Week 4 – College Hockey Preview: WCHA Rivalry Week

Gophers Hockey NCAA Power Rankings Uncategorized

College Hockey is coming into its own in parts of the country where it wasn’t popular at all previously. We’ve seen so much growth in the game in the past few seasons that it’s hard to argue about the game’s direction. Let it be known that I’m happy to have that growth and will welcome in these new communities with open arms. What they don’t have any knowledge about is the powerhouse of the, now defunct, WCHA conference and rivalries that still carry on today.

That conference was stolen from us in 2013 by the creation of the Big 10 in College Hockey, and I’m definitely still not bitter about it. This week, we’re lucky enough to see a ton of those classic WCHA matchups revisited and that fiery passion reignited. Minnesota vs North Dakota, UMD vs Wisconsin, MN State vs St Cloud, and Bemidji vs Michigan Tech are at the forefront of the college hockey world. There’s obviously games going on all over the country, some much better matchups on paper, but few will live up to the hype or match the attendance of these non-conference games featuring former WCHA teams.

Explaining the Minnesota Rankings:

1. University of Minnesota – Gophers

This Gophers had their turn with an off-week this past weekend. All of the chaos led to a massive shakeup in the national rankings…leaving the Gophers at #1 overall. They’re easily still the team with the best performances and highest expectations in Minnesota.

2. Minnesota State – Mavericks

Friday night, the Mavericks were an ungodly force, the likes of which UMD has not seen. Scoring on four out of five power plays is a ridiculous pace and there were no answers available. Saturday was much more evenly played and paced, but the Mavericks are back to being respected by the entirety of College Hockey.

3. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs

As good as the Mavs looked on Friday, the Bulldogs looked bad. The Bulldogs went more than 20 minutes of game play without a single shot on net. When the Mavs were starting their young gun, Alex Tracy, in net you just have to find a way to get shots of. Just find any way to do it. The Dogs simply didn’t.

4. St. Cloud State – Huskies

St Cloud started the season with an opening series against St Thomas, followed it up with an off week, and then played Wisconsin. Congrats to the Huskies on starting 4-0, but to say the level of competition will be a little better this weekend would be a MASSIVE understatement.

5. Bemidji State – Beavers

Bye week. Nothing to report, positive or negative. The Beavs are who we thought they were.

6. St. Thomas University – Tommies

The Tommies were the 5th D1 team that the US Under-18 program had beaten on the season. Was I silly to say that the St. Paul kids had a shot at downing the young guns? Maybe. But they did make it a game, if only for a little bit.

National Rankings Roundup

After being the unanimous #1 team in the country, Denver got swept out of Amherst. The fourth ranked Bulldogs were also swept and the upsets didn’t end there. With all the turnover and surprising results, the Gophers have fallen into the unanimous #1 slot. The Pairwise is still nerfed pretty heavily right now and will probably remain that way until Christmas. It’ll change progressively until it becomes the most important factor, but as it stands today, the sample size we’ve got still makes that data worthless.

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

#7 North Dakota @ #1 Minnesota – Fri & Sat, Oct 21/22

This is easily the biggest rivalry matchup in all of College Hockey outside of the Beanpot. Taking bloodshed into consideration (on the ice and in the stands), it’s probably enough to take the top spot. North Dakota and Minnesota DO NOT LIKE EACH OTHER. There’s plenty of respect between the two historic programs, but there’s certainly no love lost. After the TWO HUNDRED NINETY ONE times these two have faced off, almost entirely in the days of the WCHA, the Gophers are clinging onto a 141-134-16 record. In the year 2022, I don’t expect there to be dead rodents brought to the rink and thrown on the ice as was done in “the olden days”, but there will be plenty of playful insults hurled by both sides.

Minnesota has plenty of high-powered skilled players to make anyone nervous. After North Dakota’s struggles in their own zone last weekend, those skilled players look even more intimidating. On the other hand, this NoDak team will be looking to play a suffocating game and keep the Gophers on their heels. If they can control the neutral zone and minimize the amount of easy zone entries, it’ll be tough going for the Gophers. Regardless of who wins these games, we win as College Hockey fans. It’s not every week you get hype videos for a non-conference opponent.

Prediction: The bad blood will make this closer than it should be on paper. Split.

#2 Minnesota State @ #8 St. Cloud State – Fri & Sat, Oct 21/22

These teams each were late to the game in joining D1 and came in near the end of the WCHA era, but there’s still plenty of pride to be gained by the winning side. If you follow either of these fanbases online, you know that they argue back and forth with each other more than any other hockey schools in the state. For every St. Cloud tipped goal highlight, there’s a chirp thrown back about losing to 16-seeds in the first round of the tourney. The fact of the matter is both of them have plenty of ammunition and plenty of talent to lean on…even if there are no championship banners.

St Cloud holds a 21-19 lead in the history between these two programs, and that same ratio can be loosely applied to the last 10 games as well. A lot of people wonder where that edge comes from in recent years against a team like Mankato, but you only need to look as far as the sheet they play on at home. Given the extra couple years to grow, the Mankato team plays a heavy style of hockey and when you have to cover more ice, it becomes difficult. The Huskies are one of the best teams in the nation at executing set plays and moving the puck laterally in the offensive zone. If they can execute that well, spread the Mavs out, and test their young goaltender, that’s definitely the way to win.

Prediction: Huskies win Friday in a close one, but get bullied on Saturday.

Wisconsin @ #10 Minnesota Duluth – Fri & Sat, Oct 21/22

Can you spell T-R-A-P G-A-M-E? The Badgers are a bad hockey team right now. As a true Minnesota native, I love seeing them struggle. With all that being said, I’m not sure they’re 0-4 bad and as a Bulldogs fan, it makes me nervous knowing just how much they don’t want to be 0-6. UMD has the advantage of playin on home ice in this matchup, but they haven’t played well against the Badgers in recent memory. It’s been nearly 10-years since the boys from Madison made the trip up I-94/US53 to Duluth, so we’ll see which version of them shows up this time.

UMD will have a (nearly) complete set of weapons available to them this weekend as Ben Steeves returns, so they’ll look to take advantage in the offensive zone. Even with a 0-6 loss under their belts, the bulldogs have a -3 scoring differential while the Badgers are lugging around a -8. With UMD and Wisconsin scoring 8 and 6 goals (respectively) so far this season and neither team boasting a player with more than three points through four games, I wouldn’t necessarily expect a high-scoring affair. UMD will NEED to play the puck control game and take advantage of it when they’ve got it because they trail Wisconsin in F/O efficiency .421 to .544 so far.

Prediction: By all rights and metrics, the Bulldogs should sweep the Badgers this year.

Bemidji State @ Michigan Tech – Fri & Sat, Oct 21/22

Bemidji went 2-3 against Michigan Tech last season getting outscored 16-19, but taking an all-important CCHA playoff win. These two teams feel like they just trade body blows every time they face off until one team falters. Tech obviously has more long-term success, but Bemidji’s just got that little bit of extra fight and tenacity in them. While neither of these teams are the same as they were a year ago, I don’t see this series straying too far from tradition. Expect two low-scoring, grind-it-out bouts with a slapshot for the winning goal both nights.

Prediction: Bemidji splits with Tech AGAIN.

St. Thomas @ #18 Penn State – Thurs & Fri, Oct 20/21

I’d like to say St. Thomas has a chance in this series. I’d even like to say that they’ll make one of the games close. Unfortunately they won’t. Penn State isn’t even close to the best team the Tommies have faced this year, but their style of play and current momentum will be too much to overcome. They’re sneaky talented and I expect both of these games to get out of hand pretty quickly. I am many things, but a liar is not one of them and I don’t have much positive to say about this series.

Prediction: St Thomas has a long trip home after getting swept by an underrated (even at 18) Penn St team.

Other College Hockey Games to Watch

#13/14 UConn @ #9/11 Boston University – Fri & Sat, Oct 21/22

How BU gets ranked so highly this year after the season they had last year is bananas to me. Yes, they were able to beat Michigan (by one goal) on Sunday last weekend, but that was after being TROUNCED 2-9 on Friday. UConn has not technically lost this year at 5-0-1 and they’ve played a good Ohio State team as well. They’re being overlooked and I have to think it’s because they’re a basketball school. If I had any say in the rankings, these two would be flipped. They are still close and BU’s got a better pedigree, but they’ve been underachieving for a while now.

Prediction: Hockey East split. No, I don’t like calling this many splits either…it’s just that weekend.

#9/11 Providence @ #4 Denver – Fri & Sat, Oct 21/22

If there’s one team in the country I would not want to play this week, it’s the Denver Pioneers. If you’re a team that’s ranked #1 in the nation, by every single source on the planet, and then you get swept out of the arena in embarrassing fashion, there’s a fire brewing inside you.

The Friars are a decent hockey team. They’ve got a good program that’s performed well in the past and is a tough out every time. Unfortunately for them, Denver is a monster program who’s got the advantage of elevation at home. Try to deny it all you want but when the 3rd period comes, those boys are still ripping around in 5th gear on 94 octane while their opponents are stuck trying to shift out of 2nd most nights.

Prediction: Denver sweeps back at home.

#12/13 Notre Dame vs #17 Western Michigan – Fri & Sat, Oct 21/22

Both of these programs started off the year surprisingly slow. Western lost to an Alaska Achorage program in it’s first year back while Notre Dame started off with a loss to Denver followed by a tie with Air Force, arguably putting them at last in the Icebreaker Tournament. Since then, each of these teams has bounced back in a big way and played up to the pre-season expectations. With comparable skill, albeit different styles of play, I think this series comes down to the game atmosphere.

Both of these barns are tough spots to play with passionate fanbases. With Notre Dame football facing off against UNLV on Saturday, their Friday home game on the Ice may be the best atmosphere in South Bend this weekend. Likewise in Kalamazoo, the Lawson Lunatics will pack that arena and be a force to recon with.

Prediction: Each team takes a win on home ice.

Previous Previews:

Week 3 – College Hockey Preview: Non-Conference Impact

College Hockey Preview: Week 2

2022-23 College Hockey Preview

Alternative Media:

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.

In the most recent episode, the boys even had a former Gopher on to preview the big series…while also forcing everyone to draft their favorite North Dakota players because, you know…equality and such.