Out-of-conference mark a strength

The NCHC continued its strong play in out-of-conference action, going 5-1-2 over the weekend to up is best nonconference winning mark to 43-23-9 (.633). St. Cloud State and North Dakota both swept opponents, No. 17 Denver battled No. 16 Notre Dame to two ties, and Miami split with Rensselaer.

Shutout streak ends
Perhaps it was a New Year’s hangover, but No. 2 North Dakota certainly didn’t look like a powerhouse in its first game of 2016, battling to a 1-0 win over Alabama-Huntsville, whose goaltender, Carmine Guerriero, made 38 stops in the loss. North Dakota got its only goal of the game from Bryn Chyzk on a power play at 9:35 of the second period.

The Fighting Hawks came out with more offense at the start of the rubber game, as Paul LaDue scored just 25 seconds into the game on Saturday, but Huntsville tied it on a goal by Richard Buri with just 13 seconds left in the first, breaking North Dakota goalie Cam Johnson’s shutout streak at 298:35 and his saves number at 137 straight. It was the second-longest shutout streak in college hockey. The goal actually went in off the stick of North Dakota defenseman Keaton Thompson.

The record was set by Lake Superior State goaltender Blaine Lacher in 1994, and ran 375:01.

Drake Caggiula scored the game-winner short-handed at 8:16 of the second, and Chyzk got an empty-netter at 18:08 of the third, followed by Tucker Poolman goal a minute later to seal the win. Guerriero made 34 saves, while Cam Johnson made 14 saves, added to 19 in Friday’s contest, which was his fourth straight shutout.

After Saturday’s game, Johnson was able to joke about it. Evidently his teammates had been ribbing him about his favoriting of tweets mentioning the stats, so Johnson said, “Yeah, they were giving me crap in there about all of the tweets I’ve been favoriting and stuff, so I think Keaton had that in the back of his mind and said, ‘I’m sick of seeing all of this.’” (Source: Grand Forks Herald).

Shots don’t equal goals for Denver
The No. 17 Denver Pioneers closed their first half in ignominious fashion, losing big in four straight games to North Dakota and St. Cloud State. After the second loss to St. Cloud, Denver coach Jim Montgomery quipped, “I’ve got to be honest, I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve had nothing but success as a head coach; I’ve never been through something like this. The only thing I know is the only way you get out of this from my pro career as a player is to go back to work, get back to what your team identity is. As coaches, we have to make sure the details are really good when we get back so that we give ourselves a better chance and we’re not chasing the game.”

Denver’s players must have heeded the message, because they came out strong in their first series of 2016, firing 50 shots on Notre Dame goaltender Cal Petersen Friday night, but could only get one past him, a third-period goal from Trevor Moore at 6:45 that got the Pioneers a 1-1 tie. Denver’s power play continued to have issues, going 0-for-4.

On Saturday, Denver continued to dominate offensive possession, getting 45 shots on Petersen, but an extra-attacker power-play goal from Sam Herr with 30 seconds left in the game gave the Fighting Irish a 2-2 draw after a Dylan Gambrell goal at 15:52 of the third put Denver up 2-1. Denver’s power play finally got a goal when Gambrell scored at 19:06 of the second.

Miami finally breaks through
Like Denver, Miami had closed its first half on a down note, getting swept by a Colorado College team that had one win on the whole season prior to sweeping the RedHawks. Entering Sunday’s game against Rensselaer, the RedHawks hadn’t won since beating Western Michigan on Nov. 7, 2-1. In that span, Miami went 0-6-1, including Saturday’s 3-2 loss to RPI where Kenny Gillespie scored the game-winner at 15:12 after Miami’s Jack Roslovic had tied the game at two at 12:53.

Miami captain Sean Kuraly said, “We’ve got to stick with it after we get the goals. Every single day, you’ve got to do the little things right. We’re doing some of them right, but not all of them right. We’ve got to get a lot better at that.

Miami finally broke into the win column Sunday with a 4-2 decision, rallying from a 2-1 deficit with three third-period goals. Alex Gacek tied it at 6:37, Justin Greenberg scored the game-winner at 8:20, and Chris Joyaux scored an empty-net goal to seal the win at 19:35. Miami netminder Jay Williams made 17 stops in the win.

NCHC picks: Dec. 30

I closed the first half of the season with a five-game lead on Matthew in our picks contest. We both went 3-1 (.750) in our last weekend of picks. On the year, I am 67-30-8 (.676), while Matthew is 62-35-8 (.628).

Let’s get to the second half.

Wednesday, Dec. 30

Western Michigan vs. No 12 Bowling Green in Toledo
Candace: Western knocked off Bowling Green earlier in the year. I suspect the Falcons get revenge. Bowling Green 3-2
Matthew: Tough to call this one either way, but I’ll take the league homer pick and go with Western. Western Michigan 3-2

Friday-Saturday, Jan. 1-2

No. 16 Notre Dame at No. 17 Denver
Candace: The break came at a really good time for a Denver team that was reeling and had its confidence crushed in series against the NCHC’s two top teams. I think Denver will get a win this weekend, though which day is hard to guess. Notre Dame 2-1, Denver 3-2
Matthew: The Irish have won each of their last four games, and DU has dropped each of its last four. Pioneers would do well to turn it around this weekend. Notre Dame 3-2, Denver 3-1

Arizona State at No. 5 St. Cloud State
Candace: One of two nonconference series this weekend where the NCHC is the big dog and the nonconference opponent is overmatched. St. Cloud State 5-1, 4-0
Matthew: Omaha had no problem pushing the Sun Devils aside before the holiday break, and I can’t see SCSU having any big issues here, either. St. Cloud State 4-1, 4-0

Alabama-Huntsville at No. 2 North Dakota
Candace: See above. North Dakota 5-1, 4-0
Matthew: UAH did win its last game against a Colorado College team that’s getting better, but it’s tough to call anything other than a UND sweep here. North Dakota 3-0, 3-1

Saturday-Sunday, Jan. 2-3

Rensselaer at Miami
Candace: Overtime in both of these games wouldn’t surprise me at all. Miami hasn’t won since the first weekend of November, but I like the RedHawks to get one this weekend. Rensselaer 2-1, Miami 2-1
Matthew: What’s Miami going to look like after having not played a game in nearly a month? That’s what I’m most interested to see here. Rensselaer 3-1, Miami 3-2

NCHC picks: Dec. 18

Thanks to Western Michigan, I put a little more distance between Matthew and I, as I went 4-2 last week and he went 3-3 (.500). On the year, I am 64-29-8 (.673), while Matthew is 59-34-8 (.623). We have light action this week, so let’s get to it.

Friday-Saturday, Dec. 18-19

Colorado College at Alabama-Huntsville
Candace: The Chargers haven’t won since October, but they’ve been close. On the other hand, this weekend might be the only time CC wins on the road all year. Colorado College 2-1, 2-1
Matthew: UAH hasn’t won any of its last 10 games, so they’re probably due. I’m going to take the league homer route, though, and pick CC to sweep. Colorado College 3-2, 3-2

Saturday-Sunday, Dec. 19-20

Arizona State at Omaha
Candace: Like Matthew, I don’t see Arizona State as a major threat to the Mavericks at this point in their transition to D-I, and  I doubt the dreaded Red Army does either. Could be a trap, but doubtful. Omaha 4-1, 5-1
Matthew: Tough to see anything other than a sweep for UNO here. Good news for them if they get it: They’d remain undefeated at home and finish their non-conference slate with a perfect record. Omaha 4-1, 4-1

Standings separation

Complete team
Going on the road to play in Duluth against the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs is never easy, but North Dakota closed its first half in impressive fashion with a pair of 3-0 wins. Goaltender Cam Johnson made 40 saves in Friday’s win, and another 38 in Saturday’s game, and helped kill nine Bulldogs’ power plays. Johnson is currently second in the country in goaltending, with a .955 save percentage and 1.19 goals-against average.

North Dakota, which had only 22 shots in Friday’s game and 20 in Saturday’s, won an even-strength battle Friday, getting goals from freshmen Brock Boeser, Shane Gerisch, and Joel Janatuinen. On Saturday, it was special teams that won the game for the Fighting Hawks, who got two power-play goals in the first period from Boeser and Tucker Poolman, and a short-handed empty-net goal to seal the win at 18:47 of the third.

North Dakota closed its first half on a 10-1 streak, and is in first place with 27 points, and the sweep increased its lead over third-place Duluth to 13 points.

St. Cloud keeps pace
St. Cloud State, which is currently fifth in the country offensively, rolled to 5-2 and 6-2 wins over No. 11 Denver on the road. After Denver had built a 2-0 lead in the second period on a goal by Troy Terry at 2:31, St. Cloud scored five unanswered goals, with Blake Winiecki getting the rally started with a power-play goal at 13:10. Kalle Kossila tied the game with a goal at 17:23 of the second, and then St. Cloud scored three goals in a 1:33 span of the third period to put the game away, with Joey Benik, Kossila, and David Morley getting the strikes.

Kossila, who according to coach Bob Motzko wasn’t even cleared to play at the start of the year after his surgeries last season, got a hat trick in Saturday’s game, while Benik had two goals. The teams were tied 1-1 entering the second period, and Kossila and Benik scored in the first 1:17 of the second to help get St. Cloud going en route to the 6-2 win.

Goaltender Charlie Lindgren played both games, making 17 saves Friday and 27 Saturday. St. Cloud is second in the NCHC, three points behind North Dakota.

The road isn’t a nice place
Colorado College had a three-game win streak entering last weekend’s road series against Western Michigan, but CC’s struggles on the road continued, as Western Michigan rolled to a sweep, winning 7-3 on Friday and 5-3 on Saturday. CC hasn’t won on the road this year, and last season only won one game on the road.

On Friday, the Broncos got goals from Oliwer Kaski and Michael Rebry in the last 3:25 of the second period to break open a 2-2 tie game, then followed that with three more in the third, with Colt Conrad’s goal at 3:01 effectively ending any hope of a rally for CC.

When Conrad scored at 6:53 of the third period Saturday to put the Broncos up 4-1, it seemed like the game was over, but CC got goals from Trey Bradley and Alex Roos to pull within one. Griffin Molino ended any hopes for CC with an empty-net goal at 19:23.

The irony is that the road isn’t a good place for Western Michigan either; the Broncos are 0-7-1 on the road this season.

NCHC picks: Dec. 11

Thanks to Minnesota-Duluth, I picked up another game on Matthew in our picks contest last week, going 5-3 (.625) to move to 60-27-8 (.673) while Matthew went 4-4 (.500) to move to 56-31-8 (.631).

Friday-Saturday, Dec. 11-12

No. 6 St. Cloud State at No. 11 Denver
Candace: I’m guessing home ice makes Denver happier, but a split is the best the Pioneers can do. Denver 3-2, St. Cloud State 3-1
Matthew: I think Denver picks up its first home loss of the weekend this season, but it’s tough to tell which night it might happen. Denver 3-2, St. Cloud State 3-1

No. 4 North Dakota at No. 17 Minnesota-Duluth
Candace: Another brutal NCHC battle. I don’t know how to call this one at all. Maybe Matthew has a better idea. Minnesota-Duluth 2-1, North Dakota 3-2
Matthew: I’ll take UMD to extend its winning streak to six games before UND gets something out of the series. Minnesota-Duluth 4-2, North Dakota 4-2

Colorado College at Western Michigan
Candace: CC has just not been good on the road, and Western is good at home. I’m tempted to call a reverse split of Matthew, but I’ll go with the home team. Western Michigan 2-1, 3-2
Matthew: Can CC keep its own current winning streak going this weekend? This one’s tough to call. Colorado College 3-1, Western Michigan 3-1

Three things: Dec. 6

With no NCHC teams playing in holiday tournaments this season, the 2015 portion of this season is quickly winding down. Plenty happened this weekend, though, and here are three of the bigger talking points.

UND rolls past Pioneers

What many expected to be a tight rivalry series between ninth-ranked Denver and No. 4 North Dakota instead turned into UND winning big twice and displaying just how good it can be.

The Fighting Hawks rolled to a 5-1 win in Friday’s series-opener, even though Denver scored first through a Grant Arnold goal 82 seconds into the second period. After that, four different UND skaters beat DU goaltender Evan Crowley – Brock Boeser beat Crowley twice – to send most of the Ralph Engelstad Arena crowd home happy.

A 4-0 UND win Saturday gave Hawks fans more of the same. Austin Poganski scored UND’s first two goals – his second and third of the weekend – before Boeser and Drake Caggiula both found the back of the Pioneers’ net in the third period.

Results-wise, it was Denver’s worst weekend in more than a decade. The Pioneers hadn’t lost back-to-back games by at least four goals since UND routed the Pios twice in Denver in 2003.

UND (14-2-2, 7-1 NCHC) sits alone atop the NCHC standings ahead of a trip to Minnesota-Duluth next weekend. DU (7-5-2, 3-2-1-1) now gets ready to host St. Cloud State (12-4, 6-2) in a week’s time.

Huskies, Mavericks share spoils

Two more top-10 battles this weekend saw No. 6 Omaha square off with seventh-ranked SCSU. The two teams appeared evenly matched going into the series, and the teams’ series split shouldn’t surprise anyone.

St. Cloud got the best of UNO in Friday’s series-opener. The Huskies rode two goals from Robby Jackson in the first and third periods, as well as tallies from Judd Peterson and Jimmy Murray, en route to a 4-1 win.

UNO returned the favor Saturday in a 7-3 victory over the Huskies. Omaha went 3-for-5 on the power play, and seven different Mavericks each pushed the puck past one of the two goaltenders St. Cloud used in the rematch.

Omaha (12-3-1) is off until it closes the 2015 portion of its schedule with a home series against Arizona State on Dec. 19-20.

CC breaks out brooms

Although Colorado College lost each of its first 13 games of the season, things are now definitely looking up for the Tigers.

CC is riding a three-game winning streak after sweeping Miami at home this weekend. The Tigers picked up their first win of the campaign just the weekend before when CC downed Air Force 4-3 on Nov. 28.

Beating Miami twice promised to be a tougher task, but CC achieved that feat. The Tigers’ success this weekend started in earnest in Friday’s third period when two goals from Hunter Fejes gave the hosts a 2-1 win over the RedHawks.

The Tigers then picked up yet another one-goal win Saturday. Fejes was again the hero, scoring a game-winning goal with just 1:13 remaining to give CC a 3-2 win and a first series sweep of the season.

CC (3-13, 2-6) will hope to keep its momentum going next weekend when the Tigers visit Western Michigan. The Tigers and WMU are deadlocked at the bottom of the NCHC standings with identical league records.

Miami (5-9-2, 2-7-1-1), which now has just one win in its last six games, won’t play another game for nearly a month. Non-conference foe Rensselaer comes to Oxford, Ohio on Jan. 2-3.

NCHC picks: Dec. 4

Matthew and I picked the same last weekend, and did pretty well overall, going a perfect 10-0. I think that’s a first ever in the time that we’ve covered the conference. On the year, I am 55-24-8 (.678), and Matthew is 52-27-8 (.643).

Let’s see how we can do this week.

Friday-Saturday, Dec. 4-5

Miami at Colorado College
Candace: CC could easily be 0-14, but managed to rally to finally beat Air Force. Miami is another task though, and I don’t see the Tigers getting a win. Miami 3-2, 3-0
Matthew: I’m taking Miami to win twice, but now that I say it, watch CC pick up where it left off at the end of its series last weekend with Air Force. Miami 3-1, 3-2

No. 6 Omaha at No. 7 St. Cloud State
Candace: This is one of the marquee series of the weekend, and I can’t see it going any way but a split. St. Cloud State 3-2, Omaha 3-2
Matthew: A battle between what can be two of the most exciting offenses in the country. Tough to call anything other than a split here. St. Cloud State 4-3, Omaha 3-2

Western Michigan at No. 17 Minnesota-Duluth
Candace: The Broncos have really struggled on the road this year, so I’m going to deviate from Matthew here and call a sweep. Minnesota-Duluth 3-2, 3-1
Matthew: Western has done really well in Duluth under Andy Murray, but it’s tough to overlook the Broncos having lost each of their last six games. Split. Western Michigan 3-2, Minnesota-Duluth 4-1

No. 9 Denver at No. 4 North Dakota
Candace: The other marquee series of the weekend, and one that always brings out the best in both teams. Call a split. North Dakota 2-1, Denver 3-2
Matthew: Probably not helping myself with all these splits this week, am I? And yet, here we are again. North Dakota 3-1, Denver 3-1

Three things: Ownage

In my picks column Friday, where I picked No. 7 St. Cloud State to emerge with a sweep on the road against in-state rival Minnesota, I used the word “ownage” to describe the NCHC’s record versus the Big Ten this season.

That certainly seems to be the case. This weekend, Omaha swept Big Ten opponent Ohio State, North Dakota swept Big Ten opponent Michigan State on the road, and St Cloud swept Big Ten opponent Minnesota on the road. The NCHC now owns a 14-1-1 record against Big Ten opponents this season.

Overall, the NCHC is 4-0 against Michigan State (Denver and North Dakota), 4-0 against Ohio State (Miami and Omaha), 2-1-1 against Wisconsin (win and loss by North Dakota, win and tie by Denver), and 4-0 against Minnesota (Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud).

Minnesota might get one more crack at the NCHC in January, depending on the results in the first round of the North Star College Cup. However, that is the only possible game between the NCHC and Big Ten, unless teams from the conferences meet in the NCAA tournament.

CC picks up first win
Entering Saturday’s home game against crosstown rival Air Force, Colorado College was 0-13. The Tigers had just lost Friday at Air Force, 4-3, a game in which the Falcons struck three times in the first 10 minutes of the second period to rally from being down a goal at the end of one period, and then after CC had tied it at three on a power-play goal at six minutes of the third, they gave up the game-winner to Air Force with just 35 seconds left in the game on a goal by Jordan Himley.

When Air Force scored just 77 seconds into the game Saturday, it seemed CC’s streak of futility might continue. Instead, CC capitalized on the power play twice to rally twice from one-goal deficits, getting a goal at 18:54 of the first on a power play from Luc Gerdes to tie it at one and a power-play goal from Sam Rothstein at 12:42 of the second to tie the game at two.

Rothstein then gave CC a lead with a goal at 4 minutes of the third, and Cody Bradley scored what proved the game-winner at 9:39 to give CC its first win of the year.

Of course, it was up in the air till the end, as just 12 seconds after Bradley’s goal, Ben Kucera got one back for Air Force, but CC played strong defensively, limiting the Falcons to just seven total shots in the third period en route to their first win of the year.

Road woes continue for Broncos
Western Michigan is a tough team to figure out. The Broncos sit at 4-8-1 overall, yet own a sweep of No. 6 Omaha and a win over No. 15 Bowling Green. When the Broncos swept Omaha, the Mavericks were No. 2 in the country, and Bowling Green was No. 10 when Western Michigan beat them.

You wouldn’t think the Broncos would have a record like they do considering some of their wins, but one thing has worked against them: road games.

After losing to Rensselaer and Notre Dame this weekend in the Shillelagh Tournament, games that were not technically road games but might as well have been, Western Michigan is now 0-6-1 away from the friendly confines of Lawson Arena.

In the games against RPI and Notre Dame, Western Michigan could only muster a goal in each, losing to RPI, 4-1, and Notre Dame, 3-1. That continues a trend of the offense going on walkabout on the road. In the seven games away from Lawson, Western Michigan has never scored more than two goals, and in five of them, has only scored one. Compare that to home, where Western Michigan has scored three or more goals four times.

The task doesn’t get any easier next weekend, as the Broncos are on the road against Minnesota-Duluth.

NCHC pick: Nov. 28

Sat. Nov. 28

Western Michigan vs. Notre Dame
Candace: Western didn’t look that great against Rensselaer, and I have to think home ice carries the Fighting Irish through. Notre Dame 4-2
Matthew: I really want to take Western here, but i can’t see Notre Dame losing twice in its own tournament this year. Notre Dame 3-2

NCHC picks: Nov. 27

Thanks to Minnesota-Duluth, I got another game on Matthew in our season picks race. Last week, I went 5-2-2 to move to 45-24-8 on the year, while Matthew went 4-3-2 to move to 42-27-8.

Some interesting nonconference matchups this week. Let’s see how we do. Unfortunately for Matthew, we see eye-to-eye this week.

Western Michigan versus Rensselaer (Friday in South Bend)
Candace: I still don’t understand how RPI isn’t ranked; what do the Engineers have to do? They’ve beaten three ranked teams and tied a fourth. The only bad results were the Alaska trip. Western will try to regroup from its shellacking against St. Cloud two weeks ago to defend its title in this tournament, but I don’t see it happening, especially on the road, even if it is a neutral site. RPI 4-1
Matthew: I want to go with Western here, but RPI is 6-0-2 in its last eight games and I think they get a seventh win in that stretch here. RPI 4-2

Ohio State at No. 6 Omaha
Candace: Mavericks nation might hate me, but I don’t see any way to pick a split. Besides, the last time I picked Omaha to sweep, they did, so … Omaha 4-2, 3-1
Matthew: I think UNO will keep up its undefeated home record against a Buckeyes team that has yet to win on the road. Omaha 3-1, 3-1

Colorado College versus Air Force home-and-home
Candace: Air Force hasn’t been great this year, though CC is worse, and is the only team without even a tie, let alone a win. However, I have to believe it changes this weekend. If it doesn’t, the Tigers might finish the first half with a perfect losing record. Air Force 3-2, Colorado College 3-1
Matthew: I keep wondering when CC’s going to pick up its first win of the season. This might come back to bite me, but I’m going back to the well again here. Home teams win. Air Force 3-2, Colorado College 3-2

No. 5 North Dakota at Michigan State (Friday-Sunday)
Candace: Michigan State is a better team than its record, judging by what I saw in Denver last month, and is a good home team, but I like North Dakota to emerge with a sweep. North Dakota 3-2, 4-2
Matthew: MSU has been mediocre so far this season, but I can see them stealing a game here. I’ll take the homer pick, though. North Dakota 3-1, 3-2

No. 7 St. Cloud State at Minnesota (Friday-Sunday)
Candace: This was a split last year, but I think St. Cloud is better and Minnesota worse, so I’m going for the NCHC sweep and continued ownage of the Big Ten, though in two close games. St. Cloud State 3-2, 3-1
Matthew: How is this not a home-and-home? The schools are 70 miles apart and there’s a day off between games. Sort it out, people. Anyway, I’m taking the Huskies to sweep. St. Cloud State 3-2, 4-2

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