Another change at the top as the red-hot Bulldogs steamroll into December on a mighty-large unbeaten streak:
1 — Minnesota Duluth (Last week: 2)
The Bulldogs are a buzz saw right now and jump up in this week’s rankings despite being idle last weekend. It will be interesting to see how UMD handles their time off and if any rust developed over their 13-day layoff. Their road trip this weekend to Houghton won’t be easy either — the Huskies have lost just once at home this season. But UMD is 8-0-2 over their last 10 contests and have won five in a row, thrashing helpless Minnesota State (ironically the one team to beat Tech in Houghton this season) two weekends ago.
2 — Minnesota (Last week: 1)
The Gophers have struggled on Fridays lately, falling behind early and losing each of their last series lid-lifters against Wisconsin, St. Cloud State and Michigan State. All of those games came on the road however, and the Gophers find themselves with a giant meatball this weekend back at home against Minnesota State. After spending much of the first part of the season on the road — including five of their last six games — Minnesota won’t leave Mariucci Arena until mid-January and play only two road games through Jan. 27.
3 — Nebraska-Omaha (Last week: 5)
If Minnesota and UMD are the top-tier right now, UNO and the next two teams are in that next level. The Mavericks jump up this week because they scored a three-point weekend over St. Cloud State at the CenturyLink Center. If not for a late Ben Hanowski goal Saturday night, it would have been four points. All of the sudden, UNO has a full-blown goaltender controversy. John Faulkner — an All-WCHA pick from a year ago — didn’t even play last weekend and has been supplanted by freshmen Ryan Massa and Dayn Belfour. Perhaps our friend Chuck Schwartz was indeed seeing things clearly about Mr. Faulkner afterall.
4 — Colorado College (Last week: 3)
Yes, they were swept last weekend. But losing a pair of one goal games at Ralph Engelstad Arena is nothing to be ashamed about (although maybe this year it should be… KIDDING of course Sioux fans). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team get a hat trick from one guy on two consecutive nights and lose both games. CC will get to take their frustrations out on their rivals from the north. If the Gold Pan means anything to these guys, and it does, they’ll need a win Friday at World Arena.
5 — Denver (Last week: 4)
The Pioneers may have found something in freshman goaltender Juho Olkinuora. He made 38 saves in a shutout win over Princeton last Friday. His goals against and save percentage both rank atop the WCHA and his emergence will at least allow DU to keep a cautious approach with Sam Brittain as he recovers from knee surgery. Even when he returns, he won’t be counted on each and every night and when he gets back in a grove, the Pioneers will be tough to beat.
6 — North Dakota (Last week: 7)
Back into the top-half of the rankings comes North Dakota, fresh off a weekend sweep of Colorado College. All that talk about the Sioux’s inability to score goals? Um, nevermind. And that first line of Brock Nelson, Danny Kristo and Corban Knight? Yeah, they’re pretty good. UND is still lacking a reliable second line, although head coach Dave Hakstol told me this week he was pleased with how the entire group played last weekend. Aaron Dell was not good last Friday, allowing six goals before getting the hook halfway through, but recovered nicely to post the win Saturday. UND is still very much lacking consistency in that area, however.
7 — St. Cloud State (Last week: 6)
Typically a loss and a tie drops you more than one spot in the Power Rankings, especially in the increasingly mediocre middle quarter of this year’s WCHA. But the Huskies are the best team of the next four right now, and really, could be tied for sixth with a North Dakota team that is barely better. This weekend’s match-up with Bemidji State allows the Huskies to put some breathing room between themselves and a team just three points behind them in the standings. It’s far from must-win territory, but if the Huskies are going to be a threat this year, three or four points at the National Hockey Center is a must.
8 — Bemidji State (Last week: 8 )
The Beavers were idle last week but learned they’ll be without defenseman Sam Rendle. He will undergo shoulder surgery that will sideline him the rest of the way. BSU has to hope their 1-0 win over the Sioux a couple weeks ago will kickstart the season of goaltender Dan Bakala, counted on to be one of the top netminders in the league this season. That hasn’t been the case, and Bemidji has been inconsistent because of it. These ARE must wins against SCSU for the Beavers if they hope to remain in the home-ice race this season.
9 — Wisconsin (Last week: 10)
The Badgers are 0-5-1 on the road this season, but have lost just three games at home. Last week, they played a weak team (Mercyhurst) at the Kohl Center. No surprise, they swept. They have this weekend off before getting a chance to continue that home trend against the defending national champs next weekend in Madison.
10 — Michigan Tech (Last week: 9)
The Huskies wrapped up their most difficult road trip of the season with a split at St. Lawrence last weekend. It’s not the kind of result you’d like if you consider yourself a top half kind of team, but with how weak the league is after the top-5, the Huskies hot start should has kept them in this thing into December. With just one loss at MacInnis Ice Arena thus far, MTU faces their biggest test of the season with red-hot UMD coming to town this weekend, and we should find out if this team is indeed for real or not.
11 — Alaska-Anchorage (Last week: 12)
The offensively challenged Seawolves went into Mankato last weekend and scored 10 goals, gaining a win and a tie in what should be considered a solid three-point weekend on the road. But they led Saturday’s game two 5-1 and allowed the offensively challenged Mavericks to insert their third-string goalie AND roll off four consecutive goals to salvage a tie. Outshot 46-13 on night, the Seawolves should be happy they didn’t lose. North Dakota comes to town this weekend for their final conference series as a member of the WCHA. UAA has always played the Sioux tough at home, sitting just one-game under .500 against North Dakota in Alaska since joining the league.
12 — Minnesota State (Last week: 11)
The Mavericks are winless against the Seawolves in four straight home games dating to last season — not a statistic to be particularly proud of. And now, in addition to their young defensive corps and unproven scorers, the Mavericks have no idea who will play goalie. Phil Cook has been awful all season, Austin Lee is struggling of late and redshirt freshman Evan Karambelas has faced just 6 shots in two years. To make matters worse, they travel to Mariucci Arena this weekend to face the top team in the league. The good news? Captain Tyler Elbrecht returns from a broken arm sustained in the season opener at RPI. Perhaps he can help a MSU defensive unit allowing the second most goals per game in the country.