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College Hockey:
NCHA picks: Jan. 4

After a long hiatus for the holidays, the NCHA is back for a full slate of games this weekend. It’ll be interesting to see if teams like Wisconsin-Eau Claire and St. Norbert, both ranked in the top 10 nationally, have any holiday rust to shake off from the long break. Can they keep their momentum going in the second half of the season? We’ll find out this weekend.

Friday, Jan. 4

St. Johns at Wis.-Eau Claire
St. John’s brings a formidable team to Eau Claire on Friday night and may catch the Blugolds by surprise. However, I see Wis.-Eau Claire refocusing in the second period and dominating the third. The Blugolds, ranked third, simply have too many weapons and are on a mission to claim the top spot in D-III. Expect Isaiah Bennis to score a hat trick against the overmatched Johnnies. Wis.-Eau Claire 5-3

Saturday, Jan. 5

St. John’s at Wis.-River Falls
This is could be an intriguing matchup of two teams that received votes in the latest USCHO.com D-III poll, but couldn’t break into the top 15. The Falcons are 6-5-1, but only 1-5-2 in the NCHA. Playing a nonconference opponent at home should help Wis.-River Falls regroup and gain some confidence heading into the second half of the season. However, the Falcons, with just 35 goals this season, lack scoring punch. This won’t be an easy game, but I see them prevailing in a tight contest. Wis.-River Falls 4-3 (OT)

Friday-Saturday, Jan. 4-5

St. Olaf and St. Mary’s at Wis.-Stevens Point
The Pointers (8-6-1) received 10 votes in Monday’s D-III poll, and two wins over nonconference opponents this week could lift them into the top 15. If so, the Pointers would be one of four NCHA teams, along with Wis.-Eau Claire, St. Norbert, and Wis.-Superior, ranked in the top 15. Wis.-Stevens Point hosts St. Olaf on Friday and St. Mary’s on Saturday. Both teams aren’t exactly juggernauts, and a sweep could give the Pointers a shot of adrenaline as they return to conference play next weekend. In the NCHA, forward Kyle Heck ranks first in plus/minus (+12) and fourth in goals scored (8). I see Heck finishing with no less than four points this weekend. Wis.-Stevens Point 4, St. Olaf 2; Wis.-Stevens Point 5, St. Mary’s 1

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