Go west for weekend's best games

The best matchups this weekend favor the western reaches of college hockey with big-time clashes in Ann Arbor, Madison, and Oxford, Ohio. The one with the most venom, however, may be a home-and-home series featuring a pair of ECAC Hockey programs on the rise.

Rensselaer vs. Union (Fri.-Sat.): Local interest has always been high, but as these programs keep improving and holding spots in the national rankings, the games seem to be even bigger. Capital District rivals Union and RPI meet in a home-and-home this weekend -- Friday at Union's Messa Rink and Saturday at RPI's Houston Field House. If you're a traditionalist that prefers the home team wearing white sweaters, this won't be for you. Union is wearing black throwback sweaters Friday and RPI is celebrating its annual fall semester Black Saturday where they wear alternate sweaters and then auction them off. Both schools have encouraged home fans to wear black at their respective rinks. Union and RPI recently met in a neutral-site game in Lake Placid and drew 3-3.

Notre Dame at Michigan (Fri.-Sat.): Lots of similarities between the Fighting Irish and the Wolverines -- both have scored 33 goals; Notre Dame has allowed 23 goals, one less than Michigan; and neither team has a particularly effective power play. What could tip this series in one side's favor? Well, Notre Dame's penalty kill, for one, which is tops in the CCHA. Then there's the Wolverines' 1-2-1 record on Friday in comparison to the Irish's 3-1-0 on the front end of weekend series. Michigan has excelled at jumping out to leads, however, outscoring opponents in the first period by a 12-4 margin. Getting ahead of a young Irish team that hasn't played in a road atmosphere like Yost Arena would behoove the hosts.

North Dakota at Wisconsin (Fri.-Sat.): The Badgers enter the weekend ranked second in the WCHA in scoring offense at 4.3 goals per game, but goaltending has been the real story for Mike Eaves' team. Seniors Brett Bennett and Scott Gudmandson rank first and third, respectively, in the WCHA in goals against average and are first and fourth in the league in save percentage. Goaltending has also been the story for the Fighting Sioux -- penned by Stephen King. Sophomore Aaron Dell got the nod in both ends of last weekend's series against Minnesota Duluth over the slumping Brad Eidsness. Might he start both games against the Badgers?

Alaska at Miami (Fri.-Sat.): Though it seems like Miami has been flattening foes all season, the RedHawks enter the series with Alaska having scored a total of five goals in their last three games; they were 0-1-2 during that span. Alaska, on the other hand, earned a split with Michigan in Fairbanks last weekend. In Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Wolverines, the Nanooks not only had their three-game win streak curtailed, but it also marked the first contest this season the Nanooks lost when scoring more than one goal.

Also: Nebraska-Omaha, which has scored 19 goals in four WCHA games so far, heads to St. Cloud State this weekend. The Mavs host North Dakota next weekend. … Yale travels west to face Colorado College on Saturday and Air Force Sunday in a pair of nonconference games. Good tests for the Bulldogs, and a good chance for Front Range hockey fans to get a glimpse of Denny Kearney, Broc Little and Co. … Despite opening the season with a series against Denver Oct. 8-9, Vermont has played just six games. The Catamounts haven't won any of them. Grabbing one against a Boston College team looking to get off a bit of a schneid itself is daunting.

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