If there is anything that stands out about hockey compared to any other sport, is that any team can win on any given night.
This is starting to prove more and more true at the collegiate level, as so many of the best teams in the NCAA have fallen at the hands of teams that, on paper, they should be able to defeat. Yet, more and more underdogs are showing that they can hang with the best in D-I on a nightly basis.
Each of the schools that were ranked in the preseason top-10 (except for Cornell, who is not allowed to play this year) has lost at least one game in regulation this season. Even teams that made their way into the top-10 found themselves at the wrong end of an exciting game.
The NCHC Is Anyone’s Guess
Since its inception in 2013, the NCHC has possessed some of the best teams in the country, with the past three national champions coming from the conference (Minnesota-Duluth (2018 and 2019), Denver (2017) and North Dakota (2016). This year was no different, as the Pioneers (4), Bulldogs (3) and Fighting Hawks (1) were ranked in the preseason top-10.
Here Come the Mavericks
One of the many stories inside the Pod has been the performance of Nebraska-Omaha. While they are only 4-3-1 at this point, their wins have come against teams they have not had much success against in recent memory.
The first surprise came in their second game of the season against the then-No. 17 Western Michigan Broncos. The Mavericks had an offencive outburst, lighting the lamp 10 times, with eight players producing multi-point games, including Jason Smallidge’s record performance where he scored five points in the game.
After splitting games with Miami (OH) and a win over Colorado College, the Mavericks went up against St. Cloud State, who had picked up big wins themselves against Denver and North Dakota, and is currently the No. 9 team in the country. Nebraska-Omaha ended up shutting down the Huskies’ attack, much thanks to sophomore goaltender Austin Roden, who stopped all 41 shots he faced. Goals from Kirby Proctor and Tyler Weiss gave the Mavs their second win against a ranked opponent this season by a final score of 2-0.
Then, in an even tougher test, they went up against No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth on Wednesday. Once again, Nebraska-Omaha refused to be intimidated. Even when they trailed 2-0, the Mavericks rallied thanks to goals from Chayse Primeau and Taylor Ward to tie the game. Neither team scored for the remainder of regulation or overtime, so a shootout was needed to determine a winner.
Mavs’ goaltender Isaiah Saville went save-for-save for with the Bulldogs’ Ryan Fanti. Finally, in the sixth round, Primeau scored to give Omaha the extra point.
The Tigers Pounce on the Bulldogs
After the Fighting Hawks lost a couple of close games, it looked as if Minnesota-Duluth was ready to harness the role of the No. 1 team in the country. They went 5-0-1 to start the year and handled the best teams in the conference, including North Dakota.
They went into a seemingly meaningless matchup against Colorado College this past Sunday. The Tigers, who had not even won a game up until that point, gave the Bulldogs everything they had. Two first period goals from the Tigers’ Grant Cruikshank set the pace for how the game was going to go. Dominic Basse was exceptional, making 30 saves in the 4-1 win.
It marked the first time that the Bulldogs lost to the Tigers since February 2019.
Other Notable Upsets
UConn Takes Down No. 2 BC
While not many teams from the Hockey East have played a ton of games yet this season, coming into the season many did not believe the UConn Huskies have what it takes to finish towards the top of the conference. Yet, in their series against the Eagles, they proved doubters wrong.
In the first game of the weekend, the Eagles barely squeaked out a win, needing overtime to stay undefeated. The next night was a different story.
UConn came out flying, and ended up outshooting Boston College handily, 42-28. The Huskies scored three times in a matter of minutes in the second period, and rode the play of goaltender Tomas Vomacka to their first victory over the Eagles since February 2018 by a score of 3-1.
Michigan Tech’s Pietila Shuts Down No. 5 Minnesota State
While the Huskies remain a competitive team in the WCHA, they have struggled against the Mavericks since their back-to-back Jeff Sauer Championship Trophies in 2017 and 2018.
Heading into the 2019-20 season, Michigan Tech had not beaten Minnesota State in regulation since March 2018. On Dec. 6, the Mavericks, who have won the last three MacNaughton Cups as WCHA Regular Season Champions, traveled up to Houghton for the first of a two-game weekend set against the Huskies.
Michigan Tech was outplayed, and would not have had much of a chance, had it not been for Blake Pietila’s 43-save performance. Logan Ganie, Eric Gotz and Brian Halonen were the goalscorers in Michigan Tech’s 3-1 win.
The season is still young and other top teams will be knocked off before it is all said and done. Yet, it is always enjoyable to watch the underdogs prevail, no matter what team and what time of year.
Monday, Dec. 14
No. 11 Quinnipiac def. Sacred Heart, 9-2
In their first game of the season, the Bobcats came ready to play. Despite not scoring in the first period, Quinnipiac scored five goals in the second and four more in the third to pick up the win. Zach Metsa had himself a big four-point night, with Michael Lombardi and Ethan Leyh each scoring a goal and two assists.
Tuesday, Dec. 15
American International def. Army-West Point, 4-1
AIC improves to 3-0 with a solid all-around performance against the Black Knights. Tobias Fladeby led the Yellow Jackets with a pair of goals, including the game-winner. Stefano Durante looked good in net once again, making 25 saves in the win.
Colorado College def. Miami (OH), 4-1
Make it two wins in a row for the Tigers after they score another four goals, this time against the RedHawks. Grant Cruikshank stays hot with another goal, while Ben Copeland tallied a goal and an assist for Colorado College.
No. 8 Denver def. Western Michigan, 3-2
In a back-and-forth affair, the Pioneers avoided being upset by winning a squeaker against the Broncos. After Western Michigan’s Paul Washe tied the game, the Pioneers’ Kohen Olischefski scored the eventual game-winner to give Denver the win. Corbin Kaczperski earned his second win of the season, by only having to make 12 saves.
No. 11 Quinnipiac def. Sacred Heart, 2-1 in overtime
After a bit of a laugher on Monday, the Big Red were bailed out by goaltender Josh Benson, who made 32 saves to keep this game close. Sacred Heart’s Braeden Tuck scored to tie the game in the third, but Wyatt Bongiovanni scored his second goal of the series in overtime to give the Bobcats the win.
Wednesday, Dec. 16
Niagara ties Mercyhurst, 3-3 (Mercyhurst wins in a shootout)
The Lakers were looking to pick up their second win of the season, and carried a two-goal lead into the final minutes. However, the Purple Eagles rallied and tied the game after Walker Sommer scored with less than 90 seconds remaining in regulation. Austin Heidemann and Carson Briere scored in the shootout to give Mercyhurst the extra point.
No. 4 North Dakota def. No. 9 St. Cloud State, 4-3 in overtime
The Huskies came oh-so-close to taking down the Fighting Hawks for the second time in a week. Yet, despite coming back from a 3-1 deficit, Jordan Kawaguchi’s goal eight seconds into overtime gave North Dakota the win.
Assisting on the goal was Shane Pinto who Kawaguchi set up for a goal of his own back in the second period.
Northern Michigan def. Ferris State, 5-4
Even though it was their first game of the season, the Wildcats came out flying offencively, and by the early stages of the second period, they led the Bulldogs 4-0. Ferris almost came back from a 5-2 hole, but Northern Michigan shut the door to pick up the win. AJ Vanderbeck scored two goals and an assist, while Brandon Schultz scored a goal and two assists in the winning effort.
Thursday, Dec. 17
Arizona State ties No. 18 Ohio State, 4-4
The second tie of the season for the Sun Devils did not come without a little bit of drama, as the Buckeyes jumped out to a 3-0 lead with goals just over two minutes apart in the opening frame. Yet, Arizona State turned it around with two goals from Michael Mancinelli in the second period, followed by two more in the third to take the lead. However, Ohio State spoiled the comeback, as Tate Singleton scored later in the period to tie the game. Neither team scored in overtime and, since it is a non-conference game, the contest ended in a tie.
Tommy Nappier was one of the reasons the Buckeyes were able to get the tie, as he made 36 saves in the game, including 15 in the second period.
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.