Holiday weekend brings big hockey
Lots to talk about in the college hockey world this week, led by an impressive gathering of talent in Grand Forks, the penultimate College Hockey Showcase and a whole lotta red at Madison Square Garden.
GRAND FORKS, N.D.
FRIDAY AND SATURDAY
This on-again, off-again event hosted by North Dakota has a pseudo-Frozen Four feel with three top-10 teams -- Miami, Bemidji State and the host Fighting Sioux -- joined by Ohio State. It's not a true tournament; Friday starts with the RedHawks and Beavers in a Frozen Four semifinal rematch from April, and NoDak and the Buckeyes play in the nightcap. Saturday, it's OSU facing BSU and top-ranked Miami butting heads with the Sioux.
The four games in this event range from intriguing to must-see. Naturally, the primary focus will be on Saturday's finale pitting Miami against North Dakota. But Friday's opener featuring Bemidji State and Miami is an interesting collision of a RedHawk team that prides itself on defense and has been the most consistent team in the nation to date and a Beaver squad that has been nearly unstoppable offensively. Plenty at stake for the hosts, too, as the Sioux have lost three in a row. Ohio State is more talented than its 5-8-1 record would indicate; the Buckeyes were victimized for 14 goals by Ferris State last weekend.
MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
A couple of ancient rivals from the old-time ECAC meet in the Big Apple for the second time in three years. Coaches Jack Parker of BU and Mike Schafer of Cornell both played at the schools where they now coach and have an appreciation of what this rivalry meant to previous generations. Now, alumni and fans will fill MSG with much of the same passion. When the teams met in 2007, BU got off to a quick start, scoring three goals in the first 11 minutes, and went on to a 6-3 victory.
This year's game matches a Cornell team that has been pretty solid in winning six of its first eight games with an underperforming Terriers squad that has started its national championship defense with a 4-7-1 record. Cornell is looking forward to the opportunity to play in such a spectacle to help prepare itself for larger crowds and bigger games later in the year. This game might be considered small potatoes for the Terriers, who will also play in Fenway Park and the Beanpot later this season, but it's a great opportunity for them to start to turn things around against a very good opponent.
When Wisconsin, Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan annually get together for the College Hockey Showcase we've come to expect to see them all prominently placed in the national rankings. That's not the case this year, and Friday's game in East Lansing is the only one of the weekend pitting top-20 teams.
Both teams have excelled at the defensive end of the rink as Wisconsin ranks seventh nationally, allowing just 2.00 goals per game over its 12 games en route to a 7-4-1 record. The Spartans are ninth in defense, allowing 2.14 goals per contest over 14 games during which they've gone 9-3-2. Both teams can also score, and are averaging 3.00 goals per game or better. Success in Friday's game will be found by the team that takes advantage of any defensive breakdowns, which could be rare. If they happen, both teams' skill players are good enough to capitalize.
FRIDAY AND SATURDAY
This series has trap written all over it for the Pioneers, who swept North Dakota at Magness Arena last weekend and have a home-and-home series with archrival Colorado College next weekend. Sandwiched in the middle is this set with the Huskies, the most deceiving .500 team in college hockey. That 5-5-2 mark doesn't look great on paper, but it's fairly impressive when you consider that the six opponents SCSU has faced thus far have a combined 40-23-10 record and four of them are rated in the top 16 of this week's INCH Power Rankings.
Bentley, Lake Superior State, Union and Rensselaer comprise the field for this year's Rensselaer Holiday Tournament. Nice nonconference tilt on Saturday afternoon as Massachusetts travels to Quinnipiac. Michigan and Minnesota meet in Ann Arbor Friday. Since the two schools didn't meet in football this season, does the winner of this game get the Little Brown Jug?
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