No. 7 Minnesota (8-5-3) vs. No. 18 Penn State (9-5-3)
The Gophers were on the road this weekend against Penn State, which marked Minnesota's seventh straight series against a ranked opponent. The Nittany Lions were all over the Gophers early in game one, going up 1-0 and leading 12-0 in shots before Minnesota righted the ship, with Sam Rinzel scoring his first collegiate goal at 16:35 of the first and Bryce Brodzinski making it 2-1 less than two minutes later. In the middle frame, the Gophers extended their lead to 3-1 before Rhett Pitlick made it 4-1 and put the game out of reach. Justen Close brushed aside all 10 shots on net in the third, for a game total of 33 saves, to help the Gophers win game one of the series.
Penn State scored first in game two, but unlike the night prior, the Nittany Lions did not let up, making it 2-0 in the first before extending their lead to 3-0 midway through the second. A Rhett Pitlick shorthanded goal with 30 seconds remaining in the second sent the Gophers to the locker room with a bit of momentum heading into the third. The teams traded punches in the third, with Minnesota responding to two Penn State goals, but Bryce Brodzinski's goal to make it 5-3 with 2:53 left in regulation was too little too late as the Nittany Lions added an empty net goal to win 6-3 and split the series.
The Gophers will remain on the road and play the unranked Ohio State Buckeyes (5-7-3) on 12/8 at 5:30 PM CT and 12/9 at 7:00 PM CT. It will be Minnesota's final series of 2023, with their next matchup being an exhibition game against the USNTDP U18 team on New Year's Day.
Bryce Brodzinski, Minnesota
Minnesota Duluth (4-8-3) vs. Nebraska-Omaha (9-4-1)
To the delight of all Minnesota Duluth fans, the Bulldogs' eight-game winless streak ended Friday night with a 4-2 win over Nebraska Omaha, marking the team's first conference win this season. After a scoreless first period, Duluth native Nolan Krenzen put the Mavericks ahead 1-0 in the second before Ben Steeves responded to close out the period tied 1-1. Luke Loheit put the Bulldogs back in front 1:05 into the third. However, Nebraska-Omaha tied it at 2-2 only 17 seconds later. With 7:01 to go, Connor McMenamin scored the go-ahead goal to put Minnesota Duluth ahead for good, with Quinn Olson adding an empty netter to seal the 4-2 victory.
Saturday night's rematch was a goaltender battle that saw neither team score through all of regulation, with both teams banking one conference point before heading to overtime. In the extra period, Jack Randl scored the overtime winner for Nebraska-Omaha, tallying his second goal of the weekend. Zach Stejskal had a second consecutive start in net for the Bulldogs and saved 30 of 31 shots, with his record now sitting at 3-3-2 in his eight starts this season.
The Bulldogs will now hit the road and face the last ranked team in the NCHC standings, Miami (OH) RedHawks (5-8-1), with Minnesota Duluth looking for two wins on 12/8 and 12/9 before their holiday break begins.
Zach Stejaskal, Minnesota Duluth
Minnesota State (6-6-2) at Lake Superior State (7-8-1)
Minnesota State started strong against the Lakers, a team that the Mavericks have historically dominated, jumping out to a 2-0 first-period lead-off goal from Lucas Sowder and Jordan Steinmetz. Only 28 seconds after going up 2-0, the Lakers clawed one back off a goal from Rosemount's Luke Levandowski. That 2-1 score held through to the third period after a scoreless second, with Lake Superior State tying it at 2-2 on a power play with 12:55 to go in the game. Both teams failed to score a game-winner in the rest of the third and overtime, with the Mavericks winning the shootout to earn the extra conference point.
Ahead 1-0 after one in game two, Minnesota State doubled their lead only eighteen seconds into period two via a goal from Adam Eisele. Benilde-St. Margaret alum Nate Schweitzer scored next for the Lakers to bring it to 2-1, with both teams adding another goal in the period to head into the second intermission with Minnesota State ahead 3-2. Kaden Bohlsen extended the Mavericks lead to 4-2 before the Lakers made it 4-3 with 4:28 to go in regulation, with goaltender Keenan Rancier making a few big saves late to help Minnesota State hold on for the win.
Going 1-0-1 in the series placed the Mavericks in third place in the CCHA standings, with another conference battle on the horizon against St. Thomas in a home-and-home series.
St. Thomas (8-7-1) at Ferris State (5-8-1)
It was a tale of two wildly different performances for the Tommies against Ferris State this weekend in Michigan, skating to a disappointing 5-2 loss in game one before returning the second night for a 7-1 win.
Game one on Dec. 1 saw Ferris State score the first four goals before the Tommies found a response late in period two, with Jake Braccini tallying a power play goal to make it 4-1 and give St. Thomas a sliver of hope at a comeback. The Bulldogs officially put the game out of reach by extending the lead to 5-1 four minutes into the third, with Lucas Wahlin scoring his seventh goal of the season late in the contest to bring it to 5-2.
Fired up from the loss the night prior, St. Thomas scored two goals in the first 3:31 of game two before making it 3-0 later in the first. A Luke Manning power-play goal opened period two to bring it to 4-0 before the Bulldogs answered minutes later off a goal from Antonio Venuto. St. Thomas responded on their following two power play opportunities in the second to extend their lead to 6-1 heading into the third. In the final frame, Mack Byers corralled a rebound in close and scored to complete his hat trick, marking the first hat trick by a Tommie since St. Thomas joined the D1 ranks. Jake Sibell had a stellar night in net and saved 33 of 34 shots to improve his season save percentage to .936.
St. Thomas will face another CCHA opponent this coming weekend, squaring off against Minnesota State for a home-and-home series on 12/8 and 12/9, with puck drop at 7:07 PM both nights.
Jake Sibell, St. Thomas
Bemidji State (5-9-0) – Bye
After the weekend, Bemidji State sits in fourth place in the CCHA standings with 13 points. Fifth-year Kyle Looft currently leads the team with 16 points, followed by sophomore Lleyton Roed, who has eight goals and 12 points. The Beavers will remain at home for their next four games, starting with Lake Superior State (7-8-1) this coming weekend before playing Bowling Green the following weekend.
No. 17 St. Cloud State (8-5-1) – Bye
Even with their bye week, the Huskies remain atop the NCHC standings after their impressive 6-0-0 start in conference play. St. Cloud has four players who currently have double-digit points after fourteen games played, including Veeti Miettinen (10G-4A-14P), Adam Ingram (3-9-12), Dylan Anhorn (1-11-12) and Kyler Kupka (5-6-11). The Huskies will look to continue their unbeaten conference streak on the road against Nebraska-Omaha this coming weekend on 12/8 and 12/9.