I’ve been predicting NCHA games since the beginning of November, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: picking winners in this conference is difficult.
With two top-five teams and two others on the cusp of reaching the USCHO.com Top 15, it’s hard to argue against the NCHA being the most competitive league in the NCAA Division III. Last week, in predicting the first round of the conference tournament, I picked third-seed Wisconsin-Stevens Point to eliminate sixth-seed Wisconsin-River Falls. Well, the Falcons proved me wrong, knocking off the favored Pointers on Saturday.
However, with the second round of the Peters Cup tournament this weekend, the favored teams should escape with victories. … We’ll see.
Saturday, Feb. 23
No. 4 St. Scholastica at No. 2 St. Norbert
The Saints head into De Pere, Wis., after bouncing rival Wisconsin-Superior from the playoffs last week. St. Norbert, meanwhile, survived a scare from Wisconsin-Stout with two 3-2 wins. The Green Knights, (21-5-1) ranked fifth in D-III, have ruled this tournament for the past decade, winning three straight and eight of the last 10. Also, St. Norbert is 12-0 all-time against St. Scholastica in the NCHA tournament. The Saints, after stumbling earlier in the season, have bounced back and turned their season into a success, with a 13-13-1 record, but I can’t see them upsetting the defending national champions on their home ice. St. Scholastica’s hot streak ends in De Pere. St. Norbert 5-3
No. 6 Wisconsin-River Falls at No. 1 Eau Claire
The Falcons (13-10-4) are riding a wave of momentum after upsetting Wis.-Stevens Point. Meanwhile, Wis.-Eau Claire (19-4-2) is fresh off a first-round bye. Did the break help the Blugolds recharge their batteries for a national title run? Or did having that much time off make the second-ranked team in the nation rusty? I think Wis.-Eau Claire wins and will move on for an epic showdown with St. Norbert; however, it won’t be easy. I see the resurgent Falcons pushing the Blugolds until the final minutes of the third period. The key match-up will be in goal, as Wis.-Eau Claire’s Brandon Stephenson, the NCHA Player of the Year, battles Wis.-River Falls’ Scott Lewan. Wis.-Eau Claire 3-2