Fifteen thoughts this week on this past weekend in college hockey...
1. I didn't write about it over the weekend, but on Friday, I watched Lake Superior State lose 8-0 to Minnesota State. The Lakers tried to skate with the Mavericks and.....it went poorly. However, tip of the cap to the Lakers for at least trying to play that way. They could have played the style of pack-it-in garbage hockey many teams, especially in the WCHA, opt for, and lost by a lesser margin. They'd probably have more short-term success playing that way too. But they're a young team with a really good freshman class, and should improve as they continue to add to that base of talent. They're a bad team right now that could be a pretty good team in the future, which to me, is a lot better than being a middling team that is always going to be a middling team because of the style they play.
2. The hottest team in the country right now is Northeastern. The Huskies were left for dead earlier this year when they got off to a 1-10-2, they're now 8-1-2 in their last 11 games. Part of that is their schedule lightening up. A sweep of floundering St. Lawrence are the only wins over a team in the top half of the country, but they've got some positive momentum heading into next week's Beanpot.
3. The big difference for Northeastern has been the emergence of Ryan Ruck in goal. Northeastern has generally outplayed opponents this year. They still rank 11th in the country in shots on goal differential, but just could not keep the puck out of their net in the first half of the season. With Ruck playing well, they're a pretty good team.
4. Senior forward Kevin Roy also returned to the Northeastern line-up this past weekend after missing almost two-and-a-half months with an upper body injury. The star forward still doesn't have a goal on the season, but picked up an assist in each win last weekend against Merrimack.
5. Omaha got swept at home by Miami last weekend and the Mavericks are now 1-5-0 in 2016. Poor second half finishes have been the norm at Omaha under Dean Blais. Missing Evan Weninger in goal has really hurt, but more concerning is that teams seem to have figured out a way to slow down the duo of Jake Guentzel and Austin Ortega, and Omaha just doesn't have much offense behind those two guys. The good news is that this rough patch has only dropped the Mavericks to 9th in the PWR, so they're still in pretty good shape thanks to their great first half.
6. The most entertaining game of the weekend happened in Grand Forks on Friday night, when Colorado College turned a 4-0 deficit into a 5-4 lead, only to give a game-tying goal in the final minute to North Dakota. The Tigers settled for a tie, but it's another positive result for a team that has come a really long ways since the start of the season.
7. The Tigers host Omaha next weekend, and with a series sweep, those two teams would be tied in the NCHC standings, despite being separated by roughly 32 spots in the Pairwise.
8 There have been a lot of new and embarrassing lows for the Wisconsin hockey program over the past two years, but being absolutely destroyed on their home ice by rival Minnesota feels like a big one. Even last year, the Badgers played Minnesota close in the first game at the Kohl Center and earned a tie the second night. Neither game last weekend was close at all. That's the type of thing that even locals who don't follow the hockey program all that closely tend to notice.
9. The Big Ten will spin the wheel of justice on Wisconsin defenseman Eddie Wittchow later today. Wittchow received the rare game disqualification for his hit, so he's already out one game. I suspect Wittchow will get an additional game tacked on, similar to Michigan's Michael Downing earlier this year, because he's a repeat offender. I wouldn't have a problem if that hit drew an additional few games, but it feels like the precedent was set after Cutler Martin's sucker-punch that--public reprimands asides--that type of behavior isn't a huge deal to the Big Ten.
10. Penn State picked up a split on the road at Ohio State last weekend. On Friday night, the Nittany Lions trailed 2-1 with five minutes remaining in regulation, before getting a game-tying goal to send it to overtime and getting the game-winner in the extra frame. That was the third game Penn State has won in overtime in Big Ten play this season, and with the Nittany Lions sitting on the tournament bubble, those extra points from wins could end up being huge as they push for their first ever postseason berth. As it stands now, those three OT winners are the difference between Penn State being 16th in the Pairwise with a good shot at an at-large, and 21st in the PWR and needing a lot of help to get into the tournament.
11. Minnesota Duluth had a very frustrating trip out to Denver, where they swept in two games by the Pioneers. On Friday, they built an early 2-0 lead before losing 3-2. Though UMD head coach Scott Sandelin described his team's performance as "not shitty," so they at least had that going for them. Saturday night, the offense sputtered again in a 2-1 loss.
12. I'd tend to agree with the 'not shitty' assessment. The Bulldogs are out-playing opponents, currently ranking third nationally in shots on goal margin, but have struggled to leverage that advantage into goals, ranking 35th nationally in offense.
13. The Bulldogs are now 8-10-5 on the season, but still sit at 19th in the Pairwise. They remind me a lot of last year's St. Cloud State team, who was sitting at 10-13-1 at this point last season, but still found a way to get into the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs have five winnable games in a row against the likes of Northern Michigan, Colorado College, and Bemidji State, which hopefully pads their record and gives them some momentum heading into a tough stretch with series on the road against North Dakota and St. Cloud State. Minnesota Duluth hasn't been good this year. But there's still time for them to turn things around and finish with a successful season if they can piece together in these next few weekends.
14. Quinnipiac played a pair of mid-week games against Maine and RPI with both ending in ties. The Bobcats are still atop the computer rankings, but the gap between them and #2 St. Cloud State has shrunk significantly. And after watching St. Cloud State obliterate Western Michigan with their power play on Saturday, it's hard to imagine anybody is playing better than the Huskies right now.
15. Two more wins for Dartmouth last weekend to make it five straight, and seven of eight in 2016. The Big Green have a huge game on Friday against Quinnipiac where a win legitimately puts them in the NCAA Tournament conversation; impossible to believe for a team that was 3-7-1 at Christmas.