Week 3 – College Hockey Preview

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I had big plans to open this article recapping what seemed to be “Minnesota Rivalry Week” with teams across the state matching up against one another. That is until I remembered that this is college hockey and we’re about to do it all over again this week! We may not have the national attention of number one and number two in the polls facing off against one another, but I think it’s a better slate across the board.

That may be a controversial take to some, but when you’ve got four of the Top Ten teams in the nation battling it out in one tournament, I really don’t see how you could argue. With that being said, let’s get into it.

Explaining My Rankings:

Not a lot of movement in THE rankings this week. Are some people still going to have their issues with how I’ve got it listed? Absolutely. Am I going to rub their noses in it when I’m ultimately proven to be right, yet again? Absolutely. I went 7 for 8 in predictions last week, with the only incorrect take thinking that St. Thomas could net enough to get past Northern Michigan for one win. That’s what I get for being an optimist one time. Lesson learned.

  1. Minnesota State – Mavericks
    • I hate falling into line with the consensus decision for the number one ranked team, but sometimes you just can’t make a good enough argument otherwise. They’ve got three wins against teams who were ranked at #1 (or two depending on which poll you believe) including two shutouts for Dryden McKay. Their only loss came in one of those matchups as well. Nobody has a light to hold to their strength of schedule, wins or losses.
  2. St. Cloud State – Huskies
    • Listen, I wanted to leave them at number one. I really did. They only gave up one goal in their first matchup against MSU despite it being a loss and then came back to beat them 3-1 in the second game. I fully expect St. Cloud to climb back to the top of the ranks soon, but they’ll have to have wins against more teams than St. Thomas to get them there. With the majority of their opponents coming from conference games in the NCHC, they’ll certainly have the opportunity.
  3. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs
    • The Bulldogs did exactly what you expected them to do. Stingy defensive play, took advantage of opportunities they were given, and came away with a series sweep of the Beavers. With the pairwise rankings back in the fold after a year where teams only played in conference opponents for the regular season, these wins against a ranked, non-conference opponent will definitely come into play for the Dogs.
  4. University of Minnesota – Gophers
    • Here’s where most of the state and readers get “mad” at me. The gophers did in fact sweep their series against Mercyhurst. If they hadn’t it would have been a SHOCK. What was surprising is that they were played tight by an unranked and unassuming opponent. Everybody knew their offense was potent and they proved it by scoring 12 goals in two games. The surprise was that their defense and reigning Richter Award winning goaltender gave up 7 goals as well. Hell, the gophers were down going in to the third period of their second game. I don’t expect that trend to keep up, but until it changes, they’re staying where they are for me.
  5. Bemidji State – Beavers
    • Dropped two games in a row after losing in their opening exhibition game. Don’t know how much else there is to say about them than that. They’ve been in every game they’ve played and certainly look good enough to contend, but gotta get some wins to jump up.
  6. St. Thomas University – Tommies
    • 0-4-0 on the season with a lot of goals being given up. Not a ton of “good” to look back on so far other than holding St. Cloud to two goals two weeks ago. Unfortunately I don’t see a lot of that changing until the program grows. Jumping from D3 to D1 is not easy, and the Tommies are showing just how hard that is.

Ice Breaker Tournament – AmsOil Arena

This is a tournament that was supposed to happen last year, but Covid and the conference “bubbles” that some teams were in put an end to that real quick. Three of the four teams from the original billing will be back in UMD, MSU Mankato, and Providence. The Gophers were supposed to be the other team, but bowed out when the original tournament was cancelled. The folks at AmsOil said, “No problem. We’ll just replace one yellow block M from the Big 10 with another” and brought in Michigan to fill the void. If you’re doing the quick math for this tournament, yes it does feature 3 of the top 5 and 4 of the top 10 teams in the nation. Whoever comes out as the winner is going to have one hell of a claim for the top spot in the polls overall.

Since nobody seems to know this tournament is even happening I’ve got the details for you. There are two games on Friday and two games on Saturday. Each session will have a 4:00 and a 7:30 game time. The Mavericks and Friars will be facing off in the early game on Friday and the Bulldogs will be taking on Michigan in the 7:30 slot. Winners will play one another for the championship and losers will play for 3rd on Saturday. Regardless of who wins, Michigan will be playing at 4:00 and UMD at 7:30 awaiting their opponent from the MSU/Providence tilt.

#3 Michigan (BIG 10) @ #5 UMD (NCHC) Fri Oct 15

This is the matchup that was supposed to happen in the opening round of the NCAA playoffs last year. Unfortunately, due to the protocols put in place, Michigan had to forfeit their game to UMD. I’m trying not to let the “homer” in me out too much when I say, I really don’t think it would have changed anything last year. Enough about the past that never was though, we’re on to 2021.

This Michigan offense team is no joke, and I don’t think anyone is going to overlook them this year. It’d certainly be hard to do that when they’ve got more than a fistful of first round NHL talent skating together. They’re young and quick and I definitely think that the Bulldogs will have their hands full. With that being said, the Bulldogs are bigger and more experienced than the Wolverines with a stout defensive system and I fully expect that to be the difference in this matchup. Let’s go Bulldogs.

Prediction: UMD’s defense suppresses the firepower of a talented Michigan offense and takes the whole thing home winning two HUGE games.

#10 Providence (Hockey East) vs #1 Minnesota State (CCHA) – Fri Oct 15

The Mavericks have been tested a lot early on this year. Through two weeks they’re 3-1 and haven’t played anyone other than a top 2. After this weekend, they still won’t have faced an opponent outside the top 10, so they’ve certainly got an opportunity to show everyone (including me) that this is a different team than all the other Mavs before them. First, they’ve got to focus on Providence.

Although the Friars didn’t make the NCAA tournament last season, they certainly did a lot to show they belonged there. With a record of 11-9-5, the rumors are that they were the first team on the outside looking in. A lot of people were even pushing for them to replace some of the teams who had to forfeit due to Covid protocols, but that never happened.

Although it’s not a “homecoming” since the game will be played in Duluth’s AmsOil arena, but Jaxson Stauber will be looking to prove that he deserved ice time, despite being behind Dryden McKay during his time at MSU. When Stauber hit the transfer portal, a lot of teams were trying to get his attention before he headed east to Providence. McKay is now tied for the all-time NCAA shutout record. While I’m certain he will hold that record soon enough, I would not expect him to get it this weekend.

Prediction: I fully expect the Mavericks to take care of the Friars in game 1. Hard to predict the second game without knowing who it will be against, but with stiff competition, I’ll take the cowards way out and say they go 1-1 on the weekend.

CCHA Games

St. Thomas @ Lake Superior State Fri & Sat Oct 15-16

St. Thomas is coming off of another 0-2 weekend, but will travel back to the state of Michigan to face off against another conference opponent in Lake Superior State in hopes of a different result. I don’t think they should get their hopes up too much given that they haven’t quite figured out how to limit quality attempts for their opponents. Through four games, they’ve given up 26 goals and that’s just not going to cut it at the Division 1 level.

Lake Superior State is a team that never seems all that intimidating, but always seems to be hanging around. They battled their way into the postseason leading to a loss to eventual champions in UMass last year. They earned their way into the national playoffs for the first time since 1996 after winning the WCHA playoffs as the two seed. With their top point scorer from a year ago leaving via the transfer portal among a slew of others, the Lakers are yet again a mystery that we’ll have to watch unfold throughout the year.

Prediction: The Tommies have a long drive back to Minny after another 0-2 series loss on the road

Non-Conference Games

#2 St Cloud State (NCHC) vs #4 Minnesota (Big 10) – Fri & Sat Oct 15-16

One home-and-home series against a top five in-state rival wasn’t enough for St Cloud State. The Huskies said lets run it back again this week and do it against the Gophers this time. They must be trying to enjoy their time in Minny before the weather turns, and honestly, I can’t blame ’em. Lots of chatter online about the throwback jerseys the Huskies are going to be wearing this weekend. My official review: 9/10 They should be a full-time alternate.

Bob Motzko returns to St. Cloud. This time he’s doing it as head coach of the Gophers to take on his old squad. There aren’t many guys left from when Motzko left 3+ years ago, but the St Cloud faithful certainly remember his time there. After 8 NCAA tournament appearances during his time there from 2005-2018, it’d be hard to forget. A homecoming trip back to his alma mater and the place where he got his start in coaching career may seem like something to get emotional about, but the Motzko insists it’s simply another road trip. Just a route he knows a hell of a lot better.

Prediction: St. Cloud and Minnesota each take one as the state of Minnesota cannibalizes one another atop the College hockey world. Gophers win one scoring a lot and Huskies win one in a defensive affair.

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#20 Bemidji State (CCHA) vs #6 North Dakota (NCHC) – Fri & Sat Oct 15-16

In a rematch of their exhibition game this year, the Beavers are matching up with the North Dakota FIGHTING HAWKS. If names, mascots, and logos had anything to do with the results of this matchup, it’d be a rare sweep for the Beavers. If only the University of North Dakota had something cooler and more historic to fall back on. What a shame. Unfortunately for Bemidji, none of that means a damn thing.

I know Bemidji’s mascot is the Beaver, but I believe it’s going to seem more like groundhog’s day for them. Another matchup against a top 10 team from the NCHC. Another team that’s going to play tough, physical defense. Most importantly, another team that’s going to walk away with two close wins against them. As with all of their games on the season, I do expect them to be close, but the Fighting Hawks may be the most consistent team in college hockey in my lifetime. The OU equivalent of play on the ice. Always in the conversation, heated rivalries in their own conference, develops professional-level talent, and a lot of history to look back on. You never know though, that’s why we play the games.

Prediction: North Dakota bests Bemidji in both games winning one handily and the other close.