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Dueling WCHA pickers; both seers see Gophers sweep

  • Blog Post by: Roman Augustoviz
  • January 26, 2012 - 10:29 PM

Only six weekends remain in the regular season and most WCHA teams, including the Gophers, play on five of those weekends.
There are no huge matchups this weekend. But Colorado College and Nebraska Omaha, the No. 3 and 4 teams in the conference standings, are idle. So teams like Denver and North Dakota could pass or tie them with big weekends.
I searched near and far for a guest prognosticator this weekend and found one: Brian Halverson, a columnist for U.S. College Hockey Online.
Are columnists smarter than beat reporters? Doubt it.

Our picks:

St. Cloud State (10-12-4, 7-8-3 WCHA) vs. No. 3 Minnesota (17-9-1, 13-5-0 WCHA) – At Mariucci on Friday, at National Hockey Center on Saturday

Brian: This is the second home-and-home series of the season for Minnesota and St. Cloud State as each team won at home in November. For the same to occur this time around, the Gophers must exercise their Friday demons (7-5-0 overall) while the Huskies will have to fend off Minnesota's Saturday Night Special (10-2-1 overall, 9-0-0 in WCHA play). The Huskies are a significantly more disciplined team now than when the Gophers faced them in November having fallen from top spot in league penalty minutes to a tie for 10th with Nebraska-Omaha since then. This is good for SCSU's penalty killers who are ranked 11th in the conference while, despite recent struggles, the Gophers' 22.6 percent power play is good for third in the WCHA. If Minnesota intends to be a significant postseason player, the time is now for them to take steps toward that end and string some wins together. If you need me, I'll be on that limb over there picking a … GOPHERS SWEEP

Roman: The Gophers fell behind SCSU 4-1 in first game before putting on a furious rally to close within 4-3 in last five minutes. Second game was all Gophers – except for Ben Hanowski’s 5-zip. If Gophers want to compete for WCHA, they need a sweep here and should get it because the Huskies have to put their 15th and 16th forwards in the line-up and move a defenseman up from because of injuries and departures. … GOPHERS SWEEP

Michigan Tech (11-12-1, 8-7-1 WCHA) at No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth (17-4-3, 11-3-2 WCHA)

Brian: The Huskies have played well against teams ranked in the top three this season going 2-2-1 in those games. But UMD has won eight of its last 10 meetings (8-2-0) with Michigan Tech, including seven in a row. MTU will be making its first-ever appearance at Amsoil Arena but hasn't won in Duluth since a 3-2 win over the Bulldogs on Nov. 13, 2009. I'm going to roll with the nation's best team here. … UMD SWEEPS

Roman: In Houghton, the Huskies would be more dangerous. Their penalty kill is at 88 percent since mid-December. And their eight WCHA wins are equal to their conference total the past three seasons. But at Amsoil – UMD has an eight-game home winning streak. Senior center Jack Connolly has at least one point in 22 games in a row, the ‘Dogs are averaging an NCAA-high 36.7 shots per game and swept Tech 5-3, 5-3 on the road.. … UMD SWEEPS

Wisconsin (12-10-2, 7-9-2 WCHA) at No. 18 North Dakota (13-10-2, 9-9-0 WCHA)

Brian: The Badgers, who swept UND in Madison in Oct. (5-3, 5-4) have won six of the last 10 meetings overall (6-3-1) and are 6-1-1 in Grand Forks since the 2005-06 season. But Wisconsin is just 1-6-1 on the road in 2011-12 with its only win coming at Minnesota State two weeks ago. Penalty killing has been a staple of success in recent weeks for both UW (82.5 percent in last 13 games) and UND (90 percent in last nine and 83.7 percent overall) but UND'S power play inefficiency lately (5.2 percent in its last five games) is alarming. Wisconsin finds a way to pick up a road win. … SPLIT

Roman: Huge series for home ice in first round of WCHA playoffs down the road. UND is in sixth place, last spot for home ice, the Badgers are ninth, but just two points behind the team without a nickname. Badgers freshman goalie Joel Rumpel is 4-1 with a 1.01 GAA and two shutouts in his last five games. Justin Schultz has a team-leading 12 goals and could become first D-man to lead Badgers in goals for a season. … UND SWEEP

 

Minnesota State (8-17-1, 4-13-1 WCHA) at Bemidji State (11-11-2, 5-9-2 WCHA)

Brian: The Mavericks, whose goaltending has been solid in recent weeks, have dominated this series in recent years. MSU has not lost in the last eight meetings between the two schools (7-0-1) and maintains a16-6-2 advantage in the series since BSU became a D-1 program in 1999. The Beavers had last week off after being swept in Denver the weekend before to snap their five-game winning streak. But Minnesota State has just one road win this season (6-3 over Michigan Tech on Nov. 5) and Bemidji State is 8-3-1 at home. I think the Beavers snap the winless streak vs. the Mavs this weekend but MSU doubles its road win total and picks up a win. … SPLIT

Roman: MSU’s freshman class is one of the nation’s highest scoring, with 25 goals and 31 assists. So the future could be bright. Junior goalie Phil Cook is also playing well. He is 3-1 with a .951 save percentage and a 1.72 GAA in his last four starts. The Beavers play better at home and have two veterans creeping up on milestones. Forward Jordan George has 90 career points, defenseman Brad Hunt has 80 assists, one shy of the Division-I era record by a Beavers’ blue-liner. … BSU SWEEPS

No. 15 Denver (13-8-3, 8-5-3 WCHA) at Alaska-Anchorage (6-14-2, 3-14-1 WCHA)

Brian: The Pioneers have won three in a row and may be seeing the returns of goaltender Sam Brittain and defenseman John Ryder this weekend. The Seawolves, who are beginning a six-game homestand, have lost five straight and seven of their last 10 (2-7-1) and are winless in their last six against Denver (0-4-2). UAA's 10th-ranked WCHA penalty kill (78.5 percent) is a poor match for DU's top-ranked conference power play (23.6 percent). … DENVER SWEEPS

Roman: DU freshman defenseman Joey LaLeggia is challenging Kyle Rau for rookie of the year honors in the WCHA. LaLeggia has nine goals and 15 assists for 24 points – more than any other first-year blue-liner. Pioneers have formidable one-two punch in Drew Shore with 15 goals and Jason Zucker with 13. UAA doesn’t want to stay in last place. One bright spot recently has been the penalty kill, which has not given up a goal the last 16 times an opponent has been on the power play. … DU WINS and TIES

No. 15 Denver (13-8-3, 8-5-3 WCHA) at Alaska-Anchorage (6-14-2, 3-14-1 WCHA)

Brian
: The Pioneers have won three in a row and may be seeing the returns of goaltender Sam Brittain and defenseman John Ryder this weekend. The Seawolves, who are beginning a six-game homestand, have lost five straight and seven of their last 10 (2-7-1) and are winless in their last six against Denver (0-4-2). UAA's 10th-ranked WCHA penalty kill (78.5 percent) is a poor match for DU's top-ranked conference power play (23.6 percent). Denver sweep.

Roman: DU freshman defenseman Joey LaLeggia is challenging Kyle Rau for rookie of the year honors in the WCHA. LaLeggia has nine goals and 15 assists for 24 points – more than any other first-year blue-liner. Pioneers have formidable one-two punch in Drew Shore with 15 goals and Jason Zucker with 13. UAA doesn’t want to stay in last place. One bright spot recently has been the penalty kill, which has not given up a goal the last 16 times an opponent has been on the power play. … DU WINS and TIES
 

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