Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday morning skate

Sorry to be a little lax on the blog. I've had some computer issues and haven't had much access over the last two days. That being said, it's time to this weekend's hockey games ...

The Mavericks open the second half of the WCHA season by hosting sixth-ranked Denver. The Pioneers are also tie for fourth in the Pairwise Rankings, and this is the time of year when we start paying attention to those rankings, much more than we do the human poll. Minnesota State, having won eight of its last 10 (all since getting swept at Denver in November) are tied for 22nd in the Pairwise.

Minnesota State appears to have everybody available and is expected to go with the lineup that won them the Shillelagh Tournament in Chicago as well as the first game last weekend against American International. That group includes three freshmen -- Chase Grant, Zach Lehrke and J.P. Burkemper -- of a class that's been off to a solid start this season. Grant is on pace for a 21-point season, which would be the second-best output by a freshman in the last six seasons. Read more of The Free Press' series preview here.

Denver, meanwhile, is coming off an idle weekend, which gave star forwards Drew Shore and Jason Zucker a chance to rest following their bronze medal-winning performance in the World Junior Championships. In other Pios news, goalies Sam Brittain and Adam Murray are expected to split time this weekend.

Going around the rest of the WCHA ...

Minnesota at North Dakota: This rivalry is so big that each team has a captain back for his fifth year (OK maybe it's not because of the rivalry). The Gophers headed to Grand Forks on the heels of learning that goalie Alex Kangas' career is over due to hip surgery. Minnesota is also hoping its WJC participants will help give it a boost. ... The Grand Forks Herald is giving this series some mega-coverage, writing about how the games will be viewed around the country, that extra security will be on hand for the series after an incident between fans the last time the teams met and how good the Sioux have been in the 10 years Ralph Engelstad Arena has been open. Whew! Oh, on the ice, you can read more about the second-ranked Sioux on Brad Schlossman's outstanding hockey blog here.

Wisconsin at Minnesota Duluth: The Bulldogs host the Badgers in a big series for both of these top-10 teams. For Duluth, senior Justin Fontaine is set to break into the program's top 25 all-time scorers. That's pretty good company. Also, the Bulldogs are hoping their second half of the season can be as strong as their first. ... As for Wisconsin, the Badgers have the top goaltender in the WCHA, if not the nation, in Scott Gudmandson. And he's doing it with less fanfare than some other big names in Wisco goaltending history.

Bemidji State at Nebraska-Omaha: This is the second meeting between the WCHA's two newest teams. The last time they faced off, the Beavers cooled off the red-hot red Mavericks (they were reanked fourth in the country that weekend) with a sweep. Needless to say, Omaha is seeking some payback this weekend. ... As for Bemidji, it feels like it's got a real rivalry with UNO.

Colorado College at Alaska-Anchorage: Colorado College has the top offense in the WCHA, and is doing it without their top scorer, freshman Jaden Schwartz, who is out until February with a fractured ankle suffered in the WJC. ... As for the Seawolves, they feel like they had a solid first half (they're tied with MSU in the WCHA standings) with several close games. Now can they bounce back after a 34-day break between games?

St. Lawrence at Michigan Tech: Interesting matchup between the first two teams Minnesota State played this season. Remember that the Mavericks tied St. Lawrence twice in Mankato and lost and tied at Tech. St. Lawrence has had an up-and-down season since then. They are 6-10-3 but have an upset win over New Hampshire in there. The Huskies, meanwhile, have not won since beating MSU, going winless in 16 straight games, including 15 losses in a row.

Other WCHA previews: INCH, USCHO (and here) and College Hockey News.
In other college hockey ramblings, Gustavus Adolphus women's hockey coach Mike Carroll is going for his 250th career win tonight when the seventh-ranked Gusties host eighth-ranked Trinity in St. Peter, Minn.

Don't forget to check back on PucKato this evening for live coverage of MSU's game against Denver.

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