The Huskies are the only team in the field not yet secure of an NCAA tournament spot entering the semifinals.
Catch a Tiger by the tail
Last week, Omaha coach Dean Blais said that for his Mavericks “you have to be mentally prepared to play a good hockey team” before their series with last-place Colorado College.
Unfortunately for Blais, his players didn’t get the memo, as Colorado College got its first win in NCHC play this season by beating first-place Omaha 4-3 on Friday. CC, which in its streak of futility on the road had often squandered leads, this time rallied from a 2-1 second-period deficit by scoring three straight goals, then held on in the end.
The Tigers’ big guns came up big, as Jacob Slavin had a goal and two assists, Cody Bradley had two assists, and Hunter Fejes scored two goals, including scoring the game-winner unassisted in the third. Tyler Marble made 26 saves for the Tigers.
The momentum didn’t carry over to Saturday, as Omaha’s Avery Peterson scored his second goal of the game at 19:10 of the second to put Omaha up 2-1, and Tanner Lane scored at 1:48 of the third to drive a dagger into the Tigers.
CC travels to Grand Forks to take on North Dakota next weekend, while Omaha has a weekend off.
After getting swept by Omaha a week ago, Denver hosted a hot St. Cloud team and swept the Huskies by scores of 3-1 and 4-1 to leapfrog over St. Cloud into fifth in the ever-competitive NCHC.
On Friday, Denver coach Jim Montgomery pulled goalie Evan Cowley after he gave up a goal late in the first period, though Cowley had made 11 saves to that point. Tanner Jaillet replaced him and shut the door. Jaillet also played Saturday, giving up one goal on 29 shots.
Denver coach Jim Montgomery said of Cowley, “I thought there were a lot of rebounds. He made a couple of real good saves on guys wide open, but we look for the consistency of our goalies, and you know what, we thought he was guessing a little bit.”
Last week, I went 5-3 (.625) while Matthew went 6-2 (.750). On the year, I am 77-34-7 (.682) and Matthew is 74-37-7 (.656). This league is a bear to pick. Let’s see how we do.
Friday-Saturday, Jan. 16-17
No. 8 Omaha at Colorado College
Candace: CC is the cellar-dwellar in the NCHC, but nobody should underestimate the Tigers. UNO coach Dean Blais knows this. Omaha 3-2, 3-1
Matthew: CC is a much better team than its record suggests, but I’m having difficulty seeing anything other than a sweep for Omaha here. Omaha 3-2. 2-1
St. Cloud State at No. 13 Denver
Candace: This is likely a split, but good luck picking the right date for the win. St. Cloud 3-2, Denver 2-1
Matthew: I have a feeling SCSU’s sweep of Miami last weekend is going to be a springboard toward a solid second-half run, and I think the Huskies will pick up another win this weekend. St. Cloud State 4-2, Denver 3-2
Western Michigan at No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth
Candace: I’m sure both these games will be a battle, but I’m picking the Bulldogs to sweep. Minnesota-Duluth 3-2, 3-1
Matthew: Western has been hot lately, and it split with UMD when the teams met in Duluth last weekend. I think it’s going to happen again here. Western Michigan 3-1, Minnesota-Duluth 2-0
Niagara at No. 3 North Dakota
Candace: Even with North Dakota’s penchant for difficulty on Friday, I don’t see anything but a UND sweep. North Dakota 4-2, 4-1
Matthew: One loss to the Purple Eagles — let alone two — would do some real damage to UND in terms of the PairWise. I don’t see it happening, though. North Dakota 3-1, 4-1
Seven of the NCHC’s eight teams were in action this weekend, and plenty of storylines were created. Here are three that particularly stuck out in my mind.
Omaha leaps into first place
Most years, the sporting totem pole in Omaha isn’t even topped by an Omaha team. Nebraska football is normally the top dog, followed by Creighton men’s basketball and UNO hockey in third place.
These days, though, the Mavericks are making quite the case for making the No. 1 spot their own.
Omaha found itself clear at the top of the NCHC standings on Saturday night thanks to a two-game home sweep of Denver at CenturyLink Center. Each point was hard-earned, though, as the Pioneers went far from quietly.
Four goaltenders saw action on Friday in a 5-4 win for Omaha, and it was arguably a game Denver should’ve won. DU jumped out to a 3-0 lead and even led 4-3 late in the third period after a UNO comeback, but two more Mavericks goals 59 seconds apart from David Pope and Dominic Zombo put Omaha over the top.
In the rematch, Mavericks sophomore goaltender Kirk Thompson picked up the first shutout of his collegiate career in a 1-0 UNO victory. Thompson stopped 39 DU shots along the way, and Austin Ortega’s goal 3:29 into the game stood up the rest of the way as the game-winner.
UNO (14-5-3, 8-3-1-1 NCHC) will look to keep its momentum rolling next weekend when it visits last-place Colorado College.
Huskies pull off surprise sweep
There was arguably no more maddeningly inconsistent team in the NCHC in the first half of the season than St. Cloud State. If this weekend’s action was any indicator, though, that may be changing.
Fifth-ranked Miami came into St. Cloud, Minn. earlier this week sitting pretty at the top of the NCHC standings, but the RedHawks are no longer there. Instead, Miami now finds itself in fourth place in the conference after falling twice to SCSU.
The Huskies fell behind 5:06 into Friday’s series-opener when Sean Kuraly put the visitors ahead, but that’s all Miami would get on the night. David Morely tied the game up on a 5-on-3 power play goal before the opening frame was out, and a goal from Joe Rehkamp 4:09 into the third period ended up being enough in an eventual 3-1 win for the Huskies.
St. Cloud kept rolling in Saturday’s first period and found itself up 2-0 after 20 minutes. Another Rehkamp game-winner in the third period was required, though, in what ended up as a close 3-2 triumph for SCSU.
The Huskies (9-10-1, 4-5-1-0) will try and build on its success this weekend when it travels westward to face Denver next week. Miami (14-8-0, 7-5-0-0) is idle next week before the RedHawks host DU on Jan. 23-24.
Western Michigan sweeps former league rival
I wrote in my column for last Thursday that it seems like something positive is stirring within Western Michigan’s hockey team. Writing this a few days later, I’m considerably more sure of it.
The Broncos, I wrote in midweek, had won five of their last six games. Make that seven of their last eight after Western pulled off a home-and-home sweep this weekend against former CCHA rival Notre Dame.
Western hosted first on Friday, and the Broncos picked up a 4-2 win over the Fighting Irish in Kalamazoo, Mich. Nine different WMU skaters found their way onto the scoresheet, with four different players scoring goals for the hosts and five more recording assists.
The teams then met again on Saturday in South Bend, Ind., but Notre Dame ran into similar problems to what it had the day before. Western won the rematch 4-3, again with four different Broncos finding the back of the Irish’s net.
Western (9-9-2, 2-6-2-2) is still in seventh place in the NCHC, but it now only sits two points behind sixth-place Denver. Next weekend, the Broncos will face another tricky test as they visit Minnesota-Duluth.
Last week, Matthew and I went 8-0-1 (.944). On the year, I am 72-31-7 (.686) and Matthew is 68-35-7 (.650). Let’s get to this week’s picks.
Friday-Saturday, Jan. 9-10
No. 5 Miami at St. Cloud State
Candace: A very difficult series to call, as St. Cloud State can’t get anything consistent going. Miami 3-2, 3-1
Matthew: The Huskies have been frustratingly inconsistent thus far and I think that will get rectified eventually, but I’m not convinced that it starts this weekend. Split. Miami 3-0, St. Cloud State 3-1
No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth at No. 1 North Dakota
Candace: A series that could go a long way to determining the conference champion if either squad sweeps, but I have trouble seeing that. Minnesota-Duluth 3-2, North Dakota 4-2
Matthew: Really can’t see anything other than a split here. The question is who will win which night. Minnesota-Duluth 3-2, North Dakota 3-1
No. 10 Denver at No. 13 Omaha
Candace: Denver could really use a sweep to close the gap on the teams above it, but I don’t think it happens. Denver 3-1, Omaha 4-2
Matthew: Denver hasn’t consistently played to its potential this season and UNO starting goaltender Ryan Massa will be out this weekend with a concussion. It all sort of balances out to me. Denver 2-1, Omaha 3-2
Notre Dame vs. Western Michigan (home-and-home)
Candace: Both teams have had their ups and downs, so I’m thinking home ice split. Western Michigan 3-1, Notre Dame 2-1
Matthew: Two fairly even teams in this matchup. Home team wins both games. Western Michigan 2-1, Notre Dame 3-1
Teams from the NCHC returned to action over the last five days, all playing out-of-conference games. None of the squads started with a bang, as Miami, Omaha and St. Cloud State split out of the gate, and Denver tied and won.
Tigers struggles continue
You kind of have to feel sorry for the Colorado College Tigers. They are probably better than their 3-13-1 record indicates. While the season has probably started to wear on the players, the results of the last month in particular have added to the heartache.
CC is winless on the road. The Tigers entered this weekend’s series against Providence 0-9-1. In three of their last four road games, they’ve lost twice in overtime and tied and lost a shootout.
Against No. 16 Providence on Saturday, CC suffered another heartbreaker, losing the first game 5-4 in overtime. A common theme again repeated, as the Tigers could not hold the 2-1 lead they had entering the third period, or the 3-2 lead they had after Michael King scored at 7:53. Providence got goals from Noel Acciari and Brandon Tanev just 15 seconds apart in the 14th minute to take a lead, but CC tied it late on a goal by Ian Young at 17:18.
However, Mark Jankowski scored the game-winner for Providence at 4:28 of the overtime. In CC’s previous two OT losses, the Tigers held a 2-0 lead over Minnesota-Duluth early in the second and a 2-1 lead entering the third, and tied Western Michigan at 19:57 of the third, only to lose at 1:58 of OT.
In the Sunday game against the Friars, CC again struck first, and Peter Stoykewych tied it at two at 9:44 of the second. Again, however, Providence scored early in the third, but Sam Rothstein tied it for CC at 8:04. Providence’s John Gilmour scored the game-winner at 13:10, and Tanev added an empty-netter to seal the win.
CC plays Connecticut on Tuesday in Bridgeport, Conn., to conclude a stretch of eight consecutive road games, and then has a weekend off before hosting Omaha on Jan. 16-17.
RedHawks remain hot
After starting their second half with a 3-2 overtime loss to Notre Dame, a game in which Miami held a 2-0 lead, the RedHawks won three straight games against ECAC Hockey competition, defeating Cornell 3-0 last Monday and sweeping Rensselaer by 3-2 and 3-0 scores this weekend.
On Saturday in Miami’s 3-0 win, leading scorer Austin Czarnik scored his first goal of the year, which goes with 21 assists. As I wrote in my second-half preview, it was only a matter of time before Czarnik started scoring goals of his own, and if he continues to do that, it will help the RedHawks tremendously in the second half.
Miami also moved up to fourth in the PairWise from sixth, switching positions with Omaha, which split with New Hampshire in a midweek series.
Miami returns to conference play this weekend when it travels to St. Cloud State.
St. Cloud back in the win column
After a first half in which it struggled and ended with three consecutive losses, St. Cloud State returned to the win column by rallying to defeat No. 14 Quinnipiac on Friday 3-2.
Quinnipiac led 2-0 after Justin Agosta scored at 8:19 of the second, but David Morley answered for St. Cloud at 10:48, and Daniel Tedesco tied it at 14:06. Judd Peterson scored the game-winner for the Huskies at 1:41 of the third. Charlie Lindgren made 26 saves in the win.
St. Cloud does own some impressive wins against ranked competition. So far this year, the Huskies have beaten Colgate, Union, Minnesota, North Dakota and now Quinnipiac, which is one reason the Huskies are 26th in the PairWise despite a 7-10-1 record.
However, as has been the case all year, consistency is an issue for St. Cloud, which lost 4-1 in the rematch Saturday night. Quinnipiac got a short-handed strike at 8:49 of the first, and Tim Clifton scored in the second and then scored a power-play goal in the third to put the Bobcats up 3-0. Jonny Brodzinski got St. Cloud’s lone goal of the night, and Travis St. Denis scored an empty-netter to end any hopes at a St. Cloud comeback.
St. Cloud gets another crack at ranked competition when it takes on Miami this weekend at home.
Matthew and I didn’t do so hot picking holiday tournaments, going 3-2 (.600). On the year, I am 64-31-6 (.663) and Matthew is 60-35-6 (.623).
Friday, Jan. 2
No. 11 Denver at Dartmouth
Candace: I think Denver starts off its second half with a win. Denver 4-2
Matthew: Dartmouth has been decent so far this season and is at home in this one, but I like the Pioneers here. Denver 3-2
No. 11 Denver vs. Brown
Candace: Denver goes 2-0 on its swing through the ECAC. Denver 3-1
Matthew: The Bears have had a tough go of it recently, and I think DU will expose a lot of weaknesses. Denver 3-0
No. 14 Quinnipiac at St. Cloud State
Candace: St. Cloud didn’t do well to close its first half, but I think the Huskies will at least split here. St. Cloud State 3-1, Quinnipiac 3-2
Matthew: SCSU has lost four of its last five games, but the Huskies will be amped for their first home games in over a month and I think they’ll get something from this series. Split. St. Cloud State 2-1, Quinnipiac 2-1
No. 6 Miami at Rensselaer
Candace: Miami had a surprise loss to Notre Dame, but righted the ship against Cornell. Miami 3-1
Matthew: I have sneaking suspicion that these could be trap games for Miami, but I think the RedHawks will take of business. Miami 3-1, 3-1
Saturday-Sunday, Jan. 3-4
Colorado College at No. 16 Providence
Candace: CC has been dreadful on the road, going winless so far. I don’t see that changing here. Providence 3-2, 3-1
Matthew: Providence isn’t what we thought it was at the start of the season, but I still like the Friars to sweep at home in this series. Providence 3-1, 2-1
Tuesday, Jan. 6
Colorado College at Connecticut
Candace: I think the Tigers will finally get a road win here. Colorado College 3-2
Matthew: I’ve got to think this will be CC’s best chance to get anything from its East Coast swing. Colorado College 3-2
Monday, Dec. 29
No. 6 Miami vs Cornell
Candace: Yes, both Matthew and I were surprised by the Notre Dame result, and Cornell beat Denver a few weeks ago, but I favor the RedHawks. Miami 2-1
Matthew: Miami didn’t pick up the result it wanted against Notre Dame – and which we both expected – but I like the RedHawks to get past the Big Red and lock up third place in this tournament. Miami 3-1
Through the first half, I have a slim lead on Matthew in our picks contest, as I am 61-29-6 (.667) and Matthew is 57-33-6 (.625). Matthew and I will be picking the games as they get scheduled in the tournaments. For now, we start with Notre Dame and Miami.
Sunday, Dec. 28
No. 6 Miami vs. Notre Dame
Candace: Like Matthew I have to go with the team that has been stronger this year. Miami 3-1
Matthew: Between how good Miami has been in the first half of the season and how meh the Fighting Irish have looked, I’ve got to take the RedHawks here. Miami 4-1
Monday, Dec. 29
Western Michigan vs. No. 17 Colgate
Candace: I think the Broncos will make this close, but I favor the Raiders. Colgate 2-1
Matthew: Colgate has lost each of its last three games, but for as much as I want to take the homer pick here, I don’t think the Raiders’ streak will stretch to four. Colgate 3-2
Tuesday-Wednesday, Dec. 30-31
New Hampshire at No. 12 Omaha
Candace: Both games will be close, but I’m going for the home league pick. Omaha 3-2, 3-1
Matthew: It can’t be weird to only me to see UNH doing as poorly as it has so far this season. Regardless, I think the Wildcats will lose twice more at UNO. Omaha 3-1, 4-2
North Dakota has the best fanbase
You know what? I don’t care if you think they are insufferably arrogant. Or obnoxious. Or overbearing. Or any of the host of other pejoratives I’ve heard thrown at North Dakota fans.
It’s time to come right out and say it: North Dakota has the best fanbase in college hockey.
They certainly travel the best, frequently taking up nearly a quarter or more of the seats in the opposing team’s building when North Dakota is on the road. At the 2014 NCHC Frozen Faceoff, most of the fans in the Target Center in Minneapolis seemed to have come to cheer on their beloved North Dakota. At the last Frozen Four USCHO brought me out to cover, 2011 in St. Paul, North Dakota fans were the most raucous, even seemingly louder than the home state’s fans of Minnesota-Duluth.
This rabid following, and willingness to travel untold lengths to see North Dakota, brings out the best in the home team’s fans. Case in point: this weekend’s series against Denver.
As the last words of the Star Spangled Banner are sung in Magness Arena, the North Dakota fans, wearing either green or black jerseys and dominating the end section behind Denver’s starting goaltender, shout out “Sioux!” Yes, I hate that nickname, and am glad it seems to have been consigned to the dustbin of history. It’s not nearly as tone deaf as the Washington Redskins, but still.
Once the game starts, the North Dakota fans seem to dominate the noise meter, cheering their team from the drop of the puck, trying to get North Dakota into the game.
And it forces the Denver fans, who aren’t always very loud, to respond, if only to try to drown out North Dakota’s fans and save themselves from being embarrassed in their own building.
In fact, after Denver’s 4-1 win on Friday, goaltender Evan Cowley even acknowledged how passionate the North Dakota fans are.
“You just try to slow things down and keep the crowd out of it; there’s a lot of NoDak fans,” said Cowley.
Say what you will about North Dakota’s fans, but I’ll bet if you’re honest with yourself, you wish that your team’s fans were devoted enough to travel everywhere to see them play.
So for that, I’ll tip a salute to the best fanbase in college hockey. Rock on North Dakota.
They played some hockey too
Oh yes, Denver and North Dakota played two barnburners in the first series between the two. The teams are so closely matched that it seemed in both games, only a two- or three-minute lapse decided the game.
On Friday, North Dakota trailed 1-0 going into the second period, despite being outplayed for a lot of the first and having to kill a five-minute penalty. In the second, North Dakota seemed to get its legs, and Michael Parks was sprung on a semi-breakaway that Cowley stopped. Parks drew a penalty on Joey LaLeggia, and North Dakota went to work on its power play, but was unable to capitalize.
A couple minutes later, Quentin Shore scored a power-play goal to put Denver up by two, and while North Dakota got one back in the third, they couldn’t get any closer in a 4-1 loss.
On Saturday, North Dakota struck first and held the 1-0 lead after one. At the start of the second period, Denver came in waves, generating a lot of good offensive chances and dominating possession in the offensive zone to the extent it looked like a power play.
However, North Dakota bent, but didn’t break, and then in the span of 1:55, Nick Schmaltz and Drake Caggiula both scored to make it 3-0 North Dakota. Though Denver got one back in the third, they never got any closer.
North Dakota and Denver sit in fourth and fifth in the NCHC, respectively. North Dakota is only two points behind first place Miami and Minnesota-Duluth, and one back of third place Omaha. North Dakota leads Denver by seven points, but the Pioneers have three games (nine potential points) in hand.
Colorado College finally gets a point on the road
Entering this weekend’s series against Western Michigan, Colorado College was 0-8 on the road. In the previous weekend’s series against Minnesota-Duluth, CC had lost a heartbreaker, 3-2 in overtime on Friday and then was dominated on Saturday. CC had a two-goal lead in the second period Friday, but couldn’t hold it.
This Friday against Western Michigan, CC never held a two-goal lead, but the score, and the overtime result, were the same. After CC took a 1-0 lead behind a goal from Teemu Kivhalme, Western answered on goals from Sheldon Dries and Frederik Tiffels. However, Cody Bradley scored an empty-net power-play goal at 19:57 of the third to send the contest to OT.
You almost have to think it would have been easier to take if Bradley didn’t score to send it to OT, as Tiffels scored a power-play goal at 1:58 of the OT to win it for Western.
Unlike last weekend, where CC folded after the heartbreaking loss, this time CC stood strong. Bradley gave the Tigers a lead at 19:19 of the first. Nolan LaPorte answered for Western at 15:58 of the third. Having learned from its previous two OT outings, CC played a solid overtime, with Chase Perry making two saves while CC forced Lukas Hafner to make three saves.
Western did get the extra point, care of a shootout win when Tiffels scored on the fourth Western chance and Sam Rothstein couldn’t answer for CC.
Still, a point on the road is progress. The Tigers have nearly a month’s straight worth of home games in the second half, and they have been better at home in general, but Tigers coach Mike Haviland has to be happy his team at least got a point on the road.