Commentary

Bitter league rivals square off

Updated: January 22, 2010, 1:53 PM ET
By Mike Eidelbes and Joe Gladziszewski | Inside College Hockey

There's a little something on the menu for everyone this weekend, including a battle between two of the nation's top three teams, an intriguing non-conference series featuring two top-10 teams, and games pitting bitter league rivals against one another.

DenverDenver at WisconsinWisconsin
FRIDAY AND SATURDAY


The Badgers lead the WCHA in scoring offense with an average of 4.05 goals per game and rank second in the league in scoring defense, allowing an average of 2.27 goals per game, while the Pioneers are in the middle of the pack in the conference in both categories. So why is it, then, that the Badgers seem like the underdog in this series?

Well, Denver is the nation's top-ranked team, one of the few clubs in the country that has the depth and talent to match Wisconsin, and owns a 13-2-2 mark in Madison since the Kohl Center opened. They've also got an edge in goal with junior Marc Cheverie who, along with Miami's Cody Reichard, has been the best netminder in the country this season.

North DakotaNorth Dakota at CornellCornell
FRIDAY AND SATURDAY


Harvard's annual visit to Lynah Rink causes great anticipation and excitement among Cornell's Faithful but this weekend's unusual non-conference series is cause for just as much excitement, even if the locals gaze with curiosity toward the visitors from the west. North Dakota is just the second WCHA team to play at Lynah Rink in the last 53 years. These teams met last season in Grand Forks with North Dakota winning the first game 7-3 before Cornell won the second.

Two of the nation's top-10 teams will meet on back-to-back nights and plenty of exciting hockey is in store. The smallish confines of Lynah will provide the venue for what promises to be a fast-paced, physical series. Both teams have visions of deep postseason runs and this provides one final non-conference measuring stick before they enter the stretch run in their respective conferences.

Both teams have faced significant illness or injury in recent weeks. The Sioux played well despite getting only one point at Minnesota last weekend. Cornell managed to get three points on a trip to Clarkson and St. Lawrence despite most of the team being ill. If it comes down to goaltending, the advantage goes to Cornell, despite North Dakota having a more potent overall offensive attack.

MinnesotaMinnesota vs. St. Cloud StateSt. Cloud State
FRIDAY (at St. Cloud) AND SATURDAY (at Minnesota)


Two teams familiar with playing tight games in the league (the Huskies' WCHA goal differential is +6 while the Gophers are +4) take part in a series in which something's gotta give. Minnesota, fresh off a tie and win against North Dakota, is 8-2-1 in its last 11 games while St. Cloud State is 9-1-1 over its last 11 matches.

The Huskies' offense has really started to click during that runthey've scored three or more goals in 10 of their last 11 contests. Minnesota has picked up the pace offensively, too, but the Gophers have tightened the clamps on defense, allowing two or fewer goals in eight of its last 11 games.

BUBoston University at Boston CollegeBC
FRIDAY


New HampshireNew Hampshire at Boston UniversityBU
SATURDAY


These games are of great importance because Boston College and New Hampshire continue to jockey for position atop the Hockey East standings, but also because time is running out on the Terriers' aspirations of earning a first-round league playoff series, let alone defending their conference titles and national championship. The good news is that BU has won three of its last four games and scored a total of 16 goals in the three victories. The bad news, however, is that stringing together wins hasn't been the Terriers' forte this season. Only twice have they won consecutive games and their longest winning streak is two games.

Also: Another non-conference series of note pits the WCHA's first-place team, Minnesota Duluth, against CHA leader Bemidji State. The home-and-home set starts in Bemidji Friday. … Two of ECAC Hockey's best freshmen lead their teams in an important middle-of-the-pack matchup when Louis Leblanc and Harvard visit Jerry D'Amigo and RPI Saturday afternoon. … In the CCHA, two teams holding the inside track on a first-round playoff bye can help its causes by repelling challenges from opponents trying to emerge from the middle of the league standings. Surprisingly, the teams in the former roles are Ferris State and Lake Superior State, while the teams in the ladder position are Michigan and Notre Dame. Strange days, indeed.

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