NCHC Preview: Week 3

Photo Credit - Dave Harwig | www.viewthroughmylens.net/

Week 3 is highlighted with non-conference action, an exhibition game, and a battle against the infamous "bye" team.

After a few teams participated in conference games last weekend, there will be a total of zero games with NCHC points on the line this weekend. Seven of the eight teams have games lined up, although only six teams will play games that actually impact overall records.

The most exciting matchup of the week, supposedly, will be between #3 Miami and #8 Providence. Minnesota Duluth will host #2 Notre Dame, Nebraska Omaha will host #19 Cornell, #17 Denver hosts Niagara and Canisius, #10 St. Cloud State heads to Colgate, and Colorado College heads to Clarkson. North Dakota hosts the US U-18 team on saturday in an exhibition battle, while Western Michigan has this week off.

#3 Miami (3-1-0) at #8 Providence (3-0-0)

Miami fell to North Dakota last Friday, but glimmered on Saturday as they came back to earn the conference tie. Providence crushed American International last weekend in a single game, 10-4, but really proved their lethalness when they swept Minnesota State early this season. Last year the Redhawks beat the Friars in OT before tying the following night, which pushed the all-time record in their favor, 2-0-1.

Either way, this series should be a fun one. Providence is averaging 6 goals per game, while Miami is averaging 5, meaning both teams can find the back of the net. I think this one may just come down to the goaltending, which sounds like one heck of a battle if it's Ryan McKay vs Jon Gillies.

Minnesota Duluth (2-1-1) vs. #2 Notre Dame (4-0-0)

The Bulldogs are headed back to Amsoil Arena after splitting with Colorado College last weekend, falling 3-1 on Friday, but striking back on Saturday with the help of Alex Iafallo and Justin Crandall, 5-1. The Irish have had better luck, though, as their 4-0-0 start is the best start Notre Dame has ever had under current head coach Jeff Jackson. The Bulldogs and Fighting Irish have met 37 times before this weekend with Notre Dame claiming the better record at 20-13-4, but the Minnesota Duluth does leads 5-3-2 in the last 10 outings.

Between the two rosters, 18 NHL prospects can be found, which in theory should be enough evidence to support the claim for this series to be a great one. The Bulldogs seem to have found their scoring, but it won't be easy against Notre Dame's netminder, Steven Summerhays, who's sporting a .940 save percentage, 1.25 goals against average, and has two shutouts already this year.

Nebraska Omaha (2-2-0) vs. #19 Cornell (0-0-0)

After back-to-back weekend splits at Northern Michigan and then at home against Bentley, the Mavericks will be looking for a little more consistency between the pipes and two wins against Cornell, but it won't be easy. Cornell has yet to play a regular season game, but their team on paper looks pretty dang solid. It'll be the first time these two teams collide, which should make this series both special and interesting.

Cornell's strongest weapon is going to be their incredibly talented netminder, Andy Iles. Nebraska Omaha has proven they can bury pucks, but finding holes in Iles's net won't be an easy task for the Mavericks. The Big Red have returning talent that have the ability to create problems for Mavericks, and if they can put together a consistent offense this weekend, the Mavericks will need to be able to find strength between the pipes if they hope to come out of the weekend a winning team.

#17 Denver (2-2-0) vs Niagara (1-2-1) & Canisius (0-1-0)

After sweeping Merrimack to kick off the 2013-14 season, the Pioneers stumbled last weekend as they fell 2-3 to both Alaskan teams on the road. The Pioneers will face Niagara on Friday, a team in which they have never lost to (3-0-0) and then on Saturday they skirmish with Canisius for the first time in team history.

Denver has had a dramatic week between player injuries and coaching departures, but will hope to find the momentum that helped them roll over Merrimack. Pioneer goalie Sam Brittain should be able to provide support between the pipes, which could potentially spark some scoring, but don't expect Niagara and Canisius to roll over. Niagara has already proven their ability to score, against Canisius actually, to start the year. This is college hockey, baby. Anything can happen.

#10 St. Cloud State (1-0-1) at Colgate (2-2-1)

With only two games under their belts, the Huskies will venture east to Hamilton, New York to take on the Colgate Raiders. St. Cloud State beat in-state rival Bemidji State last Friday and tied the following night to jumpstart their season. The Raiders are hoping to wake up from the 7-0 nightmare-loss to Bowling Green last Saturday, so things may just get interesting out there.

St. Cloud State returned all but four players from last season, giving them a strong upper hand in just about every category of play. Fortunately for Colgate, those four players just so happened to be pretty talented hockey players. With Nic Dowd, Jonny Brodzinski, and Joey Benik on the offensive and veteran Andrew Prochno protecting the blueline, the Huskies will be a tough dog to control for the Raiders.

Colorado College (1-1-0) at Clarkson (4-1-1)

After defeating Minnesota Duluth 3-1 on Friday, Colorado College fell on Saturday mostly due to a third period struggle. The split is one that coach Scott Owens predicts will happen a lot against NCHC teams, and he's probably right. Clarkson is coming out of an impressive weekend against RIT, earning the "W" on Friday night followed by a tie on Saturday.

Special teams may play a decent role in the outcome of this game. The Tigers have had issues finding the back of the net during powerplay times, while Clarkson has head much better luck. The ultimate deciding factory could be which team's goaltender stands higher. Clarkson had issues between the pipes last year, and while Josh Thorimbert has proven he can play, consistency could play a role in whether or not he's able to display his "A" game.

North Dakota (2-1-1) vs US U-18 Team (Exhibition)

North Dakota split with Miami last weekend in the conference's first ever series battle. They made history on Friday by winning the first NCHC game, but fell on Saturday to the Redhawks.

Saturday's game is themed "North Dakota Strong", which helps raise funds and awareness for breast cancer research for the rest of the month. Next weekend, North Dakota will host St. Cloud State.

Western Michigan (1-2-1) vs Bye

Western Michigan will host Colorado College next weekend for their first NCHC conference matchup. They'll use this downtime to rest up after coming out of Alaska last weekend with a win and a tie.

Enjoy,

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Matt Christians covers Minnesota Duluth and the NCHC for SB Nation and College Hockey News. You can also follow him here ->

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