WCHA Picks: Dec. 27

Welcome back to the WCHA Blog after a week off.

This week’s games are spaced out from Thursday to Monday with some teams facing opponents to be determined in their second games of the weekend, so we’ll release the picks in waves.

Look for the next set of picks Saturday.

RPI at No. 16 St. Cloud State, Thursday and Friday

Joe:  The WCHA-leading Huskies (11-7-0) take on Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (4-6-4), which is last in the ECAC standings.

The Huskies are paced by senior Drew LeBlanc’s 24 points (league-high 19 assists) and 23 points (14 assists) from junior Nic Dowd. Freshman Kalle Kossila has 15 points (Division I rookie-high 10 goals) while junior defenseman Nick Jensen has 14 points, including 13 assists.

While SCSU’s strength lies with its freshmen, the Engineers, second to last in the ECAC,  are led by their sophomores – Jacob Laliberte (14 points, team-high six goals), Matt Neal (11, seven assists) and Ryan Haggerty (five goals). Freshman goalie Jason Hasdorf (2-1-2, 1.46 goals against, .945 saves) has the last five starts and gives RPI a chance, but SCSU is playing too well right now to let the Engineers derail them. SCSU sweeps.

Tyler: Rensselaer is two years removed from an NCAA regional appearance but has fallen into the depths of the ECAC standings this season and SCSU will be too much for RPI to handle. I like the Huskies at home this week and for their scoring ability.

Perhaps the time off is what Ben Hanowski needed to get back on track in terms of scoring. Hanowski was SCSU’s goals leader last season (23) but has scored only twice in the eight games since he returned from a month-long upper-body injury.

Still, Hanowski, the senior captain, is on a four-game point streak while he’s helped feed the freshmen who led the Huskies offensive production going into the break. Joey Benik is a freshman expected to make his debut Thursday and make an impact offensively. Hanowski and Benik are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, for most career goals in Minnesota high school history.

Minnesota-Duluth vs. Maine (Florida College Hockey Classic, Estero, Fla.), Friday

Joe: The Bulldogs (7-8-3) will try to restart their pre-break hot streak (5-2-1) against the Black Bears (2-11-2) behind the offensive production of UMD senior Mike Seidel (19 points, 11 goals) and freshman Tony Cameranesi (19, 11 assists). Regardless of the Dec. 28 result, UMD will take on a tough foe in either No. 11 Cornell (6-3-2) of the ECAC or No. 19 Ferris State (7-7-3) of the CCHA on Dec. 29. UMD beats Maine.

Tyler: UMD’s power play is one of the best in the nation so look for it to take advantage of Maine’s habit of taking a lot of penalties. The Bulldogs had early struggles on offense but improved as they built around Seidel and Cameranesi down the stretch. The Black Bears, meanwhile, have had trouble scoring all season with a nation-worst 1.33 goals scored per game. UMD wins.