Every NCHC team is in action this weekend. Before we look at the series, check out a pair of features on the main site: on Denver’s rookie sensation Danton Heinen and St. Cloud’s lessons learned from a grueling start to the season.
St. Cloud State (3-3-0 overall, 0-0-0 NCHC) hosts Minnesota-Duluth (4-4-0 overall, 2-2-0 NCHC)
The Huskies have garnered plenty of attention for their nonconference schedule thus far — a whirlwind trio of series against Colgate, Minnesota, and Union, with St. Cloud splitting all three. But Minnesota-Duluth’s schedule has been tough as well, splitting series against Denver, Miami, and Minnesota State. The Bulldogs also boast a win over Notre Dame that followed a season-opening loss to Minnesota.
Both teams come into the weekend with .500 records, and for St. Cloud, it’s the first league series of the year after the Huskies won the regular season title (the Penrose Cup) a year ago. The key to this particular matchup may be which team’s power play continues to play well. Both are converting about 24 percent of their man-advantage chances so far this season, which places each team in the top 10 in the nation in that category. The Bulldogs, despite scoring over 3.6 goals per game this season, will have to be especially careful at the other end as they also lead the nation in penalty minutes so far. Last Friday, a five minute major against leading scorer Dominic Toninato led to Miami’s game-winning power play goal in the third period.
An intriguing matchup presents itself in goal, too — with St. Cloud sophomore Charlie Lindgren and UMD freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo both playing well in starting roles so far. Prediction: St. Cloud State wins Friday, the teams tie on Saturday
Miami (5-3-0 overall, 1-1-0 NCHC) hosts Colorado College (2-4-0 overall, 0-2-0 NCHC)
Miami heads into the weekend after playing five consecutive one-goal games (going 3-2-0 in that stretch) and welcome to Oxford a young but evolving Colorado College team that has lost four straight, albeit against stiff competition (North Dakota, Boston College, New Hampshire). The RedHawks are rolling behind Blake Coleman’s 11 points (third most in the nation) and Sean Kuraly’s four game-winning goals already, and have shown consistency in big moments that they, for whatever reason, lacked last season. Still, Miami has struggled on the penalty kill … but so has CC (allowing 9 power play goals in 25 penalty killing situations). Sophomore goaltender Tyler Marble started both games for the Tigers last weekend, allowing a total of 12 goals on 56 shots. One bright spot for the Tigers has been defenseman Teemu Kivihalme. The rookie has three goals so far, tied for the most by any NCHC rookie so far. Prediction: Miami sweeps
Denver (4-2-0 overall, 1-1-0 NCHC) hosts Western Michigan (2-4-0 overall, 0-2-0 NCHC)
Had it not been for freshman Danton Heinen’s overtime heroics last week, a moment even bigger considering there were several players out of the lineup with the “stomach flu,” the feeling in the Mile High City might be a little different heading into this weekend. Prior to Saturday’s 2-1 overtime win over BC, Denver had dropped its previous two games, one to those same Eagles, and one to Minnesota-Duluth. Instead, the Pioneers enter this weekend on a high, boasting a balanced offense and a strong goaltender in Evan Cowley. The sophomore has picked up where Sam Brittain left off last year, and has helped the DU defense limit opponents to just over 1.6 goals per game. Cowley will face a Broncos offense that was shut out in back to back games before scoring four in a 4-2 win over Alaska-Fairbanks last Saturday. This weekend marks the first meeting between the programs since Denver ended WMU’s season last year in the NCHC semifinals, and the Broncos will be looking for their first-ever program win at Magness Arena. Prediction: Denver wins Friday, Western Michigan wins Saturday
North Dakota at Wisconsin: Off to its best start since the 2009-10 season, on the strength of five (yes, five) shorthanded goals already this season (none bigger than last weekend’s Bryn Chyzyk OT winner vs. Air Force), UND heads to one of its many rivals carried over from the old WCHA. North Dakota brings an unbeaten streak of six games to Madison, facing a struggling, winless Wisconsin team that has managed just three goals in four games thus far. Still, expect a close games between the rivals, especially with Joel Rumpel (Wisconsin) and Zane McIntyre (UND) between the pipes. Prediction: Wisconsin wins Friday, North Dakota wins Saturday
Nebraska-Omaha at Ohio State: Speaking of hot starts… UNO is unbeaten in four straight games as well, led by Jake Guentzel’s 1.8 points per game (tied for fourth nationally, with Boston University’s Jack Eichel). The strength beyond Guentzel has unquestionably been Ryan Massa. The Omaha goaltender, recently named the NCHC Player of the Month (October) boasts a 1.38 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage. He backstopped the Mavericks to three figurative points in Ithaca against Cornell last week. Just as UND/Wisconsin represents a WCHA throwback, this matchup is a CCHA throwback. Massa will face an Ohio State offense that was awakened last week after struggling earlier in the season. Senior Tanner Fritz leads the Buckeyes with seven points, but he’s also a team-worst minus-7 while playing a lot of minutes so far. Prediction: Nebraska-Omaha wins Friday, Ohio State wins Saturday
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