Week 8 – College Hockey Preview: The Fix is In

Gophers Hockey NCAA

To the untrained eye, this week in College Hockey looks like any other. A couple of powerhouses in the top 10 are facing off and conference play is hotter than ever. Unfortunately for the NCAA, I’m wise to their tricks and deceit. They’ve got Quinnipiac at #5 with all of two quality wins to their name and Cornell at #10 with an even weaker schedule.

Not only that, but those schools are playing the likes of Clarkson, St. Lawrence, Brown, and Yale this weekend. You can try, but you won’t be able to tell me that there wasn’t a plan to get them high enough in the rankings that they don’t fall out when their schedule eventually catches up with them. I’m not an idiot. Okay, I am…but not dumb enough to look past this!

A week ago, I tried calling my shot. I had claimed that every Minnesota Team was going to win on the same day. Unfortunately, we were let down. Surprisingly (to some) it came from the former #1 team in the country St. Cloud dropping their Saturday game to a talented Omaha team. We were so close to getting it, and we were robbed. Unfortunately we won’t get another shot at it with the Mavericks and St. Thomas playing one another this weekend. Whatever, we’re on to Week 8.

Explaining My Rankings:

Not much of a change in the rankings this week. That can be said for my own, as well as the national polls. The Bulldogs and Mavericks swap in the 2/3 spot for the second week in a row, but outside of that it’s business as usual. After taking turns on bye weeks over the last month, every team in the state is back to playing. With 5 of the teams in the state being officially ranked again, that means quality hockey should be easy to find.

1. St Cloud State – Huskies

People called me crazy, but ultimately I was proven to be correct. The Huskies split their series with Omaha and the number one scorer in the nation was a serious factor. The only thing I got wrong about this game was the order in which the series would be won/lost. Regardless, it’s not a reason to worry about the Huskies.

2. Minnesota State – Mavericks

Blowout doesn’t begin to describe the Mavericks vs Bowling Green last weekend. I believe the phrase I had used for describing how Minnesota State was going to play was “scorched earth” and they lived up to every bit of that. Winning their games 9-2 and 5-3 in back to back nights reminded everyone in the state that they’re not to be forgotten.

3. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs

The good news? Ryan Fanti is on a 3-game shutout streak and playing great. This is particularly important with Stejskal out with a lower body injury and not expected back any time soon. Unfortunately, that’s not even the bad news. The Bulldogs didn’t (technically) earn a sweep of Colorado College as their matchup on Saturday ended in a scoreless tie. The Bulldogs did get the extra point thanks to a shootout victory, but with that result they had to get dropped in the MN rankings.

4. University of Minnesota – Gophers

You ever have a gut feeling about something and then ignore it, only to regret it later? Yeah that was me placing bets last weekend. The stats were all there to show that Minnesota was going to split with another Red and White team, and I ignored them. Hand up. After coming out to a HOT 3-0 lead, the Gophers let Ohio state sneak back into the Friday game and win it 4-3 in regulation. I don’t care that they won in a shutout on Saturday, this team has got to learn to close.

5. Bemidji State – Beavers

The Beavers are making a push for the 4-spot in the state. If they keep winning and Minnesota keeps dropping games, it might happen sooner rather than later. I love the grit of this team, they’ll just need to grind out a couple more tough ones to build that resume.

6. St. Thomas University – Tommies

Coming off of a bye week to face the #3 team in the country is going to be tough, obviously. Expectations are not high for the Tommies, but hoping to see some fight out of the team.

CCHA Games

#3 Minnesota State vs St. Thomas – Thurs & Sat Nov 18-20

Mavericks vs Tommies

To put it as gently and politely as possible, the Mavericks of Mankato absolutely shit-pumped the Bowling Green Falcons last week. A pissed off team that felt disrespected after an embarrassing loss to Ferris State took it out on the ice. I don’t expect the Mavericks to put up double digits on the Tommies, but that’s not to say they couldn’t if they really wanted to. Look for another McKay shutout opportunity on the weekend and some in-game practice for positioning from the Mavericks in a relaxed series.

St Thomas is coming off a bye week, only to have to face off against the number three team in all of College Hockey. Ouch. It’s not all bad vibes for the Tommies though. By the rule of parity and the transitive property, St Thomas is just as good as Mankato! You see, St Thomas beat Ferris State and Ferris State beat Mankato; therefore St Thomas is fully capably of beating Mankato! Let’s hope the private school kids and Rico Blasi can keep that same energy and positivity headed into the weekend. I want to see them keep it close.

Prediction: Mavs keep their train rolling, embarrassing the Tommies in two straight.

Michigan Tech. @ #20 Bemidji State – Fri & Sat Nov 19-20

Bemidji has got to be one of the most disrespected teams in all of college hockey. I try to give them shine and pump their tires whenever I can. Part of that is because they’re another Minnesota school and what’s good for one, is good for all of us. Moreover though, they’re actually good. Their four losses have come from a combined total of 5 goals and they’re playing competitive week-in and week-out. That’s not changing this weekend, if either team were to be favored by more than 1.5 goals, I’d be HAMMERING the underdog.

Speaking of disrespected teams, it’s about time we bring up Michigan Tech. They’re currently number 9 in the Pairwise and I don’t think anybody knows that outside of Houghton. They’re another one of the teams in the middle of the pack that’s fighting for relevancy. Unfortunately for them, they’ve had one hell of a roller coaster to start the season. Not only from a series to series perspective, but game-to-game within each series. You never know what to expect out of them in terms of production OR goaltender play. Taking a quick look at their past games, if I were able to bet on the total points for this weekend, I’d be betting under 5 every night. (Editor’s Note: We’re working with our pals at BettorEdge to get this sorted, go sign up and use promo code 10K for $10 to legally bet on sports in Minnesota!)

Prediction: Beavs make the nation take notice, earn another two conference wins, and climb into the top 17.

NCHC College Hockey Games

#4 UMD @ #6 UND – Fri & Sat Nov 19-20

At the risk of sounding like a broken record here, UMD is going to be featured in THE game to pay attention to in College Hockey this week. That’s what happens when 8 of your first 12 games of the season are against ranked opponents and 6 of those 8 are ranked in the top 10. I said it at the beginning of the year but this Gauntlet that UMD has ran through to start the year is among the toughest in College hockey. In fact, they’re ranked #1 in the latest Pairwise Rankings. These rankings don’t always explain everything, but they’re certainly a better representation of a team’s actual talent than records alone.

In their first year after losing a number of star players, North Dakota is right back in the mix. One way or another, they always seem to find their way towards the top of the NCAA charts. Sure, they stole Bemidji’s goaltender through the transfer portal, but that’s perfectly legal now. With these first two games of the season being played at Ralph Engelstad arena, the Bulldogs will be heading into a hostile environment and that’s putting it lightly. Since the old WCHA disbanded upon the creation of the Big 10, this rivalry has been one of the most electric in college hockey. I fully expect that to continue this weekend.

North Dakota and UMD have not met since their 5OT THRILLER in the NCAA Playoffs last spring. In case people have forgotten, UMD won that matchup in overtime…twice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6F189nkF4vo

Prediction: For the last 5 seasons in a row, these teams have effectively split every single time. Some years each team wins both home games, and others they split in one another’s barns. This year, I’m taking the latter and expect to see it 1-1 on the season after Saturday. For what it’s worth, UMD will HAVE TO stay out of the penalty box in this series to grab their win(s).

#2 St Cloud State @ #13 Western Michigan – Fri & Sat Nov 19-20

Western Michigan can no longer be ignored, even by those keeping an eye on college hockey in the most casual manner. They’ve beaten both Michigan and UMD already this season, so beating St. Cloud is certainly not out of the question. While they were swept by Denver last weekend, their only losses on the year have come from teams ranked in the Top 15. Getting to play in front of the Lawson Lunatics should be a bit of help to the Mustangs. The longer they’re able to keep the games close, the better for this squad.

St. Cloud is coming off of a split series with Nebraska Omaha. The Huskies outscored the Mavericks 7-4 on the weekend and had their first loss in forever come in overtime. Even with that, for the rest of the NCHC, it’s like seeing King Xerxes or Thanos finally bleed. Even the top of the best conference in hockey can be beaten. Sure, they’ve still got the best save percentage in the country paired with the 2nd most efficient Power Play, but it could happen.

Prediction: St. Cloud wins both, but in close games. Expect a lot of penalties in a hostile environment.

Big 10 College Hockey Games

Penn State @ #7 Minnesota – Fri & Sat Nov 19-20

The Gophers absolutely cannot shoot themselves in the foot anymore. At this point they’re already standing on swiss cheese. I talk a lot of crap about how much help Hockey East and ECAC teams get in the polls every week but Minnesota is fast approaching the same level of nepotism. Hell, they went up from number 8 up to 7 in the USA Hockey poll even after their showing last weekend.

If they don’t show up this week, I’m not sure that anybody on the committee would be able to keep them anywhere higher than 10. If they DO play to the full extent of their ability, they’ll be in a good spot to have an opportunity to climb back into the top 5 with their upcoming schedule.

Penn State is the forgotten team in the Big 10. Maybe it’s just me, but I always forget about the Nittany Lions until they pop up on the schedule. As dumb of a name as I really believe that is, at least they didn’t pick a Tiger as a mascot/logo.

This squad is in the midst of a four-game skid, losing to Ohio State and Michigan in consecutive weekends. As bad as that sounds, they are still the team that beat North Dakota at a “neutral site” in Nashville at the US Hockey Hall of Fame game. If the Gophers want to pull out a win, they’ll have to get a 2020-style performance out of LaFontaine and stop Penn State’s Kevin Wall.

Prediction: Gophers get back on track and end up 2-0 on the weekend. One way or another, they need it at this point.

Other Games to Watch

#5 Quinnipiac vs Clarkson/St. Lawrence – ECAC – Fri & Sat Nov 19-20

Harvard learned the hard way that these are not matchups that can be overlooked. Either that or they were severely over ranked simply because they were undefeated through six games. It was probably a little bit of both if we’re being completely honest. Either way, Quinnipiac will have the same sequence of matchups to prove they’re deserving of their rank. Speaking candidly, I don’t think they are. While I expect them to win both, these games shouldn’t be that close if they’re really as good as the polls say they are.

#9/10 Cornell vs Brown/Yale – ECAC – Fri & Sat Nov 19-20

Shocker, another East Coast team is over ranked in College Hockey and has an easy matchup to boost their stats even more. So help me god, if Cornell is ranked higher than the Gophers or Bulldogs after this weekend, for any reason, you know the fix is in. UMD could even lose both games and Cornell could slaughter both of these teams and I’d still feel the same way. Brown and Yale are ranked 56th and 59th in the Pairwise rankings…out of 59. Honestly, these shouldn’t even count as wins. Yes, they’ve only got one loss on the year, but that was to Harvard, before they were ranked. It also took overtime for them to beat out Alaska-Anchorage two games in a row.

#14/15 Notre Dame @ #1 Michigan – Big 10 – Fri & Sat Nov 19-20

The Wolverines of Michigan have a rare ranked matchup ahead of them. Of course, they get to play this one in their home barn. If they can win these two games in convincing fashion, I’ll CONSIDER joining the rest of the cult that is already crowning them as the best team in the nation. With slip ups against the likes of Western Michigan and Wisconsin already on their record, they can’t afford too many more if they’re going to maintain that reputation.