Three Things I Think, November 12: WCHA

Posted by: Nate Wells

This past weekend went well for a pair of WCHA teams who completed back-to-back sweeps at home. Out in Colorado Springs, Colorado College took down Bemidji State to remain undefeated in WCHA play. Meanwhile in Omaha, last week’s CHN team of the Week, the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks continued their hot streak by sweeping Minnesota Duluth in a Saturday-Sunday series.

There were a lot of similarities between how the Tigers and Nebraska-Omaha got things done. They each defeated teams from the state of Minnesota (the great state that it is) and even had matching 3-2 and 6-3 scores.

With a number of teams in WCHA looking uneven and parity splitting the conference into two tiers – there seems to be an even cutoff between the top and bottom six – getting off to a good start is that much more important for two teams picked to finish in the middle of the pack. That’s been the case so far; currently the Mavericks and Colorado College are second and third, respectively. It’s a testament to both teams finding their way despite losses and for all of this, they should be happy with their early November performance.

After the break, Denver begins to separate from the pack, Minnesota-Duluth is in the WCHA cellar and I make a not-so-bold prediction about North Dakota

On the road and out-shot, Denver still separates themselves from the pack

After being kicked out their own building the first week of October due to the security measures hosting a Presidential Debate brings, it took until after Election Day for the University of Denver to get back on the road. They made the most of their time at Magness, going 5-1-0, and continued that momentum on the road.

This past weekend the Pioneers swept Minnesota State in Mankato 4-3 Friday and 3-2 Saturday and sit atop of the WHCA. It’s a big four points for Denver coming on the heels of the Mavericks defeating Minnesota at home the weekend before and gives them an early cushion ahead of both the Gophers (who took 3 of 4 in Anchorage) and North Dakota (who split in St. Cloud).

More impressively than sweeping on the road is the way the Pioneers are winning. Denver, who were out-shot in both Minnesota State games, has been in a majority of their games this season yet is 5-0-0 when giving up more shots. Denver has been able to score – Chris Knowlton has 5 goals in 6 games – but a lot of credit goes to their defense, which has allowed a WCHA-low 15 goals this season despite being put in positions where they are out-shot 13-1 (as was the case in the third period of Friday’s game).

While not every game is equal in chances, the Pioneers are making the most of their limited opportunities and separating themselves from the pack early on.

The next wave of Minnesota-Duluth’s offense has not shown up

Minnesota-Duluth lost 160 points in scoring last year between Hobey Baker winner Jack Connolly, Travis Oleksuk and J.T. Brown departing and it’s safe to say that would be hard to fully replace in a short span. But no one expected things to be as bad for UMD, who made the last two NCAA Tournaments and won the national title in 2011, as it has been through the first month and a half of the season.

The Bulldogs currently find themselves in a place no one predicted – the WCHA cellar – after being swept by Nebraska-Omaha and dropping to 0-3-1 (2-5-1 overall). Seriously, anyone who had them last on November 12th is either lying or practices voodoo and carries a vendetta against Scott Sandelin.

One reason for the freefall drop is that the next wave of Minnesota-Duluth’s offense has yet to show up. Between trying to replace scoring and having guys like Caleb Herbert, who is goalless (and pointless in WCHA play) after scoring 14 as a freshman last year, they are second-to-last in conference play with 7 goals (behind even Wisconsin) after finishing second in the country in offense last year.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, it doesn’t get easier. Their next two series are against a pair of teams that they were a combined 1-2-1 last season in North Dakota (up in Grand Forks) and St. Cloud. If they are going to get out of the WCHA cellar, Minnesota-Duluth needs to find a way to kickstart the year before it is too late.

North Dakota will win a Saturday game this year

I’m not going out on a limb with this prediction (and maybe it’ll happen this weekend after thought #2) but it’s strange to see UND have such an extreme tale of two nights. North Dakota has gotten off to good starts each weekend by winning all 4 Friday games yet are 0-3-1 on Saturdays this season and without a sweep. The latest, shutting out St. Cloud State 3-0 before losing 5-2 Saturday, ended up going in the face of history. Before Friday’s win, North Dakota had not won a Friday game at the National Hockey Center dating back to 1998 and previously won their last ten Saturday games.

UND’s second night missteps have not gone unnoticed.

“It almost seems like a broken record,” junior defenseman Dillon Simpson told the Grand Forks Herald after Saturday’s loss. “We need to learn how to close out games on Saturday and we’re just not doing it right now.”

Sooner or later you have to think they will. North Dakota, who has made a habit in recent years of playing well in the second half,  were in a close game before Jordan Schmaltz received a five minute major and game misconduct that changed the landscape. The weekend before they came within 5:22 of sweeping Boston University before the Terriers exploded for three goals. The chances are there but more than anything so is the law of averages.  UND will win a Saturday game just as much as they’ll eventually lose a Friday game.

Yep, I’m going so far out there to predict that one too.

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