NCHC Picks: Oct. 31

Last week was a good one for me, and a bad one for Matthew, and as such, I now have a five-game lead in our race for the six pack of micro brew. Last week, I went 8-2-2 (.750), moving to 24-10-2 (.694), while Matthew went 4-6-2 (.416) to move to 19-15-2 (.555) on the year.

This week presents a big challenge, so let’s get to it.

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 31-Nov. 1

Miami at Minnesota-Duluth
Candace: Like Matthew, I think UMD’s trend of winning on Saturday will continue. Miami 3-1, Minnesota-Duluth 3-2
Matthew: Duluth has already developed a pretty steady habit of losing on the first night of a weekend series and winning the second, and I think the same thing is going to happen again here. Miami 3-1, Minnesota-Duluth 3-1

Nebraska-Omaha at Cornell
Candace: UNO is looking for revenge after last year’s sweep by the Big Red in the Mavericks’ barn. I’m picking UNO to return the favor. Nebraska-Omaha 4-2, 3-2
Matthew: This is UNO’s first-ever trip to Lynah, and I think the Mavericks will get at least a split out of it. The Ivy League teams starting their hockey season later than everyone else might bite the Big Red in the behind. Nebraska-Omaha 3-2, Cornell 4-1

Boston College at Denver
Candace: I’m tempted to pick a split, but this is one of those where I have a very tough time picking against Jerry York. Boston College 3-2, 4-1
Matthew: This is definitely this weekend’s toughest series to predict. BC ought to pick up at least one win at Magness and could come away with a sweep if everything goes the Eagles’ way, but I think DU will spoil that bid. Denver 2-1, Boston College 3-1

Minnesota vs. St. Cloud State home-and-home
Candace: I think St. Cloud might be happy to finish the first six weeks at .500, given how hard their schedule is. I’ll go with home ice on each. St. Cloud 4-3, Minnesota 4-2
Matthew: Another tough series to call, and I’m tempted to go the safe route again. Home team wins twice. St. Cloud State 3-2, Minnesota 3-1

Saturday, Nov. 1

Air Force at North Dakota
Candace: North Dakota has looked very good since its opening game. Air Force is always a tough out, but UND should be able to make it through. North Dakota 5-2
Matthew: UND has largely been very good so far this season, and I don’t know if Air Force is up to that much. This could be a trap game for UND, but I think North Dakota will pick up the win. North Dakota 4-2

Three things: Oct. 27

A few of the more notable notables that stood out to me last weekend:

Wrist injury puts UND’s MacMillan out indefinitely
It won’t look like it if you only check the box score, but not everything went right for third-ranked North Dakota on Friday night during its 6-1 win over No.5 Providence.

True, UND routed a top-five opponent at Ralph Engelstad Arena, and that’s big for a North Dakota program that typically starts seasons slowly. During the game, though, UND lost its leading scorer to a horrific injury.

Late in Friday’s second period, UND senior forward Mark MacMillan found himself tangled up with a Providence player near the two teams’ benches. During the fracas, one of the Friars player’s skates cut MacMillan on the wrist.

MacMillan went to the UND bench and immediately threw the glove on his affected arm off before teammates and UND training staff applied bandages to the wrist.

Surgery was required, and MacMillan underwent it Saturday morning. So far, there is no specific timetable for his return to action.

For as long as UND is without him, though – starting on Saturday when Air Force comes to Grand Forks, N.D. – MacMillan will be missed. He began the season in fantastic form and picked up seven points in two wins at Colorado College the weekend just over a week ago.

Minnesota-Duluth’s inconsistent start to the season continued
Down, up, down, up, down, up. It reads like part of an old-school video game cheat code, doesn’t it?

Frustratingly for Minnesota-Duluth, it also describes the Bulldogs’ start to this season.

UMD is making a habit so far of losing its first game of a weekend before coming back the following night to win the second. That happened again last weekend during the Bulldogs’ split at home against Denver.

The pattern kept going on Friday when UMD dropped the opener to the Pioneers by a 3-1 count. In Duluth’s defense, though, DU goaltender Evan Crowley arguably stole the win by making 30 saves.

The Bulldogs recovered well, however, scoring three goals in Saturday’s second period and three more in the third en route to a 6-1 victory.

It will be interesting to see just how long UMD’s current stye of inconsistency sticks around, and it may for a while yet. The Bulldogs welcome Miami to Duluth this weekend before hitting the road to face St. Cloud State Nov. 7-8.

St. Cloud State takes one of two against defending national champions
UND’s two-game set with Providence last weekend wasn’t the only top-ten matchup that involved an NCHC school, as No. 9 St. Cloud State trekked to upstate New York to face second-ranked Union.

My NCHC writing partner Candace Horgan and I both predicted that the series would end in a split, and that’s exactly what happened. The Dutchmen blew SCSU’s doors off on Friday during a 5-1 win, but the Huskies came back the following night in Schenectady to win 3-2.

Union made SCSU look ordinary early on Friday, as the Dutchmen were up 3-0 8:54 into the game before finding itself up 5-0 late in the third period. A Ben Storm goal with five seconds remaining in the game later ruined unlucky Union goaltender Colin Stevens’s shutout bid.

Three different Huskies scored the following night as SCSU salvaged a series split.

This week, the Huskies move from playing the country’s second-ranked team to playing the first. In-state rival Minnesota will be SCSU’s next opponent during a home-and-home series.


NCHC picks: Oct. 24

Last week, I pulled ahead of Matthew by one game thanks to UNO’s sweep of Western Michigan. I went 7-3 (.700), while Matthew went 6-4 (.600). On the year, I am 16-8 (.667), while Matthew is 15-9 (.625).

On to this week’s games!

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 24-25

No. 11 Denver at No. 19 Minnesota-Duluth
Candace: The Bulldogs haven’t looked good at home, but this is Denver’s first road trip, and I’m not sure they can sweep. However, I hate picking Duluth’s winning order. Denver 3-2, Minnesota-Duluth 3-2
Matthew: Even though the Pioneers have a long road trip to make to face Duluth, the way DU played against Rensselaer leaves me thinking the Pios should expect to get at least a split from this series. That’s the way I’m thinking it’ll go, but it’s tough to predict who will win when. Minnesota-Duluth 3-1, Denver 2-0

Colorado College at Boston College (Friday) and New Hampshire (Saturday)
Candace: Colorado College showed it has a ways to go after the loss to North Dakota, though the Tigers might play New Hampshire tightly. Boston College 6-2, New Hampshire 3-1
Matthew: I fear this could be a really rough weekend for the Tigers. BC’s a better team than CC, and UNH has opened the season 1-2-0 but the losses were at Union and at Michigan, and both of those teams gave the Wildcats more problems than UNH will have against CC in Durham. Boston College 4-1, New Hampshire 3-1

St. Lawrence at No. 10 Miami
Candace: Miami looked really good last week against its in-state rival. The RedHawks just need to avoid a letdown. St. Lawrence is probably better than people think, if we can go by last weekend. Miami 2-1, 3-1
Matthew: The RedHawks have gotten off to a pretty solid start to the season, and I think that’ll continue this weekend in Oxford. If Miami can keep up the offensive output that it had last weekend in its home-and-home with Ohio State, St. Lawrence might really struggle to keep the RedHawks from rolling. Miami 4-1, 3-0

No. 5 Providence at No. 3 North Dakota
Candace: A marquee series on the weekend. I’m not convinced Providence is as good as its ranking, so I’ll be an NCHC homer. North Dakota 3-2, 4-2
Matthew: The goaltending battle between Providence’s Jon Gillies and UND’s Zane McIntyre is the main focal point with this series, but both of these teams have top-end weapons that can wreak havoc all over the ice. This is going to be a really entertaining series that to me has split written all over it. Providence 3-2, North Dakota 3-1

No. 9 St. Cloud State at No. 2 Union
Candace: The other marquee set on the weekend. Pick against Union at your peril, though the defending NCAA champs haven’t faced a team of St. Cloud’s caliber. What will the off week do to St. Cloud? Union 2-1, St. Cloud State 3-2
Matthew: It’s almost too bad that UND-Providence is getting so much attention this week, because this series between the Huskies and Dutchmen is bringing together another pair of top-10 teams. I like Union to do well on home ice, but I have a sneaking suspicion that SCSU will take one of these games. St. Cloud State 3-2, Union 2-1

No. 16 Alaska at Western Michigan
Candace: Western has gotten off to a poor start, but this is the Nanooks’ first trip outside Alaska. I think the Broncos will challenge in one, but they’ve also struggled to score, and the Nanooks have been putting up goals in bunches. Alaska 4-2, 3-2
Matthew: After getting swept at home by Nebraska-Omaha, Western could be bringing in an easier opponent this weekend than the Nanooks. Alaska’s gotten off to a very good start to the season, but I’m curious to see what they’ll be able to do on a very long road trip to Kalamazoo. Alaska 3-2, Western Michigan 3-1

Three things: Oct. 19

Denver’s goaltending looks fine    
Coming into this season, the big question surrounding the Denver Pioneers, last year’s NCHC tournament champs, was how they would do without their starting goaltender, Sam Brittain, who played the lion’s share of games for Denver last season and kept them in many tight games with spectacular saves.

The Pioneers have only played two games, but Denver looks fine in the goaltending department.

Evan Cowley, a sophomore who saw very limited action in his first season, started Friday’s game against Rensselaer and earned a shutout, stopping 26 shots, including 11 in the third period when Rensselaer pressed to get back into the game.

Denver coach Jim Montgomery was pleased with Cowley’s play, saying, “He had to make five to seven key saves, and they were at big moments of the game. He never gave them momentum. He was square to pucks, he was solid, and he played really confidently.”

The next night, Denver started freshman Tanner Jaillet, who only played for two minutes before he was knocked from the game with an injury. Jaillet did make two stops, the only shots RPI had in the first period. Cowley stepped in, and once again shutdown the Engineers, making 14 saves.

Rensselaer finally ended Cowley’s bid for back-to-back shutouts with 35 seconds left in the game when Chris Bradley scored on a power play. Cowley has a .976 save percentage and a .51 goals-against average after two games.

No word yet on Jaillet’s health, but Montgomery did indicate in preseason that he planned to platoon the two netminders at the start of the year and see who plays better in the fire of the NCHC season.

Denver opens NCHC play next weekend, traveling to Duluth to take on the Bulldogs.

North Dakota finds its offense
Coming into this season, the question mark surrounding North Dakota was offense, as the top scorer from last year’s team, Rocco Grimaldi, left after his junior year to play professional hockey.

The question mark seemed even larger after the first weekend of play, as North Dakota was humiliated at home against Bemidji State, losing 5-1. While UND took the second game in Bemidji, it only mustered two goals in winning.

This weekend, North Dakota was in Colorado Springs to face Colorado College. On Friday night, UND once again won a close defensive battle, emerging with a 3-1 win on three first-period goals, two of which were scored by Mark MacMillan during special teams action, one a power play and one while skating four-on-four.

On Saturday, North Dakota erupted for seven goals. MacMillan again got UND started on special teams, this time getting the first goal on a short-handed strike. MacMillan then assisted on the second goal, a power-play goal by Paul LaDue.

Two more power-play goals followed in the period, one by Tucker Poolman and one by Jordan Schmaltz. Jordan’s goal was assisted by his brother, Nick, who also assisted on Poolman’s goal.

In the third period, North Dakota got another power-play goal from LaDue, another power-play goal from MacMillan, and an empty-net short-handed goal from MacMillan to round out its scoring.

MacMillan, a senior, leads the team in scoring with five goals and two assists. LaDue, a sophomore, is second with six points. Nick Schmaltz has started his freshman season off well, notching four points so far.

MacMillan’s classmates have also been putting points on the board, including Michael Parks, Brendan O’Donnell, and Connor Gaarder.

UND will host Providence for a pair next weekend.

Miami can win with offense or defense
Miami played a home-and-home this weekend with its in-state rival, Ohio State, and swept both games. Playing on the road in Columbus Friday, the RedHawks erupted for five goals, getting strikes from some of its big guns, including Riley Barber (one goal, one assist), Blake Coleman (one goal), and Sean Kuraly (one goal, two assists).

Three of the goals were power-play strikes, something that probably pleased Miami coach Enrico Blasi, who indicated that he hadn’t been happy with his team’s power play in its opening two games against Bowling Green.

On Saturday, Miami hosted and emerged with a hard-found 2-1 win. After falling behind in the first period, Louie Belpedio, a freshman defenseman who may end up with back-to-back NCHC rookie of the week honors after his play this weekend, got the tying goal, and Alex Wideman scored the game-winner. Belpedio got an assist on Miami’s third goal Friday.

Goalie Jay Williams, who took over for Ryan McKay after McKay was knocked out of the Bowling Green game last Saturday after six minutes of play, got the nod in both Ohio State games, making 26 saves in the first game and 19 in the second.

Miami hosts St. Lawrence for a pair next weekend, and opens NCHC play against Minnesota-Duluth on Halloween weekend.

NCHC Weekend picks: Oct. 17

Well, after Matthew took a big lead from the games on Friday, I rallied, and thanks to Minnesota-Duluth’s win on Sunday over Notre Dame, Matthew and I both went 9-5 (.555) in our opening week.

Every team but St. Cloud is in action this week. Let’s see how we can do.

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 17-18

No. 3 North Dakota at Colorado College
Candace: I’m tempted to pick CC in one of these games, but I’m not sure if a sweep against Alabama-Huntsville is something that indicated the Tigers have turned a corner, even if North Dakota seems destined to get off to a slow start again. North Dakota 3-1, 3-2
Matthew: UND is notorious for starting seasons slowly, and did again last Friday in losing 5-1 at home against Bemidji State, but I think UND has enough going for it against a CC team that struggled at home last weekend against Alabama-Huntsville. North Dakota 4-2, 3-1

Nebraska-Omaha at Western Michigan
Candace: UNO did a little better than I expected last weekend, and Western Michigan did a little worse, all of which means I have zero idea how this series will play out. I’ll pick a sweep and hope I get one right. Nebraska-Omaha 3-1, 3-2
Matthew: Neither of these teams really blew me away last weekend, and this looks on paper like a pretty even matchup. To me, this series has split all over it. Western Michigan 3-1, Nebraska-Omaha 3-2

Rensselaer at No. 16 Denver
Candace: It’s hard to know if RPI’s win over Notre Dame was one of those instances where the opponent was overrated, or if RPI is better than people think it is. Will Denver be able to score on Jason Kasdorf, who played so well for the Engineers in South Bend? I think just enough. Denver 2-1, 3-2
Matthew: After putting up a better-than-expected showing last weekend at the IceBreaker in South Bend, I’m a little surprised RPI didn’t get more love in our national poll this week. After they visit the Pioneers, though, I think the Engineers will come down to Earth a little bit. Denver 3-2, 3-2

No. 20 Minnesota-Duluth vs. No. 12 Minnesota State (home-and-home)
Candace: Minnesota-Duluth had a great weekend last week, while the Mavericks really only played well in one period against UNO. If both games were in Duluth, I’d go with a Bulldogs sweep, but I think Minnesota State does well on home ice. Minnesota-Duluth 2-1, Minnesota State 3-1
Matthew: I really liked what I saw from UMD last weekend at the IceBreaker, and I think there’s a good chance they could sweep MSU this weekend. I’m not positive that the Bulldogs will do the business in Mankato, though, so I’m going to take the safe option. Minnesota-Duluth 4-2, Minnesota State 3-1

No. 11 Miami vs. Ohio State (home-and-home)
Candace: This series should be one of the best of the weekend, and a split seems likely. I’ll take the home squad in each. Ohio State 2-1, Miami 3-2
Matthew: The Buckeyes fared very well last weekend — albeit at home — against a very good Providence team, and I’m starting to wonder if this will be a tougher test for Miami than I first thought it’d be. Ohio State 3-1, Miami 2-1

NCHC experiences topsy-turvy opening weekend

Anyone expected NCHC teams to come flying off the blocks this last weekend and tear into its nonconference opposition will have come away at least a little disappointed.

Unless he or she only paid attention on Saturday and Sunday. Better times were had then.

Seven of the league’s eight affiliate teams opened their 2014-15 regular season slates on Friday, and five of them fell. Colorado College and Nebraska-Omaha won their first counters of the season against Alabama-Huntsville and Minnesota State, respectively, but a quintet of NCHC schools weren’t as fortunate.

North Dakota and St. Cloud State lost at home on Friday to Bemidji State and Colgate, respectively. Miami lost 3-2 on the road against intrastate rival Bowling Green, Western Michigan lost 4-2 at Canisius, and Minnesota-Duluth was edged out by Minnesota 4-3 at the IceBreaker Tournament in South Bend, Ind.

The NCHC’s teams that played last weekend – Denver was the only one that didn’t – fared much better Saturday and Sunday. It started on Saturday night, where the league went 4-1 against several of its counterparts, and only UNO fell in its rematch with Division I college hockey’s other set of Mavericks.

Sunday went even better, with Miami besting BGSU 3-2 in the second leg of a home-and-home series while UMD blanked Notre Dame 3-0 in the third-place game of the IceBreaker.

No NCHC team stood out

I predicted on Friday that we would have a fair few splits to talk about once the weekend finished, but I also expected the teams who were projected to be the cream of the conference this season would look like it right away.

The first bit happened. The second one, not so much.

With respect to BGSU and Bemidji, I thought that UND and Miami had enough in their respective arsenals to pick up sweeps in their home-and-homes against a pair of WCHA teams that aren’t expected to make huge waves this season. In the end, though, I was proved somewhat wrong.

In UND’s series with nearby rival Bemidji, the home team never won. UND looked thoroughly out of sorts against the Beavers during a 5-1 loss at home on Friday, but BSU couldn’t repeat the trick the following night as it lost 2-1 in Minnesota.

Where Miami is concerned, I was looking for the RedHawks to carry some of their momentum from the second half of last season over into the start of this one. An in-state rivalry series against a fellow former CCHA member, I thought, would only get Miami up further.

Instead, the Falcons came away winners at home on opening night, albeit by only a 3-2 margin. Miami turned the tables on Sunday, though, in defeating BGSU by that same scoreline in the friendlier confines of Oxford, Ohio.

In-league action starts next week

Next weekend sees the start of intra-league action among NCHC teams, with North Dakota visiting Colorado College while Nebraska-Omaha makes the trek up to Western Michigan.

Both two-game sets are intriguing in their own ways. UND will try to make its perceived class show against a CC club that has started reasonably well under first-year head coach Mike Haviland, and UNO and Western will battle in a clash between two teams that will likely be fighting for a home-ice spot come the first round of the playoffs.

Elsewhere, Miami and UMD will take part in home-and-homes against in-state competition in the forms of Ohio State and Minnesota State, respectively, while Denver welcomes to the Colorado capital an RPI team that just finished second in the IceBreaker tournament.

NCHC pick: Oct. 12

There’s one game involving an NCHC team this Sunday in the Icebreaker tournament.

Sunday, Oct. 12

Minnesota-Duluth vs Notre Dame
Candace: Minnesota-Duluth gave top-ranked Minnesota all it could handle in the first game of the tournament. Maybe playing their home state rival previously will lift the Bulldogs. Minnesota-Duluth 3-2
Matthew: I really didn’t see Rensselear beating Notre Dame in South Bend, and it’s not great news for UMD that that’s what happened. Fighting Irish coach Jeff Jackson said after his team’s game with RPI on Friday that this season will be a work in progress, which could be designed to tone down expectations, but I think they’ll enough progress against the Bulldogs to win. Notre Dame 4-2

NCHC picks: Oct. 10

OK NCHC fans, we’re ready for the kickoff of season two, and that means your USCHO columnists, myself and Matthew Semisch, will once again engage in our season-long picks race. On the line is a friendly wager for a six-pack of craft brew. I won last year, beating Matthew by five games.

The rules: you have to pick the winner on the correct night, no picking a split and getting it right because it happens on different nights. First game listed in the pick is the first game of the series. Shootout wins are ties. Wins count as a point, ties as a half point.

All teams are in action this weekend, so let’s get to it!

Friday, Oct. 10

Minnesota vs. Minnesota-Duluth
Candace: I think this will be a close game, but Minnesota looks strong this year, and since UMD is going with a new goalie is trying to replace its top scorer, I’ll go with the Gophers. Minnesota 4-2
Matthew: I have a reasonably good feeling about UMD for this season, but I think they’ll run into issues against the Gophers. Minnesota 3-1

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 10-11

Miami vs Bowling Green home-and-home (at BG Friday, at Miami Sunday)
Candace: I like to think Miami might carry some momentum from its second half surge last year. Miami 3-2, 4-1
Matthew: Bowling Green should be a top-half team in the WCHA this season, but with Miami as keen on showing that the last regular season was a fluke, I expect the RedHawks to come out in this series with all guns blazing. Miami 5-2, 4-1

Western Michigan at Canisius
Candace: Western Michigan got off to a slow start last year, and lost a few key players. However, while I don’t underestimate Atlantic Hockey teams, I think the Broncos should sweep. Western Michigan 2-1, 3-1
Matthew: This is something of a housewarming series for Canisius with its new home rink, and the Golden Griffins will be hungry to send the Broncos home empty-handed. Western will likely be the better team, but they’ve both lost key pieces from last season and it’s tough to predict just how different the two teams are now, so I’m taking the safe option and going with a split. Canisius 3-2, Western Michigan 4-1

Alabama-Huntsville at Colorado College
Candace: A series between two squads that really struggled offensively last year. I like the Tigers in the first series under Mike Haviland. Colorado College 3-2, 3-1
Matthew: It can’t get a lot worse for Alabama-Huntsville than last season’s 2-35-1 effort was, and the Chargers will be better this time around. CC has a lot of questions of its own to answer, but I think the Haviland era will officially open this weekend with a couple of wins at home. Colorado College 4-2, 4-2

Colgate at St. Cloud State
Candace: This is a barn-burner of a series. Colgate is expected to win the ECAC, and St. Cloud to content the first night. This will probably be a split, but I’ll be a conference homer since I’m not sure which night a team will win. St. Cloud 3-2, 4-2
Matthew: Colgate is a lot of people’s favorite to win the ECAC this season, and I’m curious to see how they’ll fare this weekend in St. Cloud. I think they’ll win one of the two games in this series, but who knows which one that will be? Colgate 3-1, St. Cloud State 5-2

North Dakota vs Bemidji State home-and-home (at UND Friday, at BSU Saturday)
Candace: North Dakota has started slowly in the Hakstol era, and is missing its top scorer from last season, but I like UND to get it done. North Dakota 3-2, 4-1
Matthew: UND looked good in the final 40 minutes of its preseason exhibition on Sunday, and although UND tends to start seasons slow, I think they’ll pick up a sweep here. North Dakota 3-0, 3-2

Minnesota State at Nebraska Omaha
Candace: While Nebraska-Omaha has a strong freshmen group, I think it might take a while for them to get used to the collegiate level, and UNO lost four of its top six scorers from last season. Minnesota State 3-1, 3-2
Matthew: UNO got worked 4-0 at home on Monday by the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, and a big improvement is going to be needed if the red Mavericks are to do well against the purple Mavericks of MSU this weekend. This is such a young UNO team this season that I don’t know if they’ll be able to pick up more than one win against MSU at home. Minnesota State 3-1, Nebraska-Omaha 2-1

NCHC picks: March 22

Well, Matthew and I went 0-2 in our first round picks. Let’s see if we can do better for the consolation and championship games.

North Dakota vs. Western Michigan
Candace: Western Michigan coach Andy Murray made a big deal about playing for a 20-win season and sending his seniors out with a big during the press conference yesterday, but North Dakota is playing for a shot at a 12th straight NCAA tournament appearance, and has demonstrated resiliency and an ability to bounce back from bad losses. North Dakota 3-1
Matthew: For as good as North Dakota had been really ever since right after Thanksgiving, UND really needs to win this third-place game to solidify its chances of nabbing an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. It’s not going to be easy, and their getting shut out by Miami Friday makes me that little bit less confident in picking UND, but I think they’ll pull it out. North Dakota 2-1

Denver vs. Miami
Candace: These two battled in the last weekend of the regular season and split in Denver, with the Pioneers winning the first game and Miami dominating the second. This game comes down to how the best NCHC goaltender of the year, Sam Brittain, holds up against the trio of Blake Coleman, Austin Czarnik, and Riley Barber. The RedHawks have been hot, and I think they take this. Miami 3-1
Matthew: It almost seems absurd to think that anyone could’ve predicted back in October that, once we got to the NCHC playoff championship game, it’d be played by two teams that finished the regular season in the bottom half of the league but now are one win away from going to the NCAA tournament. Here we are, though, and I’m going to make a prediction that’s perhaps almost as surprising: I like Miami in this game. They finished last in the league in the regular season, but they seemed to sort out their offense in their first-round sweep at St. Cloud State and then shored up the defense – which has been a bigger worry for the RedHawks – last night in a 3-0 win over North Dakota. Denver’s a very decent team and has maybe the best college goaltender in the country, but can Miami beat the Pioneers? I’m going to say yes. Miami 3-2

NCHC picks: March 21

Well, neither Matthew nor I had much luck picking the games last weekend, what with all the upsets and all. We went 4-5 (.444) on the weekend, and I only correctly picked one series (North Dakota), while Matthew picked Western Michigan to win its series, so he was correct on two, but neither of us picked the correct number of games. On the year, I have a five-game lead on Matthew, going 96-71-22 (.566), while Matthew is 91-76-22 (.539)

Let’s see how we can do this weekend.

Friday, March 21

Miami vs. North Dakota
Candace: In this league of upsets, very little would surprise me, but I think now that North Dakota has gotten to the semifinals, they go all the way. North Dakota 3-2
Matthew: I had thought Miami could steal a game last weekend at St. Cloud State in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, but I’m not sure how anyone could have predicted the sweep Miami pulled off on the Huskies’ home ice. Momentum’s definitely on Miami’s side going into this semifinal against North Dakota, but UND’s a much deeper team than Miami, and I think UND will exploit the RedHawks’ defensive frailty, which feels like just about the only thing Miami didn’t fix last weekend. North Dakota 4-2

Denver vs. Western Michigan
Candace: Back in February when I interviewed Broncos coach Andy Murray, he talked about his team’s prowess in neutral site games and how they would be in great shape if they could make the Frozen Faceoff and NCAA tournament. Both Denver and Western Michigan looked good last weekend in winning their series. Denver won the season series between these teams, in part because Sam Brittain shut down Western’s top scorers. I’m not sure if Denver can do that again. Western Michigan 3-2
Matthew: The fact that this game pits a Denver team with great goaltending but not so great scoring prowess against a Western Michigan team that knows where the net is but hasn’t gotten incredible goaltending makes me think this is going to be a really low-scoring game. I think the Broncos will edge this one, if only because Western has been great in neutral-site games this season (4-0-1) and I have a feeling the Broncos will be less affected by the occasion than Denver will. Western Michigan 2-1

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