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College Hockey:
WCHA Picks: March 1-2

No. 16 Wisconsin at No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha:

Tyler: In a battle of two teams that need two wins, I’m giving UNO a slight edge but I’m not going with a sweep. If the Badgers settle into their structured defensive style and take away UNO’s speed, they’ll have chance to come away with a win, but they’re not leaving with a sweep. The Mavericks have had plenty of rest and time to prepare for this series while the Badgers are four days removed from a series that finished with a deflating loss to Penn State Monday. I’m picking a split, which would mean neither team gains much ground unless they get help from elsewhere.

Matthew: Both teams could really use a sweep from this series as they try and clinch home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs – and, in UNO’s case, stay in the hunt to win the league’s regular season championship – but it’s hard to pick anything other than a split here. Wisconsin doesn’t score a ton of goals, and it will miss injured Badgers power play quarterback Derek Lee this weekend, but UW’s defense is stingy enough that the normally high-powered UNO offense won’t score many, either. Split.

No. 10 Denver at No. 2 Minnesota:

Tyler: Last weekend’s series against struggling Minnesota-Duluth had to be a wake-up call for the Gophers, who couldn’t put the Bulldogs away in the third period of Saturday’s game and went 1-for-9 on the power play for the weekend. Minnesota will get plenty of chances to improve their top-ranked power play (25.4 percent) against the nation’s most penalized team: Denver. Minnesota sweeps.

Matthew: Between goaltenders Jussi Olkinuora and Sam Brittain, Denver leaked 10 goals last week at home to North Dakota, and things might not get a whole lot better for the Pioneers this weekend when they head north to meet in Minneapolis a Minnesota team that has scored more than three and a half goals per game this season. The Gophers were made to work hard for their three points last weekend against an UMD team punching above its weight, but I’m taking the Gophers this weekend to pick up three points as they try to keep pace with St. Cloud State at the top of the WCHA table.

Bemidji State at No. 6 North Dakota

Tyler: I’ll take UND for a home sweep against the Beavers, who have won one road game since they took three points at Nebraska-Omaha in their WCHA opener in October. Anything but a sweep for UND would be a major letdown.

Matthew: UND lost little ground to the league leaders last weekend despite dropping two points at Denver, and I think UND will pick up another four points here to keep the heat on the other teams at the top. Bemidji State will be up for its final regular season WCHA road trip to Grand Forks, but UND has been the better team by far this season and it ought to win both of these games, thereby staying alive in the race for the MacNaughton Cup. UND sweeps.

Michigan Tech at No. 7 St. Cloud State:

Tyler: The key for SCSU is to stay locked in and focused this weekend and not overlook Michigan Tech, which had a week off after a bad pair of losses in Mankato, Minn. two weeks ago. SCSU is better offensively and should be fixated on staying in first place of the regular-season title race. SCSU sweeps.

Matthew: Tech has taken its lumps this season one year removed from seeing the Huskies’ Mel Pearson pick up WCHA Coach of the Year honors, and MTU will take some more this weekend. SCSU gave a much better account of itself in its 5-2 win at Colorado College last Friday than the league’s red-and-black Huskies did in their 4-3 loss to CC the night before, and it’s tough to see St. Cloud dropping points this time around in what looks like a mismatch. SCSU sweeps.

No. 9 Minnesota State at Colorado College:

Tyler: MSU’s defense is one of the best in the country (2.22 goals allowed per game), and freshman Stephon Williams is one of the hottest goaltenders in the nation with 11 goals allowed in seven games. That’s going to help the Mavericks contain one of the country’s top offenses in CC. The Tigers are a team that’s been playing better over the last month. Split.

Matthew: MSU has the toughest remaining schedule among the teams currently among the WCHA’s top six, and that makes this week’s trip to Colorado College especially important. The Tigers would love to play the spoiler role again this time around – CC took two points from league-leading St. Cloud State last weekend in Colorado Springs – but MSU can hardly afford to let its chances of home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs hang on next week’s set (albeit at home) against North Dakota. I’ll take the Mavericks to take three points this weekend at World Arena.

Alabama-Huntsville at Minnesota-Duluth:

Tyler: The Bulldogs have to take advantage of a UAH team that has the worst offense in Division I, one of the worst defenses and hasn’t beat a Division I team since Nov. 16. Until last Saturday at Minnesota, UMD was bad in third periods but when the talent gap is so wide, some teams can get by on sloppy play. But, like Penn State showed everyone, don’t fall asleep on a major underdog. UMD sweeps.

Matthew: UMD has played its way out of a home-ice spot in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, but I think the Bulldogs will blow off some steam this weekend at home against a UAH team that has hasn’t beaten a Division I team since before Thanksgiving. I’m a big fan of Chargers head coach Kurt Kleinendorst and want nothing but the best for UAH, so I’m willing to give let heart compromise with head and give Huntsville some love here, but I’d be surprised if UMD lost either game this weekend in Duluth. I’ll take the Bulldogs to pick up one win and a tie from this series.

Alaska-Anchorage vs. Alaska (Home-and-home; Alaska Airlines Governor’s Cup):

Tyler: I’m giving the team from Fairbanks the edge in this rivalry series. The Nanooks are on the NCAA tournament bubble, sitting at 17th in the PairWise, so there’s something to play for. The Seawolves power play is the only thing they can rely on, offensively, with just six even-strength goals in five games, and Alaska has killed off 31 of its last 33 penalties. Nanooks sweep.

Matthew: UAA has had yet another poor season results-wise under Seawolves head coach Dave Shyiak, and I don’t imagine fans in Anchorage are willing to take much more of what they’ve seen from their team. This weekend’s home-and-home series against intrastate rival Alaska, however, is a break from its tough WCHA slate and a chance for UAA to play for pride and also earn some bragging rights against its most disliked nemesis. I’m not sure the latter will happen, but I’ll take the Seawolves to win at home on Saturday after having lost in Fairbanks the night before.

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