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NCHC Saturday Nov. 21: Three Things

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

Again, instead of traditional weekend previews, check this space on the CHN blog each Saturday for developing mid-weekend NCHC storylines and observations from Friday night games.

Friday’s results: road wins by North Dakota (4-3 at St. Cloud) and Minnesota-Duluth (5-0 at Colorado College), and a pair of 3-3 ties (Nebraska-Omaha at Miami, and in the lone nonconference game of the night, Denver at Wisconsin). Though the game ended as a 3-3 tie for NCAA record purposes, Miami earned the extra NCHC standings point by scoring in the 3-on-3 OT period. As a reminder, NCHC conference games play a five minute 5-on-5 OT followed by a 5 minute 3-on-3 OT if the game remains tied (and then, if still tied, a shootout).

1. Slow out of the gates

It was an unfortunate opening minute for Colorado College last night, playing at home against Minnesota-Duluth At least three turnovers in the defensive zone led to groans around the World Arena in Colorado Springs, with fans looking for a one-time powerhouse to show some signs of life. CC came into the night with an 0-10-0 record and 1:12 into the first, fell behind 1-0 thanks to UMD’s Austin Farley’s seeing-eye wrist shot from the slot.

Certainly, UMD pressured the Tigers and came out of the gates looking for a goal as quickly as possible, but it was far from reassuring from a CC standpoint to see the Tigers start so slowly — all things considered. Netminder Tyler Marble had little chance on the goal, which is a shame considering the flashes of talent he still is able to show (one example was on a UMD breakaway in the second period). The Bulldogs put the game away in the second with three quick even-strength goals in a 4:14 span. The Tigers mustered just 19 shots on goal, fell to 0-11-0 (the last remaining winlesss team in the nation), and continue to test head coach Mike Haviland.


NCHC Saturday Nov. 14: Three Things

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

Something a little different – instead of traditional weekend previews, check this space on the CHN blog each Saturday for developing mid-weekend NCHC storylines and observations from Friday night games.

Friday’s results: road wins by St. Cloud State (5-2 at Western Michigan) and Denver (3-0 at Minnesota-Duluth), and a dominant home win by North Dakota (6-2 over Miami).

1. Highlight Reel

Thanks in large part to a quick start from North Dakota (two fourth-minute goals, separated by 20 seconds), the ultimate result in the UND/Miami game in Grand Forks last night was essentially decided long before a pair of highlight reel third period goals, one by each team. Check them out here. But those goals are also notable for typifying the remainder of the game. First, for Miami, Josh Melnick scored his fourth goal of the season (second-most on the team) to pull the RedHawks within three — it was an impressive individual play below the left circle for the sophomore, who corralled the puck while falling down and sniped a wrist shot into the top left corner behind UND netminder Matt Hrynkiw.

Taking nothing away from Melnick’s outstanding goal, it typified Miami’s play on Friday by highlighting the reliance on individual plays, without few signs of the teamwork displayed just a week ago in the RedHawks’s sweep of Western Michigan. Less than 90 seconds later, Nick Schmaltz finished off a spectacular four-player passing play to punctuate UND’s win — after a dizzying series of five passes between Schmaltz, Brock Boeser, Troy Stecher, and Drake Caggiula. All night, UND played well as a unit — routinely situating two players in front of the Miami goaltenders (Jay Williams and Ryan McKay), and that teamwork was highlighted again with Schmaltz’s highlight-reel goal.


NCHC Saturday Nov. 7: Three Things

Saturday, November 7th, 2015

Friday’s action involving NCHC teams included league wins by Denver, UNO, and Miami — all of whom were playing at home — in addition to a North Dakota loss in Grand Forks to Wisconsin. North Dakota was undefeated (6-0-2) prior to the 3-1 loss to the Badgers.

1. Tape to tape

After three consecutive road losses during which the RedHawks were outscored 11-4, Miami returned home with a 2-1 win over CHN’s Team of the Week, Western Michigan. Freshman Jack Roslovic, a native of Columbus, Ohio, scored his sixth goal of the season — most among rookies nationally. His power play goal in the second period tied the game for Miami and was an impressive example of how to open up passing lanes on a power play. Louis Belpedio at the left point and Roslovic in the right circle combined on multiple tape to tape passes, stretching the space between the WMU penalty-killers (particularly junior forwards Aidan Muir and Michael Rebry) and allowing for the opportunity for one-timer by Roslovic. As a team, Miami was notably more accurate with its passing compared to its most recent road losses, and the RedHawks have a chance to move back over .500 with another win tonight.

2. Backing off

Colorado College’s woes were compounded on Friday, as the Tigers dropped to a dismal 0-9-0 following a 5-3 loss at Denver. CC joins Army, Niagara, Brown, and Maine as the only winless teams in the country, and Tigers head coach Mike Haviland now has just six wins in 44 games behind the bench for CC. In the rivalry contest on Friday, the CC defense looked alarmingly passive in its own zone, setting the stage for multiple DU goals. With the game tied 1-1 in the second, the Pioneers put the game out of reach with three goals — by Danton Heinen, Will Butcher, and Trevor Moore. On the first two of those goals, Heinen and then Grant Arnold were able to gain the zone with easy along the left wing  (Arnold set up Butcher for his goal), and on the third goal of the period, Moore gained the zone on the right wing with similar ease. It’s been a long, rough journey for CC already, but the defensive effort will have to improve if the Tigers plan on trying to build any momentum at all within arguably the toughest conference in the country. Moreover, CC has the worst penalty killing unit in the NCHC but continues to lead the league in overall penalty minutes per game.

3. Score early, score often

Nebraska-Omaha stayed unbeaten in its new home facility, Baxter Arena, following the Mavericks’ 4-2 defeat of Minnesota-Duluth. UNO scored two first period goals, continuing its trend of fast starts. The Mavericks have now scored 14 goals this season (more than any other NCHC team in the game’s opening 20 minutes), while scoring 13 in the second and third combined. Austin Ortega (who else?) scored the ultimate game-winner, and leads the nation in goals. His goal, which at the time put the Mavericks up 3-1, came on the power play thanks to a textbook down-low passing play in which Ortega and freshman Steven Spinner made sure their sticks were on the ice for re-directions that led to the goal. Freshman Evan Weninger earned the win, and remains in the top 10 nationally in both goals-against average and save percentage.


NCHC Weekend preview: Oct. 23-24

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

NCHC teams went 12-2-1 in their nonconference games this week (with both losses coming in a CC sweep at Mass.-Lowell), and this weekend, Nebraska-Omaha opens its new arena as the Mavericks host Air Force, while elsewhere, two of the three teams in the country who are currently 4-0-0 square off — as St. Cloud, already with three shutouts in four games, travels to Vermont.

Weekend Schedule (all two-game series):

Nebraska-Omaha (4-0-0) hosts Air Force (1-2-1):  Following a pair of wins at Minnesota State, Omaha stayed hot on the road last week, sweeping Vermont, and as a result was named CHN Team of the Week on Wednesday. This weekend, the Mavericks open up their brand new facility, Baxter Arena, and will raise their Frozen Four banner honoring last season’s team that advanced to Boston. UNO’s success has been buoyed first of all by offense from its stars: (more…)

Icebreaker Game Notes: UND Settles to Defeat LSSU, 5-2

Friday, October 9th, 2015

Portland, Maine - It seemed as though, Lake Superior State was going to put up the upset of the the early season. The Lakers scored two early goals, off of snipes in the slot by J.T Henke and Mitch Hults.  It also had an early goal that was disallowed because it was hit in by a hand, just 11 seconds into the contest. It was able to escape out of the period with the 2-0 lead, but the second period brought about a much different scenario. UND scored three goals in the first eight minutes, seven

The seeds were able placed at the end of the first period, for UND to take over the game. For much of the second half of the firrst period, North Dakota poured shot after shot onto Laker goalie, Gordon Defiel. UND outshot the Lakers, 12-0 in the remaining moments of the first. The onslaught continued in the second and its opponent wasn’t able to register a shot til about the midway point of the second period.

Lake Superior had chances to tie. Drake Cagguila was assessed a five minute game misconduct late in the second period and North Dakota took two quick penalties early in the third to give its opponent . But a restless, non-existent power play and good kill by North Dakota stymied any opportunity for a comeback. North Dakota added another in the third period, and poured more shots onto Defiel. North Dakota outshot its opponent 45-26 in the game. (more…)

PairWise Possibilities

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

With the conference tournaments approaching, I’ve been running a lot of scenarios through CHN’s PairWise calculator. It started with my interest in Minnesota’s chances (since I cover Big Ten hockey) but has expanded since then.

According to the Pairwise Probability Matrix, there are about nine teams that are locked into the NCAA tournament, and two others (Providence and Quinnipiac) that have very high chances of making it. North Dakota, Minnesota State, Boston University, Denver, Michigan Tech, Minnesota-Duluth, Miami, Nebraska-Omaha and Boston College are all most likely making the NCAA tournament.

Regardless of the results this weekend, the NCHC will have five teams make the NCAA tournament -North Dakota, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Miami and Nebraska-Omaha. Very few scenarios have Nebraska-Omaha – the lowest-ranked NCHC team – moving to ninth on the PWR list. I’ve encountered none that have the Mavericks dropping below ninth.

So below I ran through some points of interest, different scenarios, the likelihood of certain teams making it and what they need for that to happen. I will periodically add to this as I calculate more scenarios.  (more…)

NCHC Weekend Preview: Jan. 30-31

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Two months from today, the only college hockey games remaining in the 2014-15 schedule will be the games to be played at the NCAA Frozen Four in Boston — the national semifinals and the national championship game. As of now, five NCHC teams sit in the top 11 of the Pairwise, certainly well-positioned for an NCAA spot if they continue to play well, but of course, for all league teams, the stretch run to the NCHC tournament and the possibility of an automatic berth are inspiring factors during these final weeks of the regular season.

Still, before any of that, to remain in the conversation two months from now will require a strong upcoming six weeks, and this weekend, with 10 games remaining for each team in the regular season, one series in particular could end up having major implications for whether North Dakota or Nebraska-Omaha can position themselves for a No. 1 seed — not just in the NCHC tournament, but in the NCAA tournament as well.

Nebraska-Omaha (15-6-3, 9-4-1-1 NCHC) hosts North Dakota (18-5-2, 9-4-1 NCHC): North Dakota, No. 2 in the Pairwise, trials UNO (No. 4) by a single point for the NCHC regular season lead heading into this significant weekend series in Omaha. Tonight’s game — televised on CBS Sports Network — is UND’s first road contest since a Dec. 13 win at Denver, while UNO has been off for two weeks since a weekend split with Colorado College (whom UND swept in Grand Forks a week ago). The teams last met in a contested and physical late November series in Grand Forks, when UNO won a shootout following a 2-2 tie in the Friday night game and UND came back for a 3-2 win on Saturday. North Dakota’s game-winner on Saturday night was a Stephane Pattyn shorthanded goal — insult to injury after UND held the Mavericks scoreless on seven power play chances during the weekend.

Aside from the obvious storylines (e.g. a matchup of two of the nation’s top teams, UNO head coach Dean Blais returning to his former stomping grounds, where he won two national titles, etc.), consider this: in NCHC play, UNO is the league’s top-scoring offense, while UND is the best defense. It’s a matchup of two upperclassmen goaltenders, UNO’s Ryan Massa and UND’s Zane McIntyre, who are No. 1 and No. 2 in the league in save percentage. Think that means it’ll be a pair of low-scoring games? Not necessarily. This series also features four of the five NCHC players — North Dakota’s Mark MacMillan and Drake Caggiula and Omaha’s Austin Ortega and Jake Guentzel — who are averaging over a point per game in NCHC play this season (Denver senior defenseman Joey LaLeggia is the other). MacMillan in fact leads the league in goals in conference play. And it’s not just the upperclassmen who have stepped up for these teams — three of the league’s top five scoring rookies are also in action in this series this weekend.

So, clearly, there’s plenty to keep an eye on in this series. Omaha coach Dean Blais told Tony Boone of the Omaha World-Herald this week, “We could play our best game of the year on Friday night and not win. But if we play our best game of the year, all the pressure is on them, not us.” It’s a nice motivational tactic by the veteran coach, but for a team looking for the same legitimacy that North Dakota (a Frozen Four team last season) already has, and with UNO playing at home trying to distance itself from the visitors in the standings, there’s plenty of pressure on the Mavericks as well. Prediction: Omaha wins Friday, North Dakota wins Saturday.

Denver (14-8-1, 7-6-0 NCHC) hosts Minnesota-Duluth (14-9-1, 8-5-1 NCHC): Plenty has changed since these teams last met in October, which resulted in a weekend split in Duluth. First and foremost, DU sophomore Evan Cowley started both games for the Pioneers, which is unlikely to happen this weekend. Freshman Tanner Jaillet has emerged as the goaltender whom Jim Montgomery has called upon most often over the past few weeks, as Cowley hasn’t seen action since being pulled 18 minutes into the first period against St. Cloud on Jan. 16 (after allowing just one goal). Jaillet picked up three straight wins before a loss at Miami last Saturday. Now, the Pioneers host a Bulldogs team that is coming off a North Star College Cup appearance in Minneapolis last weekend, where UMD beat Minnesota on Saturday (its third win over the Gophers this season) after falling to Bemidji State a night earlier. Junior Matt McNeeley earned the win over Minnesota, starting in place of freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo. Kaskisuo played well in the first half of the season, but has been much more inconsistent of late — now with a four-game winless streak in his starts. Given the recent results, it wouldn’t be surprising to see McNeeley, Kaskisuo, Jaillet, and Cowley all play in some capacity this week. I’ll be at Magness Arena for both games this weekend. Prediction: Denver sweeps.

Colorado College (5-16-1, 1-11-1 NCHC) hosts St. Cloud State (10-13-1, 5-8-1 NCHC): In a matchup of the only two teams in the league with overall records below .500 this season, the Tigers start a six-game home stretch with their first meeting of the season with St. Cloud State. CC, despite just one win in 13 NCHC games this season, has played much better of late. After beating Omaha two weeks ago tonight, CC went to Grand Forks last weekend and lost two close games, 2-1 on Friday and 5-3 (with an empty-netter) on Saturday. The improved play has come thanks to a more creative and effective power play and on-ice leadership from senior Scott Wamsganz, who has points in five straight games. Without question, the Tigers look much better than they did in November but will still have their hands full against a St. Cloud team that, while sometimes maddeningly inconsistent, has the potential to be dominant. Last Friday, the Huskies used their own Olympic ice sheet to their full advantage, creating space and frustrating Western Michigan with a 7-0 win. It was arguably the best St. Cloud had looked all season, but the weekend was spoiled by blowing a 2-0 third-period lead the following night (ultimately losing 3-2). Of course, CC plays on the larger ice surface as well, and that will play to the strength of talented forwards like juniors Joey Benik and Jonny Brodzinski. Prediction: St. Cloud wins Friday, Colorado College wins Saturday.

And finally, in a one-game series on Saturday night:

Western Michigan (11-10-3, 4-7-3-3 NCHC) hosts Miami (15-9-0, 8-6-0 NCHC): The RedHawks swept the Broncos earlier in the season, and now, with the second game of this series set for next weekend (outdoors at Chicago’s Soldier Field), both teams come into this one-game affair in Kalamazoo after wins last Saturday (WMU over St. Cloud, Miami over Denver). For Miami, the win snapped a three-game losing streak during which the RedHawks struggled to find offense. WMU met the same problem in last week’s 7-0 shutout against St. Cloud. Without question, certain players will be the focus of each team’s defensive efforts this weekend — Miami, a bit more balanced thanks to the playmaking ability of Austin Czarnik, relies on Riley Barber, Sean Kuraly, Blake Coleman, and Cody Murphy to score goals, while WMU relies heavily on its top line of Nolan LaPorte, Sheldon Dries, and Colton Hargrove. LaPorte’s eight power play goals lead the nation for a WMU power play unit that is fourth-best (23.5 percent effective) in the country, so Miami (averaging 14.0 penalty minutes per game) will have to stay disciplined on Saturday. Prediction: WMU wins in a shootout.


Three Things I Think: NCHC, Jan. 29

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

McIntyre preserves both UND wins vs. CC

It seems odd to even suggest that, with North Dakota, it’s easy to forget about North Dakota goaltender Zane McIntyre. But in this case, that’s meant as a high compliment — for a goaltender that backstopped UND to the Frozen Four last season and now has the fifth best winning percentage among goaltenders this season. He also ranks in the top 10 nationally in save percentage and goals-against average. Clearly, there’s plenty of room for praise. But with such a versatile offense and balance defense, it can be easy to forget about the steady and technically sound junior netminder — until, of course, he simply forces you not to.

Last weekend in UND’s weekend sweep over CC — essentially a pair of one-goal wins when discounting a Saturday night empty-netter — McIntyre made last-minute saves in each game to preserve the wins for UND. Sure, most goaltenders are forced to make saves to preserve one-goal wins, but McIntyre — especially on Friday — made saves that most others might not. On Friday, having already used his right leg pad to thwart Cody Bradley with about 8 minutes left in the third, McIntyre’s instincts took over in the final minute, when the Tigers (who by the way continued to show team improvement despite the losses) were buzzing with their net empty. With traffic clouding his view, McIntyre slid to his left, covering a previously empty portion of the net and in doing so made a game-saving stop on CC’s Sam Rothstein. North Dakota won the game 2-1.

The next night, with UND up 4-3, a key left pad save by McIntyre on the Tigers’ Jaccob Slavin with about 1:40 left in the third, solidifed UND’s first NCHC weekend sweep since Oct. 17-18 (also against CC). Overall, North Dakota has won five straight.

Touchdown, St. Cloud

When St. Cloud and Western Michigan faced off on Friday night, the matchup featured a St. Cloud team struggling on offense after being swept a week earlier by Denver and a Western Michigan team that headed to St. Cloud with a five game winning streak. So Friday’s final score, 7-0 in favor of the Huskies, was one of the more surprising conference results of late — on one hand, reflecting the parity in the league, but on the other, calling into question just how much progress Western Michigan had made of late. The Broncos bounced back the next night for a 3-2 win, though not before falling into a 2-0 hole heading into the third period. WMU looked stale on Friday, while St. Cloud was inspired, but the take-home points for the Broncos seemed to be that:

a) they rely heavily on the power play to jump-start their offense (Western’s power play, converting 23.5 percent of the time, is fourth-best in the country, and a power play goal on Saturday proved to spark the comeback), and

b) Andy Murray seems to have maintained confidence in goaltender Lukas Hafner. Hafner started Friday’s debacle and was pulled after allowing two goals in the first 14:30. Of course, backup Frank Slubowski wasn’t much better, allowing five the rest of the way, as the Broncos were noticeably slow to acclimate to St. Cloud’s Olympic-sized ice sheet, which the Huskies used to their full advantage. Hafner rebounded Saturday night in the Broncos’ 3-2 win, stopping 33 shots.

Scoring from the blue-line

Here’s a look at the top 10 scorers in the nation among defensemen (courtesy:

Points Per Game (Defensemen):                               GP    G- A- P    P/GM
  1 Mike Reilly (CLB)          Minnesota         JR D       22    4-20-24    1.09
  2 Patrick McNally (VAN)      Harvard           SR D       15    4-12-16    1.07
  3 Jeff Taylor (PIT)          Union             SO D       24    4-21-25    1.04
  4 Robbie Russo (NYI)         Notre Dame        SR D       26   11-14-25    0.96
  5 Joey LaLeggia (EDM)        Denver            SR D       22    8-13-21    0.95
  6 Mike Paliotta (CHI)        Vermont           SR D       25    7-16-23    0.92
  7 Zach Werenski              Michigan          FR D       20    5-13-18    0.90
  8 Casey Nelson               Minnesota State   SO D       25    5-16-21    0.84
  9 Jordan Schmaltz (STL)      North Dakota      JR D       25    3-17-20    0.80
 10 Nolan Zajac                Denver            JR D       23    5-13-18    0.78

Certainly, one thing to notice is that three NCHC blueliners — North Dakota’s Jordan Schmaltz and Denver’s Joey LaLeggia and Nolan Zajac — are featured. The other is that there are seven NHL draft picks on the list, including each of the top six. Compare that to the top scorers overall in the nation (3 of the top 10 and 6 of the top 20 are NHL draft picks). Obviously, there are plenty of factors that partially explain this (e.g. some of the nation’s top scorers, most notably BU freshman Jack Eichel, haven’t been drafted yet but certainly will be), but it’s worth noting that top-level defensemen prior to college seem to a) be bigger/stronger (and more appealing to NHL teams), and b) translate their offensive skills to the college game a little bit more easily. Another reason for the trend is that these players tend to score a lot on the power play, placed at the ever-important point positions to “quarterback” power play units.

Either way, beyond this trend,  it’s worth noting that North Dakota and Denver rely heavily on scoring from defensemen, but it’s often said of UND and Pioneers that their success is tied to offensive production form the blueline. Suggesting that, though, might be a mistake. After all, one reason UND (No. 2 in the current Pairwise) and Denver (No. 11) have been so successful this season is that the scoring from the blueline complements well-balanced scoring lines up front, and that’s been a dangerous combination for opponents to face.

Each team (UND at Omaha, Denver vs. UMD) now have big tests this weekend, which we’ll preview here, along with all this weekend’s NCHC series, tomorrow.

NCHC Weekend Preview, Jan. 23-24

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Three conference series highlight the weekend schedule in the NCHC, and at this point of the season, many of the matchups are rematches of meetings from earlier in the season. Meanwhile, in nonconference action, the second inaugural North Star College Cup is already underway in Minneapolis (there, Minnesota-Duluth currently trails Bemidji State 2-0 at the end of the second period).

CHN’s Kara Hille is in Minneapolis covering the NSCC, and we’ll have more on UMD and all the teams over the next few days. So for now, here’s a quick look at the conference series that are set to start within the hour.

St. Cloud State (9-12-1, 4-7-1 NCHC) hosts Western Michigan (10-9-3, 3-6-3-3 NCHC): The Huskies return home after suffering a sweep at Denver last weekend, a disappointing result after earning an impressive home sweep over Miami just a week earlier. St. Cloud struggled offensively a week ago against a talented and physical Pioneer defense; the Huskies scored just twice all weekend and went 0-for-6 on the power play. St. Cloud has actually played fairly well in man-advantage situations this year (scoring over 20 percent of the time), and that should be a key factor against a Western Michigan team that is rolling in front of goaltender Lukas Hafner. We featured the Broncos’ one-two punch of Nolan LaPorte and Colton Hargrove earlier in the week, but beyond the improved offense (led by WMU’s top line), Hafner has been integral.

“I think it all started with him working hard to take over the lead role from Frank [Slubowski],” LaPorte told me while discussing the Broncos’ current 6-1-2 stretch. “That’s the great thing about having two really good goalies, is that they push one another. He’s been great for us since he took over that leading role.” Hafner’s last performance against St. Cloud came in a 21-save shootout win in mid-November. Prediction: St. Cloud wins Friday, Western Michigan wins Saturday.

Miami (14-8-0, 7-5-0 NCHC) hosts Denver (13-7-1, 6-5-0 NCHC): Tonight is Miami’s first game in Oxford since a December 6 loss to Nebraska-Omaha and their first game overall since being swept against St. Cloud two weeks ago. More notably, this is the first meeting between the RedHawks and Pioneers since the inaugural NCHC tournament championship game last March, which sent Denver to the NCAA tournament. The stakes may not be quite as high this weekend, but each team needs a strong weekend to try and provide some separation in the top half of the NCHC standings. The series figures to be low-scoring, with both teams boasting strong goaltending lately — Jay Williams (Miami) and Tanner Jaillet (Denver), both of whom have been involved in goalie rotations this season, will start the weekend in the crease for their respective teams. They’ll have their hands full with plenty of offensive ability on the ice, from Denver’s Danton Heinen (the NCHC scoring leader) to Miami’s duo of Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik. Prediction: Miami wins Friday, Denver wins Saturday.

North Dakota (16-5-2, 7-4-1 NCHC) hosts Colorado College (5-14-1, 1-9-1 NCHC): UND and CC met in October, and North Dakota swept the weekend after outscoring the Tigers by a 10-3 margin. UND’s offense has continued to roll (outscoring Niagara 12-1 in a pair of games just a week ago), but expect the Tigers to be more sound defensively this weekend than they were in October. CC upset Nebraska-Omaha last Friday night behind strong performances from Jaccob Slavin and Hunter Fejes, and the next night, the Tigers held UNO to just 14 shots on goal. I’d expect Tyler Marble (who was in goal for the win last Friday) to return to the goal for CC tonight, to be matched up with UND’s Zane McIntyre, who continues to be stellar (16-5-2 this season). Both games of this series are on CBS College Sports. Prediction: Tie on Friday, UND wins Saturday

NCHC Weekend Preview, Jan. 16-17

Friday, January 16th, 2015

A busy weekend in the NCHC officially kicks off in less than 2 hours. Before a quick look at all the weekend’s series, here are links to all the NCHC stories on CHN from the last 48 hours. Check them out:

Beggars Can Be Choosers – Nick Marek’s look at UNO star and California native Austin Ortega

A Bug’s Life — Kara Hille’s feature on Minnesota-Duluth’s Austin Farley, nicknamed “Bug,” having a strong comeback season

Tigers, by the Tail — My look at Colorado College, as they finally return home after a tough and lengthy road stretch

Pair of Aces — Tony Jovenitti’s look at Minnesota-Duluth’s defense

(St.) Cloud Lifting — Joe Meloni’s look at the expectations at St. Cloud and a tough first half for the Huskies

Denver (11-7-1, 4-5-0 NCHC) hosts St. Cloud State (9-10-1, 4-5-1 NCHC): Denver enters the weekend after being swept last weekend by Nebraska-Omaha, including the Pioneers’ first shutout loss on Saturday night in over two calendar years. The Pioneers’ strength, aside from an active defense corps and steady goaltending, has been special teams play, which will likely be a key factor this weekend, as time and time again this season, Denver’s power play and penalty kill have both provided momentum for the Pioneers. Denver’s penalty killing percentage (24.4 percent) and power play efficiency (25.6 percent) are both among the best in the nation. St. Cloud, meanwhile, comes to town with momentum after sweeping Miami last weekend. As I wrote in this space earlier in the week, a key for the Huskies was the play of St. Cloud goaltender Charlie Lindgren in the first few minutes of last week’s series, where he had 17 first period saves (including a dozen or so in the first 10 minutes) to help set the tone. But another important factor was senior forward Joe Rehkamp, who joined the top line with Jimmy Murray and Jonny Brodzinski and earned NCHC Offensive Player of the Week after scoring the game-winning goal in both games. Prediction: St. Cloud wins Friday, Denver wins Saturday.

Colorado College (4-13-1, 0-8-1 NCHC) hosts Nebraska-Omaha (14-5-3, 8-3-1-1 NCHC): Yes, the Tigers are winless through nine league games this year, but in talking to Mike Haviland earlier this week, it’s reasonable to expect much more from CC this second half, as the Tigers now begin a stretch where they play 10 of their next 13 at home. CC is coming off an important win at UConn last week and despite the tough opposition this weekend could produce a winning result by matching its defensive performance against the Huskies, and by continuing its recent power play success. Tonight is CC’s first official home game since November 21. Nebraska-Omaha comes in after sweeping Denver last week, and the Mavericks — led by sophomore Austin Ortega and his eight game-winning goals — is playing as well as any team in the nation. A big question mark after last Friday’s game (despite the win) was whether sophomore goaltender Kirk Thompson could fill in well for injured starter Ryan Massa. Thompson was pulled on Friday, and UNO won 5-4. Still, the sophomore rebounded the next night, stopping all 39 Denver shots to earn a 1-0 shutout win. Prediction: CC wins Friday, UNO wins Saturday.

Minnesota Duluth (13-7-0, 8-4-0 NCHC) hosts Western Michigan (9-9-2, 2-6-2-2 NCHC): In last year’s NCHC quarterfinal round, Western Michigan headed to AMSOIL Arena in Duluth and swept the Bulldogs out of the playoffs. This is the Broncos’ first trip to Duluth since that meeting and come into the weekend with momentum after sweeping Notre Dame last year. The Broncos are playing more consistently in front of goaltender Lukas Hafner, who will have to deal with a versatile UMD offense this weekend — led by leading goal-scorer Dominic Toninato. These are arguably the two most physical teams in the league — the makings of an entertaining series this weekend. Prediction: UMD sweeps.

And in non-conference action:

North Dakota (14-5-2, 7-4-1 NCHC) hosts Niagara (3-15-2, 3-11-1 AHA): Niagara heads to Grand Forks winless in its last eight games and will be without junior defenseman Matt Dineen, who was suspended for a checking from behind major penalty during the Purple Eagles’ game against Air Force last Friday. Still, Niagara will try to take advantage of a strange trend for North Dakota, a team that’s started weekends slowly of late, winning just one of its last six Friday night games. Niagara had a third period lead in both games against Air Force last weekend and will look to have more complete efforts this weekend. North Dakota, meanwhile, finished last weekend strong, rebounding from a Friday night loss to UMD to come back with a 5-2 win on Saturday. Senior Brendan O’Donnell led the way with his first career hat trick. O’Donnell now has eight goals this season after scoring just nine combined over his sophomore and junior seasons — reflecting North Dakota’s versatile offense, where seemingly someone new each weekend keys UND’s wins. This is the first meeting between North Dakota and Niagara since UND topped the Purple Eagles 2-1 in the first round of the 2013 NCAA tournament. Prediction: North Dakota sweeps.