The most exciting week in College Hockey is upon us, once again! That is, of course, as long as you live west of Pennsylvania. You see this week…this glorious, perfect-weather weekend in mid-October, is Minnesota/North Dakota rivalry week! These teams may not play in the same conference anymore, but that doesn’t mean any of the animosity has left. If you’re a fan of the sport, this is as big as it gets and the fans at The Ralph will show that all weekend long. If you’re new to the sport or trying to get someone into it, this is the series to put on.
For some reason, non-conference games are looked down upon by some fans and programs. I understand that it’s hard to get up for games against teams where there’s no history, but that’s so shortsighted. You see, the non-conference games are largely what controls the Pairwise rankings at the end of the season. If your conference does well in them as a whole, you are starting the season ahead of everyone else. That’s why you’ll continue to see teams with .500 records in the top 10, ahead of 3 or 4-loss teams in December.
The impact of having your in-conference rivals win cannot be overstated. While it might feel wrong to cheer for North Dakota as a Bulldog or Husky fan, it would be better for our own records in the long run. A win against a team that beat the #1 team in the nation is awesome. Losing to that same team doesn’t mean as much because it’s expected. Does that mean you’ll see me in green this weekend? Hell no. Go Gophs!
This Week’s Picks
Every Friday this year, I’ve been putting out picks. I’d LOVE to be able to pick and choose my own lines and games, but have resorted to ONLY using official lines available to the public. This week…I hate the board that’s available to us. Is that going to stop me? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
*Note: This is intended for information only and not gambling advice
Explaining the Minnesota Rankings:
1. University of Minnesota – Gophers
Not only are the Gophers the number one team in the state, they’re the best team in the country…for now. Jimmy Snuggerud has started this season right where he left of last year and as long as Close can match his numbers from a year ago, the Gophers could be on cruise control for a while.
2. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs
UMD has yet to lose this season. With that said, they haven’t exactly made it easy on their fans by winning any of the games convincingly. That may sound crazy to say after putting up THIRTEEN goals last weekend, but a little less when you see they came away from that series 1-0-1.
For the second year in a row, UMD loses a key piece of their team early in the season. Dominic James was shut down following an injury to his shoulder last weekend. James (a Blackhawks draft pick) was an alternate captain, #1 center, and morale leader in the clubhouse. It’ll be interesting to see who steps up to fill these roles for UMD.
3. Minnesota State – Mavericks
The Mavericks honestly have an argument for #2 in the state after their showing last weekend. They played hard and put two complete games together to earn a sweep of the Huskies. There were a lot of doubters and questions coming into the season, but it sure doesn’t seem like the boys in Mankato have fallen as far as early reports would lead you to believe.
4. St. Cloud State – Huskies
Forget everything you think you knew about St Cloud State, apparently. This team was supposed to be the most proven and game-ready coming into the year, but have been nowhere near those descriptions thus far. After struggling with both St. Thomas and Minnesota State (both unranked at the time of their series) the Huskies are looking to bounce back.
5. Bemidji State – Beavers
The Beavs are the Beavs. Always have been, and always will be. They play to the level of their competition. Sometimes that’s great, and sometimes that’s a travesty with opportunities that have been in front of them. An OT loss against Wisco and an OT win against Army in the Icebreaker tournament is as close to a split as you can get for a non-standard series, so we’re right back to where we were a year ago with the boys in Bemidji. Bank on it…every weekend.
6. St. Thomas University – Tommies
St Thomas is on a goddamn ROCKETSHIP. They’re WAY out-performing expectatiosn to this point in the season. Sure their “official” record is 1-3-0, but they’ve taken both St Cloud and Minnesota to OT games and played like they belonged there every time they took the ice. The Process is working in St Paul and with all the commitments they’re getting lately, the build is right on track to be in the hunt for a playoff spot when they become eligible to go.
National Rankings Roundup
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers are the unanimous number one team in all of College Hockey! The Gophs sit comfortably atop the pyramid despite one moronic idiot loser who still thinks BU deserved a number one ranking. Harsh words for someone, I know, but you can’t lose to unranked UNH and then follow that up by getting waxed at the hands of teenagers on the NTDP roster and still expect to be considered the best team in the nation.
Looking through the rest of the rankings, the top ten is almost unanimously agreed upon. After that, it’s nothing but chaos. The pairwise is completely useless at this point in the season, so nearly all of that can be ignored. Favoritism is blatantly evident depending on which alternative source you look at as well. That being said, when you put them all together and average it out…I think it makes a heck of a lot of sense. The reason this week’s post is titled non-conference magic is because of the effect it will have on these rankings for the rest of the year. Once conference play starts up, there’s almost no more data that can be used as a differentiator, so winning now is CRITICAL for every single conference…even if it isn’t your team.
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
#1 Minnesota @ #5 North Dakota – Fri & Sat, Oct 20/21
50.0 – PP% – 12.5
100.0 – PK% – 77.8
53.5 – FO% – 57.7
1.800 – GF/GA – 4.500
.917 – SV% – .952
Vibes: Ladies and Gentlemen, THIS IS THE BIG ONE. It’s hard not to wax poetically about this matchup in College Hockey. Unfortunately for all of the fans, they do not hold the record for most games against one another. Conference re-alignment has torn them apart, but they’ve found a way back together again. The “opposites attract” effect pulls at each program and their fanbase in a way that I hope never changes. While I don’t expect any dead rodents to be thrown on the ice and hope that no fans are thrown down the stairs, I can GUARANTEE that there’ll be plenty of birds thrown around the arena.
These two teams are top five in the nation and it’s easy to see why. Their pedigree and expectations coming into the season were as high as anyone’s, and their play has backed it up. North Dakota has the nation’s third best GF/GA ratio and is fifth best on the faceoff dot. Most impressive is the fact that their new goaltender (Ludvig Persson, formerly of Miami) has the third best save percentage in the country behind a completely revamped blue line. Minnesota’s not too shabby in any of those categories while also racking up the second best power play in the country and allowing zero shorthanded goals.
What does this mean?
Listen I get that none of these numbers matter, especially with such a small sample-size contributing to them. I am also aware that neither of these teams has been put up against the top level of competition. That being said, I expect them both to boast a few top-ten stat lines at the end of the season regardless. More importantly, both of these teams want to keep pumping those numbers against one another. The hate is very, very real.
Unfortunately, this is the last year of the current contract where they have agreed to play one another. Next year, there will be no matchup between the two schools. Don’t freak out, DON’T FREAK OUT. Bob Motzko and Brad Berry have already assured the fanbases that after one year off, another contract will be in place to renew the rivalry. Show up and show out for the best rivalry in College Hockey.
Prediction: This HAS to live up to the hype and the only way to do that is to have it end in a hard-fought split.
Bemidji State vs #14 Minnesota, Duluth (Home & Home) – Fri & Sat, Oct 20/21
09.1 – PP% – 41.2
75.0 – PK% – 73.9
43.1 – FO% – 48.5
1.000 – GF/GA – 1.250
.929 – SV% – .888
Vibes: This is yet another former rivalry that has been ripped away from fans in the state. UMD and Bemidji may not have the same animosity or history as UND vs U of M, but it’s one I enjoy, personally. Historically, they’ve both embodied the spirit of Northern Minnesota hockey for decades and had success doing so. This year however, things seem different.
UMD is third in PP efficiency finding twine more than 41% of the time! If you’re not aware, that is INSANE. Despite their inability to find the scoreboard much last year, they currently hold the fifth most goals in the nation. Bemidji has traditionally been a team that runs the trap-defense and would find ways to win 2-1. Lately, they’ve relied on keeping pace with teams by finding the scoreboard themselves. If UMD is able to score five per night again, I don’t see a way they lose, but if the zebras don’t hand out penalties like Halloween candy like they did last weekend, I’m not sure I see them hitting that mark again.
Prediction: The Bulldogs have yet to play a complete weekend. The Beavers have yet to play to their potential. This REEKS of both teams winning at home.
UMass @ #19/20 Minnesota State – Fri & Sat, Oct 20/21
26.7 – PP% – 20.0
70.6 – PK% – 100.0
55.0 – FO% – 60.0
1.000 – GF/GA – 2.667
.866 – SV% – .943
Vibes: This is the first time in history that the Mavericks will be hosting UMass in Mankato. Does that mean they hold the door open and get too comfortable after a hot start? Only one way to find out! Despite losing so much on-ice talent to Wisconsin, the Mavericks are still DOMINATING faceoffs. That has led to controlling the puck and pace of play too. UMass came into the season with even lower aspirations than the Mavericks, but just managed to split against Michigan last weekend. They may not be the same team that won it all in 2020-2021, but they’re definitely outplaying their ranking. I’m waiting for ONE superstar to emerge from either of these teams. To this point, it’s been the Mavs sophomore goaltender Alex Tracy.
Prediction: The Mavericks are coming off of an emotional win against what was supposed to be a top team in the nation. On paper, it seems like they should win easy, but feels like they could have a let-down game to start the weekend.
Lindenwood @ St. Thomas – Fri & Sat, Oct 20/21
10.0 – PP% – 23.5
85.0 – PK% – 80.0
44.6 – FO% – 47.6
0.692 – GF/GA – 0.714
.912 – SV% – .892
Vibes: Everyone in the State of Hockey is well aware of St Thomas’ talent after their showing against the Gophers last Friday. Lindenwood, despite being even newer than the Tommies, are making their own noise. After splitting with Air Force to start the season, they found their way into a Saturday tie against Ohio State. The Buckeyes doesn’t necessarily carry the same weight as #1 Minnesota, but they’re still a very good, ranked program. You might think you know what’s going to happen in this series, but you don’t. Nobody does.
Prediction: St Thomas gets a well-deserved sweep after BATTLING with big boys to start the season.
Alaska (Fairbanks) @ #18/20 St Cloud State – Fri & Sat, Oct 20/21
18.8 – PP% – 23.5
76.2 – PK% – 80.0
52.0 – FO% – 47.6
0.733 – GF/GA – 0.615
.850 – SV% – .892
Vibes: Both of these teams are just as confusing as they were a year ago. Despite getting swept by Denver, Alaska proved that they ARE able to play with the big boys by earning a win and tie against Michigan Tech. The other Huskies, the ones from St Cloud, continue to drop big games to people they should dominate on paper. One would think that losing outright to St Thomas to open the season and narrowly winning a nail-biter the next night would open them up, but no. They proceeded to get swept by a (then) unranked Minnesota State team. Only one of these schools is going to come out of this weekend “happy” and I don’t see a way that it isn’t St. Cloud. I’m still rooting for Alaska to make it back to the postseason, but I think they’ll have to find another way.
Prediction: St Cloud has their first complete weekend and takes a sweep of Alaska, but neither game is won by more than two.
Other College Hockey Games to Watch
#2 Denver @ #10/12 Providence – Fri, Oct 20
#2 Denver @ #3 Boston College – Sat, Oct 21
28.6 – PP% – 33.3 / 12.5
90.0 – PK% – 83.3 / 100.0
41.2 – FO% – 49.0 / 50.9
2.400 – GF/GA – 1.875 / 2.00
.904 – SV% – .897 / .929
Vibes: After this weekend is over, the Denver Pioneers will have an argument for the most difficult strength of schedule this season, and that includes an early bye week. They started it with an AWAY trip up in no man’s land, AKA Fairbanks, Alaska. Now, after their week back in the land of civilization, they’re taking ANOTHER long road trip. This time, to the east cost, where they’ll take on two different top-ten teams. I don’t know if you remember or not, but their early-season trip to Massachusetts didn’t go so well last year. These teams are a few steps ahead of that UMass squad and the Pios don’t even get the benefit of playing the same team twice so that adjustments to the game plan(s) this year. All that said, it’s hard to doubt David Carle’s squad.
The Friars continue to be one of the most over-looked programs in the country. They’re not flashy and don’t catch headlines, but they continue to play hard-nosed hockey, especially for the conference they’re in. Their power play is HOT and the PK has shown holes, but is still largely reliable when they get into trouble.
Boston College is the most improved team in all of college hockey and will continue to be at the end of the year. I don’t care how many goals Michigan state puts up this season, it’s BC’s crown to lose. Their PK is perfect through two games that included a matchup with the reigning national champions. Their seasoned vets are leading the squad and the freshmen are jumping in at a full sprint.
Each of these three teams are dangerous in their own right. I would expect that they’ll all be fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the season. Hell, I already expect Denver and Boston College to be in the Frozen Four again. College Hockey is better when these teams are good and I’m happy to see the Eagles back on top. AAAAnnnnndddd there’s my one nice thing said about Hockey East for the week.
Prediction: Denver CANNOT make the same mistake they did when playing Hockey East teams last year. Pios win big against Providence, but can’t keep up with BC’s speed on the front end.
#13 Ohio State vs #7 Michigan – Fri & Sat, Oct 20/21
18.8 – PP% – 31.8
87.5 – PK% – 68.2
54.1 – FO% – 51.2
1.429 – GF/GA – 1.063
.909 – SV% – .850
Vibes: On paper, as long as Ohio State stays out of the box, they’ll come out of this weekend with at least one win. The buckeyes are dominating Michigan in every category except for power-play efficiency. After boasting the #1 PK in the country last season, it’s no shock that Ohio State is still pretty good when playing a man down. The only question mark for that squad is finding consistent scoring on the roster, but that might not be an issue this weekend.
The only teams in the country who have allowed more goals than Michigan so far this year are Stonehill, Ferris State, and the service academies. You think the Wolverines are missing Erik Portillo yet? It’s almost as if it’s harder to play solid defense at the collegiate level when your roster is littered with 18 year old skaters who get bullied in the corner. Weird.
Prediction: We’re running back 2022-2023 with another round of ranked Big10 split weekends…for the benefit of the conference. Plus…it’s a lot harder to spy on your opponents in College Hockey than it is in football.
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.
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