Week 21 – College Hockey Preview: Welcome to the Postseason!

Gophers Hockey NCAA

College Hockey has finally reached the end of regular season play…well, sort of. The NCHC and Hockey East are still a weekend away from crowning their regular season champion, while everyone else is already on to the conference playoffs. Some teams in the state (Minnesota) have an actual bye, while others (Mankato) will settle for a pseudo bye in their first matchup.

If the college hockey season were to end today, there would be four teams with guaranteed spots in the NCAA tournament: Mankato, Minnesota, St Cloud, and Duluth. Given that the champion from each of the six established conferences gets an automatic bid to the tournament, Bemidji could still feasibly make the cut. We all know that Mankato loves to give up that conference title anyways. If that were the case, we’d see the same 5 Minnesota Colleges that represented the state last year…hopefully with a different result.

Despite the pressure online, I will not be speaking to the other end of the spectrum and potential outcome for even fewer teams to make the tournament. We’re a positive place here at 10K. Not once has anything ever been published with malicious intent, negativity, or unfairly strong criticism. This is how you *manifest* good things into existence. At least that’s what I’m told.

Explaining the Rankings:

1. Minnesota State – Mavericks

The Mavericks took care of business against Michigan Tech in both games last weekend. While the wins were tight in both games, it was a good indication of the level of play they’ll be seeing for the rest of the year. Well, maybe after this weekend.

2. University of Minnesota – Gophers

Can you say Wisconsin sweeeeep!?!? Better dead than Red. Get it all out of your system because there’s no better feeling for a Gopher fan. Dominating your college rival in the sport that your known for and getting to brag about it for an entire bye week has got to be the best feeling.

3. St. Cloud State – Huskies

St. Cloud did everything they needed to last weekend. Outscoring Colorado College 10-3 and getting a big confidence boost after a tough lost to UMD on Tuesday is exactly what the doctor ordered.

4. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs

They keep dropping games. IDK what else to say. Everyone in the NCHC had written off Miami and assumed that UMD would sweep the RedHawks. That didn’t happen. They played well on Friday night, but just struggled to get anything past Ludvig Persson all weekend. To get just three goals on NINETY SIX shots is frustrating, but UMD will have to shake it off quick.

5. Bemidji State – Beavers

Bemidji got a series sweep for the first time since Jan 7th/8th against Lake Superior State. While that’s depressing in it’s own right, it took OT to come out as victorious on Saturday against last place St. Thomas. Was this the wake up call the Beavs needed heading into the postseason?

6. St. Thomas University – Tommies

Yes, they got swept again. That doesn’t tell the story of the weekend though. They kept pace with the 3rd place team in the CCHA all weekend long. They put up 6 goals in a weekend series for the first time since they played AZ State at Thanksgiving! The Tommies had a really rough start to the season, but they’re finishing strong.

National Rankings Roundup

Minnesota hockey fans of all varieties rejoiced watching Michigan get swept by Notre Dame last weekend. Mankato is still #1 in both National Polls, but they’ve picked up the unanimous rankings from all other sources as well. Minnesota was also able to make a significant jump into the #2 slot with those Michigan losses. Quinnipiac continues to fall and nobody from Hockey East was able to separate themselves from the pack any more with all the bubble programs losing on Friday night last week.

Feb. 28 – 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

#10/11 St Cloud State @ #10/11 Minnesota Duluth – Fri & Sat March 4-5

Huskies vs Bulldogs

These two teams man…what’s even left to say. They’ve both had massive wins and devastating losses on the season. Each of them were in the Frozen Four last year with a ton of experience returning to the roster. Yet…they’re both significantly lower than where they had expected to be coming into the year. Their two previous games both went into OT, followed by a shootout with each team taking one game. To say that this weekend is going to be a dog fight (pun 100% intended) would be a lazy take because it means so much more than that to both of them.

The Bulldogs NEED at least one win this weekend to guarantee they finish the season with at least a .500 record. They need to meet that criteria to be eligible for the NCAA tournament, even if the national polls and pairwise have them within the top 16 in the country. Given the state of the conference, everyone in the NCHC can claim to have one of the toughest schedules in college hockey. However, UMD’s opponent average ranking is the highest in the nation. This is exactly why UMD is still ranked so highly in the polls and pairwise with the record they’ve got.

St Cloud is looking to steal home ice advantage away from the Bulldogs for the NCHC playoffs. Being just two points behind in the NCHC standings, all they’ll need is a win and a tie to do so. A split would be devastating as the teams will stay exactly where they are, regardless of the other series outcomes. In the event that UMD finds a way to sweep St Cloud, Western Michigan would have to come away with just one win to stay in control of 3rd place. The most likely scenario is that UMD and St Cloud play again next weekend.

Future Talent in a Familiar Place

AmsOil Arena has already been packed this week with the High School section playoffs. Given the importance of this series, I would expect to see more of the same this weekend. In those games, there were a bunch of Hermantown players warming up the building and the goal horn for their future college. Zam Plante and Ty Hanson (both juniors) have both already committed to play for UMD. They’ll be following in the footsteps of former teammate Blake Biondi as well as a herd of other former Hawks. Sandelin and his staff have to be excited about that kind of offensive talent locked in and on their way shortly.

11-0 in the Section Title Game…Nasty Squad

Prediction: Bulldogs & Huskies split the series, just to run it back again next weekend.

CCHA College Hockey Games

St. Thomas @ #1 Minnesota State – Fri-Sun, March 4-6

Tommies vs Mavericks

While the NCHC and Hockey East are finishing up their regular season, the CCHA is kicking of their postseason tournament. The Mavericks and Tommies will be leading the charge in that conference this weekend. The first round of any conference playoff is always a little hard to get up for when you’re the number 1 seed. Mankato is in the rare position of being the unanimous number one team in the nation and facing off against the team that is in dead last. Nothing is guaranteed in this world, except a Mavericks series win this weekend. So guaranteed, in fact, that if the Tommies win, I will renounce my fandom for all other teams and sports, and only cheer for St. Thomas hockey for the rest of time.

It’s not all doom and gloom for the (wealthy, good looking, privileged) boys from St Thomas. Despite being outscored 26 to 2 on the season already against the Mavericks they have accomplished something that nobody else in college hockey has. They held Dryden McKay (holder of the NCAA men’s shutout record) to a zero save period. Technicalities and strange data manipulation aside, the Tommies have been a different team in the second half of the season. Rico has the team looking much better and more competitive than anyone expected to start the season. Their growth is already on track to surpass 90% of Atlantic Hockey in the next 2 years.

Prediction: Mankato sweeps the series…again.

Bowling Green @ Bemidji State – Fri-Sun, March 4-6

Falcons vs Beavers

Fans of Bemidji State Hockey have been disappointed in how this season went for the Beavers. It sounds a little strange to say for a 3rd place CCHA team with home-ice in the conference tournament, but it’s true. After a 16-10-3 record last season, the 16-18 record this year tastes bad. Some of that can be attributed to a tougher schedule than most with games against UMD, UND and St Cloud rather than a CCHA-only schedule. Those watching the games know that losing their star goaltender to North Dakota in the offseason probably hurt more.

This year, these teams have split both series against one another. Bemidji leads scoring, but only by one goal. Bowling Green needed OT to win one of the games, but it still counts all the same. Bemidji has had a brutal second half of the season, but getting a home series in the first round of the playoffs could be the start to a second consecutive magical run. If the Beavers want any chance of making their way into the NCAA tournament, they’ll need to win out.

Prediction: Bemidji will need all three games, but takes the series.

Big 10 College Hockey Games

No game(s) to preview this weekend since the Gophers won the Big 10 regular season title and get a first round bye! The media was bouncing up and down on that Wolverine bandwagon all year long. The Gophers, however, proved all of the coaches predictions in the Big 10 correct by stealing glory for themselves. It’d be a real shame to see Michigan lose in the first round and drop even further.

Other Games to Watch

#4/5 North Dakota @ #20 Nebraska-Omaha – Fri & Sat Mar 4/5

After sweeping a good Western Michigan team last weekend, North Dakota remains 4 points ahead of Denver in the NCHC standings. That means the Fighting Hawks are just one win away from their third straight Penrose Cup. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, some people care about regular season trophies, while others have bigger goals in mind. Omaha, on the other hand, is looking to keep their hope of an at large bid to the NCAA tournament alive. They’re coming off of a weekend split with Denver after having swept St Cloud the weekend prior. This team is currently ranked 20th in the nation, but a big win (or two) against this North Dakota team could do wonders for that ranking, especially if those clowns in Hockey East keep refusing to win games.

The North Dakota Regular Season Trophy

Boston College @ #9 UMass – Fri & Sat Mar 4/5

UMass and Boston College will be playing in a home-and-home series this weekend. The Minutemen have a sizeable lead over their competition and are eyeing the regular season championship. With that being said, they should not be overlooking BC. The (other) boys from Boston have beaten the likes of Quinnipiac, Northeastern, Denver, Merrimack, UConn, and BU already this season. To say that they can play with the best of them, despite their awful looking record, would be an understatement. If UMass gets swept this weekend, the door opens for Northeastern, Merrimack, (who play one another) and UMass Lowell to snag the title instead.

Previous Previews:

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

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

Week 18 – College Hockey Preview: Postseason Push