After a brief week off of no posting, I’m back. We’ve got the Friendship Four this week in Belfast between Yale, No. 11 Union, Boston University and UConn, a Big Ten battle between No. 6 Penn State vs. No. 5 Ohio State, and a non conference showdown between No. 9 Providence and No. 7 Denver. But before we get into the weekend, I figured I’d get in the spirit of Thanksgiving and discuss what each team in the USCHO Top 20 has to be thankful for this season. So without further ado, let’s go:

  1. St Cloud State – The Huskies have two things to be thankful for: One, simple enough, is having the best team in the country. At 11-1, SCSU is scoring the third most goals per game in the NCAA, and boasts a top five defense that not only allows just 1.83 goals a game to the opposition, but also a PK unit that ranks number one (89.58%). They’re led by senior forward Patrick Newell, whose 15 points are four shy of most in Division I. Second, the Huskies should be thankful for first year head coach Brett Larson, who has had no issues replacing Bob Motzko as leader of a program that could wind up playing in Buffalo this April.
  2. Minnesota Duluth – The defending National Champs have just that to be thankful for: bringing a championship back to Duluth for the first time since 2011 thanks to a 2-1 victory over Notre Dame last April. This year, head coach Scott Sandelin and sophomore standout defenseman Scott Perunovich (16 points) have the Bulldogs (9-2-1) primed to make another run in the postseason as they look to become the first team since Denver in 2004 and 2005 to win back-to-back national titles. Circle your calendars for January 11 and 12, which is when MND will host St. Cloud State in the first of two regular season series’ between two of the premier teams in the country.
  3. Minnesota State – Through 10 games, the Mavericks have only one blemish on their record, a 4-3 loss to North Dakota a month ago in Grand Forks. MSU has junior forward Parker Tuomie to be thankful for, as his six goals and 10 assists highlight one of the nation’s most talented attacks. At 4.5 goals per game, the Mavericks only trail PSU in that category, and narrowly miss out on having a top five power play unit with a conversion rate of 26.32 percent. As of this moment, I’m sticking by my guns that MSU will be one of four teams in Buffalo.
  4. UMass –  I could be clichè here and say the Minutemen have Cale Makar to be thankful for, but I’d prefer to focus on a combination of two people: head coach Greg Carvel and athletic director Ryan Bamford. When Bamford pulled the trigger on firing John Micheletto after the 2015-16 season, rumors swirled of who would be chosen as Micheletto’s replacement. To the surprise of many, the then-new AD pulled a rabbit out of his hat and plucked Carvel from St. Lawrence. From there, it was time for Carvel to go to work, and it’s safe to say he has turned a struggling program around. Despite a 5-29-2 first season, Carvel has UMass (10-1) playing some of its best hockey in years and delivered the program’s first playoff series win since 2007 last March. The trio of Makar (15 points), John Leonard (16) and Mitchell Chaffee (14) spearhead a Minutemen offense that ranks top five in GPG and PP conversion. This season is still young, but UMass is clearly in a class alone with Providence as the two best teams in Hockey East.
  5. Ohio State – Buckeyes fans will be thankful for a second Frozen Four appearance last year, and an 8-3-1 start to this season that has OSU ranked fifth in the latest polls. Sasha Larocque anchors a Buckeyes defense that is giving up an average of under two goals per game, and will have to navigate an extremely difficult Big Ten as they look to make it Frozen Four appearance number three.
  6. Penn State – If there’s one thing Happy Valley supporters can be grateful for this season, it’s offense. The Nittany Lions have scored 63 goals this season and are averaging a little under six goals per game, tops in the nation in both categories by far. From an individual perspective, sophomore forwards Alex Limoges and Evan Barratt each have a nation-high 19 points, while junior Nikita Pavlychev is right behind them with 17. It feels like yesterday PSU was just announcing they were moving to D1, and now they’re one of the top teams out there.
  7. Denver – With a record of 6-3-1, the Pioneers will be thankful for a couple things: one is that they are almost through the “murderer’s row” portion of their schedule that included series’ against the the top two teams in the country and an upcoming weekend set with Providence. Second is the fact that new coach David Carle has stepped right into the role left vacated by Jim Montgomery after leaving the college ranks for the Dallas Stars. Carle will continue to lean on senior Jarid Lukosevicius and freshman Emilio Pettersen (13 points each) throughout the season and into the postseason.
  8. Notre Dame – On this Thanksgiving, the Irish have plenty to be thankful for, including two straight Frozen Four appearances and a trip to last year’s national title game. Through 12 games, ND sits atop the Big Ten standings with a record of 7-4-1 (4-2 in conference) and should be thankful for an exciting upcoming opportunity to play outdoors against conference rival Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium in January.
  9. Providence – Two words: Nate. Leaman. That’s what Friar fans have to be thankful for each and every day until an NHL team comes calling. In his seventh season at the helm, Leaman has quickly established himself as become one of college hockey’s top coaches, leading Providence to five straight NCAA tournament appearances and the program’s first national championship in 2015. As I mentioned above, it’s becoming increasingly clear that in Hockey East it’s the Friars, UMass and everyone else.
  10. Quinnipiac – A steady climb from unranked to No. 10 has given the Bobcats something to be thankful for this season. Six straight wins to start the season got QU off to a hot start, with head coach Rand Pecknold positioning the Bobcats to run the ECAC and make some noise in the playoffs. Senior blue liner Chase Prinskie has recorded eight goals and six assists for a team-high 14 points.
  11. Union – One of four teams playing in this year’s Friendship Four, the Dutchmen will be thankful for the chance to go to Belfast and participate in this annual tournament. Union, led by senior captain Cole Maier and his 13 points, should head into the postseason right alongside conference foe Quinnipiac when the time comes.
  12. Bowling Green – Perhaps one of the more surprising stories this season, the Falcons have definitely turned some heads thanks to the play of sophomores Brandon Kruse (15 points) and Max Johnson (13). BG fans have head coach Chris Bergeron to be thankful for, as he has turned the Falcons (8-3-2) into a winning program and delivered a shocking 8-2 victory over Ohio State this past October.
  13. Northeastern – Supporters of the Huskies will certainly be thankful for the team ending a 30-year Beanpot drought, taking home the program’s fifth championship and first since 1988 last season after defeating Boston University 5-2. This season, NU and goaltender Cayden Primeau (5th in saves) will aim to return to the NCAA tournament, which would make it the first time ever that they made it in back-to-back years.
  14. Michigan – While all eyes will be on The Game, Michigan fans should be thankful for their hockey team that brought them their first Frozen Four and NCAA tournament appearance since 2011 a season ago. Regarding this season, the ‘SNL’ line of  junior Jake Slaker, freshman Josh Norris and junior Will Lockwood has the fans thankful and hoping a return trip to the FF is in the near future. Now in year two, it’s clear that Mel Pearson is the right choice as the successor to the legendary Red Berensen behind the bench. Their outdoor showdown in South Bend will be fun to watch.
  15. Cornell – Off to a 5-3 start, the Big Red have won five of their last six after getting swept earlier in the season by Michigan State. Two straight NCAA tournament appearances should have CU followers thankful for the past and hopeful that they can make it number three by the end of the season.
  16. Arizona State – Not sure where to start with the Sun Devils. They became ranked for the first time in program history just a couple weeks ago, have one of the top scorers in the nation in sophomore Johnny Walker (18 points), and go to school in paradise. Tough life for the kids in Tempe.
  17. North Dakota – If there’s one thing the Fighting Hawks are thankful for at this very moment, it’s that it’s only Thanksgiving. Despite losing three straight and dropping six spots in the most recent poll, there’s still a lot of hockey left to be played, and if anybody can turn around a season sooner rather than later, it’s UND. To those in Grand Forks, deep breathes.
  18. Princeton – Those who support the Tigers should feel thankful they’ve only played seven games. With a 3-3-1 record, Princeton’s next six games come against ranked opponents, including No. 4 UMass and No. 6 PSU. Starting this Saturday until Dec. 15, plenty of eyes will be on the Tigers as they will look to move the needle and pick up a couple big victories.
  19. Miami – With nine wins on the season already, there’s cause for thankfulness amongst the RedHawks supporters as the team is already five victories shy of matching last year’s win total. Behind the play of senior Josh Melnick (13 points), junior Gordie Green (12) and freshman Derek Daschke (11), there’s optimism that the amount of wins from a season ago will be surpassed with no problems.
  20. Lake Superior – Finally, we come to the Lakers, who are thankful that they have cracked the top 20 for the first time this season in the most recent polls. Getting off to a 7-3-1 start that includes split series’ against Michigan and Bowling Green is encouraging to see and gave a glimpse into what the team is capable of.

If I missed anything, let me know, and happy Thanksgiving!

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