NCHC picks: Jan. 17

Well, we are more than halfway through the season, and after last weekend, Matthew and I are back to where we were in October: dead even in our picks race. Last weekend, I went 4-4 ).500, to move to 62-41-13 (.590) on the year, while Matthew went 7-1 (.875) to also move to 62-41-13 (.590).

Maybe I can take the lead again and go up in the race for the six pack.

Friday-Saturday, Jan. 17-18

Nebraska-Omaha at Miami
Candace: Like Matthew, I really am unsure of which team to pick on which night. UNO swept Miami at home back in November right before Thanksgiving, which was also right before the Mavericks went into a swoon. I don’t see Miami returning the favor though. Miami 3-2, Nebraska-Omaha 4-2
Matthew: It probably doesn’t look great on me to admit this right off the bat this week, but I’m really struggling with who to take here. UNO’s lost five of its last six, and the only win in that span was in a shootout; Miami’s lost four of its last five, and both these teams can score but are having real issues at the other end of the ice. I’m taking the safe option and picking a split; Miami’s the home team so I’ll take them Friday, but UNO has to come up with another win inside 65 minutes sooner or later. Miami 4-2, Nebraska-Omaha 3-2

Western Michigan at No. 3 St. Cloud State
Candace: Western looked good last weekend in sweeping Miami, and St. Cloud looked a little rusty against Denver, but I would imagine coach Bob Motzko has drilled his players on the importance of every game at this point. I think St. Cloud sweeps. St. Cloud 3-2, 4-1
Matthew: Considering Western’s won five of its last six and has won four on the bounce going into this weekend, I can see them getting something this weekend and possibly entering our Men’s Division I top 20 next Monday. St. Cloud’s too good a team to get swept in its own building — and don’t forget North Dakota’s nipping at SCSU’s heels now — but a split’s very possible. Western Michigan 3-2, St. Cloud State 4-1

No. 16 Denver at Minnesota-Duluth
Candace: If Aaron Crandall plays like he did last weekend against Nebraska-Omaha, this will be one of the best goaltender duels of the weekend. Considering that of late, both teams have struggled on Friday and come through on Saturday, and I’m not sure which way to pick. Minnesota-Duluth 3-2, Denver 2-1
Matthew: UMD goaltender Aaron Crandall was fabulous for the Bulldogs last weekend in a road sweep of Nebraska-Omaha, and if he can stay hot and Duluth keeps giving him goal support, I can see them winning their fourth and fifth wins in a row this weekend. Denver looked Saturday against SCSU as though the Pioneers have snapped out of its mini-funk over the holidays, though, so it’s another split from me. Minnesota-Duluth 4-2, Denver 3-1

No. 20 North Dakota vs. Bemidji State home-and-home (at BSU Friday)
Candace: North Dakota has been on a roll of late, and I don’t see it ending this weekend, but I think at least one of these games will be closer than anticipated. North Dakota 3-2, 4-1
Matthew: A nine-game winning streak would be unbelievable by the standards NCHC teams have put up thus far, but that’s exactly what UND’s looking at if it sweeps Bemidji this weekend, and I think it’s going to happen. BSU has eight home losses already this season, and I can’t see the Beavers getting it done at the Ralph. North Dakota 4-2, 5-1

No. 7 Providence at Colorado College
Candace: Providence has been struggling of late, but CC has been struggling all year, and the Friars should come strong enough to get a sweep. Providence 3-2, 3-1
Matthew: If this was taking place earlier in the season, I might’ve really feared for CC in this series. However, Providence is 0-3-1 in its last four games and isn’t looking as ruthless as it did through to around Thanksgiving. The Friars are a more talented team than CC, but an upset or maybe even two could be in the cards. Colorado College 3-1, Providence 4-1

Bulldogs launch themselves back into contention

20140110 Omaha Duluth 02 MBishop Bulldogs launch themselves back into contention

Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Andy Welinski celebrates his goal Friday night in what ended up being a 3-2 win for the Bulldogs over Nebraska-Omaha. (Photo: Michelle Bishop)

Although we’re starting to see more daylight open up between the NCHC’s sets of leaders and trailers, it appears to be time to start thinking about adding Minnesota-Duluth to the former category.

Duluth spent the first half of the season putting up a decidedly mediocre record and splitting series almost as though that was the Bulldogs’ job. UMD coach Scott Sandelin’s club appeared to make a breakthrough last weekend, though, in picking up its first sweep of the season at Nebraska-Omaha.

Each night of the two-game set saw one Duluth forward line really click.

In its’ 3-2 win Friday, Duluth’s third line of Alex Iafallo, Dominic Toninato and Adam Krause accounted for the first two goals of the game before defenseman Andy Welinski scored the eventual game-winner in the third period.

Sandelin made zero changes to his lineup for the rematch, and Saturday night saw Duluth’s second line get its own time to shine. Joe Basaraba’s two goals and big performances from linemates Austin Farley and Caleb Herbert helped the visitors to a 3-1 win.

Even more credit for both nights’ triumphs has to go to Bulldogs goaltender Aaron Crandall. The senior will undoubtedly be the NCHC’s goaltender of the week after stopping 38 and 52 shots against UNO, including several monster saves in both games of the series.

Duluth now finds itself 9-8-1 overall and 5-5 in the league, which is far from incredible. However, with a lot of winnable games coming up over the next four weeks ahead of a trip to first-place St. Cloud State Feb. 14-15, if Crandall stays hot and he keeps getting goal support from the offense in front of him, UMD might be able to parlay its success last weekend into something much bigger by the time they face the Huskies and then enter the home stretch of the regular season.

UNO’s struggles continue

UMD and the team it swept last weekend appear to be moving in very different directions.

UNO’s pair of losses last weekend at home to the Bulldogs marked the third time the Mavericks have been swept this season and the second time in two weeks.  What’s worse, at 8-11-1 and 5-4-1-1 in the NCHC, UNO has now lost five of its last six games, and the only win came via an overtime shootout at Colorado College Dec. 7.

The news gets worse if you’re a Mavericks fan.

A year ago this week, UNO was four games above .500, tied with Denver for first place in the WCHA, and the Mavericks had a legitimate Hobey Baker Award candidate in Ryan Walters. Now, UNO is three games below .500, is only in fourth place in the NCHC by two points over Duluth, and the Mavericks’ leading scorer, forward Josh Archibald, is tied with 11 others for 39th in the country in terms of points with 21.

Archibald’s tied for fourth in Division I with 14 goals, which UNO fans surely find great to see from the junior forward who has improved by leaps and bounds every year he’s been in Omaha. However, when he’s the only Maverick on the national radar in terms of leaders in either goals or assists, it’s one more sign not enough is being done by UNO’s attacking corps.

There’s an even bigger mess to be dealt with in UNO’s own end of the ice. The Mavericks are 49th in the country in scoring defense, having conceded 3.35 goals per game so far this season, and UNO has D-I’s third-worst penalty-killing units, only succeeding at a 73 percent clip.

Poor defensive displays tend to beget poor goaltending numbers, too, and that’s one way to describe UNO’s goalies’ figures so far. Junior Ryan Massa (11 appearances) and freshman Kirk Thompson (10) have fairly evenly split time in the Mavericks’ nets this season, and Thompson’s leading the way statistically with a 2.95 goals-against average and a .885 save percentage, numbers not much better than Massa’s (3.34, .882).

Looking at the Mavericks’ remaining schedule, there’s a chance things could get worse for them. UNO is at fellow NCHC struggler Miami this upcoming weekend, and then the Mavericks will face the league’s current top three teams – St. Cloud State, North Dakota and Denver – all in a row.

North Dakota gets back on track

North Dakota didn’t post earth-shattering results in its Canadian exhibition tour Jan. 3-4, losing 3-2 in overtime to British Columbia before eking past Simon Fraser 4-3 the following day. Since then, though, UND has gotten back to the form that served the team well heading into the holiday break.

UND was made to work hard for its 5-3 and 3-2 wins at home last weekend to seventh-place Colorado College, but the bottom line is that UND was able to pick up six points from the series, something that hasn’t been incredibly common in the NCHC so far and will only become even rarer as we head into the final couple of months of the regular season.

Even better, UND is now on a seven-game winning streak in non-exhibition games. That number may well go up to nine this next weekend after a home-and-home series with a Bemidji State team four games below .500 and with eight home losses already this season.

At 11-7-2 overall and 7-5 in the NCHC, UND’s 21 points thus far currently put it only one point behind SCSU for first place in the league. What’s even more exciting is that UND has a favorable schedule until it visits the Huskies Feb. 28 and Mar. 1, so expect to see at least a two-horse race at least until we switch our calendars over from February to March.

NCHC picks: Jan. 10

Thanks to picking the UNH sweep of Nebraska-Omaha and the Brown win over Colorado College, I now have a three-game lead over Matthew in our picks race. Last week, I went 3-0-1 (.875), moving to 58-37-13 (.597) on the year. A couple more good weekends and I’ll be above .600! Matthew went 1-2-1 (.375) to move to 55-40-13 (.569).

Of course, there’s a lot to go in the season, and it was only a month ago that Matthew had a three-game lead on me, so I better be extra psychic if I want to hold my lead.

Friday-Saturday, Jan. 10-11

No. 2 St. Cloud State at No. 17 Denver
Candace: St. Cloud had an outstanding first half, and this will be a key series for them to get off to a good start in the second half. Denver gets Will Butcher and Quentin Shore back from the World Juniors, and should be better than it was last week against Brown. However, Denver has struggled offensively all year. Both Denver and St. Cloud have outstanding defenses, ranking third and fourth respectively, but St. Cloud has better forwards. St. Cloud State 2-1, 3-1
Matthew: SCSU is the more complete team here, if we’re honest. However, I’m sticking with my prediction that Denver’s in for a big second half of the season, and I think they’ll get something out of this weekend. Only getting a tie last time out against Brown wasn’t so great, but I think the Pioneers will pick up a split here. St. Cloud State 3-1, Denver 2-1

Colorado College at North Dakota
Candace: CC is having one of its worst seasons ever, and the scoring continues to be nonexistent. North Dakota has been streaky at times, and freshman forward Adam Tambellini just left to play for the Calgary Hitman in the WHL. Tambellini only had four points though, so I don’t think North Dakota’s offense will suffer. North Dakota 3-1, 4-2
Matthew: UND ended the first half of the season very well and I think they’ll carry on that form this weekend. CC’s first road win of the season has to come somewhere, but I don’t see it coming in Grand Forks. North Dakota 4-1, 3-1

Minnesota-Duluth at Nebraska-Omaha
Candace: The Bulldogs have been the split team of the season, splitting almost every series. Picking the right night is difficult in this one though. Usually, UMD wins on Saturday, but with UNO missing coach Dean Blais and defenseman Jaycob Megna, I’m thinking it will be the opposite. Minnesota-Duluth 3-2, Nebraska-Omaha 3-2
Matthew: This has “split” written all over it. These are two fairly even teams – and especially Friday with Mavericks coach Dean Blais and defenseman Jaycob Megna still out with suspensions – and I don’t see UNO sweeping the Bulldogs like it did at CenturyLink last season. Minnesota-Duluth 3-2, Nebraska-Omaha 4-2

No. 13 Miami at Western Michigan
Candace: Western Michigan did well in winning the Great Lakes Invitational, but I don’t know if the Broncos can stop the high-flying Miami offense. This will most likely be a split, but I’ll go opposite Matthew and pick Miami to sweep. Miami 3-2, 4-2
Matthew: It feels a bit like going out on a limb, but I’m taking Western Michigan to sweep here. The Broncos looked good in winning the Great Lakes Invitational after Christmas, and Miami has underwhelmed all season so far. Western Michigan 5-3, 3-2

Wake me when it’s November

The Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, who had an excellent month in November in which they went 6-2 while sweeping Denver and Miami and splitting with Denver and North Dakota, haven’t won since that month. The Mavericks closed the first half by losing and tying/winning a shootout at Colorado College. They opened the second half this weekend by getting swept by New Hampshire.

New Hampshire won 6-3 and 5-2 decisions. Nebraska-Omaha continues to struggle defensively; so far this season, they have only won one game in which scored two goals or less, a 2-1 win over Northern Michigan back in October. The Mavericks have given up four or more goals eight times so far this year, and only twice this season has UNO been able to hold an opponent to a single goal or less. Nebraska-Omaha is currently ranked 50th defensively of 59 teams; on average, they give up 3.39 goals per game after the New Hampshire series.

That trouble clamping down on opponents hurt them on Saturday against New Hampshire. After taking a 2-1 lead early in the third period on a four-on-three power-play goal, the Mavericks gave up four unanswered goals in the last seven minutes of the game, two of which were on power plays and one of which was an empty-netter.

The Mavericks were without two cogs to their team against New Hampshire: defenseman Jaycob Megna and coach Dean Blais, who were serving three-game suspensions for a rules infraction last year. The two have one game left on the suspension, the first game of a home series against Minnesota-Duluth next weekend.

Brown blitz
Only two other teams in the NCHC had official games this weekend, as Brown traveled to Colorado to take on Denver and Colorado College on consecutive nights. The Bears came away with three points in the two games, as well as an unofficial shootout win.

On Friday at Denver, Brown rallied three times from a one-goal deficit to earn a 3-3 tie. Denver was lucky to get a point at all, as Garnet Hathaway’s chance from in close in OT rang right off the post.

Denver had difficulty with its penalty kill, giving up two power-play goals. Pioneers coach Jim Montgomery singled out the defensive effort of his team, saying, “Our play with the puck was a little bit above average, but our play without the puck was abysmal. Our D-zone and backcheck coverage was the worst that I’ve seen it in a long time, probably since the middle of October.”

Though neither team got extra points, Brown coach Brendan Whittet had agreed to a shootout in the event of a tie. Brown’s Matt Lorito scored on the first chance of the shootout with a sweep stick drag maneuver past the outstretched leg of Sam Brittain. Denver’s best chance to score came when Joey LaLeggia rang one off the post. Lorito’s goal was the only one of the shootout.

On Saturday in Colorado Springs, Lorito again played a big role, as did his linemates, Mark Naclerio and Nick Lappin. Lorito picked up an assist, and Naclerio and Lappin each scored and had an assist on the other’s goal as Brown scored twice in the second to take a 3-1 lead, then got another early in the third to ice the game. CC’s Alexander Krushelnyski scored an extra-attacker goal with 18:24 left in the third to make the score more respectable.

Unofficial action
North Dakota, St. Cloud, and Minnesota-Duluth all had success in exhibition series this weekend. North Dakota traveled to British Columbia to play in the Great Northwest Showcase. North Dakota lost, 3-2, in overtime on Friday against British Columbia, then beat Simon Fraser, 4-3, on Saturday. Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud both blitzed the U.S. Under-18 squad; UMD won 7-0 on Friday and St. Cloud won 8-0 on Saturday.

League action resumes
This weekend, NCHC league play resumes for all eight teams. Denver hosts St. Cloud, North Dakota hosts Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha hosts Minnesota-Duluth, and Western Michigan hosts Miami. Currently, St. Cloud sits atop the standings with 19 points, holding a slim lead over Nebraska-Omaha, which has 17 points. North Dakota and Denver have 15 and 14 points respectively, Colorado College has 10 points, and the other three have nine points each. However, each league win is worth three points, so the standings could look drastically different come next Monday.

NCHC picks: Jan. 3

Matthew and I went 1-1 in picking the GLI, so on the season, I am 55-37-12 (.586) and Matthew is 54-38-12 (.576). It’s still a light weekend for NCHC squads, but let’s see how we do.

Friday, Jan. 3

Brown at No. 16 Denver

Candace: Can Denver pick up where it left off? With Sam Brittain in net, Denver has a chance to win every game it plays. I’ll go with home ice. Denver 3-2
Matthew: I think Denver’s primed for a really good second half of the season, and that ought to start with this game at home to a Brown team that’s been really up-and-down so far this season. The Bears won their last two games after dropping four in a row before that, but Denver’s the better team here and the Pioneers have been so good at home so far this season that I can’t see Brown going into Magness and getting the upset. Denver 3-1

Friday-Saturday, Jan. 3-4

No. 19 Nebraska-Omaha at New Hampshire

Candace: For all the reasons that Matthew lists below, I am going out on a limb and picking a New Hampshire sweep. Both teams are hovering around .500, and have had stretches of good play and bad. Their only common opponent is Cornell, and both lost to the Big Red. New Hampshire 3-2, 2-1
Matthew: The odds are against UNO for this weekend. New Hampshire already has 10 losses this season, but rust won’t be a problem for the Wildcats considering they’ve played since Christmas while UNO hasn’t played a game in nearly a month. Add to that the fact the Mavericks have not been good in nonconference action thus far; UNO has suffered four losses against Bentley, Cornell and Northern Michigan, and only Cornell out of those three is better than UNH. Also, UNO coach Dean Blais (traveling but has to stop coaching duties an hour before game time) and defenseman Jaycob Megna (not traveling) are suspended. UNO winning in Durham this weekend would be a noteworthy feat and a springboard into the 2014 half of the Mavericks’ campaign. New Hampshire 3-2 Friday, 2-2 tie Saturday.

Saturday, Jan. 4

Candace: Brown is a .500 team, but has had some good results, including playing Providence tough in a one-goal loss and defeating Yale. CC meanwhile, wasn’t able to build any positives on its results against UNO when it played Wisconsin. Brown 3-2
Matthew: I’m hoping this pick doesn’t come back to haunt me, but I think Colorado College is a due for a win here. CC has lost each of its last three games – two of them in overtime – and for as poor as the Tigers have been this season, they’re at home Saturday against a Brown team to which we haven’t been able to apply the “road warriors” tag. League homer pick, don’t fail me now. Colorado College 3-2

NCHC pick: Dec. 28

Well, Matthew and I both missed picking Western’s upset of Michigan. Let’s see if we are more accurate for Saturday.

Western Michigan v Michigan Tech (Great Lakes Invitational championship)
Candace: Western has been inconsistent so far this year, but so has Tech. I’ll go with the conference pick and figure the Broncos have more momentum after the huge upset Friday. Western Michigan 4-2
Matthew: Western Michigan downing Michigan was a bigger upset than Michigan Tech besting Michigan State in the GLI’s other semifinal, and in taking the league homer pick here, I’m hoping that Western takes that little bit more momentum into the tournament final and beats last year’s champion. It’s a toss-up, though, really; Western’s still lost three of its last five, and Tech hasn’t won a game within 65 minutes of game time since just after Thanksgiving. Western Michigan 3-2

NCHC Pick: Dec. 27

In the last week before the break, Matthew and I both went 7-2-2 (.727). On the year, I still hold a one-game lead, as I am 54-36-12 (.588) and Matthew is 53-37-12 (.578).

We’ll pick the Saturday game after Friday’s result.

Friday, Dec. 27

Western Michigan vs. No. 3 Michigan (Great Lakes Invitational)
Candace: Western got a split against Minnesota-Duluth in its last outing, but I don’t think the Broncos can pull it out against the Wolverines. Michigan 4-2
Matthew: Michigan Tech picking up its first GLI title in a generation last season reminded us that strange things happen sometimes in college hockey, but I’m not expecting any huge surprises from this semifinal game. I’m curious to see what if any effect having this year’s tournament outdoors at Comerica Park might have on the four teams involved, but I can’t see the Wolverines dropping this one. Michigan 5-3

NCHC pick: Dec. 16

Tuesday, Dec. 17

No. 17 Denver at Massachusetts
Candace: Denver continues to look good since getting swept by Nebraska-Omaha at the beginning of the November. NCHC co-goaltender of the week Sam Brittain, the top goalie in the nation, is a virtual fortress in net. This could be a trap game for a Denver team playing on little rest, but I think they pull through. Denver 3-2
Matthew: This really ought to be Denver’s game to lose, but the Pioneers mustn’t overlook a Massachusetts team that has won its last three games in a row, all against decent opposition. Add to that the fact the Minutemen are at home for this game and it has the makings of a potential upset, but I think DU will do just enough to finally head home from its extended east coast swing with another win. Denver 4-2

North Dakota continues to roll

After a dreadful November where they went 3-6-1, North Dakota has put together a five-game win streak to move two games over .500 at the break after sweeping Northern Michigan this past weekend, 4-1 and 3-1. For fans that are accustomed to seeing second-half surges, this is good news.

In my column last week, I interviewed North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol, and he singled out the line of Rocco Grimaldi, Drake Caggiula, and Luke Johnson. The trio were all over the score sheet in both games this past weekend. On Friday, Johnson scored a goal while Grimaldi had two assists, including one on Johnson’s game-winning power-play goal.

In Saturday’s game, Caggiula scored the game-winner at 14:42 of the third on assists from Johnson and Grimaldi. The goal was part of a three-goal third period that saw North Dakota rally from a goal down.

Johnson, a Chicago Blackhawks prospect, is playing right wing on the line, a shift, as the freshman had been playing center. In an interview after Friday’s game, Johnson indicated that his confidence is increasing thanks to playing with Grimaldi and Caggiula.

“I think I just have more confidence,” Johnson said. “Obviously, my linemates are two good players that know how to distribute the puck. I think confidence is the biggest thing.”

Also contributing strongly on the weekend were defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, who had three assists, and defenseman Paul LaDue, who had a goal and an assist. Goalie Zane Gothberg made 37 saves in the two games.

North Dakota is off from official games until Jan. 10, when it hosts a two-game set against NCHC foe Colorado College. Then after a home-and-home with Bemidji, North Dakota travels to Denver for a two-game set in an always heated rivalry.

Denver stays hot
Speaking of the Pioneers, Denver has also seen a turnaround in recent weeks. After getting swept by Nebraska-Omaha on Nov. 1-2, the Pioneers’ record stood at 3-5, and included four overtime losses. Since that game, Denver has only lost once while improving to 9-6-3 on the year. The streak has included a win and shootout win against arch-rival Colorado College, a sweep of Western Michigan, a tie and win against Air Force, a win against No. 12 Miami, and, this past weekend, an overtime win and tie against No. 18 Rensselaer.

A lot of factors are at play in Denver’s turnaround. Number one is the continued excellent play of Sam Brittain, who made 40 saves over the two games against RPI. Brittain currently leads the nation in goaltending with a 1.61 GAA. His save percentage of .945 is third, behind Harvard’s Raphael Girard and Mass.-Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck. Of course, those two have played eight and 10 games respectively, while Brittain has played 17, making his stats all the more impressive. Brittain is second nationally in minutes played, behind Quinnipiac’s Michael Garteig, and is also tied for the lead in shutouts.

Goaltending isn’t the only factor in Denver’s turnaround. During its first month of play, the Pioneers were getting scoring almost exclusively from their defensemen. Of late, the forwards have been contributing. Freshman Trevor Moore leads the team with 14 points, and center Quentin Shore is second with 13 points.

Against Rensselaer on Friday, defenseman and team captain David Makowski got a goal in the second to tie the game, while freshman forward Emil Romig scored the game-winner in the third. On Saturday, forward Ty Loney got the only goal for Denver in the 1-1 tie.

Denver has a quick turnaround, as it travels to Amherst to play Massachusetts on Tuesday in its final game of the first half. The Pioneers then return with a single contest against Brown on Jan. 3 before a huge home series with conference leader St. Cloud State on Jan. 10-11.

No. 1 no more?
Speaking of St. Cloud, it is likely that the Huskies’ tenure as the country’s no. 1 team is short-lived after their loss and tie against Union at home.

On Friday, Union’s Mat Bodie assisted on two power-play goals in the first period and then scored at just .43 seconds of the third period to dash any comeback hopes for St. Cloud. Of note in that game is that St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko pulled goalie Ryan Faragher at 8:50 of the third period.

Faragher was back in net on Saturday and made 23 saves. St. Cloud took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, then gave up three goals in the second. However, a Jonny Brodzinski extra-attacker power-play goal with 20 seconds left in the game enabled the Huskies to at least get a point on the weekend.

St. Cloud’s penalty kill hurt it in both games, as Union scored two power-play goals on Friday and another power-play goal in Saturday’s game.

St. Cloud has an exhibition against the U.S. U-18 squad on Jan. 4 before returning to action with the series at Denver on Jan. 10-11.

NCHC picks: Dec. 13

Because of sweeps last weekend, as well as Denver winning the first night, neither Matthew nor I did particularly well last week, both going 3-5 (.375). On the year, I am now 47-34-10 (.571), while Matthew is 46-35-10 (.560). Hopefully, we can close on a strong note.

Friday-Saturday, Dec. 13-14

Western Michigan at Minnesota-Duluth
Candace: Both teams desperately need a win after getting swept last weekend. Minnesota-Duluth actually outplayed St. Cloud last week on Friday, even though the Bulldogs lost. Western Michigan had a dogfight against North Dakota. I’m really leery of this series, but will go for a Bulldogs sweep. Minnesota-Duluth 3-2, 2-1
Matthew: It’s tough to tell which of these teams is in more dire need of a couple good results this weekend. UMD and Western come into this series seventh and eighth in the NCHC, respectively, and they were both swept last weekend. Duluth should have the upper hand here as it’s at home, but I don’t know you can pick anything other than a split here. Western Michigan 3-2, Minnesota-Duluth 3-1

No. 20 Denver at No. 18 Rensselaer
Candace: Denver looked very good last weekend against Miami on the road, and has been playing well in its last several outings. Rensselaer has done well since a mid-November slip, including a tie with Quinnipiac. I figure this is likely a split. Denver 3-2, Rensselaer 2-1
Matthew: Denver appears to be turning things around after a pretty ho-hum start to the season, and I’m interested to see what the Pioneers can do on the road against a good but somewhat streaky RPI team. DU didn’t look intimidated traveling to Miami last time out, so I don’t think that’ll be a concern this time, either. That said, though, I’m going with a split here, as the Engineers have been in decent form the past few games. Rensselaer 3-2, Denver 3-1

No. 10 Union at No. 1 St. Cloud State
Candace: Bob Motzo pointed out that this series was scheduled over a year ago, and you wouldn’t have known how critical it might be when it was first put on the schedule. I think Union might get a split, but for now, I’m going with St. Cloud. St. Cloud 4-2, 2-1
Matthew: Looking at what both of these teams have been able to do so far this season, this is a series I’d love to attend. Union’s riding an eight-game winning streak stretching back more than a month, but the Dutchmen are on the road this weekend to a St. Cloud team that has gotten fantastic goaltending from Ryan Faragher lately and isn’t having trouble getting goals at the other end of the ice. I’m not brave enough to pick the Huskies to sweep here, but, goodness, these are going to be a fun couple of games. St. Cloud State 4-2, Union 2-1

Northern Michigan at North Dakota
Candace: North Dakota might have started its usual second-half surge a little early; of course, they definitely needed it. I think the momentum continues here. North Dakota 3-2 3-1
Matthew: UND has won three games in a row now. However, as they’ve all been close-run things — all three of those games ended up 3-2 on the scoreboard — I’m curious whether to see if UND can step its game up a notch this weekend and win a little more comfortably. That should happen against a Northern Michigan team that’s 0-3-2 in its last five games and has been far from great on the road so far this season. North Dakota 3-1, 2-0

Colorado College at No. 15 Wisconsin
Candace: CC showed signs of life last weekend against Nebraska-Omaha. I think the Tigers will put up a huge fight, but ultimately Wisconsin should prevail. Wisconsin 3-2, 3-1
Matthew: Here’s where we might get some indicators as to whether or not CC’s win and shootout loss against Nebraska-Omaha last weekend was a sign the Tigers are turning things around, or if last weekend was just a blip. Those indicators will most likely show up in how CC plays as opposed to the results it gets, as CC hasn’t won on the road yet and Wisconsin has yet to lose at home this season. I think both of those streaks will stay intact this weekend. Wisconsin 3-2, 3-1

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