This past weekend was one of the crown jewels of college football: Rivalry Week, where many of the traditions that have come to define those who play on Saturdays happen. From Ohio State and Michigan and Florida and Florida State to Lehigh and Lafayette or Harvard and Yale, these are some of the oldest traditions in sports.
Not to be outdone, this is about the time in collegiate hockey when inter-conference schedules and early-season tournaments create some big clashes between conferences. Here are a few games that allowed some old foes to catch up, and pitted the conferences themselves against one another.
Three observations from the week in college hockey:
EASTERN SPLIT FOR MINNESOTA
Early on in Big Ten’s hockey existence, there was such a thing as the Big Ten-Hockey East Challenge, wherein schools from both conferences would play for bragging rights. While there is no official challenge anymore, the Big Ten’s conference structure forces their schools to play a lot of games outside of their own conference, and a lot of those opponents are from Hockey East.
To that end, Minnesota traveled to Boston this weekend to take on Northeastern on Friday and Boston College on Sunday. The Golden Gophers would be taking on, respectively, the reigning Hockey East champions in the Huskies and the reigning Beanpot champions in the Eagles.
A hat trick from Dylan Sikura on Friday night, combined with a four goal third period, gave Northeastern the win over Minnesota at Matthews Arena. The win for Northeastern showcased the kind of frantic hockey that the Huskies rode to their first conference title in decades last year. While goaltending has been a question mark for NU, it was the defense that helped turn things around in the third period, a unit which needs to keep stepping up while Jim Madigan looks to get one of his netminders going.
On Sunday afternoon, the Gophers came away with a split after rallying for the last three goals in a 4-2 victory over Boston College at Conte Forum. Mike Szmatula, a former Northeastern captain who transferred to Minnesota, scored the final goal in the contest.
Minnesota opens up conference play this coming weekend as they host Ohio State. The Buckeyes were idle last week but they’re unbeaten in their last five games. Meanwhile, Northeastern and Boston College face each other for a home-and-home series to take place across the next two Tuesdays.
STICKING IT TO NORTH DAKOTA
Few programs’ fans hate the Big Ten as much as North Dakota, who lost some dearly-held rivalries in the process of realignment. While Michigan State was not one of those former conference rivals, the Fighting Hawks would have liked nothing more than to stick it to the newest conference on the college hockey landscape and keep a struggling Michigan State program down.
The Spartans had other plans, winning on Friday night and tying on Saturday night to come away with three points in the nonconference matchup.
On Friday night, Jerad Rosburg had three points (two goals and an assist) and goaltender Ed Minney tallied thirty saves as the Spartans came away with the 4-3 upset. North Dakota made it tough on them, with two Tyson Jost goals in the third period to narrow the gap and energize the crowd at Engelstad Arena, but the Hawks couldn’t tie it.
Minney stopped 32 more shots on Saturday night to help the Spartans earn a tie and their third point of the weekend. Patrick Khodorenko scored an unassisted goal in the second period to bring Sparty even at 2 with North Dakota, and that was where the score would stay.
Michigan State has one of the busiest December schedules in the nation. This weekend they’ll play an exhibition against the US Under 18 team. Next week they begin their conference schedule by hosting Minnesota. For a program that has needed a boost in recent years, this is an opportunity to build some momentum.
North Dakota will take on Boston College in another big inter-conference matchup on Saturday.
UVM TAKES THE BELPOT TROPHY
Coming into the Friendship Four, the two highest-ranked teams were coming over from the ECAC, and Quinnipiac was expected to win the tournament in Northern Ireland. Yet it was Hockey East’s Vermont Catamounts that came away with the trophy.
Officially, Quinnipiac’s opening round game with St. Lawrence will go down as a tie, both for NCAA purposes and for ECAC purposes, as this does count as an in-conference game. The two teams were scoreless after the end of the overtime period, after all. Bobcats goalie Chris Truehl was the star of the night, turning away all shots including the three shootout attempts he faced on the night to earn the shutout. It was a tough loss for St. Lawrence goaltender Kyle Hayton, who turned away 37 shots and put the Saints in position to win even if they fell short.
In the other semifinal, the Massachusetts Minutemen couldn’t keep up with Vermont, despite taking a two goal lead after the first period. In fact, it took the Minutemen just three minutes and twelve seconds to tally their two goals. Unfortunately, they would not score again. Craig Puffer had two goals for Vermont in the comeback win.
The final was a runaway, as Vermont scored early and never let the Bobcats in the game. While the 5-1 score looks like it might have been an offensive showcase, it was really Vermont netminder Stefanos Lekkas who starred in the final, turning away 40 shots in what otherwise might have been an even, high scoring affair.
That means the Friendship Four trophy, often referred to as the Belpot, remains in Hockey East, with Vermont taking the mantle from UMass-Lowell.
Quinnipiac turns right around to play Rensaleer on Friday and Union on Saturday. Vermont gets a week off, but they come back next week with a pair of home games against Boston University, as the conference schedules begin to take hold.