Another week of action in the books. There were a lot of great matchups, with some teams still trying to find their footing in the early stages of the season, while others bounced back after stumbling out of the gate.
Also, we are just a couple of days away from the long-awaited beginning of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) season. Also, an early-season bout between two teams from the Hockey East Association, a conference that has struggled to get games in due to positive cases of coronavirus among its teams.
No. 2 Boston College Dukes it Out With No. 7 UMass
The only positive coming out of the odd start to the 2020-21 season is that big-time matchups are coming right out of the get-go.
Now granted, Boston College was not initially scheduled to play UMass until later on this season. However, their original opponent for this weekend, Providence College, had to back out due to positive COVID-19 cases.
Yet, the show was set to go on, and arguably an even better home-and-home matchup against the Minutemen was quickly put into place.
BC Wins a Close One on Friday
The two teams traded chances early in the constest, and it was the home Eagles who struck first after a nice goal from Jack McBain before the halfway mark of the period.
Boston College took the lead into the second period, but the Minutemen tied it up early thanks to a shorthanded goal from Zac Jones. However, another penalty by UMass just a couple of minutes later proved costly, as Mike Hardman put BC back in front as the penalty expired.
McBain added his second of the game later on in the frame to put the Eagles up by two, but the Minutemen did not quit. With less than five minutes left in the period, Josh Lopina tapped in two goals just over a minute apart to tie the game at three.
Boston College took the lead for the third time of the night after Matt Boldy’s goal that came just over a minute into the third period.
The Minutemen tried to push late to tie the game, but BC’s defence stood tall, and won the first game of the weekend set by a score of 4-3.
Eagles Complete the Sweep
The second game of the weekend set on Saturday saw UMass garner more of the chances, but it was Boston College who took advantage of theirs. BC carried a 2-1 lead into the break, as Marc McLaughlin and Drew Helleson scored for the Eagles.
The second period saw a similar turnout, as Colby Ambrosio tallied his first of the season, before McLaughlin added his second of the game later in the period to send Boston College into the third period with a 4-2 lead.
That’s when the Minutemen turned up the pressure to 11. UMass fired 17 shots on goal in the final 20 minutes, totaling 33 in the contest. Spencer Knight stood tall in net for the Eagles, only allowing a single tally in each of the three periods.
Mike Hardman and Nikita Nesterenko added goals, helping BC complete the weekend sweep with the 6-3 win.
NCHC Set to Return to the Ice
The NCHC season is finally upon us. The eight-team conference, which features three teams in the preseason top-10, is in final preparations to start up their season in a different fashion compared to the rest of the country.
Last month, the conference confirmed they were going to start the 2020-21 season in a bubble. As the conference will be split into two, four-team divisions to limit travel. The schools will report to Baxter Arena on the campus of Nebraska-Omaha to play their inter-divisional games.
North Dakota and Denver Favoured to Finish at the Top
Like many of the other conferences, the NCHC released preseason polls and awards ahead of the start of the season. To no one’s surprise, the two programs to finish atop of the conference standings are the best, and longest, of rivals.
At the end of the 2019-20 regular season, the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota were the No. 1 team in the NCHC. Boasting a 26-5-4 overall record, the team was ranked second in the country, and was in the Frozen Four conversation before COVID-19 got in the way.
The Fighting Hawks return with an exceptional mix of veteran and rookie talent. Jordan Kawaguchi and Matt Kiersted lead the big names coming back this season. The defenceman Kiersted had an explosive season offensively as a junior, finishing second on the team in scoring with 29 points in 33 games, and was named a finalist for the NCHC Offensive Defenceman of the Year Award. Kawaguchi was named captain prior to the upcoming season, and it is to understand why. He led the team with 45 points last season, finished sixth in the country in points-per-game, and was a Hobey Baker Finalist.
The Denver Pioneers certainly have a lot to be excited about heading into this season. After finishing with an impressive 21-9-6 record, the Pioneers looked to battle for the NCHC Tournament title with the Fighting Hawks and Minnesota-Duluth.
The Pioneers are going to be relying on their goaltender, sophomore Magnus Chrona. Chrona was named NCHC Preseason All-Conference, much from his play in his first season at DU. The Tampa Bay Lightning prospect led the NCHC in save-percentage (.920) and second in goals-against-average (2.15) last season.
Friday, Nov. 27
American International def. Air Force, 3-1
The first official game of the Atlantic Hockey season saw last year’s regular-season champion, AIC, knock off Air Force. Chris Dodero led the Yellow Jackets with a goal and an assist.
Canisius def. Robert Morris, 5-2
The Colonials took a step back after sweeping Alabama-Huntsville last weekend. The Golden Griffins’ Matt Long scored twice to help Canisius start the season on the right foot.
Notre Dame def. No. 6 Michigan, 3-2
The Fighting Irish jumped out to a 3-0 lead by the early stages of the second period, and had to hold off a late push by the Wolverines. Ryan Bischel was solid in his first start of the season, making 32 saves for Notre Dame.
RIT def. No. 8 Clarkson, 8-5
In a wild back-and-forth barn-burner, the Tigers were able to knock off the Golden Knights. RIT led 3-2 heading into the third period, before outscoring Clarkson 5-3 in the third to pick up the win. Will Calverly produced a hat trick for RIT.
Satruday, Nov. 28
AIC def. Air Force, 2-1
Another close game, as the Falcons hung with the Yellow Jackets. Goals from Aaron Grounds and Chris Theodore, and a 21-save performance from Stefano Durante, helped the Yellow Jackets go to 2-0 on the season.
Robert Morris def. Canisius, 5-4
The Colonials bounced back to pick up the split in a tight contest with the Golden Griffins. Robert Morris took a 3-2 lead into the third, before Canisius tied the game twice in the final frame.
With just over 90 seconds to play, freshman Randy Hernandez scored his second game-winning goal of the season to give the Colonials their third win of the season.
Michigan State def. No. 9 Ohio State, 3-2 in overtime
In a rather surprising upset, the Spartans knocked off the Buckeyes, on the road, in the first game of their weekend set. Michigan State carried the lead into the late stages for regulation before the Buckeyes’ Travis Treloar tied it up.
With a little over minute remaining in overtime, Nicolas Mueller scored to give Michigan State the win.
Notre Dame def. No. 6 Michigan, 2-1
The Fighting Irish completed the weekend sweep in a close contest with the Wolverines. No goals were scored until the third period when the Irish’s Spencer Stastney and Alex Steeves (empty-netter) scored to give Notre Dame all the offence they needed on Saturday night. Bischel picked up the win once again in net, stopping 23 of the 24 shots he faced.
Arizona State def. No. 14 Wisconsin, 8-5
The Sun Devils struggled to get their offence going through their first four games of the season. ASU finally came alive on Saturday night against an improved Badger team.
Demetrios Koumontzis and Willie Knierim each scored twice for the Sun Devils, with James Sanchez and Matthew Kopperud each chipped in with a goal and two assists.
Sunday, Nov. 29
No. 10 Ohio State def. Michigan State, 4-2
The Buckeyes finally got off their season-opening skid with a win over the Spartans. Much thanks to the outstanding performance from goaltender Tommy Nappier, who stopped 42 of the 44 shots he faced.
Arizona State def. No. 14 Wisconsin, 3-1
Arizona State completed the weekend sweep with a solid outing by goaltender Evan Debrouwer, who made 28 stops in the game. Jax Murray scored twice for the Sun Devils.
No. 9 Clarkson def. RIT, 5-1
After stumbling on Saturday night, the Golden Knights played a much stronger game against the Tigers on Sunday. Grant Cooper scored twice for Clarkson, with netminder Kris Oldham making 30 saves.
I’m a broadcast journalist from West Michigan, with an incredible passion for the game of hockey. After playing in goal for 16 years, I realized that my time on the ice was up, and chose a slightly different path working in the media. It is just as demanding, just a little less physical.