We’re officially to the first holiday break of the College Hockey season. That means we’re a little more than a third of the way through the season! As an unapologetic Bulldogs fan, you’d think I’d be struggling to have anything to be thankful for this season, but you’d be wrong. You see, I’m a fan of College Hockey in general and this season has been one of the more exciting in recent memory.While the CCHA and ECAC are still very top-heavy conferences, Hockey East has rebounded in a big way after a down year. The NCHC has two teams in the top three with three more contenders that ride an insane roller-coaster of production and results week in and week out. The Atlantic has a ranked hockey team in RIT for the first time in a long time, but everyone knows it will ultimately come down to the winner of their tournament for who gets to represent them in the playoffs as well. Then there’s the Big 10. Yes, Minnesota and Michigan are the cream of the crop, but who would have ever guessed that Penn State and Michigan State would come out this hot? Not me!
Frankly, I’m thankful for the surprise. More parity means more eyes, which means more money, and in turn leads to more coverage. All of those are MASSIVE wins for the sport of College Hockey and I love it.
Explaining the Minnesota Rankings:
1. University of Minnesota – GophersCredit to me for motivating the Gophers to come out of the gates with a little piss and vinegar. Some are saying that their sweep of a top-3 (at the time) Michigan team had more to do with the catastrophic illness their locker room was dealing with, but we’re tuning out the haters.
2. St. Cloud State – Huskies
This team is just quietly chugging along and getting wins in games that they’re expected to. Most recently, they earned a couple more NCHC wins while sweeping Colorado College. When will the machine start to backfire?
3. Minnesota State – MavericksIf you read last week, you know that I called the Mavs split with Northern Michigan. Again, all the credit in the world to me and me only. Maybe they learned their lesson about letting teams hang around too long, maybe not. Only time will tell.
4. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs
Bulldogs earned a BIG win on Friday night after one of the wildest first periods I’ve ever seen. After ten minutes, the teams were on pace to score a total of 36 goals in the game for an 18-18 tie. Eventually, they settled down and got back to NCHC-style hockey. Saturday was also high-scoring, but UMD allowed a late goal in the second period before a mismanaged third period full of penalties and questionable calls leading to a loss.
5. Bemidji State – Beavers
Off-week for Bemidji where they keep lurking just outside of the ranked teams.
6. St. Thomas University – Tommies
St Thomas lost…both…again. After seeing and hearing about coach Rico Blasi’s reactions to the game(s) and series, I’m not sure if it’s him or the players who are more upset.
National Rankings RoundupFor the first time in over a month, the top two teams in the nation remained the same from one week to the next. The fans from Minny are a little upset that they’re still at #2 after dismantling the next best team in the nation, but without any games, Denver did nothing to lose their spot either. Hockey East has done themselves a massive favor by performing well early on in the season and especially in non-conference play. Now all they have to do is split every series and cannibalize one another to remain the most prominent conference in the rankings. The East-Coast Elitist mentality and biases with the rankers also help.
Obviously there are some biases in rankings sources, so those that have put less effort into hiding those have had their weighted percentage reduced. Rankings that deviate from the average (high or low) are highlighted. The Pairwise has doubled in weight to 10% now, which will only continue to grow.
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
#2 Minnesota @ Arizona State – Fri & Sat, Nov 25/26
The Minnesota Golden Gophers have re-established themselves as a contender for the top team in the country. To have that kind of team coming into your brand new barn HAS TO drive numbies. Especially if you are in the conversation for national recognition yourself, like Arizona State is. I fully understand that it’s a holiday weekend during a holiday break for a school that is mostly home to students who aren’t from there, but if you want to be a hockey school, there’s no excuses anymore.
Arizona has had a bit of an up-and-down season with highlights including two losses to UMD to start the season, while also defeating UND in the Hockey Hall of Fame game in Vegas. The Gophers have been pretty consistent in showing off their talent, but are not immune to dropping a surprising game to a feisty opponent either. Ultimately, this one boils down to who wants the rights to Maroon and Gold jerseys more, and if you’re familiar with my opinion, you know it’s no contest.
Prediction: Gophs sweep the series to put Arizona’s hopeful fans into panic mode.
#10 Minnesota State @ Michigan Tech – Fri & Sat, Nov 25/26
Minnesota state is coming off of a big wake-up call series in which they dropped on to Northern Michigan. Now, they take the show on the road to Houghton and face off against Michigan Tech. By all metrics and expectations, Minnesota State should be taking this series without question. Tech has only been a part of 4 one-goal games this season. Unless they’re planning on surprising the nation by finally turning the scoring on against a quality opponent, I’m fully expecting both of these games to lean towards the Mavericks pretty quickly.
Prediction: Minnesota State learned from their mistakes and take both on the road.
#20 North Dakota vs Bemidji State – Fri & Sat, Nov 25/26
The Fighting Hawks of North Dakota have only won two games out of their last seven contests. The fans and team are both getting nervous with a losing record near the end of November. For a team with the talent pool and number of upper-classmen that North Dakota has, a 5-6-2 record was nearly impossible to imagine. When you have that thought in the back of your mind going into a home-and-home series with a pesky team like the Beavers, anything can happen. Separated by just 2 hours of travel along Highway 2, I expect each of these barns to be packed on both Friday and Saturday.
Prediction: North Dakota continues to struggle with each team taking one at home.
Lake Superior State @ St Thomas – Fri & Sat, Nov 25/26
For those that have not been keeping tabs on the CCHA, you may be shocked to learn that St Thomas is actually ranked above Lake Superior State. With a record of 1-7-2, the Lakers are firmly anchored to the bottom ten teams in the pairwise standings. The Tommies haven’t faired too much better on paper with 2-12-0 staring back at them in the mirror. The loser of this series will most certainly finish last in the CCHA at the end of the year.
Prediction: St Thomas takes advantage of a bad Lake State team to earn their third win of the season, but will not get to four this weekend.
Other College Hockey Games to Watch
The Friendship Four: Belfast, Northern Ireland – Fri & Sat, Nov 25/26
Hand up, I’m not overly familiar with the “Friendship Four” tournament as a Midwesterner because it only includes east coast hockey schools. You see, when we have the Ice Breaker hockey tournament every year, we occasionally include east coast opponents, because we’re an inclusive people who just enjoy good hockey games. Not saying that’s better or worse, just saying it’s a fact. This tournament has taken place in Belfast, Northern Ireland since 2015 with the last two years being cancelled due to Covid restrictions.
This year, the contenders include Dartmouth and Quinnipiac in the first game of the series which will be followed by UMass taking on UMass Lowell. While the first matchup was already decided as soon as it was put on paper, the UMass vs Lowell matchup should be a fun game to decide who’s playing Quinnipiac in the championship. I love that College Hockey hasn’t even fully mastered the art of captivating the US market, but they send four schools to Northern Ireland anyways. Hey, whatever it takes to grow the game.
Prediction: I’ve been quoted elsewhere stating that I expect Lowell to shock some people to win the tournament. While that’s certainly got a shot, I’ve been swayed by the allure of a name like Yaniv Perets playing in an “international tournament” and cementing a legacy. Plus, nobody’s won the tournament twice yet and I’d hate to break the streak.
Omaha @ #1 Denver – Fri & Sat, Nov 25/26
An Omaha team who’s been a bit of a disappointment this season goes into the barn of a well-rested Denver team who’s currently ranked #1 in the nation. What could possibly go wrong with that strategy? In all seriousness, Denver is a championship contender and as close of a lock for the Frozen Four as anyone in College Hockey. Omaha…is not. It won’t be a cake-walk, because it never is in the NCHC, but I don’t expect the goal differential to be close by the end of the weekend.
Prediction: Denver takes two, as expected and remains on top of the NCHC and National Rankings.
#9 Harvard @ #5 Michigan – Fri & Sat, Nov 25/26
Harvard is an undefeated hockey team after seven games. Congratulations to the crimson on that achievement. Now let’s take a look at that record. Three of those seven wins came against Dartmouth, Brown, and Yale. Each of those teams currently sits in the bottom four in the Pairwise rankings with a combined total of three wins between them. Their most notable win came against a Union team who’s ranked 35th in the nation. There were a lot of people who were mad at how big of frauds Penn State were before they faced off against Michigan and Minnesota because of their opening schedule, but the fact that Harvard was able to climb into the top ten without a single quality win is absurd. At least it is to me.
If the Crimson come out of this weekend with a sweep, I will never say another negative word about those nerds that play in the ECAC, their joke of a conference, or their stupid single-game, haphazard scheduling. With all these criticisms aside, this Harvard team DOES have a lot of very experienced and very talented players. If you read my season preview, you’d already know that their roster has FIFTEEN players with their professional rights owned by NHL franchises. Michigan isn’t far behind, and they started their season earlier, so they’ve had a little more time to gel. I think that makes a serious difference.
Prediction: Harvard learns what it’s like to lose, but earns a split vs Michigan.
#18 Northeastern vs #15 Western Michigan – Fri & Sat, Nov 25/26
Here’s something to keep in the tickler file for later on this season: I’ve been stashing highlights (lowlights) of Devon Levi letting in soft goals to bring up when it comes time to vote for the Richter and Hobey Baker awards. Unfortunately this has nothing to do with Devon Levi himself. He’s a great player who keeps this team in Hockey games they’d otherwise have no right to be in. Unfortunately the Northeastern fanbase is unbearable and refuses to listen to any criticisms, so I have to show it to them all at one time. I’m not sorry about it either.
This Western Michigan team will be one of the bigger tests for Levi and the Huskies. With their freshman sensation Ryan McAllister leading the nation in points on the season, it will require an entirely different game plan. If Mcallister is tied up or goes cold in the series, Polin and Sasson can carry the load for Western as they’re both in the top six for scoring as well. Both of these teams are more than capable of making the cut for the national tournament at the end of the season, but as it currently stands, they’re both on the fence.
Prediction: As much as I’d love for Western to sweep as a fan of the NCHC style of play, Devon Levi seems like he’s got the ability to steal a game in this series. Split.
Recent Previews & Picks:
Don’t know whether you can trust the picks or input? I don’t blame you. I’m not anywhere near a “Big J”. In fact, I’m just some idiot with an outlet. An idiot who watches more college hockey than 99% of the nation, but an idiot nonetheless. Take that how you will.
Alternative College Hockey 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.
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