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NCHC picks: Nov. 21

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

Three things: Nov. 16

Hottest team
While fans of undefeated Michigan Tech might take exception, it’s hard not to wonder if Minnesota-Duluth is the hottest team in the country.

Even if they aren’t, the Bulldogs are the hottest team in their home state after sweeping top-ranked Minnesota this weekend by 3-0 and 2-1 scores.

The sweep marked back-to-back weekend sweeps of an in-state rival for the Bulldogs, who swept NCHC rival St. Cloud State the previous weekend.

Friday in Minneapolis, Bulldogs netminder Kasimir Kaskisuo stopped 17 shots as the Bulldogs blanked the Gophers, ending Minnesota’s home unbeaten streak at 17 games. It was also the first time since 2003 that Minnesota had been shut out on home ice.

Saturday in Duluth, the Bulldogs made it a sweep behind Kaskisuo’s 24 saves and goals by Dominic Toninato and Karson Kuhlman. The Gophers finally ended Kaskisuo’s shutout streak at 11:18 of the third period, ending 149:37 of shutout play by the freshman phenom.

The last time the Bulldogs swept their in-state rivals was November 2009. The Bulldogs are currently 8-4, a record made more impressive by the fact that every game they have played so far has been against a ranked team. The lowest-ranked team Minnesota-Duluth has played so far was ranked 12. While one team has since dropped out of the top 20, two of the others have moved into the top 10.

Gold Pan strike one
In Denver coach Jim Montgomery’s first year, Colorado College claimed the Gold Pan, awarded to the winner of the season series between the two schools, by sweeping Denver in the last two games of the season between the schools. Given how often CC has won the trophy (12 times out of 21), one could wonder whether a first-year coach appreciated the storied rivalry.

Montgomery showed some flare last week during his radio interview on Wednesday, Nov. 12, referring to the Tigers as “the kittens.” Perhaps Montgomery’s psychological warfare worked, because CC certainly played like kittens and Denver played like tigers, defeating CC 8-1 on Friday night at Magness Arena in Denver.

Denver scored twice in the first two minutes of the game, once by Danton Heinen and once by Nolan Zajac, and never looked back, building a 4-1 lead after one period. Denver defenseman Joey LaLeggia scored the seventh goal, notching his 100th career point.

“I couldn’t have done it without great teammates and the freedom coach Montgomery gives me and Nolan Zajac to be aggressive offensively and take chances jumping into the play,” said LaLeggia. “It’s a nice milestone and better to get against a rival like Colorado College.”

The loss was the seventh in a row for CC, which hasn’t won since its opening weekend against Alabama-Huntsville.

NCHC foes split
The only match-up of top 10 teams this weekend paired No. 7 Miami against No. 2 North Dakota. Fittingly, the series ended in a split, with the RedHakws winning game one, 3-2, and North Dakota taking the rematch 4-1.

Friday’s win by Miami ended an eight-game unbeaten streak for North Dakota, and may have put aside memories of the 9-2 drubbing the RedHawks took the last time they played in Grand Forks. Sean Kuraly had two goals and an assist, including scoring the game-winner on a third period power play.

The series was notable also for the return of North Dakota forward Mark MacMillan, who had been injured against Providence on Oct. 24. On Saturday, MacMillan provided the spark, scoring North Dakota’s first goal after Miami had opened a one-goal lead and assisting on the third goal.

MacMillan’s return comes at a fortuitous time, as UND has two series looming against ranked conference foes in No. 15 St. Cloud State and No. 14 Nebraska-Omaha.

NCHC picks: Nov. 14

Well, Matthew gained a game back on me. I went 7-3 (.700) to move to 39-14-2 (.727) on the year, while Matthew went 8-2 (.800) to move to 33-20-2 (.618) on the year.

Some big clashes between ranked teams highlight the action. Let’s see how we can do.

Friday, Nov. 14

Colorado College at No. 11 Denver
Candace: Denver probably remembers losing the Gold Pan last year, and while the Tigers have owned this rivalry more often than not in recent years, I like the Pioneers. Denver 4-1
Matthew: There’s some truth to the saying about throwing records out the window for rivalry games, but even still, Denver should win this one somewhat comfortably. Denver 4-2

Friday-Saturday, Nov. 14-15

No. 7 Miami at No. 2 North Dakota
Candace: Like my counterpart says, it’s hard to know which night each team will win. OT is likely in at least one of these. North Dakota 3-2, Miami 4-2
Matthew: Between UND’s injury woes and the RedHawks coming to Grand Forks, I’d be very surprised if UND is able to boost its unbeaten streak to 10 games this weekend. I think they’ll pick up one win over Miami, but it’s tough to tell when it’ll happen. Miami 3-1, North Dakota 4-1

No. 15 St. Cloud State at Western Michigan
Candace: Western Michigan coach Andy Murray knows he has an angry St. Cloud team coming to town. I’ll pick the Huskies the first game. St. Cloud 3-1, Western Michigan 3-2
Matthew: Neither of these teams have really set the world on fire early this season. This series has ‘split’ written all over it. Western Michigan 3-1, St. Cloud State 2-1

No.13 Minnesota-Duluth vs. No. 1 Minnesota (home-and-home)
Candace: I don’t see the Bulldogs pulling back-to-back sweeps, so I’ll go with home ice in each. Minnesota 4-2, Minnesota-Duluth 3-2
Matthew: Arguably the biggest non-conference series going on this week, and I’m finding it difficult to take anything other than a split here. Home teams win. Minnesota 3-2, Minnesota-Duluth 3-2

Three things: Nov. 19

Minnesota-Duluth pulls off big sweep in St. Cloud
No NCHC team came out of this weekend looking rosier than Minnesota-Duluth, which made the short trip down to St. Cloud State and pulled out a pair of wins over the seventh-ranked Huskies.

It all started on Friday night when the No. 17 Bulldogs picked up a big 3-2 overtime victory. A pair of power play goals in the first 10 minutes of the  third period put SCSU ahead, but UMD’s Andy Welinski tied the game with 5:46 left in regulation before Cal Decowski notched the game-winner 2:06 into the resulting extra period.

Bulldogs freshman goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo was outstanding in UMD’s nets, stopping 33 of the 35 shots he faced on the night.

He then followed that up with another 27 saves the following night when the Bulldogs came away 3-1 winners to clinch a series sweep against their intrastate league rival. UMD found itself up 2-0 through Saturday’s first 20 minutes before senior Justin Crandall – who, and it could just be me who thinks this, seems to have been playing for UMD forever -  picked up an empty-net insurance goal with just over a minute left to play.

With the two wins in St. Cloud, Minn., UMD jumped to 6-4-0 overall on the season and 4-2-0 in NCHC play. The Bulldogs are now three points clear at the top of the league standings, although that could soon change as everyone else in the NCHC has league games in hand on Duluth.

UMD has another pair of tough tests coming up this weekend in the form of a home-and-home against Minnesota.

 

UNO backup bounces back to keep Mavericks rolling
Not many people expected a whole lot from Nebraska-Omaha early on this season. Considering the Mavericks have 12 newcomers this year – 11 freshmen and a transfer from Vermont – the skepticism was entirely understandable.

However, No. 19 UNO has been on a real roll here in the first few weeks of the campaign. The Mavericks were 4-1-1 through six games heading into their non-conference series at Ohio State last weekend.

Considering how the season’s started, UNO’s 4-1 win over the Buckeyes on Friday night was pretty standard. Half of the Mavericks’ goals came on power play opportunities, and senior goaltender Ryan Massa kept up his good early form in stopping 25 of the 26 shots he faced.

He then suffered a hand injury during his team’s practice the following morning, though, and that put him out of the rematch with OSU. In stepped sophomore backup Kirk Thompson, who conceded three Buckeyes goals in the first period before recovering and helping UNO to a 4-3 win.

Thompson finished the game with 27 saves, 22 of which came over the game’s final 40 minutes.

UNO (6-1-1, 2-0-0) is off this next week before hosting Minnesota-Duluth Nov. 21-22. The Nov. 21 meeting with the Bulldogs will be the Mavericks’ first home game in nearly a month and a half.

UND’s hot streak away from home continues
Wisconsin has been in a bad way early on this season, dropping each of its first four games. The Badgers finally made their home debut last weekend against North Dakota, though, and UW was hoping to finally pick up a W or two at the Kohl Center.

That didn’t happen. Instead, second-ranked UND stormed into Madison and came away with a pair of wins. It’s all UND has done on the road so far this season, as it’s now 5-0-0 away from Grand Forks, N.D. since the start of the current campaign.

Even better if you’re a UND fan, the men in green and white are now riding an eight-game unbeaten streak at 7-0-1.

The fifth of those wins came on Friday in less-than-pretty fashion. UND found itself down 2-1 to the Badgers after the first two periods, but the visitors stormed back and scored three goals in the final 20 minutes – two of them coming off Michael Parks’s stick – to win 4-3.

UND was more comfortable on Saturday during a 5-1 sweep-clinching win, but it didn’t come quite as easily as the score suggests. UND again had to score three third-period goals in the rematch to pull away from the Badgers.

North Dakota (7-1-1, 2-0-0) is back at home this weekend to take on No. 11 Miami.

NCHC picks: Nov. 7

Last week, I picked up even more ground on Matthew in our season race. I went 7-1-1 (.833) to move to 32-11-2 (.733) on the year, while Matthew went 5-3-1 (.611) to move to 25-18-2 (.577).

There are a few hard picks this week, so let’s see how we do.

Friday-Saturday, Nov. 7-8

Western Michigan at Denver
Candace: Denver swept this one last November, and the Pioneers also knocked the Broncos out of the NCHC tournament. This might end up a split, but I’ll go with the Pioneers to sweep. Denver 2-1, 2-1
Matthew: Western has struggled out of the gate this season, but I think their recent weekend off came at a good time before they make the long trip to Colorado. Denver’s the better team here, but I can see the Broncos stealing one. Denver 3-1, Western Michigan 2-1

Colorado College at Miami
Candace: If this was in Colorado Springs, I might pick a split. Miami 3-2, 4-1
Matthew: I have real concerns for CC this weekend. The Tigers took a pair of 6-2 poundings in their last two games at Boston College and New Hampshire, and although they’re coming off of a bye week and have had plenty of time to regroup, the RedHawks are still solid favorites to take care of business at home. Miami 3-0, 3-1

Minnesota-Duluth at St. Cloud State
Candace: Minnesota-Duluth seems to like Saturday nights, while the Huskies can win on either, but seemingly not both. St. Cloud 4-2, Minnesota-Duluth 3-2
Matthew: Neither of these teams have really blown me away thus far, but although UMD is on the road this weekend, I have a feeling the Bulldogs will pick up a split. St. Cloud State 3-1, Minnesota-Duluth 3-1

North Dakota at Wisconsin
Candace: North Dakota will miss Mark MacMillan, as shown last week  against Air Force, but Wisconsin has been dreadful so far, and until the Badgers pick up a few wins, I can’t pick them. Wonder what I’ll do in two weeks when they come to Denver? North Dakota 3-2, 3-1
Matthew: Wisconsin has had a very poor start to the season, but the Kohl Center will be a tough place for UND to have to play this weekend. I can see the Badgers picking up one win, but nothing more. Even still, though, I’ll take the league homer pick. North Dakota 2-1, 3-1

Nebraska-Omaha at Ohio State
Candace: Something tells me this will be a split, but I expect both games to be very tight. Nebraska-Omaha 4-2, Ohio State 3-2
Matthew: Ohio State has had a tough schedule early on this season, and it won’t get much easier this weekend when UNO comes to Columbus. I think the Buckeyes will get something from this, but UNO has proven itself to be a good enough team to go on the road and pick up at least a split in what in Columbus isn’t the most hostile environment. Nebraska-Omaha 3-2, Ohio State 4-2

Three things: Nov. 2

Nebraska-Omaha can win with defense
Nebraska-Omaha entered the weekend 3-1, and in part had won by putting up a lot of points on the board. The Mavericks had scored five goals in two of their first four games, three in another, and had been held to two goals in their only loss.

It was fair to wonder then, if this year’s edition would be like last year’s: winning if they could score in bunches and losing when kept down on the scoreboard.

This weekend against Cornell, the Mavericks got three of four points despite only scoring three goals. On Friday night, goaltender Ryan Massa made 28 saves as the Mavericks got a 1-1 tie with Cornell. The offense peppered Cornell goaltender Mitch Gillam with 39 shots, and Tyler Vessel got the only Mavericks goal.

On Saturday, UNO earned a 2-1 win as Massa stopped 32 shots. The Mavericks top line came through, as Austin Orgeta got the game-winner and assisted on the first goal, and Dominic Zombo assisted on the first goal. Ortega is now tied for sixth nationally in scoring, as is his linemate, Jake Guentzel.

The Mavericks’ road journey continues next week when they travel to Columbus to take on Ohio State. It will be their third consecutive road series, a stretch that sees them on the road for five of six weekends.

UNO has a good shot to be ranked when the polls come out Monday, which would put six of the eight NCHC teams in the top 20.

St. Cloud continues success against top
St. Cloud State entered the weekend ranked seventh, despite having only a 2-2 record. Voters probably recognize that the Huskies have played a brutal schedule, opening with No. 4 Colgate and No. 2 Union.

This weekend, the Huskies had a home-and-home with top-ranked Minnesota, and again split, winning 4-1 at home Friday and suffering a 4-3 overtime loss Saturday when Justin Kloos scored for the Gophers 1:19 into the extra session.

Charlie Lindgren was sensational in the loss, making 31 saves. St. Cloud’s offense was more limited, only getting 14 shots on net. Lindgren was also strong in the win on Friday, making 31 saves.

Leading scorer Jonny Brodzinski continues to be the sparkplug for the Huskies. He notched three points in Friday’s win. In the loss Saturday, the Gophers keyed on him and kept him off the score sheet.

It was only the Huskies’ fourth win in the last 11 against their in-state rival, and ended a two-game losing skid against the Gophers, including in the NCAA tournament last season.

Quick strikes help Denver gets measure of revenge
St. Cloud wasn’t the only team looking for a little revenge for an NCAA tournament loss. No. 11 Denver welcomed No. 5 Boston College to Magness Arena this weekend; the Eagles had defeated the Pioneers last year in the first round, 6-2.

On Friday, a tight defensive battle went to the Eagles, 2-1. Ryan Fitzgerald got the game-winner for the visitors at 15:18 of the third. The Pioneers had 26 shots on Eagles netminder Thatcher Demko, and were hurt in part by going 0-6 on the power play. Denver was also unable to build momentum on Nolan Zajac’s goal at 28 seconds of the second.

Denver got the early lead again Saturday, as highly touted freshman Danton Heinen struck at 21 seconds of the second. The Eagles answered at 12:56, and that was all the scoring in regulation, as Evan Cowley made 24 saves for Denver and Demko matched him with 30 saves.

However, at 4:05 of OT, Heinen got the Pioneers the important split when he scored with a quick snap shot from Demko’s right.

The win was all the more impressive as Denver had three key players out of the line-up. Joey LaLeggia, Zac Laraza, and Quentin Shore were out with a stomach bug.

Denver’s power-play struggles continued, as the Pioneers again went 0-6 on the power play.

Bonus
Entering the season, Minnesota-Duluth was looking to replace starting goaltender Aaron Crandall, who graduated. So far, freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo seems to be the go-to for the Bulldogs, in part due to saves like this.

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 9-2-1 (.791), moving to 25-10-1 (.708), while Matthew went 5-6-1 (.458) to move to 20-15-1 (.569) 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.

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