Until this week, I've gone solo, predicting WCHA games without any competition. But it's nice to break up the long college hockey season into chunks.
The first third is over. My solo phase. I've gotten into a groove. I know the 12 conference teams. Time for a challenge. Whom to ask? Shane Frederick of the Mankato Free Press, of course.
He covers the Minnesota State Mavericks. They play the Gophers this weekend -- the team I cover. Let's get it on as the kids would say. The picks:
Minnesota State at Minnesota
Shane: Thanks, Roman, for having me back for your pick-‘em challenge. I certainly hope you won’t forget us little guys on the prairie when the Big 10 hockey conference begins and [Mavs coach] Troy Jutting becomes the Dean of the WCHA in two years.
Actually, I’m surprised I was invited back since your readers ripped me and called me a homer for picking a series split a year ago. The Mavericks ended up sweeping the series in Mankato, and they’re now 5-1-0 in their last six games against Minnie.
This year, though, the teams are going in opposite directions. The Gophers are scoring a ton of goals, and the Mavericks are beat up [but getting healthier]. Phil Cook, who was so good in goal against the Gophers last year, is struggling and probably won’t even be on the trip. But I think [goalie] Austin Lee might have another Mariucci win in him. The Mavs need points this weekend, so — why not? — I’ll say ... SERIES SPLIT
Roman: Shane, you homer.There I said it first this year. Remember, four of those recent Mavs' wins over the Gophers were by one goal, excluding two empty-net goals. So the Gophers have played the purple Mavs close. And the Mavs are only 3-10-1 this season, while the Gophers are almost the exact reverse in Ws and Ls at 11-4-1.
Here is the clincher for me, though, the Mavs are giving up 4.07 goals per game, which puts them No. 57 among 58 teams in the nation. The only team more sieve-like is Sacred Heart, being exploited for 5.07 gpg. Remember the Gophers' scores against Sacred Heart in their season-opening series? 9-0, 6-0. The Mavs will keep it a lot closer but in the end the ... GOPHERS SWEEP
Minnesota Duluth at Michigan Tech
Shane: Funny thing about the Bulldogs. They lost a ton of talent from last year. And they returned a ton of talent — Jack Connolly, Kenny Reiter, Travis Oleksuk, J.T. Brown. Of course they won the national title last spring. Michigan Tech has improved under new coach Mel Pearson and has lost just one game at home this season (to Minnesota State). However, I think the Bulldogs improve upon their 10-game unbeaten streak, but (just to drive Roman nuts) with a win and a tie. ... THREE POINTS FOR UMD.
Roman: It's OK to pick ties, but don't expect one in this series. The Bulldogs, idle last weekend, might be playing better than any other team in the country right now. Jack Connolly has a career-high 12-game points streak. Goalie Kenny Reiter has a 1.48 goals-against average in UMD's 8-0-2 surge. UMD, which peppered the Gophers with 50 shots in back-to-back games, is averaging 35.6 per game, sixth best nationally.
Oh, and last season when the Bulldogs visited Houghton, they won 5-0 and 3-0. The Huskies are 6-1-1 at John MacInnes Student Center. And they have balance. Two players have six goals, three have five. But this looks very much like a ... BULLDOGS SWEEP
Bemidji State at St. Cloud State
Shane: Wow. Lots of matchups this weekend between teams that won’t be in the same conference in two years when the WCHA breaks up. What a shame. This is one of three series between a WCHA leftover and a team from the Like-Minded Hockey Conference — I mean the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. The Beavers haven’t won a road game in conference play (they can’t count that victory at Lake Superior until 2013-14, right?), and the Huskies have been pretty good at home. ... ST. CLOUD SWEEPS
Roman: St. Cloud State is 14-2-0 against the Beavers since they moved up to Division I, including 3-1-0 last season. The Huskies have earned at least one point in every WCHA series but are coming off a 4-3 loss and a 2-2 tie at Nebraska Omaha. Freshman goalie Ryan Faragher has 30-plus saves in six games.
Bemidji State shut out North Dakota 1-0 in its last game. The Beavers have been outscored 15-4 in the third period of confeerence games. ... THREE POINTS FOR SCSU
North Dakota at Alaska Anchorage
Shane: Anybody out there write off North Dakota after its slow start? Me neither. The Sioux face a Seawolves team that left Mankato with three points this week but also one that blew a 5-1 lead over the second half of Saturday’s game. Of course, those five goals came on just seven shots. That’s not going to happen again. North Dakota will build off last week’s impressive sweep of Colorado College and get an early jump on it annual second-half surge. ... NORTH DAKOTA SWEEP
Roman: The Seawolves scored seven goals in their first eight WCHA games before getting 10 in a three-point weekend at Mankato. Scoring on NoDak will be tougher. UAA is a respectable 14-15-1 against the Fighting Sioux in Alaska.... UND's top line had a huge weekend against CC. Brock Nelson had three goals and three assists, Corban Knight one goal and four assists and Danny Kristo three goals and two assists. That's 16 points combined. ... SPLIT
Denver at Colorado College
Shane: Just one game between the Gold Pan rivals (and a pair of future NCHC teams) as the first game of this series was played on Nov. 12 in Denver. The Pioneers won that game but have some injury issues right now. The Tigers might have been swept a week ago in Grand Forks, but CC superstar Rylan Schwartz had a hat trick in each game. That was good enough to earn him the WCHA’s prestigious co-offensive player of the week award. Anyway, Colorado College is too good to lose three in a row. It bounces back at home. ... CC WINS
Roman: CC is averaging an NCAA-best 4.36 goals per game. Jaden Schwartz has a point in his past 17 games going back to last season. The Tigers have scored at least one power-play goal in 10 consecutive games. Six times they have scored two goals within a minute. ... DU won 5-4 on Nov. 12 in the first game of the Gold Pan Trophy series, but are only 8-18-3 at World Arena in Colorado Springs. ... CC WINS
Nebraska Omaha vs. Alabama Huntsville in Nashville
Shane: For some reason this nonconference series is being played in Nashville, but I don’t think that will help Huntsville, which, sadly, is in its final season as an NCAA program. The Chargers are 0-14-1 and have been shut out seven times. Maybe they’ll have a better chance next week in Mankato. As for the red Mavericks, Terry Broadhurst and Co. will roll. ... OMAHA SWEEPS
Roman: Junior Terry Broadhurst of the red Mavs has 14 goals in 16 games. Nebraska Omaha has scored a power-play goal in six consecutive games and during that time that special unit is clicking at 30 percent. UAH is 0-14-1, but last season when UAH was 4-26-2 one of its victories was over UNO. The Mavs won the first game of their series 4-0 but lost the second 2-1 in overtime when UAH goalie Clarke Saunders made 58 saves.
Saunders is back and four times this season he has stopped 40 shots or more. Even so, it's hard to pick Alabama Huntsville. P.S. The series is at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville because the NHL's Predators, who usually play there, are trying to grow the sport of hockey in the South. Last season, UAH played Merrimack in Nashville in the the first NCAA Division I hockey game ever in Tennessee. ... UNO SWEEPS
CHARTING MY PICKS
Here is how I have done picking WCHA in other weeks. Not happy with five losses last week. Got to do better. Or as college hockey players say, that's not acceptable.
Week 1 Did not pick games; still covering Lynx run to WNBA title.
Week 2 9 - 7-1/2 - 1/2
Week 3 8 - 3-1/2 - 1/2
Week 4 7 - 3-1/2 - 1-1/2
Week 5 8 - 3 - 1
Week 6 7 - 1 - 1
Week 7 9 - 2 - 1
Week 8 8 - 5 - 1 ... second most losses of the season
Week 9 ? - ? - ?
Totals 56 - 25-1/2 - 6-1/2 for winning percentage of 67.3. percent.