The Irish has been one of the hottest teams in college hockey lately, having swept three straight conference series as part of a nine-game win streak. Much of the credit goes to netminder Cale Morris, who became the first player in Big Ten history to earn First Star honors three consecutive weeks. Morris has pitched three 1-0 shutouts during the stretch, raising his nation-leading save percentage to .952. Senior captain Jake Evans continues to lead the NCAA in points (25) and assists (19), pushing the Irish up to #3 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. While currently languishing in last place in the Big Ten, the Spartans shouldn’t be taken lightly, with wins over #8 Western Michigan and #12 Wisconsin already on their resume’.
Still searching for their first victory of the season, the Thunder has a better chance this weekend than they did over the past few games. Saturday’s 3-1 defeat was the third consecutive game versus the #2-ranked Adrian Bulldogs, and five of Trine’s eight losses have come at the hands of Top-10 ranked teams. Northland brings a 2-5-2 record (1-4-1 NCHA) to Thunder Ice Arena, while St. Scholastica is slightly better at 3-4-0 (3-3-0). Putting pucks in the net has been the biggest issue for Trine, which currently boasts an overall 1.56 goals/game average. The numbers get better at home, which should help keep the games somewhat more competitive.
The road has not been kind to the Thunder in the early going, and it doesn’t get any easier this weekend as they square off against NCHA-leading Lake Forest. Trine has a goal differential of 4.00 away from the Thunderdome* and the Foresters have been lighting up the scoreboard at an alarming pace, averaging over 7 goals per game while surrendering only 10 on the season thus far.
Lindenwood-Belleville poses a tough test for the Warriors despite their 3-2-0-1 record. If it weren’t for three one-goal losses to Aquinas and Waldorf, things might look quite different. Tech has the better record and the lead in the WHAC, but still finds itself trailing Aquinas College by a point in the NAIA standings. Jace Childs is keeping pace in the scoring race, leading the NAIA in goals and just one point behind the leader (Belleville’s Brandon Janke)
We imagine this series was one of those schedule-fillers from early on before Trine knew what their roster would look like, as it might be difficult to get up for a pair against Oakland’s D3 club. The Thunder have climbed as far as #4 in the Central division primarily on their goal differential, as their strength of schedule leaves a bit to be desired. They’ll need to guard against a major upset this weekend, as the Golden Grizzlies boast wins against some of the best teams in the ACHA D3.
It’s fairly obvious that the first part of the Hoosier’s season has not gone as planned. With decent depth on the bench and experienced goaltending, Indiana had expected to be more competitive than they have been. Team leaders opted to relieve former head coach Clint Hagmaier of his duties a few weeks ago, replacing him with Joseph Siers on an interim basis. Siers was an assistant captain on the team last season, and the hope is that his leadership will help keep things together while the Hoosiers regroup and search for a new coach. Don’t expect the Fighting Illini to feel sorry for them though. Having been in the news recently as a candidate for one of the NCAA expansion exploratory studies, Illinois is sure to want to make a good impression every chance they can.
We finally get a look at the ‘other’ women’s team in Indiana, even though they’ve been around a while. There’s not much we can say about the Irish as they’ve yet to play a game this season, but starting with a scuffling Michigan State squad is probably a good way to start. The Spartans are 0-7 on the year so far, scoring only 9 goals while surrendering 31. Yet Sparty has the advantage of actually having been on the ice already...
This ICHC series looks to be one of the better ones this year, although it didn’t seem to be that way at first. While they have been somewhat inconsistent to this point, the Colonels have manage to persevere with a shortened bench until reinforcements arrive after the winter break. The Bulldogs have only played eight games so far, and have been idle for the last three weeks. This should help ensure they have fresh legs, but we can’t say how it will impact their rhythm.
Last season, the Hoosiers dominated the ICHC on the way to their second straight Crossroads Cup title, and they don’t seem to be slowing down this time around either. Currently sitting at #6 in the North rankings, Indiana has been riding a wave of timely offense and otherworldly goaltending. Matthew Turner leads the conference with a .957 save percentage and is tied for the lead with a GAA of 1.25. Battery mate Connor Minnick has had a few bumps and drawn some tough assignments, but his stats are steadily climbing. The Hoosiers are liberally spreading the offense around and giving opposing defenders fits. Games against IPFW and EKU might not do much for their strength of schedule, but three solid wins could help cement their position heading into the holiday recess.
The Thunder have climbed to #15 in the North division, but they have some difficult work ahead if they plan to go any higher. With an average goal differential near zero and one of the weaker strength of schedules in the top 15, the Thunder needs to add a few convincing wins to their record. Don’t expect Xavier or IPFW to be very cooperative though, as the Musketeers are struggling in D2 and IPFW is starting to put things together offensively. Still, the Thunder know that they can’t afford to lose any more ground if they want to stay in the playoff hunt.
The next two series could go a long way to either pushing Indiana Tech up the rankings or dropping them out of the playoff picture. Before they take on powerhouse Grand Valley State in January, the Warriors close out the first half of their season with a home & home against the leaders in the North division: Michigan State. The Spartans have been solid on both ends of the ice, coming in with a +70 goal differential over 14 games. They aren’t invincible though, as evidenced by their 6-3 loss to Hope College just before Thanksgiving.
The Greyhounds’ inaugural season has gone about as expected, as it takes time to develop chemistry, build depth, etc. The Blue Raiders have had their share of struggles as well, dropping to 0-9 after forfeiting their game against Eastern Kentucky back on Nov. 18th. MTSU has had difficulty putting points on the board (17 goals in 9 games), which should give UIndy goaltender Wes Akard an added incentive.
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