Archive for the 'NCHC' Category

NCHC Preview

Friday, October 13th, 2017

All eight NCHC teams are in action this weekend, and aside from Miami’s exhibition tonight against the U.S. Under-18 team, all the games — finally — count. Western Michigan is already off to a good start this week, with a 3-1 mid-week win over Bowling Green. The Broncos’ Colt Conrad already has three goals this season.

In case you missed it, some relevant NCHC items on the site from the past two weeks:

  1. My full NCHC preview, i.e. an overview of the strengths/weaknesses/outlook of each of the league’s teams.
  2. NCHC Watch List: A look at 5 storylines to watch this season, as well as 5 players to watch (beyond just the names you’ve seen garner preseason honors on the all-conference team)
  3. Above and Beyond: A feature on Denver, after I spoke to head coach Jim Montgomery and sophomore star Henrik Borgstrom about whether it’s really possible to be as motivated to repeat as champions as they were last year to win their first title
  4. Quiet on the Western Front: A feature on North Dakota, with comments from Shane Gersich about his outlook for the season.
  5. Denver Seems Destined to Repeat: A column by my colleague Joe Meloni about the favorites to win the title this season.

3 Things to Watch this weekend:

  1. St. Cloud’s season opener

In the NCHC preview above, I talked about St. Cloud as the team in the league most likely to challenge Denver this season. And that’s in large part because players who scored 100 of the team’s 105 goals last season return this year.

“I think the guys are ready,” said the Huskies’ Judd Peterson at the NCHC Media Day last month. “I know we have goal-scorers, and we just need to find a way this year.
“It’s exciting to be in a leadership role and to kind of show the young guys how it’s done. It’s going to be a fun year, and it’s going to be exciting to see where we go. We have a lot of depth in our lineup this year, so I’m excited.”

Still, I anticipate that the defense will make or break the Huskies this season, so players to watch in that regard are junior Will Borgen (a fourth-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2015), sophomore Jack Ahcan (21 points as a rookie last year), and junior Jimmy Schuldt (the Huskies’ captain).

It helps, too, to have a head coach in Bob Motzko who has led a team to the Frozen Four recently and won a gold medal last season as head coach for the World Junior team — a position he will renew this winter.

This is Motzko’s 13th year as head coach of the Huskies. St. Cloud takes on Alaska (WCHA) in a two-game nonconference series starting tonight.

I never want to sound like an old guy, but I truly enjoy the building of the team and the process that we go through,” said Motzko ahead of the season. “Individual wins are awesome moments, but then when that moment’s over, and you go back over, and it’s — you know, when you recruit a Nic Dowd out of Huntsville, Alabama, and he becomes an All-American and now he’s playing in the National Hockey League. To be a part of that whole process… It’s not cliche. Those are the things you enjoy the most, watching the development of young men.”

2. Denver/Notre Dame rematch

Denver pummeled Notre Dame, 6-1, in the national semifinals last year en route to the national title. The result was somewhat unexpected given the close regular season meetings recently, but regardless, the anticipated rematch begins tonight. Both games will air on NBC Sports Network.

For Denver, Montgomery confirmed that he will start the season with the same top line with which he ended last season — Dylan Gambrell centering Jarod Lukosevicius and Troy Terry. On his second line, Henrik Borgstrom will be paired with classmate Liam Finlay and rookie Ryan Barrow.

During the offseason, Terry (Anaheim Ducks), Gambrell (San Jose Sharks), and Borgstrom (Florida Panthers) all turned down offers to sign with the NHL teams that drafted them.
Said Montgomery, “I give them credit. They wanted to come back because they felt like there was something they wanted to add here at Denver still. But also, more importantly, and I always tell them this, they have to be selfish in their decisions, and they have to do what’s best for them. And they felt that the best thing for them was to come back to the University of Denver, get closer to a degree, and be able to walk into the NHL instead of having to earn your way through the minors.”
It’s an interesting comment from Montgomery — and hard to argue with. The sample size is small, but just look at what reigning Hobey winner Will Butcher, who stayed all four years at Denver, has done in his first week at the NHL level with the New Jersey Devils (3 assists in his season debut, against the team that originally drafted him, the Colorado Avalanche).
Tonight will also be the first official action for an incoming Denver freshman class considered one of the top recruiting groups in the nation. That includes Chicago Blackhawks prospect Ian Mitchell on the blueline, as well as a pair of talented but undrafted forwards, Jake Durflinger and Kohen Olischefski.
“I’m surprised that a couple of our freshmen didn’t get drafted this year,” said Montgomery, who singled out 6-foot-4 defenseman Griffen Mendel — who wears Butcher’s old No. 4 jersey — as a player he expects to be drafted in next summer’s NHL Entry Draft. “But we don’t concern ourselves with whether our players are drafted or not. We’re concerned with them being prominent college hockey players, that they fit our culture and the way we play.”
3. UMD defense
In last week’s season opening weekend, Minnesota-Duluth earned a thrilling 4-3 overtime win over in-state rival Minnesota before falling, 4-3, to Michigan Tech in the final of the annual IceBreaker tournament. UMD’s goaltenders — Nick Sheery and Hunter Shepard, taking over for Hunter Miska, who opted not to return for his sophomore season — allowed seven goals on just 38 shots.
Last season, the Bulldogs — en route to the national title game — had the eighth best statistical defensive unit in the nation, allowing 2.26 goals per game.
Watch for renewed focus in the defensive zone this weekend as UMD takes on Bemidji State in a home-and-home series. These are the season opening games for the Beavers.

 

NCHC Final Weekend: What’s at stake?

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

The final regular season weekend in the NCHC begins tomorrow night, with all eight teams in action:

 

NCHC
Minnesota-Duluth at Western Michigan  7:05 ET Compare Radio  Map
Denver at Nebraska-Omaha  7:37 CT Compare TV Radio  Map
North Dakota at Miami  7:35 ET Compare Radio  Map
Colorado College at St. Cloud State  7:37 CT Compare Radio  Map

 

 

… and there’s plenty on the line. A quick look at the most notable items:

Regular season title: The Penrose Cup

Denver looks for its first regular season title since its WCHA title in 2009-10 this weekend, and the Pioneers can clinch their first Penrose Cup as NCHC regular season champs with a win at Nebraska-Omaha tomorrow (or with a Minnesota-Duluth loss at Western Michigan). The Bulldogs are the only other team in play for the regular season title (and therefore the No. 1 seed in the NCHC tournament) but trail Denver by four points heading into the weekend.

We won’t get into all the tiebreaker scenarios (you can work through them using the rules here), but here’s a look at things from the UMD perspective. Basically, UMD needs either 5 or 6 points this weekend to have any chance at all (reminder: NCHC regular season games go to a 3×3 OT and then if necessary a shootout if the game is still tied after regulation and a 5 minute 5×5 OT; 3 points in the NCHC are given for a regulation or 5×5 OT win, 2 points are given for a win in the 3×3 OT or shootout, and 1 point is given for a loss in the 3×3 OT or a loss in the shootout).

So if UMD earns 5 points in the standings, Denver must lose each game in regulation or within the 5×5 OT.

If UMD earns 6 points in the standings, it only wins the regular season title if Denver earns less than 3 points this weekend. The most interesting scenario would be as follows:

– UMD earns a 6 point sweep, while Denver earns only 2 points (say, a shootout win combined with a regulation loss). In that scenario, each team finishes with 55 points. The first tiebreaker in this scenario — head-to-head record — does not apply here because it only applies when the teams have played a balanced home-and-away schedule (in this case, Denver only placed UMD at home, and they split the weekend series). The second tiebreaker is regular season NCHC regulation + OT wins, and the teams would be tied here (16 apiece).

The next tiebreaker comes back to head-to-head, which again was 1-1, so we go to the fourth tiebreaker: comparison of goals scored. In the weekend series, UMD outscored Denver 6-5, so the Bulldogs would win the Penrose and be the No. 1 seed in the NCHC tourney as a result. The 6th goal for UMD that weekend was an empty-netter at the end of the Saturday night game.

Fun to talk about these things, but the reality is that Denver — the No. 1 team in the Pairwise — is clearly in the driver’s seat heading into the final NCHC regular season.

Home Ice

Denver and UMD will be the top two seeds in the NCHC tournament, and Western Michigan is locked in to No. 3. North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha, and St. Cloud State, meanwhile, are all in the hunt for the No. 4 seed — and therefore the final home-ice spot for the NCHC quarterfinals next weekend. The three teams are currently separated by a single point, and it’s certainly possible that the tiebreakers above will come into play.

On paper, St. Cloud State may have the “easiest” schedule with a home series vs Colorado College, but the Huskies have also lost three of their last five.

North Dakota heads to Miami. The Fighting Hawks and Red Hawks split a weekend series in Grand Forks, N.D, earlier this season.

Points and Goals

A look at the players in the hunt heading into the final weekend, courtesy of collegehockeystats.net

Point Scoring GP PPG G-A-P
1 Austin Ortega Omaha SR F 21 1.29 9-18-27
Alex Iafallo Minnesota Duluth SR W 22 1.23 10-17-27
3 Anthony Louis Miami SR F 22 1.18 8-18-26
4 Dylan Gambrell Denver SO F 22 1.09 10-14-24
5 Mikey Eyssimont St. Cloud State SO F 22 1.00 11-11-22
Kiefer Sherwood Miami SO F 22 1.00 7-15-22
Will Butcher Denver SR D 22 1.00 3-19-22

Ortega and Iafallo have both been on fire lately, but Iafallo may have the edge this weekend, only because — despite Ortega’s 7 points in his last 3 games — UNO has to face the top goaltender in the conference, the stingy Tanner Jaillet.

And not even on this list is Shane Gersich, who’s got the pole position for the goal-scoring title. The UND sophomore has 14 goals this season, two more than second-place Matheson Iacopelli (WMU).

Finally, among defensemen and rookies, respectively:

Defenseman Scoring GP PPG G-A-P
1 Will Butcher Denver SR D 22 1.00 3-19-22
2 Luc Snuggerud Omaha JR D 22 0.95 9-12-21
3 Neal Pionk Minnesota Duluth SO D 22 0.82 4-14-18

 

Freshman Scoring GP PPG G-A-P
1 Joey Anderson Minnesota Duluth F 21 0.76 7- 9-16
2 Henrik Borgström Denver F 18 0.83 8- 7-15
3 Tyson Jost North Dakota F 16 0.88 6- 8-14

NCHC: More on WMU goaltender Ben Blacker

Friday, January 27th, 2017

Western Michigan freshman Ben Blacker has emerged as the starter for Andy Murray’s Broncos, following a recent run that seemed to start with an early December win at North Dakota. In that game, Blacker made 21 saves in the third period alone, and aside from an anomalous outing at Denver in mid-January, he’s been stellar for WMU — 8-1-0 this season, and has helped propel the Broncos to the No. 5 position in the Pairwise.

I spoke with Blacker on Wednesday, and you can read the full story here.

Not included in the feature was our conversation about his transition to college hockey. As a freshman, he’s had plenty to adjust to, including the college game itself. Before starting his college career, Blacker played two seasons in the USHL with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. In the 2015-16 season, he led the USHL in wins with 33.

“The pace is a lot faster, guys are a lot bigger, shots come a lot faster,” said Blacker of NCAA play. “You learn your game through practice. That’s what coach stresses a lot with your team — that you get better every day. And that comes in practice and off the ice.”

Blacker has matured quickly in all aspects. He’s one of four goaltenders on the roster and is by far the youngest, with a 1997 birthday (the other three, including senior Collin Olson, who was a 2012 NHL draft pick, were born in ’94).

“We all have a pretty good relationship, and we push each other,” Blacker said. “We make each other better. Having that kind of support, and the competition between us, I think that’s making the team better.”
Blacker and Western Michigan begin a two game series at Miami tonight. Blacker will match up against Miami goaltender Ryan Larkin, a former teammate of his with the RoughRiders.

NCHC: In Case You Need More Troy Terry

Monday, January 9th, 2017

The Denver Pioneers welcomed back forward Troy Terry on Saturday, just 48 hours after his shootout goal against Canada propelled Team USA to a memorable gold medal win at the World Junior Championships. You can ready all about the homecoming — and his now famous ‘5-hole’ shootout strategy — here.

But another layer to Terry’s story this week was his palpable humility. After Saturday’s 6-1 win by the Pioneers vs. Arizona State — Terry had 2 goals, 3 assists — the 19-year old sophomore fielded question after question about his week. First beating Russia. Then Canada. Then the social media attention from celebrities and professional athletes.

Clearly grateful, he seemed to catch himself often, making sure to deflect some of the attention.

“It was really amazing,” said Terry of his whirlwind week. “I get a lot of attention for the shootouts, and some people only remember that, but we played such a good team game in both of those.”
As for the possibility of buying a ‘Five Hole Terry’ t-shirt?
“I know a lot of the guys have ordered them already,” said Terry, shaking his head seemingly in both disbelief and embarrassment. “I don’t know. It would be cool to have one I guess, but I don’t think you’ll see me wearing it around.”
What we will see, going forward it seems, is Terry returning to wearing his familiar No. 19 Denver jersey (he donned the No. 20 at the WJC). Alongside him will be No. 7, Dylan Gambrell, and No. 5, Henrik Borgstrom — the Pioneers’ only three forwards on the roster drafted by the NHL, loaded up on the top line. Borgstrom was a first-round pick of the Florida Panthers last summer, and like Terry, scored two goals on Saturday.
“That’s the plan moving forward,” revealed head coach Jim Montgomery after the game. “Let’s see how effective they can be and how much they can grow.”
They created havoc in the Sun Devils defensive zone on Saturday, possessing the puck for long stretches and punishing Arizona State with dizzying passing plays.
Continued Montgomery, “We hope they can stay together. Obviously, other teams are going to load up and play their best checking line and two best defensemen against them. But when you do have skill like that, it’s kind of like our top line last year, they found ways to make plays no matter who they played against.”
Denver heads on a four game road stretch now — at Western Michigan this weekend, and then next weekend at St. Cloud State, where Troy Terry will reunite with his Team USA coach, Bob Motzko.
Check CHN tomorrow for a full feature on Motzko.

Denver ‘Relentless’ Last Night vs. No. 1 UMD

Saturday, December 10th, 2016

Last night’s showdown in Denver between the DU Pioneers and Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs was the obvious highlight of the night’s college hockey schedule, and it certainly lived up to expectations. It was a wild showdown between the top team in the Pairwise Rankings (UMD) and No. 3 Denver, but more importantly, a showdown between two teams who expect to be playing in Chicago this April.

And appropriately, the game felt like a Frozen Four matchup, a fiery contest that followed a week of, at times, sub-zero temperatures in the Mile High City. Denver overcame a first goal deficit for the fifth time in less than a month, extended its unbeaten streak to 15 games (12-0-3), and held off the Bulldogs in a chaotic final minute to secure a 4-3 win.

After the game, Denver coach Jim Montgomery used the word ‘relentless’ repeatedly in describing his team’s performance.

Said Montgomery, “If you look at the success we have had here, it’s always because of our relentless pursuit of pucks and getting on the right side — continuing to go at people, forcing people to make tough decision with pressure on top of them.”

That’s precisely what Denver did, particularly during a five minute span in the second period, when the score turned from 1-0 in favor of UMD to 3-1 in favor of the Pioneers. It started with freshman Kevin Conley gaining inside position in the crease on UMD senior Dan Molenaar — collecting a Colin Staub pass to score his first career goal — and it ended with a Dylan Gambrell no-look pass from behind the net to Troy Terry, who converted a dizzying backhand shot in front of UMD netminder Hunter Miska, sending the Magness Arena crowd into a frenzy.

Terry also had two assists in the game and is now tied with standout defenseman Will Butcher for the team lead in points.

And Conley’s important contribution was, yes, ‘relentless’. And a reward for Montgomery’s ‘process.’

“He’s one of those freshmen who hasn’t been rewarded for all the chances he’s had,” said Montgomery. “It’s hard when you don’t score goals to keep believing in the process, but he played relentless hockey tonight.”

The reality is that offensive players — on any team — get most of the attention and certainly most of the accolades. But watch any Denver game, and it’s clear that the most ‘relentless’ aspect is its defense. Five of the six blueliners in the lineup last night have played in all 17 games this season. The other, sophomore Blake Hillman, has played in 16. It was Hillman’s turnover in the first period while exiting the defensive zone that led to UMD’s Alex Iaffalo opening the scoring.

“It was really hard for me to bite my lip when he came back to the bench,” said Montgomery of Hillman. “I just went up to him and said, ‘Look, he’s the first forechecker. Even if you get by him, there are still four more guys to go through. Let’s put it behind him and let our forwards work.'”

And that’s what the Pioneers did for the rest of the game. Relentlessly.

“That’s a hard team to gain offensive opportunities against because of they way they skate, the way they check, and their relentless pursuit of pucks,” said Montgomery. “A lot of players are gaining confidence, and we’re going to continue to get better throughout the year.”

The teams face off again tonight, as Denver looks to extend its unbeaten streak to 16 games. Check CHN this week for a full feature on the critical weekend series.

More on North Dakota (CHN Team of the Week)

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

Four of the first seven CHN ‘Teams of the Week’ this season have been NCHC squads (first Denver, then St. Cloud State, then Minnesota-Duluth, and now North Dakota). You can read the full story about North Dakota’s back-to-back shutouts of St. Cloud State here.

I spoke to UND goaltender Cam Johnson on Tuesday evening. Johnson returned to form with a 62-save performance during the weekend, and the NCHC Goaltender of the Week propelled North Dakota to its first sweep at St. Cloud since 1998.

The performances helped quell some of the anxiety surrounding the Fighting Hawks’ six game winless streak heading into the weekend, especially with the pressure of trying to meet the highest of standards set by the 2015-16 national champions.

“We have a way different team than last year,” said a candid Johnson. “The standard people hold us to, which is tough, is that they expect us to be as great as we were last year. I think we have a really good team this year, but we have a much different recipe.”

That’s indisputable. Last season’s team was fueled by a series of dramatic Frozen Four losses and was led by a dominant top line of Drake Caggiula, Nick Schmaltz, and Brock Boeser. Caggiula debuted for the Edmonton Oilers last week, while Schmaltz has played in all 21 Chicago Blackhawks games this season. That left Boeser — now a sophomore — behind, and if this past weekend’s performance is any indication, players like Shane Gersich and Austin Poganski are helping shoulder the burden offensively.

Gersich, after a hat-trick on Friday, leads UND in scoring with 10 goals and 8 assists.

The last meeting between St. Cloud and North Dakota at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center was a 6-1 Huskies win last season — a game in which Johnson allowed three goals on 13 shots.

So the redemption, understandably, felt good.

“It felt unbelievable,” he said. “Especially because St. Cloud is a really quality opponent. They’re a team the last few years that we’ve had wars with. Obviously to get back-to-back shutouts, I don’t think that’s been done in their building, so that’s a pretty cool accomplishment. It was huge for our group.”
Indeed, after outscoring St. Cloud 7-0 over the course of the weekend, North Dakota became the first team to shut out the Huskies on consecutive nights in the history of the National Hockey Center, which opened in 1989.
In the big picture, though, the wins — to Johnson — were meaningful for what they represent for the Fighting Hawks going forward.
“It’s something that helps our group,” said the junior. “It fuels us to continue to get better and not get complacent. Day in and day out, it’s going to be a battle, and we’re going to see every team’s best every weekend.”

More on Minnesota-Duluth (CHN Team of the Week)

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

First Denver, then St. Cloud State, and now Minnesota-Duluth — the third consecutive NCHC team to be named CHN Team of the Week (check out the full story here).

UMD was dominant on special teams, scoring three power play goals and two shorthanded goals during the weekend sweep of the defending national champions, North Dakota. In Saturday’s 3-0 shutout in particular, the Bulldogs were dizzying to watch (just check out the beautifully worked shorthanded goal by Kyle Osterberg with less than a minute to play in the period, as an example).

I spoke with UMD senior Alex Iafallo yesterday, who played a big role in UMD’s weekend sweep — the first time North Dakota had been swept in a weekend series since St. Cloud State pulled off the feat in November 2013.

Iafallo, the NCHC Offensive Player of the Week, scored his first career hat-trick in Friday’s 5-2 win and added an assist in each game as well. The senior from Eden, N.Y., has been remarkably consistent through his career in Duluth — scoring 22 points as a freshman, 25 as a sophomore, and 23 as a junior.

He already has nine points — through eight games — this season, his senior campaign. Yesterday, he spoke about his outlook for the season, both from an on-ice production standpoint, as well as leadership.

“I just kind of want to keep the path going,” said Iafallo. “I want us to play as good as we can every night. It’s not all about points, but I have to do my role, and make sure I’m ready every night — whether it’s a 200-foot game, or scoring goals. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready.”

Many think of UMD as the nation’s top team now, and the Bulldogs certainly won’t be overlooked the rest of the way — trying to make their third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

And perhaps it’s never too early to play with a tournament mindset.

Continued Iafallo, “From the team aspect, we want to play every game like it’s our last. That’s how I’m approaching this season leadership-wise and make sure everyone’s working hard, on and off the ice.”

Clearly, Iafallo is a player to watch for the rest of the season — a key component to what is shaping up to be a well-balanced offensive attack for UMD.

 

NCHC: More on St. Cloud State (CHN Team of the Week)

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

As you can see on the front page, St. Cloud State is CHN’s Team of the Week. I had the opportunity to speak with sophomore Mikey Eyssimont yesterday about the Huskies’ weekend sweep of Minnesota — featuring back-to-back dramatic comebacks.

Eyssimont, an LA Kings draft pick, played a big role in each win. Friday, he scored a power play goal to cut Minnesota’s lead to 5-4 with six minutes to play (St. Cloud went on to win, 6-5, in OT), and on Saturday, he picked the top corner over Minnesota goaltender Eric Schierhorn’s left shoulder with a pinpoint wrist shot in the third period — the eventual game-winning goal.

You can read more about the comeback wins in the link above, but I also talked to Eyssimont about St. Cloud’s power play, which proved to be a spark plug for the weekend sweep. The Huskies went 3-for-6 on Friday night (not including the game-tying extra-attacker goal with 73 seconds left in regulation), and Eyssimont’s Saturday night snipe came on the man-advantage as well.

Said Eyssimont, “It’s really important for us. We have a lot of work to do on our penalty killing, but our power play was a good sign. [This weekend vs. Alabama-Huntsville], we’re going to try and keep our power play dialed in, and improve our penalty kill.”

The weekend sweep also gave St. Cloud fans some optimism, after losing so much to graduation and early departures in the offseason.

“It’s a totally new team this year,” Eyssimont acknowledged. “We lost a ton of scoring, and some really good players. But I think the guys who played with them, they learned a lot. I know I learned a lot from guys like [Kalle] Kossila and [Ethan] Prow.

“But it’s not going to be the same team this year. I don’t think that means we can’t put up seven or eight goals in a game. I think we still have a lot of really good offense. But we’re going to find different ways and different players to make that happen.”

Going forward, look for junior Judd Peterson, sophomore Jacob Benson, and freshman Jake Wahlin (who scored Friday night’s sudden-death game-winner), to join Eyssimont in providing much of the scoring this season.

NCHC Saturday March 12: Three Things

Saturday, March 12th, 2016

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.

The first night of the NCHC playoffs is in the books, and the home team emerged victorious in each of the quarterfinals: North Dakota (7-1 over Colorado College), St. Cloud State (4-3 over Western Michigan in OT), Denver (5-2 over Nebraska-Omaha), and Minnesota-Duluth (a come-from-behind 5-4 win over Miami). Game 2 of each series begins in a few hours, with the season on the line for all four road teams.

1. Montgomery and Blais post-game

Denver jumped out to a 3-0 lead with three early second period goals in a span of 2:22, but UNO controlled play for most of the final 30 minutes of the game, cutting the lead to 3-2 before a Danton Heinen shorthanded goal ended the Mavericks’ comeback bid.

On the goal that effectively put the game away, Heinen raced down the left wing and fired a shot over junior Kirk Thompson’s shoulder.

“‘Thank God he’s on our team,'” said DU coach Jim Montgomery. “That’s what I said when he let that shot go.”

Indeed, the 5-2 game one win was relief for Montgomery and the Pioneers, who despite the win (their 10th straight), were not content whatsoever with a lethargic performance.

Continued Montgomery, “I thought UNO was the better team. I thought we played a little nervous in the first. As the game wore on, we continued to make a lot of mental mistakes. We weren’t playing with good place. I thought our team was a little lethargic.

“We iced pucks on breakouts when guys were open. I couldn’t hear our team talking on the ice, and when we’re not communicating, you’re going to have icings and you’re going to have three-on-twos, and two-on-ones, and guys don’t know it.”

The Mavericks, meanwhile, have now lost seven straight and 11 of their last 14. But Dean Blais was encouraged by the performance of his team.

“We haven’t quit all year. We’ve lost five straight to Denver, and really, I thought our team played hard tonight, and that’s all I can ask for.”

2. Belpedio: the good and the bad

For a while, it looked like Miami would be the one road team in the league to leave Friday night with a win, but a 4-2 RedHawk lead in the third period turned dramatically into a 5-4 UMD win.

Miami sophomore defenseman Louie Belpedio scored to put Miami ahead 4-2, showing how dangerous he can be on the power play. But the third period didn’t go as well for the Skokie, Ill., native. On UMD’s goal that cut the lead to 4-3, Bulldog freshman Adam Johnson faked out Belpedio on a rush through the neutral zone, turning Belpedio around to create some space for his shot that sailed over Miami goaltender Jay Williams. Just over a minute later,  on Carson Soucy’s game-winner, Belpedio struggled to locate the puck on an Austin Farley rush into the offensive zone, and Soucy collected the loose puck to score.

Belpedio made national headlines for his valiant diving save of a Providence empty-net goal bid in the NCAA tournament last year, and if Miami is to have a shot at returning to the tourney, the RedHawks must win in Duluth tonight. Miami is winless in five meetings against UMD this season.

3. The bounces

UND’s 7-1 win over CC, considering it was a one-goal game with four minutes to play in the second period, doesn’t necessarily reflect the Tigers’ effort for the first 40 minutes, prior to UND taking control of the game with superior special teams play. In the first period, Drake Caggiula impressively remained onside while trying to collect the puck out of his own skates at the blueline, setting up Nick Schmaltz for the eventual game-winner. The goal came with 22 seconds left in the first — an unfortunate bounce for CC that created a lead too large for its struggling offense to overcome. Caggiula, meanwhile, continues to create magical plays, and has exceeded the 40 point mark for the first time in his illustrious four year career in Grand Forks.

Elsewhere, St. Cloud created an opportunity for its own bounces, in overtime against the Broncos. The Huskies appeared to be a different team in the OT period, outworking Western Michigan and creating a goal thanks to freshman Patrick Newell’s heads-up play in OT. Newell recognized the need for traffic in front of goaltender Lukas Hafner and then managed to bat the puck out of the air (seemingly twice) to score the sudden-death game-winner. It was Newell’s first goal since January 22, a fitting big-time moment for a St. Cloud team that has relied on its upperclassmen all season — and a sign, perhaps, that something special is coming for Bob Motzko’s team.

NCHC Saturday March 5: Three Things

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

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.