The Tigers earned just their second win of the season last Friday.
This season’s St. Cloud State team appears to be one that gets the job done on the road, no matter how hairy any given scenario might be for the Huskies.
Last Friday’s game at intrastate rival Minnesota-Duluth proved a perfect example.
Playing its first home game since Oct. 26, UMD bossed large parts of its series-opener with the Huskies. Duluth outshot SCSU 38-19 in the game, had two more power-play opportunities than the visitors, and the Bulldogs were even ahead 2-1 on the scoreboard more than halfway through the game.
The game got away from the hosts, though, as St. Cloud scored three unanswered goals and Huskies goaltender Ryan Faragher ended up with 36 saves in what ended up as a 4-2 win for the Huskies, heavily outplayed though they were.
The following night, SCSU enjoyed almost complete control. In Saturday’s rematch, the Huskies scored the first three goals of the game and eventually chased UMD starting goaltender Aaron Crandall in a 5-1 win over the Bulldogs.
St. Cloud bumped its road winning streak to eight with its victory Saturday, thus marking the first time the Huskies had won eight straight away from home since the 2001-02 season.
UND finally finding consistency
If North Dakota’s last few games have been good indicators, UND might finally be getting its 2o13-14 season back on track.
Coming off an underwhelming home series against St. Lawrence in which UND played poorly in a 5-2 series-opening loss Nov. 29 before winning 3-2 in the rematch, UND proved itself further last weekend at Western Michigan in picking up two more 3-2 victories.
To get the ball rolling on UND’s first sweep of this season, UND first had to grind out a win against a Broncos team that was above .500 at home going into last weekend. Friday’s game wasn’t pretty for either side, but UND outworked its hosts and got a pair of goals from freshman Luke Johnson and one from senior Derek Rodwell en route to the win.
Saturday’s performance from UND wasn’t any more stylish than what it put out the night before. Maybe even less so, considering the visitors only put up seven shots on goal in the series’s final 40 minutes, but with Western unable to create enough scoring chances at the other end of the ice, UND again came up a 3-2 winner and, perhaps even better, got back to .500 on the season at 7-7-2 overall and 5-5-0-0 in the NCHC.
Blais’ goalie experimentation pays off
As I’ve written before this season and as we’ve all known down the years, Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais likes to tinker with his goaltending corps and see what works in certain scenarios.
You might not find a better example of this than what happened Saturday night in UNO’s game at Colorado College.
Despite watching his Mavericks underwhelm Friday in a 4-2 loss to the Tigers, Blais gave junior goaltender Ryan Massa the nod once again Saturday. That didn’t work out so well, though, as Blais pulled Massa after Saturday’s first period for giving up two goals on the eight shots Massa faced in the frame.
In came freshman netminder Kirk Thompson, and his introduction helped provide the spark the Mavericks needed. UNO got back into a game after initially falling into a 2-0 hole, and Thompson made 17 saves in 45 minutes of action while the visitors salvaged what ended up for NCAA purposes as a 3-3 tie.
The NCHC has overtime shootouts, though, of course, and it was then that Blais rolled the dice once more with his goaltending. Thompson’s night ended when the five-minute overtime period did, and back came Massa for the shootout.
The gamble worked. Massa stopped three of four shots in the shootout, and UNO forwards Ryan Walters and Josh Archibald scored in the first and fourth rounds, respectively, to give UNO two points from the three originally on offer coming into the game.
Since Matthew and I picked every game the same last week, we both went 5-2-1 (.687). On the year, I am 44-29-10 (.590), maintaining a one-game lead on Matthew, who is 43-30-10 (.578).
Friday-Saturday, Dec. 6-7
No. 16 Nebraska-Omaha at Colorado College
Candace: I figure that sooner or later, CC will starting scoring more and winning a few games, but I’m not sure if this is the weekend it happens. Nebraska-Omaha 3-1, 4-2
Matthew: There are two big things I’m going to be looking at with this series. First, UNO had its first bye week of the season over Thanksgiving, and I’m curious to see whether that’s impeded the momentum the Mavericks built up last month. Also, despite the fact Omaha has a facility with an Olympic-sized sheet built to the same dimensions as CC’s World Arena, the Mavericks opted to practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on the CenturyLink Center sheet that’s 15 feet narrower than the one the Tigers play their home games on. Even with those factors, though, I’m going to go out on a minor limb and say UNO sweeps and goes 4-0-0 for the first time ever in the state of Colorado. Nebraska-Omaha 4-3, 3-1
Denver at No. 12 Miami
Candace: Denver is on a bit of a win streak, and Miami has been very inconsistent of late. This series has split written all over it, but trying to guess the right date for each team’s win is killing me. Miami 4-3, Denver 3-2
Matthew: In this series between two teams that have run hot and cold so far this season, I’m finding it difficult to not pick a split here. Denver’s the hotter team right now, having gone unbeaten in its last six games, but the Pioneers are traveling quite a long way this week to face a Miami team that’s 5-2-0 at home so far this season, and I think the RedHawks’ home form so far has to count for something here. Miami 4-1, Denver 3-1
No. 2 St. Cloud State at No. 20 Minnesota-Duluth
Candace: For me, this is one of the best series of the weekend. It’s really hard to pick though. St. Cloud has won by committee, while Minnesota-Duluth has displayed resiliency. I’m thinking split. St. Cloud 4-3, Minnesota-Duluth 3-2
Matthew: If this was a home series for SCSU, I’d call for a Huskies sweep here. St. Cloud’s won four of its last five and has only lost twice so far this season, but they’re about to face a Duluth team itching to play at home again after not having hit the AMSOIL Arena ice for a game since Oct. 26. My guess is the emotion surrounding that leads to a Bulldogs win Friday before the visitors salvage a split the following night. Minnesota-Duluth 4-2, St. Cloud State 2-0
North Dakota at Western Michigan
Candace: North Dakota has been awfully iffy of late, but then, so has Western Michigan, which could only muster a goal game last weekend against Northeastern and Alabama-Huntstville. North Dakota finally broke its season-long Saturday jinx last weekend against St. Lawrence, but I figure it’s more likely North Dakota wins Friday. North Dakota 3-1, Western Michigan 2-1
Matthew: Considering neither of these teams have been pulling up trees lately, I’m not brave enough to pick a sweep for either of them in this series. North Dakota really struggled last Friday at home to St. Lawrence before picking up a close win the following night, and Western’s offense failed to click last weekend at Notre Dame’s Shillelagh Tournament, only picking up one goal in each game against Northeastern and Alabama-Huntsville. Western needs to find its scoring power again this weekend if the Broncos are to be successful, and I’m not expecting them to find enough of it to win both nights against UND. North Dakota 4-2, Western Michigan 2-1
Trial for Tigers
After another weekend in which it couldn’t score and couldn’t win, Colorado College is off to one of its worst starts in recent years. Nothing seems to be going right for CC. In two games against New Hampshire, CC lost 6-2 and 3-0. The offense is still at 58 of 59 teams, averaging only 1.31 goals per game. The power play continues to struggle, ranked only 57.
There are few bright spots in Colorado Springs. The penalty kill is one, ranked 18, with a kill rate of 84.3, successfully killing 43-of-51 penalties. Josh Thorimbert, despite giving up six goals in Friday’s contest, has played well more often than not. In Saturday’s game, after giving a power-play goal near the midway point of the second period, Thorimbert gave the Tigers a chance to rally, holding the Wildcats to that single goal until New Hampshire struck for two in the last 2:36, one of which was an empty-netter.
Clearly, the Tigers need a shot of confidence. Perhaps they can garner some from looking at last year. After a decent start to its season, the Tigers went through a mid-season slump where they went 2-12-2 before they rallied and lost in the final of the WCHA Final Five.
The Tigers do have some offensive potential, players who are mired in slumps such as Alexander Krushelnyski, Archie Skalbeck, and Hunter Fejes, the latter of whom is in a serious sophomore slump, held without a point in the first 13 games. In fact, two freshmen, Sam Rothstein and Alex Roos, lead CC in points. It also doesn’t help that sophomore Cody Bradley got hurt last week and missed both games against New Hampshire.
It doesn’t get any easier for CC though, as this weekend, the Tigers host league-leading Nebraska-Omaha.
Heading into Saturday’s game against St. Lawrence, North Dakota might have had reason to be concerned. The team hadn’t won on Saturday yet this season, and after losing convincingly to the Saints on Friday (which was their fourth game in a row without a win), they faced the prospect of their season spiraling out of control.
However, after St. Lawrence rallied to tie it early in the second period, North Dakota responded with two goals, then held off the Saints in the third to earn a 3-2 win.
North Dakota still faces issues. They are below .500 on the year at 5-7-2, and also below .500 in conference at 3-5. They travel to Western Michigan this coming weekend, then close the first half at home with two against Northern Michigan.
North Dakota has been know for second half surges in the Dave Hakstol era though, so all is not lost. However, Hakstol is not counting on anything at this point. After Saturday’s win, he said, “I don’t feel relief. We were real disappointed last night as a group. It’s been a challenging 24 hours, so it’s nice to have a positive outcome at the end of those 24 hours, but we’re looking forward. We’ve got a lot of work to do; we know that.”
Searching for defense
Miami has struggled defensively at times this season, and is only 22 nationally in team defense. A tendency to let up goals in bunches has hurt the RedHawks, such as against Nebraska-Omaha and Providence, and it hurt them again on Friday in the first of a pair against Bemidji. The RedHawks entered the third period leading 4-1, only to give up three goals, including an extra-attacker goal with less than a minute left, to allow the Beavers to earn a tie.
Miami turned the tables on Saturday, scoring three third-period goals of its own to break open a tie game and win, 6-3. Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik, who are currently ranked third in scoring, broke the game open, teaming up on one goal and assisting on another. The duo are a big reason the RedHawks are ranked 13 in team offense, but Miami needs to shore up its defense in the second half to build on its strengths.
Matthew and I add a pick for today.
Western Michigan vs. Alabama-Huntsville (Shillelagh Tournament)
Candace: I think Holy Cross over Boston College is all the upset goddess can stand this weekend. Western Michigan 3-1
Matthew: As confident as I am that Alabama-Huntsville will finally pick up its first win of the season, I’m equally sure it won’t happen this afternoon. Western was unlucky to come away from its tournament semifinal with Northeastern with a shootout loss, but the Broncos are certainly a better team than Huntsville right now and ought to win. Western Michigan 4-2
Thanks to Minnesota-Duluth’s win on Sunday over Minnesota, I stayed a game ahead of Matthew in our picks race, as we both went 5-2-3 (.650) last week. Overall on the year, I am 39-27-9 (.580) while Matthew is 38-28-9 (.566).
Here we go with this week’s games.
Friday-Saturday, Nov. 29-30
No. 13 Miami at Bemidji State
Candace: Miami needs a weekend sweep badly after getting swept by Nebraska-Omaha. Even if the RedHawks aren’t as good on the road, they should deliver. Miami 2-1, 3-1
Matthew: The RedHawks have lost each of their last three games and ran into a hot goalie last weekend at Nebraska-Omaha, but this trip up to Bemidji, Minn., might be what Miami needs right now. BSU is in second place in the WCHA behind only a Ferris State team that has had a wonderful start to its season, but the only team the Beavers have swept so far is 0-12-0 Alabama-Huntsville, and Miami is the best team BSU will have played since opening the season with St. Cloud State and Minnesota. It won’t be easy, but I’ll take Miami to get back on track and sweep this series. Miami 4-3, 2-0
No. 20 New Hampshire at Colorado College
Candace: CC has one of the most dismal offenses in the country, with no player with more than four points a game and a team offense ranked 58 of 59 teams. It will wake up at some point, but I’m not sure this is the weekend. New Hampshire 3-1, 3-2
Matthew: UNH has been very streaky so far, going winless in six between Oct. 12 and Nov. 2, winning six straight after that, and then losing last week to both Harvard and Providence. What makes this one tricky is that, while the Wildcats fell back onto the losing track last week, CC picked up a surprise split in its series last weekend at St. Cloud State. UNH is still scoring an average of nearly two more goals per game than the Tigers are though, so I’ll take the Wildcats to come out west and pick up a couple of wins. New Hampshire 4-2, 3-1
St. Lawrence at North Dakota
Candace: North Dakota has been a frustrating team to pick so far this season, and I don’t really have a handle on St. Lawrence either. North Dakota has to start its usual surge at some point, so why not this weekend? North Dakota 2-1, 3-1
Matthew: North Dakota finally fell out of the top 20 of USCHO’s Men’s Division I Poll this week, but a couple of good performances this weekend at home to St. Lawrence might help UND get back into the pollsters’ better graces. Now seems to be a good time to play the Saints, too, as they’ve lost three of their last four games. That’s not to say UND’s in infinitely better shape — UND is 0-2-1 in its last three — but it’s still a better team than SLU. The challenge will be proving it. UND 3-2, 3-1
Western Michigan vs. Northeastern (at Notre Dame’s Shillelagh Tournament)
Candace: I’m not sure I’ve picked a Western Michigan game correctly this season. I guess there’s no real reason to expect I will this week either. Western Michigan 2-1
Matthew: Like most first-round tournament games where both teams are playing at a neutral site, this one seems like a toss-up. Northeastern’s offense has been a little better than Western Michigan’s so far, but the Broncos’ defense has bested the Huskies’. I’m going to make the homer pick here and go with Western, which it’d no doubt be fine with as it would most likely mean a rematch with a Notre Dame team that swept the Broncos on the opening weekend of the season. Western Michigan 3-1
You may remember I suggested in my NCHC column last Wednesday that, with Nebraska-Omaha goaltender Ryan Massa playing so well on Friday nights so far this month, maybe the time had come to make him the Mavericks’ solid No. 1 starter.
It appears UNO coach Dean Blais could be leaning that way.
One wouldn’t expect much to be said about the goaltending in a nine-goal game, but Massa was arguably the Mavericks’ unsung hero in their 6-3 win over then-No. 8 Miami Friday night. He made 29 saves in the winning effort, and he stoned star RedHawks forward Austin Czarnik on three separate breakaways, including a penalty shot on which Czarnik came in too close and wound up shooting at Massa’s midsection.
Blais rewarded the junior goalie by giving Massa the start again Saturday night in what ended up as a 3-1 win for UNO. Massa capped off his first back-to-back starts in the same weekend this season by stopping 25 shots in the rematch while the Mavericks clinched a sweep of Miami for the first time since February of 2002.
The Mavericks went 6-2-0 against a November slate made up of, in order, Denver away and then North Dakota, Michigan and Miami all at home. Massa picked up five of those six wins, putting together a 1.99 goals-against average and .934 save percentage for the month.
Unfortunately for the Mavericks, though, they’re coming into a lull in their schedule at maybe not the best time.
UNO is idle this weekend for the first time this season, and the Mavericks are done until January once they complete a two-game set at Colorado College Dec. 6-7. The challenge, then, is whether UNO can keep its momentum despite only playing two games in six weeks.
Broncos find redemption again
Western Michigan coach Andy Murray spoke at his weekly press conference last Monday about how his Broncos needed to find a way to bounce right back from a pair of disappointing losses on the road the weekend before.
After going 0-for-12 on the power play and giving up three such goals to Denver a week ago, Western almost looked like a different team last weekend in a home-and-home series with former CCHA rival Michigan State. After sophomore goaltender Lukas Hafner made 22 saves Friday in a 2-0 shutout win in East Lansing, the Broncos came home to Kalamazoo and scored two power play goals Saturday en route to a 4-1 win over the Spartans.
Perhaps even better was that Western went a perfect 8-for-8 on the penalty kill against MSU, including 5-for-5 in the Broncos’ home leg of the series.
Here’s one thing that still needs to be fixed, though: What we’ve yet to see from WMU is an ability to string together positive results two weekends in a row.
Western has been a streaky team thus far. After getting swept in a home-and-home with Notre Dame to open the season, the Broncos then went 3-0-1 in their next four games, 0-3-1 in the next four after that, and then 2-0 in the home-and-home with MSU.
This weekend’s slate could provide WMU with tougher sledding than it had against the Spartans. In Notre Dame’s Shillelagh Tournament, Western will square off with Northeastern before facing either the Fighting Irish or Alabama-Huntsville.
O’Donnell victimized by questionable officiating
Just over a week after Hockey East found itself issuing a statement that HEA officials had erred three times in reviewing an apparent game-tying goal for Massachusetts against Boston College Nov. 14, a player from an NCHC team fell victim to a questionable call by HEA officials.
Late in North Dakota’s game Saturday night against Boston University, with the score locked at 3-3, BU went on a power play at the 16:57 mark when UND forward Brendan O’Donnell was whistled down for slashing.
The problem? O’Donnell did nothing of the sort.
In the incident in question, O’Donnell had his stick on the ice the entire time and never hit with it Tommy Kelley or Doyle Somerby, the two Terriers around O’Donnell in the play in front BU goaltender Matt O’Connor’s net.
Kelley’s stick broke in two on the play, but only when Kelley hit it against O’Donnell while appearing to try and get to the rebound off an initial shot by UND defenseman Jordan Schmaltz.
O’Donnell remonstrated with Hockey East referee Kevin Shea and linesman Brendan Blanchard on the way to the penalty box, but to no avail. Thankfully for UND, the Terriers didn’t convert on the power play, and the game eventually ended in a 3-3 tie.
Well, thanks to picking the right dates for North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth to win, I am back ahead in the picks race. Last week, I went 7-4 (.636) to move to 34-25-6 (.569), while Matthew went 5-6 (.454) to move to 33-26-6 (.553). Let’s see how long I can keep the lead in the six-pack race!
Friday-Saturday, Nov. 22-23
Colorado College at No. 2 St. Cloud State
Candace: CC’s disappointing season probably reached its nadir in losing to cross-town rival Air Force on home ice Tuesday night. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any easier, and St. Cloud is looking like a strong candidate for the division title. St. Cloud 3-1, 4-1
Matthew: I keep thinking CC is due to pick up the pace on offense and nab its first win since the opening night of the season, but I don’t see either happening this weekend. Having Division I’s second-worst offense (1.22 goals per game) travel to face D-I’s second-best defense (1.80) doesn’t sound appealing for the former. Doesn’t help that the Huskies are scoring three and a half goals per outing, either, so I’m taking SCSU to sweep. St. Cloud State 4-1, 3-1
No. 8 Miami at Nebraska-Omaha
Candace: I pondered whether Nebraska-Omaha, sitting at .500, might be the hottest team in the country right now in my Monday wrap blog this week. The Mavericks really surprised me against Michigan. Miami, meanwhile, continues its search for a weekend sweep. I’ll call a split. Nebraska-Omaha 3-2, Miami 3-2
Matthew: UNO has only picked up splits from its last two weekend series, but at 4-2-0 so far this month — all against then-ranked opponents — nobody in the Mavericks’ camp is complaining. They’ll get another stern test this weekend, especially as Miami (2.08) is a lot tougher defensively than UNO (3.25). I’d pick a RedHawks sweep if this was in Oxford, but I think UNO will do enough to get another split this weekend in Omaha. Nebraska-Omaha 5-3, Miami 3-1
No. 15 North Dakota at Boston University
Candace: North Dakota has to become more consistent at some point, but I think this weekend is all about a split, and I’ll guess that it’s the Saturday curse that still does North Dakota in. North Dakota 3-2, Boston University 3-2
Matthew: BU has been decidedly mediocre so far this season, and that’s good news for a UND team maybe even more depleted than it was last week when it was hit by a flu outbreak. North Dakota only has 11 available forwards for this weekend, but with the Terriers giving up three goals per game so far this season, that’s not as big a disadvantage for UND as it could be. North Dakota hasn’t really been pulling up trees on the defensive side, either, though, so I like both teams to pick up a win here. BU 3-2, UND 3-1
Denver vs. Air Force (at Air Force Fri., at DU Sat.)
Candace: Air Force might just come out flat after pulling off the upset Tuesday night, even if the Falcons are on home ice. Denver, meanwhile, has Sam Brittain in net. Denver 2-1, 3-1
Matthew: Air Force’s 3-1 win over Colorado College on Tuesday might’ve thrown light on a shift in Colorado Springs-area college hockey dominance. However, the Falcons will have a big challenge on their hands — talons? — in trying to contain a Denver team that has rebounded well from a not-so-great start to the season. The Pioneers have won each of their last four games and five of their last eight, I think DU will get another victory here, but Air Force — winner of seven of its last eight — is too good a team right now to get swept. Air Force 2-1, Denver 3-1
Western Michigan vs. Michigan State (at MSU Fri., at WMU Sat.)
Candace: I picked Western Michigan to split last weekend, and they got swept. The Broncos haven’t won since the first weekend of the season. Michigan State, meanwhile, needs to rebound from getting swept by another in-state rival last weekend against Michigan Tech. I think this is a home-ice split. Michigan State 3-1, Western Michigan 2-1
Matthew: Michigan State is about as ripe for the picking it’s seemingly ever been, but whatever success Western has this weekend will depend largely on how its special teams units perform. The Broncos went 0-for-12 on the power play in last weekend’s sweep at the hands of Denver, and DU’s 1-0 win last Saturday came thanks to a Pioneers goal that came while DU was on a five-on-three power play. The good news here is MSU has the nation’s seventh-worst penalty-killing units (74.3 percent); the bad news is Western has the eighth-worst power play (11.3). If special teams play breaks in Western’s favor, this is the Broncos’ time to shine. If it doesn’t, this series is a toss-up. Michigan State 3-1, Western Michigan 3-1
Friday-Sunday, Nov. 22 and 24
No. 19 Minnesota-Duluth at No. 1 Minnesota
Candace: Minnesota has been playing exceptionally well, but when big rivals meet, records don’t mean much. Home ice might however, but I’ll give the Bulldogs a split. Minnesota 4-1, Minnesota-Duluth 2-1
Matthew: Given this is a Friday-Sunday series, I really wish it was home-and-home, and both these teams might feel the same way come NCAA tournament selection time. As for these two games, though, I think UMD’s issues with inconsistency might rear their ugly heads again. The Bulldogs haven’t yet put together two rock-solid games in any one weekend, and that’s going to be a difficult thing to do away to a Gophers team that is scoring goals almost at will so far this season and is giving up fewer than two goals per game at its own end of the ice. Minnesota 4-1, 3-2
We forgot to pick this game last week, so here you go.
Air Force at Colorado College
Candace: CC is at home, and after a pretty tough stretch, should be both rested and fired up. Expect the Tigers to come out firing and win by a couple. Colorado College 4-2
Matthew: Although Air Force had a pretty big hiccup in losing 8-2 at Mercyhurst Nov. 2, the Falcons have won six of their last seven games, including a 4-3 win over Robert Morris at home last Saturday. This game’s at CC, but the Tigers haven’t won since their opening night of the season and currently have Division I’s second-worst team offense (1.25 goals per game). Will they be able to find the net enough to win this game? For CC’s sake, I hope so. Colorado College 2-1
Could a .500 team be one of the hottest in the country? Such is the question posed by the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks. After starting the season 2-4, including disappointing losses to Bentley and Cornell at home, the Mavericks have rebounded over the last few weeks with some impressive games. After sweeping Denver on the road, the Mavericks returned home for tough series with No. 13 North Dakota and No. 2 Michigan. They came out with splits in both, winning the first game, but unable to get the sweep.
Against Michigan in the first game, entering the third trailing 2-1, the Mavericks got a tying goal from Aaron Pearce, and then the game-winner from Josh Archibald, who is tied for the team scoring lead with Ryan Walters with 13 points. Archibald has nine goals on the year, tied for sixth in the country.
On Saturday, the Mavericks again entered the third trailing, this time 3-2, and again tied it, this time on a goal by Brock Montpetit. However, Michigan’s Derek DeBlois scored at 13:53 to earn a split for the Wolverines.
A couple of things stand out from those two games. First, Michigan entered the series with the number two team defense in the country, yet the potent offense from Nebraska-Omaha put up three goals in each game.
Second, coach Dean Blais continues to platoon his three goalies. Ryan Massa played Friday and earned the win. Instead of freshman Kirk Thompson however (who has the most games in net for Nebraska-Omaha), Blais went with Reed Peters in net. Peters made 27 saves in the loss. None of the Mavericks netminders has world-beating stats; Peters has the best save percentage at .898, and all three goalies have goals-against averages over 3.00.
While Blais likes to play an up and down style of hockey, if the defense ever clamps down, or one of three goalies emerges with the hot hand, watch out. Currently in conference, the Mavericks are in a three-way tie for second place, though they and St. Cloud, which both have the highest conference winning percentage at .750, have games in hand on leader Denver.
Defense in Denver
Speaking of the Pioneers, there were a lot of unknowns entering this year. One thing was for sure however: with so many unknowns among its forwards, as well as the departure of Nick Shore, Denver would need to better its defense to do well. For many Pioneers fans however, the departure of goaltender Juho Olkinuora made that a more difficult proposition, especially since the Pioneers only finished at 32 in team defense for 2012-13.
However, senior goaltender Sam Brittain has recovered his mojo. Entering the year, both his teammates and coach stated that Brittain was in “the best shape of his life.” Brittain’s play through the first six weeks bears this out. Brittain is currently fourth nationally among goalies with a 1.61 GAA and .945 save percentage. The team’s defense is also fourth nationally, averaging a stingy 1.83 average goals per game.
Against Western Michigan this past weekend, a team that last year won with defense, Brittain needed to be at his best. After giving up a late first period goal and an early tally in the second, Brittain clamped down while his teammates erupted offensively with four goals. The Broncos pulled within one early in the third, but Denver answered two minutes later, and Brittain stoned 10 of 11 shots in the third (28 in the game), to preserve the win.
In the Saturday rematch, Brittain stopped all 26 shots he faced to notch his third shutout of the young season, and the Pioneers rode a second-period tally from captain David Makowski to a 1-0 win.
One potential concern is whether Brittain can keep it up. He has played all but one of Denver’s games so far this year. Freshman Evan Cowley played in the second weekend of the season against Alaska-Anchorage, while freshman Greg Ogard has yet to play.
The Pioneers face Air Force in a home-and-home this weekend, then have a one week break before closing the first half with a tough double bill of road series against No. 8 Miami and No. 10 Rensselaer. It is possible either Cowley or Ogard could see action this weekend against the Falcons.
No. 13 North Dakota, currently sitting at 4-5-1, has seen an interesting trend develop: they can’t win on Saturday. In five Saturday games, they have claimed only one point, a tie in their first series against Vermont. Since then, North Dakota has lost Saturday games to Miami, St. Cloud, Nebraska-Omaha, and Minnesota-Duluth. And while North Dakota has generally done well in the first game of its two-game sets, when they faced Nebraska-Omaha in a rare Saturday-Sunday set, they fell to the Mavericks in the first game, continuing the Saturday curse.
The loss to Minnesota-Duluth Saturday has to sting. After notching three goals in the third on Friday to claim a hard-fought 4-2 win over the Bulldogs, North Dakota gave up three first-period goals, two of which were power-play tallies. The last goal came with only 11 seconds left in the period. North Dakota pulled within a goal early in the second, but that was as close as they got.
In his post-game comments, North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol singled out the lack of a complete effort from his team as a major factor in the loss.
“I thought we had to play a really intelligent, compete game. Little bit low on energy and I thought we didn’t manage, obviously, the last two minutes of the first period very well.”
Well, Matthew and I both were dismal last week, going 2-5-1 (.312). It seems that teams are having trouble establishing consistency, and so are we. On the year, I am now 27-21-6 (.555), while Matthew is 28-20-6 (.574).
I’ll try and at least catch him this week.
Friday-Saturday, Nov. 15-16
Western Michigan at Denver
Candace: Just when I am ready to write off Denver and praise Western Michigan, the teams make me question everything all over again. In a lot of ways, Denver has Sam Brittain to thank for its success against Colorado College last week. Brittain has been outstanding this year. Can he do it again? And did the disappointing weekend at home against the Wildcats wake the Broncos back up? Denver 2-1, Western Michigan 2-1
Matthew: Western disappointed me last weekend in only getting a loss and a tie at home to a Northern Michigan team that had really struggled on the road before it came to Kalamazoo. This time, Western makes the big trek west to face a Denver team buoyant after taking five of six points from arch-rival Colorado College, and I think the Pioneers will keep the ball rolling here and continue their recovery from what had been a pretty bumpy start to the season. Denver 4-2, 3-1
No. 20 Minnesota-Duluth at No. 13 North Dakota
Candace: North Dakota hasn’t looked good the last few weeks. They are bound to snap out of their funk at some point, but I can’t see this as anything but a split. For the most part this season, Minnesota-Duluth has had trouble on Friday and done better on Saturday, especially on the road, while North Dakota has been the opposite at home. North Dakota 3-2, Minnesota-Duluth 3-2
Matthew: Nebraska-Omaha last weekend probably should have handed North Dakota its first five-game losing streak in coach Dave Hakstol’s tenure. However, an outstanding 36-save performance from goaltender Clarke Saunders and good fortune at the other end of the ice last Sunday saw North Dakota snap its first four-game losing skid since 2006. North Dakota is back at home this weekend against a rested Minnesota-Duluth team that had last weekend off and is giving up quite a lot fewer goals per game (1.88) so far this season than Nebraska-Omaha (3.30). I’m going with a split here, as while it looks like North Dakota’s starting to get everything back in order, I think the Bulldogs could cause North Dakota some real problems. Minnesota-Duluth 3-2, North Dakota 3-1
No. 12 Wisconsin at No. 8 Miami
Candace: This should be a barn-burner of a series. I got burned picking a Miami sweep the last couple of times, but Wisconsin was dreadful the last time it went on the road, and I am wondering whether the eight goals the Badgers put up in their last game are an anomaly or a sign the team is back to its winning ways. Hmmm. Miami 4-2, 3-2
Matthew: Although Wisconsin’s last game saw the Badgers score more goals than they had in any game in going on four years, I’m not yet sold on the Badgers. The only time Wisconsin’s gone on the road so far this season, it got pounded at Boston College and Boston University by a combined score of 16-5. That’s not great news ahead of a road trip to face a Miami squad that is 6-3-1 so far this season with a tougher early-season schedule than Wisconsin’s. It won’t be easy this weekend for Miami, but I’ll take the RedHawks to pick up their fourth and fifth consecutive home wins. Miami 5-2, 3-1
No. 3 St. Cloud State at Alabama-Huntsville
Candace: I am glad the Chargers found a home in the WCHA, but for now, they are still a few rungs below top teams like St. Cloud. St. Cloud 4-1, 4-2
Matthew: It would be just my luck for Alabama-Huntsville to pick up its first win of the season in one of these two games at home to St. Cloud State, but while I’ve for years had a soft spot for the Chargers, I can’t see anything other than a Huskies sweep here. Division I’s third-worst team defense (4.50 goals allowed per game) might actually see its numbers improve, considering SCSU hasn’t scored a ton of goals, but St. Cloud has the nation’s third-best defense (1.88) and a very solid goaltender in Ryan Faragher, and offensively-challenged UAH will have a tough time solving them. St. Cloud State 4-1, 3-0
No. 2 Michigan at Nebraska-Omaha
Candace: Home was good to Nebraska-Omaha last week. However, I am still of the belief that defense wins, and almost nobody can match the Wolverines in that category. If the Mavericks try to run-and-gun with the Wolverines, they’ll get burned. Michigan 4-2, 3-2
Matthew: Michigan has looked similar to St. Cloud so far this season in that the Wolverines’ success has largely come from the back, with Michigan only having conceded 1.75 goals per game. This week, the Wolverines travel to Omaha for the first time since Michigan and Nebraska-Omaha were both in the CCHA, although it’s yet to be seen whether it will feel much different without league points on the line. That said, the Wolverines rarely faltered in Omaha — they’re 9-4-3 all-time there — and I think they’ll get one more this weekend, but the Mavericks have won three of four games already this month and I think they’ll pull out another one this weekend. Michigan 3-1, Nebraska-Omaha 3-2