Well, it’s finally here, the start of the NCAA Division III men’s hockey playoffs.
In the NCHA, the Peter’s Cup playoffs begin on Friday with several intriguing match-ups. The team to beat is Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the third-ranked team in D-III. However, after wrapping up their first NCHA title last week, the Blugolds received a first-round bye.
Here’s what should happen in the opening round of the Peters Cup tournament.
Friday-Saturday, Feb. 15-16
No. 7 Wisconsin-Stout at No. 2 St. Norbert
Remember, Wis.-Stout did upset the Green Knights at home back in January, so another shocking win isn’t out of the realm of possibility. While St. Norbert didn’t have a great end to the regular season, the Green Knights still have what it takes to make another push to the national championship. The Blue Devils have Nick Hopper, one of the NCHA’s best goalies, but Wis.-Stout can’t match St. Norbert’s offensive firepower. The Green Knights, ranked fifth nationally, have too many weapons to contend with.
My pick: St. Norbert 3-2
No. 6 Wisconsin-River Falls at No. 3 Wisconsin-Stevens Point
The Pointers had one of the toughest schedules in D-III, and came out of it with a 14-10-1 record, placing third in the rigid NCHA (8-9-1). Either Wis.-Stevens Point enters the postseason physically and mentally drained, or bolstered by its difficult path to the playoffs. The Falcons come into this weekend’s clash with forward Adam Cardwell (27 points) and goalie Scott Lewan (2.84 goals-against average), leading the way. The Pointers don’t have any big names that stand out, but have received steady play from forward Kyle Heck (20 points) and defenseman Alex Brooks, who’s an impressive plus-16 in plus-minus. I see the Pointers easing past the Falcons in a tough series. My pick: Wis.-Stevens Point
No. 5 Wisconsin-Superior at No. 4 St. Scholastica
This is a true border battle, with the two schools separated by only a few miles. Who’s going to leave the Peter’s Cup playoffs with bragging rights in the Northland? If this series would have been played in December, I probably would have picked Wis.-Superior, but the Yellowjackets have limped to the finish line. Wis.-Superior (11-12-2) went 0-5-1 down the stretch. Granted, two of those losses came to Wis.-Eau Claire and St. Norbert. St. Scholastica, meanwhile, has surged in recent weeks, finishing the regular season at (11-13-1). The Saints are 4-1 since Jan. 25. I think St. Scholastica keeps its momentum going and squeaks past the Yellowjackets. My pick: St. Scholastica