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.
One night remains in the NCHC regular season, and from a playoff seeding standpoint, all eyes are on the games in Denver and Colorado Springs. The stage was set on Friday night — North Dakota thumped Western Michigan 8-1 to win the Penrose Cup as NCHC regular season champions. Minnesota-Duluth’s 5-0 shutout of Miami locked those two teams into the 4/5 seeds, respectively, guaranteeing a rematch next weekend, with Duluth as the host for the best-of-3 quarterfinal round. Finally, Denver (3-0 over Omaha) and St. Cloud State (5-2 at CC) both won to remain in a tie for second place. The Huskies control their own destiny by holding the tiebreaker over Denver, so if both teams win the rematch again, St. Cloud will finish second and Denver third. The No. 2 seed will host Western Michigan next weekend, while the No. 3 seed will host Omaha. This also means that Denver fans will be rooting for CC tonight to beat St. Cloud in what will be the Tigers’ final home game of the season.
1. 8 in a row
Denver has won eight in a row now, shutting out UNO for the second time this season (the only two instances this year that the Mavericks have been held scoreless). The Pioneers got stronger as the game went on — which has been somewhat of a trademark for Jim Montgomery’s team since January 1. Denver, as above, has a chance to finish second in the league, and that’s potentially important considering the dropoff (on paper) in quality between what will be the No. 6 seed (UNO) and the No. 7 seed (Western Michigan).
“We’re rolling, there’s no doubt about it,” said senior captain Grant Arnold, who scored the first goal of the game, the eventual game-winner — his 10th of his career in his 146th career game. “But that was one game. We’ve got another one tomorrow. I think we can have a much better first period. I don’t think our first period was good enough tonight. Our mindset is ‘never satisfied.’ It takes a long time to engrain that in yourself.”
Arnold and the rest of the senior class at Denver will play in the NCAA tournament for their fourth time and are in the hunt for a second NCHC tournament title. This senior class also continued Denver’s run of 20-win season and will celebrate ‘senior night’ at Magness Arena on Saturday night.
2. 8 in a roll
Eight was a good number for North Dakota on Friday, too, as the Fighting Hawks scored early, and late, and often, to clinch the regular season crown. UND’s 8-1 win over Western Michigan marked the 10th time UND has scored five or more goals in a game this season, and incredibly, the sixth (SIXTH) time the Broncos have allowed 6 or more goals in a game. For the third time this season, WMU lost by a margin of seven or more. Only two teams in the nation (UMass and American International) have allowed more goals this season. For UND, obviously, it’s another step in what’s been a great first year for Brad Berry, with the Fighting Hawks headed towards another NCAA No. 1 seed. But for Western Michigan, you have to wonder what’s going on defensively. UND scored some spectacular, highlight-reel goals (as usual), but the CBS line et al. had free access to any area of the ice in the offensive zone that they wanted.
Western Michigan has trended down in the five years under Murray, and it’s hard to imagine a late season miracle in the NCHC first round next weekend, when the Broncos will travel to either Denver or St. Cloud State.
3. Final minute
The difference in last night’s St. Cloud/CC game was, simply, the Huskie’s unrelenting offensive zone pressure in the late stages of the first and second periods. Yes, St. Cloud outshot CC 55-24, but in each of the first two periods, it was a timely shot — each time, with less than 20 seconds remaining in the period — that resulted in a goal. The second occurrence, with less than a second left in the second period, was the backbreaker. As noted above, the Huskies control their own destiny: a win on Saturday will clinch the No. 2 seed as St. Cloud holds the tiebreaker (head to head) over Denver if the two teams finish tied in points.
Also worth watching: The NCHC regular season scoring title will be decided tonight as well. North Dakota freshman Brock Boeser (33 points) is four points clear currently, so it would take a big night from Denver (Danton Heinen, Trevor Moore, and Dylan Gambrell are all tied with 29) to catch the UND rookie.