Badgers host Michigan for outdoor bash
It's a fairly subdued weekend at the nation's rinks, with only a handful of marquee matchups. Even though it might seem like slim pickings out there, we can find enough action that piques our interest.
FRIDAY AND SATURDAY
Early-February discussion of regional rivalries in Hockey East naturally points toward the Beanpot tournament in Boston, but prior to Monday night's final the eyes of the New England hockey world turn to Orono and a pair of meetings between bitter rivals New Hampshire and Maine.
First-place New Hampshire carries a five-point lead in the conference standings heading into the weekend, largely behind great success at home. The Wildcats are 6-0-2 at the Whitt in Hockey East play and all three conference defeats have come away from home. Maine's Alfond Arena is no easy place to play and the Black Bears will likely bring their best, after impressively earning a win and tie at Vermont last weekend. Maine is 6-1-1 in Hockey East home games this year and has six of its 10 remaining regular-season games at home.
SATURDAY (Camp Randall Stadium)
Outdoor hockey games have become as common as Brangelina breakup rumors. And yeah, there's something kinda cool about taking the game back to its roots, but the whole fad seems kind of tired and the games are rarely memorable other than the setting. The biggest storyline might be the opportunity for Badger fans to use the event to wrest the title of World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party from the Florida-Georgia football game.
What the hook is for Michigan-Wisconsin, we're not sure. There'd probably be a lot more sizzle surrounding this game if Wisconsin were hosting a more traditional rival like, say, Minnesota; if the Badgers and Wolverines hadn't played one another in Ann Arbor in November (a 3-2 Michigan win); and if Boston College and Boston University hadn't played an outdoor match in a much sexier venue last month. But this is what we've got to work with. Heck, as long as we get to hear "Jump Around", we'll be happy.
FRIDAY AND SATURDAY
The first-place team in Atlantic Hockey faces the hottest team in the league when RIT travels to Milford, Conn., for a pair of games against Sacred Heart. The host Crusaders are unbeaten in their last dozen games with a 10-0-2 record and nine wins and both ties have come in league play. At the turn of the New Year, Sacred Heart was just 2-6-1 in Atlantic Hockey before its recent surge has carried the Crusaders to fourth place with games in hand on both second-place Air Force and third-place Mercyhurst.
RIT has been the most consistent team in the league and has racked up a 15-4-1 mark, and that's after opening the Atlantic Hockey campaign with back-to-back one-goal losses at Air Force. How dominant have the Tigers been? They've outscored conference foes by a better-than two-to-one margin with 73 goals scored and just 36 goals allowed over 20 games.
The Division I ranks may be short on high-profile games this week, but the same can't be said for these two Division III matchups. Norwich, ranked second in the country, is the lone remaining unbeaten college hockey team in the nation. Tenth-rated Middlebury has the upper hand in one category, however -- the Panthers have won eight national titles since 1995.
In Duluth, a St. Norbert win over host St. Scholastica Friday would give the Green Knights, the country's third-ranked team, and five-point lead over the second-place Saints in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association with three games remaining in the regular season. St. Scholastica, rated fourth in the nation, is a great story. Long the NCHA doormat, the Saints have steadily improved under head coach Mark Wick and earned their first-ever NCAA tournament berth in 2009.
Also: UMass and Boston College are tied for second place in Hockey East. They won't be for long, as the two teams tangle in Amherst Friday. … Alaska Anchorage is 0-25-3 at St. Cloud State's National Hockey Center. The Seawolves will try to lose the collar this weekend. … Front Range college hockey supremacy is on the line this weekend as both Colorado College and Denver square off against Air Force. The Tigers and Pioneers will also take turns playing one of the Falcons' Atlantic Hockey foes, Mercyhurst … The biggest CCHA series are Lake Superior State-Miami and Michigan State-Alaska. The Lakers and Nanooks can still climb into one of the top four spots in the league standings while the RedHawks and Spartans can solidify their positions in the upper echelon.
For more on college hockey, check out Inside College Hockey.