Something that happens semi-annually ... the predictions take a nostalgic turn ... My former boss, and former WCHA beat guy in Duluth, Chris Miller, stepped up to the faceoff circle and made some predictions this week:
Like everyone else, I get all my news on the Twitter so it’s always fun to watch the little spats on the college hockey side of the Tweet deck. Sure is a good thing the Twitter wasn’t invented back in the early days of the college pucks, or we’d a seen a lot of crazy stuff from John Mariucci, Murray Armstrong and the rest of the dustups who now have rinks named after them.
Mariucci loved to stick the needle in folks, even to his dying day. His old Eveleth buddy, Sam LoPresti, ran a bar up on the Iron Range when I was known to stop in at bars on the Iron Range, and Sam was a pretty interesting guy. He was an NHL goalie, in fact still holds the record for saves in a game, set long before concussions or face masks were invented, but during World War II he was in the Navy and his boat got torpedoed near Africa. He was in a lifeboat for about seven weeks with a bunch of other guys, they’re fighting off sharks and everything, and the boat floated all the way across the Atlantic and was almost to South America when the guys were rescued. Meantime, Mariucci is spending the war serving in the Coast Guard, playing hockey in Michigan. But every time in ensuing years the Big One would come up, Old Maroosh would say, “Yeah, we were out there in the trenches while Sammy was taking a pleasure cruise on the high seas” and LoPresti would start barking at him with that high voice, it was great humor. Those old guys, man, they had the great stories and I’m sure all sort of crazy stuff went on, but there was no Twitter to document it, so it’s left to us survivors to keep the stories alive.
Speaking of which, Roman has me stepping in to help with predictions this week even though I no longer deal with the college hockey coverage. I’m now working more closely with our NHL guy, Michael Russo, and by working closely it means I deal with him the same way I deal with Roman. I follow them both on Twitter.
On to this week’s games:
Alaska Anchorage at Michigan Tech
Chris: When Rick Yeo was the AD at Tech, and I think Bob Mancini was the coach, I could be wrong, they had a prize recruit in for the grand tour and, naturally, they were hoping the kid was a good student because it is an engineering school after all. So they’re wrapping up, and they ask junior what he was thinking about for a major, and he says, “Well, I think I’d like to be firefighter.” After a bit of a pause, they broke the news that firefighting was not in the curriculum at Tech. Or any other WCHA school. But that just shows you what a tough gig recruiting is at Tech. Good luck to new coach Mel Pearson. By the way, that would-be recruit went on to a fine four-year career at school, and was even academic All-WCHA. Majoring in communications, of course. Can’t tell you what school it was, but here’s a hint: it won the national title last season. Prediction: Tech sweeps.
Roman: How do I top Chris’ yarn? Never been to Anchorage or Houghton, but I like both head coaches. Hope they don’t get into a shouting match. The Seawolves should be ready to run through a wall after a 34-day break. These teams split a series in the 49th state on Nov. 18-19. UAA won first game 3-1, Tech won second 5-0 on Josh Robinson’s shutout. Prediction: Another split.
Minnesota Duluth at Nebraska-Omaha
Chris: So Dean Blais and Scott Sandelin coach the U.S. junior team and all that happens is a lousy seventh place? I remember clearly when the U.S. national development program was formed expressly so we would win medals at EVERY junior tournament, in addition to robbing high schools of star players, and I am clearly outraged at having fallen into the relegation pool. But y’know Blais and Sandelin have pretty good track records, so I’m gonna put this lump of coal squarely on the players. Yeah, yeah, they were all apologetic on the Twitter. Enough Twitter apologies. Next year, score some goals, dudes. Prediction: Split.
Roman: Gophers need somebody to cool off UMD, maybe Blais’ boys. ‘Dogs are on a school-record 16-game unbeaten streak (13-0-3). Jack Connolly has an 18-game scoring streak, four shy of school mark of 22 set by Mark Pavelich in 1978-79. Connolly is 15th on UMD scoring list, but moving up quickly. He just needs two more points to past Curt Giles, Edina’s high school coach now.
Dogs are 7-0-3 on road this season. And senior class of five skaters has 98 points, more than any other group of seniors on any other team. UMD is also averaging 34.75 shots per game – eighth best nationally.
But Deano will have Red Mavericks fired up. UNO is doing a promotion to sell out CenturyLink Center, which holds 15,959 and has never had a sellout. Friday game is also on national TV on the NBC Sports Network. Mavs are coming off a 2-2 tie and 4-1 win over Quinnipiac. But they are stepping up in class this weekend. Prediction: UMD sweeps.
Wisconsin at Minnesota State
Chris: I’ve lost touch with the glamorous way the modern hockey media travel (travels?) but I clearly remember a frozen trip in Madison in the ’80s where I was piloting the designated media vehicle, could have been News-Tribune Car 6 or the big KDAL Jimmy, or maybe even the WEBC Oldsmobile, and I was very confused by the lakes and ended up driving down some railroad tracks at 2 in the morning. I know what you’re thinking, sure, alcohol involved, but no, we were looking for the IHOP I seem to recall. Anyway, Madison was a fun town to get to, but it really is out of the way, and I’m thinking nobody from the traditional WCHA will miss the trip when the Badgers go to the Big Ten Hockey Conference although I am very concerned they’ll have to move the Penn State-Ohio State series to a larger venue once that rivalry heats up. Prediction: Another split.
Roman: Badgers have yet to win on the road (0-5-1) but they haven’t played away from the Kohl Center in almost two months and have won last four games against MSU Mankato. UW sophomore forward Mark Zengerle has a 19-game scoring streak, two shy of the record of 21 held by Mike Eaves, his coach. Eaves got his 200th win last weekend.
Jean Paul Lafontaine leads Purple Mavs in scoring with 11 goals and 8 assists for 19 points. He could become first freshman to lead team in scoring since 1994-95. Freshman class had 42 points, fifth most nationally. Prediction: Badgers sweep.
St. Cloud State at Colorado College
Chris: When St. Cloud wasn’t in the “original” NCHC plans I started thinking what the heck are they paying Gino Gasparini all that money for as a consultant if he can’t get them on the big boat? But in the end, Gino came through, I guess, although the whole situation is very comparable to high school drama. Two popular kids have a car and they’re going to the movies. They can invite four others to go with them. The fourth kid is very happy to be included in the group. The kids left out aren’t happy, they’re jealous, they don’t understand. Then someone can’t go, and another kid from the left-out group is invited. Then the kid is happy. Don’t like any of this, gang. Big Ten, NCHC, new WCHA. Whatever. I understand it, yep. I get it. Don’t like it. Prediction: Split.
Roman: CC is third nationally in scoring – behind UMD and the Gophers – averaging 3.70 goals per game and has the dynamic Schwartz brothers, Jaden and Rylan. The Tigers are 4-1-0 in their last five meetings with St. Cloud State. The Huskies can counter with their Little Falls duo. Ben Hanowski has 12 goals and 24 points, Jared Festler has nine goals and 17 points. Prediction: CC sweeps.
Bemidji State at Denver
Chris: While tapping out a story on deadline at the old DU Arena I was distracted, as is often the case, this time by a parent of a player arguing with the sports information guy over how his kid should have gotten an assist on his team’s only goal. And the dad is kinda harping on how important it is because the “scouts” pay attention to that kind of stuff, mind you, this kid was a college senior! The poor SID is kinda flummoxed (before the days of replay this is) and naturally they rely on me to settle the argument, like my hair isn’t already on fire trying to craft another award-winning tome about a 5-1 slopfest. Anyway, I tell them “Look, I’ll side with whoever will buy me a beer” and neither one of them thinks it’s funny at all. Some people just don’t appreciate my sense of humor. Prediction: Denver sweeps.
Roman: DU is 9-1 all-time against the Beavers, but the last time they played was Dec. 9-10 in Bemidji and they split. Denver won the first game 3-2, BSU the second 2-1. Beavers coach Tom Serratore has found a fabulous freshman goalie in Andrew Walsh who is 6-2-1 with a 1.87 gaa and the Beavers have won five in a row.
DU, meantime, just got one of its top two injured goalies back. Adam Murray beat Alabama Huntsville 5-2 last weekend. Sam Brittain , the Pioneers top goalie, is still out after knee surgery. Forward Jason Zucker has rejoined DU after playing in the World Juniors. He has 11 goals and 24 points. Prediction: Split
Minnesota at North Dakota
Chris: So Roman tells me one of my favorite hockey teams can’t use its nickname any more and I say “What? I have to call them the Charleston hockey club now? And what’s the story with that dog?” Prediction: Two ties.
Roman: The Gophers have either beat or played everybody close. Six of their seven losses have been by one goal. So Chris is not being totally silly be forecasting two ties. U beat UND 2-0 and 3-2 in series at Mariucci in early November.
But UND is surging, 7-1-1 in its last nine games and it’s after Christmas now. Coach Dave Hakstol’s team always get better. His teams have a winning percentage of .577 before Christmas in his eight years at UND, and .707 after. He needs two wins to reach 200. Gino Gasparini is the winning coach at North Dakota with 392 wins, Blais is next with 262. Prediction: Split