Both Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State face a crucial weekend of conference hockey (photo prout)
As we head into the last month of the college hockey regular season, we’ll continue to see key matchups that will determine not only the pairings for the conference playoffs but also the final positioning in the Pairwise. For many teams their most important game of the season will be that next game on the schedule. The following is a list of prominent and interesting games for the upcoming weekend:
- St. Lawrence University Saints (16-10-2; #20; #17 PWR) @ Quinnipiac University Bobcats (18-8-2; #13; #13 PWR) (Fri) – In my opinion, this is the most important game of the weekend. Both squads have been playing outstanding hockey and the ECAC title could be on the line for league leader Quinnipiac this weekend (see also Clarkson vs Quinnipiac below). The teams are separated by 3 points in the standings. However, the Saints have a lighter weekend with a Saturday matchup on the road with 3-17-2 Princeton. In contrast, QU has another tough battle with visiting Clarkson on Saturday. Second place SLU has been on a roll winning seven consecutive games including quality road wins at Dartmouth, Harvard and Clarkson. These two squads faced off in Canton on November 22 with the Bobcats prevailing in a 3-2 overtime game. Likewise, QU has had success since January 1st with a record of 6-3-1. A one-goal road loss to SCSU and a disappointing weekend being swept by a quality Merrimack team are their blemishes. On paper, the Saints have a slight edge in GPG (3.07 vs 2.79) and GA (2.00 vs 2.21). Goaltending has been rock solid for both teams. Kyle Hayton (1.91) and Michael Garteig (2.03) can both single handedly win games for their respective teams. Prediction: I’m leaning towards St. Lawrence in this game despite the fact they are the visiting team. Goaltending and momentum are the keys in this one and SLU has both. This looks to be an overtime thriller with the Saints the victor.
- Clarkson University Knights (11-13-4; NR; #33 PWR)) @ Quinnipiac Bobcats (18-8-2; #13; #13 PWR) (Sat) – After an intense and emotional battle with St. Lawrence, the Bobcats need to prepare for another tough battle with Clarkson the next night. Clarkson has had inconsistent results since the start of the year going 4-5 but they have the ability to come out of the weeds and surprise. Defensively, they can shut teams down and the tandem of Perry and Lewis in goal are posting solid numbers. It’s on offense that this squad struggles. Leading scorer Jeff DiNallo has 18 points and leading goal scorer Joe Zarbo has 8 goals. Prediction: Unless Quinnipiac is emotionally and physically spent from the previous evenings contest with St. Lawrence, the Bobcats should be able to overpower Clarkson on their home ice. Clarkson has won once in the last eight head to head meetings but it was on November 21 in a 2-1 win.
- Vermont University Catamounts (16-10-2; #17; #19 PWR) @ Boston College (17-9-2; #10; #11 PWR) (Fri/Sat) – There was a point in the season where the Catamounts won seven consecutive games. Since that time, they’ve gone 2-7-1 and are currently on life support. Let’s be perfectly honest, their season is on the line this weekend vs Boston College. It’ll be intriguing to see how UVM responds with their back against the wall. The resurgent Eagles on the other hand, have taken flight since December 1st with a record of 10-2-2. On paper, this series looks to be a closer matchup than what it realistically will be. Prediction: the momentum is all in Boston College’s corner in this series. With both games on BC’s home ice I can’t envision UVM garnering a W. As such, I predict a weekend sweep for Boston College.
- Denver University Pioneers (16-9-1; #9; #9 PWR) @ North Dakota (19-6-2; #2; #2 PWR) (Fri/Sat) – There have been some classic battles between these two squads over the years and it continues in the NCHC, a conference where it’s members rarely get a night off. These teams have essentially split their series over the past five years and it shouldn’t be any different this weekend. Currently in fifth place, Denver is battling for a top four position in the conference. In the tightly contested NCHC every game counts and this will be a preview of the playoffs. This Denver team might not be on par with some of the power teams of the past be they continue to be led by their outstanding defensive corps of LaLeggia, Zajac and Butcher. They’ll need to counter the potent offense of UND led by upperclassmen Drake Caggiula, Michael Parks and Mark MacMillan who have combined for 77 points this season. The “Ralph” will be rocking and this should be an outstanding series. Prediction: If history is any indication, this will be a weekend split with DU winning on Friday and UND on Saturday.
- University of Michigan Wolverines (16-8-0; #12; #12 PWR) @ University of Minnesota Golden Gophers ( 14-9-3; NR; #13t PWR) (Fri/Sat) – Surprisingly, there are still 20 points on the line in the BIG 10 conference before the end of the regular season. First place Michigan maintains a six point advantage over Minnesota in the standings but that could dissipate quickly this weekend. The question to be answered is whether the Gophers recent four-game unbeaten streak means they are back on track or if it’s just a reflection of two consecutive series against the cellar dwellers of the BIG 10. Most likely this weekend will answer a few of those questions as the Gophers battle a team that’s won 12 of their last 14 games including a sweep of the Gophers in early January. Michigan has some obnoxious offensive statistics scoring an average of 4.21 GPG. Forward Zach Hyman has compiled 37 points in 24 games and is followed by Dylan Larkin with 31 points. The Gophers can score as well but took a big hit with the recent loss to injury of Connor Reilly, their second leading goal scorer. This is a conference devoid of defense and it certainly applies to these teams each allowing over 2.5 GPG. As such, expect a wide open offensive weekend. The question: who can score more goals? Prediction: expect more of the previous series with lots of goal scoring. Minnesota will find a away to prevail at home in a weekend split. I see a three-goal Michigan win on Friday and a two-goal (EN) win for the Gophers on Saturday.
- St. Cloud State University Huskies (12-13-1; NR; 21t PWR) @ University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (17-10-1; #6; #5 PWR) (Fri/Sat) – This will be an interesting series and always well attended by SCSU fans at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. The earlier series in St. Cloud between these two squads in November resulted in a rare road sweep by the Bulldogs who had not won a game in St. Cloud since the 2006-07 season. But, most frustrating to the Huskies was watching a third period comeback disappear in a matter of seconds after an ill-timed SCSU penalty late in period three. UMD ended up winning in overtime after being outshot 35-21 in the contest. The question to be asked this weekend is whether the Huskies recent scoring binge – 22 goals in the last four games is an indication the Huskies have their offense on track. NCHC co-offensive player of the month Jonny Brodzinski has been on a torrid streak with seven goals in January. Rookie Patrick Russell has come of age with 4 goals and seven points in the last four games. The Bulldogs have a potent offense scoring over 3 GPG and they feature one of the top forwards in college hockey in Dom Toninato. At best, the Huskies could pull to within one point of the Bulldogs at the end of the weekend. Prediction: SCSU has played well in Duluth over the years. Expecting either team to sweep is a stretch in my opinion. Thus, a one-goal SCSU win on Friday and a two- goal (EN) UMD win on Saturday.
- University of Connecticut Huskies (9-13-7; NR; #34 PWR) vs Northeastern University Huskies (12-11-4; NR; 24 PWR) (H/H – Fri/Sat) – This is an intriguing matchup between teams knotted at seventh place in the Hockey East standings. If you scrutinize further, the records of both squads is somewhat deceiving. Northeastern lost 8 of 9 to start the season but since then has one of the best records in college hockey. Since January 1, Northeastern is 7-1-3 having lost only to Boston College and they are undefeated in their last 6 games. UConn has been anything but intimidated in their new league with wins over Boston College, Vermont, Lowell and Merrimack, ties with Boston U and Providence and NC wins over Quinnipiac and Union. Neither team team has enough games left on the regular season schedule to allow them to claw their way into the top 15 of the PWR. However, they’ll both present nightmares to whoever they face in the Hockey East playoffs. Both teams tend to grind out wins and can be frustrating to play. That’s what makes this home and home series so intriguing. Prediction: I’m giving the Northeastern Huskies the edge. More offensive firepower, experience and depth should give Northeastern a two-goal win on Friday and an overtime tie on Saturday.
- Western Michigan University Broncos (11-11-4; NR; 25t PWR) @ University of Nebraska Omaha Mavericks (16-7-3; #4; #4 PWR) (Fri/Sat) – Omaha currently holds a one -point lead over North Dakota in the NCHC standings. It’ll be interesting to see how this young squad handles the pressure of the battle for the league title over the next four weekends. It starts this weekend with the WMU Broncos whom the Mavericks swept earlier in the season in Kalamazoo, MI. Omaha has an 8-3-1 home record this season and the Broncos have had success on the road at 5-5-1. Omaha can be explosive offensively and they are scoring over 3 GPG. Western’s goaltending has struggled at times and they’ll need top-notch goaltending this weekend to have any chance for success. Prediction: UNO has too much firepower for the Broncos. The home ice advantage leads to a sweep for the Mavericks.
- Colgate University Red Raiders (15-10-3; NR; 21t PWR) @ Harvard University Crimson (12-8-2; #14; #16 PWR) (Fri) – Unfortunately, both these teams have sustained key injuries that have derailed what looked to be very promising seasons. As it sits, both are on the outside looking in for an NCAA playoff berth as the season winds down. Harvard has won twice since January 1st after winning 11 of 13 previous games. Colgate is 4-3-2 since January 1st including a 6-1 loss to Harvard on January 24. Both will need to catch some momentum into the ECAC playoffs. Prediction: Home ice may give Harvard a slight edge in this game. As such, I’m predicting a one-goal win by Harvard on Friday.