beat the talented team that Minnesota has the last time these two were on the ice together. While the Badgers certainly have things they’ll want to replicate from that series, there are others that they’ll want to forget. Putting the puck in your own net sounds pretty hard to do again anyways.

The Rarely Seen Hockey Own Goal

Minnesota has already punched their ticket into the NCAA tournament without a doubt. However, the Gophers still have to treat this like a playoff series. They’re trailing Michigan by just one point in the Big 10 standings and they’ve got the “easier” matchup on the weekend. If you can’t get up to beat your biggest university rival at the sport you pride yourself in to close out a season and win the Big 10 championship, then what are you even doing? Minnesota needs that kind of a win.

Prediction: Minnesota sweeps the Badgers.

Other Games to Watch

#6 Western Michigan @ #7 North Dakota – Fri & Sat Feb 25/26

Broncos vs F’ing Hawks

North Dakota is looking to win their third straight Penrose Cup. Some people are saying they’re a regular season Goliath that finds a new David every year. Spot the lie. Western Michigan is looking to secure home-ice for the NCHC playoffs. They only need one point to do it and they already swept North Dakota this year. I’d say the Broncos have got a pretty good shot.

#2 Michigan @ #8/9 Notre Dame – Fri & Sat Feb 25/26

Wolverines vs Fighting Irish

Michigan will be looking over their shoulder nervously watching the Gophers updates all weekend. They’re currently in the lead of the Big 10 conference, but have drawn the tougher opponent to close out the season. Notre Dame has won six of their last seven games and put themselves at 11 in the Pairwise, so their postseason is NEARLY guaranteed. One win, or even an overtime appearance, against Michigan would secure it.

#19 UConn @ #15 Northeastern – Fri & Sat Feb 25/26

Huskies vs Huskies

Anybody know where Michael Vick is at? Only asking because we’re about to see some Husky on Husky violence. UConn is surging late in the season while Northeastern is trying to regain some of the magic they had earlier. While Northeastern holds the edge in the national polls (15 vs 19), UConn is leading in the Pairwise (14 vs 18), where it actually matters. It’s increasingly likely that the winner of this series is going to be the last team into the playoffs.

#18 Cornell @ #5 Quinnipiac – Fri Feb 25

Big Red Bear(s) vs Bobcats

People that are still making excuses for Cornell to be ranked should have their opinions ignored for the rest of time. Yes, they’ve swept North Dakota and beaten both Clarkson and Quinnipiac. What’s more important is the fact that they’ve lost to St Lawrence, RPI, Colgate, Princeton, and AZ State (among others). They’ve got to be the most frustrating and confusing team to watch all season. If you’re a fan of the ECAC, first and foremost seek help. Why don’t you like watching good hockey? In all seriousness, you should be cheering on Quinnipiac because you want at least ONE team with confidence heading into the playoffs.

Previous Previews:

Week 19 – College Hockey Preview: The Time Is Now . White Text for Readability

Week 18 – College Hockey Preview: Postseason Push

Week 17 – College Hockey Preview: Olympic Level Talent . White Text for Readability

Week 16 – College Hockey Preview: Time to Grind . White Text for Readability