Three Things I Think: NCHC, Dec. 9

Posted by: Avash Kalra

North Dakota (a weekend sweep of Lake Superior State) and Denver (a split with Cornell) added to the NCHC’s nonconference success this year. The NCHC is 36-17-2 against non-conference opponents, and that .673 winning percentage leads all Division I conferences.

Each team (yes, even Colorado College and Western Michigan) has at least three non-conference wins this season.

Czarnik’s assist

For the first three seasons of his Miami career, Austin Czarnik’s assist totals have outweighed his goal totals by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, but still, the senior forward is more than an accomplished goal-scorer, with three consecutive double-digit goal seasons entering this winter. This season, Miami has been rolling behind a well-balanced offense that hasn’t needed Czarnik to score goals, but he’s been more than valuable with 17 assists, leading the nation, and allowing his teammates to find success on an almost nightly basis. Still, as the senior skated in towards an empty net late on Friday night, with the RedHawks already up 7-2 over Nebraska-Omaha, most watching might have anticipated that Czarnik would slide the puck into the net for the first goal of his senior season. But that’s not what happened at all. The Washington, Mich., native and NHL free agent instead passed (as he has many times this year) on the opportunity, for his 16th assist of the season, allowing junior defenseman Michael Mooney to score the first goal of his career. Mooney was clearly thrilled, and it’s that kind of gesture by Czarnik, Miami’s captain, that reflects the way coach Enrico Blasi has his team playing this year. Blasi has long talked of Miami’s concept of the brotherhood, and its manifestations on and off the ice. Czarnik has seemed to represent that more than ever over the past few weeks and has Miami in position for a successful spring sprint to the playoffs.

Poolman stepping up

Speaking of players buying into a team concept, North Dakota freshman defenseman Tucker Poolman was called upon to move up to forward on Friday night, while UND found itself trailing against Lake Superior in Grand Forks. North Dakota had lost two forwards, including National Player of the Month Drake Caggiula to injury early in the game, creating the opportunity for Poolman, who then scored two power play goals late in the 2nd as UND engineered a comeback. Poolman’s second goal tied the game 4-4, after UND had trailed 4-1 just 10 minutes earlier. UND coach Dave Hakstol was able to use the strengths of his team to his advantage, rearranging the lineup to allow for the comeback. And Poolman, the physically imposing rookie who has shown strong offensive instincts all season, made those decisions look even better. It showed impressive versatility for a freshman, reflecting — like Miami — the depth of North Dakota this season.

Rough stretch for CC

It’s hard not to feel for Colorado College, winless in seven NCHC league games and 3-10-0 overall. A rough fall schedule hasn’t helped matters much, as the Tigers are in the midst of the most grueling road stretch of any team in the country, having to play 10 of 11 games on the road. Their one home game in that stretch, against Wisconsin on the Friday night before Thanksgiving, was CC’s only win since the season’s first weekend (a sweep of Alabama-Huntsville, also in Colorado Springs). Still, at the end of the day, there are minimal expectations here, despite preseason insistence to the contrary from head coach and former Stanley Cup winner Mike Haviland, and any reason for optimism lies in the fact that all the lessons learned from this stretch — the need to be much more resilient defensively, the need to play even stronger on the shifts after scoring goals — could pay off later in the season. From mid-January to the end of February, CC will play 10 of 13 games at home, including at one point nine straight games in the state of Colorado. Even at that point, it’ll be a tough task for the Tigers to take points away from a strong league top to bottom this season, but they’ll be better prepared to do it.

Coming soon: I’ll be at Magness Arena for North Dakota’s trip to Denver this weekend. Check CHN next week for features on both teams.

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