In the record: UND heating up?Before I get to the college hockey action from last weekend, congrats are in order for UND’s Rocco Grimaldi, who scored twice in the gold medal game of the World Junior Championships, leading the USA to a 3-1 win over Sweden.
By: Mark Schuttenhelm For The Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Before I get to the college hockey action from last weekend, congrats are in order for UND’s Rocco Grimaldi, who scored twice in the gold medal game of the World Junior Championships, leading the USA to a 3-1 win over Sweden.
Grimaldi was benched earlier in the tournament but worked his way back into the lineup, becoming the difference maker for Team USA. Well done, Rocco, and welcome back!
At the Ralph last weekend, UND completed their second sweep in a row, beating 20th ranked Holy Cross 5-2 and 3-2. The Crusaders, just added to the national poll last week, did not get to enjoy their newfound position for very long. Holy Cross, playing in front of a crowd about eight times their norm, was in uncharted territory and it clearly showed on Friday, as they had that “deer in the headlights” look out there. They played better on Saturday, even jumping out to a 2-0 lead as UND sleep walked through the first period, but North Dakota’s firepower and size proved to be too much for the team from Mass.
UND’s power play is now converting at 20 percent for the season, after clicking on an incredible 8-of-10 over the weekend. Speaking of incredible, Corban Knight won 21 of his 24 face offs on Saturday. That kind of domination is unheard of in face-off stats. For the weekend, Knight tallied two goals and four assists, Danny Kristo chipped in with two goals and two assists, and Michael Parks, back in the lineup and healthy, scored two goals. Parks skated on the No. 1 line with Kristo and Knight, replacing Mark MacMillan. Mark was paired up with his brother, new arrival Mitch MacMillan, and Brendan O’Donnell.
The MacMillan boys really lit it up when they played together in the British Columbia junior leagues, and coach Dave Hakstol would love to see a replay of that in Grand Forks over the second half. Goalie Clarke Saunders had an unremarkable weekend, though he did make a huge glove save late in the game Saturday to preserve the 3-2 lead. UND has now won five in a row, with hopes of keeping it going at home against a struggling Colorado College team this weekend.
The brooms were out all over the country, as sweeps were the way of the weekend.
In WCHA action, Denver swept an excellent Cornell team at home, 5-1 and 2-1. DU is now 3-0 after the Christmas break and appears to have put that eight-game slump behind them. Coach George Gwozdecky has given up on the three-goalie rotation and has settled in with Juho Olkinuora, who has given up a total of just two goals in the last three games.
Well, what can you say about the turnaround taking place in Mankato under new coach Mike Hastings? Minnesota State completed their fourth successful sweep this season, downing a solid Providence team 4-3 and 4-0. MSU is now 11-1 in their last 12. Their scoring is well balanced, the power play is converting at 22 percent, and freshman goalie Stephon Williams has been superb. MSU is also outscoring their opponents by a 2-1 margin in the third period this season. The only thing I find disappointing about the situation is their inability to sell out the 4,800-seat Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato. What the heck are those folks south of the cities waiting for?
As we look to the northwest, we find St. Cloud State mired in a mini-slump. The Huskies have entertained RPI and Northern Michigan since Christmas, two teams they should have been able to handle. All they have to show for the two weekends work is one win and three losses. With a suddenly rejuvenated Denver team and streaking North Dakota coming up, coach Bob Motzko needs to get this figured out in a hurry if St. Cloud wants to stay near the top of the WCHA standings.
Nebraska-Omaha recovered from their lost holiday weekend at Quinnipiac by sweeping the reeling Colorado College Tigers, 8-4 and 3-1. Similar to last season, CC has cooled off after a very strong start. The Tigers, who visit the Ralph this weekend, have plenty of firepower, but they’ve given up over 4.5 goals a game in their last 12, a 1-9-2 stretch that could prove to be a season-wrecker. Wisconsin continues its comeback from that brutal start, sweeping a pair on the road against Alaska-Anchorage. The Badgers are 5-0-3 in their last eight.
Bemidji State came away with a loss and a tie at home against No. 10 Western Michigan. In a rare mid-week game, Minnesota came up with another big home win versus CCHA powerhouse Notre Dame, 4-1.
In the ECAC, Quinnipiac continues to be the big story, as they beat Dartmouth 3-2 and Harvard 6-2. The Bobcats, 16-3-2 overall, are 10-0-0 in conference play, and threatening to run away with the regular season championship in the ECAC. Last season’s Cinderella story of the Frozen Four, Union, has been slumping after a good start. After dropping a pair at Lake Superior, Union is now 1-4-3 in their last eight and falling nearly every week in the national poll. Lake Superior, after the sweep, is 12-10 on the season and should start to get some attention from the poll voters.
In Hockey East play, New Hampshire made their claim on the No. 1 spot by beating Bemidji last Monday and RPI on Saturday. Boston University also beat RPI over the weekend. Boston College, likely still recovering from the thrashing they suffered at the hands of the Gophers, tied Yale 3-3.
How about those three Atlantic Hockey schools ranked 18 thru 20 in last week’s poll? Holy Cross, we know, took it on the chin courtesy of UND and was replaced in the poll by UMass-Lowell. Robert Morris split a pair against Army and drops out, replaced by Colgate. Niagara beat Air Force 4-3 and moved up to No. 17. These Atlantic Hockey schools are finding out the hard way that they have no margin for error. One poor weekend and the voters will replace them in a heartbeat with a school from one of the power conferences.
Well, the new poll is out and this one is not deserving of favorable commentary. In fact, the positioning of the top seven teams makes very little sense. Keep in mind this poll came out on Monday, before the Minnesota-Notre Dame game.
So let’s see. New Hampshire and Quinnipiac both win a pair and stay No. 4 and 5. Notre Dame doesn’t play and somehow moves up from No. 3 to 2. The overrated Gophers stay No. 1, and Boston College drops a spot due to the tie with No. 14 Yale. And I’d also throw in UND, which sweeps 20th ranked (at the time) Holy Cross and fails to overtake idle Miami for the 6th spot. But let’s just compare No. 1 Minnesota (13-3-3) with the team that should be No. 1, New Hampshire (13-3-2).
UNH has played 10 games against ranked teams (five on the road) while the Gophers have played only five games against ranked teams (four of them at home). UNH has played only seven weak teams (three games under .500 or worse), while Minnesota has played a dozen. And yet, Minnesota is top dog and UNH sits down there at No. 4.
It pretty much drives me crazy. Now don’t get the wrong impression. The Gophers still have to be considered a Frozen Four favorite with the talent they have. But with half the season and nearly 20 games in the books, it’s easy enough to see who’s been playing a serious schedule and who’s been playing cream puffs. Just for the record, here’s my top seven for this week … 1-New Hampshire, 2-Boston College, 3-Quinnipiac, 4-Minnesota, 5-Notre Dame, 6-North Dakota, 7-Miami.
Finally, a TV alert for WCHA fans. NBC Sports Network will broadcast the Nebraska-Omaha/Denver game at 9 p.m. on Friday.
Mark Schuttenhelm is a frequent contributor of the Opinion Corner