North Dakota is our Christmas No. 1, just ahead of St. Cloud State; Nebraska Omaha and Minnesota State are punching above their perceived weight; and Denver is continuing to slide down the league table.
1.) NORTH DAKOTA (10-5-3 overall, 7-2-3 WCHA)
Last time: W 6-1 at Michigan Tech Dec. 14; W 4-1 at Michigan Tech Dec. 15
Next time: V Holy Cross Jan. 4-5
First-half verdict: No WCHA team has really set the world on fire so far this season, but UND has come through to the winter break as the best of the bunch. Things may get even better for the boys in green and white after New Year’s, as Minnesota away and St. Cloud State at home – both back-to-back next month – are the only really big regular season series remaining for UND.
2.) ST. CLOUD STATE (11-7-0, 9-5-0)
Last time: W v Colorado College 5-3 Dec. 14; W v Colorado College 3-1 Dec. 15
Next time: V Rensselaer Dec. 27-28
First-half verdict: SCSU has surprised most prognosticators so far this season, and the Huskies very deserve their top-20 national ranking. Bob Motzko’s side is a fun bunch to watch, although it will be interesting to see whether SCSU can keep things going in the new year against a very tough schedule the rest of the way.
3.) NEBRASKA OMAHA (11-6-1, 7-4-1)
Last time: L 6-3 v Minnesota State Dec. 14; W 5-1 v Minnesota State Dec. 15
Next time: At Quinnipiac Dec. 29-30
First-half verdict: Like SCSU, UNO is also turning a lot of heads. Junior forward Ryan Walters has been one of the nation’s best through the first half of the season, and, apart from a poor performance last Friday against Minnesota State, senior goaltender John Faulkner has returned to the sort of form that saw him lead the Mavericks so brilliantly two seasons ago. UNO is not yet done for the calendar year yet; a win or two at ninth-ranked Quinnipiac just before New Year’s would be a big step forward for Dean Blais’s club.
4.) MINNESOTA (11-3-3, 6-3-3)
Last time: W 4-2 Colorado College Dec. 7; T 4-4at Colorado College Dec. 8
Next time: V Air Force Dec. 29; V Boston College Dec. 30
First-half verdict: The Golden Gophers aren’t doing quite as well so far in the WCHA as I had expected, but they’re not far off the mark. Minnesota has only lost one of its last 10 games, and the nation’s fourth-ranked team has a much more manageable schedule over the second half of the regular season than it has had in the first.
5.) MINNESOTA STATE (10-6-2, 8-6-0)
Last time: W 6-3 at Nebraska Omaha Dec. 14; L 5-1 at Nebraska Omaha Dec. 15
Next time: V Brown in Storrs, Conn. Dec. 29; V Connecticut or American International in Storrs Dec. 30
First-half verdict: MSU is on a serious roll at the moment, having won seven of its last eight games. Freshman goaltender Stephon Williams has been a revelation in goal for the purple Mavericks, and plenty of goals are going in at the other end of the ice. MSU will undoubtedly be in the running to clinch home ice in the first round of the playoffs in Mike Hastings’s first season behind Mankato’s bench.
6.) DENVER (9-6-3, 7-4-3)
Last time: T 1-1 at Bemidji State Dec. 14; L 5-1 at Bemidji State Dec. 15
Next time: V Cornell Jan. 4-5
First-half verdict: Denver started the season very brightly, but the Pioneers are in a lot of trouble right now. DU hasn’t won a game since before Thanksgiving, and George Gwozdecky’s Pios face arguably the league’s toughest schedule the rest of the way. They have fallen in the last couple weeks in these rankings, and they very well may slip even further.
7.) COLORADO COLLEGE (8-10-2, 5-6-1)
Last time: L 5-3 at St. Cloud State Dec. 14; L 3-1 at St. Cloud State Dec. 15
Next time: At Nebraska Omaha Jan. 4-5
First-half verdict: Scott Owens’s Tigers are doing a little bit better so far than I thought they would. They’re still very much in the hunt to finish in the top half of the league, and I like CC’s goaltending partnership of Joe Howe and Josh Thorimbert, which may well see the Tigers finish in that top six of the WCHA.
8.) MINNESOTA DULUTH (7-8-3, 5-6-3)
Last time: W 5-1 at Alaska Anchorage Dec. 14; W 2-1 at Alaska Anchorage Dec. 15
Next time: V Maine in Estero, FL Dec. 29; V Ferris State or Cornell in Estero Dec. 30
First-half verdict: UMD stumbled out of the gate this season, but things are looking better lately. Scott Sandelin’s Bulldogs are 4-1-1 in their last six games, and their remaining schedule appears easier than most of the rest of the league is going to face. I’m not expecting UMD to finish where it is right now.
9.) WISCONSIN (4-7-5, 2-5-5)
Last time: W v Alabama Huntsville 5-0 Dec. 13; W v Alabama Huntsville 4-1 Dec. 14
Next time: At Alaska Anchorage Jan. 4-5
First-half verdict: Setbacks such as Nic Kerdiles’s controversial suspension and an injury to on-ice leader Mark Zengerle saw the Badgers underperform at the start of the season, but, like UMD, things are looking better now. UW redeemed itself well last weekend against non-conference opponent Alabama Huntsville, and the hope is that Mike Eaves’s men can keep climbing the ladder in the season’s second half.
10.) BEMIDJI STATE (5-8-3, 4-7-3)
Last time: T 1-1 v Denver Dec. 14; W 5-1 v Denver Dec. 15
Next time: V Massachusetts in Hanover, NH Dec. 30; V Dartmouth or New Hampshire in Hanover Dec. 31
First-half verdict: Tom Serratore’s Beavers haven’t blown anybody away so far this season, although it’s not like they were really expected to. BSU did run roughshod over a poor Denver side last weekend, though, so I’d like to see whether that series serves as a springboard for Bemidji.
11.) MICHIGAN TECH (4-10-3, 3-8-3)
Last time: L 6-1 v North Dakota Dec. 14; L 4-1 v North Dakota Dec. 15
Next time: V Michigan in Detroit Dec. 28; V Michigan State or Western Michigan in Detroit Dec. 29
First-half verdict: Tech isn’t sneaking up on people like it had last season in the first season under head coach Mel Pearson. There are harder remaining schedules than that which the Huskies face in the second half, though, so it will be interesting to see whether MTU can finish above where it is going into the holiday break.
12.) ALASKA ANCHORAGE (3-9-4, 1-8-3)
Last time: L 5-1 v Minneesota Duluth Dec. 14; L 2-1 v Minnesota Duluth Dec. 15
Next time: V Wisconsin Jan. 4-5
First-half verdict: UAA has four ties so far this season, so it’s not like the Seawolves aren’t putting themselves in a position to win in a lot of their games. Dave Shyiak’s club has lost more than it’s won, though, and things don’t look too great going for UAA going into the second half of the season.