Despite a difficult schedule and a batch of newcomers, the Mavericks are 10-4-2 with a series against Alabama-Huntsville left before the break.
North Dakota has the best fanbase
You know what? I don’t care if you think they are insufferably arrogant. Or obnoxious. Or overbearing. Or any of the host of other pejoratives I’ve heard thrown at North Dakota fans.
It’s time to come right out and say it: North Dakota has the best fanbase in college hockey.
They certainly travel the best, frequently taking up nearly a quarter or more of the seats in the opposing team’s building when North Dakota is on the road. At the 2014 NCHC Frozen Faceoff, most of the fans in the Target Center in Minneapolis seemed to have come to cheer on their beloved North Dakota. At the last Frozen Four USCHO brought me out to cover, 2011 in St. Paul, North Dakota fans were the most raucous, even seemingly louder than the home state’s fans of Minnesota-Duluth.
This rabid following, and willingness to travel untold lengths to see North Dakota, brings out the best in the home team’s fans. Case in point: this weekend’s series against Denver.
As the last words of the Star Spangled Banner are sung in Magness Arena, the North Dakota fans, wearing either green or black jerseys and dominating the end section behind Denver’s starting goaltender, shout out “Sioux!” Yes, I hate that nickname, and am glad it seems to have been consigned to the dustbin of history. It’s not nearly as tone deaf as the Washington Redskins, but still.
Once the game starts, the North Dakota fans seem to dominate the noise meter, cheering their team from the drop of the puck, trying to get North Dakota into the game.
And it forces the Denver fans, who aren’t always very loud, to respond, if only to try to drown out North Dakota’s fans and save themselves from being embarrassed in their own building.
In fact, after Denver’s 4-1 win on Friday, goaltender Evan Cowley even acknowledged how passionate the North Dakota fans are.
“You just try to slow things down and keep the crowd out of it; there’s a lot of NoDak fans,” said Cowley.
Say what you will about North Dakota’s fans, but I’ll bet if you’re honest with yourself, you wish that your team’s fans were devoted enough to travel everywhere to see them play.
So for that, I’ll tip a salute to the best fanbase in college hockey. Rock on North Dakota.
They played some hockey too
Oh yes, Denver and North Dakota played two barnburners in the first series between the two. The teams are so closely matched that it seemed in both games, only a two- or three-minute lapse decided the game.
On Friday, North Dakota trailed 1-0 going into the second period, despite being outplayed for a lot of the first and having to kill a five-minute penalty. In the second, North Dakota seemed to get its legs, and Michael Parks was sprung on a semi-breakaway that Cowley stopped. Parks drew a penalty on Joey LaLeggia, and North Dakota went to work on its power play, but was unable to capitalize.
A couple minutes later, Quentin Shore scored a power-play goal to put Denver up by two, and while North Dakota got one back in the third, they couldn’t get any closer in a 4-1 loss.
On Saturday, North Dakota struck first and held the 1-0 lead after one. At the start of the second period, Denver came in waves, generating a lot of good offensive chances and dominating possession in the offensive zone to the extent it looked like a power play.
However, North Dakota bent, but didn’t break, and then in the span of 1:55, Nick Schmaltz and Drake Caggiula both scored to make it 3-0 North Dakota. Though Denver got one back in the third, they never got any closer.
North Dakota and Denver sit in fourth and fifth in the NCHC, respectively. North Dakota is only two points behind first place Miami and Minnesota-Duluth, and one back of third place Omaha. North Dakota leads Denver by seven points, but the Pioneers have three games (nine potential points) in hand.
Colorado College finally gets a point on the road
Entering this weekend’s series against Western Michigan, Colorado College was 0-8 on the road. In the previous weekend’s series against Minnesota-Duluth, CC had lost a heartbreaker, 3-2 in overtime on Friday and then was dominated on Saturday. CC had a two-goal lead in the second period Friday, but couldn’t hold it.
This Friday against Western Michigan, CC never held a two-goal lead, but the score, and the overtime result, were the same. After CC took a 1-0 lead behind a goal from Teemu Kivhalme, Western answered on goals from Sheldon Dries and Frederik Tiffels. However, Cody Bradley scored an empty-net power-play goal at 19:57 of the third to send the contest to OT.
You almost have to think it would have been easier to take if Bradley didn’t score to send it to OT, as Tiffels scored a power-play goal at 1:58 of the OT to win it for Western.
Unlike last weekend, where CC folded after the heartbreaking loss, this time CC stood strong. Bradley gave the Tigers a lead at 19:19 of the first. Nolan LaPorte answered for Western at 15:58 of the third. Having learned from its previous two OT outings, CC played a solid overtime, with Chase Perry making two saves while CC forced Lukas Hafner to make three saves.
Western did get the extra point, care of a shootout win when Tiffels scored on the fourth Western chance and Sam Rothstein couldn’t answer for CC.
Still, a point on the road is progress. The Tigers have nearly a month’s straight worth of home games in the second half, and they have been better at home in general, but Tigers coach Mike Haviland has to be happy his team at least got a point on the road.
Well, Matthew gained right back the game I’d picked up on him the previous week. Last week, I went 5-3 (.625) to move to 57-25-4 (.686) on the year, while Matthew went 6-2 (.750) to move to 52-30-4 (.627) on the year.
It’s the last big weekend of the first half, so let’s see how we do.
Friday-Saturday, Dec. 12-13
No. 1 North Dakota at No. 11 Denver
Candace: This looks like a split, though Dave Haktsol has his team playing awfully well. Denver 3-2, North Dakota 4-2
Matthew: UND has been a ridiculous 19-1-2 in the month of December the past five years, but I think they’ll tick up one in the loss column this weekend. Split. Denver 3-2, North Dakota 3-1
St. Cloud State at No. 12 Omaha
Candace: Omaha killed me last weekend with their results against Miami. Nevertheless, (yoo-hoo RedArmyUNO, over here), I’ll pick a split. St. Cloud 2-1, Omaha 3-1
Matthew: UNO’s been excellent in the first half of this season, and I think they’ll do the business this weekend at home against a St. Cloud State team that has underwhelmed thus far. Omaha 4-2, 3-1
Colorado College at Western Michigan
Candace: CC needs some success on the road at some point, but there’s no percentage in picking it yet. Western Michigan 3-2, 2-1
Matthew: These two teams are at the bottom of the NCHC standings, but I think CC’s record is more indicative of its play than Western’s is, so I like the Broncos here. Western Michigan 2-1, 2-0
No. 9 Minnesota-Duluth at No. 4 Michigan Tech
Candace: I’m tempted to be an NCHC homer and pick a sweep, but I’m just not able to. Michigan Tech 3-2, Minnesota-Duluth 4-2
Matthew: Tech has been probably my favorite national storyline over the first half of the season, but even though they’re coming off of a week where the Huskies were able to rest and recover, I think UMD will come away from Houghton with a split. Michigan Tech 3-1, Minnesota-Duluth 3-1
Clash of ranked teams ends in a stalemate
Many eyes were fixed on the goings-on in Oxford, Ohio, this weekend, which hosted a two-game NCHC set between fourth-ranked Miami and No. 12 Omaha. A series that appeared to have “split” written all over it ended that way, with Miami winning big by an 8-2 count on Friday before UNO came away with a 5-2 victory the following night.
UNO actually opened the scoring on Friday when David Pope put a puck past RedHawks goaltender Jay Williams 4:14 into the game. Things then quickly went south for the Mavericks, however, as Miami reeled off seven unanswered goals, with five of them coming in the second period.
Mavericks goaltender Ryan Massa, who has led a young UNO team to a surprising level of success in the first half of this season, struggled on Friday. He only lasted until 9:41 into the second period before coach Dean Blais pulled him in favor of sophomore Kirk Thompson.
Saturday’s rematch was much more to Blais’ and Massa’s liking. Massa redeemed himself with a stellar 40-save performance while his Mavericks teammates got the job done at the other end of the ice.
Miami (11-5-0, 7-3-0-0 NCHC) is now off until Dec. 28 when it takes on Notre Dame in the Florida College Classic. UNO (8-4-2, 4-3-1-1) will host St. Cloud State this upcoming weekend.
North Dakota survives scare
The USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll hasn’t seen much continuity at the top in recent weeks. It’s a little unlikely, but we might have yet another new No. 1 on Monday depending on how pollsters see things.
North Dakota went into this weekend ranked No. 1 in the country, but it put itself in real danger of losing that spot on Friday. Non-conference opponent Lake Superior State — which lost a combined 10-0 at home in two games against Minnesota State a week ago — came into Grand Forks, N.D., on Friday and began the game by punching well above its weight.
UND coach Dave Hakstol opted to give freshman goaltender Cam Johnson the first start of his collegiate career on Friday, but it went poorly. After giving up two first-period goals to the Lakers, Johnson was pulled in favor of Zane McIntyre 54 seconds into the second frame when a third LSSU goal went in.
Lake State eventually pushed its lead to 4-1, but UND came roaring back from there. In scoring six goals in the final 27:25 of the game, UND won 7-4 and, in so doing, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Saturday’s rematch provided somewhat less of a hassle for UND. The team went 2-for-4 on its power play opportunities in the game, and it was largely because of that that UND came away with a 3-1 win to clinch a sweep of its series with the Lakers.
UND (12-3-2, 5-2-1-0) will face a much tougher test this next weekend when it visits No. 10 Denver for a big rivalry series.
Duluth weathers storm before clinching sweep
Just as UND had a tough time with a perceived lesser opponent on Friday, so, too, did Minnesota-Duluth.
The Bulldogs welcomed to Amsoil Arena a Colorado College team that had lost each of its five NCHC games so far this season and that had only three wins to its name under first-year coach Mike Haviland.
CC’s league record dropped to 0-7 with a pair of losses to UMD, but the Tigers weren’t about to go quietly. They proved that on Friday in a 3-2 overtime win for Duluth, with Kyle Osterberg netting the game-winner 3:32 into the extra session to spoil a 30-save performance from CC goalie Chase Perry.
The Bulldogs had a much easier time in Saturday’s series finale, which ended up 7-2 to UMD. Duluth scored each of the game’s first four goals before cruising to victory.
UMD is now 11-5-0 overall and 7-3-0-0 in the league, which puts the Bulldogs level with Miami for first place in the NCHC with 21 points. Duluth will hit the road this week to face fifth-ranked Michigan Tech.
CC (3-10-0, 0-7-0-0) is also on the road this next weekend, with the Tigers visiting Western Michigan.
Well, I finally extended my lead on Matthew, thanks to North Dakota. Last week, I went 3-2-1 (.583) to move to 52-22-4 (.692) on the year, while Matthew went 2-3-1 (.416) to move to 46-28-4 (.615).
Six of the eight NCHC squads are in action, so let’s see how we can do this week.
Friday-Saturday, Dec. 5-6
No. 12 Omaha at No. 4 Miami
Candace: This series is one that I think I could flip a coin 10 times and still get wrong. Nebraska-Omaha 4-2, Miami 4-1
Matthew: UNO has been exceptional away from home in the first half of this season, and I think the Mavericks will pick up at least one win in Oxford. It’s a guessing game, though, as to which night they’ll make that happen. Miami 3-1, Omaha 3-2
Colorado College at No. 8 Minnesota-Duluth
Candace: The Bulldogs had a great November, and I think they get off to a good start in December. Minneosta-Duluth 3-2, 4-1
Matthew: I’m having difficulty seeing CC getting much out of this series. Watch, that probably means the Tigers will steal a win. Minnesota-Duluth 3-1, 3-2
No. 10 Denver at Cornell
Candace: If Denver can avoid a post week-off letdown in the first game, I like the Pioneers to sweep this one, although I think both games are close. Denver 3-1, 3-2
Matthew: Normally this would be a series I’d be really excited about, but Cornell’s had such a blah start to the season that I can see DU continuing NCHC teams’ string of doing well at Lynah this season. Split. Denver 3-2, Cornell 2-1
Lake Superior State at No. 1 North Dakota
Candace: I think North Dakota will make a push to finish strong, and they are at home. North Dakota 3-1, 4-1
Matthew: Lake State has had a really rough first half of the season and lost by a combined 10-0 at home to Minnesota State last weekend. UND could be tempted to look past this weekend to its trip to Denver next week, but I think UND will get the job done all the same. North Dakota 3-2, 3-1
It was a light weekend for the NCHC, with only half of the league’s eight teams in action. Let’s recap the action.
Western’s feast-or-famine offense feasts
For coach Andy Murray and his Western Michigan Broncos, this season has been one of maddening feast or famine in terms of offensive production. The Broncos have been shutout in three games, and have scored less than two goals in four more games. Twice they have gone through three-game stretches with anemic goal scoring, then responded with stretches where goals have come in bunches.
Perhaps it was only appropriate that on Thanksgiving weekend, the Broncos offense feasted in impressive fashion. Western Michigan won the Shillelagh Tournament at Notre Dame by defeating Ohio State, 6-2, and following that with a beatdown of No. 17 Union, 8-2.
Against Ohio State Friday, Frederik Tiffels notched a hat trick, including an empty-netter to seal the win at 14:23 of the third. All the goals were even-strength.
Tiffels was held to one assist in Saturday’s win over Union, but Nolan LaPorte scored a hat trick, Justin Kovacs had four assists, Sheldon Dries notched two goals and two assists, and Kenney Morrison had two assists. Five of the goals were scored on a power-play, including Dries scoring on a five-on-three. At the other end, Lukas Hafner was strong in net, making 40 saves.
Western Michigan is off this coming weekend, then closes its first half at home Dec. 12-13 against Colorado College, a team that has struggled defensively, so Western’s offense has a good chance to stay hot.
Nebraska-Omaha continues to impress
Entering the season, not much was expected of Nebraska-Omaha, which was tabbed sixth in the preseason NCHC poll. The players and coach Dean Blais apparently didn’t get the message, as the Mavericks are currently 7-3-2 overall to start the year.
This weekend, the Mavericks traveled to North Dakota to face Blais’ old team. On Friday, Nebraska-Omaha took a 2-1 lead into the third period, thanks to goals from Tyler Vesel and Justin Parizek. However, North Dakota answered early, and the game remained tied after OT. Goaltender Ryan Massa came up big in the shootout, stopping all three North Dakota shooters, while Dominic Zombo scored on Nebraska-Omaha’s third attempt to notch the shootout win and extra point in the standings.
The Mavericks couldn’t muster a point Saturday, as North Dakota grabbed an early two-goal lead in the first period. UNO looked to have a chance to get back in it after Jake Randolph cut the deficit to one, but Stephane Pattyn scored a short-handed goal at 18:07 of the second that proved to be the game-winner, though Grant Gallo scored at 13:48 of the third to make the last six minutes interesting. North Dakota’s Zane McIntyre made 32 saves.
Massa is currently eighth nationally among goaltenders with a 1.67 goals-against average and has a sixth-best .943 save percentage.
Nebraska-Omaha faces Miami in Oxford, Ohio, this coming weekend.
St. Cloud’s struggles continue
St. Cloud State faced off against yet another Minnesota team in Bemidji State, and emerged with a split. Last year’s NCHC regular season champ is currently 6-7-1 overall and in sixth place in the NCHC with a 2-3-1 mark. The Huskies have also struggled against Minnesota teams, going 2-4 combined against Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, and now Bemidji State. Two of the losses were in OT.
On Friday, the Huskies’ offense exploded for six goals in an impressive come-from-behind 6-3 win that wasn’t sealed until the last minute. Entering the third period, the teams were tied 2-2. St. Cloud took an early lead in the third on Joey Benik’s goal at 2:54, but Bemidji’s Gerry Fitzgerald answered with a power-play goal at 6:17.
Tim Daly scored the game-winner at 8:44 and Jonny Brodzinski scored an empty-net power-play goal at 19:31 to give the Huskies some breathing room. Brooks Bertsch capped the scoring at 19:52.
On Saturday, the offense never got untracked, as Bemdji earned a 4-1 win. Bemidji goaltender Andrew Walsh kept St. Cloud in check by making 34 saves. Benik gave the Huskies a lead at 17:16 of the first, but the Beavers answered at 3:11 of the second on a goal by Ruslan Pedan.
The game turned in a manner of seconds in the third, as Fitzgerald scored at 8:13 to put Bemidji up 2-1, then Charlie O’Connor scored at 8:50. Phil Brewer added an empty-net tally at 19:38.
St. Cloud is off this weekend, then ends its first half with a critical league series in Omaha on Dec. 12-13.
Matthew and I wanted to wait to see the results of the first round of the Shillelagh Tournament before picking the second game.
Sat., Nov. 29
Union vs. Western Michigan
Candace: I may follow Matthew’s lead on all Western Michigan games from now on, though this one didn’t really engender as much uncertainty. Union 3-2
Matthew: The Broncos surpassed the expectations I had on them for their game against Ohio State on Friday, but I’m having a bit of difficulty picturing Western pulling an upset against Union. Prove me wrong, guys. Union 4-2
I thought I might put some distance between Matthew and I after Minnesota-Duluth’s come-from-behind win over Nebraska-Omaha, but alas, it was not to be, as Colorado College fell to Air Force the next night. Overall, Matthew and I bouth went 7-3 (.700). On the year, I am 49-20-3 (.701), while Matthew is 44-25-3 (.631).
NCHC action is light this weekend, but let’s see how we do.
Friday, Nov. 28
Western Michigan vs. Ohio State (Shillelagh Tournament)
Candace: I don’t actually think I’ve gotten a Western Michigan pick right yet this year. Maybe Matthew knows something I don’t, so I’ll follow his lead. Western Michigan 3-2
Matthew: Outside of Minnesota and Penn State, the Big Ten has been pretty mediocre so far this season, and Ohio State hasn’t been immune to it. Granted, Western hasn’t blown anyone’s doors off this season, either, but I’m taking the Broncos in this one. Western Michigan 4-2
Friday-Saturday, Nov. 28-29
No. 11 Nebraska-Omaha at No. 2 North Dakota
Candace: I have no idea what to expect in this series, but both games will be close. A split seems likely. However, since I don’t have any idea of an order, I’ll pick a UND sweep, just so The Red Army will tweet “bite me” in response. North Dakota 3-2, 3-1
Matthew: These are always very entertaining games, whether they’re in Omaha or Grand Forks. To me, this has “split” written all over it, but I’m not sure who will win which night. North Dakota 3-1, Nebraska-Omaha 3-1
No. 16 St. Cloud State at Bemidji State
Candace: I’d like to think that St. Cloud can start building a little run, so I’m going to be an NCHC homer and pick a sweep. St. Cloud State 3-1, 3-2
Matthew: Tom Serratore makes sure his Beavers are a tough out every time they play, and I have a sneaking suspicion that they could pick up a split here, but I think SCSU will take care of business. St. Cloud State 2-1, 3-1
RedHawks sitting pretty in first place
Seventh-ranked Miami has plenty to be thankful heading into their Thanksgiving break, not least of all the fact that they moved into first place in the NCHC last weekend.
The RedHawks found themselves at the top of the league’s eight-team pile after downing former CCHA rival Western Michigan twice in Oxford, Ohio. After beating the Broncos 1-0 on Friday, the RedHawks’ offense came to life in the rematch en route to a 5-2 triumph.
In the attacking sense, Friday provided Miami with something of a struggle. Backstopped well by goaltender Jay Williams, the RedHawks were outshot 27-23 by Western and were made to make a Blake Coleman power play goal 3:20 into the game stand up as the winner.
On Saturday, a big goal-scoring outburst in the second period put Miami over the top. Western opened the game’s scoring through Will Kessel at 3:41 of the period, but the RedHawks then scored four goals in 7:20 during the frame to turn the game on its head and make the points safe.
Miami (10-4-0, 6-2-0 NCHC) will be idle this next weekend before welcoming to Oxford another former CCHA rival Nebraska-Omaha on Dec. 5-6.
Ortega, Mavericks send a message to North Dakota
Speaking of UNO, it appears the Mavericks were trying to make a statement on Saturday during their 4-1 win over Minnesota-Duluth.
They had a point to prove to themselves, too, though. On Friday, UNO found itself up 2-0 in the second period of the Mavericks’ first home game in a month and a half, but the Bulldogs rattled off three unanswered tallies in the third period to nab a 3-2 win.
UMD gained the upper hand early in the rematch when a shot from Kyle Osterberg found the back of the net 4:40 into the game. After that, however, UNO took over and even picked up its game-winning goal through Austin Ortega – his first of two tallies on Saturday – before the opening frame was over.
The Mavericks (7-2-1, 3-1-0) are heading up I-29 later this week to meet up with second-ranked North Dakota. The two-game set in Grand Forks could end up being a defensive struggle between the top and third-best defenses in the NCHC.
Speaking after Saturday’s win over Duluth, though, Ortega took what he felt was an opportunity to send a shot across the bow.
“Tonight we were able to get up on the board; we really showed we’re a scoring team,” Ortega said. “Kind of sending a message to North Dakota that we can score on any goalie out there.”
CC takes one step forward, another back
To a certain degree, it feels as though Colorado College built itself up on Friday only to knock itself back down the following night.
In front of 7,081 fans on Friday in Colorado Springs, the Tigers scored three second-period goals and were able to cruise to a 5-2 victory over Wisconsin. The game saw CC snap its seven-game winless losing streak while Wisconsin – I repeat: Wisconsin – inexplicably fell to 0-7-0 on the season.
The Tigers had every reason to feel good about themselves late on Friday night, as they’d performed well in front of a huge home World Arena crowd and looked as though they’d started to figure it out after a rough start to the season. On Saturday, though, CC fell back to earth.
The Tigers made the short trip to Cadet Ice Arena to face local rival Air Force, and it was on the Falcons’ home ice that they picked up a 3-1 win over CC. Charlie Taft opened the scoring for the Tigers 99 seconds into the game, but AFA scored twice in 32 seconds later in the opening period and got all the insurance it needed in the second.
It wasn’t altogether for a lack of trying – Falcons goaltender Chris Truehl made 35 saves in the winning effort – but being beat soundly by a local nemesis hours after defeating a Big Ten school and former WCHA foe had to sting.
CC (3-8-0, 0-5-0) is off for Thanksgiving weekend before heading northwest to face eighth-ranked UMD on Dec. 5-6.
Matthew picked up another game on me last week, thanks to the tie between St. Cloud and Western Michigan. I went 3-3-1 (.500) to move to 42-17-3 (.701) on the year, while Matthew went 4-2-1 (.642) to move to 37-22-3 (.620). All eight NCHC teams are in action this weekend, so let’s get to it.
Friday-Saturday, Nov. 21-22
Western Michigan at No. 7 Miami
Candace: I’ve gotten burned a lot picking Western Michigan, or picking against them, so I’ll just go with the home team sweep and hope I get one game right. Miami 3-1, 3-2
Matthew: The RedHawks are the better team here, and they’ve been just about unbeatable at home so far this season. This could come back to haunt me, but I’ll take Miami to sweep. Miami 4-1, 4-2
No. 2 North Dakota at No. 16 St. Cloud State
Candace: I find this the toughest series to pick this weekend. I think home ice equals a win in the first game. St. Cloud 3-2, North Dakota 4-1
Matthew: UND is the better team here, but although St. Cloud has been a little bit up-and-down the last couple weeks, I think the Huskies will turn it around somewhat and pick up a split here. St. Cloud State 2-1, North Dakota 3-1
No. 8 Minnesota-Duluth at No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha
Candace: Can Minnesota-Duluth keep up its strong play? I don’t see why not. Minnesota-Duluth 3-2, 2-1
Matthew: UMD has done better than UNO so far this season and against a much more difficult schedule. The Mavericks will be playing at home for the first time in a month and a half, though, and they and their fans will be up for this. Split. Nebraska-Omaha 3-1, Minnesota-Duluth 3-1
Wisconsin/Air Force at Colorado College
Candace: I think CC will finally pick up a win, but so will Wisconsin. Wisconsin 3-2, Colorado College 3-2
Matthew: Will the Badgers finally pick up their first win of the season? I think so. The second game is probably our toughest pick to make this week; I’m taking Air Force to win, but this game could absolutely go either way. Wisconsin 3-2, Air Force 2-1
Air Force/Wisconsin at Denver
Candace: I’m wondering if Wisconsin will have a repeat of a few years ago, when they came in on a down run and turned it around in November against Denver. I’ll pick the Pios in both for now. Denver 4-1, 3-1
Matthew: Air Force has proven itself to be a very tough out, but Denver really ought to take care of business here at home, and I’m taking Wisconsin to beat Colorado College on the road, but given the Badgers’ form so far this season, I’m not sure they’d win a whole lot of games against Denver regardless of venue. Denver 4-2, 3-1