College hockey games to watch: Olympians set for last games before PyeongChang
With the calendar turning to February, a lot of teams across the country are feeling the pressure when it comes to playing for conference tournament seeding and bolstering national tournament hopes. For four players and one coach, however, this weekend takes on a completely different meaning.
This is the last series of games for those selected to represent Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. North Dakota sophomore Ludvig Hoff, who was selected to play for Norway in the Olympics, can start his preparation now as the Fighting Hawks are off this weekend.
Wisconsin head coach has had the tough task of coaching his regular team while also trying to select a team and prepare for the first Olympics without NHL players since 1998. He’ll lead his Badgers into Ann Arbor for a big weekend series against Michigan before gathering with his Olympic players to ship out to South Korea.
Granato, who also had a standout four-year career as a player at Wisconsin, has deep roots in the Olympics. He participated in the 1988 Winter Games and was an assistant coach for Team USA in 2014. This 2018 Olympics may be the toughest challenge of Granato’s career as the team will only get a few days of practice before jumping right into live game action. He’ll be looking to become the second member of the Granato family to win gold as his sister Cammi captained the U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey Team to gold in 1998.
The four student-athletes selected to join Team USA in Pyeongchang will have a busy few days of games coming up. Lucky for all four of them, they won’t have terribly challenging travel before the long flight to South Korea.
St. Cloud State’s Will Borgen will have a pair of home games against Nebraska Omaha in a big NCHC series. Borgen’s Huskies are in a tight race with Denver for first place.
Denver will also have a player looking to head into the Olympics on a high note. The first-place Pioneers have gotten massive contributions out of junior forward Troy Terry, who will also be expected to play a fairly prominent role for Team USA. DU will welcome Minnesota Duluth to Magness Arena this weekend before sending Terry off to the Olympics.
Meanwhile two of Team USA’s other forwards will play their last pre-Olympics games as enemies.
Boston University’s Jordan Greenway and Harvard’s Ryan Donato each are expected to play in their team’s respective games Friday before meeting Monday in the first games of the Beanpot Tournament.
Granato has said his staff expects each of the four college players to be impact players in South Korea. Donato is the nation’s leading goal scorer with 20 goals in just 21 games for Harvard this season. Meanwhile, Terry has overcome an early-December slump to collect points in seven of his last nine games. Borgen could end up as a top-four defenseman for Team USA, just as he is at St. Cloud State where he has become known around college hockey for his excellent defending skills.
Then there is Greenway, who will be making history for Team USA in Pyeongchang. When he takes the ice, he’ll be the first African American to represent the United States in hockey at the Olympics.
“Being the first, I’m really honored by that,” Greenway said. “I hope I can be a guy that kids can look up to and maybe try something different.”
Team USA, which also features 17 alumni of men’s college hockey programs, will open the tournament against Slovenia on Feb. 14. That game begins at 7:10 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.
Here’s a look at some other college games to keep an eye on this weekend and beyond:
Friday-Saturday Feb. 2-3 series
Fri.: Arizona State at Yale, 7 p.m. ET
Sat.: Arizona State at Yale, 7 p.m. ET
This is a bit of a fun series when you consider the vast difference between these two teams when it comes to longevity. Yale was part of the first intercollegiate game ever played in the United States, taking the ice against Johns Hopkins in 1896. Arizona State, meanwhile, played its first Division I games a mere 119 years later.
The two teams will meet at Ingalls Rink in New Haven. Yale last met Arizona State during the 2016 Desert Hockey Classic in Glendale, Ariz. The Bulldogs won that game 4-0.
Fri.: Wisconsin at Michigan, 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Wisconsin
Sat.: Wisconsin at Michigan, 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Wisconsin
Only a point separates Wisconsin and Michigan in the Big Ten standings. The Badgers hold third place with a 7-8-3 conference record. Michigan is in fourth, but will have home-ice advantage, which has helped them this year. The Wolverines are 7-4-1 at home this season, but the Badgers are rolling a little bit lately. They’re unbeaten in three straight and no doubt will want to send off coach Tony Granato with the best possible results before he has to pause for the Olympics.
Fri.: Holy Cross at Canisius, 7:35 p.m. ET
Sat.: Holy Cross at Canisius, 4:35 p.m. ET
The eyes of Atlantic Hockey will be on a huge series that could have a big impact on the race to the regular season title. Canisius and Holy Cross are tied at the top with 26 points apiece. Holy Cross has played two more games in the conference, but if they could pull out a couple of big wins on the road, they’re suddenly alone at the top. The Golden Griffins will be countering a motivated Crusaders squad with junior forward Dylan McLaughlin, who is currently third in the country with 38 points in 25 games.
Fri.: Omaha at St. Cloud State, 8:37 p.m. ET, Fox Sports North
Sat.: Omaha at St. Cloud State, 8:07 p.m. ET
St. Cloud is looking to keep pace with Denver in the hunt for the NCHC regular-season title. The Huskies have been a little inconsistent more lately, which has set them back a little. That said, they swept Omaha on the road earlier in the season, scoring 12 goals over two games in the early-December series. Junior forward Mikey Eyssimont had five points in that series. St. Cloud will certainly want to have their best before losing Borgen for a few weeks.
Practice underway in St. Cloud. Game one vs. SCSU tomorrow at 7:37pm. pic.twitter.com/D9VKchHXYL— Omaha Hockey (@OmahaHKY) February 1, 2018
Fri.: Minnesota Duluth at Denver, 9:05 p.m. ET
Sat.: Minnesota Duluth at Denver, 9:05 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
Terry will look to help Denver keep hold of the top spot in the NCHC before shipping of to PyeongChang for the Olympics. The Pioneers have a three-point lead on St. Cloud State, while Minnesota Duluth is lurking seven points back. There’s no doubt the Bulldogs will be looking to steal some conference points back and put themselves back in the running for a regular-season title.
Beanpot – Monday, Feb. 5
Boston College vs. Northeastern, 5 p.m. ET, NESN
Boston University vs. Harvard, 8 p.m. ET, NESN
One of the great traditions in the sport of hockey begins Monday. This year marks the 66th Beanpot Tournament. Having a pair of soon-to-be Olympians in the nightcap of Monday’s double-header certainly adds another layer of intrigue.
Aside from Greenway and Donato going head-to-head, every win is particularly crucial for the teams involved. Northeastern is currently 14th in the Pairwise rankings, which mimic the criteria the national tournament selection committee uses. They’re the only Beanpot participant in the top 16. Boston College is 20th, Boston University is 23rd and Harvard is 27th. So there’s a lot more riding on this than being able to hoist the coveted Beanpot trophy, which is usually enough motivation on its own.