The league’s top four teams advanced to the championship weekend via sweeps.
Matthew gained a game back on me last week, as I thought Western Michigan might win one against Omaha. I went 3-2 while Matthew went 4-1. On the year, I am 95-45-14, while Matthew is 91-49-14.
Thursday, Saturday, Feb. 18, 20
No. 10 Denver versus Colorado College (Saturday: Coors Field)
Candace: I think I’ll give Matthew a chance to catch me. This could backfire, as Denver might be prone to a letdown after last week’s emotional sweep of North Dakota, but I think Denver sweeps again. Denver 3-2, 4-2
Matthew: I’m going to go out on a limb(-ish) here and say home teams win in this series this weekend. Colorado College 3-2, Denver 3-1
Friday-Saturday, Feb. 19-20
Minnesota-Duluth at No. 4 North Dakota
Candace: Duluth got shut out twice at home by North Dakota in December. Granted, the Fighting Hawks have shown some more vulnerability in the second half, but I like them to get back on track at home. North Dakota 3-1, 3-1
Matthew: UMD will be a tough out here, but I have a feeling UND takes both games. North Dakota 3-2, 4-2
No. 3 St. Cloud State at No. 12 Omaha
Candace: These two split in St. Cloud back in December. Hard to see it as anything other than another split. St. Cloud 3-1, Omaha 3-2
Matthew: This maybe isn’t quite as mouth-watering a series as we’d thought earlier in the season, but it’s still going to be very entertaining. Split. St. Cloud State 3-2, Omaha 3-2
Miami at Western Michigan
Candace: It won’t be easy, but I see Miami getting a sweep here and continuing to gain momentum. Miami 2-1, 3-1
Matthew: They’re on the road, but I like the RedHawks here. Miami 3-2, 4-2
Denver gains revenge, solidifies home ice
Back in December, Denver traveled to North Dakota and got swept fairly convincingly, a blow to the Pioneers that carried over into the following weekend, where they were swept by St. Cloud State.
This weekend, Denver gained redemption, sweeping the Fighting Hawks 6-4 and 4-1, in part due to the reunited line of Danton Heinen and Trevor Moore who are playing with freshman Dylan Gambrell. Heinen had a monster weekend, notching five points on Friday with two goals and three assists, and following that Saturday with two more assists for seven points on the weekend. Moore matched him, getting two goals and two assists Friday and a goal and two assists Saturday, while Gambrell two assists Friday and scored twice on Saturday.
Goaltender Tanner Jaillet was hot as well, making 41 saves in Friday’s win and following that with 34 on Saturday.
While the revenge was nice, and the team was definitely amped to play North Dakota, the results are more important for Denver’s postseason. With the sweep, the Pioneers moved into a tie for eighth in the PairWise, and solidified their hold on third place in the NCHC standings, which will gain them home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. Denver has 35 points, 10 points ahead of Minnesota-Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha, who are tied for fourth.
The Pioneers also now trail first place North Dakota and St. Cloud State by only six points.
Omaha gains crucial sweep
Omaha has spent most of the second half struggling to find the consistency the Mavericks showed in the first half. In January, they went 2-6, including getting swept at home twice, by Denver and Miami.
This weekend, the Mavericks may have regained the first-half home-ice mojo, sweeping a crucial series against Western Michigan in two very different games, winning Friday 2-1 and following that Saturday with a 6-3 decision.
On Friday, Tyler Vessel scored short-handed at 6:44 of the first and Austin Ortega scored a power-play goal in the second. Scott Moldenhauer scored late in the second to pull the Broncos back within one, but Evan Weninger stayed strong in net, making 11 saves in the third to preserve the win.
On Saturday, after twice falling behind by a goal in the first period, Omaha’s offense erupted. Vessel scored at 19:19 of the first to tie it 2-2, and then Jake Guentzel, Vessel, and Mason MOrelli all scored in the second to put Omaha up 5-2. Weninger was strong in net again, making 31 saves.
With the sweep, Omaha moved back up in the PairWise rankings to a tie with Denver for eighth. The NCHC now has four teams ranked in the top eight of the PairWise.
Miami stays hot
Don’t look now, but Miami is back in the national tournament picture. A convincing 4-1 win over No. 19 Bowling Green on the road has Miami at 20th in the PairWise.
After giving up the first goal and trailing the Falcons at the end of one, Miami got two goals in the second and two more in the third for the win. Anthony Louis, who had scored the last-second game-winner against Bowling Green three weeks ago, started the RedHawks rally with a five-on-three power-play goal at 12:37 of the second, and Sean Kuraly scored the game-winner at 15:15 of the second.
Since closing the first half on a 2-8-1 streak, Miami has heated up, and is 7-4-1 in the second half. The RedHawks travel to Western Michigan next weekend, and will look to play themselves back into the top 16 of the PairWise as the season continues.
Well, thanks to Minnesota-Duluth’s spirited comeback, I gained another game on Matthew. Last week, I went 3-1 (.750), while Matthew went 2-2 (.500). On the year, I am 92-43-14 (.664), while Matthew is 87-48-14 (.630).
We’ve got four weeks left, so hopefully I can hold off any rally from Matthew and take the season picks race again.
Friday, Feb. 12
Miami at Bowling Green
Candace: Miami seems to have turned a corner. These two played a nail-biter a month ago, but I think we get the same result. Miami 3-2
Matthew: I’m happy to take the league homer pick here. Prove me right, RedHawks. Miami 4-2
Friday-Saturday, Feb. 12-13
North Dakota at Denver
Candace: I see Denver getting some measure of revenge for getting blown out in Grand Forks in December, but not a lot. Denver 3-2, North Dakota 3-1
Matthew: I’d be surprised to see a sweep for either team here. Denver 3-1, North Dakota 3-2
Western Michigan at Omaha
Candace: Omaha has been in a swan dive the last month, but it’s not like Western Michigan is doing much better. Western swept a series between the two back in November. Decisions, decisions. Omaha 3-2, Western Michigan 2-1
Matthew: UNO needs to get a move on just to finish in the top four of its league, and I think the Mavericks will come away with maximum points from this weekend. Omaha 4-1, 3-1
A fairly light weekend of NCHC action wasn’t without its talking points. Here are three of the bigger ones that caught our attention:
UMD continues its resurgence
After suffering a five-game losing streak through the middle to end of last month, Minnesota-Duluth now finds itself on an upward trajectory.
The Bulldogs have now built up a three-game winning streak that included a pair of home victories this weekend against Colorado College. Duluth showed plenty of offensive muscle this weekend, besting the Tigers 5-3 on Friday before winning 3-2 in Saturday’s rematch.
Expect the Bulldogs’ Alex Iafallo to be among the NCHC’s players of the week when the league releases that list early next week. Iafallo picked up two goals against CC on Friday before netting Saturday’s game-winner with 2:42 left in the series rematch.
UMD hosts Bemidji State on Tuesday in non-conference action before taking next weekend off. CC is also off next weekend ahead of a home-and-home series against arch-rival Denver.
Huskies, RedHawks share spoils
Third-ranked St. Cloud State could find itself down slightly in Monday’s USCHO Men’s Division I poll following an entertaining split on the road this weekend against Miami.
SCSU stormed to a 5-1 victory in Friday’s series opener in Oxford, Ohio. After St. Cloud’s Ethan Prow and Miami’s Josh Melnick traded goals in the game’s first 20:15, SCSU reeled off four unanswered goals to take all the points on offer in Round 1.
Saturday’s rematch provided a much tighter affair, and Miami needed all three of its second-period goals to come away with a 3-2 win. Melnick, Sean Kuraly and Kiefer Sherwood all scored even-strength goals in that period to put Miami on top.
The RedHawks only have one game this next week, a trip on Friday to former CCHA rival Bowling Green. SCSU is off until it visits Omaha on Feb. 19-20.
SCSU misses chance to jump alone into first place
St. Cloud’s loss to Miami on Saturday kept the Huskies from jumping alone into first place in the NCHC standings. SCSU’s victory on Friday moved the Huskies into a tie for the top spot with second-ranked North Dakota, who was idle this weekend.
Both teams now have 41 points and 13 NCHC wins apiece, although UND now has two league games in hand. Those will come next weekend when the Fighting Hawks visit No. 13 Denver.
DU, also idle this weekend, currently sits in third place with 29 points. That makes the Pioneers’ home series against their rivals from UND all the more important in terms of how the top of the NCHC standings could begin to shake down as the end of the regular season approaches.
Well, thanks to correctly picking Miami to beat Denver Friday, Matthew gained a game back on me. I still hold a lead as we go into the home stretch of the season. Last week, I went 5-3 (.625) to move to 89-42-14 (.662), while Matthew went 6-2 (.750) to move to 85-46-14 (.634).
We’re light on action this week, so let’s see how we do.
Friday-Saturday, Feb. 5-6
No. 3 St. Cloud State at Miami
Candace: Miami hurt me last week by beating Denver, but I think St. Cloud is a better team than Denver. St. Cloud 4-2, 4-1
Matthew: The RedHawks have been hot lately, but I have a feeling SCSU goes into Oxford and shows why it’s at the top of the league standings. St. Cloud State 3-1, 3-1
Colorado College at Minnesota-Duluth
Candace: Minnesota-Duluth has been struggling of late, especially on Fridays, and Colorado College is playing much better, but maybe home ice will help. Minnesota-Duluth 2-1, 3-2
Matthew: I like CC to steal one of these games, but I’m not sure which one they’ll get. Colorado College 3-2, Minnesota-Duluth 3-1
St. Cloud State captures Minnesota tournament
For the first time, the St. Cloud State Huskies won the North Star College Cup, a Minnesota hockey tournament that features four of the best teams in state. St. Cloud’s stellar offense, currently ranked second in the country, and its third-ranked power-play unit, combined for 10 goals on the weekend in a 5-4 win over Minnesota State and a 5-2 win over Bemidji State.
Against the Mavericks Friday, the power play came through with three goals, including Jimmy Murray’s game-winning strike at 16:41 of the third, seven minutes after Minnesota State had tied the game. Mikey Eyssimont also scored two on the power play, while goaltender Charlie Lindgren needed to be sharp, stopping 29 shots.
In Saturday’s championship game against Bemidji State, Joey Benik got two goals in the first period, putting the Huskies up at just 1:20 and then adding a second at 12:57. Patrick Russell, who had scored the first goal for St. Cloud in Friday’s game, scored the game-winner at 5:23 of the second, and Kalle Kossila put the game away when he scored at 14:18 of the second.
Though Bemidji did get two goals in the third, one was a power-play strike at 18:31 of the period, after Eyssimont had scored an empty-netter at 16:31 to put St. Cloud up 5-1.
RedHawks raise profile
In my second-half preview of the conference, one question I had was whether Miami could bounce back. The RedHawks closed the first half in a 2-8-1-1 tailspin, and were in seventh place in the NCHC. Miami had several woes, including an anemic offense that was ranked 55 out of 60 teams nationally.
After splitting with No. 13 Denver this weekend, the RedHawks are back in the hunt, in a three-way tie for the final home ice spot in the NCHC with 19 points. The RedHawks went 5-3-1 in January, including 3-2-1 in NCHC play.
The offense has improved slightly, as the RedHawks average 2.40 goals per game. The defense is a strength, keeping the team in games, as Miami only gives up 2.72 goals per game.
On Friday, the RedHwaks rallied to win. After Danton Heinen put Denver up 1-0 at 7:06 of the first, Anthony Louis scored a minute and a half later to tie it. Jack Roslovic scored the game-winner at 17:36 of the second on a power play, and Kevin Morris sealed the win with an empty-netter at 19:37 of the third.
Saturday’s game was much different, as Denver dominated much of the play, something Miami coach Enrico Blasi acknowledged, saying, “I thought Denver pretty much outplayed us from the beginning of the game. They were the better team in all aspects of the game tonight. … We just didn’t have that jump.”
Miami starts February by hosting red-hot St. Cloud State, but closes the season with three weekends in a row against teams below them in the standings, including a final weekend series against Minnesota-Duluth, which could prove crucial for playoff seeding.
What’s wrong in Omaha?
Entering the second half, the Omaha Mavericks were 14-3-1 and ranked six in the USCHO.com D-I Men’s Poll. They were unbeaten at home in their new arena.
The second half started with Omaha getting swept by Denver at home, and things have gone downhill from there. The Mavericks went 2-6 in January. The one bright spot was an overtime win over North Dakota.
Part of the issue has been defense, or, rather, the lack thereof. Omaha gave up three or more goals in all but one game in January, Saturday’s 6-1 win over Colorado College. That win came on the heels of Omaha getting blown out by CC on Friday, 5-1. CC isn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse, averaging 2.19 goals per game, good for 53rd nationally, though the Tigers did hang five goals on North Dakota the previous weekend.
Still, Omaha’s lack of defense has been a trend; the Mavericks also gave up seven goals to Miami and five to North Dakota. Freshman Evan Weninger was finally back in the lineup over the weekend, after getting hurt in the Denver series with an ankle injury. He didn’t look like the goalie who had only given up more than two goals twice in the first half in Friday’s game, as the Tigers torched him for four goals. CC got a power-play goal from Mason Bergh at 3:29 of second, then another power-play goal from Luc Gerdes at 6:38 of the second. Omaha’s Brian Cooper scored at 18:58 of the second to put Omaha back in it, but Trevor Gooch scored at 9:04 of the third, then Christian Heil scored at 15:20, and Sam Rothstein added an empty-net short-handed goal at 16:20.
Omaha bounced back impressively Saturday, getting goals from Jordan Klehr and Luc Snuggerud in the first six minutes of the first, and then breaking the game open in the second with four goals, starting with Steven Spinner’s strike at 1:34.
Despite Omaha’s overall good record, the Mavericks have been poor in NCHC play, going 6-9-1. Omaha is off this coming weekend, so Dean Blais has work to do before the team resumes play against Western Michigan on Feb. 12. Considering the Broncos swept the Mavericks back in October, Omaha should have lots of motivation.
Well, I knew I should have picked Miami, and then I’d have another game on Matthew. As it is, we had the same record, as I picked St. Cloud to sweep Western Michigan and he picked Denver to sweep Minnesota-Duluth. Last week, we went 4-3-1. On the year, I am 84-39-14, while Matthew is 79-44-14.
Let’s get to this week’s games.
Friday-Saturday, Jan. 29-30
No. 12 Omaha at Colorado College
Candace: I’m not sure what is wrong in Omaha, but I have trouble seeing this being anything but a split right now. Colorado College 3-2, Omaha 3-2
Matthew: Neither team is what it was earlier in the season. This series really intrigues me, and I’d be surprised to see anything other than a split. Colorado College 2-1, Omaha 4-1
No. 13 Denver at Miami
Candace: I don’t think this will be a sweep necessarily, but I’m also really bad at picking the correct night, and feel I should pick at least one game differently than Matthew, so … Denver 2-1, 3-2
Matthew: I’m eager to see if Miami can keep rolling this weekend. It’ll be tough, though, with a very solid Denver team coming into Oxford. Miami 3-1, Denver 2-1
No. 2 North Dakota at Western Michigan
Candace: I expect North Dakota to clamp down on defense and take both games. North Dakota 4-2, 4-1
Matthew: This could come back to bite me, but I’ll take UND to win both of these games. North Dakota 3-1, 3-1
Minnesota-Duluth at Northern Michigan
Candace: I have no idea where Minnesota-Duluth’s offense has disappeared to. If I could call two ties, I would. As it is, I will be a league homer. Minnesota-Duluth 2-1, 2-1
Matthew: Northern has been decent at home this season, but I’m going to take the league homer pick here. Prove me right, Bulldogs. Minnesota-Duluth 3-2, 3-1
Saturday, Jan. 30
No. 3 St. Cloud State vs No. 19 Minnesota State
Candace: The Huskies are looking fearsome, with a complete package of offense and defense. St. Cloud State 4-1
Matthew: I like the Huskies to take the de facto state championship this year. Gotta win this one first, though. St. Cloud State 4-2
We came out of this last round of NCHC games with plenty to discuss in the days ahead. What follows are three of the bigger talking points that caught our eyes.
Omaha swept at home again
It wasn’t that long ago that Omaha was easily a top-10 team in the country looking poised to build on its deep Frozen Four run last season. Now, though, the Mavericks are in a little trouble.
UNO won each of the first eight games in its new Baxter Arena home, but the Mavs are now on a four-game losing streak there after a pair of losses this weekend against unranked Miami. Two weeks ago, Omaha dropped two home games against Denver.
Omaha entered this weekend’s series against the RedHawks ranked seventh in the latest USCHO Division I poll. They’re likely to face a sharp drop when the new poll comes out Monday.
They’re also all but out of the Penrose Cup competition. UNO now sits in fifth place in the NCHC, 22 points behind league-leading St. Cloud State.
Miami will surely get consideration from voters. Including one three-on-three overtime victory against Minnesota-Duluth on Jan. 8, the RedHawks have now picked up wins in five of its last six games.
Huskies keep rolling
Western Michigan picked up points in both of the Broncos’ first two NCHC trips to St. Cloud State. Not on the third one, though.
Fifth-ranked SCSU rolled past Western in a pair of home wins this weekend. An 8-2 win over the Broncos on Friday gave way to the Huskies’ 7-3 triumph in Saturday’s rematch.
St. Cloud now hasn’t lost since falling 5-2 on Jan. 9 at home against a resurgent Colorado College team (more on CC in a bit). The Huskies will be full of confidence going into next weekend’s North Star College Cup games, first against No. 20 Minnesota State and then either Minnesota or Bemidji State.
That said, keep an eye out for MSU. The Mavericks are 3-1-1 in their past five games and put 13 goals past Lake Superior this weekend.
Colorado College gives North Dakota a fright
Arguably the biggest recent surprise in the NCHC has been Colorado College’s uptick, and the Tigers were unlucky to come away empty-handed from its series this weekend at North Dakota.
Second-ranked North Dakota beat CC 5-4 on Friday thanks to a 1-0 shootout triumph, but the Fighting Hawks will feel it shouldn’t have come to that. UND opened the game with four first-period goals before the Tigers erased the deficit and then went ahead 5-4 on Hunter Fejes’s second goal of the night 6:34 into the fourth period.
A 6-on-5 Rhett Gardner goal inside the final minute of regulation tied the game up at 5-5 before UND prevailed in a shootout.
CC goaltender Tyler Marble was a big reason for his team’s success Friday. After starting goalie Jacob Nehama was pulled when he gave up a third goal 9:10 into the game, Marble came in and made 23 saves the rest of the way.
The Hawks had fewer headaches in a 5-1 win over CC on Saturday. Next weekend, CC hosts a struggling Omaha club while UND visits Western Michigan.
Last weekend, thanks to Anthony Louis’ last-second goal for Miami, I increased my lead over Matthew in our season picks’ race. I didn’t have a great week, going 3-2-2 (.571), while Matthew went 2-3-2 (.428). On the year, I am 80-36-13 (.670) while Matthew is 75-41-13 (.631).
We have some intense matchups this week, so let’s see how we can do.
Friday-Saturday, Jan. 22-23
No. 19 Minnesota-Duluth at No. 15 Denver
Candace: I’d like to pick the Pios to sweep, but I just don’t see it. Denver 3-2, Minnesota-Duluth 2-1
Matthew: This one’s a bit tough to call, but Denver has played well lately and they’re at home so I’ll stick my neck out slightly. Denver 3-1, 3-2
Western Michigan at No. 5 St. Cloud State
Candace: Western is a very scrappy team, as evidenced by their never-say-die play against Denver last weekend. Still, I have to think St. Cloud has the edge. St. Cloud State 3-2, 3-1
Matthew: Western always takes points in St. Cloud, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen again. Western Michigan 3-2, St. Cloud State 4-2
Colorado College at No. 2 North Dakota
Candace: The Tigers are playing better, but I think that after North Dakota blew last Friday’s game against Omaha, they will play with more consistency this weekend. North Dakota 4-2, 4-1
Matthew: CC’s rested after having last week off and the Tigers are looking much better than they did at the start of the season, but I don’t know if they take points this weekend. North Dakota 3-1, 3-1
Miami at No. 7 Omaha
Candace: The last time these two played, both games went to overtime. This series is the hardest for me to call, because who knows which RedHawks team and which Mavericks team will show up? I’m going out on a limb and calling Omaha to sweep, though I think both games are close. Omaha 3-2, 2-1
Matthew: UNO has lost three of its last four, but I like the Mavericks to take care of business at home here. Omaha 3-2, 3-1
A couple of NCHC teams had last-minute heroics lead to favorable outcomes.
Western Michigan traveled to Denver to face the Pioneers. On Friday, the Broncos trailed 4-2 with under three minutes left when they got a power play. Coach Andy Murray pulled his goaltender for a six-on-four, and got a goal from Sheldon Dries at 18:11 to pull within one. The Broncos then had a few chances to get the tying goal, but Tanner Jaillet stood strong, and Matt Marcinew added an empty-netter at 19:34 to seal the win.
In the rematch Saturday, Marcinew scored a power-play goal at 9:43 of the third to put Denver up 2-0, but just 26 seconds later, Colt Conrad answered, making things tight down the stretch. Murray again pulled Hafner, and again the ploy worked, as Frederik Tiffels scored with just 20 seconds left in the game. After just missing on a shot that trickled wide that would have given the Broncos an outright win in the first overtime, Taylor Fleming scored on a surprise shot to give Western an extra point for winning the three-on-three overtime.
Miami also needed last minute heroics Saturday to beat No. 16 Bowling Green. After giving up a goal in the first period, Alex Gacek tied the game in the second period for Miami, and then Anthony Louis scored the game-winner with just two seconds left in the game on a one-time blast from the left faceoff circle.
Denver and Western Michigan weren’t the only teams to play an extra session this weekend. St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth went the distance on Saturday in their rematch. Dominic Toninato gave Duluth a 1-0 lead in the first period, and then St. Cloud’s Joey Benik tied it in the second, getting his 100th career point in the process. The first five-minute overtime couldn’t decide anything, as Charlie Lindgren made three saves for St. Cloud and Kasimir Kaskisuo made two saves for Duluth. St. Cloud won the three-on-three session on a goal from Patrick Russell, getting St. Cloud the extra point in the standings. Lindgren made a season-high 38 saves, and St. Cloud is now in sole possession of first place in the NCHC, leading North Dakota by two points, though North Dakota has two games in hand.
St. Cloud also beat Duluth on Friday, 3-1, behind 28 saves from Lindgren and goals from Mikey Eyssimont, Kalle Kossila, and Blake Winiecki. Kossila is tied for 10th in scoring nationally with 28 points, and is third among NCHC players, trailing Drake Caggiula of North Dakota (30 points) and Omaha’s Jake Guentzel (32 points). St. Cloud’s offense is fourth nationally, as its power play.
The other extra session on the weekend is what allowed St. Cloud to pass North Dakota. Omaha rebounded from getting swept by Denver last weekend to beat North Dakota on Friday, 4-3 in OT. Rhett Gardner gave North Dakota an early lead with a power-play goal at 5:57 of the first, but Omaha’s Jake Guentzel answered at 15:31.
The second period featured early and late goals from Omaha. Ian Brady scored at 1:56 to give Omaha the 2-1 lead, but Troy Stecher answered at 16:08. Then Jake Randolph barely beat the buzzer, scoring at 19:59 to send Omaha into the third period with a 3-2 lead. Brock Boeser scored a power-play goal at 13:24 of the third to tie it, but Austin Ortega scored the game-winner in OT at 2:29.
North Dakota got the split with a convincing 5-1 win on Saturday, getting goals from five different players. Just as Omaha had used a late goal to spark a win on Friday, North Dakota used a late goal to get momentum. After Omaha took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Tyler Vesel on a power play at 17:55, Caggiula answered with a power-play goal at 19:53 to tie the game. Coltyn Sanderson then scored the game-winner at 3:33 of the second period, and Boeser gave North Dakota the two-goal lead with a goal at 6:08. Cam Johnson made 28 saves in the win.