Last weekend in the NCHC featured significant showdowns between some of the nation’s top programs — from Boston College’s visit to Denver to St. Cloud’s home-and-home with Minnesota. In the end, those pairs split their series, while elsewhere, North Dakota toppled Air Force (thanks to a dramatic shorthanded goal in overtime), Nebraska-Omaha swept Cornell in central New York, and Miami and Minnesota-Duluth split the only league series of the weekend.
1. Denver is deep
Not many players can be without three 20-point scorers, all NHL draft picks and regulars in the nightly lineup, and still overcome a team like Boston College. But that’s what Denver did on Saturday night, when the Pioneers were without All-American defenseman Joey LaLeggia and forwards Quentin Shore and Zac Larazza. All three were out with, according to Pioneers coach Jim Montgomery, “the stomach flu”.
In their place, others stepped up with ease, from freshman Danton Heinen (check CHN for a full feature on the rookie sensation and Bruins draft pick tomorrow) to senior Daniel Doremus (who quietly scored 24 points last season and is now an integral component to the Pioneers top line, where he centers Heinen and sophomore Trevor Moore). Before the season began, I visited a Denver practice, and afterwards, Montgomery pointed out that his team is “better prepared as a program to handle adversity with injuries.” That depth was clearly on display on Saturday.
2. Overall Player of the Week
The NCHC’s weekly awards this week went to Miami’s Blake Coleman (Offensive Player of the Week after three goals and an assist vs. UMD), St. Cloud’s Ethan Prow (Defenseman of the Week after two assists in the Huskies’ win over Minnesota), Denver’s Danton Heinen (Rookie of the Week after scoring a pair of goals on Saturday, including the OT winner, to beat BC), and Nebraska-Omaha’s Ryan Massa (Goaltender of the Week after a tie and win at Cornell).
It’s hard to argue with those choices. Of them, the overall player of the week, for me, has to be Massa. The senior is now 4-0-1 this season and in his pair of wins at Cornell, he posted a 0.96 goals-against average and a .968 save percentage. The Littleton, Col., native has helped steady a defense that was at times porous last season, especially down the stretch.
One other player worth mentioning in this space is North Dakota’s Bryn Chyzyk. The junior scored just four goals last season but already has two this year — the latest, of course, a shorthanded goal with seconds remaining in overtime against Air Force, with UND a man short after Brendan O’Donnell was sent off after a checking from behind major penalty. Chyzyk handled a terrific Michael Parks pass to slide the puck behind Air Force’s Chris Truehl. In doing so, UND heads to rival Wisconsin this weekend in good spirits and on a six-game unbeaten streak.
3. Miami’s goaltending… controversy?
Heading into the season, my guess was that Ryan McKay would outperform Jay Williams and take over the No. 1 position as the Miami netminder. Instead, Williams is 5-1-0 with a 2.02 goals-against average, and McKay is 0-2-0 with a 3.39 goals-against average. After back-to-back wins by Williams (a 2-1 OT win vs. St. Lawrence last week, then a Friday night win this past weekend vs. Minnesota-Duluth), Miami head coach Enrico Blasi went back to McKay, who took a 4-3 loss on Saturday night despite 36 saves. The game was tied midway through the third period until the Bulldogs’ Willie Raskob scored the game-winner.
Blasi has famously alternated goaltenders, with various duos, for much of the past decade, and that’s been the story for McKay and Williams — both juniors — for the majority of their career as well. Miami hosts Colorado College in a two-game set this weekend. One would imagine Williams would get the start on Friday. If he wins, does McKay get another chance Saturday? It’s essentially impossible to get an answer on the subject from Blasi, so we’re left to speculate.
Both goaltenders are, in truth, incredibly talented, and all accounts suggest that they both have been strong in practice. Time will tell if one starts to get the starting nods over the other.
Check out CHN prior to this weekend’s games for features on St. Cloud’s lessons learned (from its incredible nonconference schedule against Colgate, Union, and Minnesota) and on Denver’s Danton Heinen.