Fifty-eight schools feature NCAA Division I hockey programs this 2011-12 season, ranging from some of the best-known BCS programs -- Michigan, Ohio State, Boston College -- to schools like American International College, whose locations could be "Jeopardy!" questions. College hockey features an interesting mix of teams -- some programs like Minnesota or Boston University feature a dozen or more NHL draft picks, while last year's NCAA champion, Minnesota-Duluth, won with a total of four drafted players.
Presently, 31 first- or second-round picks play for a college team, and a solid number of those players will be in action on Friday night. Four games will be broadcast on national television across the United States, and three others will air on regional sports networks. Let's take a look at this week's national broadcasts.
No. 13 Notre Dame at No. 19 Miami of Ohio
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports
Announcers: Ben Holden, Jim Paradise and Shireen Saski
What's At Stake: Both teams are battling one another in the race for the NCAA tournament, and a win for either team would go a long way to improve their PairWise Rankings (PWR). (For the uninitiated, PWR is college hockey's version of the BCS. It helps determine at-large bids to the national tourney.) Miami (17-13-2) would be in the tournament if the season ended today, while Notre Dame (16-13-3) would be one of the first teams out. With less than a month left in the regular season, time is running out, especially for the Fighting Irish, who were swept last weekend by now-No. 1 Ferris State.
Notre Dame Players To Watch: No. 4, F Riley Sheahan, a first-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings; No. 28, D Stephen Johns, a Chicago Blackhawks pick; and No. 18, F T.J. Tynan of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Watch If You're A Fan Of ... the Red Wings, Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets (Miami has two players drafted by Columbus), Islanders (Anders Lee and Robbie Russo of Notre Dame), speed and two desperate teams.
No. 20 Northern Michigan at No. 5 Michigan Wolverines
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
What's At Stake: For Michigan (18-10-4), it's a chance to stay within striking distance of first-place Ferris State in the CCHA. The Wolverines are six points behind the Bulldogs with two weekends left in the regular season, so any and all points are needed.
For Northern Michigan (14-10-6), Friday night is a chance to knock big brother off again after beating and tying Michigan earlier in the season, while bringing some bragging rights to the Upper Peninsula. In one of the great quirks of the PairWise, the Wildcats are ninth in the rankings yet eighth in the CCHA, so a win will presumably help them.
Michigan Players To Watch: No. 24, D Jon Merrill (New Jersey); No. 7, F Phil Di Giuseppe (draft-eligible in 2012); and No. 10 F Chris Brown (Phoenix).
Watch If You're A Fan Of ... the Devils (Merrill and David Wohlberg), Coyotes, Blue Jackets (Kevin Lynch), shootouts (only the CCHA has them) or the allure of a game at Yost Ice Arena. It's one of the best arenas in college hockey, combining intimacy with the feel of a NHL rink.
Dartmouth Big Green at Yale Bulldogs
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
Announcers: Ron Vaccaro and Pierre McGuire
What's At Stake: NBC Sports Network has had some great games in the two months they've covered college hockey -- last week featured Boston College vs. Vermont and Minnesota vs. Denver -- but sadly, other than ECAC bragging rights over another Ivy League school, there's not too much at stake here. Yale (10-13-2) won two of the last three ECAC titles but has been hit by losses on the blue line and disappointing offensive production. They join Dartmouth (9-12-4) as teams below .500 who need to win the conference tournament in order to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
Yale Players To Watch: No. 18 F Kenny Agostino (Pittsburgh Penguins), No. 9 F Brian O'Neill (undrafted) and No. 23 D Kevin Peel (undrafted).
Dartmouth Players To Watch: No. 22 F Dustin Walsh (Montreal Canadiens), No. 19 F Eric Robinson (undrafted), No. 16 F Tyler Sikura (undrafted).
Watch If You're A Fan Of ... Ivy League schools and the unique traditions their fans have, the Penguins, The Big Green (it's the only Disney movie that shares a name with a college hockey team) and Pierre McGuire. Even if you're not a fan of McGuire, his knowledge of hockey and tendency to turn a normal conversation into an awkward one is something from which you can't turn away.
Nebraska-Omaha at No. 16 Colorado College Tigers
Time/TV: 10 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
Announcers: Matt McConnell and Dave Starman
What's At Stake: Colorado College (15-11-2, 12-9-1 WCHA) is one of the first four teams out of the NCAA Tournament thanks to multiple losses next week. They lost out on a chance to gain ground on first-place Minnesota, who were swept in two games by Denver, and the Tigers now find themselves tied for fourth with Nebraska-Omaha (13-11-6, 10-7-5 WCHA), needing to string together a late run if they want to once again make the tournament. The Mavericks are further back after surprising everyone last year in their first WCHA season, but with home ice in the first round of the conference playoffs not guaranteed for either team, this weekend looms large.
Nebraska-Omaha Players To Watch: No. 15 Josh Archibald (Pittsburgh), No. 21 F Matt White, No. 31 G Ryan Massa and No. 30 G John Faulkner.
Watch If You're A Fan Of ... the Blues, good goaltending (both teams have two goalies who can steal games) and the chance to get a look at a couple of undrafted free agents, particularly Rylan Schwartz. This game also features the best announcer in college hockey, Dave Starman.
Other Games Televised Friday
Bemidji State Beavers at No. 7 Minnesota -- 8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports North and FCS Atlantic
Michigan Tech at North Dakota -- 8:30 p.m. ET, FCS Central
Denver at Wisconsin -- 8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Wisconsin and FCS Pacific