The Big Ten announced Saturday that Michigan State freshman forward Taro Hirose has been suspended for one game as a result of an incident that occurred in the game against Wisconsin on Friday, Feb. 3.
The action was taken by the conference after a review of an incident that took place near the 13:47 mark of the first period and resulted in Hirose receiving a major penalty for kneeing and a game misconduct.
Hirose is ineligible to play in Michigan State’s next game on Saturday, Feb. 4, against Wisconsin.
Hockey East announced Saturday that Vermont senior forward Brady Shaw has been suspended for one game stemming from an incident at approximately 15:11 of the first period on Friday, Feb. 3, at Notre Dame.
Shaw will miss the game on Saturday, Feb. 4 at Notre Dame, and will be eligible to return to the Catamounts lineup Feb. 10 against New Hampshire.
Additionally, Hockey East also announced that UMass Lowell senior forward Evan Campbell has been suspended for one game stemming from an incident at 8:14 of the first period on Friday, Feb. 3, at Northeastern.
Campbell will miss the game on Saturday, Feb. 4 against New Hampshire, and will be eligible to return to the River Hawks lineup Feb. 10 against Boston University.
Northeastern junior forward Dylan Sikura has been named the Hockey Commissioners’ Association National Division I Player of the Month for January, while the National Rookie of the Month for January is Boston University’s Clayton Keller.
Sikura helped the Huskies end the first month of 2017 on a five-game unbeaten streak and leading the nation over the month with a total of 15 points. He scored six goals and chipped in with nine assists in his team’s eight outings. He paced the NCAA in multiple offensive categories, including points per game (1.88) and power-play assists (5) and points (8). He also led all of Hockey East with three power-play tallies, two game-winning goals and one hat trick. His three-goal outing came on Jan. 27 at Massachusetts-Lowell when he recorded a natural hat trick, completing the feat with just 16.2 seconds left to lift the Huskies to a 4-3 victory over the River Hawks. He ended the month riding a five-game multi-point streak, helping his team to a 4-0-1 record to close the month.
Sikura has factored in on each of the Huskies’ last five game-winning goals, scoring three and setting up the decisive tally in two other contests. He ended the month riding a five-game point streak, racking up 13 points on five goals and eight assists to propel him into a tie for the NCAA overall scoring lead with 44 points on the season. He currently leads the NCAA in power-play assists (17) and points (25).
The Aurora, Ont., native was named the Warrior Hockey East Player of the Week in consecutive weeks to close the month of January after racking up six points (four goals, two assists) across the final two weekends. On Feb. 2, Sikura was named Warrior Hockey East Player of the Month for his efforts.
Last month, Keller paced all Division I freshmen with two game-winning goals and 39 shots on goal in just eight games, helping his team to a 7-2-0 record and the top ranking in the NCAA. Keller ranked second among all first-year skaters in the NCAA with 11 points, five goals, and six assists, while also making his presence known on special teams units, scoring one power-play marker, adding three assists with the man advantage and also scoring a short-handed tally.
Keller led all Hockey East freshmen in nearly every offensive category during January. His five goals, six assists, 11 points, 0.62 goals per game, 1.38 points per game, four power-play points, and one short-handed goal were all tops in the conference among rookies.
The native of Swansea, Ill., also extended his point streak to 13 games with at least one point in each January contest, including three multi-point outings. He has now recorded at least a point in all but two of the games in which he has appeared for the Terriers, despite missing seven games due to injury and one outing while he was with the U.S. National Junior Team, helping Team USA to a gold medal at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.
All eyes in the WCHA will be on the Michigan Tech vs. Bemidji State series this weekend, as the battle for the MacNaughton Cup starts to get tighter.
Let’s get picking:
Northern Michigan at Bowling Green
Jack: The Wildcats have been playing much better as of late, but is it enough for them to save their season and pull themselves out of the cellar? I don’t know, but I think they can earn a split. Wildcats 3-1, Falcons 4-2
Sean: Northern Michigan faces a difficult February to make the playoffs and they’ve been playing better lately. But is it enough to make the playoffs? They’ll get one win at Bowling Green, but not a sweep. Wildcats 3-2, Falcons 5-4.
Michigan Tech at Bemidji State
Jack: Undoubtedly the biggest series of the season in the WCHA. The second-place Huskies are four points behind the first-place Beavers. Tech has been playing excellent hockey in 2017; and they haven’t lost a WCHA game since Dec. 2 against BSU. The Beavers haven’t played as well, either, but they’ll be motivated to finish the job. Still, I have a feeling this is going to be a split and we won’t see the MacNaughton Cup decided until the final weekend, in true WCHA fashion. Beavers 3-2. Huskies 2-1
Sean: This is the series to watch, and I think it will deliver a couple exciting games. Michigan Tech knows whats on the line and will come in firing on Friday, while Bemidji State will defend home ice on Saturday. Huskies 4-1, Beavers 2-0
Minnesota State at Alaska Anchorage
Jack: Minnesota State still has an outside chance to claim the league title. I think they get closer to that goal this weekend, although it won’t be an easy sweep. Mavericks 5-3, 2-1
Sean: This feels like the most obvious sweep of the weekend. Mavericks 3-1, 4-2
Alabama Huntsville at Alaska
Jack: A big series for playoff positioning, as Alaska is three points ahead of Huntsville. I can’t really separate these teams yet, so I will cop out and call another split. Chargers 3-1, Nanooks 4-2
Sean: Both teams have been playing better lately, but something tells me the Chargers get this done and make a move in the standings. Chargers 3-2, 4-3
It’s all conference play for the six teams in the Big Ten this week. As always, though, we look at how Drew Claussen and I are doing with our picks.
Drew: 2-3-0 (.400) Paula: 1-4-0 (.200)
Drew: 60-38-13 (.599) Paula: 60-38-13 (.599)
The three B1G series this week are all single-site, all Friday-Saturday, and five of the six games are televised.
No. 11 Ohio State at Michigan
Drew: The Buckeyes were brought back to Earth by Wisconsin last weekend, almost the same way Ohio State humbled Penn State the weekend before. Michigan hasn’t been swept at home this season, so I think this one will produce a split. Of course, Ohio State playing means that a tie is also a probability.
Paula: I don’t remember the last time these two teams played when Ohio State was ranked and Michigan wasn’t. Fans unfamiliar with the Big Ten may not realize the intensity of this rivalry; these teams hate each other, in a good, old-fashioned, sporting way. This series is as old as I am (we both go back to 1964) and Michigan leads Ohio State all-time 79-36-13, including a 40-15-7 advantage in Ann Arbor. Ohio State went 2-1-1-1 against Michigan last season. The Wolverines last played Jan. 20-21, a loss and tie to Michigan State. Friday’s game in Yost Ice Arena begins at 8:05 p.m. and is carried by the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s game at 7:35 p.m. is the single B1G game this weekend that isn’t televised.
Drew’s picks: Ohio State 4-1, Michigan 3-2. Paula’s picks: Michigan 3-2, Ohio State 4-2.
No. 6 Penn State at No. 7 Minnesota
Drew: Penn State is on its first losing streak of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Nittany Lions. Penn State will have to develop a road-warrior mentality if it plans on being in the mix for the Big Ten title down the stretch. Including this weekend’s series at Minnesota, the Nittany Lions have to play two game at Wisconsin, Michigan State and Michigan. Their only two home series left are against the Gophers and Badgers.
I expect this to be a high-scoring series. Penn State likes to fire a lot of shots on net and Eric Schierhorn has been shaky in the past when he’s been tested with more than 30 shots in a game. Penn State is almost a shoe-in to get more than 30. The Gophers, however, have proved this season that they have an offense that’s capable of getting into a track meet with anyone. I’m going to pick a Minnesota sweep, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Penn State takes a game.
Paula: I think it’s hard to pick against the Gophers this weekend because they are the most consistent, unified team right now in the Big Ten. I also have a hard time seeing Penn State lose three in a row — unless what we’re seeing is a team that peaked earlier than it should have. Last weekend, Minnesota lost a close game to Minnesota-Duluth before handling easily Bemidji State, while Penn State lost to a Princeton team it should have beaten. In that loss, the Nittany Lions gave up three third-period goals to lose 5-4, just as they did Jan. 21 in their 6-3 loss to Ohio State. Minnesota leads this all-time series 9-3-0 and the teams were 2-2-0 last season, splitting in each building. The Nittany Lions are 1-5-0 in Mariucci Arena. Games Friday and Saturday night begin at 7:00 p.m. Friday’s game is on Fox Sports North Plus, while the Big Ten Network has Saturday’s.
Drew: The Badgers picked up their first sweep of the season about a month ago when they defeated the Spartans twice at Kohl Center. Wisconsin is 5-1-0 in 2017 and climbed into the national rankings for the first time since early in the 2014-15 season. Michigan State ended a nine-game losing streak last time out when the Spartans defeated Michigan and then tied the Wolverines the next night. Wisconsin still has some liabilities on the defensive side, but it’s hard to pick against the Badgers considering their recent results.
Paula: Tied for first place with Minnesota, it’s the first time this season — the first time in years — that the Badgers have had to play with targets on their collective backs. In fact, the last time Wisconsin was in first place was back in the old WCHA days, when the Badgers were tied for first with six other WCHA teams in October 2011. It will be interesting to see how they respond. I am really impressed with this Wisconsin team and with how hard it plays; that having been said, I know that Michigan State plays tenacious hockey as well. The Spartans had a bye week last weekend and that may play into the series. The Spartans are 53-49-3 against the Badgers all-time, including a 3-1-0 record against UW last season. Games begin at 7:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday and are carried by Fox Sports Wisconsin Plus.
You can join both Drew (@drewclaussen) and me (@paulacweston) on Twitter this weekend. I’ll be in East Lansing for Wisconsin-Michigan State Friday, and Drew will be covering Saturday’s Michigan-Minnesota game.
Jim and I differed on only one game last week. Fortunately, I got that one right to creep a little closer.
Dave last week: 7-3-0 Jim last week: 6-4-0 Dave’s record-to-date: 119-77-24 Jim’s record-to-date: 122-74-24
Here are this week’s picks:
Friday, Feb. 3
Maine at Providence Dave’s pick: The Black Bears aren’t going to break their winless road streak against one of the hottest teams around. PC 5, UM 2 Jim’s pick: Agree here. I believe Providence is playing its best hockey right now. So even though Maine got two wins last weekend, Providence is too tough for the Black Bears. PC 4, UM 2
UMass Lowell at Northeastern Dave’s pick: Northeastern has won four straight. Lowell has lost four straight. The game is at Northeastern. All logic points to a Huskies win, but I’m going to make the totally illogical pick. UML 4, NU 3 (OT) Jim’s pick: The reality is that Lowell was less than eight minutes from a somewhat convincing win against Northeastern last Friday before Dylan Sikura took over. I don’t believe that will happen again. UML 3, NU 1
Boston College at New Hampshire Dave’s pick: It doesn’t feel as though the Eagles are running on all cylinders right now, but after getting swept at home last weekend, UNH has a surprisingly mediocre 7-6-2 mark there. So I don’t see home ice bailing out the Wildcats. BC 4, UNH 3 Jim’s pick: I think BC has begun to find its way. Give me the Eagles. BC 5, UNH 2
Connecticut at Merrimack Dave’s pick: Merrimack is only a game over .500 at home, but after its sweep of BU last week, I’m going with them to add a third straight win. MC 3, UConn 2 Jim’s pick: I saw Merrimack’s sweep of BU and that opened by eye. But so, too, did UConn win over Vermont. UConn 3, MC 2
Massachusetts at Boston University Dave’s pick: After getting swept at Maine last weekend, the Minutemen are looking more and more like the league’s eventual last-place team. BU 5, UMass 1 Jim’s pick: Massachusetts has some decent players who can make life miserable for other teams and will do so once or twice before this season ends. But it won’t be against BU. BU 4, UMass 2
Vermont at Notre Dame Dave’s pick: Jim’s lead in our picks race (and then some) can be traced to him believing in the Catamounts long before I did. So as a kiss-and-make-up gesture, I picked them last week to beat UConn by the severely hyperbolic margin of 152-3. Of course, they lost. Catamounts, you are officially dead to me. ND 2,994,672 UVM -13 Jim’s pick: I will give you a realistic pick here. But given the fact that the Irish are at home, I’m using that as the deciding factor. ND 3, UVM 1
Saturday, Feb. 4
Merrimack at Connecticut Dave’s pick: UConn will rebound from a tough road loss to get back to .500 inside the league. UConn 4, MC 2 Jim’s pick: This feels like such a crazy pick to me (more because of Merrimack’s recent success), but I think that UConn can sweep this one. MC 3, UConn 2
Vermont at Notre Dame Dave’s pick: I suppose I can’t make another bajillion-to-a-negative-number pick again. I suppose I’ve made my point. But the Catamounts are still dead to me. ND 2, UVM 1 Jim’s pick: Call this a jump in Vermont’s road, but I see Notre Dame grabbing four points this weekend. ND 3, UVM 1
New Hampshire at UMass Lowell Dave’s pick: The River Hawks complete a big bounce-back weekend with a second win. UML 3, UNH 1 Jim’s pick: I will agree, particularly if the River Hawks keep UNH’s top line off the board. UML 4, UNH 2
Maine at Providence Dave’s pick: In a week of really tough choices, this series is a no-brainer. I’m good at no-brainers. PC 4, UM 1 Jim’s pick: Well said. Providence remains Hockey East’s hottest team.. PC 4, UM 2
Monday, Feb. 6 Beanpot
Northeastern vs Harvard Dave’s pick: Every year I pick Harvard to lose in the Beanpot, and the Crimson never let me down. But since they’ve allowed only three goals in their last four games, I’ll make the bizarro pick. HU 2, NU 1 Jim’s pick: I don’t think this pick is bizarro at all. And in fact, I agree. Harvard is playing its best hockey right now. HU 4, NU 2
Boston University vs Boston College Dave’s pick: Despite getting swept by Merrimack, BU still holds my rank as the league’s best team. BU 4, BC 3 (3 OT) Jim’s pick: BU is 2-0-0 against the Eagles this year. Let’s make that 3-0. BU 3, BC 1
Wednesday, Feb. 8
Providence at Connecticut Dave’s pick: I am firmly back on the Friars bandwagon. PC 3, UConn 2 Jim’s pick: The Friars certainly have turned a corner. Expect them to post a lot of wins down the stretch and likely climb into a top four position. This week will go a long way to making that a reality. PC 4, UConn 2
I padded my lead on Nicole in a good week, going 26-5-2 (.818) while Nicole went 20-11-2 (.636). On the year, I am 295-99-50 (.720), while Nicole is 259-135-50 (.636).
Friday, Feb. 3
Rensselaer at Colgate Candace: Colgate seems to be back on track, and the Raiders are at home. Colgate 3-1 Nicole: I think RPI gives them a tough game, but Colgate escapes. Colgate 2-1
Union at No. 7 Cornell Candace: Union will make this difficult, but I like the Big Red to get the win they need. Cornell 3-1 Nicole: Even with their low-scoring offense, this should be a win for Cornell. Cornell 3-0
No. 3 Clarkson at Dartmouth Candace: Dartmouth just doesn’t have the depth to hang with the Golden Knights. Clarkson 4-1 Nicole: I don’t think Dartmouth slows down the Golden Knights. Clarkson 4-1
No. 5 St. Lawrence at Harvard Candace: Harvard’s woeful year will continue. St. Lawrence 3-1 Nicole: It’s been a rough year in Cambridge and I don’t think it gets any better here. St. Lawrence 3-0
Yale at No. 9 Princeton Candace: Yale is a tough out, but I see the Tigers getting the key win. Princeton 3-2 Nicole: The Tigers need every win and that should carry them here. Princeton 3-1
Brown at No. 10 Quinnipiac Candace: This is another where Brown just doesn’t have the depth. Quinnipiac 2-1 Nicole: Bobcats win this. Quinnipiac 3-0
Friday-Saturday, Feb. 3-4
Maine at Merrimack Candace: Maine is on the road, which means they generally lose. Well, the Black Bears always lose on the road but it has to change at some point. Merrimack 3-1, Maine 2-1 Nicole: Maine finds a way to win against teams above them and this could be a fun series to watch. I’ll call a split. Merrimack at home in game one, Maine wins game two. Merrimack 3-1, Maine 2-0
New Hampshire at Vermont Candace: Vermont seemingly wasn’t as good as I thought. I think this is a split. Vermont 3-2, New Hampshire 3-2 Nicole: New Hampshire has a better record, but I like the Catamounts at home here in a close one. Vermont 3-2, 3-1
No. 1 Wisconsin at Bemidji State Candace: I’m not betting against the Badgers the rest of the year. Wisconsin 4-1, 4-1 Nicole: I don’t see the Beavers slowing Wisconsin. Badgers sweep. Wisconsin 4-0, 5-1
No. 4 Minnesota at Minnesota State Candace: The Gophers get a key sweep, and they need it. Minnesota 4-1, 4-0 Nicole: Even with their struggles, the Gophers should sweep this series with no problem. Minnesota 4-0, 4-1
St. Cloud State at Ohio State Candace: This could easily be a split, but I’ll pick the Buckeyes and Kassidy Suave. Ohio State 2-1, 2-1 Nicole: These two split earlier in the season and I expect the same thing again this time around. I’ll pick Ohio State in game one, St. Cloud State in game two. Ohio State 3-0, St. Cloud State 4-2
North Dakota at No. 2 Minnesota Duluth Candace: I think the Bulldogs are a different team since sweeping Minnesota. They’ll take two close games. Minnesota Duluth 3-2, 3-2 Nicole: NoDak earned a tie and a shootout win the last time these two met, so I feel like it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see them steal a win here. Calling a split with UMD winning game one and UND winning game two. Minnesota Duluth 3-1, North Dakota 4-3
Saturday, Feb. 4
Union at Colgate Candace: Colgate beats teams it should. They should beat Union. Colgate 2-0 Nicole: The Raiders have gotten back on track lately and I expect that to continue here. Colgate 3-0
Rensselaer at No. 7 Cornell Candace: Another where the Engineers will make it close but fall short. Cornell 3-2 Nicole: I like the Big Red to take this one. Cornell 3-1
No. 5 St. Lawrence at Dartmouth Candace: Unless it’s Clarkson, I’m not picking against St. Lawrence. St. Lawrence 3-1 Nicole: The Saints continue their winning ways. St. Lawrence 4-0
No. 3 Clarkson at Harvard Candace: By the end of this weekend, the Crimson will be begging for the season to end. Clarskon 4-1 Nicole: The Golden Knights have too much firepower for Harvard. Clarkson 5-1
Brown at No. 9 Princeton Candace: Princeton should firm up home ice after this weekend. Princeton 3-1 Nicole: The Tigers shouldn’t have much difficulty with Brown here. Princeton 4-1
Yale at No. 10 Quinnipiac Candace: Yale is just the type of team to trouble Quinnipiac. An upset is possible, but I’ll stick with the home team. Quinnipiac 2-1 Nicole: I’m tempted to pick an upset here, but I’ll stay with the Bobcats at home. Quinnipiac 2-0
Connecticut at No. 6 Boston College Candace: Unless the Eagles are looking ahead to Tuesday, they should win. Boston College 3-1 Nicole: BC has been on a roll and had no problems with Connecticut earlier in the season. Boston College 4-1
Providence at Northeastern Candace: Just like BC above, but Northeastern is more vulnerable. Still, I’ll pick home ice. Northeastern 3-2 Nicole: This is an intriguing one and I’m leaning toward Providence pulling an upset. Northeastern 3-2
Sunday, Feb. 5
Connecticut at Providence Candace: Home ice is what this one is all about. Providence 3-2 Nicole: Providence is still in the hunt and they need these wins. At home, I don’t see them losing. Providence 3-1
Tuesday, Feb. 7
Boston University vs. Harvard Candace: BU lost a heartbreaker to BC last week, but get the consolation win here. Boston University 3-1 Nicole: Should be a win for the Terriers. Boston University 4-1
Boston College at Northeastern Candace: Northeastern is another team that can trouble the Eagles, but I think the Huskies fall short. Boston College 3-2 Nicole: I don’t see the Huskies slowing Boston College. Eagles win the Beanpot. Boston College 3-1
No. 7 Oswego at No. 5 Elmira Elmira has the edge in the polls and ECAC West standings, but Oswego is the one team that’s upset Plattsburgh this season, so we know they can handle themselves in a high-pressure situation. This is a two-game series and I think we’ll see a split with Elmira winning game one and Oswego taking game two. Elmira 3-1, Oswego 3-2
Friday-Saturday, Feb. 3-4
Augsburg vs. Hamline (home-and-home) These two are tied atop the MIAC and play a home-and-home series. With just six games to go in the regular season, these two games are pretty crucial in crowning a top dog. I’m giving the advantage to Augsburg and their defense and I’ll pick them to sweep. Augsburg 3-1, 2-0
Endicott at Morrisville Endicott has a four-point lead atop the CHC, though Morrisville has an extra game to play before the end of the season. Morrisville has a potent offense, scoring nearly 4.5 goals per game and goalie Renee Schmaltz is the sixth-best goalie in the country. Endicott goalie Vendela Jonsson actually has a better save percentage, though her goals-against average is slightly higher. Both teams have a stingy defense, so it’ll be interesting to see which is the one that gives. I’m going to call for Morrisville to sweep, using their high-scoring offense to take the series. Morrisville 4-1, 5-3
St. Thomas at Concordia (Minn.) Three points separate the top five teams in the MIAC and St. Thomas is alone at the bottom with 15 points. Special teams could be big in this series — Concordia converts at a 25 percent and St. Thomas’ penalty kill is just 73 percent. The two teams are fairly evenly matched in terms of goals scored and against and this should be a close series. I’ll call a split with Concordia winning game one and St. Thomas edging out game two. Concordia (Minn.) 3-1, St. Thomas 2-1
Tuesday, Feb. 7
No. 9 Middlebury at No. 1 Plattsburgh These two met earlier in the season in the Panther/Cardinal tournament with Plattsburgh edging Middlebury 2-1. I don’t think you can pick against Plattsburgh, so I have to give them the edge, but I expect Middlebury to push them. Plattsburgh 3-2
Bowdoin coach emeritus Terry Meagher will be recognized as the 2017 recipient of the Parker-York Award, given by the New England Hockey Writers Association.
The award, given annually since 1959 for outstanding contributions to New England collegiate hockey, will be presented at the association’s banquet on April 11 at the Prince Restaurant in Saugus, Mass.
The legendary 33-year head coach at Bowdoin, Meagher stepped down last season after a stellar career that included 542 wins (sixth all-time among NCAA Division III coaches), a .669 winning percentage (10th all-time), two NESCAC championships and two ECAC championships.
Meagher was honored by the New England Hockey Writers Association as its Division II-III New England Coach of the Year three times. In both 1986 and 1989, he was presented with the Edward Jeremiah Mememorial Trophy, which is awarded by the American Hockey Coaches Association to the National College Division Coach of the year.
A 1976 graduate of Boston University, Meagher made three trips to the NCAA Division I Final Four in his playing career with the Terriers. During his senior year, he was voted ECAC tournament Most Valuable Player and the team’s Most Valuable Player after leading the squad in scoring. He also won the distinguished scholar-athlete award at BU as a senior.
Meagher’s predecessor, former Bowdoin coach Sid Watson, received the distinguished honor – formerly known as the Sheaffer Pen Award – in 1983.
February has arrived and the conference races continue to heat up. St. Thomas will try to maintain its hold on first place in the MIAC and Wisconsin-Stevens Point faces two WIAC tests this weekend. Concordia looks to keep its momentum rolling in the NCHA and St. Norbert will try to bounce back.
Friday, Feb. 3
Wisconsin-Stout (10-9-2, 2-2) at Wis.-Stevens Point (14-4-3, 6-3-1) Wis.-Stout has won three of its last five but is just 3-6-1 on the road. Riley Colvard leads the Blue Devils’ attack with 10 goals and seven assists. He is one of nine players with at least three or more goals. Wis.-Stout has tallied 60 goals in all. Wis.-Stevens Point has won three of its last four games and will try to keep rolling in the right direction this weekend. The Pointers have scored close to 90 goals and are led by the one-two punch of Lawrence Cornellier (14 goals, 14 assists) and Jacob Barber (14 goals, 11 assists). Wis.-Stevens Point, 5-2
Wisconsin-River Falls (10-10-1, 3-4-1) at Wisconsin-Superior (7-13-1, 1-3) The Falcons skate into this showdown riding a two-game win streak and have won four of their last five overall. Their defensive effort has been impressive, with the Falcons giving up just 46 goals. Zach Quinn has played a pivotal role in the success, fashioning an 8-6-1 record in 17 appearances. He has recorded two shutouts and has a 1.79 goals-against average. Wis.-Superior is playing Wis.-River Falls for the first time and is eager to move past the Falcons in the standings. The Yellow Jackets are 5-5 on their home ice and have gotten great production out of Daniel Litchke, who has scored 14 goals while dishing out three assists. Wis.-River Falls 4-3
Friday-Sautday, Feb. 3-4
Concordia (11-7-1, 5-4-1) at St. Thomas (10-5-4, 8-1-1) The Cobbers hit the road with a chance to improve their position in the standings. They are in fifth and have won their last two games. They defeated St. Thomas once already this year, winning 1-0 in the showcase. Concordia will lean on its defense, including goalie Sam Nelson, who has risen to the occasion often. The freshman has 11 wins and a 2.61 goals-against average. St. Thomas has won two in a row and is unbeaten at home. The Tommies feature one of the best goalies in the league in Benjamin Myers. The sophomore has won nine games and has stopped 421 shots, anchoring a defense that has given up only 43 goals. St. Thomas 4-3, Concordia 3-2
Augsburg (13-3-3, 7-1-2) vs. Hamline (10-8-3, 7-4-1) (home-and-home) No team in the MIAC has a better overall record than Augsburg, which is just one point out of first place entering the weekend. The Auggies are unbeaten in their last four, winning three times, and have scored four or more goals in each of those games. They feature one of college hockey’s best offenses, tallying 74 goals, and Nate Flynn leads the way with 10 goals. Hamline is in a position to move up in the standings, sitting just two points out of second and three points out of first. The Pipers, winners of two consecutive games, have a chance to win every time they take the ice with Russ Jordan in the lineup. Jordan leads the league in points (28) and goals (15). Mitch Hall leads the conference in assists with 19. Augsburg 5-3, Hamline 5-4
Concordia (Wis.) (11-7-1, 8-5-1) at St. Scholastica (11-7-1, 9-4-1) Concordia comes into this series on a two-game win streak and riding a wave of confidence after sweeping St. Norbert. Connor Hogg has played a key role, scoring 10 goals and dishing out four assists. The defense has been solid as well, allowing 49 goals, and the Falcons blanked St. Norbert, 3-0, last Saturday, marking the first career shutout for goalie Nick Malvin. Ranked in the top 15 for the first time and owners of a 7-3-1 road record, Concordia is poised to keep the momentum rolling. St. Scholastica has won three of four and faces a tough test at home. The Saints are 7-2 at home and have one of the top scorers in the league in Brandon Millin. Millin has come through with 12 goals and 13 assists this year. He ranks second in the conference in goals scored. The Saints have scored 68 goals in all this season. Concordia (Wis.) 5-3, 3-2
Northland (9-8-2, 7-6-1) at St. Norbert (14-4-1, 10-3-1) No team in the league is more intriguing at the moment than Northland, which has won its last four games. The Lumberjacks have turned things around in a big way this season and face one of their toughest challenges of the year playing St. Norbert on the road. The Lumberjacks have shown they can play with the best, skating to a 1-1 tie against Wis.-Stevens Point earlier this season. The Green Knights are stinging after two consecutive losses and look to rebound this weekend. St. Norbert has scored 69 goals and has one of the best defenses in the conference, allowing just 30 goals, thanks in part to the play of T.J. Black in goal. Black has won 10 games. St. Norbert 5-2, 4-2
Saturday, Feb. 4
Wisconsin-Superior (7-13-1, 1-3) at Wisconsin-Stevens Point (14-4-3, 6-3-1) This will be the second meeting of the year between the Yellow Jackets and Pointers. Wis.-Superior lost 3-2 to Wis.-Stevens Point on Jan. 24 and will look to finish the job this time around. The Yellow Jackets have won three of five and will need a big effort from Anton Svensson, who has come through with 11 goals and 14 assists. The Pointers have a solid defense, allowing only 53 goals. Part of that success is a credit to Max Milosek, who has fashioned an 11-3-3 record while recording two shutouts. Milosek has made 352 saves this year. Wis.-Stevens Point has allowed more than three goals in a game just once. Wis.-Stevens-Point 4-2
The sky is not falling, even for those teams, like me, that may not have had the best of weekends and lost a bit of momentum heading into the February stretch run. Redemption is as close as the next game away and there is still time to get on a streak and build confidence for the playoff positioning and conference tournaments. For the first time, I found myself on the losing side of my picks at 3-4-1 (.438) which drops the season total to 54-26-8 (.659). It is time to rally with a solid week of picks.
Here are this week’s picks that include some great rivalries and key conference games.
Thursday, Feb. 2
Curry at Western New England The Colonels can be one of the very best teams in the CCC on any given night, but beating teams they need to separate from in the standings has not always been so easy so far this season. This one is close, but they get it done on the road. Curry 3-2
Worcester State at Massachusetts Dartmouth This is a game the Corsairs need in a big way if they want to stay in the top three comfortably or maybe sneak up on Salem State in second place. Casey Shea and Matt Baldino have been carrying the load offensively and do it again at home. UMass Dartmouth 4-3.
Friday, Feb. 3
Norwich at Babson The Cadets aren’t about to go into cruise mode having clinched the number one seed, and the rivalry with Babson helps stoke the fire for keeping the intensity high. The Beavers have had trouble scoring and the Cadets would prefer to keep that trend going. Norwich 4-2
Trinity at Williams Very quietly, Williams has risen to the top of the NESCAC standings but faces a stern challenge in the Bantams, who would prefer two-point wins over last week’s tie results. This one may very well be a tie but will pick the home team because their power play is deadly. Williams 2-1
Potsdam at Oswego Beware the TRAP GAME on the night before the rivals from Plattsburgh come to town. The Lakers best be careful and not underestimate Dylan Vander Esch and company and not likely they will. Too much offense for the home team. Oswego 4-1
Saturday, Feb. 4
Franklin Pierce at Southern New Hampshire The second half has been extraordinarily ugly for the Penmen, who have not won a game since the break. The good news is that they have defeated the Ravens in their two prior meetings by 4-1 and 4-2 scores. The Ravens inch closer but don’t avoid the sweep. Southern New Hampshire 4-3
University of New England at Johnson & Wales This is simply a question of whether or not the Wildcats can stop the B-F-F line of Bloom, Fleurent and Fleurent and their knack for collecting multiple points apiece each and every game. Nobody has slowed them down yet and J&W is the latest team to suffer their combined offensive skills. University of New England 5-3
Hobart at Utica The battle for first place in the ECAC West is a home game for the Pioneers, but Hobart is looking to return the favor of inflicting a loss as the visitor Utica did to them way back in November. This one should have a playoff atmosphere and the outcome is a one-goal thriller. Hobart 2-1
Regular season weekends are down to low single digits and that means there better be some sense of urgency in everyone’s game! “Drop the puck!”
The Bobcats look to get back on track as they face the Brown Bears. Brown only has one win in 2017, but I expect them to come out hard playing at home. Despite Quinnipiac’s struggles, their depth should take over. Bobcats win.
Dartmouth at Harvard, 7:30 p.m.
This should be intriguing match-up as the Big Green defeated Harvard 8-4 two and half weeks ago up in Hanover. Dartmouth hasn’t had much success outside of Thompson Arena this season. The Crimson seem to be back in rhythm after a slump after Christmas break. They also have the Beanpot on Monday so this game could easily be a trap game. Harvard wins a close one.
Colgate at Rensselaer
Both teams have been struggling, but this is important game for playoff seeding. Colgate has 10 points while RPI has six. The Raiders are sitting in ninth while the Engineers are in 12th. With Brown facing Quinnipiac, RPI can start moving up the ladder with a win. Colgate can be tied with Dartmouth at the end night for eighth. The Raiders win.
Cornell at Union, 8:30 p.m.
This one should be a great game. Both teams are playing some outstanding hockey lately. This game should feature a good offense vs. a good defense. Will the Big Red be able to limit Mike Vecchione, Sebastian Vidmar and Spencer Foo? Will those three players be able to solve Mitch Gillam in Cornell’s crease. The Achilles Center should be rocking and that should play apart in the game. Union wins.
Princeton at Yale
The Bulldogs have been playing some pretty good hockey in 2017. Patrick Spano was named the goaltender of the month for January and I think his hot play continues in February. It won’t be an easy game because the Tigers like to play up to the competition. Yale wins a tight one.
Saturday, Feb. 4
Princeton at Brown, 4 p.m.
Both teams will be trying to move up from the bottom of the standings this weekend. It should be an intriguing battle Saturday afternoon. Princeton’s top six should be the difference maker in the contest. Tigers win.
St. Lawrence at Clarkson
Another intriguing contest on the schedule this week as two rivals meet up. The Saints are riding high over their victory over Union Saturday night. The Golden Knights are looking to halt a three game losing streak. Rivalry games tend to be close. Saints squeak a win out.
Cornell at Rensselaer
The Big Red should be hungry as they look to get back to their winning ways. They play very well on the road and I think that continues on Saturday. RPI will look to Evan Tironese and Riley Bourbonnais to keep the game close, but offense has been a struggle all season for RPI. Cornell wins.
Colgate at Union
Both teams look to get four points out of the weekend from my predictions. The Raiders will need an unexpected offensive explosion to keep up with the Dutchmen as they have only score 1.92 goals in conference games. Charlie Finn has the ability to steal a game. If it’s low scoring, the Raiders have a chance. I am taking the Dutchmen.
Quinnipiac at Yale
The Bobcats are starting to feel the heat from the middle of the pack of the standings. One of those teams is Yale. This should be a battle between instate rivals. Can the Quinnipiac’s offense come together and put pucks behind Spano which hasn’t happened too much lately. Will Yale continue to get secondary scoring like they did last week? Quinnipiac responds well to playing a team that’s chasing them. Bobcats win.
Monday, Feb. 6
Northeastern vs. Harvard, TD Garden in Boston, 5 p.m.
Harvard completes their battle of Boston area schools with their opening round game of the Beanpot against Northeastern. Both teams will be pumped up and it will be interesting to see which Northeastern team comes to play. They have been up and down all year. They are on a four game winning streak coming to the weekend. It will be a close one. Harvard wins.
Tuesday, Feb. 7
Colgate at Cornell
The Big Red return home where they dropped their previous two games. With a 4-3-1 record at home this game is a perfect opportunity to start building a home ice advantage with playoffs coming around the corner. The Raiders hope they can steal two points and getting four of six points out of thee would be outstanding for them. Cornell doesn’t want end this year like they did last year down the stretch. The victory goes to the Big Red.
Well, I was quite prescient last weekend, at least on Friday, and further built on my lead on Matthew in our picks race. Last weekend, I went 6-2 (.750) while Matthew went 3-5 (.375). On the year, I am now 73-51-19 (.576) while Matthew is 58-66-19 (.472).
Three NCHC teams are off this weekend, so it’s a light picks weekend.
Friday-Saturday, Feb. 3-4
Omaha at No. 1 Minnesota Duluth Candace: Duluth has looked stronger and stronger. The Bulldogs might be vulnerable to a letdown after winning the North Star College Cup last weekend, but it could also give them a boost of momentum. I’ll take the latter. Minnesota Duluth 3-2, 4-2 Matthew: Omaha needs to get something here, but I don’t know if it’ll happen. Minnesota Duluth 3-1, 3-2
St. Cloud State at No. 13 North Dakota Candace: This could be a split, as St. Cloud State has looked good of late. The last time out, North Dakota emerged with two shutouts. Both teams really need the points. I’ll take North Dakota to sweep, but I have no confidence in this pick. North Dakota 3-2, 3-2 Matthew: UND won’t do to St. Cloud in Grand Forks what the Fighting Hawks did to SCSU on the Huskies’ home ice. I could see a UND sweep here but I’ll take a split. St. Cloud State 3-1, North Dakota 3-1
Arizona State at No. 9 Western Michigan Candace: Arizona State is coming off an impressive win over No. 17 Quinnipiac, but their last game against an NCHC team was a 6-1 loss to Denver. Western should sweep at home. Western Michigan 4-1, 4-1 Matthew: Western has been very good at home this season, and the Sun Devils aren’t anything special. If the Broncos stay focused, they should sweep here. Western Michigan 3-1, 4-1
February is going to define the season for Northern Michigan.
After a bye in the final weekend of January, the Wildcats are looking at their final eight regular season games from the bottom of the WCHA standings and they need instant results.
Northern Michigan is tied for last with Alaska Anchorage in the WCHA with 19 points. In a format where the top-eight teams make the playoffs, the Wildcats are five points out of eighth place and eight points behind seventh-place Alaska.
Northern Michigan picked up six of those 19 points it swept Alaska-Anchorage on Jan. 21 and 22 — and impressive 10-1 aggregate weekend — the Wildcats are hoping a bye week won’t deter their movement up the standings.
“Hopefully, we can keep the momentum that we built (against Anchorage),” Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle said. “When you had a little bit of success, with the start that we had to this season, you don’t want a bye. You want to keep going and rolling.”
And a difficult February schedule will really test Northern Michigan, starting this weekend against Bowling Green. In their final four series, the Wildcats will play three teams in the top four of the WCHA standings (Bowling Green, Minnesota State, and Michigan Tech) and an Alaska team that will be trying to lock up a playoff spot.
If Northern Michigan is going to make a move, they’ll rely on their senior leaders.
“I think teams have to be a little bit more aware of what we’re capable of,” Kyle said.
Dominik Shine has 15 goals and 20 points in 22 games, while Gerard Hanson has five goals and 20 points in 28 games.
Fellow senior Shane Sooth has only played eight games this season, but has eight points since joining the team around the midpoint of the season.
“We played the whole first semester without Shane and he’s our top center,” Kyle said. “And if you look at (Shine’s) history, he just took off in the second half of the year. He’s doing that now, he’s playing at a higher level than he’s ever played at. And I think he’s the most dangerous guy in the league right now.”
Big showdown in Bemidji
The road to the MacNaughton Cup will go through Bemidji.
The WCHA’s championship trophy has, on occasion, made an appearance at Bemidji State’s Sanford Center, but never before has the home team been the one playing for it.
The cup likely won’t be in Bemidji this weekend, but when the Beavers host Michigan Tech on Friday and Saturday, it will feel like a championship series.
Beavers coach Tom Serratore said it’s going to be the biggest series in the short history of the Sanford Center, which opened in 2010.
“There’s no question,” Serratore said. “There’s a lot on the line, having the first- and second-place teams and being so tight in the standings, I don’t think there’s any question that this is going to be the biggest series we’ve had in this building.”
First-place Bemidji State is four points ahead of second-place Michigan Tech. Each team has just six games to play. They’re the only two teams so far to have clinched playoff spots.
The Beavers have 52 points while the Huskies have 48; Minnesota State still has an outside chance in third place with 39 points. BSU has been in first place essentially from wire-to-wire.
“This will have a huge say in who wins the MacNaughton Cup. It looks like it’s coming down to three teams,” Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson said. “This is why we play the game, this is why you put in all the hours and all the travel, so you can come to a series like this that will have a big outcome.”
The Beavers and the Huskies already split one series earlier this season in Houghton. BSU won 3-1 in Friday’s first game and the Huskies took the second by a 2-1 count.
— Four WCHA players made the Hobey Baker Award fan ballot: Bemidji State junior goaltender Michael Bitzer, Alabama-Huntsville junior forward Josh Kestner, Ferris State senior forward Gerald Mayhew and Michigan Tech freshman goaltender Angus Redmond.
— Lake Superior State goaltender Gordon Defiel ranks third nationally and first in the WCHA with saves, clocking in at 709. The junior led the NCAA with 1,148 stops as a freshman.
— Michigan Tech’s seven ties so far this season have matched the school record set by the 2008-09 (6-25-7) and 2013-14 (14-19-7) teams. The Huskies have lost just once in 2017 (at Notre Dame) and are on a nine-game unbeaten streak in WCHA play. Their last loss was Dec. 2 against Bemidji State.
— Minnesota State’s Marc Michaelis leads all NCAA freshmen with 31 points (11g-20a) and is fifth with an average of 1.11 points-per-game.
Players of the Week
Michigan Tech’s Reid Sturos (Offensive), Minnesota State’s Daniel Brickley (defensive) and Parker Tuomie (rookie) were named the WCHA players of the week.
Merrimack announced Thursday a multi-year contract extension for head coach Mark Dennehy.
The 2009-10 and 2010-11 All-New England Coach of the Year, Dennehy is in the midst of his 12th season behind the bench of the Warriors.
“Mark has done an excellent job in developing and elevating the profile of the men’s ice hockey program over the last 12 years,” said Merrimack director of athletics Jeremy Gibson in a statement. “He brings to Merrimack a distinct vision for success and strives to attract and develop outstanding student-athletes and coaches.”
“I would like to thank President [Dr. Christopher E.] Hopey and director of athletics Jeremy Gibson for their faith in me, and I look forward to working with them to bring this college to new heights on the ice, in the classroom and within the community,” added Dennehy.
Merrimack recently passed the 10-win threshold after posting a regular-season sweep of then-No. 1 Boston University, securing the first season series sweep of BU in school history and the program’s third and fourth wins against a top-ranked team and first in nearly 20 years.
In 2015-16, Dennehy’s leadership of a young Warrior squad produced the highest finish in the league standings in three years. Merrimack started the season 6-1-3 and hosted a playoff series at Lawler Rink for just the third time ever, as the Warriors defeated New Hampshire to advance to the Hockey East quarterfinals for the second straight season.
Off the ice, the Merrimack Men’s Hockey program continues to shine. The program posted a perfect Academic Progress Rate (APR) score for the third straight year and earned an NCAA Public Recognition Award for ranking among the top-10 percent nationwide in APR for the third straight year.
Additionally, a league-high 19 Warriors earned Hockey East All-Academic honors in 2015-16, marking the third straight year and fifth time in the last eight season that the program paced Hockey East in All-Academic accolades. Merrimack has also had a Top Scholar-Athlete in each of the last three years and had five student-athletes earn that distinction in 2015-16.
Dennehy became the seventh head coach in program history on June 30, 2005. He came from Massachusetts (2000-05) and also spent time at Princeton (1994-99) and Fairfield (1999-00).
Former Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer, who led the Badgers to two national championships, died Thursday morning.
He was 73.
Sauer had been suffering from pancreatic cancer, said Dan Brennan, the director of sled and inline national teams for USA Hockey.
Sauer coached the Badgers from 1982 to 2002, winning NCAA titles in 1983 and 1990 and recently, coached the U.S. sled hockey team, winning the Paralympic title in 2014. He also guided the U.S. team at the 2007 Winter Deaflympics to a gold medal.
“Those players touched his heart, and he returned the favor back to them,” Brennan told the Wisconsin State Journal. “They’re devastated right now. He meant the world to them. They played their hearts out for him because they had so much respect for him.”
We are saddened to learn of the passing of Jeff Sauer. He was a great friend, representative of Wisconsin & incredible ambassador for hockey pic.twitter.com/OLyOOIS86f
In a 31-year college career that began at Colorado College, he won 665 games, good for 10th all-time.
Sauer was inducted into the USA Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014 and into the UW Athletics Hall of Fame last year. He also collected the Distinguished Achievement Award from USA Hockey in 2000, the John “Snooks” Kelly Founders Award from the American Hockey Coaches Association in 2004 and the Lester Patrick Trophy from the NHL in 2011. Sauer also was inducted into the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame, Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame, the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame and the Colorado College Athletic Hall of Fame.
The WCHA released a statement Thursday afternoon:
“The Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) joins the hockey family in mourning the passing of Jeff Sauer, a legendary coach and ambassador for the game; and, above all, a wonderful person. Quite simply, Coach Sauer had an indelibly positive impact upon everyone whom he met, from players and fellow coaches, to equipment managers and trainers; from sports information directors and media, to administrators and fans. Words cannot express our sorrow at his loss, nor the gratitude for the joy he brought to our lives.
“Coach Sauer’s love for hockey and desire to grow the game was evident throughout his life and career. From his playing days at Colorado College, through his coaching career with the Tigers and Wisconsin; and, most recently his extensive involvement with the U.S. National Sled Team and the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association, Jeff embodied the kindness, generosity and heart that makes our sport truly special.
“All who knew Coach Sauer, on and off the ice, are better for the experience. We are blessed that he was – and always will be – part of the WCHA family.
On behalf of the WCHA and all our member institutions, our thoughts, prayers and best wishes are with the entire Sauer family.”
“When you talk about positive people that genuinely care, Jeff Sauer is at the top of the list,” added Jim Smith, president of USA Hockey. “He’s a giant in our sport overall, but particularly from the USA Hockey perspective, he really made a difference on the advancement and visibility of disabled hockey.”
“There are few like Jeff,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. “He brought an infectious joy to our sport every single day. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his wife Jamie and the entire family.” “He always cared so much about his players,” said Jim Johannson, assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey of Sauer, who he played for collegiately at Wisconsin. “Our sport at all levels benefited from Jeff’s unending passion and commitment.”
“Coach Sauer will be dearly missed by all those who were fortunate to have known him,” added Brennan. “He was a great coach who always made hockey fun and he treated everyone in the game and in life as his equal. Our national sled hockey players loved him as did so many who were fortunate to play for him and coach at his side.
“Our great game lost a genuine legend today.”
Sauer’s illness was kept private up until recently.
“He was a very prideful man, very personal, and didn’t want people to know,” Brennan added. “In true Coach Sauer fashion, he didn’t want anybody to worry about him. He was always concerned about other people far more than himself.”
Sauer grew up in St. Paul, Minn., and played baseball and hockey at Colorado College.
“Our entire athletic department family is saddened to hear of the passing of Coach Sauer,” UW director of athletics Barry Alvarez said in a statement. “Jeff was a hockey man through and through. He had a passion for the sport and for coaching, and his imprint on the game will be felt forever through the lives he touched. Our hockey programs at Wisconsin benefitted greatly from Jeff’s influence. I want to extend the condolences of Wisconsin athletics to Jeff’s family, friends, colleagues and former players.”
“Coach Sauer’s record speaks for itself, but he’s just done so much besides coaching hockey,” current Badgers men’s coach Tony Granato added. “That is the part I will miss most about him. He was about caring for people and sharing. I watched him volunteer endlessly for both the U.S. Sled Hockey and Hearing Impaired teams and watched him do anything that was asked of him for any special situation that was needed.
“He was just a great person and anyone that has had the pleasure of knowing him, playing for him or that was touched by what he gave us was just so lucky to have him as a coach and friend.”
Sauer is survived by his wife, Jamie, and children, Chip and Beth.
Thursday, February 2 and Friday, February 3 Holy Cross vs. American International Dan: Back in ancient times, this would be a series where I would say the following: “AIC has a very real chance to steal a game and throw a wrench into the playoff race.” Instead, my tag line is this: “AIC has a very real chance to position themselves for a run at home ice in the playoffs.” I think they’ll stay in the hunt with a split, so I’m going with the home team in each game. AIC wins on Thursday, Holy Cross on Friday. Chris: This is a home-and-home series with the Yellow Jackets hosting Thursday and the action shifting to Worcester on Friday. Just three points separate the two teams, with AIC taking three of four points from the Crusaders earlier this season. But I think Holy Cross will return the favor this weekend. I’m going with a Crusaders sweep.
Friday, February 3 and Saturday, February 4 Air Force at Bentley Dan: Air Force comes east to take on Bentley on a “super” weekend in Massachusetts. Oh come on, you didn’t think you’d get through this without a Tom Brady reference did you? I really like the way Bentley is currently playing, and they’re positioning themselves for a late-season run at a first round bye – provided they have another solid weekend. A split against the banged-up western Falcons would be a help. This is a sneaky good goaltending matchup between Shane Starrett and the combination of Aidan Pelino and Jayson Argue. Bentley wins on Friday. Air Force wins on Saturday. Chris: The second installment of the Battle of the Falcons resumes after the teams traded lopsided wins in Colorado Springs earlier this season. Air Force coach Frank Serratore has said that historically his teams have not matched up well with Bentley, but despite the AFA-Falcons’ injuries and the home ice advantage for the BU-Falcons, I’m picking an Air Force sweep.
Army West Point at Canisius Dan: Ever watch a good, old-fashioned pitcher’s duel in baseball? Those are the games that end 1-0 after it’s 0-0 into the ninth inning. Get ready to enjoy those, and I wouldn’t put it past a 0-0 tie in one of these games. Now that I said that, prepare for a 6-5 final somewhere along the line. Canisius sweeps. Chris: If you like great goaltending, make sure you get to HARBORCENTER this weekend. Canisius’ Charles Williams and AWP’s Parker Gahagen are two of college hockey’s best, and along with Robert Morris forward Brady Ferguson, are arguably the top three favorites in the league for a Hobey Baker nomination (the real one, not the one used for fan voting). Anyway, the picks. It’s a tough choice, but I’m going with a gut feeling that we’ll see a Canisius sweep.
Sacred Heart at Mercyhurst Dan: Sacred Heart is starting to turn the corner, but so is Mercyhurst. Home ice advantage wins out here for my pick. Mercyhurst sweeps. Chris: The Lakers are coming off their first series sweep of the season and I think they’ll keep it rolling against a good SHU team that’s playing some of its best hockey right now. I think they’ll be close games, but I’m going with a Mercyhurst sweep on home ice.
Rochester Institute of Technology at Robert Morris Dan: I’m falling back on the adage that you’re never as bad as when you’re playing badly. Unfortunately for RIT, that might just be a consolation prize. They’re struggling as of late with a number of factors, including the injury bug, and that’s trouble heading on the road to take on an RMU team that’s looking for a bounceback after a split last weekend and a 2-2 record in their last four. RMU sweeps. Chris: RIT is looking to avoid its sixth straight defeat, which would set the school mark for consecutive losses. The Tigers are missing several key players to injury, and I think their losing streak will continue against an RMU team that’s had only two losses since Christmas. Robert Morris sweeps.
Amherst coach Jeffrey Matthews and his staff take a unique and interesting approach to coaching. His players are student-athletes and he sees the coaching staff as an extension of the academic tradition at Amherst — another branch on the educational tree, so to speak.
That educator-first mindset is the basis of the culture of the women’s hockey program at Amherst.
“We measure our success by how much we improve and we’re totally a process-oriented team as opposed to focusing on the outcome,” said Matthews. “We’re excited about the progress we’ve seen from day one until now. That’s our simple goal, to try to improve as much as we can and try to stay humble in our wins and losses and try to take lessons from every day and try to keep building.”
It’s Matthews’ philosophy, but it’s become increasingly relevant and necessary in an improving conference like the NESCAC. Eight of nine conference teams are within six points of each other and three teams — Amherst included — are tied for first place with 14 points. Coaches love to talk about how parity has increased and how there are no “off games” in their conference, but it’s less cliché and more actual fact when it comes to the NESCAC.
With all but two teams playing above-.500 hockey, Matthews believes intangibles — not talent or skill — are what will separate teams and allow someone to rise to the top. It just so happens that things like work ethic, preparation, and chemistry — the intangibles that may help Amherst separate themselves from the rest of the conference — are also the things that Matthews focuses on to help his student-athletes outside the classroom as well.
It’s a “development of the whole-person” attitude that isn’t often applied to athletics, but seems to be serving No. 8 Amherst well.
“(We value) those intangibles because those are the things that we want them to carry with them throughout life that’ll help them face adversity and the challenges they’re going to face in their lives beyond college. They’ll lean on those intangibles that they learned to value,” he said.
It might be a cyclical argument about what comes first, but Matthews believes that if his team stays true to their standards and principles, the results will come on the ice. From developing emotional intelligence and leadership skills to learning about sleep habits and nutrition, the whole idea is to stay focused on the process and perform their best while creating habits that will serve them in life outside hockey for decades to come.
“(We’re) focusing on developing people.” said Matthews. “We’re trying to develop their minds just as much or more as any hockey skills. The natural byproduct is you’ll be a better athlete. It’s all encompassing for us, our approach. We’re not going to measure our success on where we’re ranked. It’s about how committed are we to our core values — humility, gratitude, grit, and enthusiasm — and making the most of the opportunity. Ultimately, we want to see (our players) succeed and flourish and inspire them to chase their dreams and pursue their passion.”
By setting this as the standard at Amherst, Matthews is probably making his job more difficult. Teaching skills and systems is straightforward. Teaching concepts and intangibles is a lot more nebulous and a lot more difficult to get right. It takes patience and a willingness to have totally open communication, Matthews said, but it means that the staff often is learning just as much as the student-athletes are and it helps narrow the gap between the coaching staff and the athletes — and helps the students feel involved, valued, and a part of something bigger.
Amherst has been successful rotating two junior goalies, Bailey Plaman and Sabrina Dobbins, in the net. While it wasn’t necessarily how Matthews saw things playing out, both players have earned the right to starts.
“They are two fabulous human beings,” said Matthews. “No question with their attitude and approach, they push each other and drive each other to excel and improve, which they both have done since they’ve been here. They both have contributed to our success. (Playing two goalies) goes hand-in-hand with our philosophy to constantly improve. We’re constantly evaluating.”
There is no hierarchy at Amherst. It keeps the players from being complacent, but also helps first-year players feel welcomed and not intimidated. No one player is more than any other and Matthews feels like the depth that gives his team is crucial to be successful in the increasingly competitive league.
Amherst’s top scorer is Alex Toupal. She’s tied for seventh in the nation with 16 goals, but that’s not what impresses Matthews the most.
“She’s a tremendous hockey player who works extremely hard and she has a great passion for the game. When your top player has that work ethic in addition to skill, that’s what I think is going to be the differentiator come crunch time. That attitude and tenaciousness and work ethic will be the difference-maker.”
That Toupal is so successful on the ice while embodying the principles, the intangibles, that Matthews values so highly is a testament to the validity of his approach. It’s easy to preach to his players when they have someone like Toubal to look up to — a successful player on and off the ice who works hard, embodies the Amherst spirit, and finds the back of the net.
Whether or not Matthews’ philosophies translate to success on the ice might be a question as yet fully answered. The program has had more wins each year of his tenure and earned an NCAA at-large bid last season after earning the program’s best regular season record in history. They finished the year ranked sixth in the country. With just five games left in the regular season, they share the lead in their conference and seem to be poised to make another postseason run.
Thomas Williams came to St. Thomas with a great deal of potential, and it’s safe to say he has lived up to it.
Consistent throughout his career as a scorer, Williams is well on his way to making his senior season with the Tommies his best one yet, scoring seven goals and dishing out seven assists in 19 games for a St. Thomas team that sits in first place in the MIAC standings.
“I feel like I’ve stepped into more of a leadership role and have focused more on team success than individual stats,” Williams said. “I’ve stepped up where my team has needed me to step up.”
Williams has thrived in that role and is playing with the added motivation of this being his last go-round in college hockey.
“You see the game differently when you are senior than you did earlier in college or even in junior hockey,” Williams said. “You have the experience of being there before and that makes a difference, and you realize with time winding down, you want to make every game count.”
Of course, Williams has been making games count since his freshman year. With seven goals and nine assists as a freshman, the talented forward earned a spot on the MIAC all-rookie team.
He scored seven goals again as a sophomore and also tallied four assists as well. Williams finished with five goals and nine assists as a junior. Five of his goals have gone for game-winners.
He hasn’t missed a beat this season for a Tommies team that is 10-5-4 overall and 8-1-1 in the conference.
“It’s been a good season and I’m happy with how I’ve played,” Williams said. “We’d love to have our win-loss record a little better, but we’ve come a long way as a team and are playing well.”
Every weekend is a battle in the MIAC, a conference where five points separate the top four teams in the standings.
“We have a very deep conference and every game is a big one,” Williams said. “We always get an opponent’s best effort and that means we have to bring our best effort.”
The Tommies missed the NCAA tournament a year ago, a rare occurrence for one of the most successful programs in college hockey, but are hoping to get there this season.
“We just have to keep improving as a team and stick with the process,” Williams said. “If we do that, we’ll be in a good position at the end.”
Williams will do everything he can to make that happen and takes pride in having the opportunity to compete for the Tommies.
“It’s a great honor to play here,” Williams said. “We talk all of the time about the pride in putting on that jersey and playing hard every time you take the ice.”
Pipers rise in standings Hamline moved into third place over the weekend with a pair of wins over the Royals. The Pipers picked up a 5-3 win Friday and completed the sweep with a 3-2 overtime win Saturday.
Russ Jordan continues to thrive for Hamline, scoring his 15th goal of the year on Saturday. The top scoring threat in the conference also scored a goal in Friday’s game.
Jordan, who has also tallied 13 assists, has helped the Pipers win three of their last four games and finish the month of January with a 4-4-1 record. They are 10-8-3 overall and 7-4-1 in the conference, and with 22 points on the year, sit just two points behind second-place St. Thomas. The wins match their win total from all of last season.
Justin Quale has been instrumental to the Pipers’ success as well, starting 16 games and winning seven times. He has a 2.68 goals-against average and made 46 saves in the sweep of Bethel.
MIAC leaders: Russ Jordan of Hamline continues to be the top scoring threat in the conference. He leads the MIAC in points (28) and goals (15). Teammate Mitch Hall is the leader in assists in the league, tallying 19. Ben Myers of St. Thomas has the most saves at 421 and Andrew Lindgren of Saint John’s has the best goals-against average at 1.93.
Pointers back in action Wisconsin-Stevens Point was off last weekend but returns to the ice this weekend with two WIAC games. The Pointers take on Wisconsin-Stout Friday and battle Wisconsin-Superior Saturday. They last played Jan. 24, when they knocked off Wis.-Superior 3-2.
Wis.-Stevens Point has won three of its last four and features an offense in which eight players have tallied at least 13 points.
Lawrence Cornellier is the leader of the potent attack, punching in 14 goals and dishing out 14 assists. Jacob Barber has also come through with 14 goals. He has also dished out 11 assists. The Pointers, who are the reigning national champs, have racked up 132 assists in all.
Interestingly enough, Wis.-Stevens Point has managed to tally five or more goals just three times in its last eight games. The Pointers scored five or more five times in 14 games during the first half of the year.
WIAC leaders: Patrick Moore of Wisconsin-Eau Claire remains atop the leader board in points, racking up 36. His effort has been fueled by a league-best 21 assists. Moore also leads the WIAC in goals scored with 15. Zach Quinn of Wisconsin-River Falls owns the best goals-against average in the WIAC (1.79), while Wis.-Eau Claire goalie Jay Deo has the most saves (502).
Lumberjacks continue streak Northland is one of the hottest teams in the NCHA, closing out January on a four-game win streak.
The Lumberjacks have swept Aurora and Finlandia, scoring six or more goals in three of their wins. The streak includes a 6-0 shutout of the Lions Jan. 27, marking the first time this year Northland has kept an opponent off the scoreboard.
After winning only seven games a year ago, Northland already has nine wins and is above .500 with a 9-8-2 record. The Lumberjacks are 5-4-1 at home this season.
Their offense is much better than it was last season, scoring 64 goals on the year, five more than Northland scored all of last season. Michael Berens has been instrumental to the team’s success, punching in 10 goals to go along with 10 assists.
NCHA leaders: Cory Dunn of Adrian leads the NCHA in points (27). The total includes a league-leading 20 assists. Jack Lewis of Lake Forest tops the league in goals scored (15). St. Norbert goalie T.J. Black owns the best goals-against average (1.16) in the NCHA and has the most wins (10).
For many teams, the holiday break was exactly that, a holiday break. For the Hobart Statesmen, the holiday break included a unique opportunity to visit and play hockey in France and Switzerland. From December 28, 2016, through January 7, 2017, the team spent time in the French Alps touring, skiing, and visiting the U.N. and other landmarks in the Geneva area while also playing very competitive hockey against professional teams in the area, where they won four of five games on the trip. For many it was a once in a lifetime trip with so much on and off the ice shared as a team. Now the No. 5 Statesmen have returned stateside and the focus has turned from exhilarating exhibition hockey to the run to the playoffs in the ECAC West.
“It was an experience none of us had before,” noted senior Nick Bingaman. “We definitely came together more as a team on the trip and maybe learned the most in our loss to the team from Gap. Their puck management, crisp passing and defense activating into the offense were all something we saw at a higher level than what we are used to seeing, especially on the big ice surfaces over there. It was a learning experience, but we had a lot of success too and we can build on that back in our schedule here.”
“We have it going good right now,” said coach Mark Taylor. “Not that I was disappointed at all with the first half or the great experience we had on the European trip, but we weren’t quite where I thought we could be. I think we can still be one or two clicks better and that is what it is all about in the remaining games, is getting better and keeping the focus on improving our game at the most important time of the year.”
Since their trip to Europe brought them back to the U.S. at the end of the first week in January, Hobart didn’t get back to their D-III schedule until two nonconference contests at home against Salve Regina and the University of New England on January 13-14. The Statesmen won both games by 4-1 and 5-1 scores, and that started a current seven-game win streak and extended their unbeaten streak from December to 11 games. Included in the current streak is a big road win over nationally ranked Geneseo last Tuesday by a 3-2 score.
“That was a big win for us,” said Taylor. “Winning those games against high-caliber opponents is what we need to do if we have aspirations of playing hockey beyond the conference schedule. We need to continue to get wins and even our only two losses are against really good teams. Utica beat us back in November when they were going very well and Manhattanville tripped us up early in the season. Even our ties are against quality opponents in Skidmore and Trinity. Like our schedule in Europe, we play these games to position us for the NCAA tournament and making us a better hockey club.”
Following the win over Geneseo, Hobart returned to ECAC West play with two wins over Lebanon Valley and Stevenson this past weekend. The games showcased some high-octane offense, as well as the ability to win a tight playoff style game, as was the case with Saturday’s overtime win against Stevenson. The leadership and performance on the ice from players like Bingaman and Bobby Sokol has the coach pleased with the effort and energy brought every night.
“With this class there probably aren’t enough C’s around to put on all their jerseys, but Nick and Bobby and the rest of the seniors know what our goals are and how to be ready to play,” noted Taylor. “You recruit these kids because they bring those qualities to your program and it isn’t a surprise to see Nick and Bobby also leading the way on the score sheet.”
“As seniors, we know that this is really our last chance at hopefully making a run to Utica,” said Sokol. “I think we are all a little more focused and working a little harder every day in practice and that is rubbing off on the rest of the team that sees that effort and is stepping up to match it.”
Bingaman leads the team with 14 goals and 21 points, while Sokol is just behind him with nine goals and seven assists for 16 points to date. Both have a pair of power-play goals among their tallies, but their versatility in all situations has been integral to Hobart’s success. So where is the focus to improve those “two clicks?”
“I think our biggest area to improve is the power play,” said Bingaman. “We have played together as a group for a couple of years now and we need to make sure we are all on the same page, keep a high level of intensity and have no drop-off.”
“I think we need to shoot more,” added Sokol. “We can pass the puck around and make possession look good but we need to create chances and rebounds with shots and activity around the goal. We are having more success in practice doing that so hopefully it translates into the games.”
“We look at special teams as always wanting to be 20/10,” stated Taylor. “We want to be successful 20 percent of the time on the man advantage and give up goals 10 percent or less on the penalty kill. We aren’t quite there yet and in looking at some of the game sheets sometimes we can’t believe we didn’t score a power-play goal. Of course, there is a difference on how we look at success overall vs. a five-on-four or five-on-three situation, but we have room to improve there — maybe one more click.”
With the recent announcement regarding next year’s move from the ECAC West to the NEHC, Hobart is focused on the here and now starting with Friday night’s game at Nazareth.
“Nazareth beat Oswego — enough said,” stated Taylor. “There is never a perfect time to announce something like a league change and honestly I haven’t had any questions from our team about what happens next year. They are focused on this year and Nazareth. Our decision to move was the right decision for our program. We will of course look to keep some of long-standing rivalries and Skidmore will be our travel partner in the NEHC. It really is about the big pool that is D3 hockey and the chance to compete in the NCAA tournament.”
Without an autobid, Hobart and coach Taylor know it’s about winning as many games as you can to influence at-large bids. With just six games remaining in the regular season, the current conference schedule is the immediate focus, and while their trip to the Alps is still a vivid memory, Hobart is looking to keep the fun and positive results from December climbing into March and a date in Utica.