In place of traditional weekend previews, check this space on the CHN blog each Saturday for developing mid-weekend NCHC storylines and observations from Friday night games.
Friday’s action involved several games with big implications for the conference standings. Most notably, North Dakota won on the road at Minnesota-Duluth, 4-2, to separate itself at the top of the league table as St. Cloud State fell at home, 4-1, to Minnesota-Duluth. Omaha’s loss also kept them off the pace of Miami (3-0 win on Friday vs. CC) and Duluth in the battle for the final top 4 spot in the standings. With three games to go in the regular season, UND, St. Cloud, and Denver (5-1 win over WMU on Friday) are locked into hosting quarterfinal series when the playoffs begin. Denver may be the hottest team of all, by the way, as the Pioneers are 11-1-3 in their last 15 games and were quicker to all the loose pucks in their win over Western Michigan last night.
Meanwhile, UMD, Miami, or Omaha will get the final home ice spot, while Western Michigan and CC will finish seventh or eighth.
1. Poganski, again
A week after his overtime penalty shot goal gave North Dakota a somewhat controversial win over Minnesota-Duluth, UND sophomore Austin Poganski continued his hot play on Friday in Omaha. We know all about the CBS line, but Poganski (20 points this season) is the highest scoring forward after the CBS trio (Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser, Nick Schmaltz). Friday, Poganski had two assists — each time befuddling the Mavericks defense and then delivering the puck to a goal-scorer (Luke Johnson in the second period, Caggiula in the third). On the Johnson power play goal, Poganski also provided a screen in front of the UNO net. The sophomore now has points in four of his last five games and is clearly a player to watch as North Dakota continues its run toward the Penrose Cup (NCHC regular season winner) and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament
2. Miami PK
Miami’s 3-0 shutout win on Friday over Colorado College was the now-.500 RedHawks’ fourth win in their last five games, and Miami fans can thank their team’s penalty killing units, again. Miami has killed 104 out of 112 (92.9%) opponent power play chances this season, which is the second best penalty killing percentage in the country. Only Yale (killing off 93.9%) has been better. On Friday, the RedHawks killed all seven CC man-advantage chances, including two five minute major power plays. Moreover, on the first major, the RedHawks scored a shorthanded goal — in fact, the second career goal from senior defenseman Taylor Richart. It was an outside shot from the point that solved CC netminder Jacob Nehama — one of two long-range shots Nehama allowed in the game. Timely special teams play like Miami displayed on Friday night in Oxford may be the reason the RedHawks — if they can — end up with that final home ice playoff spot, the No. 4 seed in the upcoming NCHC quarterfinals.
3. Kept at bay by Kaskisuo
St. Cloud tried to keep pace with North Dakota at the top of the NCHC standings, but ran into UMD sophomore goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo. The Finnish netminder had 44 saves in the Bulldogs’ 4-1 road win. UMD helped its goaltender out by allowing only two St. Cloud power play opportunities, and on the other end of the ice, seemed comfortable using the wider and more open ice to their advantage. Kaskisuo was in the zone all evening, and played even more confidently as the Bulldogs built up a big lead. Tonight is likely a must-win for St. Cloud if it wants a realistic chance at the regular season championship, so it’ll be intriguing to note if head coach Bob Motzko makes any adjustments as his team tries to beat Kaskisuo tonight. Kaskisuo’s 1.98 goals against average is currently ninth-best in the nation.