Week 9 – College Hockey Preview: Thankful for Minnesota Hockey

Gophers Hockey NCAA

It’s Thanksgiving weekend and that’s got me thinking about all of the different thing’s I’ve got to be thankful for, including College Hockey. Imagine growing up as a young hockey player/fan in Wisconsin. No pro team to root for and only one college hockey team, who’s taken a severe step back this season. They’ve got a decent high school hockey scene, but it pails in comparison to Minnesota and is still a step behind Michigan’s. Here in the land of 10,000 lakes…we don’t have any of those problems. We’ve got the Wild leading the central division and 5/6 college hockey teams ranked in the Top 20. For that, I’m thankful.

Something else that many others (including myself) take for granted is their health. A gentle reminder of that came out earlier this week when UMD’s own Zach Stejskal sat down to open up about his ongoing battle against testicular cancer. If you don’t follow UMD closely, you might remember Zach as the goaltender that took the Bulldogs into their 4th overtime against North Dakota in the College Hockey playoffs last season before having to leave the game with leg cramps. Zach’s sit down came near the end of Movember as a reminder to all men to check in on yourself and to get your doctor’s input if you find anything irregular. If you’d like to donate to UMD Hockey’s Movember fundraiser, you can do so by clicking here.

Explaining My Rankings:

The College Hockey world was a blur last week. Yeah, I’m a four-eyes but that had nothing to do with my inability to see the board clearly. Going six and four on the weekend is not something I take any sort of pride in writing about. Hell, the only games I truly had a feel for were UMD/UND and Mankato/St Thomas. A Split and a sweep were the most obvious calls in the history of betting lines. This week, however, we get back on track.

1. Minnesota State – Mavericks

Not only did Mankato sweep St Thomas, as expected, but they did so with authority. Over the course of two games, the Mavericks outscored the Tommies 14-0. What may be even more impressive is the fact that Mankato only gave up 22 shots on net…through both games. With that being said, Dryden McKay made sure he was between the pipes to earn another two shutouts. There will not be an easier way to add to his record the rest of the year.

2. University of Minnesota, Duluth – Bulldogs

As expected, UMD left the series with a split between them and the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota. However, this time around, the split felt like a little bit of a let down. The Bulldogs are older, bigger, and more experienced than this version of a North Dakota hockey team. Not only that, but UND was without their star defender Jake Sanderson in this series. I understand and respect that a split playing AT The Ralph is huge regardless, but it would have really put the pressure on the rest of the NCHC if UMD could have pulled out the Saturday Win too.

3. St Cloud State – Huskies

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills when it came to watching and reviewing this series. I tried to warn people about Western Michigan and yet picked St Cloud to sweep the series? I’ve gotta be the biggest idiot in all the land. With that being said, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that I would have picked the Mustangs to sweep the Huskies like they did. To say that the goaltending and defensive stats for the Huskies have taken a hit in the last two weeks would be an understatement as the team’s save percentage is now out of the top 10.

4. University of Minnesota – Gophers

This team, man. I’m starting to feel like the same paragraph could be copy and pasted week after week for them. This was the third week in a row and 4th time this season that the Gophers lost their Friday game and then bounced back to win on Saturday. Motzko has got to find a way to get the boys up and ready earlier in the weekend because a .500 record with a Big 10 schedule is not going to be looked kindly on at the end of the season.

5. Bemidji State – Beavers

In a not-so-shocking turn of events, Bemidji played two one-goal games again last weekend. They split the series with Michigan Tech, each winning a game 4-3. They’ve just started breaking into the top 20 rankings across the nation, and if they can pull together a couple of sweeps, they’ll make the top 15 in no time.

6. St. Thomas University – Tommies

Not much to say here. This went exactly as expected. The worst part for St Thomas wasn’t the shutouts or number of goals surrendered. It’s the damage that this type of series loss has done to prospects and potential transfers. Everyone loves the idea of being the guy(s) to turn a program around, but St. Thomas has an uphill battle ahead of them getting kids to sign on with losses of this magnitude piling up.

CCHA Games

#1 Minnesota State @ Lake Superior State – Fri & Sat Nov 26-27

Mavericks @ Lakers

The Mavericks look to keep their impeccable record rolling. Not only this year, but in their overall matchup with Lake State. Throughout history, they’ve owned Lake Superior State boasting a 25-3-1 overall record against the Lakers. That record doesn’t even account for the kind of team that Mankato has this season. Home or away, it doesn’t matter for the Mavericks, there’s a better chance than not that they’ll be taking control of the games.

While they’re certainly a relevant team in their own conference, don’t look for LSSU to be hoisting any championships this year. They’ve only got one ranked win this season against Omaha. That was the first game of the year. Since then, they’ve struggled to put complete games together. If they want any hope of pulling out a win this weekend, they’ll have to rely heavily on Louis Boudon. The Junior forward is tied for 5th in the country with 20 points, and is looking to catch up to Mankato’s Nathan Smith who is currently leading the nation. My guess, he’ll still be looking after this weekend.

Prediction: I truly believe the Mavericks will win both, but it’s my duty to *manifest* a split so that UMD has the opportunity to take the #1 spot in the country. My official stance is a 1-1 split…but if I were at Diamond Joe’s I’d be fading myself.

Non-Conference College Hockey Games

Penn State @ St Thomas – Tue & Wed Nov 23-24

Nittany Lions @ Tommies

As with most of the series involving St Thomas in 2021, this one was over before it started. For full transparency of this blog, the Tommies were down a game before I even started writing and already lost the second before I finished. I blame that on their insane ECAC-style schedule this week. They came into the weekend 1-13 and are now 1-15. Everybody knew there would be struggles for the team this year, but a 1 win college hockey team headed into the Christmas break is fast approaching. With Bemidji and Michigan Tech the last two series before that, it’s almost guaranteed.

Prediction Recap: St Thomas loses both to Penn State, a team that’s beaten some tough opponents already this season.

#20 Bemidji State @ Arizona State – Wed & Fri Nov 24-26

Beavers @ Sun Devils

By no means is this a rivalry game for the Beavers. With ASU one of the few independent teams in the nation, it’s not a conference matchup either. Having said all of that, it’ll be one of the most watched series that the Beavers play in this season. For non-traditional hockey school, Arizona State definitely moves the needle on the national scale. They’ve done everything right in terms of building a program and wins against them help your own program’s exposure at the very least. National exposure is one thing this Bemidji squad could use help with. Well, that and goaltending. They’ve given up at least two goals in every game this season except for their 2-1 win over Bowling Green

As much as the goaltending of Bemidji needs help, Arizona State is even further behind. They’ve given up an average of 3.67 goals per game compared to Bemidji’s 2.86. As bleak as that may sound, hope is not lost for The Sun Devils. Matthew¬†Kopperud is carrying a lot of the team’s weight on his shoulders as the #2 point leader in the nation. They may not be a hockey school (yet) but they’re on their way. No matter how the series ends, Arizona State is winning the jersey battle…as long as they’re not in the Maroon and Gold.

ASU always bringing the heat

Prediction: Beavs finish strong and snag another 2 wins on the road to complete the 2-0 sweep.

#11/12 Minnesota @ #5/6 UND – Fri & Sat Nov 26-27

Golden Gophers @ Fighting Hawks

This is the single greatest matchup in all of College Hockey. East coasters will argue that the Beanpot between Boston College and Boston University is bigger, but they’re simply wrong. Unless you lived through the old WCHA, it’s nearly impossible to explain. It was an era where North Dakota fans would be smuggling in dead gophers to throw on the ice. A physical and spiteful matchup for both sides. Every. Single. Time. Even though these two teams are no longer in the same conference, the animosity between the schools still lingers.

In their all-time matchup, you might be surprised to learn that the Gophers hold a 148-134-16 lead over the Fighting Hawks. In the last decade though, things have tilted pretty heavily in North Dakota’s favor. With Minnesota’s apparent inability to find a way to win on Fridays and the games being played in The Ralph, North Dakota has the upper hand this series. Minnesota will need to channel some of the magic (and maybe favorable calls) that they had against St. Cloud to churn out a win. Mark my words, they will not win both.

Prediction: Splitsville USA. Population: These two. This weekend ending 1-1 will be a win for the Gophers.

Alaska Fairbanks @ #2 UMD – Fri & Sat Nov 26-27

Nanooks @ Bulldogs

All of the bad blood in the state has been loaned to the Gophers this weekend because there’s none available for Minnesota Duluth. The Bulldogs are facing off against the Nanooks for the first time in what feels like forever. Know why that is? Because it hasn’t happened since 1988! For those math-deficient out there, that’s 33 years between tilts for these two. While I wish the Bulldogs were matched up against the Seawolves of Alaska Anchorage, I’m still happy that the great state of Alaska has representation this year and very happy to have them playing at Ams Oil. College Hockey is better with Alaskan teams in it.

Despite their 1-9 record on the season, the Nanooks are playing good hockey. They split their first series with a Clarkson team who’s beaten Harvard and tied Quinnipiac. They’ve also taken Omaha and Cornell (Both ranked in the top 15) to overtime three times this year. An independent conference team could set up a schedule with cake-walk opponents to try and pad their own stats, but Alaska has been doing it right. Challenging their own players with some of the best teams in the nation and showing they can compete proves that College Hockey can and will continue to succeed past the “Great White North”.

Prediction: Bulldogs continue rolling and get their scoring back on track with a 2-0 sweep.

No other games to watch this week. Take the extra time to spend with your family and friends.