Last weekend was a pretty busy one. We celebrated Hockey Day in Minnesota(and other places, but Minnesota's is the only one I can comment on), the NHL once again proved that having a bunch of clowns running around on the ice can cause nothing but embarrassment for the sport(I'm talking about "enforcers" in general, or the New York Islanders. Take your pick.), and finally, hipsters can finally stop pretending to like and start hating Arcade Fire; long overdue, in my opinion. There was also some intense conference battles this weekend as we keep getting closer to the end of the season.
We'll start with Hockey Day Minnesota. This was the fourth annual event Fox Sports North has put on, and by now we pretty much know what to expect. Minnesota, being the state's only college hockey program, faced off against Denver. The local NHL team faced off against an NHL team that actually respects Minnesotan-born hockey players Fawning praise was heaped on some of the most, and least deserving members of the Lucia family.
And, in what has become the day's bread-and-butter, FSN filled the card in "Soft Journalism Bingo" with heart-warming, tear-jerking stories about cancer, someone going to war, debilitating diseases, Little Lebowski Urban Achievers, being raised by wolves, being wrongly punished for crimes committed by an evil twin, etc. That's not to mock any of those stories individually. Duke Pieper's story is particularly moving, if only because I still remember watching him as a promising young hockey player, and though I'm sure progress has been slow and gradual, it was definitely noticeable when taken over the span of an entire year.
The outdoor games, this year played in Moorhead, were a bit of a disaster. It was a shame because the weather had been bitterly cold most of the week, before warming up on Friday. In fact, I skated outdoors Friday night and it was probably the most perfect hockey weather of the year; great ice but still warm enough to be comfortable. But Saturday, being the second straight warm day, and to make matters worse, having a bright, shining sun, turned the ice into a pit of mush by the second game between Moorhead and Hill-Murray. I had two thoughts while watching those kids slog through the muck on Saturday, that maybe contradict each other:
1. The outdoor games are usually a chance for people to wax poetic about how nobody plays games outside any more, but this was a reminder of why they don't. How are you going to keep them down on the pond once they've seen Karl Hungus?
2. Maybe people are right to wax poetic about skating outside. There's some people that believe adults control the game a little too much and don't let the kids figure things out on their own. For the most part, I saw a lot of adults complaining about conditions and wanting to pull the kids off the ice, while the kids just played the game, and I didn't see much in the way of complaining from them. They just moved one of the nets to a better area of ice and played on. Maybe that captures the true spirit of outdoor hockey better than the perfectly curated sheets of ice we've seen in past years.
As for games on the college side of things, there were plenty of those, and I'll discuss them after the jump.
There was a rare Hockey Day treat for hockey fans in Minnesota this weekend, as Wild draft pick Jason Zucker and Denver came to Mariucci Arena. By my calculations, Zucker was the first opposing player that was property of the Wild to come to Mariucci and play since AJ Thelen back in November of 2004. Think about how many great players have come through Mariucci in those past six and a half years, then consider how many playoff series the Wild have won in that time frame(zero). I'm just sayin'.
Anyway, Denver won a pretty gritty 2-1 game on Friday thanks to a goal by Zucker, before the Gophers responded by blasting Denver 7-3 the following night in a game that wasn't even as close as the score suggests.
In the CCHA, Western Michigan began their end of season run of death with a series against Miami. They tied the first night and lost the second night. They managed to win the shootout, something they've been very good at this year, which could end up giving them home ice advantage in a potential playoff series against Ferris State. I never thought I'd say this, but that is shaping up to be a pretty epic series. The big problem for the Broncos is that winning shootouts does nothing for them nationally. They currently sit fractions of a point out of the potential last NCAA tournament spot, and need to win some of these tough games coming up on their schedule.
St. Cloud reminded everyone how good they could have been this year by blasting Minnesota-Duluth 8-2 on Friday night, before reminding everyone how bad they actually are by blowing a 3-0 lead for the second straight week, this time tying Duluth 3-3 on Saturday. Even after the first goal on Saturday, there was a sense of "Here we go again..." St. Cloud was like a tired Little Mac, all pink and green, shrugging their shoulders and just waiting for some ethnic stereotype to pound them into oblivion. It's not a perfect comparison, but I definitely feel like the 0 heart thing fits.
Michigan and Ohio State gave us a peek into our dark, horrifying future with a pair of games that aired on Big Ten Network. After a pretty tight first two periods on Friday, Michigan got two goals, including a rare Louie Caporusso sighting(rare on the ice, at least). Michigan avoided a late charge by Ohio State on Saturday and hung on for a 3-2 win to get the sweep.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame didn't cough up any points against Bowling Green, keeping the Irish in first place in the CCHA by a point. Michigan, and Miami trail the Irish by a single point, though Miami only has one series left in the regular season.
Minnesota State did their part to uncomplicate the WCHA race for home ice in the playoffs when, for the second straight week, after a promising win on Friday night, scored one goal in the first period on Saturday and then called it a night.
Lake Superior took four points at home against Alaska, which really hurts Alaska's chances at getting a bye in the first round of the playoffs. There's going to be a pretty huge difference between finishing fifth in the CCHA and getting a Western Michigan or Ferris in the second round of the playoffs and finishing 7th, which likely means beating Michigan State, just to get the opportunity to face one of the league's big three.
Speaking of Michigan State, they pretty much cemented themselves in 11th place by being swept at home by Northern Michigan.
Nebraska-Omaha got a pretty big sweep over Wisconsin to keep themselves in the hunt for a WCHA title. The Mavericks got a pretty huge donation last weekend, which could be for a new on-campus facility, but at the same time, UNO drew 15,000+ for Friday's game at the Qwest Center. It has to make one wonder just how sustainable something like that is.
North Dakota swept Alaska-Anchorage in North Dakota, which put the Sioux back in the lead for the MacNaughton Cup. Alaska-Anchorage now has to win at least their first round playoff series, along with all of their remaining games, to finish with a winning record for the first time ever as a member of the WCHA. I've got a feeling it's another losing season for the Seawolves.
And finally, Michigan Tech gave up a third period lead to Bemidji State on Friday in a 2-2 tie, and lost Saturday when they gave up the game's only goal with 1:23 left in the third period. You probably didn't need me to tell you this, but Michigan Tech will finish in last place in the WCHA this year. I co-opt this line from Malcolm Tucker all the time, but it seems particularly appropriate now that Tech's winless streak has passed the quarter-century mark: it's like the Shawshank Redemption, except way more crawling through s--t and no f--kcing redemption.