Who: #6 Nebraska Omaha vs. #7 St. Cloud State
Where: Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, St. Cloud, Minnesota
When: 7:37pm CST Friday night; 7:07pm CST Saturday night
Television: In Minnesota: Charter 426/823 Comcast 999; NCHC.tv($)
Every September before the season starts, I set up my schedule for the year with all the possible games I could cover. With three different options on the calendar for this weekend, I did not expect to be at the series between the two teams picked fourth and sixth in the NCHC preseason poll.
But it's December now and here we are. St. Cloud State and Nebraska-Omaha are two of the bigger pleasant surprises in the country as they sit at 4th and 5th in the Pairwise Rankings respectively. They are also the two highest-ranked teams in the west.
The two teams feature the top two defenses and goalies in the NCHC so far this season. St. Cloud State also features the best scoring offense in the NCHC(and actually still would if you exclude their 11-goal outburst against Western Michigan a few weeks ago).
This game should feature an interesting contrast in styles. St. Cloud State lacks game-breaking forwards, but is deep throughout their line-up with offense coming from anywhere. Omaha has less depth, but relies on an elite top line to drive their offense.
The Mavericks offense primarily comes from sitting back and waiting for the opponent to make a mistake, allowing them to use their speed in transition. The Huskies tend to play more zone-to-zone hockey. Those offensive styles are perhaps evidenced by the fact that St. Cloud State has the NCHC's best power play(29.8%) while Omaha has the league's worst(13.0%)
This series has much the same feel as St. Cloud State's series against North Dakota two weeks. If the Huskies are able to corral Omaha's top line, they should have success. But even if St. Cloud State manages to control play this weekend, Omaha is excellent at capitalizing on even the tiniest mistake.
I'll be in St. Cloud for both games of this series. Follow @ChrisDilks via Twitter for live updates from the games, and check back here after both games for a complete recap.