The league’s top four teams advanced to the championship weekend via sweeps.
Matt and I picked the games the same last weekend, and did pretty OK, going 4-3-1 (.562). On the year, I am 77-34-11, while Matthew is 73-38-11.
Friday-Saturday, Jan. 15-16
Western Michigan at No. 14 Denver
Candace: Western usually splits with Denver, but somehow I think DU builds momentum from last weekend. A tie wouldn’t surprise me at all. Denver 3-2, 3-2
Matthew: I’ll probably get proved wrong on this, but I see Denver keeping up their good recent play in this series. Denver 3-1, 3-2
No. 5 St. Cloud State at No. 17 Minnesota-Duluth
Candace: Can Duluth keep some momentum from last weekend? I think so, but it won’t be enough to sweep. St. Cloud 3-1, Minnesota-Duluth 3-2
Matthew: SCSU will want to get back on track after their home loss to Colorado College last Saturday, and I think they will. Ish. St. Cloud State 3-2, UMD 3-2
No. 9 Omaha at No. 1 North Dakota
Candace: The hardest series of the weekend to call for me. I have to think this is a split, unless Omaha is starting a second-half swoon. North Dakota 3-1, Omaha 4-3
Matthew: Really tough series to call. UND gets the upper hand having only one loss at home so far this season, but I don’t know if the Hawks win both of these games. North Dakota 4-2, Omaha 3-2
Saturday, Jan. 16
No. 16 Bowling Green at Miami
Candace: Bowling Green lost twice to Western Michigan this year. Perhaps Miami can make it an NCHC three-peat? Miami 3-2
Matthew: I want to take the RedHawks here, but BGSU has been decent on the road this season and I can see the Falcons stealing this one. Bowling Green 3-2
Mixed feelings in Oxford
Miami coach Enrico Blasi came into this weekend’s home series against No. 19 Minnesota-Duluth feeling hopeful. His RedHawks may not have finished the two-game set feeling that way.
They did defeat UMD on a 3-on-3 overtime goal in Friday’s series opener in Oxford, Ohio, but Saturday’s rematch provided a different story. Duluth won that one 5-2, scoring four goals in the game’s first half-hour.
Those seven goals only came from a combined 37 shots on target. Miami’s 15 shots on net Saturday and UMD’s 22 were both teams’ lowest offensive outputs so far this season.
Duluth was most efficient offensively and picked up its seventh win in the Bulldogs’ past 10 games. Miami, on the other hand, now sits one point above the bottom spot in the NCHC standings. More on that later.
Omaha’s fortress penetrated
“The Denver Pioneers” became a trivia answer several times over this weekend.
On Friday, the question of which opposing team would be the first to defeat sixth-ranked Omaha in its new Baxter Arena was answered. The following night, the same response became applicable for the first team to sweep UNO inside Baxter.
The first of the No. 17 Pios’ wins this weekend came in shutout fashion. Two Will Butcher goals proved more than enough on Friday while Tanner Jaillet made 35 saves to help Denver to a 3-0 victory.
Denver picked up a series sweep Saturday after a hectic five-goal third period. Three UNO goals in that frame weren’t enough in the end to keep the Mavericks from falling 4-3 to DU.
Denver will be back at home next weekend to take on Western Michigan. Omaha will try to get back on track at top-ranked North Dakota.
CC inches toward escaping cellar
Colorado College couldn’t buy a win earlier in the season, losing each of its first 13 games of the regular season. Now, the Tigers are within touching distance of escaping the NCHC cellar.
They have a surprise split at fourth-ranked St. Cloud State to thank in part for that. After the Huskies eked past CC 2-1 on Friday, the Tigers ran out of St. Cloud 5-2 winners on Saturday night.
They did so by sharing the wealth. Five different CC players scored in the series finale, and Tigers goaltender Jacob Nehama was terrific in making 47 saves.
CC (5-17-0, 3-9) is off this next weekend before visiting North Dakota. After what the Tigers did against SCSU, CC should feel both rested and eager heading into Grand Forks.
Matthew picked a game back up on me last week thanks to correctly picking Western Michigan to beat Bowling Green. I went 6-1-2 (.777) while Matthew went 7-0-2 (.888), both pretty good numbers. On the year, I am 73-31-10 (.684) while Matthew is 69-35-10 (.649).
Let’s get to this week’s action.
Friday-Saturday, Jan. 8-9
No. 19 Minnesota-Duluth at Miami
Candace: One of the harder series to pick. Call it a split, only because Duluth is playing its first road games of the second half. Miami 3-2, Minnesota-Duluth 4-3
Matthew: Miami seemed to turn the light on late in its series last week against RPI, but I can’t see Duluth coming away from this series empty-handed. Miami 3-2, Minnesota-Duluth 4-2
Colorado College at No. 4 St. Cloud State
Candace: The Huskies high-flying offense might get shut down some, but not enough. St. Cloud State 4-1, 3-1
Matthew: I have a feeling I might be wrong here, but I’m taking SCSU to sweep. St. Cloud State 3-1, 3-1
No. 17 Denver at No. 6 Omaha
Candace: If this had happened last weekend, I might have called Omaha to sweep. Denver looked good last weekend though. Omaha 4-2, Denver 2-1
Matthew: UNO (8-0 at home so far) can’t win every home game ever at Baxter Arena, can it? Omaha 3-2, Denver 3-2
Western Michigan at No. 15 Notre Dame
Candace: I still have a hard time getting a handle on the Broncos, but there’s no denying they’ve been pretty terrible on the road. Notre Dame 2-1, 3-1
Matthew: I want to take the league homer pick here, but I don’t know what the Broncos might come away with. This is a tough one. Notre Dame 3-2, 3-2
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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