-->Michigan Tech at UMD
I'm scared of this. Really. I'm not going to sit here and try to sell you that Michigan Tech is an underrated team or being a great team. They've struggled this year. There's no way to deny that without losing credibility. Teams that aren't struggling generally don't get off to 4-17-1 starts, nor do they usually allow twice as many goals as they score.
So, yes, Michigan Tech has issues. But this still scares me.
The Huskies were in a similar position last year until they came in here and swept UMD. Granted, their goaltender stood on his head while UMD's goaltending struggled all weekend. But two wins are two wins, and UMD needs these four points. They should get them, too, if their effort is anywhere near what it has been for the last three games. There were some lulls against the US Under 18 Team last week, but it was mainly a solid effort with good, hard-working goals. The games in Florida were even better (especially the Maine game, where the Black Bears couldn't come close to matching UMD's spunk and grit).
UMD has done well this season in "games they should win". They have played eight games against teams either below them in the WCHA standings or teams outside the WCHA who are perceived as being not as good (two each against Michigan Tech, Alaska-Anchorage, Yale, and Minnesota State). They are 5-1-2 in those games, with a 2-0 loss to UAA being the only defeat. In WCHA play, the 'Dogs are 3-1-2 for eight out of a possible 12 points against "beatable" opponents. If they can get eight or nine points out of the next three weekends (Tech, St. Cloud, and MSU), we should all be ecstatic.
On the ice, UMD gets freshman D Josh Meyers back. While it's never good to lose a promising talent, any fears of Meyers "hitting the wall" in the second half of the season are now unfounded, as he hasn't played in a game since November 12. Then again, with strength and conditioning coach Justin May on board, I'm not really worried about UMD players "hitting the wall". UMD does need to figure out how to win at home. No one associated with UMD wants to hear about this, but the Bulldogs have been swept in three of their five home series this season (Bemidji State, North Dakota, and Denver all swept, while the Bulldogs swept Yale and took three points from Minnesota). UMD is just 3-6-1 at home in 2005-2006, but they're over .500 away from the DECC.
As for Tech, Michael-Lee Teslak had 57 saves in their GLI game against Michigan State. State won the game, but the performance was notable because it showed MTU fans that they may have some reason to hope the second half will be noticeably better than the first half was. We'll start to find out this weekend if Teslak, a freshman, is the real deal.
I am not going to try to sell that I've figured these guys out. This team has grown up a great deal recently, but they're still largely a young and inexperienced outfit. That said, I think UMD fans will like what they see this weekend, as the Bulldogs get the second half started on the right foot.
UMD sweeps, 4-1 and 4-2.
--> North Dakota at Minnesota
No Chris Harrington on Friday for Minnesota, (Soapbox) as he was ridiculously DQed towards the end of Saturday's blowout win over Niagara. In defense of the official responsible, Niagara's Jason Williamson was also ridiculously DQed and must sit one game. I fully agree with Gopher coach Don Lucia's post-DQ thoughts:
"Where there's an obvious mistake, you should have some recourse to have the ability to appeal a disqualification like that. There has to be an avenue because we have a situation here where there wasn't a punch thrown and gloves never came off and they wrestled a little bit. But boy, that's a big leap from wrestling to a disqualification because that's such a costly penalty."
(Source: Todd Milewski's weekly USCHO column.)
The coach is right. If we're going to investigate whether goals are scored or not during games (thus beschmirching a bit of the referee's authority to make those calls himself for the sake of getting the calls right), we need to do the same thing with things as vitally important as game DQs. Granted, most game DQs that get handed out are richly deserved by the offending player, but when they are not, as they clearly weren't last weekend, there needs to be an avenue of appeal for the coaches.
The Gophers will miss Harrington on Friday, and North Dakota is due to play better than they have been. The Harvard loss was an aberration, but the Sioux didn't exactly fly into their break, and they haven't exactly flown out of it, needing a third period rally just to avoid being blown out at UAA last Friday. They need to get the freshmen back in the scoring column, and they need to get Jordan Parise back in goal. The Gophers are thin, so with Harrington out, Friday is UND's best chance to pounce and get some confidence back.
UND wins Friday, 4-2; Minnesota wins Saturday, 6-3.
Wisconsin at Colorado College
How I wish I could split myself in half somehow. That way, I don't miss a UMD weekend, and I still get to see these games, which should be highly competitive and entertaining. There might not be a better "big sheet" team in the WCHA than CC, who uses their Olympic-size home ice to the fullest advantage when they're not playing Denver. When they're moving their feet and using the full rink, they're tough to stop.
Wisconsin is a great defensive team with a great goaltender (Brian Elliott for HOBEY!), but can they contain the CC attack on a wider rink? Can they score enough to keep up?
From personal experience, I watched as UMD had to hang on by less than a thread to beat CC December 10 after being blown out of the building in the third period the night before. UMD isn't quite as deep as Bucky, but UW will have similar issues with Colorado College if they aren't careful.
CC's power play is sickeningly good. They're good because their guys move so well without the puck, and their skill guys are such great passers. There were at least a couple instances in the UMD series where CC scored power play goals on plays that UMD probably couldn't have stopped if they were told exactly what was coming beforehand.
Also looming is the hit by UW's Adam Burish at the end of the teams' Saturday night game in Madison in November that ended the season of CC forward Scott Thauwald. As long as these games are close, the paying customers will be the only ones making a big deal out of it, though.
Wisconsin should be able to bottle CC up a bit, but the Tigers will find a way to earn two points on the weekend.
Wisconsin wins 3-1; CC wins 5-2 - you pick the order.
--> St. Cloud State at Denver
Congrats to SCSU coach Bob Motzko, who had the "interim" tag removed from his job title this week. Motzko has done a good job so far, having the Huskies over .500 entering the second half of their league schedule. It's been done with a lot of credit to be given to goalie Bobby Goepfert. The Providence transfer has been rock-solid this season, leading the Huskies to quality wins over Minnesota, North Dakota, and Colgate so far.
For Denver, it's time to get back off the mat. Princeton and Ferris State upset the Pioneers in the Denver Cup before the New Year, leaving DU with a rather pedestrian 11-9-2 overall record heading into this weekend. Denver needs points, as they are currently tied for third place with Minnesota in the WCHA, and just one point back of second-place CC.
But something isn't quite right for Denver right now. That doesn't mean that they should be dismissed as a title contender (I don't know about you, but I won't be doing this until they've been eliminated from the NCAAs). It does mean that Goepfert and the Huskies will find a way to split the series.
St. Cloud wins 2-1; Denver wins 4-1.
--> Alaska-Anchorage at Minnesota State
The Seawolves shocked North Dakota last Friday, but their reputation as a "Saturday night team" took a hit with a 5-0 loss to UND the next night. On the bright side for UAA, their five goals last Friday were a season-high. It had to be good for Dave Shyiak to see his boys finally pounce on some scoring chances. UAA heads to the mainland this weekend, and the mainland has not been kind, yielding only one win and eight goals in six tries so far. With eight of the next ten on the road for UAA, they'd better get used to living out of their suitcases.
Minnesota State played some lesser competition over the holidays, tying Yale and beating Alabama-Huntsville, then beating Nebraska-Omaha. They've scored 11 goals in their last two games, but the tie against Yale doesn't look too impressive to me. For MSU's sake, here's hoping the UAH and UNO games were a sign that the Mavericks are finding their scoring touch. They're going to need it down the stretch.
MSU sweeps, 3-0 and 4-2.
OTHER DIVISION I GAMES/SERIES
Miami at Notre Dame (2)
Alaska-Fairbanks at Michigan State (2)
Merrimack vs Boston College (home and home starting at BC)
Cornell at Quinnipiac/Princeton
Maine at Boston University (2)
Northeastern at Vermont (2)
St. John's/Augsburg at St. Scholastica
(Side note: Hats off to CSS coach Mark Wick. He has his team off to a 10-5 start, with tonight's game against SJU a great opportunity for his young team to prove that they have made serious progress.)
Augsburg/St. John's at UWS