On Thursday, I picked how the five WCHA series would go this weekend. But it's not much fun picking alone.
So I threw out a challenge: Is there anyone out there brave enough to go mano a mano against me? First one who responded would get the chance.
Stepping up -- actually e-mailing up -- was Joe Van Thomme, a lawyer and Gophers season-ticket holder from St. Paul. He knew who I picked and why, so that gave him a bit of advantage. But he may not have needed it. See for yourself. He seems to know his puck. I counter punched, expanding on my Thursday picks:
Gophers @ Alaska-Anchorage
Joe says: Ah well, the finicky, fickle, frustrating Gophers head to Alaska-Anchorage for two. This series is a bit like the BSU-CC pairing (see below), in that I think Alaska looks better on paper than the Seawolves actually are, and much of Gopher fans' trepidation about this series probably has to do with the aforementioned adjectives: the Gophers are finicky, fickle and frustrating from period to period.
The Seawolves (my spell check keeps underlining this word. Hmm...) do have ties against UND and Air Force (a team which gets a lot of respect despite playing in the not-so-solid Atlantic Hockey conference), but aside from that, they really haven't played anyone of note. The questions about this series rest more with the Gophers than anything, and that's likely a good problem to have. If the Gophers continue their first-period scoring trend, continue their solid power play (they're second in the WCHA at 26.3 percent. Surprised, Gopher fans?) and if they can limit their defensive zone gaffes (which directly led to losses in Houghton and Mankato), this is a team that can and should roll. This weekend, the Gophers find their identity. Picks: Minnesota sweeps.
Roman says: Alaska Anchorage's Dave Shyiak is one of my favorite coaches in the league. I like underdogs and UAA is always picked for the bottom of the WCHA. He always seems positive, is trying to build with local kids as much as possible -- six Anchorage players are on the team. One Seawolf forward retired this week because of concussion-related issues. That should fire up his teammates, remind them how lucky they are to be able to play D-I hockey. ... But, intangibles aside, there is a big talent gap here. And if UAA has really abandoned their left wing lock -- as The Don said, whatever that is -- and opened up on offense, then the Gophers have superior speed and skill. They got into Anchorage late Thursday after a six-hour flight. Just need to get loose. Sightsee a bit. I hear there are moose around. Then get down to business. Picks: Minnesota sweeps
Denver @ Minnesota State
Joe says: Some questions in this one and thankfully some easy answers. Can Denver's high-powered offense keep up the pace (4.33 goals/game) vs. a Minnesota State team that's tied for 44th in the nation in team defense (3.12 goals/game)? Is Minnesota State as sneaky good as we saw last weekend against the Gophers? Which team will sport the worse uniforms - Denver in that atrocious shade of crimson or Minnesota State in those awful black sweaters that channel Adam Banks' former team ("quack quack quack Mr. Ducksworth!")? The answers are yes, no and Minnesota State. Minnesota was worse than Mankato was good, and Nick Shore carries on the Shore family tradition (11 points in 6 games) against the Mavs. Picks: DU sweeps
Roman says: Denver may be WCHA's best team right now. The Pioneers (5-1-0) have scored five or more goals in each of their wins. DU is 12-0-2 vs. Mavericks in their past 14 meetings but is only 10-9-3 Mankato. This is the Pioneers' first time on the road this season. Goalie Adam Murray of Pios is out with a lower body injury, but DU has two other solid netminders. Junior Sam Brittain is expected to be in goal the first game. .. First-year MSU coach Mike Hastings is a passionate guy who knows how to win. Mavericks really took it to Gophers in first period last Saturday. Picks: DU sweeps
North Dakota @ St. Cloud
Joe says: This one's a bit tougher. With the school from North Dakota (that's what we're calling them these days, right?) playing characteristically inconsistent hockey thus far (losses to Alaska, Boston U late, and tying UAA) and with several players returning after being out due to, um, off-ice issues, it's tough to say where the chemistry of this team is at right now, or which team will show up. Meanwhile, St. Cloud is playing solid hockey despite missing pesky leader Ben Hanowski (for who knows how long), picking up a road shutout of Denver and winning five of their last six. Tough call for this one, so I'll call a ... Picks: Split.
Roman says: Aha, our first difference. I picked a Huskies sweep on Thursday and have to stay with it. These two teams have a nice rivalry going. Junior Clarke Saunders, a transfer from Alabama Huntsville, has been steady in UND's net. He is 2-1-1 with a 1.73 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage. St. Cloud State has had several key injuries, but is tied for the WCHA lead at 3-1-0 with Denver. Ryan Faragher is a solid goalie for Huskies who shut out UND last season in his first start -- at the Ralph.. Picks: SCSU sweeps
Bemidji State @ Colorado College
Joe says: Bemidji gets the better end of this road trip, scenically that is (Hampton Inn Rocky Mountains beats Hampton Inn Lake Bemidji). On the ice, Eamonn McDermott is quietly picking up a point a game from the blue line, and CC is coming off a solid road sweep against an offensively challenged Wisconsin team (sorry Becky). CC comes home after playing five of eight on the road, and although Bemidji State is stingy defensively (sophomore goaltender Andrew Walsh sports a .955 save percentage), I've got a feeling that Bemidji isn't as decent as they look on paper. The Beave gets a wake-up call here. Picks: CC sweeps.
Roman says: Another difference here. I'm picking a split. Was Becky a typo for Bucky? If not, that's harsh. ... Got to like Beavers' goalie Andrew Walsh and team's penalty kill, first in WCHA at 93.8 percent (15 of 16). But BSU's power play is a lowly 11th in the conference, 1-for-17, or 5.9 percent and Walsh has already faced 40 shots twice. ... CC is 5-1 vs. Beavers at its Colorado Springs rink, 0-3-1 in Bemidji. Tigers have outscored their opponents 12-6 in the second period. Picks: Split
Minnesota Duluth @ Nebraska Omaha
Joe says: How much does this look like a rebuilding year for UMD? To say nothing of UNO's teeming mediocrity, this is a tough series if only because of who's NOT heading to Omaha: J.T. Brown, a particular Connolly and a top-to-bottom tough UMD squad. This one may be close, but sweeps-week continues. Picks: UNO sweeps
Roman says: The Bulldogs also have a good young goalie in Matt McNeely of Burnville. He has the best goals-against average of any freshman netminder in the nation, 1.64, and has the third-best save percentage of any rookie, .935. UMD has been an impressive road team in past two seasons, compiling a 11-5-4 mark and they have not been swept in a hostile rink since Feb. 19-20, 2010 when North Dakota beat them twice at The Ralph. ... Zahn Raubenheimer has four goals in the last two games for the Mavericks who like to play an up-tempo style and shoot at every chance. Picks: UNO sweeps
Last word: The top three WCHA players in shots on goal are junior center Erik Haula of the Gophes, 4.71 shots per game; senior defenseman Mike Boivin of CC, 4.38, and freshman center Tony Cameranesi of UMD, 4.00.