As the second half of the season begins in earnest tonight, all NCHC teams with the exception of Colorado College (coming off a mid-week win at Connecticut) kick off big weekend series that have the usual broad implications (for national rankings, conference standings, and so forth) but also plenty of short-term meaning as well. Here’s a look at each series:
North Dakota (13-4-2, 6-3-1 NCHC) hosts Minnesota-Duluth (12-6-0, 7-3-0 NCHC): North Dakota, fresh off its strongest first-half in coach Dave Hakstol’s 11-year tenure, has won just one of its last five Friday night games heading into this weekend’s matchup against a Bulldogs squad that’s quietly played as well, in stretches, as any team in the nation so far this season. Certainly, traveling to Grand Forks to play a UND team that’s been strong at home likely won’t bother UMD very much, as the Bulldogs played the toughest schedule in the country through December, having already completed series against Minnesota, Michigan Tech, Miami, and Denver. UND’s balanced offense — though led by a line featuring the league’s leading scorer Drake Caggiula, paired with seniors Michael Parks and Mark MacMillan — will look to overwhelm UMD’s freshman goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo. Of course, that hasn’t been an easy task for opponents this season at all, as the freshman netminder has only one road loss all season. An experienced defensive pairing of Andy Welinski and Derik Johnson have played well against top opponent lines all season. On the other end, North Dakota goaltender Zane McIntyre has allowed two goals or less in six of his last seven appearances. Saturday night’s game is televised nationally on CBC Sports Network. Prediction: UMD wins Friday, UND wins Saturday.
St. Cloud State (7-10-1, 2-5-1 NCHC) hosts Miami (14-6-0, 7-3-0 NCHC): Unlike the UND/UMD matchup, this series features two teams that have played meaningful games much more recently — Miami is coming off a weekend sweep of RPI while St. Cloud split with Quinnipiac. The Huskies have surprisingly struggled to develop momentum through the first half, plagued by scoring difficulties and inconsistent goaltending. Meanwhile, Miami is rolling behind an offense that has consistently outshot its opponents, a trio of centers that are arguably the NCHC’s best faceoff men, and goaltender Jay Williams, who enters the weekend with a shutout streak of 121:59. For St. Cloud, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Huskies will have to rely on more than just the big names of its junior class — players like forwards Jimmy Murray, Jonny Brodzinski and David Morley — to build success in the second half of the season. Freshman Judd Peterson scored the game-winner last Friday against Quinnipiac and will be among those who need a strong January. Prediction: Miami sweeps.
Nebraska-Omaha (12-5-3, 6-3-1-1 NCHC) hosts Denver (11-5-1, 4-3-0 NCHC): Plenty of young talent will be on display in Omaha in this weekend, between a pair of teams that have the capability to make a run for the league’s regular season title. You may have heard that there’s a freshman at BU named Jack Eichel who leads the nation in points per game. The second highest freshman scorer in Division I hockey is DU rookie forward Danton Heinen, who tallied five points against Dartmouth and Brown last weekend alone. Beyond Heinen, it’s difficult to understate how valuable the goaltending for DU has been this season. The storyline, of course, had been the departure of Sam Brittain, but the duo of sophomore Evan Cowley and freshman Tanner Jaillet have been exceptional thus far. Cowley’s save percentage (.935) is among the best in the country. UNO has no shortage of impressive young players as well — led this year by sophomores Austin Ortega and Jake Guentzel and freshman Jake Randolph. Ortega was the NCHC Player of the Month for December, while Randolph is part of a Mavericks freshman class that has amassed 60 points this season, second best in the nation. Prediction: Denver wins Friday, UNO wins Saturday.
And in non-conference action:
A home-and-home series between Western Michigan (7-9-2, 2-6-2-2 NCHC) and Notre Dame (9-9-2, 4-2-2 HEA): The puck drops for this one in less than two hours from now. It’s a matchup between old CCHA foes and a pair of well-respected coaches in Andy Murray and Jeff Jackson. For more, check out this preview from Dave Starman, who will be part of the CBS Sports Network’s TV coverage for the game tonight. Prediction: A weekend split, with each team winning at home.
Comment on this Post ...