It’s opening weekend for just about everybody in the WCHA (Michigan Tech is the lone dissenter, as the Huskies have two exhibition games this weekend to get ready for their regular-season opener next week against Ferris State).
With three of the league’s teams playing home-and-home series against nonconference instate rivals (along with the NMU/Wisconsin and MSU/UNO rivalry series), expect a lot of feisty, if not a little sloppy what with it being the first week, gameplay.
It’s early and we still have no idea which teams are actually contenders and which teams are contenders, so these picks may be 100 percent wrong. For what it’s worth, last season Shane went 116-74-18 and beat me (I had a paltry 104-86-18).
Anyway, onto the picks!
Minnesota State vs. Omaha
Shane: What a way for the season to kick off in Mankato. A pair of top-10 teams and longtime rivals square off in what should be a good one. These two teams should have met in the Midwest Regional final last march in South Bend, but MSU was upset in the first round by RIT. The Mavericks and Mavericks have split their last 10 games, and it will be 12 after this weekend. Red Mavericks 4, Purple Mavericks 2; Purple Mavericks 4, Red Mavericks 3
Jack: Hoo boy, this should be fun. The Mavericks (purple edition) are going to be the team to beat in the WCHA. The Mavericks (red edition) are coming off a Frozen Four run and will again be competitive in the NCHC. As Shane said, these teams are almost too even for comfort, but I think they’ll split again. Mavericks (purple edition) 5, Mavericks (red edition) 3; Mavericks (red edition) 3, Mavericks (purple edition) 2
Bowling Green at/vs. Ohio State
Shane: The Falcons are stressing the idea of every game counting for something in hopes that they can make the national tournament at the end of the year. Nonconference games against a Big Ten opponent are exactly the kind of competition they’re talking about. Bowling Green continues to head in the right direction. Falcons 4-3, 5-2
Jack: Expectations are high for Bowling Green and like Shane said, winning the games they’re supposed to will go a long way to making it back there. I see a BGSU sweep. Falcons 3-2, 4-2
Ferris State at at/vs. Western Michigan
Shane: No C.J. Motte for the Bulldogs, who are going to have to find a way to score more goals this season no matter what their situation is like in goal (just ask Motte about last year!). This will be the first meeting of these old CCHA rivals since they were in a conference together in 2012-13. Broncos 3-1, Bulldogs 2-1
Jack: As an old CCHA fan, it’s weird that they haven’t met since then. And as a longtime observer of Ferris State, is also weird that someone other than C.J. Motte will be in goal. Can Charles Williams get it done? Bulldogs 3-2, Broncos 3-1
Northern Michigan at Wisconsin
Shane: The Wildcats could be the surprise team of the WCHA this season if they can avoid the injury plague that derailed their season last year. There’s a lot of potential on that team. The Badgers won four games last year, and, on paper, don’t appear to be much improved. Still, sweeping at Madison ain’t easy. Wildcats 4-1, Badgers 3-2
Jack: Remember last season when everyone thought Northern sweeping Wisconsin was an upset? Yeah, that was funny. Wildcats 4-1, 4-2
Bemidji State at/vs. Minnesota Duluth
Shane: The Beavers certainly aren’t afraid of a touch schedule and starting the season with home-and-homes against UMD and North Dakota gives them as tough a beginning as anybody in college hockey. Something tells me they’re not going to come out of this stretch empty-handed. Bulldogs 5-2, Beavers 1-0
Jack: Say what you will, but Tom Serratore doesn’t mess around with his schedules: Bemidji State’s month of October features series against Duluth and North Dakota before opening WCHA play against Minnesota State. That’s three of the top six teams in the country. UMD is highly ranked but the teams are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games, including a 4-0 win in the North Star Cup last season. The Beavers aren’t gonna be intimidated. Bulldogs 4-3, Beavers 3-0
Alabama Huntsville vs. Connecticut
Shane: The Chargers continue to improve under coach Mike Corbett and, perhaps more importantly, with goaltender Carmine Guerriero. UConn survived its first season in Hockey East pretty well and will be no pushover. Guerriero gets things done, at least once this weekend. Chargers 2-0, Huskies 3-2
Jack: I think the Chargers are going to surprise people how much deeper they are this season. At the very least expect a few more three-goal games instead of those agonizing 1-0 or 2-1 losses for Guerriero. This weekend I can see them doing that once. Chargers 3-1, Huskies 2-1
Lake Superior State vs. North Dakota, Michigan State
Shane: The Lakers head to the Icebreaker in Portland, Maine, for a couple of tough games. They did well during a mid-season tournament last year, thanks to goalie Gordon Defiel, and he’ll have to carry the load if they’re going to come away with another title. I just don’t see that happening against this competition. UND 5, Lakers 1; Spartans 4, Lakers 2
Jack: Last season Lake State had a 4-1 lead over North Dakota 30 minutes into their game in Grand Forks. Of course, UND scored the next six goals and won 7-4. The Lakers will hope to find that kind of spark this weekend against either UND or their instate rivals from the Lower Peninsula. I’m not sure they will get there on the first day, but I can see them putting up a few goals on Sparty before bowing out. UND 6, Lakers 1; Spartans 4, Lakers 3
Alaska vs. St. Cloud State, Arizona State
Shane: The Nanooks head down the road to Anchorage for the annual Kendall Hockey Classic, no easy place to play for out-of-staters. Colton Parakyo may be gone, but the cupboard isn’t bare for Alaska, who will show off what might have been the most-dangerous team in the NCAA tournament — if it had been eligible. Nanooks 4, Huskies 3; Nanooks 5, Sun Devils 1
Jack: Alaska’s road to redemption starts here. Last season they started 2-0 and, despite a rough stretch of November and that pesky business of being ineligible, were one of the more consistent teams in the league. I think they have a chance to do some damage in the NCAA tournament and it starts here. Nanooks 5, Huskies 2; Nanooks 4, Sun Devils 1
Alaska Anchorage vs. Arizona State, St. Cloud State
Shane: The Kendall Hockey Classic’s host team, the Seawolves, are coming off a tough, tough season, and would like to get back on track. That starts at home, where they need to win more than they lose if they’re going to get out of the WCHA basement. For starters, they can’t let a new program beat them, and Olivier Mantha make sure of that. Seawolves 2, Sun Devils 0. Huskies 4, Seawolves 1.
Jack: I’m intrigued by this first matchup — Arizona State plays its first-ever game against another Division I team against the Seawolves. It will be interesting to me to see just how improved the Seawolves are — and just how good the Sun Devils are against legit Division I competition. I think it’s going to be closer than we think, but Anchorage needs this one to start off on a decent foot. Seawolves 3, Sun Devils 1. Huskies 3, Seawolves 1.
Bowling Green at Western Michigan (Tuesday, Oct. 13)
Jack: I was wondering why this game was being played on a Tuesday, but then I remembered that both of these teams play in the MAC (the conference basically invented Thursday night football) so it made perfect sense for us to get some some Tuesday Night Hockey #MACtion. Both teams will be playing on not a lot of rest so I can see it being a high-scoring affair. Falcons 6, Broncos 4
Shane: Difficult to pick this game without seeing what happens on opening weekend, but here goes: I’m in on Bowling Green right now so why not stay on the bandwagon. Falcons 4, Broncos 3