Five Thoughts: Conference Races Tighten Up

Even though many teams enjoyed the final off week of the regular season, plenty of big games were to be had and key points were up for grabs. Here are my five thoughts.

  1. Miami Impresses in Hard-Earned Split

On first glace, it’s easy to make assumptions about the St. Cloud State Huskies against the Miami Redhawks. It looks like the Huskies dominated with a 5-1 win on Friday, while the Redhawks were able to sneak away with a 3-2 victory on Saturday.

Watching that series, I feel Miami has the better of the play most of the series. A 5-1 score can look deceiving, but the Redhawks peppered junior goaltender Charlie Lindgren with 36 shots on goal, including 17 in the first, and controlled most of the play.

The Huskies got four of the five goals off odd-man rushes or breakaways and only finished with 24 shots. Credit the Huskies for capitalizing on its chances, but you can’t expect to win many games with that little puck possession.

That’s what happened on Saturday. Again Miami came out strong, but went into the first intermission with a 1-0 deficit. The tide turned in the second period when Miami scored three goals in 4:37 to get the lead for good.

I’ve been nervous about how the Huskies respond to giving up goals all season. It feels like they can let a game get out of reach. That’s what happened here.

I think Miami is set up well for home ice. They have a favorable schedule remaining against Western Michigan, Colorado College, and Minnesota Duluth.

  1. Minnesota Duluth’s Sweep Vaults Bulldogs to Home Ice Position

Speaking of home ice, the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs currently occupy the final home-ice spot in the NCHC. The season hasn’t been ideal for the Bulldogs, but a nice sweep of Colorado College may provide them with a spark to turn it around.

The sweep wasn’t without a fair share of drama, however. After a back and forth affair on Friday, the Tigers had a 2-1 lead late in the third period and seemed poised for a split. The Bulldogs were able to score two goals less than a minute apart and hang on for a 3-2 win.

Even though the Bulldogs are off this weekend, they can fall back no farther than a tie for fourth, depending on what Omaha does against Western Michigan (remember, the Broncos swept the Mavericks earlier this year). This battle for the last home ice spot may be the best battle in the conference as it looks to me that North Dakota has the best chance at the Penrose. Duluth does have the edge in points over Miami, but Duluth’s schedule down the road involves games at North Dakota and at Saint Cloud. That is a huge test and may be too much to overcome. The key series will be the final showdown between the Bulldogs and the Redhawks. Any way I look at the remainder of the schedule, it comes down to that series as being the key series for fourth place.

  1. Harvard is 1-3 in Last Four, Falls to 11 in Pairwise

The Harvard Crimson started the season strong, going 8-1-3 in its first 12 games. However, the team has taken a little bit of a hit and currently sits at 13-7-3 and has stumbled as of late, only scoring seven goals in the past four games.

Harvard finished last in the Beanpot, losing the first game 3-2 against Boston College and 5-1 Monday against Northeastern.

The Crimson are led in the goal scoring department by seniors Jimmy Vesey and Kyle Criscuolo with 18 and 16 goals, respectively. Keeping them off the score sheet is tough, but has been proven to be possible. At the beginning of the season, I thought they were one of the top teams in the country, but they seem less scary than they were early in the year.

  1. Michigan State Upsets Michigan, Gets Split

The upset of the week came from the Big Ten as the Spartans were able to stifle the potent Michigan Wolverine offense and win the Friday tilt 3-2 in overtime. Senior Matt DeBlouw tallied his fourth of the year for the game winner. The win was only the seventh of the year and third in the Big Ten for the Spartans.

The Wolverines were able to bounce back on Saturday, winning 4-1 the following night, firing 42 shots on goal and 20 in the first period alone.

The Wolverines have one of the best lines in college hockey with juniors JT Compher, Tyler Motte, and freshman Kyle Connor. The trio has combined for a total of 121 points on the season and has accumulated a 17-4-4 record.

I am not that high on the Michigan Wolverines. While they do have that talented trio and a pretty good supporting cast for depth, the goaltending has been mediocre all season. Senior Steve Racine has been flirting with a save percentage below .900 all season and at times has looked real shaky. I think a well-disciplined team in a regional will knock them out.

  1. WCHA Race Coming Down to the Wire

It has turned into a three-team race for the top of the WCHA. Minnesota State leads the pack for the time being, but both Bowling Green and Michigan Tech are both only two points back.

Minnesota State and Bowling Green just split a series in Mankato, so no ground was gained or lost from that front. But with no WCHA teams currently occupying an at-large bid for the national tournament, seeding for the WCHA tournament will be very critical.

I can see any one of those teams stepping up and representing the WCHA, but I don’t see any of them jumping up to get an at-large bid. Once the Final Five rolls around, every time will be fighting to avoid elimination.

That is all for me. Weekend preview will be coming on Thursday. My shift is over.

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