There were two major story lines this past weekend in college hockey, and in the Oversize Consonant in particular. First, and I'm sure the rest of the country will be shocked to learn this, but the Gigantic W's dominance over the rest of the college hockey world may have been a bit overstated. Heading into this weekend, the league had an impressive 9-2-6 inter-conference record, making them the only conference to have a winning record in that category(And really, two of those ties came from Minnesota State, who appears to be a WCHA team in name only this season).
But this weekend was the big test, with two of the league's top programs hosting home series against two of the best from the rest of the country with Denver hosting Boston College and St. Cloud hosting Miami, and neither team fared that well. Denver was swept away on the weekend pretty convincingly by Boston College, which, no shame in that. St. Cloud got beat pretty convincingly on Friday night, before scoring late in the third period on Saturday to salvage a 1-1 tie. As deep as the WCHA has been in recent years, even the very best teams in the league have enough holes in the lineup that they're not going to dominate over the rest of the country, which is probably a good thing.
Also not helping the WCHA's case this weekend, Alaska rebounded from a tough loss to North Dakota by knocking off a decent mid-level WCHA program in Colorado College, and Alaska-Anchorage lost to Union.
The other major story this weekend was Nebraska-Omaha playing their first WCHA series at Minnesota and coming away with a fairly convincing sweep after two pretty interesting games.
I expected Omaha to come out flying on Friday night given the circumstances, but even I was surprised at how much they dominated, scoring three goals and out-shooting Minnesota 20-6. Minnesota's willingness to be part of that narrative certainly helped. UNO should have cruised to a pretty easy win until they received a harsh lesson on how the WCHA Officiating Totem Pole works and where their place is on it. Starting in the second period, the officials called six straight penalties on UNO, including a five minute major, and another penalty called in the middle of that five minute major. It was actually pretty impressive for UNO to come back after giving up four straight goals and losing a seemingly insurmountable lead and retaking the lead on a goal by Alex Hudson.
I took some heat before the season for saying Alex Kangas was one of the league's best goalies, but Saturday was a classic example of the problems Kangas has to deal with. Kangas allowed only three goals on 47 shots. If he has a decent offensive performance in front of him, it looks like he stole a game for them. Instead, he takes another loss and ends up with a fairly average looking GAA.
Here's the thing about this series, though. In the aftermath, the noise out of Omaha has been, 'These are huge wins that really put us on the map!' while out of Minnesota, a lot of the talk has been, 'UNO sure didn't look like an 8th place team!'. The problem is that both of those ideas ignore a pretty simple fact: Minnesota is not a very good hockey team. Or to put it in terms that might get me hired as an FSN analyst, Herbie always said a team that plays defense like that is not a good hockey team*. Nebraska-Omaha coming to Minnesota and winning two games, at least for the time being, is the college hockey equivalent of beating Notre Dame in football--and you can ask any Michigan fan how much that means in the grand scheme of things. Omaha certainly showed signs that they could be a good team this year, but this wasn't exactly the accomplishment it would have been five or six years ago.
This is already a little long, and last week, I signed an agreement with SBN saying I wouldn't use swear words above the fold on posts, so I'll discuss Minnesota State's defensive play after the jump, along with some of the other games this weekend.
*This should go without saying, but just in case, I'm not saying anything against Herb Brooks. But he's a much more complex character than the one-dimensional caricacture he's often portrayed as, especially, and excessively, this past weekend.
Bemidji State opened up their fantastic new arena to a sellout crowd on both Friday and Saturday nights. The only glitch is that the reality of playing in the WCHA finally set in, and they got swept pretty easily by North Dakota. The Beavers managed just 36 shots on goal on the weekend, and 15 of them came from their top three forwards. Sellouts this weekend with a new arena and a big draw were a given, but it will be interesting to see if those numbers can persist if the team has a couple more similar results.
Notre Dame showed signs that they may be back after last year's disaster of a season, winning 4-2 over Lake Superior on both Thursday and Friday nights. Despite being pretty young, their group of the forwards is probably the best, and deepest outside of Miami.
Michigan Tech kept it rolling, albeit still against soft opponents, by taking three points from Minnesota State at home. The Huskies added ten more goals on the weekend, putting them at 4.80 per game, the fourth best in the WCHA. Minnesota State's offense hasn't quite been the trainwreck it was projected to be--aside from a sub-10% powerplay--but still not good enough to score the five to six their goal tending and defense is currently requiring them to score to win games.
Western Michigan managed to pull off a fairly impressive road sweep at Mercyhurst. They'll travel to play a beatable St. Lawrence team next weekend, and if they play well there,that, along with some positive recruiting news lately, could finally get some positive momentum going in Kalamazoo.
Michigan State got a tie and a win at home against Maine, which certainly eases some fears after losing to Western Ontario. It appears Daultan Leveille and Dustin Gazley have stepped into the role of first line players quite nicely.
Wisconsin beat OPPONENT twice easily at home. They'll get a real test next weekend at Denver.
Chris Bergeron picked up his first win as head coach at Bowling Green, as the Falcons split with Clarkson on the road.
Michigan tied New Hampshire on Saturday night. Shawn Hunwick helped solidify himself as the starter by making 45 saves to help keep Michigan in the game. Defenseman Tristin Llewellyn took a penalty with his team already down a man for the second time in four games this season.
Minnesota-Duluth traveled to Providence and got two wins, and their top line got to pad their stats a little bit. The three players split 16 total points among themselves.