Sioux-Pioneers series promises drama

It's looking like a frigid weekend for much of college hockey country, but it likely won't keep people away from the rink -- at least not with series like the ones we chose to feature in this week's INCH Friday Four-cast on tap.

DenverDenver at North Dakota North Dakota FRIDAY AND SATURDAY

If nothing else, this weekend's series in Grand Forks will provide a look at the resiliency of these two teams. The Fighting Sioux -- in the midst of grueling seven-week stretch during which they've faced or will face Minnesota, Cornell, Denver, St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth, and Colorado College -- are trying to get back into the top half of the WCHA standings. The Pioneers were clipped by Wisconsin in Madison, getting just one point from the Badgers.

Denver's healthier and has the edge in goal with Marc Cheverie, but consecutive high-stakes series at unfriendly venues like Wisconsin and North Dakota can be mentally draining. And you can bet that the Engelstad Arena crowd, which hasn't seen the Sioux play at home in three weeks, will be at a fever pitch for this series.

St. Lawrence St. Lawrence at CornellCornell FRIDAY

UnionUnion at YaleYale FRIDAY

The top four teams in ECAC Hockey line up against each other Friday night and have an opportunity to shake up the top of the league standings. First-place Union leads by a single point over three second-place teams in Yale, St. Lawrence, and Cornell.

Yale hosts Union at Ingalls Rink. These teams tied in the first meeting of the year back in early November in Schenectady, but the Bulldogs have a chance to hold serve in their barn this weekend. Yale is just 2-2-0 in its last four league games and Union suffered its first two conference defeats last weekend on home ice.

Cornell and St. Lawrence played to a 1-1 tie two weeks ago and will meet again at raucous Lynah Rink. The Saints have surged into second place and are among the title contenders after going 4-0-2 in their last six conference games. The Big Red are also 4-0-2 in their last six ECAC Hockey games and earned a difficult split at home last weekend against North Dakota.

MichiganMichigan vs. Michigan State Michigan State FRIDAY (at East Lansing) AND SATURDAY (at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit)

Interesting that word of a Cold War redux in Ann Arbor in December broke Thursday; while the granddaddy of outdoor hockey games was all about spectacle and rivalry, the Spartans and Wolverines head into this weekend's games focused inward.

Michigan State is on track to earn a CCHA first-round playoff, but the Spartans are just 1-2-2 in their last five games. Defense has become a bit of an issue; the Spartans have allowed 18 goals in their last five matches after giving up a total of 10 goals in seven games from Dec. 4-Jan. 8. Michigan, meanwhile, is in seventh place in the conference standings but just four points out of fourth place and the final opening-round bye. The Wolverines, who are 4-1-1 this month with the lone loss coming last weekend at Ferris State, are searching for offensive consistency.

HarvardHarvard vs. Boston College BC MONDAY, 5 p.m.

NortheasternNortheastern vs. Boston University BU MONDAY, 8 p.m.

Beanpot Semifinals:The first Monday in February means the return of college hockey to Boston's downtown arena. This year's semifinal games match last year's second day schedule when BC and Harvard played in the third-place tilt and BU defeated Northeastern in the tournament final -- BU's 29th Beanpot title.

This season hasn't gone according to plan for the defending national champion Terriers, currently in sixth place in Hockey East, can use what has been unofficially dubbed the "Terrier Invitational" as a second-half spark plug. BC has won just twice in seven games since the calendar turned to 2010 and has lost twice to BU in that span. Harvard comes into the Beanpot as the hottest team among the four, with a 3-0-1 record in their last four, including wins over nationally-ranked Yale and Union. Northeastern is the only team of the four Beanpot participants that has a tournament title to its credit this year. The Huskies started 2010 by capturing the Ledyard Bank Classic at Dartmouth.

Also: Huge weekend in the WCHA -- in addition to Denver at North Dakota, St. Cloud State travels to Colorado College and Wisconsin is at Minnesota Duluth. … Robert Morris travels to Bemidji State in a College Hockey America showdown featuring teams responsible for 75 percent of Miami's losses this season. … Ferris State scored 14 goals in two games against Ohio State in Big Rapids in November. The two teams meet again this weekend in Columbus. … Scott Darling should be back in goal this weekend for Maine as the Black Bears take on Vermont in a key Hockey East series.

For more on college hockey, check out Inside College Hockey.