Every week I pick WCHA games. It gives me a reason to follow the WCHA -- and the Gophers, my beat the past five seasons more closely.
I am a sports copy editor at the present time. It's my assignment at least for the duration of the NHL strike. But this blog is a nice diversion from editing other people's stories and it gives me a chance to match wits with other hockey minds. This week the challenger is Matthew Semisch. He has a blog and website, called Radio Free Omaha, and also covers college hockey in Omaha for uscho.com.
And who are the Gophers playing this weekend? Omaha. So he is a good guest picker.
All 12 WCHA teams are playing conference series this weekend. So we have six series to scrutinize:
Omaha (8-3-1, 4-1-1 WCHA) at Gophers (9-2-2, 4-2-2)
Matthew says: I’ll leave it to [Roman] to talk about how much or how little buzz this series is getting up your way in the Cities, but I’m here to tell you that this is a series UNO fans have been looking forward to for a while. It helps that the Mavericks have won each of their last six games, of course, but this will be the first series so far this season where UNO is playing a team that the average, casual sports fan in Omaha will have heard much about, and those two factors have really got people here talking.
The Mavericks’ schedule has left a lot to be desired thus far. After all, UNO has had the 46th-toughest slate so far according to the KRACH Ratings, and it hasn’t yet beaten a team currently ranked in the country’s top 20. Still, you can only beat what’s in front of you – and other assorted sports clichés – and six wins in a row, regardless of who they’ve come against, is nothing to sneeze at.
You can’t really take too much from UNO’s sweep last weekend at home of Alabama Huntsville, and least of all from the Mavericks’ 8-0 rout on Saturday. There are other numbers, however, that are worth keeping in mind:
• Junior forward Ryan Walters has been on fire lately, scoring in each of his last five games.
• Brock Montpetit, another junior forward, has been an assist machine so far. Sharing the league lead with 11 apples, he picked up four of them last Saturday.
• Senior goaltender John Faulkner has the league’s second-best goals against average this season at 2.03.
• UNO’s power play was anemic early on this season and was the WCHA’s worst in 2011-12, but the Mavericks have scored nine goals while playing with a numerical advantage over their last five games.
Again, UNO’s strength of schedule so far hasn’t been the best. Things are about to get a whole lot tougher. Here’s their slate through to the middle of January: At third-ranked Minnesota; at No. 14 St. Cloud State, Minnesota State at home, at No. 16 Quinnipiac, No. 18 Colorado College at home; and fifth-ranked Denver away. It’s enough to make me kind of want to write a piece for Radio Free Omaha about their upcoming games and just title the article ‘Woof.’
Anyway, that’s the skinny on the Mavericks. I’ll leave it to you to elaborate on what the Gophers have done so far, but what I’ve seen of Minnesota this season leaves me thinking UNO fans would be happy with a split this weekend. That’s what I think will happen. Pick: Split
Roman says: Ask a blogger to write a "little" more on this game and we get a short novel. Yikes. UNO is on 6-0-0 run, second longest winning streak in program history. Longest was eight games. ...Forward Ryan Walters has six goals and seven assists for 13 points in the past five games. Almost as hot is sophomore forward Dominic Zombo (4-6-10) in last five games. ... Defenseman Andrej Sustr who stands 6-8 -- almost 7-feet on skates -- has 18 blocked shots. ... Goalie John Faulkner is 7-0-1. ... Junior class has 71 points and 27 goals, highest totals in nation for that class. Omaha is second among WCHA teams in overall scoring, 3.75 goals per game, and second in giving up the fewest goals, 2.08 per game. ... The penalty kill is also second at 86.8 percent..
The Gophers match up well statistically with the Mavs. They are fifth in scoring, 3.38 goals per games, first in giving up the fewest goals, 1.77, and first on the penalty kill, 90.5 percent. ... Second line center Erik Haula, who just got an 'A' on his jersey, leads the Gophers with 10 assists and 16 points, first line center Nick Bjugstad leads in goal with seven. ... Fifteen players scored and eight had goals last weekend as the U swept Vermont 5-1 and 3-1; it was the team's first road sweep since last Feb. in Omaha. ... Freshman goalie Adam Wilcox had the best goals-against average in the WCHA at 1.46 and the second best save percentage at .931. Visitor has won all four times these two have met in WCHA games past two seasons. Pick: Split
North Dakota (6-4-2, 3-1-2) at Colorado College (7-6-1, 4-2-0)
Matthew says: CC is only just over .500 on the season so far but, as the Tigers’ schedule has been stronger than most, it’s understandable. That said, they probably ought to be doing a little better than they are; CC had to rally from four goals down to tie second-ranked New Hampshire 4-4 – and maybe should’ve have picked up a win, too - but they gave up two leads the following night before eventually losing in overtime to Yale. ... North Dakota is doing reasonably well despite some glaring inconsistencies. UND - am I the only one growing tired of not being able to refer to this team by a nickname? – is 5-0-1 in series openers so far this season, but Dave Hakstol’s team is a mere 1-4-1 in the rematches. Fair enough, three of those losses came against teams currently in the country’s top 15, but UND fans are waiting for this team to start picking up at least three points week in and week out. Will it happen this weekend at CC? I’m not banking on it. Pick: Split.
Roman says: Danny Kristo of UND and Rylan Schwartz of CC are the two leading active scorers in Division I hockey with 123 points apiece. Their teams are also tied for fifth in the WCHA. UND is 7-1-0 in the past eight games with the Tigers. North Dakota split at Notre Dame last weekend -- their sixth road split in as man road series -- winning first game 2-1, losing second 5-2. Junior goalie Clarke Saunders made 35 and 36 saves. UND has been outshot in last seven games. ... The Tigers fell behind 4-0 to New Hampshire last Friday, but rallied for a 4-4 overtime tie. Then on Saturday, they lost to Yale overtime. CC began nonconference play 3-0-0, but finished 0-3-1. Schwartz and captain Will Rapuzzi are tied for the WCHA scoring lead. Both have the same scoring stats (7-10-17). The Tigers have scored the most goals (52) among WCHA teams and given up the most (49). Pick: CC sweeps
St. Cloud State (7-5-0, 5-3-0) at Alaska Anchorage (2-4-4, 0-3-3)
Matthew says: UAA has more ties so far this season than any other WCHA club, and that’s left me hanging on to see when the Seawolves finally parlay respectable performances into wins in the league. It hasn’t happened yet, and, unfortunately, I don’t think it will this week, either. ... SCSU recovered very well Saturday from having dropped points against a desperate UMD team the night before, and I think normal service will resume this weekend. I wouldn’t be stunned to see UAA pick up another point this weekend, but that’s the best-case scenario for them, in my opinion. Pick: Huskies sweep
Roman says:The Huskies split at UMD last weekend, losing 2-1, then winning 5-1. Senior captain Ben Hanowski returned last weekend after missing five games with an injury. Junior forward Nic Dowd is another player tied for WCHA scoring lead (8-9-17). ... Alaska Anchorage is on a six-game winless streak. Its top offensive threats are sophomore forward Scott Allen with six goals and junior forward Matt Bailey with six assists. UAA has four ties. Pick: Huskies win and tie
Minnesota Duluth (3-7-2, 1-5-2) at Michigan Tech (4-6-0, 3-5-0)
Matthew says: It’s been a while since the last time Tech was favored to win two series in a row, but it’s been the case between last weekend’s set at Bemidji State and this week’s games at home with UMD. The Huskies’ two overtime wins at BSU two weeks ago seem to have Mel Pearson’s men back on track after having lost each of their previous five games. It should be fun to see whether that sweep – putting aside the fact that it didn’t come easily – is indeed the tonic that this Tech team so badly needed. ... UMD’s rough start to the season has been hard for me to handle on a personal level, given that I’ve grown a soft spot for Duluth generally since covering last season’s Women’s Frozen Four up there. One win – a 2-1 win at home last Friday against St. Cloud State – since mid-October isn’t going to cut the mustard, and Scott Sandelin’s Bulldogs need to start racking up wins before they find themselves too far gone to make a real run at finishing in the top six of the WCHA. It could start this weekend, as I’m picking UMD to split in Houghton, which is no small feat. Pick: Split
Roman says: One thing that can be expected in this series is lots of penalties. UMD leads the nation in time in the box, 18.7 minutes per game and its opponents are close behind at 18.2. The 'Dogs have some scorers in senior right wing Mike Seidel (8-6-14) who has a point in every game but one and freshman Tony Cameranesi (5-7-12). In fact, rookies have 11 goals and 30 points, which is fifth among freshman classes. UMD is 7-1-1 in last nine games with Tech and is averaging 32.6 shots per game. But something is missing, Bulldogs are 0-5-1 in the second game of series. ... Tech is coached by Mel Pearson, an assistant at Michigan for 23 years. He was WCHA coach of the year last season when he got Huskies to Final Five in his first year as their head coach. Huskies have had problems in goal. Pick: UMD sweep
Bemidji State (3-5-2, 2-4-2) at Mankato State (5-5-2, 3-5-0)
Matthew says: This certainly isn’t the sexiest series in the league this weekend, but I’m looking forward to seeing where these two games will take these two teams long-term. BSU and MSU face stronger opposition most weeks than they will Friday and Saturday, and a little momentum gained can take you a long way in college hockey. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t have seen BSU in the Frozen Four a few years back. ... This is a series between pretty even teams. Bemidji and MSU are both in the middle of the WCHA pack in terms of scoring offense and scoring defense and neither club’s special teams units blow you away. MSU has undoubtedly faced a stronger schedule than the Beavers have, though, and I like what the Mavericks were able to do in sweeping Wisconsin on the road last weekend. I’m a little biased as I have a lot of time for Mike Hastings, but the sooner Mankato starts reaping the benefits of his revolution there, the better. I’m taking the purple Mavs to take three points this weekend. Pick: MSU wins and ties
Roman says: Picking a tie? Bravo. You should get extra points Matthew if you hit on that. ... The Beavers may have found another goalie in Mathieu Dugas. He was in the nets as BSU tied Alaska 2-2 and beat them 5-4 last weekend, He is 1-1-1 with a 2.54 goals-against average and a .921 save mark. Senior forward Jordan George (3-6-9) is the Beavers' leading scorer. George also has five goals in six games against the purple Mavericks. BSU coach Tom Serratore needs two wins to reach 200 at his school. ... Pick: Split
Wisconsin (1-7-2, 1-5-2) at Denver (9-3-0, 7-1-0)
Matthew says: Badger head coach Mike Eaves said that he felt his team started to turn a corner last week from its poor start to the season. You do wonder if it’s a little bit of a reach to say you’re turning the corner, though, when you’ve lost two 4-2 games at home to Minnesota State, which is the sort of team – a lower-half club in the WCHA – that UW needs to be taking points off of on its own ice in Madison.
Denver lost twice at home last weekend, too, but those games were against much tougher competition in the forms of Yale and UNH [New Hamshire]. It seems to me that this is going to be a series where whichever team recovers from last weekend quickest is going to have the upper hand this time around. I’m still willing to give Eaves the benefit of the doubt, considering the extenuating circumstances that have had such big effects on the Badgers’ season to date. This is probably a little brave, then, but I’m taking Wisconsin to pick up a split at Magness. Pick: Split
Roman says: Looks like a mismatch. The Pioneers lost twice last weekend at home, falling to Yale 2-1 in OT and to New Hampshire 6-4. DU had not lost two games the same weekend since Oct. 15-16, 2010 when Boston College swept the Pioneers. Junior forward Nick Shore leads the team (6-11-17) in assists and points. DU has the second highest scoring team in the nation, averaging 4.17 goals per game. ... The Badgers have scored a league-low 18 goals. And Michael Mersch has eight of those goals. Badgers were 2-3 against DU last season, losing to the Pioneers 3-2 in OT in the third game of a best-of-three, first round WCHA playoff series. UW is 1-5-1 in last seven games in the Mile High City and is 0-5-2 in its last seven games. ... Freshman forward Nic Kerdiles, one of team's top incoming players, will be eligible to play after missed 10 games because of a suspension for an NCAA rules violation of amateur rules. Pick: Denver sweeps