We’re only on the third week of the College Hockey season, but that hasn’t stopped the powers that be from creating one of the greatest slates of games we’ll see all year. Believe it or not, there are SIX matchups between ranked teams that will take place. Usually we don’t even approach that number until the NCHC starts their conference play. Imagine a troll-faced winking emoji here for all you fans of other conferences.If you’re not a “maths person” this means over half of the ranked teams in the country will be facing off against one another. In the past, some schools would follow the Alabama football model and load their non-conference schedule with easy matchups. People quickly learned that if you had an off night, caught a couple of bad bounces, or got on the wrong side of a few penalties, this could backfire in catastrophic fashion. Now, almost everyone has learned and adopted the UMD model of agreeing to matchups with more quality opponents. Wins mean more and losses mean less when it comes to national rankings. Some people will tell you “that’s not how the system works” but they can live with their head in the sand as long as they want to. As long as there’s any sort of human element involved in any sort of selection process…it matters.
Explaining the Minnesota Rankings:
1. University of Minnesota – Gophers
This Gophers team may have split with Mankato on the weekend, but they still managed to look good doing it. Given that the Gophers had another star emerge in Jimmy Snuggerud, the hype train is still chugging along in Dinkytown. They’ve got a week off coming up before a big rivalry matchup vs North Dakota at home.
2. University of Minnesota, Duluth – BulldogsThe Bulldogs off-week better have been utilized by watching film of the Gophers/Mavericks series. There was a lot of information to gain on both sides of the puck. Going 0-4 in their last 4 against Mankato should also be enough motivation for a lot of the remaining guys on the Bulldogs roster if you ask me.
3. Minnesota State – Mavericks
After Friday’s loss to the Gophers, the Mavericks looked to be in a lot of trouble. Taking their exhibition game into consideration, they had been outscored 11-3 on the season. The Mavs were able to steal a home victory on Saturday against the highly touted Gophers by limiting them to under 30 shots. They still look to be the best team in the CCHA this season, but don’t expect it to be anywhere near as dominant as recent history…even if they are all 24 year old, fully grown men.
4. St. Cloud State – HuskiesNo game for the Huskies last week after their initial warm-up against St. Thomas in week one. Odd to have two bye weeks in a row, but we’ll see if it pays off for them.
5. Bemidji State – Beavers
The Beavers opened up their season the same way the Bulldogs did…against Arizona State. After getting shut out at home 0-3, they came back on Saturday with a 5-4 OT victory. That seems about right for teams that I expect to be within five spots of each other at the end of the season. The (very) early indications have Bemidji right where they were last year. Expect them to be fighting for the last ranked spot, but likely needing to win the CCHA tournament to make it to the postseason.
6. St. Thomas University – Tommies
The St. Thomas Tommies (that will always sound gross) have won their first game of the season! This year, they did it in only 4 games compared to the 8 it took last season. This really bodes well for my prediction of them doubling their win total. If you’ve paid any attention at all, they’re looking to do more than that this year.
National Rankings Roundup
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, this very talented Denver team is ranked number one in the country across the board. After that, there’s a “little bit” of a discrepancy with every one of the picks. Obviously there are some biases in rankings sources, so those that have put less effort into hiding those *cough* Bucci *cough* have had their weighted percentage reduced. You’ll also notice that the Pairwise is only at 5% right now. That will change throughout the season to be the most important factor, but as it stands today, the sample size we’ve got makes that data nearly irrelevant.
Minnesota College Hockey Games
#4 Minnesota Duluth @ #5 Minnesota State – Fri & Sat, Oct 14/15
UMD Coach Scott Sandelin obviously has the best scouting report in the country on what may be the Mav’s top player in Ryan Sandelin, his son. If you’ve been following either or both of these teams, you already know that Ryan has got the edge against his dad in wins when they match up against one another. Now, if you listened to the most recent MNCAA podcast, you know that just means the Bulldogs are DUE.
This Bulldogs team is built “slightly” different than those in recent memory. It’s an incredibly small sample size, but they’re HUMMING at 50% on the power play and averaging over 40 shots per game. Both of these teams have proven that they’re able to come from behind, but both are also built to play with and protect a lead. It’s what they’ve done and how they’ve played for a long time. The first to score in each of these games will be the instant favorite to win.
Prediction: Bulldogs find a way to sweep. Mathematically, they are DUE.
#10 St. Cloud State @ Wisconsin – Fri & Sat, Oct 14/15
St Cloud State has barely played any hockey this year. They did struggle to find their footing against St Thomas in their first series, but after a few penalties against the Tommies both nights, the Huskies were on auto-pilot and coasted to some easy-ish victories. I really wish I could say they’ll be tested more against a traditional powerhouse in Wisconsin this weekend, but I’m not sure I can.
Wisconsin just has not been the same hockey team since Cole Caufield left two years ago. They’re still able to draw a crowd for home games and sneak out some Big 10 wins, but past that there’s not much to cheer for in Madison. With how poorly their football team is being managed this year and that coach already gone, the Badgers don’t look to be too far behind on the ice either. Listen, I’d love to be wrong about this team because hockey is better when the Badgers are good, but they’re going to have to prove it because the product ain’t pretty thus far.
Prediction: Huskies sweep the lowly badgers as they continue to struggle.
US Under 18 @ St. Thomas – Fri, Oct 14th
A couple of times a year, the US Under 18 team surprises a team and finds a way to win. Those teams also go into the game with more expectations than St. Thomas will. With that being said, I will never pick the young kids to beat up on a D1 program. St. Thomas can use this exhibition game as a tune-up for themselves in preparation for their road trip out to Happy Valley next week. Quit with the silly penalties, play a structured game, and using the size difference will be the keys to what should be a victory here.
Prediction: St Thomas wins, but it’s WAY closer than they’d like.
Other College Hockey Games to Watch
#7/8 Quinnipiac @ #3 North Dakota – Fri & Sat, Oct 14/15
Last year, these were both deserving tournament teams with aspirations that were snuffed out relatively quickly. During the regular season, they split when they met during Week 3 in Hamden, Conn. While there was quite a bit of turnover on the North Dakota side, the Quinnipiac team has largely remained the same. The biggest piece? The sophomore sensation at goaltender, Yaniv Perets.
While almost all of the attention at the end of last year was given to Dryden McKay, Devon Levi, or Ryan Fanti, Perets quietly found himself with the best save percentage in all of College Hockey. As impressive as he is in net what might be more intimidating are the SEVEN fifth year seniors in front of him. But if you read my College Hockey Preview blog, you’d already know about that. The good news for North Dakota? They look just as nasty as ever with big victories under their belt while Quinnipiac struggled in a tie vs Long Island University last weekend.
Prediction: North Dakota always has the advantage at home, but they’ve struggled against worse ECAC teams (see Cornell series last year). There’s no way they lose both, but I have doubts about them being able to win both…give me a split.
#1 Denver @ #13/14 UMass – Fri & Sat, Oct 14/15
This UMass team is not the Cale Makar team of 2019, nor is it the national champion team of 2021. This is a team that just tied AIC in their season opener last Saturday. The Minutemen have such a small sample size to work with, that I’m not sure anyone knows their true identity yet. Greg Carvel is an awesome leader, so I’m sure he’ll coach the boys up as the year goes on, but it could be a rough start in Amherst.
Denver, on the other hand, remains red hot after winning the title last year. They took home the Ice Breaker Tournament trophy (as I correctly predicted) last weekend after beating Notre Dame and Maine. Their team should have taken a hit with all the scoring power they lost to NHL rosters in the offseason, but by all metrics, they’re just as proficient. They may not be as pretty off-the ice with Cole Guttman gone, but the Pioneers maintained their ability to score on the ice.
Prediction: Denver sweeps on the road, relegating UMass to a fringe-ranking team
#20 Northern Michigan @ #13/14 Notre Dame – Fri & Sun, Oct 14/16
Not much to say here other than, look out for Northern Michigan. With Mankato looking sub-prime, the Wildcats of Marquette are looking to pounce with offense as their main weapon. Notre Dame ended last year as one of the hottest teams having swept a highly-touted Michigan squad near the end of the season and beating North Dakota in the tournament. This year, they’ve lost to Denver (nothing wrong with that) and followed up that performance by tying Air Force. They may need a minute to get back to a level of play we expect in College Hockey. If the Fighting Irish don’t figure it out quick, they’ll have an uphill battle to win the conference.
Prediction: Split series 1-1 with a slight edge going to Notre Dame. These are both good teams, but the Irish at home will always have an advantage…This is the split I’m least confident in.
#11 Ohio State @ #17 UConn – Fri & Sat, Oct 14/15
If we’re being totally honest, I don’t care about either of these teams at the moment. There hasn’t really been any reason to…yet. Ohio State put the hurt on bad Mercyhurst and Wisconsin teams while UConn took down Union and Vermont. None of those wins mean a whole lot to me as they were the expected outcomes going into those series. With that being said, if one of these teams is able to sweep THIS series in any sort of convincing fashion, it’ll get a lot of attention and catapult them up the rankings.
Prediction: Ohio State’s got the edge and the drive from being (wrongfully) left out of last year’s tournament. They earn a rare road sweep this weekend, but it won’t be easy.
Hate my predictions or “blatant favoritism”? 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 two 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.
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