Friday, January 20, 2006

WCHA preview

UMD at St. Cloud State
This is weird. UMD has played better on the road than they have at home (0-6 last 6 home league games, 3-2-1 last 6 road league games). I don't get it, and it doesn't sound like the coaches and players can get a real grasp on it, either. For that matter, UMD is not the only WCHA team trying to figure out their own home ice. Five of the league's ten teams are better on the road than they are at home. One other one (Denver) has the same records both home and away.

I'm too lazy to look it up, but I think we had the same trend going for a time last year. And last year ended with all five home teams winning their playoff series to advance to the WCHA Final Five.

Now back on topic...

I'm not sure I'm alone in thinking that this UMD team is going to play well this weekend. They are coming off two tough home losses to an opponent they felt they should have beaten soundly. They need to get some pucks on goal this weekend, as St. Cloud is strong defensively, and they have a very good goalie in Bobby Goepfert. Goepfert has very good numbers (save percentage well over .900), but he doesn't see a ton of shots normally, as SCSU only allows 28 shots on goal per game.

So far this season, though, UMD has done well against highly-touted goaltenders in the WCHA. They scored seven in two games on North Dakota's Jordan Parise (who was, by the way, very good in that series as UND swept). They scored six in two games against CC's Matt Zaba, and they also scored six in two games on Minnesota State freshman Dan Tormey, who had a run of six starts before the UMD series where his save percentage was over .930.

It should be a good goaltending duel this weekend, with Goepfert facing UMD's Issac Reichmuth. Reichmuth has played well in limited duty in St. Cloud, and Goepfert has been very good this year for SCSU after transferring from Providence. Look for UMD's power play to break their slump, and for the Bulldogs to get no worse than a split on the road.

UMD wins 3-1. St. Cloud wins 3-2.

Colorado College at Minnesota
CC got whipped last Saturday at Wisconsin. What else can be said about a 9-1 home loss? Bucky was very impressive and got a huge weekend sweep. The Tigers, meanwhile, are left to try to rebound against a very good Minnesota team at Mariucci Arena.

The Gophers are a thin team. They've suffered through some injuries and a player departure, and I'm not completely sold on their goaltending. They have great talent up front, and they showed their potential in that 6-1 beatdown of North Dakota last Friday. But they're just not consistent. And with CC on a mission for redemption this weekend, I expect them to play well enough to earn a split.

CC wins 4-2. Minnesota wins 5-2.

Denver at Wisconsin
Ouch. Bucky lost goaltender Brian Elliott, a Hobey Baker frontrunner, for 3-4 weeks after he injured his left leg in practice on Wednesday. Shane Connolly, a capable backup, steps in to start as Wisconsin continues a key stretch of games that represent the best hopes of anyone catching them for the WCHA lead.

Meanwhile, a game disqualification on Saturday night cost Denver the services of leading scorer Ryan Dingle in Friday's game. That's a tough blow to a team already hurting up front.

The Pioneers are scuffling a bit right now, but they've only lost once all-time at the Kohl Center. While a Badger sweep may have looked pretty clear-cut a few days ago, the Elliott injury clouds the picture somewhat. I think the Badgers will play well enough to win once, but not twice, this weekend.

Denver wins 4-3. Wisconsin wins 4-1.

Minnesota State at North Dakota
The Sioux, like the Bulldogs and Gophers, are somewhat young and inexperienced. As a result, they've been an up-and-down team so far this year. As we've pointed out before, it's tough to win consistently in this league with a really young team, and that is evidenced by some of the results we've seen so far from the young, but very talented, Sioux.

UND has salvaged weekend splits three straight series now after losing the first game. In their last series before Christmas, North Dakota struggled Friday night against Bemidji State, but rallied to win.

It's that kind of inconsistency that makes it hard to predict series sweeps. What makes things more difficult this weekend is the opponent. Minnesota State has impressed at times this year, but has looked rather average at others. Tormey, their young goaltender, is good enough to keep them in practically every game, and the Mavericks are starting to score with more consistency. MSU will make it hard on North Dakota this weekend, but the Sioux will come away with three points.

UND wins 5-3 and ties 3-3.

Alaska-Anchorage at Michigan Tech
Tech fans: GREAT showing in Duluth last weekend. It was fun to watch you guys go bonkers like that. Now keep it up at home.

Michigan Tech hasn't won four games in a row since 1997. I know because I just double-checked their media guide to verify it. They had a 6-3 run after Christmas last year, but never won as many as four straight.

With UAA having struggled mightily last weekend in Mankato, and with UAA having spent the week living out of their suitcases in the Twin Cities, I'm going with Michigan Tech this weekend.

Tech wins 6-3 and 4-3.

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