With a third of College Hockey returning from a bye week, you can bet there’s going to be fireworks across the country! The top ten teams in the nation are safe. Mathematically, that may not be true, but if you’ve watched any hockey this season, you know that’ to be a fact. Past that, and I mean one single spot past that, and you’ve got at least some reason to worry. THIS is where the best separate themselves from the rest of the pack, and the clutch gene becomes evident for programs who have under-performed. The holidays are over and there’s no excuse for empty seats in arenas anymore. If you’ve got a home game, it’s time to show up and shout out for your program.
Explaining the Minnesota Rankings:
1. University of Minnesota – GophersThe Gophers looked as good as advertised on Friday night in a dominant win after a shaky start in the first period. Saturday was a completely different story as they were beaten by Wisconsin. You’ve got to hope this was the last wake up call of the season for the Gophers.
2. St. Cloud State – Huskies
Off weekend for SCSU, no need to move them from their current spot in either direction.
3. Minnesota State – MavericksAnother team on a bye, another easy choice to leave them where they’re at. With big matchups on the horizon, the Mavs are hoping to bolster their defensive play.
4. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs
Three teams in a row with no games and/or changes in rank. If UMD wants any chance at a home playoff game, they’ll likely have to win four of their next six on top of getting help elsewhere in the NCHC.
5. Bemidji State – BeaversBemidji split. Again. This time it was against Ferris State on the road. At #30 in the Pairwise, their dream of an at large bid is long gone so they’ll have to gear up for a CCHA tournament run.
6. St. Thomas University – Tommies
The Tommies earned another CCHA road split. Friday got away from St Thomas, but they bounced back in a big way to end the weekend with a win on Saturday against Northern Michigan.
National Rankings Roundup
A lot of controversy this week as most people still have Minnesota at number one while the two polls put Quinnipiac in the top slot. While a Wisconsin loss is certainly a blemish on the resume, that is the Gophers only regulation loss to an unranked team while Quinnipiac has two. Factoring in that Minnesota has more than three times the number of ranked wins, I’d say there’s a pretty strong argument for them to remain on top.
Looking through the rest of the rankings, there were only a few notable changes with 1/3 of the relevant teams on a bye last week. Boston University waited until the Beanpot to lose two in a row for the first time all season and dropped out of the top four entirely because of it. Harvard, on the other hand, made the final only to lose to Devon Levi & Northeastern in a shootout. Had Cornell not also gone into a shootout with Colgate, they would have swapped spots in the rankings. With that Beanpot win, Northeastern has clawed all the way back to 15 in the Pairwise and 2nd in Hockey East. With five winnable games remaining on the schedule, they’ve got a really good shot at re-claiming an at-large bid.As always, rankings that deviate from the average (high or low) are highlighted for transparency.
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
#2 Minnesota @ #7 Penn State – Fri & Sat, Feb 17/18
24.5 – PP% – 16.2
83.5 – PK% – 77.5
52.9 – FO% – 54.7
1.690 – GF/GA – 1.280
.915 – SV% – .905
Vibes: Despite holding on to #1 in the Pairwise rankings, the Gophers dropped to second in both national polls. At this point in the season, I’m not sure that anyone in maroon and gold cares about the bragging rights of the polls. Additionally, being ranked #1 unanimously has been more of a curse than anything throughout the season, so hitting it at the right time may be the better play than to holding on to it for multiple weeks.
With only two wins in their last six games and Ohio State’s shootout win over Michigan on Thursday, Penn State is feeling the pressure. This team was once making a run at a top regional seed. Now they’re hoping to hold on to home playoff games for the Big 10 tournament. The difference in this series could come from Minnesota’s injury report as Brock Faber and Ryan Chesley have officially been ruled out. The Nittany Lions power play has been less than impressive this season. Maybe they can turn that around with this opportunity in front of them.
Prediction: Gophers are playing with two new defenders against one of the more shot-happy teams in the country. Split series…it is Penn State after all.
#6 St Cloud State @ North Dakota – Fri & Sat, Feb 17/18
23.9 – PP% – 30.2
77.0 – PK% – 82.7
52.8 – FO% – 51.9
1.557 – GF/GA – 1.110
.917 – SV% – .876
Vibes: Let’s get straight to the facts. St Cloud hasn’t won a hockey game in nearly a month. Yes, there’s been a bye week for the Huskies during that timeframe. That doesn’t matter when you’re a player/coach with high expectations. The pressure to win now and get back into a #1 seed for the regional tournaments is almost palpable.
North Dakota remains the single best and most dangerous team in all of College Hockey on the power play. Their penalty kill is nothing to write home about, but nothing to scoff at either. That all being said, they weren’t able to take advantage of those stats against Denver last weekend and they seem to struggle when it’s 5-on-5 for some reason. The one advantage you can never overstate is the home crowd at the Ralph. Everyone in that barn knows the importance of this series and it’s all but guaranteed to be a sellout. Combine that with the fact that St Cloud will be smashed into an NHL sized rink instead of the Olympic sheet at the Herb and we could see them get flustered.
Prediction: Split series with St Cloud winning Friday, but NoDak coming back for a gritty battle on Saturday.
#12/13 Minnesota State @ Bemidji State – Fri & Sat, Feb 17/18
26.0 – PP% – 23.6
82.1 – PK% – 80.8
58.8 – FO% – 47.1
1.563 – GF/GA – 1.013
.898 – SV% – .899
Vibes: The last time out, St Thomas put an end to the Maverick’s ongoing hot streak. It was a Friday loss that shook the fanbase and made a lot of people nervous. After a week off, Minnesota State will be delighted to find a matchup against A TEAM THAT’S ALREADY SWEPT THEM THIS SEASON. Bemidji may not have the accolades, names, or record of an intimidating team, but that doesn’t mean they should be overlooked. They’re a team that utilizes the trap game plan better than just about anyone. They’re a team that’s familiar with Minnesota State. A Team that’s got NOTHING left to lose this season. That coming from a program that’s given many quality teams fits for years is dangerous. If Minnesota State sweeps the series, they’ve all but guaranteed themselves an at-large bid to the national tournament. Getting swept could easily put them on the outside looking in.
Prediction: Mavericks are winning one without an issue, but it goes into OT for the other…just flipped a coin and it says Mavs win that one too.
Minnesota, Duluth @ #3 Denver – Fri & Sat, Feb 17/18
25.3 – PP% – 23.9
78.2 – PK% – 78.9
48.1 – FO% – 49.6
0.831 – GF/GA – 1.723
.895 – SV% – .913
Vibes: At 24 in the Pairwise, Duluth and all their fans know there’s only one way to an at-large bid remaining. They’ve got to sweep either #3 Denver or #6 St Cloud while splitting with the other along with winning both against Miami AND making it to the Frozen Faceoff tournament. That’s it…totally attainable. Back on earth, the reasonable fans know that their success has been heavily dependent on the ability to both stay out of the box as well as take advantage when they’re playing a man up. If they can’t do either, it’s going to be a long weekend. If they can do both, magic is possible.
Earlier this season, the Bulldogs took the Pios to overtime in both games at AmsOil. To think that both of these game will be that close and exciting again would be foolish. Denver has a Richter finalist in Magnus Chrona along with three Hobey Baker nominees, including Mazur and Rizzo. They have all had their struggles this season, but getting to play at home after a big road sweep the weekend prior will give the boys a huge boost of confidence.
Prediction: Duluth falls to Denver in both games. One by 2+ goals, the other in OT after leading for the majority of the game.
St Thomas @ Lake Superior State – Fri & Sat, Feb 17/18
16.9 – PP% – 14.9
79.5 – PK% – 73.0
47.7 – FO% – 47.7
0.740 – GF/GA – 0.578
.896 – SV% – .898
Vibes: With four games remaining on the schedule in the regular season, St Thomas has already tripled their win total from last year. This year, they’ve beaten multiple ranked teams and earned weekend sweeps. They’ve also had late-game collapses and given up in games where they outplayed opponents. The problems with St Thomas are both tangible and obvious while also inconsistent and psychological. I’ve said it a number of times already this year that they’re no longer a “bad” team that you can count on for an easy win. They just haven’t broken into the flat-out “good” category yet either. All of that being said, they’ll be matched up against the last place team in the CCHA with two more winnable game in front of them.
Prediction: As good as St Thomas has been playing lately, they can’t collect a weekend sweep and split on the road.
Other College Hockey Games to Watch
Providence vs UMass Lowell – Fri & Sat, Feb 17/18
18.4 – PP% – 15.4
80.4 – PK% – 86.5
53.3 – FO% – 53.8
1.268 – GF/GA – 1.217
.900 – SV% – .922
Vibes: These two teams have been battling and jockeying for position in the Hockey East landscape all season long. Neither one has impressed enough to catch the eye of the national media, but if we’re being totally fair, the national media is stupid and rarely covers College Hockey anyways. Neither of these teams has done enough to deserve being overlooked either. Providence has been rolling with Freshman Philip Svedebäck between the pipes for most of the season while Lowell has chosen to utilize Graduate Gustavs Davis Grigals. While Svedeback has been sufficient enough and impressive for a freshman, Grigals has been a difference maker for the Riverhawks and their defensive play style. If either team is able to earn a weekend sweep, they’ll be knocking on the door of a national ranking, and potentially an at-large bid. The other…will not.
Prediction: Lowell has the edge in goaltending and at this point in the season, that’s what wins you games. Still split the series though, and I’d be shocked to learn that either ends more than a goal apart.
Boston College vs UMass – Fri & Sat, Feb 17/18
22.9 – PP% – 28.0
78.4 – PK% – 83.3
53.0 – FO% – 50.7
0.938 – GF/GA – 0.987
.899 – SV% – .921
Vibes: I hate to break it to any BC/UMass fans who may have stumbled their way into a “western” blog and managed to read all the way this far down, but neither of these teams are winning a national title this season. Some are calling that blasphemous given BC’s rich history in College Hockey. Others are calling me stupid based on the recent success that UMass has had in the post season. All you need to know is these teams have, indeed, beaten top talent in the nation but they’ve lost to many more poor teams as well. Unless one of these schools wins the Hockey East tournament, it’s unlikely that we see them a month from now.
Prediction: Each team plays spoiler to the other’s good time and takes a win on the road.
Bentley vs RIT – Fri & Sat, Feb 17/18
12.6 – PP% – 20.0
79.4 – PK% – 85.8
52.6 – FO% – 51.1
0.645 – GF/GA – 1.250
.888 – SV% – .912
Vibes: Many of you are wondering what in the hell I’m doing promoting a Bentley/RIT matchup. While largely un-interesting to the untrained eye, there are a ton of implications resting on this series. RIT is currently the only Atlantic Hockey representative that’s close to getting an at-large bid to the national tournament. Their ranking of 20 in the Pairwise still has them sitting on the outside right now, but should they sweep this series (which the math is pointing to) they’ll take another step towards the cut line. An Atlantic team in the tournament being capable of playing spoiler and ruining someone’s run is fun and exciting. Two of them is something else entirely.
Prediction: RIT continues to be a nuisance to people that want to see the most competitive talent in the tournament by winning both and climbing back into the argument for an at-large tournament bid.
LIU @ Alaska – Fri & Sat, Feb 17/18
23.9 – PP% – 17.0
77.0 – PK% – 81.6
52.5 – FO% – 50.6
1.096 – GF/GA – 1.172
.889 – SV% – .906
Vibes: For the second week in a row, we’re previewing Alaska vs LIU. This time, the battle will be taking place in Fairbanks instead of on “The Island”. Despite splitting with LIU last weekend, the Nanooks have graciously found themselves at 18 in the Pairwise. The sentiment for Alaska remains the same. Win out, and you’ve got a real shot at becoming an independent school making the tournament. Lose ONE more game in regulation, and that dream is probably dead and gone. This school doesn’t have the luxury of earning a bid as there’s no conference tournament for them to play in.
Prediction: Alaska does what they weren’t able to do last weekend and sweeps LIU at home. Tough to win in Fairbanks.
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, the fellas discuss all the happenings of Earth’s apparent collapse with aliens and multiple train derailments while keeping it light discussing the Super Bowl and Waste Management tournament. Most interesting though is what you’d have to give up to get Connor Bedard on your team.
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