Temps drop, but action heats up
After weeks of a kinder, gentler winter, a version more common in hockey strongholds has moved in over much of the country now that the calendar has flipped to January. The best response is to add some more fuel to the fire, and the schedule makers have done just that. In the coming week, we’ll be treated to three different pairings of ranked teams, another game matching NCAA tournament participants from a year ago, a collision of the top two squads in the CHA, and other established and budding rivalries.
Mercyhurst at Syracuse, Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. EST
Syracuse defeated the Lakers for the first time ever last season. Now the Orange have to prove that they can do it again to stay in the title race. Mercyhurst is a game ahead in the standings, and this weekend will complete half of the league schedule for both teams. The teams’ scoring defenses are virtually identical and sit just above the median, despite the fact that both have been inconsistent in net. Thus, while at first glance the series may appear to hinge on goaltending, the victor may instead be the club that is better able to limit opportunities for the opponent to generate quality shots in the first place.
No. 2 Wisconsin at No. 6 Bemidji State, Friday and Saturday, 2:07 p.m. CST
The Badgers swept the previous series in Madison using their trusty recipe of the first half, stifling the Bemidji State offense completely. Wisconsin enjoyed a two-goal lead by the first intermission both days, and the Beavers were unable to generate 20 shots in either game. No WCHA opponent has scored more than once in a game in Bemidji this season, and the hosts will likely need that trend to continue to get points.
No. 9 North Dakota at Minnesota-Duluth, Friday and Saturday, 3:07 p.m. CST
The most recent series for each team came versus Wisconsin, although the Fighting Hawks faced UW before the break. They managed to shut the Badgers out for the weekend. UMD was swept in Madison last weekend; the Bulldogs were rather short-handed for the first game. UND has proven it can beat anyone and struggle against nearly anyone as well. The last time these teams met and split their series marked the debut of a new top line for the ‘Dogs, with Michela Cava between Ashleigh Brykaliuk and Lara Stalder. The trio proved to be a catalyst for better results for UMD.
Yale at Cornell, Friday, 7 p.m. EST
This game could prove vital when the music stops in the ECAC and only eight teams find seats for the league’s dance. It will mark the halfway point for both programs, and Yale sits eighth with a one-point advantage over the Big Red. The Bulldogs last win in this rivalry came back in January of 2009, just before Cornell made the jump to being a national-tournament team. For the first time in many years, Yale enters the game with comparable firepower.
Robert Morris at No. 4 Quinnipiac, Friday, 7 p.m. EST, and Saturday, 4 p.m. EST
The Colonials and Bobcats meet for the fifth straight season, including series in the previous three years, all won by the road team. Both programs look to be ascending, although Quinnipiac has risen higher. Both rely on junior goaltenders and offenses sparked by underclassmen. The big edge for the Bobcats likely rests with its talented corps of veteran defensemen.
No. 8 Harvard at No. 5 Clarkson, Saturday, 4 p.m. EST
They shared the ECAC crown last year, but sit just third and fourth now, albeit with several games in hand on the leaders. The Crimson have had to scratch to find goals much of the time, while Clarkson’s effectiveness defensively seems to come and go. The offenses are led by a couple of under-appreciated scorers in senior Miye D’Oench and junior Cayley Mercer, respectively. Give Clarkson the edge on the blue line, Harvard the nod in net, so the deciding factor might be who gets more from its supporting cast up front.
No. 1 Boston College at No. 8 Harvard, Tuesday, 7 p.m. EST
The Eagles have probably had this game circled, even though it has been hard to find on many schedules until lately. They learned painfully that dream seasons don’t look as good when viewed through Crimson-colored glasses. Last season, Harvard toppled BC both from the unbeaten ranks and the NCAA tournament after weathering an eight-goal drubbing in the first meeting. Nothing leading into this games suggests that the Eagles’ perfect run will end here.
Boston University at No. 4 Quinnipiac, Wednesday, 11 a.m. EST
There’s likely a reason for this start time, but I confess that I don’t know what it is. Both were road teams in the NCAA tournament in March. Now the Bobcats are positioned to be a quarterfinal host, while the Terriers will need to discover some magic to extend their run of six straight tourneys. On paper, this looks to be a really bad matchup for BU. Quinnipiac can struggle to score, even against some lesser teams, but shutting teams down isn’t really what the Terriers do of late.
And from the Under-18 World Championships in St. Catharine’s, Ont. …
Team USA versus Canada, Friday, 7:30 p.m. EST
Yet another championship of an international event comes down to these two cross-border rivals. The Americans needed overtime to snap a Canadian championship-winning streak at the U-18 level a year ago. The United States won in the preliminary round, 4-1.