Hockey East, WCHA top weekend play
Hockey East and the WCHA each provide two series for us to discuss in this week's Four-cast.
North Dakota at Nebraska-Omaha (Fri.-Sat.): Earlier this week, we dubbed this series Blais Bowl I, which will obviously be the primary storyline this weekend. There are other ties between the two schools, however, most notable being that both UND and UNO were members of the the now-defunct North Central Conference, an NCAA Division II league that also included Minnesota State, St. Cloud State, and (briefly) Minnesota Duluth. The Sioux were part of the NCC for its entire 86-year history; the Mavericks spent a dozen years in the league in the 1930s and 1940s, then rejoined from 1976 to 2008. But enough with the back story. This series could very well be decided by goaltending. Neither UND's Aaron Dell nor UNO's John Faulkner are considered the game-stealing type. Faulkner's got better numbers, but Dell was sharp in the Fighting Sioux's sweep of Wisconsin last weekend.
Boston University vs. New Hampshire (Fri. at UNH, Sat. at BU): New Hampshire has shown a knack for handing teams their first losses of the season this year. Sure, it was early in both teams' campaigns, but UNH won at Miami and at Cornell to throw some interference in the L column for their opponents. The latest potential victim is Boston University, a 6-0-4 team atop the Hockey East standings and poised for a home-and-home against the Wildcats.
Maine at Boston College (Fri.-Sun.): We had a hunch all along that Maine would be a player in the Hockey East title chase, but didn't think that the team with the higher national ranking and better record on the third week of November would be the Black Bears over the Eagles. We've learned never to count the Eagles out, and as we've come to expect, they'll play their best hockey in March and April. However, Maine is rolling through a great start to the season and carries a 6-1-3 record into these two games against the Hockey East favorites.
Minnesota Duluth at Wisconsin (Fri.-Sat.): Expecting a lot of goals in Madison this weekend? The Bulldogs and Badgers rank second and third, respectively, in the WCHA in scoring offense and boast eight of the league's top 15 scorers. Also know that the teams pace the WCHA in scoring defense as well; Wisconsin leads the way in that category. Two weeks ago, Minnesota Duluth faced its first true test of the season, travelling to Grand Forks for a series at North Dakota. The Bulldogs left Grand Forks with a split in a two-game set that was as evenly matched as you'll see all season. Last weekend, the Fighting Sioux visited Wisconsin and headed home with two wins against the Badgers under their collective belt. Since UMD is on par (or slightly better than) North Dakota based on the results from earlier this month, is a Bulldog sweep at the Kohl Center imminent?
Also: The marquee matchup in ECAC Hockey this weekend takes place in Ithaca Friday as Cornell hosts Yale. Two members of the Atlantic Hockey upper crust meet Friday when Niagara, winners of four straight and five of six, host RIT; the Tigers have won four of five. At 4-3-3, Michigan State has played just two road games thus far. The Spartans head to South Bend to face a Notre Dame team in the midst of a critical four-week stretch of series against high-powered opponents (at Michigan, Michigan State, at North Dakota, at Miami). Last year at this time, Chris Bergeron was an assistant coach at Miami. Now the head coach at Bowling Green, he welcomes the RedHawks to his home rink. Another ex-Miami aide, Western Michigan coach Jeff Blashill, will entertain the RedHawks next weekend. This weekend, the Broncos are in Big Rapids to face Ferris State, Blashill's alma mater.
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