This weekend includes four non-conference series involving NCHC teams, with St. Cloud State set to host Quinnipiac in a two-game set starting in less than two hours from now. Meanwhile, Denver, Miami, and Colorado College all travel east for their weekend games.
A look at the four series, as 2015’s first weekend of college hockey gets underway:
Providence (11-6-1, 6-4-0 HEA) hosts Colorado College (3-11-1, 0-8-1 NCHC): This is a Saturday-Sunday series, a rematch of a pair of games last year in Colorado Springs, when Providence left with a 2-2 tie (which the Friars earned with a late third period extra-attacker goal) and a dominant 7-2 win. Jon Gillies was in net for Providence in both of those games and likely will be this weekend as well, against a CC team that’s playing its sixth and seventh consecutive road games this weekend. The Tigers’ last official home game was their November 21 win over Wisconsin — CC’s last win overall. Scoring goals has been a challenge for CC through the first half of the season, failing to score more than two in a game for 13 of the last 14 contests. On the other side, top forwards Trevor Mingola, Nick Saracino, and Shane Luke are starting to heat up for a Providence team that’s won seven of eight and three in a row — including a pair against Massachusetts and Vermont to close out 2014. Prediction: Providence wins Friday, CC wins Saturday.
Denver (10-5-0 overall, 4-3-0 NCHC) at the Ledyard Classic (at Dartmouth, vs. Brown): Denver will be without star sophomore defenseman Will Butcher, who despite a strong tournament in Montreal, was part of Team USA’s World Junior team that was eliminated earlier today after a 3-2 quarterfinal loss to Russia. Still, Dartmouth and Brown will have to focus on containing a defensive corps that is active in all game situations. In particular, Joey LaLeggia (who leads the nation in both shots and goals per game among defensemen) and Nolan Zajac are big reasons why Denver is ranked in the top 5 in the nation in both power play and penalty killing percentage. The key, really, for all teams this weekend will be how sharp they are coming off a lengthy break — Denver last played on December 13, Dartmouth last played on December 14, and Brown hasn’t seen game action since a December 6 win over Rensselaer, just the Bears’ third win of the year. Dartmouth’s Tyler Sikura comes into tonight’s game against Denver with a five-game point streak on the line. Prediction: Denver sweeps.
Rensselaer (6-13-1, 4-5-0 ECAC) hosts Miami (12-6-0, 7-3-0 NCHC): Miami heads to the capital district of New York to play its second consecutive ECAC opponent, after the RedHawks shut out Cornell 3-0 on Monday in Florida — a steady win that snapped a two-game losing stretch. In the game against Cornell, Miami captain Austin Czarnik added two more assists to bring his total to 20 for the season. Czarnik leads the nation in assists and is the only player in the top 100 in points per game who has not scored a goal yet this season. Veteran leadership — and continued strong play from goaltender Jay Williams — will be important for Miami, who are in the midst of a 12 game stretch in which the RedHawks play nine games away from home. The key for RPI this weekend will be whether the Engineers can display a renewed commitment to defense after a six game losing streak to end 2014, in which Seth Appert’s young team gave up a combined 29 goals. Prediction: A win and tie for Miami.
St. Cloud State (6-9-1, 2-5-1 NCHC) hosts Quinnipiac (12-5-1, 8-2-0 ECAC): This is the first meeting between the Huskies and Bobcats since Quinnipiac upended St. Cloud, 4-1, in a national semifinal game at the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four. In that game, Quinnipiac took control with three goals in the first 11:19 of the game, en route to an eventual national title game loss to conference rival Yale. Certainly, getting off to a good start will be important in this series as well. This year, St. Cloud is 3-1-1 when scoring first and just 3-8-0 when conceding the game’s first goal. The Huskies have also won just once in their last five games and enter this weekend with a three-game losing streak. The challenge towards the end of 2014 was the St. Cloud struggled gaining game-to-game, and certainly weekend-to-weekend, momentum, and now have a chance to develop that with a slew of home games over the next few weeks. The stingy defense of Quinnipiac, which held Princeton to back-to-back shutouts last week, will prove challenging though. Junior goaltender Michael Garteig is playing well, and contributions from freshmen like Landon Smith have bolstered the Bobcats, who sit atop the ECAC standings. Prediction: A weekend split.
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