Weekend Predictions- ‘Playoff Hockey’

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The most exacerbating, excruciating and exciting time of the college hockey season has arrived. It’s time for the playoffs, where a team’s season is hanging by the thread of a goalie’s kick save or a favorable bounce off the post.  The pressure drives fans to madness, sometimes covering their eyes or praying to the hockey gods for their team to pull out one more win. Blood, sweat, and tears are literally spilled on the ice for a chance to hoist college hockey’s most coveted trophy and be the only team that can be proclaimed national champions.  This time of the year is tough as a college hockey fan.  You always have a senior class that is skating for their last time at Ralph Engelstad Arena.  This makes it tough from an emotional standpoint but at the same time there is a bigger goal to accomplish that needs to be focused on.  I believe this class, as much as any other, shows the ability to put all of the nostalgia away until they hang up their skates and take off their UND jersey for the final time.  Let’s hope when it’s taken off it can be hung on a national championship trophy.  The road to glory starts tonight with a familiar first-round foe in the Colorado College Tigers.

Rewind one year,  and I was very disappointed after watching UND fail to close out Western Michigan to win the Penrose Cup and pushing them to the bubble of the NCAA tournament. Like last year, UND will play Colorado College at home in the 1st round.  Unlike last year, Sioux fans can breath easy when UND needed to win their 1st round series to continue their season.  This UND team comes into the tournament ranked #1 in the conference, Pairwise Rankings, and media polls. They could fall flat on their face in this series and still have a place saved for them in Fargo for the NCAA West Regionals.  However, this team does not seem to be one that is content with anything short of winning every single game.

Colorado College is coming off a promising shootout win and closely-contested loss at the hands of the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks.  The weekend before, CC most likely played their most complete game of the season in a 5-0 shutout win of the Western Michigan Broncos. Even with the win, however, the Tigers from Colorado Springs sit at 2 total conference wins on the year.  They average a measly 2.15 GPG and allow a gaudy 3.88 goals per game to opponents, while UND sits at 3.34GPG and allows only 2.17 goals against.

The one area CC does have an advantage on North Dakota is the powerplay, where they sport an impressive 21%.  North Dakota currently sits at 20.5% but did have a terrible weekend against Miami going 1 for 8(12.5%) and allowing 2 shorthanded goals.  The PP definitely needs to be a focus moving forward as these extra-man opportunities are critical to score on come tournament time.

The signs all point to UND winning in 2 games however ending a team’s season is not an easy thing to do.  I would expect 2 games similar to the game in Grand Forks on January 23rd where it took everything UND had to win by a score of 2-1.

Although UND does not have to win the series to continue their season, I would much prefer if they did as I have already paid for a hotel and tickets to the annual NCHC Frozen Faceoff at the Target Center in Minneapolis, MN.  It would be more enjoyable if I could watch some hockey in a sea of green similar to last year.  So for that reason, I’ll be pulling hard for these wins.

This series also happens to land on St. Patrick’s Day weekend.  You can bet there will be some intoxicated fans at the Saturdy game that have taken part in the Leprachaun Loop in Grand Forks that rewards you for going to a slew of bars and getting a drink.  It generally assists in ‘liven-ing’ the Ralph Engelstad Arena up in the absence of students that are on Spring Break but I digress.

I believe that UND is a better, more well-rounded version of last year’s team and I don’t think the Colorado College Tigers are much different .  What took us 3 games to complete last year only takes 2 this year:

SIOUX 3-1, 5-2

Other 1st Round Matchups:

Western Michigan @ Miami:  I think Western Michigan will make this interesting as they are also playing for their season but Miami’s talent is too much. Miami in 3 games.

SCSU @ Omaha: St. Cloud State needs to get to Minneapolis for a chance at extending their season.  Meanwhile, Omaha has struggled down the stretch and some of their inexperience is showing through. SCSU needs this series more. SCSU in 3 games.

UMD @ Denver: Both of these teams are most likely in the NCAA tournament regardless or results from this weekend.  I’ll give the edge to the home team here. Denver in 3 game.

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