Air Force, No. 1 Boston College at No. 4 Minnesota, Mariucci Classic, Saturday and Sunday
Joe: No. 1 and Hockey East-leading Boston College (11-2-1) will get head coach Jerry York his all-time wins mark against Alabama-Huntsville (3-14-1) on Dec. 29, taking pressure off the Eagles to focus on the real task at hand; beating the Gophers (11-3-3) the next night.
The Gophers have plenty of offensive weapons – eight with 10 points or more and two others at nine — but will only go as far as freshman goalie Adam Wilcox takes them. He can handle Air Force but the Eagles promise to be a whole different kind of challenge.
My prediction is that Minnesota, tied for fifth in the WCHA, goes 1-1 on the weekend by beating the 5-7-4 Falcons, who have underperformed so far, but falling to BC.
Tyler: The Gophers ended the first half 5-1-1 going back to Nov. 17 and have had plenty of time to rest. Minnesota’s firepower and defense is going to be too much for Air Force to handle Saturday.
The Gophers hope Nick Bjugstad’s offense comes to life and that Erik Haula stays hot going into Sunday’s game against BC.
The Golden Eagles are shorthanded with Jonny Gaudreau gone at World Juniors. The sophomore leads BC, offensively, in goals (11), assists (12) and points (23) at the break. Gaudreau’s offensive skill is a headache Minnesota is lucky it doesn’t need to worry about.
I’ll take the Gophers in the Frozen Four rematch.
No. 6 Boston University at No. 14 Denver, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Face-Off Classic, Saturday
Joe: The single contest at Magness Arena pairs the surging Terriers (10-5), third in Hockey East, against the Pioneers (9-6-3), who are now tied for second in the WCHA with North Dakota after a 0-5-3 mark over the past four weeks.
The Pioneers (9-6-3) will look to bounce back behind scoring leaders junior Nick Shore (20 points, team-high 13 assists), senior Chris Knowlton (18, team-high 10 goals) and sophomore defenseman Joey LaLeggia (16, nine assists). The defense is anchored by sophomore goalie Juho Olkinuora (3-1-3, 1.92 goals, .936 saves) and junior netminder Sam Brittain (4-4-0, 2.78, .908).
BU answers with six players with 10 points or more, led by sophomore Cason Hohmann (16 points, 12 assists) and senior Wade Megan (15, nine goals) for a balanced attack. The defense is anchored by two freshmen goalies with .930 saves percentages with No. 1 Matt O’Connor (7-3-1) the likely starter after three weeks off for BU.
The Terriers are the not the opponent the rebooting Pioneers need right out of the gate. BU wins.
Tyler: Perhaps the most puzzling story of the first half is what happened to Denver after Thanksgiving. The Pioneers had a very firm grip on the WCHA lead from the start of the season going 9-1-0 through Nov. 17.
Denver is winless in eight games since then but it sure isn’t Olkinuora’s fault. He’s allowed six goals in the four games during the winless streak while his team has scored five. Olkinuora has a .952 save percentage in that stretch and has kept the Pioneers in a few of those games with big saves.
BU comes into this game winning four of five but the break was exactly what Denver needed. The Pioneers are loaded with talent and there’s no reason this offensive slump should continue. I’ll take Denver, looking like a different team coming out of the break to beat the Terriers.
No. 12 Nebraska-Omaha at No. 9 Quinnipiac, Saturday and Sunday
Joe: The Mavericks, tied with Minnesota for fifth place in the WCHA, travel to take on the ECAC-leading Bobcats (12-3-2) in a series that may have big ramifications in the PairWise rankings and any subsequent NCAA Tournament seeding for UNO.
Nebraska Omaha junior Ryan Walters is tied for the national Division I lead with 26 points (10 goals). UNO sophomores Dominic Zombo and Josh Archibald add 18 points (11 assists) and 17 (10 assists), respectively, to give the Mavs (11-6-1) some balance.
The Bobcats are 9-0-1 since a head-scratching 2-1 loss to American International and are senior-heavy, led by leading scorer Jeremy Langlois (18 points, 10 goals). There are no big wins on their schedule since the season-opener win at Maine is not as impressive as it seemed at the time. Since Quinnipiac is at home, UNO gets out with a road split and the Bobcats earn a quality nonconference victory.
Tyler: The nation’s second-best offense takes on the best defense, on paper. As Joe said, this series could have a big effect on UNO’s PairWise ranking, since Quinnipiac is ranked sixth in the PWR with the third-highest win percentage against teams under consideration.
The Bobcats defense has faced nine offenses that rank in the bottom half of the nation but it did shut out Union, which ranks third in scoring offense (3.60 goals per game) and held Colgate (15th, 3.17) to one goal earlier this season.
Quinnipiac goaltender Eric Hartzell has a .937 save percentage and the second-best goals against average in the country at 1.29 but the Bobcats haven’t seen an explosive offense like UNO’s in back-to-back games.
East-coast trips aren’t easy but UNO is going to return home with one ‘W’.
No. 18 Minnesota State vs. Brown, Saturday, UConn Hockey Classic
Joe: The ECAC’s Bears (3-5-4) have only a tie against No. 13 Union as a notable point against a top-20 team and little offensive support behind scoring leader and sophomore Matt Lorito (14 points, nine goals).
Minnesota State sophomore Matt Leitner leads the Mavs (10-6-2) with 21 points (16 assists) while sophomore Jean-Paul Lafontaine (16 points, 12 assists) and senior Eriah Hayes (15, 10 goals) are supported by freshmen Johnny McInnis (14, eight goals) and Teddy Blueger (12, 10 assists). Freshman goalie Stephon Williams (7-4-1) has been quite good since he assumed the No. 1 role.
Tyler: Minnesota State hopes it doesn’t become victim to a holiday hangover, like St. Cloud State did Thursday and Friday against RPI, the ECAC’s last-place team.
We’ll see how much the Mavericks miss Teddy Blueger, who’s playing for Team Latvia at World Juniors. Blueger was a big playmaker on the third line down the stretch, picking up seven assists in five games.
My prediction is the Mavericks continue playing well and beat Brown.
Michigan Tech vs. Michigan, Great Lakes Invitational, Saturday
Joe: Michigan Tech (4-10-3) faces Michigan (6-9-2) in the 7:35 p.m. semifinal on Saturday. The Huskies have been bitten by the injury bug and do not have enough to overcome the Wolverines, who may have found their goalie in third-stringer Adam Janecyk, who beat No. 8 Western Michigan 2-0 last weekend in his first college start.
Tyler: Blake Pietila is Michigan Tech’s big goal producer (10 goals), providing 22 percent of the Huskies’ goals this season. He’s playing in the WJC, which removes a big part of Tech’s already struggling offense. I’m taking the Wolverines, who are struggling as well but have the edge in depth, to win this semifinal.
Minnesota-Duluth vs. Ferris State
Joe: UMD lost 1-0 to Hockey East cellar dweller Maine so beating No. 19 Ferris State will be too much for them in the third-place game Saturday afternoon (4 p.m. ET).
Tyler: UMD will be a hungry team after a bad shutout loss to Maine in Friday’s semifinal but the goals won’t come any easier against Ferris State’s strength, goaltender CJ Motte. The sophomore has a .923 save percentage.