Top five college hockey matchups of the week
Joseph Tunney | Friday, February 10, 2023
College hockey is getting into the thick of it. Many teams are fighting for the last few spots in the NCAA Tournament, and this weekend’s series are some of the most pivotal of the year. With that being said, here are the top five matchups for this weekend in college hockey. The PairWise Rankings will be used, since they determine seeding for the NCAA Tournament. Note that since college hockey is played in weekend series, there will be two games for each matchup.
1. No. 4 Michigan at No. 14 Michigan State
After each team had a successful series last weekend, the battle for Michigan is shaping up to have conference and national implications. While Minnesota has run away with the Big Ten regular season championship, both Michigan and Michigan State are in a fight alongside Penn State, Ohio State and Notre Dame to determine the remaining seedings for the upcoming conference tournament. Michigan is 18-9-1 (and 10-8 in conference play) whereas the Spartans are 15-13-2 (but 9-9-2 in conference). Michigan is on a five-game winning streak stretching back to Jan. 20 and finally seems to be realizing their immense potential under new head coach Brandon Naurato.
The Wolverines are led by top prospect Adam Fantilli, who averaged 2.3 points per game on his way to being named the Hockey Commissioners Association Player of the Month for January. Luke Hughes is another key piece for the Wolverines, having scored four goals in their comeback win over Penn State two weeks ago. On the other hand, the Spartans look to continue their revitalizing season and potentially sneak into the NCAA Tournament under first-year head coach Adam Nightingale. Led by goalie Dylan St. Cyr and forward Jagger Joshua, the Spartans are coming off of two much-needed wins against Notre Dame. The most-played rivalry in college hockey history is sure to put on a good show.
2. No. 8 Ohio State at No. 19 Notre Dame
Another series in the Big Ten is going to go a long way in determining the conference tournament makeup. Notre Dame comes into their last home series desperate for wins after losing two critical games to Michigan State last weekend. If the Irish want to beat the Buckeyes, they’ll need to improve their special teams; their penalty kill has been the worst in the Big Ten. The Irish are led by forwards Chayse Primeau and Trevor Janicke, along with defenseman Nick Leivermann. The Irish will also have to deal with the short-term loss of forward Ryder Rolston, their second-leading scorer this season, after he suffered an upper body injury.
Notre Dame needs to finish strong in the regular season and the Big Ten Tournament in order to rise in the rankings. This series may define their season. The Buckeyes are coming off of a hard-fought split against Penn State and are looking to work their way into second place in the Big Ten standings. Led by freshman forwards Stephen Halliday and Davis Burnside, Ohio State is looking to make the tournament for the first time since 2019. The games may be especially important for Irish assistant coach Paul Pooley, who played with and had his number retired by Ohio State.
3. No. 21 North Dakota at No. 6 Denver
The most pivotal series in the NCHC often goes through either Denver or Grand Forks, and this week’s slate is no different. Two proud programs with 17 combined national championships between them are set to face off. North Dakota is another team on the fringe of tournament contention that desperately needs wins to strengthen their resume. As it stands, their 6-8-2 conference record won’t be enough. The Fighting Hawks are led by freshman forward Jackson Blake and junior forward Riese Gaber, who have tallied 30 and 28 points, respectively.
North Dakota lost their first two games against Denver this season. If they want to make a push for the tournament, it starts on Friday. Denver is coming off of a national championship last season, but haven’t let up on the gas. The Pioneers are on pace to win the NCHC with a 12-4 record and make another deep run in the tournament. Denver is also riding high after a tense series sweep against Colorado College, their in-state rivals. Momentum and home ice seem to be in the Pioneers’ favor, but can the Fighting Hawks scrap a win or two out and keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive?
4. No. 16 Northeastern at No. 24 Providence
A key Hockey East battle takes place in the midst of the Beanpot tournament. After a monumental upset over No. 3 Boston University, the Northeastern Huskies are now set to take on No. 10 Harvard in the four-team tournament battle for Bostonian supremacy. Nestled in between these games, however, is a trip up to Providence, Rhode Island, to play the Friars on Friday night. Providence’s tournament hopes are fading. They’ve lost five games in a row before a win over Vermont last Sunday, but they aren’t eliminated yet.
The Friars are in need of some signature wins, but they have already beaten Northeastern once this season. Their strength is in between the pipes. Goalie Philip Svedeback has allowed just 2.23 goals per game this season. Northeastern still could catch Boston University for the Hockey East regular season championship, but this game feels like the ultimate “trap game.” Northeastern is in a dangerous position. They could look ahead to the Beanpot Championship and overlook the Friars. The Huskies are also led by their star goalie Devon Levi, who might just be the best in all of college hockey. They play complementary hockey, having killed off four penalties in their win against Boston University. Northeastern looks to be a tough out once tournament time comes, but this weekend presents another important test.
5. No. 27 Bowling Green at No. 10 Michigan Tech
The most pivotal battle of the CCHA takes place in the upper reaches of the Upper Peninsula, in the often snow-covered town of Houghton, Michigan. There, the Michigan Tech Huskies welcome the Bowling Green Falcons in a battle that could shape the top of the conference. The Huskies are currently just a point behind Minnesota State in the conference standings, and Bowling Green is six points behind Michigan Tech. If Bowling Green beats Michigan Tech twice this weekend, you could be looking at a three-way race for the CCHA crown that continues into the final weekend of the season.
However, the task is much easier on paper. The Falcons split with the Huskies on their home ice, and the Huskies are currently hotter than they have been all season. Michigan Tech is 9-1-1 since the New Year’s GLI (Great Lakes Invitational tournament) and goalie Blake Pietila is one of the best in college hockey right now. Pietila has a .932 save percentage and eight shutouts this year. Michigan Tech is firmly inside the tournament bubble as it stands today, but they cannot afford to lose too many games down the stretch.
The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.