MN Men’s NCAA Hockey Preview: October 22-23

Minnesota College Hockey
March 16, 2021; South Bend, IN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers forward Blake McLaughlin (27) controls the puck against Wisconsin Badgers defenseman Tyler Inamoto (5) during the Big Ten hockey tournament championship game at Compton Family Ice Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Mersits/South Bend Tribune via USA TODAY NETWORK

The state of Minnesota is fortunate enough to have fantastic hockey at all levels of competition, including at the NCAA Division I level. Five of the six Minnesota men’s hockey teams are currently ranked in the USCHO poll and four of these teams are ranked in the top five in the country. This weekend features a intrastate matchup and the home opener for the newest D1 school in the country.

Minnesota State (#2 USCHO/#2 USA Today)

Minnesota State (4-2-0) placed second in the Ice Breaker tournament in Duluth last weekend. The Mavericks beat Providence in the opening game of the tournament but lost 3-2 to Michigan in the championship. Minnesota State has been led by forwards Nathan Smith (4-4-8) and Julian Napravnik (3-4-7) through their first six games this season and goaltender Dryden McKay is just one shutout way from breaking Ryan Miller’s two-decade old NCAA shutout record. The Mavericks will once again be the best team in their conference and have a legitimate shot of making it back to the Frozen Four. They have the weekend off and will host a series against Northern Michigan next weekend.

Prediction: N/A

St. Cloud State (#3/#3)

The Huskies (4-2-0) were the runners-up last season and return with one of the deepest rosters in the country. St. Cloud is the favorite to win the NCHC this season and has already shown that they can compete against some of the best teams in the country (combined 2-2 record against Minnesota State and Minnesota). Last weekend’s series against Minnesota ended in frustration after a no-call in overtime led to a Golden Gophers’ game-winning goal. St. Could hosts Wisconsin for series at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. I expect the Huskies to take care of business this weekend before beginning conference play in two weeks.

Prediction: SCSU 5-2, 4-1

Minnesota (#4/#4)

Like St. Cloud the Golden Gophers (3-1-0) returned most of their talent from last season, including goaltender Jack LaFontaine and captain Sammy Walker. Minnesota is one of two favorites to win the Big 10 this season and should be right in the mix for their first national championship since 2003. After tying their series last weekend against the Huskies the Gophers will play another in-state opponent this weekend in a home-and-home against the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. Friday’s game will be played in Minneapolis with Saturday’s game in Duluth. Both teams would be thrilled to come away with a sweep, but I expect a split with both teams winning at home.

Prediction: UMN 4-2, UMD 4-3

Minnesota-Duluth (#5/#5)

The Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (3-1-0) are, for once, not the defending national champions but have made four straight frozen fours. Picked to finish second in the NCHC, Duluth has 15 upperclassmen (four juniors, 11 seniors) and will always be a fast, physical, and tough team to play against. Their games against the Gophers will be the most exciting series in college hockey this weekend. The same prediction above applies here.

Prediction: UMN 4-2, UMD 4-3

Bemidji State (#19/NR)

The Bemidji State Beavers (1-3-0) have had a tough start to the season. They were swept on the road by Minnesota-Duluth and salvaged a split against North Dakota thanks to an overtime goal from Ross Armour in overtime on Saturday night. This has been a consistent theme over the last few seasons, as the Beavers schedule tough non-conference opponents early in the season before racking up wins against conference opponents. Bemidji State will travel to Marquette, Michigan for a weekend series against Northern Michigan this weekend. Going on the road is tough no matter who you play, but Bemidji State has the talent to get the sweep.

Prediction: BSU 3-2 OT, 4-1

St. Thomas (NR/NR)

The Tommies are the new kid on the block in Division I Men’s College Hockey. A founding member of the MIAC, St. Thomas played 90 years of Division III before deciding to move to D1 in 2020. The Tommies have struggled through their first six games (0-6-0, -25 goal differential) but will play home games at the Academy for the first time since moving up to D1. The first home series seems as good a time as any to get your first D1 win.

Prediction: 3-1 NMU, 2-1 UST