Five Thoughts: Conference Races Heat Up

Short blog tonight. Everyone please subscribe to the Huskies Hockey Podcast where @SCSUTravelinFan and I talk all things involving St. Cloud State and a smattering of other things in college hockey. We record once a week during the season (usually on Wednesdays). I’ll also put a link on the blog.

  1. With North Dakota Able to Take NCHC Stranglehold, Instead Strangle Their Necks

For the first time this season, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks suffers back-to-back losses against the Denver Pioneers by scores of 6-4 and 4-1.

It was an uncharacteristic defensive effort from the Fighting Hawks, who allowed 10 goals on the weekend. They have allowed one or fewer goals in 17 games this season. However, the Pioneers were able to move the puck into key scoring areas and capitalized on them, making it a long weekend for North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson.

Junior Trevor Moore had a monster weekend, scoring two goals assisting on five other goals.

  1. Omaha Gets Revenge, Takes Two from Western Michigan

Earlier this season, the Omaha Mavericks were an undefeated 6-0 before crashing down to earth and getting swept in Kalamazoo. This weekend held a different fate for the Western Michigan Broncos.

The Mavericks took the sweep 2-1 and 6-3 in Omaha to gain a little bit of revenge. Sophomore Tyler Vesel was the man of the weekend, opening the scoring shorthanded in Friday’s game and adding another two goals and an assist on Saturday’s penalty filled affair. A total of 17 penalties were called during the game.

With the sweep, Omaha has vaulted to a tie with Minnesota Duluth for the fourth and final home playoff spot.

  1. Minnesota Takes Slim Big Ten Lead

The Minnesota Golden Gophers were able to sweep the Ohio State Buckeyes, but it wasn’t without a flair for the dramatic.

The Friday see-saw battle was 4-3 in the waning seconds of the game when Buckeye forward Matthew Weis scored his seventh of the year in the nick of time with .1 seconds left to send it into overtime.

The victory was short lived and Gopher leading scorer Justin Kloos netted the game winner at the 3:25 mark.

Saturday’s game was also a nail-biter, but for a different reason. The Gophers took a 4-1 lead into the second intermission, but the Buckeyes cut the score to 4-3 midway through the third. However, the Gophers defense would stand tall and were able to hold on for the victory.

The Michigan Wolverines beat and tied the Wisconsin Badgers over the weekend. The Maize and Blue did end up winning the a shootout for the extra conference point, but leaving the win on the table vaulted Minnesota to the top of the conference standings with only six games to go.

  1. WCHA leading Minnesota State Manages Two Ties Against Cellar Dweller Alabama-Huntsville

The surprise of the weekend came south of the Mason-Dixon line, as the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers were able to tie the conference leading Minnesota State Mavericks by scores of 3-3 and 1-1.

Now, ties are extremely common in the WCHA, but Chargers have actually had fairly good goaltending for a team with a record as bad as they have. Junior Matt Larose has a .931 save percentage on the season and got the nod in both games. He was clearly enough to frustrate the Maverick shooters.

Minnesota State currently sits atop of the WCHA with a four-point lead over second place Michigan Tech and Bowling Green.

The Mavericks are off this week, so both Michigan Tech and Bowling Green can make up those four points and give the Mavericks a run for its money.

  1. Quinnipiac Finally Falters

We knew the Quinnipiac Bobcats haven’t been playing a quite the level of hockey as they were at the beginning of the season. They have been playing from behind quite a bit and have flirted with disaster since the turn of the calendar. This time, St. Lawrence caught them.

Senior Brian Ward scored his eighth of the year on the first shot in overtime to beat the Bobcats 4-3.

Quinnipiac moves to 22-2-6 on the season (following the Saturday win against Clarkson), which I guess is pretty okay. However, they have been tying quite a bit. They are 5-1-4 in the past 10 games and haven’t gotten much help from senior goaltender Michael Garteig. He has only a .894 save percentage in since the second Princeton game. I don’t expect those numbers to keep up, but it sure is of note.

For a quick blog, this is verbose. Podcast tomorrow. Preview Thursday. Week is already flying by! My shift is over.

 

Advertisements

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.

Five Thoughts: Red Lamps Get A Workout

There were goals aplenty all over college hockey last weekend. Here are my five thoughts:

  1. Minnesota Crushes in Border Battle

The Minnesota Golden Gophers put up a total of 13 goals in the sweep against the Wisconsin Badgers. Sophomore defenseman Michael Brodzinski had an assist on Friday and capped off Saturday’s game with hat trick in the rout.

As much as the Gopher offense should be the headline for the series, the focus will be on what happened to freshman Tommy Novak.

Novak took two hits that eventually earned suspensions from the Big Ten, the second of which may have Novak sitting out at least for the North Star College Cup.

Junior Aidan Cavallini will sit one game and senior Eddie Wittchow will miss a total of three.

With all the new studies shown about the long-term effects of concussions, I do think stiffer penalties need to be in place at all levels for these types of plays (and when you punch someone while they are lying down on the ice).

Special thanks to twitter user @cjzero. Seriously. Follow him.

Minnesota is currently on a five game win streak heading into the North Star College Cup against Bemidji State.

  1. St. Cloud State Drills Western Michigan, Again

The St. Cloud State Huskies proved the last series against Western Michigan was no fluke as the Huskies 8-2 and 7-3 over the weekend, including six goals on the power play.

Senior Joey Benik was named the offensive player of the year for the NCHC have a monstrous two goal, five assist weekend.

As much as this looks like a massacre, there were actually key moments in each game that really turned the momentum toward St. Cloud.

On Friday’s game, the Huskies were up 1-0 when the Broncos had a golden 5×3 opportunity for 1:04 late in the first to take the lead.

Even though the Huskies’ penalty kill sitting at a poor 78 percent, they were able to stay strong and kill the penalties. Shortly after the penalties expired, the Huskies rattled three goals by the time the five-minute mark of the second period was reached.

Saturday’s key moment happened at the end of the second period with the Huskies up 6-3. It appeared the Broncos scored, but was eventually reviewed and disallowed being ruled the puck was played with a high stick before entering the net. I was surprised it was overturned by the TV cameras, but maybe the official have access to a different angle. The Huskies scored another and clamped down defensively to make sure another didn’t get past junior goaltender Charlie Lindgren.

I would imagine the Broncos are privately hoping not to play the Huskies in the first round of the playoffs as the Huskies have outscored the Broncos 31-8 in three games.

  1. North Dakota Survives Friday Scare Against Colorado College

The first 15 minutes couldn’t have gone any better for the Fighting Hawks in last Friday’s game. Up 4-0, it would seem like losing senior Drake Caggiula and freshman Nick Schmaltz wouldn’t be a problem at all.

The Tigers came roaring back and scored five straight to take the 5-4 lead in Grand Forks and had the lead until the last minute.

After a few failed empty net attempts that turned into icings against the Tigers, the Fighting Hawks kept up the pressure and finally tied it up with about 32 seconds remaining by freshman Rhett Gardner.

The Tigers have been playing very well recently, so it was no surprise to see them push the Fighting Hawks to the limit. The depth scoring is something the Fighting Hawks really need as the season goes on, and coming back Friday and winning 5-1 Saturday is a welcome sight for them.

  1. Omaha Falling Faster than the Canadian Dollar

Things were rolling along just fine throughout the season, but the Mavericks momentum hit a brick wall the last three series.

The Mavericks are just 1-5 in its last six game and just got swept in very ugly fashion to Miami.

It was just a few weeks ago where they were sitting in the fifth spot in the pairwise and flirting with a one seed. This recent slide has them fallen to ninth with a trip to a much improved Colorado College squad next weekend.

Fans should be very worried about the Maverick’s conference performance. While they are a perfect 10-0 in non-conference play, they are just 5-8-1 against NCHC foes and sitting outside home ice.

A lot has to do with the loss of freshman goalie Evan Weninger, who was injured when this slide started. He is easily the best choice in goal, but three of the losses the Mavericks were shutout or only scored one. Hard to win that way.

  1. Minnesota State Finds the Net Often Against Lowly Lake Superior State

If you remember the start of the season, Minnesota State was shut out in three of the first four games of the season. They had no such problems against the Lakers with 8-0 and 5-1 victories.

In Friday’s 8-0 shellacking, 15 different players found the score sheet and fired 42 shots on net. Only one of those goals came on the power play, which isn’t usually the case when one team dominated on the score sheet. Usually they are aided by a few power play goals.

The 5-1 game on Saturday saw Minnesota State leading goal scorer sophomore C.J. Franklin score two goals and senior Teddy Blueger add two assists.

Minnesota State is feasting on WCHA competition with a 12-3-5 record and is sitting at the top, three points ahead of Bowling Green. It looks like the WCHA will be a one-bid conference, so seeding position will be very important come tournament time.

Minnesota State has only lost twice in the last 15 games.

That is all for this evening. I’ll have a North Star College Cup preview. All four teams are playing well, so it will be a very fun tournament. My shift is over.

 

Five Thoughts: Tigers Goalie Finds His Roar

College hockey surprises were out in full force last weekend, but the top team in the land still stays hot. Here are my five thoughts.

  1. Colorado College Stuns Saint Cloud State, Tiger goalie Jacob Nehama stops 81

You have to hand it to Jacob Nehama. The freshman goaltender had a very active weekend but stood tall to earn the split in Saint Cloud.

Friday’s game started almost got ugly very quickly for the Tigers as the Huskies scored two shortly after the 12-minute mark of the first period. But then Nehama took over. Sure, he didn’t get the win Friday as the Tigers fell 2-1, but Nehama stifled the relentless Husky attack and his squad held the potent Husky power play to 0-for-5 on the night.

Saturday night was all Nehama as he stopped 47 or 49 shots, including 19 of 20 in the third period to beat the Huskies 5-2. Junior Sam Rothstein pitched in a goal and an assist.

Quietly, the Tigers have really turned it around. After starting an atrocious 0-13 on the season, the Tigers have won a respectable five out of the last nine. This team is has 13 freshman and have looked to have turned the corner. This team played very tough along the boards all weekend and won a lot of battles. They will only continue to get better as the season continues.

  1. Quinnipiac Still Firing On All Cylinders

Not a lot has rattled the Quinnipiac Bobcats this season. The top squad in the Pairwise rattled off a total of 10 goals in a 5-0 against Union and a 5-4 OT win against Harvard.

I went a little bit more in depth in last Thursday’s blog, so I’ll talk more about the game against Harvard at Madison Square Garden. The Bobcats took a 4-0 lead into the first intermission, including a 12th from senior Travis St. Denis and number 13 from junior Sam Anas. The Bobcats scored three in a span of 36 seconds and added a fourth later in the period.

However, the Crimson clawed back into the game answering with three goals of in the second and added another in the third to force the game into overtime.

The Bobcats hero would end up being junior defenseman Derek Smith who scored his third goal of the season to give the Bobcats the win.

This team shows no sign of slowing down. They currently sit at 19-1-3. They have won tight games, blowouts, given up leads and battled back, seemly every way possible. A couple of good tests remain on the schedule, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they enter the ECAC tournament with only one loss.

  1. Harvard Drop Two Versus Strong Competition

On the flip side of the showdown at MSG, the Harvard Crimson had a tough weekend against premier competition. The losses to Boston University and Quinnipiac dropped Harvard to fourth in the Pairwise.

While that doesn’t sound like much of a drop, losses for Ivy League schools are always magnified due to the fewer games they play. For instance, Harvard will only play 29 games this year, one of the least in college hockey.

Harvard gave up 11 goals on the weekend, which is very uncharacteristic of them. Harvard only gives up an average of 2.23 goals per game, but has shown shakiness in net.

  1. Denver Rebounds With Weekend Sweep of Omaha

Omaha suffered its first home loss of the season (and first in its brand new arena) in 3-0 and 4-3 decisions to the Denver Pioneers, but those two games weren’t the biggest loss for the Mavericks.

Freshman goalie Evan Weninger, who has had a terrific season between the pipes for the Mavericks, suffered an ankle sprain in the first period of Friday’s game and will not make the trip to North Dakota this weekend. He has been a huge part of the Mavericks success this season.

Junior Kirk Thompson will in all likelihood get the nod against the Fighting Hawks, and his .889 save percentage doesn’t exactly stem confidence.

  1. Minnesota Scores Three Shorthanded in Rout of Penn State

Minnesota and Penn State split their Big Ten battle. Penn State got out to a 2-0 lead in the second period of Friday’s game only to give up two in the third. Freshman defenseman Vince Pedrie scored his fourth of the season in overtime to get the victory.

The Golden Gophers answered back in force on Saturday afternoon, putting up seven on the Nittany Lions and cruising to an easy 7-1 victory. Junior Hudson Fasching scored two goals; both shorthanded, and junior Justin Kloos added a shorthanded goal and three assists to pick up the victory.

According to the official Golden Gopher men’s hockey twitter account, the last time the team tallied three shorthanded goals was an 8-2 victory against Michigan in 2006.  It’s actually pretty impressive it was that recently.

I remember one time I had former Minnesota State Maverick Zach Harrison on my bench in a fantasy hockey league and he scored a shorthanded hat trick.  Let’s just say it would have been worth a lot of points if I would have started him. No wonder I don’t play fantasy sports anymore.

One-Timer:

There are rumblings that Amanda Kessel, sniper for the Minnesota women’s hockey team, has been skating with the Gophers and may return for her last semester of eligibility. The Olympic silver-medalist and Patty Kazmaier award winner has been battling concussion symptoms since the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

That’s it for me. I’ll update everyone Thursday. My shift is over.

Five Thoughts: Surprises and Status Quo

With 59 teams hitting the ice this weekend, there were plenty of interesting results. Some teams kept the status quo; other teams hit a major setback. Here are my five thoughts.

  1. Colorado College followed up its first win of the season with a sweep of Miami.

It has already felt like a long season already for the Colorado College Tigers. They have been shutout five times already this and went a whole series without a goal. The clear underdogs against Miami University was able to put aside scoring woes and sweep the Redhawks by scores of 2-1 and 3-2.

The weekend belonged to Hunter Fejes. The senior from Anchorage scored both goals in the 2-1 victory in Friday’s tilt and the game winner with just 1:13 left to go in Saturday’s game.

The Tigers have a chance to put a little winning streak before the winter break. The next two series for the Tigers are against Western Michigan (4-10-1) and Alabama-Huntsville (3-9-2) aren’t exactly lighting the ice on fire. If the Tigers can get some wins under its belt, they could have a lot of confidence going into the series at St. Cloud State.

  1. Quietly, Penn State is off to a terrific season.

It’s not getting a lot of press, but I think the biggest story that isn’t being talked about is how well the Penn State Nittany Lions are off to a blistering 10-2-3 start.

They rank 14th in team defense, giving up only 2.23 goals per game and fourth in team offense with 4.20 goals per game. Not bad considering a team that is only four years old.

The knee jerk reaction to the Nittany Lions’ rise would be the lack of quality opponents on the schedule. While that is probably the reason why they aren’t getting a lot of love from the media, it should be noted that they aren’t exactly squeaking out victories.

American International and Sacred Heart don’t exactly strike fear into the heart of many opposing fanbases, but Penn State beat those teams by scores of 8-3 and 8-2.

The Big Ten started conference play last weekend and Penn State had no problem dispatching Michigan State by scores of 4-2 and 6-1. Penn State’s losses came against St. Lawrence (currently sits at 9-4-2) and Notre Dame (8-4-4).

We all know the Big Ten isn’t exactly ripe with top teams at the moment, so a championship and birth to a NCAA tournament isn’t out of the question.

  1. Omaha’s weekend went from bad to terrible to good in a span of 36 hours.

The Omaha Mavericks lost last Friday’s game against the St. Cloud State Huskies in a rather non-descript 4-1 fashion. The Huskies controlled the play in many parts of the game. While Omaha held a slight edge in shots, many of them were from outside of home plate and didn’t get many quality chances.

Then news came down for Saturday that top offensive threat Austin Ortega came down with an allergic reaction to a cookie and wasn’t able to play the rematch. Also, Jake Guentzel also went down with about about five minutes left in the first period and didn’t return.

So what does Omaha do with its top two scorers out? Just put up seven goals from seven different goal scorers against one of the best defenses in the country.

The split in this series was easily seen by nearly everyone that could make a prediction, but if you had told me that Omaha would have won because of the depth I would have told you how you have no business predicting hockey.

  1. The Huskies lost more than just Saturday’s game.

The most improved player on the Huskies so far this season has been sophomore Judd Peterson. The Buffalo draft pick leads the team with 10 goals this season.

During the second period in Friday’s game, Peterson was crashing the net and got his legs tangled with the Omaha defenseman. His speed caused him to crash into the boards hard. He was helped off the ice by a trainer for what looked like a shoulder injury.

Coach Bob Motzko said that Peterson would at miss at least the next series at Denver.

Peterson plays in all situations, but especially on the penalty kill. In his absence, that meant that other players would have to fill that role. Omaha capitalized and went 3-for-5 on the power play on Saturday.

It’s important to note how bad St. Cloud’s penalty kill has been. So far this year, the Huskies are second to last in the nation, with only Dartmouth being worse. Now that Peterson is out, arguably the top penalty killing forward, it could get a lot worse. No doubt Motzko will put a lot of work into the PK units this week in practice.

  1. The top teams keep refusing to lose.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t remember a time where we have had this many dominating teams with so few losses this late into the season. Quinnipiac and Providence are still undefeated (compared to zero last year). Eleven teams this year have lost three or fewer times (compared to eight last year).

It’s quite remarkable to see so many top year teams this late into the season. The talent pool has never been deeper. Do yourself a favor and go see one of these teams.

Stick tap to all college hockey fans around the nation for the #FromTopShelfToFoodShelf campaign. About $2,548 and 311 food items were donated from fans just like you and me. I’m sad David Morley didn’t reach 100 points, but my donation was still $40 from the UNO/SCSU series. Special thanks goes to Donna Carpenter for organizing this every year. Please think about participating next year!

Winter Break is approaching for many teams, but still valuable points on the line coming up. My shift is over.

Five Thoughts: NCHC Continues Domination of B1G

As the Big Ten still struggles to find consistency, the NCHC continues its domination. Here are my five thoughts:

  1. Call Saint Cloud State’s power play Miley Cyrus, because it can’t be tamed.

Last blog post, I said how I thought the Minnesota Golden Gophers penalty will would be able to stifle the Huskies power play. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Huskies went 6-for-10 on power play opportunities as they sweep the Gophers by a 3-2 and 7-4 margin in the rare Friday/Sunday series.

The Huskies power play is clicking at a 29.82 percent, which is third in the nation behind Robert Morris and Penn State. What is more impressive is that the Huskies went 0-for-14 when Ethan Prow went down with a concussion. With him in the line up, the power play is 17-for-43 for an insane 39.53 percent.

David Morley continues his hot streak with two goals and three assists on the weekend, inching him closer to the 100-career point milestone. He currently sits at 98 points.

  1. For two straight weekends, major penalties played key roles in halting comebacks against the Huskies.

In the second game against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks, the Huskies looked comfortable with a 3-0 lead late into the second period. Troy Stecher got the Fighting Hawks on the board and started getting a little momentum on their side. However, Trevor Olson took a five-minute interference penalty, which Niklas Nevalainen converted on to keep the Huskies with the momentum. The Huskies ended up winning 6-1.

Sunday against the Gophers saw a seesaw affair turn ugly very quickly. With the score 3-1 in favor of the Huskies, Tyler Sheehy faked a drop pass along the half board. Two Huskies defenders both bit, and Sheehy had an open lane in the slot and beat Charlie Lindgren cleanly, switching momentum back to the Gophers only down by one.

Enter Nick Seeler.

Seeler decided not to play the puck on a pinch, stuck his elbow out and drilled Nevalainen in the head. Nevalainen did not return in the game.

For his effort, Seeler got a five-minute major, game misconduct, and the Big Ten handed down a one-game suspension. The Huskies scored two power play goals on the major from Judd Peterson and Patrick Russell to put the game out of reach.

No official word has come out on Nevalainen’s status, but he already missed a few games earlier this year with a concussion and can’t see him playing against Omaha. With the winter break coming up, I’d be surprised if he plays in Denver the following week as well.

  1. If you manage to shut down Guentzel one night, he’ll go HAM the next.

The Ohio State Buckeye’s have done something not many teams have been able to do all season; shut down Jake Guentzel. The Pittsburgh Penguin draft pick didn’t record a point in Friday’s game. Omaha was still able to sneak out a 3-1 victory with Austin Ortega recording a goal and an assist.

Well, Guentzel didn’t take to kindly to being held without a point and he went off on Saturday. Guentzel had two goals and three assists as Omaha put away a 6-4 victory.

His 22 points on the season leads the NCHC. He also has played fewer games than the two players with 21 points in Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz.

Ortega also had multi-point games in both contests, scoring three goals and adding one assist on the weekend.

  1. Omaha found its workhorse in net.

Evan Weninger improved to 8-1 in the season, getting both wins on the weekend. Earlier in the season, coach Dean Blais was rotating goalies between him and Kirk Thompson. In a previous blog post, I noted that rotating goalies is fine early in the season, but around mid-season its best to hitch your wagon to one goalie.

Well, Weninger has given no reason for Blais to take him out of the starting job. Since being pulled from the Western Michigan game, he is 5-0 and has made 179 saves on 190 shots, good for a .942 save percentage.

Much has been made about Omaha’s advanced stats, but the team keeps rolling. While I don’t believe Corsi is the end-all, be-all of statistics, I do think there is something with amount of shots Omaha gives up. Yes, shots on goal can be subjective and inflating, but Weninger facing 190 shots in just five games is quite a lot of shots to be giving up. I don’t know where the shots are coming from and they may be floaters from the blue line, but games where you are giving up an average of 38 shots per game cannot continue to be the norm.

  1. Michigan State is no match for North Dakota.

The CBS line keeps rolling. Caggiula, Schmaltz and Brock Boeser combined for 11 points on the weekend as the Fighting Hawks easily take down the Spartans 3-1 and 4-1.

Last week, I posted a blog saying that coach Brad Berry should look at breaking up that line. I know it sounds even crazier after an 11-point weekend, but only two of the seven goals didn’t involve at least two of those players.

Depth scoring is so important as the season continues and come tournament time, there will be games where the CBS line gets shut down. Just look at the second game against the Huskies. That line was shut down and the Huskies won 6-1. There is a lot of talent on the Fighting Hawks to have the depth scoring that is needed to make a deep run.

So far this season, the Big Ten is 1-14-1 against the NCHC, with Wisconsin beating North Dakota and tying Denver.

Some awesome games next weekend with Saint Cloud hosting Omaha and Denver traveling to North Dakota. Preview should be posted Thursday night. My shift is over.

Five Thoughts: UND-SCSU Battle to Split, B1G Goes Rogue

Holy scuttlebutt! A lot of B1G issues happening in college hockey over the past few days. We will get to that at the end of my five thoughts.

  1. Top Two Teams in the NCHC Stay At The Top.

The North Dakota Fighting Hawks and the Saint Cloud State Huskies split last weekend at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The Fighting Hawks took the first game turned into the Drake Caggiula Show as he recorded the hat trick to propel the Fighting Hawks to a 4-3 win, despite being outshot 38-26. That was the first game North Dakota was outshot this season. The rematch on Saturday saw the Huskies rebound for a stunning 6-1 win.

The Fighting Hawks, who have been struggling mightily on the power play so far this season, capitalized on two opportunities and walk-on Matt Hrynkiw made 35 stops to get the victory. The CBS line of Brock Boeser, Nick Schmaltz and Caggiula combined for a staggering seven points.

For the Huskies, Judd Peterson got his seventh of the season just 2:20 into the game. North Dakota scored the next three and was able to keep the game just out of reach. Jimmy Murray had a goal and an assist in the game.

The Saturday game was a reversal of fortune for the Huskies. It seemed like a lot of bounces didn’t go the Huskies’ way on Friday, but damn near everything went their way on Saturday. Patrick Newell got the scoring started with a shot that took a lucky bounce off a Fighting Hawks defender an went past Hrynkiw. The Huskies went 2-for-5 on the power play and 15 players had a point. Grand Forks natives Jacob Benson and Jon Lizotte combined for three points.

Since the drop of the puck, the Huskies played a much more sound defensive game and kept a lot of Fighting Hawks shots away from the home plate area. Coach Bob Motzko was upset with the goals the Huskies gave up on Friday, calling them ‘defendable goals’, and the play Saturday was much tighter.

Hrynkiw allowed three goals on the first five shots and was eventually pulled for Cam Johnson. Troy Stecher got the lone goal and led the team with six shots.

Both teams sit at the top of the NCHC with 15 points. Denver is tied for third with 10 points with Omaha, but has only played four conferences games at this point.

  1. Depth and Defense are the Reasons for Saint Cloud Success.

As far as Saint Cloud fans go, I’ve been a little more reserved on my expectations for this team. While Jonny Brodzinski’s early departure was a big hit to the offense, the rest of the senior class were more role players than pure goal scorers. I wasn’t worried about replacing Brodzinski when you even his production out within the whole class.

I was more worried about the defensive side of things. Four freshmen defenseman coming in (Clark Kuster is out until at least the holiday break with an injury) made me really nervous, especially the last series against the Fighting Hawks.

Looking back at the past couple of seasons, the Huskies ’13-’14 season averaged 3.58 goals per game. Last season, Motzko tried to play the same style and saw the goals just weren’t coming. His focus changed to playing better defensively and tighter in their own end. The Huskies managed to get to the NCAA regional final despite only averaging 2.73 goals per game.

The success from the Huskies has come from the freshmen defensemen playing well (giving up an average of 1.67 goals per game) and getting the depth scoring that wasn’t present last year. Last year, if it wasn’t Brodzinski, Joey Benik, David Morley or Patrick Russell (who had a good freshman campaign) was scoring, no one else could be counted on to put the puck in the net. This year, scoring has come from damn near every player on every line. Seven players have over nine points already this year.

One big boost has come from Judd Peterson. His play has gone severely under the radar. The Buffalo Sabres draft pick only had seven points last year, but the switch has been flipped and already has seven goals on the season. He has mostly played on the third and fourth lines but seems to make an impact every time he gets on the ice. While the goals per game can be a little misleading because of the 11-goal output against Western Michigan, but the Huskies are third in team offense, only behind Boston College and Robert Morris. The depth at both ends along with the play of Charlie Lindgren in net has this team exceeding everyone’s expectations.

  1. The Fighting Hawks Should Look into Splitting Up CBS.

While the Huskies won the series on aggregate scoring 9-5, there was no doubt which line was the best in the weekend. The Caggiula-Boeser-Schmaltz line combined for nine points on the weekend. This line has what I call ‘hold your breath’ talent; opposing fans are holding their breath until that line leaves the ice.

As long as I can remember, North Dakota likes to put together power lines and keep them together. Everyone remembers the DOT line of Hobey Baker winner Ryan Duncan and professional talents Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie. There was the Money Line of Brandon Bochenski-Zach Parise-Brady Murray. The Line of Fire included Ryan Bayda-Jeff Panzer-Bryan Lundbohm and is actually responsible for one of my favorite college hockey box scores of all time.

More recently, the Pony Express included Brad Malone-Evan Trupp-Matt Frattin and combined for 141 points in the 2010-2011 season.

This series was the first real test for the Fighting Hawks. The other teams North Dakota has played aren’t expected to be big players in the NCAA tournament. Against lesser quality opponents, you can load up one line and will have no problem skating to a victory. As the NCHC conference play starts getting into full swing, the team quality takes an exponential leap and just having one line clicking will spell disaster.

There was a noticeable difference between when CBS was on the ice versus when there were not. They were the only line that created any offense on the weekend. Shuffling the lines around will open up more opportunities on the ice for the other players a get some other players jump started. Shane Gersich being injured didn’t help, but the Fighting Hawks have plenty of options and talent to work with. Three good lines will be more productive in the long run than one great line and two that are having trouble finding the back of the net.

Plus, you have the added bonus of reuniting that line when you really need a goal, giving a team an extra gear that opponents won’t be ready for.

While the Pony Express had an amazing number of points, they were able to put them up because North Dakota had the extra depth from Corban Knight (44 points) and Jason Gregoire (43 points). I feel there are those types of players on this roster, but they haven’t found the right mixture yet.

I think Brad Berry should make these changes against Michigan State this weekend, if only to try it out for a few periods and seeing the results. While loading up one line will work against the Colorado College and Vermont’s of college hockey, the Denver Pioneers head to Grand Forks for another match-up of titans, but only having one line clicking won’t cut it.

  1. Omaha and Miami Series Has Both Games Going to Overtime

While Friday’s game ended in a 3-3 tie, Saturday’s game ended when Tyler Vesel was able to use his speed to create an opening that you can’t give Jake Randolph, as he was able to put the puck away to give Omaha all three points and a 3-2 victory.

Omaha is still riding both goaltenders, as Kirk Thompson got the tie Friday and Evan Weninger got the win Saturday.

Miami freshmen Jack Roslovic and Josh Melnick were both able to find the score sheet Friday, combining for three points. Omaha was able to make adjustments and shut them down Saturday.

Avery Peterson, who scored 21 points as a freshman, is still without a point on the season and did not play in Saturday’s game.

  1. Big Ten Coaches Look for Rule Changes; gives metaphorical middle finger to other programs.

I urge everyone to read Adam Woden’s story on College Hockey News about a proposal that would add age restrictions on incoming freshman.

My thoughts will require a whole separate blog post on why this is a bad idea, but one thing is making me more mad than anything else. Usually, rule changes like this are done at an annual coaches meeting and would be a discussion to how this would affect all conferences.

However, the Big Ten acted alone and just proposed it to the NCAA. Rumors have actually started to swirl that it was voted on and struck down already, but the Big Ten decided to propose it away. Since the Big Ten is the only conference that participates in all sports, it can propose legislations as it pleases.

I do think the Big Ten has gotten too much of the blame in the past for ‘ruining college hockey.’ Heck, you can also argue that the formation and realignment actually saved Alabama-Huntsville and opened the door for Arizona State.

However, going rogue and proposing rule changes directly to the NCAA is a slap in the fact to all member schools, many of whom play up to Division I in hockey and rely on older players because they are not going to be in the running for a blue-chip prospect out of the national development team.

As a rule of thumb, look at the people proposing and what state the teams are in. That gives you a good idea of who stands to gain. The Big Ten conference is stacked by former national powers that have been struggling the past few seasons as a group. If the conference can just propose legislation willy-nilly, that sets a dangerous precedent in college hockey.

That’s all for now. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Lot of non-conference games over the holiday, which means the games have important Pairwise implications. My shift is over.