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The sprint that is the second half schedule has officially begun and there are several intriguing nonconference matchups that could have major implications come tournament selection time on the docket this week.

Of course, the conference battles are all there, too, so enjoy the great hockey that will dominate the schedule through the next couple of months.

The picks for the New Year’s slate of games was barely above the .500 mark at 4-3-0 (.571). That brings the season record to 25-16-6 (.596), which continues the slide in the wrong direction. There will be no crying from this prognosticator and no avoiding the challenging games.

Here are my picks for the East this week:

Thursday, Jan. 7

Plymouth State @ Curry
This nonconference battle screams trap game for the Panthers, who have made a concerted effort to produce far better results in nonconference games than last season. Curry doesn’t give up much defensively, but doesn’t score a lot either and that is just the way PSU wins a low-scoring affair – Plymouth State 3, Curry 1.

Friday, Jan. 8

Plattsburgh @ Norwich
The Cadets have a few key players back in the lineup and already adding value to a limited first-half offense. This game will be a track meet with speed on both sides and skill to match, so don’t be surprised to see a late goal decide the outcome in this rematch from the Primelink tournament in November – Norwich 4, Plattsburgh 3.

Oswego @ Utica
The Pioneers have got a good thing going at home and the Lakers are still in search of some consistency on a game-to-game basis. Like the home team in an offensive and entertaining game that should delight the home crowd – Utica 5, Oswego 4.

Geneseo @ Hobart
The Statesmen have a good thing going at home and the Knights represent a great challenge in this nonconference matchup of ranked teams. Expect a tight-checking, low-scoring game with a tie being a likely outcome, but I will give the edge on paper to the home team – Hobart 3, Geneseo 2.

Elmira @ Brockport
The Brockport formula has been timely goals and strong goaltending and they will need both if they expect to upend the Soaring Eagles. Look for the continued formulaic approach form the home team with the same result – Brockport 4, Elmira 3.

Saturday, Jan. 9

Trinity @ Williams
The Bantams may be able to leverage their Northfield Savings Bank tournament wins over Manhattanville and Norwich into some all-important conference wins starting with a tough Ephs squad in Williamstown – Trinity 2, Williams 1.

Westfield State @ Salem State
This MASCAC battle features two very opportunistic scoring teams, so don’t expect a low-scoring game. The Vikings got a big win last weekend against Amherst and look to build some momentum in league play – Salem State 5, Westfield State 4.

The games may not be for two points in the standings, but could mean much more come early March. No one should be taking any opponent lightly – drop the puck!

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Tim Costello joined USCHO as a correspondent in 2003. A former collegiate goaltender, he is entering his 11th season covering D-II and D-III conferences in New England and provided features spanning D-I and other special interest stories.