Week 5 College Hockey Preview: One More Long Road Trip

Gambling Gophers Hockey NCAA

The Gophers played host to the North Dakota Fighting Sioux Hawks this past weekend in a premiere College Hockey matchup. Those games lived up to every bit of the hype as the most exciting series of the weekend. In all actuality, it turned into what very well may be the most exciting series we see all year. Whoever says non-conference play doesn’t matter is an idiot and should be sent the video from this series.

In addition to restoring old rivalries, the non-conference schedule lays the foundation for something even more important. The Pairwise ranking system. It sheds light on how each of the different conferences actually compare to one another instead of just relying on your eyes alone. Why they choose to have it at the very beginning of the season instead of closer to the end will always confuse me though.

So many teams are still learning how to play with one another and don’t get “into their groove” until the holiday break. Stars often don’t emerge right away and the goaltender rotation is still being toyed with by coaches everywhere. To have one of the most critical factors going into the overarching system to determine who gets a playoff spot at the start of the season is insane…but that’s the way it is in College Hockey. THAT is why the non-conference play means so much, and this is the last weekend of it for most teams.

Explaining the Minnesota Rankings:

1. University of Minnesota – Gophers

While the Gophers came out of the weekend with a series split, they dominated both games on the ice. There were very few times where they weren’t putting the pressure on and forcing the NoDak goaltender to make some incredible saves. If the score was hidden and you only had a stat sheet to look at, absolutely nobody would have picked the split. That’s why they’re still #1.

2. St Cloud State – Huskies

As impressive as the Gophers looked in their series, St Cloud State wasn’t far behind. Getting a series sweep against the lauded Mavericks was a HUGE boost to their confidence and their national ranking.

3. Minnesota State – Mavericks

When the Friday line sheets were released, a lot of Mavericks fans were left scratching their head. It’s hard to argue with Mike Hastings after the success he’s had in his tenure there, but getting swept will lead people there regardless…even if it is to a playoff contender.

4. Bemidji State – Beavers

A win and a shootout win on the weekend have the Beavs unbeaten in three straight. Getting those two results against a rival (?) team in Michigan tech is HUGE for Bemidji. It’s even bigger for the CCHA standings.

5. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs

The Bulldogs haven’t beaten Wisconsin in a regular season game since I was in school there. I’m 32. Getting swept at home by a winless team, albeit 4 games into a season, is NOT a good look for anybody. When you get swept in that fashion after showing little fight in the sweep you had to deal with the week prior…even worse.

6. St. Thomas University – Tommies

The Tommies had a long road trip home, as expected. Unlike the Bulldogs, they actually showed some fight on Saturday though. Taking a team like Penn State to OT is a feat in itself for St Thomas. You never want to accept moral victories in College Hockey, but this would be one to consider.

National Rankings Roundup

Without even sweeping their series on the weekend, the Gophers managed to maintain the unanimous #1 spot in the country. For anyone that watched that electric series, it’s easy to see why. Big movement (in opposite directions) was also seen out of St Cloud and Minnesota State after their series. Outside of those teams, the top ten remain very similar. As has been the case, the Pairwise is still nerfed pretty heavily. It’ll be bumped up as we approach the end of the non-conference play. It’ll increase even more until it becomes the most important factor, but we’re taking it step-by-step here.

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 @ #11 Ohio State – Fri & Sat, Oct 28/29

The Golden Child of Minnesota Gophers are coming off a weekend series in which they should have won both games, but didn’t. They looked like a dominant force against a high-quality opponent and got shut down by a hot goaltender and getting outworked in the corners. I legitimately cannot see that happening tonight. Not against a team like Ohio State.

Listen, Ohio State is a good hockey team and have been for a while. I was their biggest advocate at tournament selection time last year. Unfortunately, they’re not a great team, and that’s what it’ll take to beat the Gophers this season. Ohio State has killed the teams that they were supposed to, so good on them for doing that, but they also earned a tie and massive loss to their only quality opponent to date (UConn) two weeks ago.

Prediction: Gophers take both games on the road against the football school.

#20 Cornell @ #19 Minnesota Duluth – Fri & Sat, Oct 28/29

The Bulldogs are absolutely REELING right now. Two weeks ago, the boys in Duluth were sitting at #4 in the country. Since then, they’ve lost four in a row and have free-fallen all the way to #19. To say that they need AT LEAST one win this weekend to get back on track would be an understatement. Unfortunately, they’ll have to find a way to do it without freshman sensation Isaac Howard. Ike’s earned a two-game sussy after cross-checking an opponent behind the play after a frustrating weekend against Wisconsin.

This will be Cornell’s first outing of the season as the Ivy Leaguers have finally allowed their precious student-athletes onto the ice. They were one of the top teams in the country in 2019 before the season was cut short due to Covid. They didn’t take place in the 2020 season while others played in isolated “bubbles” of their own conference. Finally, they were an up-and-down team last season, even with their Head Coach forced off the bench due to health issues. Which version of Cornell shows up will be a surprise to everyone, but it should be noted that UMD has never beaten the Big Brown Bears in the regular season.

Prediction: UMD wins one and settles for a tie in the other.

#2 St Cloud State vs Bemidji State – Fri & Sat, Oct 28/29

After seeing the massive success of the Minnesota and North Dakota series seven days ago, St. Cloud State and the Bemidji State are running it back with another WCHA rivalry game this weekend. Neither of these teams were in the WCHA for all that long relative to its tenure, but we’re going to count it anyway because these in-state games are always fun. While nobody is expecting the same type of turnout, the games could easily be as close.

After what they showed last weekend, I would expect St Cloud to dominate play in both games. With that being said, I can also see Bemidji finding a way to win, ’cause that’s just who they are. Neither of these teams have eclipsed 5 goals on the season and given the style of play that each prefer, I feel confident in saying that will continue through this weekend. Low(er) scoring games like that, and a bounce or two can make all the difference for an underdog.

Prediction: Official prediction is that St Cloud takes both, but if I were betting on the series, it’s definitely only a single unit.

Bowling Green @ #8 Minnesota State – Fri & Sat, Oct 28/29

If you had sat in the USHL, BCHL, AJHL, or NAHL for 3+ years after a full high school cycle and were finally getting your shot at the College Hockey level now that you’re a fully grown adult, you’d be motivated to win. Now if you did all that and had just gotten swept the weekend prior by a team ranked below you (but still ranked), you’d be even more motivated to win. I want to say this will be a good series, and I legitimately hope it is, but the reality is Bowling Green isn’t nearly as improved as the pre-season hype would have led us to believe.

Prediction: Mankato Minnesota State takes both by at least 2 each night.

St. Thomas @ Ferris State – Fri & Sat, Oct 28/29

Their record might not show it but St Thomas is a much-improved team this year. While they don’t have as many wins as they should (see overtime against a ranked Penn State team last weekend), I believe that they are well on their way to getting them in short order. They are up against Ferris State this weekend who, If you remember, gave the Tommies their first D1 program win last season. The Bulldogs (of Michigan) have not swept a team this season, nor have they been swept yet. Sounds like a trend to me.

Prediction: St Thomas and Ferris State each take one game by two goals in the series.

Other College Hockey Games to Watch

Arizona State vs #6/#7 North Dakota – Fri & Sat, Oct 28/29

North Dakota and Arizona State are making the trip to Vegas for the US Hockey Hall of Fame game this weekend. While logic would tell you that it should be a home atmosphere for the sun-devils, you’d be mistaken. Plenty of rumors were going around last weekend that the turnout for the Minnesota series was “so low” (accounting for 30% of the attendance at an away game) because so many fans were heading to Las Vegas for this game. As sure as the sun rises in the East, North Dakota fans will travel better than any other College Hockey fanbase…and it ain’t particularly close if we’re being honest.

Both teams are coming off of pretty elevated highs from the weekend prior. We’ve already talked about North Dakota gutting out a win against Minny, but Arizona State looked good too. The Sun Devils have been taking advantage of the energy in their new arena, going 3-1 in their last four, including a convincing sweep against Colorado College. This game will come down to one thing. Who can thrive in Vegas more: The party school who lives off of Adderall and Molly, or the “rural” university that runs on beer and liquor. Tune in to find out.

Prediction: North Dakota wins by 2+.

#4 Michigan vs #16/17 Western Michigan – Fri & Sat, Oct 28/29

This is THE rematch we’ve been waiting for since the Wolverines selectively ducked the Broncos last season. There was already an in-state rivalry between the two programs, but after that slimy maneuvering, there’s bad blood too. If you recall, the #3 Michigan team was healthy enough and had plenty of depth to play against a struggling Michigan Tech team, but subsequently canceled their game against the #4 Broncos team the next day. Many teams were missing people due to World Juniors taking place, but only Michigan was greasy enough to subvert an almost certain loss which would have dropped them significantly in the rankings and could have easily changed the College Hockey playoff landscape as well.

Despite having another presumed top-3 NHL draft pick on their roster, Michigan is not receiving anywhere near as much hype as they were last season. Have people learned their lesson? It’s hard to say, really because the best team they’ve played is BU, who they split with. Conversely, the Broncos have been picking up steam after a tough loss to start their season. A sweep or a split in this series would show really well for Western to those with a vote in the rankings.

Prediction: Western Michigan splits with another opponent this weekend in a home-and-home series.

#18 UMass Lowell vs #9 Boston University – Fri & Sat, Oct 28/29

This is the eastern series I’m looking forward to most this weekend. Lowell has suffered splits with Miami (OH) and Michigan State, but also beat the likes of Northeastern. BU has earned splits against UConn and Michigan, in addition to beating up on a couple nobody’s. The winner of this series will be setting themselves up with a great base for the rest of their season. Even more so if they can do it outright.

BU can afford to take a few more risks and play aggressively in this series because Lowell’s PP is only functioning at 16% at this point in the season. If we’re being completely honest, they’d be silly NOT to test the limits of what they can get away with because the advantage probably outweighs the risk. Conversely, the Riverhawks PK is humming at 85%, so they won’t be afraid to get into the trenches either. Being the overlooked school in the Boston Area has got to boil over and get to you eventually, right?

Prediction: It’s another un-sexy, un-fun split for these two coming from me. Lowell taking one as a 9-spot underdog is still huge.

Previous Previews:

Week 4 – College Hockey Preview: WCHA Rivalry Week

Week 3 – College Hockey Preview: Non-Conference Impact

2022-23 College Hockey Preview

Alternative Media:

Hate my predictions or 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 talked with North Dakota superstar Riese Gaber after the big series against Minnesota.