As hard as it is to believe, but most conferences only have five weeks left of regular-season hockey left before the postseason begins. It makes each of these next five weekends all the more important.
Heading into this weekend, there are plenty of key matchups that will be worth keeping a closer eye on.
Here’s a look at some of the top games to track:
Friday, Jan. 27:
Harvard at Cornell, 7 p.m. ETIf the season ended today, both the Crimson and Big Red would be in the national tournament. However, this battle of the Ivies comes with the teams seemingly headed in opposite directions.
Just two weeks ago, Harvard was playing like a team gunning for one of the four No. 1 spots in the tournament, but going without a win in four of their last five has dropped the Crimson considerably in the Pairwise rankings. Meanwhile, Cornell is surging as they ride a five-game unbeaten streak and have put up 10 wins in their last 12 games. That run has the Big Red inch closer to the upper half of the bracket.
These two clubs last met in November, with Harvard’s Lewis Zerter-Gossage posting a hat trick in a 4-3 win for the Crimson over their ECAC rivals. Expect another close, tense contest Friday.
Minnesota Duluth vs. Minnesota, 8 p.m. ET, Xcel Energy Center (Fox Sports North/Fox College Sports)UMD enters the North Star College Cup as the No. 1 team in one of the major national polls and in the pairwise. Minnesota, meanwhile, is ranked sixth in both major polls and seventh in the Pairwise. Throw in the fact that this is an in-season tournament, the two clubs will be playing for a shot to win some actual hardware on top of in-state bragging rights.
RELATED: USHCO.com Men's Rankings
The Bulldogs are rolling right now following the completion of their season sweep of North Dakota. UMD collected a pair of huge road wins over the Fighting Hawks last weekend to surge in the polls and the Pairwise. The Gophers, meanwhile, just had a seven-game winning streak snapped by border rival Wisconsin. They should have no problem getting back up for a shot against the No. 1 team in the land.
This game will be preceded by St. Cloud State vs. Bemidji State as the other first-round matchup in the North Star College Cup.
Omaha at Denver, 9:35 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)With DU firmly entrenched among the best teams in the country this season, Omaha has a chance to improve their on-the-bubble chances in this weekend series. The Mavericks also have a chance to gain some ground on their National Collegiate Hockey Conference foe.
The Pioneers are currently second in the NCHC, trailing the league-leading UMD Bulldogs by six points. With Minnesota Duluth playing outside of the conference this weekend, there is plenty for the Pios to play for as well.
Led rather heavily on offense by upperclassmen, Omaha is going to need those players to step up against an often stingy Denver defense. Senior Austin Ortega has been a producer throughout his career at UNO and is on his way to his best season with 34 points in 26 games. Ortega and his fellow veterans could give DU some trouble.
The Pioneers tend to lean much more on its underclassmen, with freshman Henrik Borgstrom proving particularly potent with 23 points in 20 games. It’s not all young guns, though, as senior defenseman and captain Will Butcher has been a consistent presence with 21 points from the blue line.
Omaha is starting to get on a little bit of a roll with wins in three of their last four games, but this series at Denver is the start of a tough stretch to end the season. Over each of these next five weeks, the Mavs have two-game series against four opponents positioned for tournament invites right now. This run also includes four games against Denver, with the two this weekend, and two at home to close out the regular season.
Saturday, Jan. 28:
Wisconsin vs. Ohio State, 7 p.m. ET, Madison Square Garden (BTN)A big day for the Big Ten at Madison Square Garden will conclude with some hockey between a pair of teams seemingly on the rise.
The Wisconsin Badgers have back-to-back wins over top 10 teams having beaten Minnesota and Ohio State. They’ll get another date with the Buckeyes at a neutral site with tournament dreams still mostly intact.
Meanwhile, Ohio State will be looking to get back on track after a Thursday night stumble against the Badgers and a current stretch of only two wins in their last six games. The Buckeyes have managed to keep themselves in the tournament picture for much of this season, but things can change quickly in these last few weeks.
The players already have a lot on the line in this one, but adding the backdrop of New York City and Madison Square Garden should make this an even more thrilling matchup.
Army West Point at Air Force, 7:05 p.m. ETIt’s always fun when the service academies go head-to-head, no matter the sport, but this particular series could have huge implications in the Atlantic Hockey regular-season title race.
Air Force currently sits tied atop Atlantic Hockey’s standings with Canisius. However, just one point behind them lurks the Black Knights. Each team has won 11 conference games, with an extra tie for the Falcons being all that separates the two.
Saturday night’s contest will be the second of the two-game set. Will it be Air Force pulling away or will Army and star goaltender Parker Gahagen be shaking up the standings? Gahagen carries a sparkling .938 save percentage into this series, while Air Force will come in with a fairly balanced scoring attack. This should be a great series to track.