A few hours from now, as part a yet another intriguing slate of games involving seven of the eight NCHC teams this weekend, Denver hosts in-state rival Colorado College in the continuation of college hockey’s most frequently played rivalry — a rivalry that, in the past, has included plenty of drama beyond just the closely contested games and a pair of passionate fan bases. For example, a game in the 1960’s involved such as massive on-ice brawl that CC students got involved; that led to the cancellation of the season series for a year. And a game in the mid 1970’s resulted in CC goaltender Eddie Mio getting knocked unconscious by a chicken — yes, a frozen chicken — thrown at him by a Denver fan during a game.
Separated by just over 60 miles on Interstate 25, the two private schools have combined for nine national titles, 24 Frozen Four appearances, and 13 Hobey Baker Award finalists (including three combined Hobey winners since 2003). They’ve seen plenty of each other since their first meeting in January 1950, and for the last four seasons, they’ve alternated possession of the “Gold Pan” trophy (an ornate bragging right to the winner of the season series), with CC winning it last year.
Tonight, as long and dramatic as the history between the programs might be, the focus is very much on the present and future. It’s the first meeting between coaches Jim Montgomery (in his second year, of course, with the Pioneers) and Mike Haviland (who, in his first season with the Tigers, gets his first taste of the rivalry tonight). CC has lost six straight games overall, allowing 30 goals over that stretch. Freshman goaltender Chase Perry played well last Friday in a 3-0 loss to Miami, and played well in stretches the following night too until the RedHawks blew the game open with rapid-succession power play goals late in the second.
The defensive lapses, combined with a struggling offense, has understandably led to plenty of problems for this young CC team, and things aren’t getting any easier as they travel to Magness Arena tonight. Denver has played well overall, although allowing 10 goals in its weekend series split with Western Michigan last weekend was somewhat uncharacteristic for its typically robust defense. Ty Loney and Joey LaLeggia played particularly well in last Friday’s win — just two of many offensive weapons the Pioneers boast this year. The key tonight, as in most rivalry games, may be which team handles the early game emotion the best. Puck drop is at 7:37PM mountain time. I’ll be at Magness for this one tonight and will have thoughts from the game posted here over the weekend. Prediction: Denver wins.
The other NCHC series this weekend:
North Dakota hosts Miami: UND is unbeaten in eight games, and Miami has won seven of nine, in the matchup of two of the top teams in the country. As we mentioned in this space earlier in the week, Miami’s success this year seems to stem from a renewed commitment to defensive accountability, combined with timely lineup changes that have off-loaded the RedHawks’ two undisputed stars (Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik). They’re still averaging a point per game, but coach Enrico Blasi, who in the offseason was candid about the fact that he had to take an honest look at his team and the coaching staff’s approach, has moved Alex Wideman to the top line to play with the Barber/Czarnik duo. In doing so, he moved Cody Murphy off that line to play on the wing with center Blake Coleman, and placed Sean Kuraly with Anthony Louis on a line that’s both quick and physical. As a result, three lines that are scoring proficiently. All of North Dakota’s games thus far have come against teams currently below .500 — including the winless Wisconsin team that UND swept in Madison this weekend. This is easily North Dakota’s toughest weekend opponent yet (especially now that freshman Nick Schmaltz will be out of the lineup due to injury), and I wouldn’t expect anything close to the 9-2 UND win the last time the two met in Grand Forks. This is the first meeting since Miami stunned North Dakota in the NCHC semifinals last March. Prediction: Miami wins Friday, North Dakota wins Saturday
Western Michigan hosts St. Cloud State: The Broncos and Huskies both enter the weekend at 3-5-0 overall. WMU split it series with Denver last weekend, while St. Cloud suffered a sweep at home against Minnesota-Duluth. For St. Cloud, the memory of back-to-back wins against Union and Minnesota (last season’s national title game participants) seems a distant memory now after three consecutive losses. The surprising downfall over that stretch has been an inability to score 5-on-5. The Huskies’ last even strength goal was over 125 minutes of game time ago — a surprising fact considering the offensive talent St. Cloud boasts, especially in its junior class. For Western Michigan, the Broncos are looking for more consistent netminding from its duo of Frank Slubowski and Lukas Hafner. The offense, fortunately, has been better lately. Junior center Nolan LaPorte and defenseman Kenney Morrison both enter the weekend with three-game point streaks, while sophomore center Sheldon Dries scored goals in both games against Denver last week. The Broncos and Huskies also have two of the best power play units in the country, but it’ll still likely be the team that can score 5-on-5 that gets the edge this weekend. Prediction: Western Michigan wins Friday, St. Cloud State wins Saturday.
And finally, in non-conference action:
Minnesota-Duluth at/vs. Minnesota: Minnesota-Duluth was named CHN Team of the Week after sweeping St. Cloud State last week, and our Nicole Brodzik took a look at the new-found success of the Bulldogs’ offensively-minded defensive corps. This weekend, obviously, represents an enormous test for Scott Sandelin’s club, in its home-and-home with arguably the best team in the country. The Gophers 7-1-0 overall (their only hiccup coming against St. Cloud) and have enjoyed early season success from all of the expected contributors. Seniors Kyle Rau and Sam Warning (12 points and 6 points, respectively, in 8 games) have played well out of the gate, as have sophomores Taylor Cammarata, Justin Kloos, and Hudson Fasching. Defensively, Mike Reilly not only has helped out his goaltender Adam Wilcox, but has already contributed 11 points (tied for second-most on the team). Needless to say, the weekend presents a great challenge for the Bulldogs’ rookie goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo. Prediction: Minnesota wins Friday, Minnesota-Duluth wins Saturday.