Five things you need to know before the puck drops this weekend
HOT ENOUGH FOR YA?
Omaha senior Austin Ortega, aka “California Hot Sauce,” is on the brink of owning a very clutch NCAA record. The NCHC points leader with 27 and the NCAA’s active leading goal scorer with 64 for his career, Ortega’s next game-winner will give him sole possession of the NCAA’s record for game-winning goals. He has 23, so tune in to ASN on Saturday night to possibly see history when the 18th-ranked Mavs host No. 7 North Dakota.
At North Dakota’s weekly press conference coach Brad Berry said Tyson Jost will return from Team Canada for the weekend series at Omaha, and Brock Boeser will be a gametime decision after missing the World Juniors because of wrist surgery. Who suits up may be a surprise. Following a 3-1 win at Union over the holidays Berry liked how the team came together without its stars. While he reiterated he’s happy both first-rounders are back, he said he would field a lineup that gave them “the best chance to win.” Gonna be another interesting weekend in a heated rivalry.
The second-ranked Nittany Lions do indeed love to pepper the net with shots. Penn State average 48.27 shots on goal — 24.13 more shots than they allow their opponents and 12 more than shot-happy Wisconsin. PSU hasn’t played since sweeping Michigan in the first week of December, but finally returns to action this weekend against 11th-ranked Ohio State.
How can six of eight NCHC teams be in the top 16 in Pairwise and also be ranked in the Top 20 in the USCHO poll? Inter-conference dominance. The NCHC leads all conferences with a 43-21-13 non-conference record, a .643 winning percentage. The Big Ten is second at 44-27-10 (.643), Hockey East is 67-45-17 (.585), ECAC is 41-45-11 (.479), the AHC is 17-38-11 (.341) and the WCHA is 15-44-5 (.273). While it’s true teams want to play their best hockey in March and April, it helps to take care of business on the front end, too.
Harvard has been the beast of the ECAC with a 9-2-1 record overall and is ranked 4/3 in the latest polls. On Friday, the Crimson will face 15th-ranked Quinnipiac, whom they are 1-4 against in recent games. Harvard’s power play leads the nation at 32.1 percent (17 of 53) and its 4.50 goals per game is second only to Penn State.
Above: Austin Ortega photo courtesy Mark Kuhlmann