Friday, October 15, 2010

This weekend

With one weekend in the books, the WCHA schedule gets going this weekend with three conference series scheduled and all 12 teams set to compete.

And although only two games have been played (three for Michigan Tech), it appears some trends from last season are already being broken.

Minnesota State at Michigan Tech
The Huskies lost 30 of the 36 games they played all of last season. Three games into 2010-11, Michigan Tech is sitting at 2-0-1 and have potted 14 goals over that span.

Yeah, it's early in the season, but the Huskies appear to be showing some signs of life. They'll have a chance at home this weekend to keep their streak going against at Minnesota State team that hasn't had a ton of success in Houghton in recent years. Since 2003-04, the Mavericks have swept Tech in Houghton just once. They've been swept there once themselves and split a number of times. MSU tied twice this past weekend at home against a middle of the road St. Lawrence team. Trailing 4-2 heading to the final stanza Friday, the Mavericks rallied for three straight goals to grab a 5-4 lead before surrendering a late goal in a 5-5 tie. Then the Mavs led Saturday 1-0 before another late goal by the Saints in a 1-1 tie.

The key to this series will be in goal, where Austin Lee likely earned the start for MSU Friday after shutting down St. Lawrence Saturday. Both Josh Robinson and Kevin Genoe have won a game already with Robinson drawing the start in Tuesday's 4-4 tie against Northern Michigan. Look for both to get a start this weekend with Genoe likely going Friday.

Nebraska-Omaha at Minnesota
In another case of breaking trends, the Gophers have already equalled their win total from last season when allowing three goals or more in a game. Last year, the Gophers were 2-18-1 when allowing at least three goals in a game. After a 5-3 win Friday and a 5-4 win Saturday, the Gophers are 2-0 in that category this season. The sweep is the sixth to start a season during Don Lucia's tenure as coach and first since 2008. The victories also moved the Gophers to No. 13 in this week's polls, jumping up from No. 15 in the first version of the polls. That ranking was the first out of the top 10 in a preseason poll since 2000-2001.

Nebraska-Omaha was perhaps the league's most impressive team last weekend, blanking Clarkson 8-0 Friday and following with a 5-3 win over RIT Saturday. Things will likely be a bit more challenging for the Mavericks this weekend, playing in their first conference series as a member of the WCHA. The red Mavericks and Gophers have played only once before back in 2003, a meeting which took place in Omaha and saw the Gophers win 7-3. Three UNO players have already scored five points -- Matt Ambroz, Rich Purslow and Alex Hudson. Matt White and Joey Martin also have four points, and should UNO keep that level of offense going, the Mavericks will be more competitive than anyone thought this season. All three UNO coaches return to Minneapolis this weekend, where all have ties to the University of Minnesota. Both Dean Blais and Mike Guentzel played for the U while Guentzel also coached there from 1994-2008. UNO associate head coach Mike Hastings replaced Guentzel for one season on Lucia's staff in 2008-09.

North Dakota at Bemidji State
Also playing a WCHA series for the very first time this weekend will be the Beavers, who look to open the brand new Bemidji Events Center with BSU's first ever win against the Fighting Sioux. Since joining the Division I ranks, the Beavers have defeated seven of their new conference brethren. Unfortunately for them, BSU is 0-12-1 against their opponent this weekend.

Because the arena is new, the Beavers were forced to cancel an exhibition against Manitoba for a couple of weeks ago. That means their first action will be this weekend. North Dakota has already played a pair of games in Alaska, blowing a four goal lead in a tie to Alaska-Anchorage and cruising to a win over Alaska the next night. That advantage should help neutralize any jump the Beavers get from opening their new building.

Either way, this should be an exciting series. Both teams bring back plenty of offense from a year ago. Both teams also bring back established goaltenders. The major question remains however, how big will the jump from CHA champion to WCHA really be?

Boston College at Denver
There are a pair of dandy nonconference series this weekend in the WCHA and this is one of them. The defending national champions have played two games -- one exhibition and one conference game -- and have yet to allow a goal. In that span, they have outscored opponents 10-0.

The Pioneers will be playing a Hockey East opponent for the second straight weekend after taking a win and a tie away from Vermont last weekend. It was a tale of two offensive nights for the Pioneers, who received a sterling performance in a 1-1 tie Saturday from freshman Sam Brittain. He made 28 saves to preserve the draw. Adam Murray was good too, earning the victory Friday 5-3. The man of the weekend for DU though was sophomore forward Drew Shore. He scored a pair of goals in Friday's victory and added the only tally Saturday. With the losses sustained by the Pioneers in the offseason, Shore must be one of the guys picking up the slack.

Miami at St. Cloud State
The other nonconference spectacular is a rematch of a series to open last season between the RedHawks and Huskies. Last season, Miami swept SCSU in Oxford, including a 2-0 blanking on Saturday. It wasn't a great start for the Huskies last weekend, winning 3-1 Friday over RIT (including an empty-netter) and then getting trounced Saturday by a Clarkson team that was trounced the night before by Nebraska-Omaha. Sophomore Mike Lee got the start against RIT and likely earned the nod for Friday against Miami. Dan Dunn allowed four goals on 14 shots Saturday before getting the hook.

Ben Hanowski scored a pair of goals for SCSU on the weekend as he looks to jump into the role left behind by Ryan Lasch's graduation. Miami hosted New Hampshire last weekend, winning Friday 6-3 and losing Saturday by the same score. Carter Camper and Alden Hirschfield scored three goals apiece for the RedHawks.

Providence at Minnesota Duluth
Kenny Reiter will be counted on to carry the mail for the Bulldogs this season. How do I know? He allowed six goals on 37 shots last Friday against Lake Superior State and started (and won) Saturday against Northern Michigan. He'll need to be better, no doubt, if UMD is going to be a contender. But with a nonconference series against a team the Bulldogs should have no trouble with, will we see another goaltender at least once this weekend?

Justin Fontaine (two goals), Jack Connolly and Mike Connolly all scored goals last weekend and that will be the case most weekends. Freshman sensation Justin Faulk also scored his first career goal.

Colorado College, Alaska-Anchorage in Brice Goal Rush
The Tigers and Seawolves battle each other in a nonconference duel between conference teams.

The Seawolves impressively battled back from a 5-1 deficit Friday to tie North Dakota 5-5. The Saturday, UAA defeated Air Force. It was an encouraging weekend for forward Sean Wiles, who scored three goals in the two games. Tommy Grant added a goal and two assists while Rob Gunderson stopped 28 shots to earn his collegiate victory. Without an experienced goaltender, the duo of Gunderson and Chris Kamal (played all 65 minutes Friday in the tie) will need to grow up fast.

Three of the four Tiger goals last weekend against RPI were scored by either Rylan or Jaden Schwartz. That will be a common occurrence, as CC really lacks scoring depth after those two.

Joe Howe played both nights last weekend, earning a win and a tie. He will play a bunch before this season is finished.

Alabama-Huntsville at Wisconsin
The Badgers led twice in their loss to Boston University last Friday, grabbing a 2-0 lead and then a 3-2 lead after the Terriers tied it. Both times, Scott Gudmandson was unable to hold it. That allowed Brett Bennett to get the start Saturday against Holy Cross, and he took advantage, winning 6-0. Wisconsin got offense from a number of sources, including Ryan Little, Derek Lee and Craig Smith, who all scored two goals on the weekend.

Wisconsin should have no trouble with the Chargers this weekend, especially at the Kohl Center, where UW was undefeated against nonconference opponents a year ago.

PREDICTIONS
MSU at MTU: Split
UNO at MIN: Split

UND at BSU: UND Sweep
BC at DU: Split

Miami at SCSU: Split
Providence at UMD: UMD Sweep
CC v. UAA: UAA

Union v. UAA: UAA

CC at Alaska: CC

UAH at WIS: WIS Sweep

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