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College Hockey Weekly: Minnesota, UMD Look Strong

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We're not even halfway through the WCHA season. Some teams have played a disproportionate number of road games so far, while others just wrapped up a home stretch and won't play at home again for two months.

Hey, I don't make the schedules, okay?

As we get close to the Christmas break that marks what is basically the halfway point of the year, Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth -- longtime rivals -- appear to be on a collision course in the WCHA title race.

Of course, it's going to be an indirect collision, if that makes any sense, because the two teams don't meet again this season.

Hey, like I said, I don't make the schedules.

As we saw when the teams met in Duluth in October, they are very talented, similar in a sense, and both feature strong goaltending.

Minnesota has horses like Nick Bjugstad (25 points) so far, offensive stars like Erik Haula and Kyle Rau, and a rock-solid goalie in senior Kent Patterson. The Gophers started hot and have cooled a bit as of late, largely because of Friday night struggles (each of their three recent losses came on a Friday night).

UMD has a strong offense, led by senior captain Jack Connolly, a two-time All American, along with sophomore J.T. Brown and senior Travis Oleksuk. Senior Kenny Reiter started slowly, but now has the same save percentage as Patterson, thanks to a ten-game run where Reiter's save percentage is .947.

Yes, UMD was swept by Minnesota, but those games will become less relevant as the season wears on. The fact that UMD has already passed Minnesota in the far-too-early-to-be-truly-relevant Pairwise standings tells you that the Bulldogs have plenty of opportunities to show the computer they deserve a higher seed despite that early sweep.

They're evenly-matched teams, and this league title race is far from over. I'm guessing most WCHA fans would love to see them meet again, even though that won't happen until at least the WCHA Final Five. Before we get there, it's going to be a great race between the two to see who can finish higher in the standings.

(These might not be the only two teams with a say in the championship. In fact, I'd bet they're not. Colorado College, Denver, and Nebraska-Omaha, potentially among others, would all like an opportunity at the brass ring. That said, UMD and Minnesota are the top teams right now, and they have earned that billing with their play.)

Michigan State 4, Minnesota 3; Minnesota 4, Michigan State 4, OT

The Gophers struggled to start Friday's game well, and Michigan State made them pay. MSU goalie Drew Palmisano was strong both nights, especially as the Gophers tried to rally on Friday. Minnesota fell behind again Saturday, but rallied with three straight goals to take a 4-3 lead before Sparty got the draw.

Minnesota gets four straight at home to close out the first half, with Minnesota State and Michigan Tech set to visit.

Alaska-Anchorage 5, Minnesota State 4; Minnesota State 5, Alaska-Anchorage 5, OT

Wild games in Mankato, where UAA got a nice road win Friday and jumped to a 5-1 lead Saturday. The Seawolves scored five goals on seven shots against MSU starter Phil Cook in Saturday's game.

The Mavericks rallied Saturday to get a much-needed point, but their winless streak went to five games.

Nebraska-Omaha 4, St. Cloud State 3; St. Cloud State 2, Nebraska-Omaha 2, OT

UNO scored three goals in the second period Saturday after falling behind in the first period. The Huskies never led after UNO rallied in the second. On Sunday afternoon, SCSU dominated early and got a Brooks Bertsch goal to take a 1-0 lead.

However, opportunities were squandered to make that lead bigger, and UNO tied it before the first period ended. The teams traded second period goals and played to a tie.

St. Cloud State hosts Bemidji State, which had the weekend off.

Meanwhile, UMD returns from a weekend off to visit Michigan Tech and start a stretch of eight straight on the road that will surround a three-week break for Christmas.