College Hockey’s most dominant conference has controlled many top spots in the national polls this year. Let’s take a look at the current standings of the teams. Also, I’m including the Arizona State Sun Devils at the end in a separate preview slot. They previously applied for admission to the NCHC to no avail, and their performance this season has given reason to welcome them in the future.
8. Colorado College Tigers (7-9-2, 2-5-1)
What expected to be a climb to the top of the standings has become another grind in Colorado Springs. Mike Haviland has a quality goalie to lean on named Alex Leclerc, who’s capable of high-quality game stealing. However, he only lifts the Tigers to the exact middle of the pack in terms of goals allowed. On the offensive end, CC is in the sport’s upper half. They just have the misfortune of a brutal schedule thanks to playing in the NCHC. They certainly can make noise, but Westin Michaud, Trey Bradley, and Trevor Gooch will have to raise their performance another step to be considered an elite program.
7. Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (4-10-2, 2-5-1)
The only D1 collegiate team in the corn husker state has disappointed this season. Omaha is in the nation’s top half of scoring with Mason Morelli among the NCHC’s leading scorers. Fredrik Olofsson brings more punch, but the Mavericks need a defensive improvement to rise up the standings. The Mavericks are the second-worst defensive team in the nation this season. Even a middling defense would have UNO at least at .500. But Evan Weninger and Matej Tomek both hat save percentages under .885. Improvement on the defensive end will get Omaha higher in the standings. As is, they’re destined for the NCHC’s basement in spite of strong offensive talent.
6. North Dakota Fighting Hawks (9-7-1, 3-5-0)
Perhaps the premier college program, playing in the sport’s best building, has hit several snags on the way back to the NCAA Tournament. North Dakota opened cold against Bemidji State and Mankato, and have been alternating wins and losses since. They’re a top-20 defensive team, but Adam Scheel is a goalie who can be gotten to. Offensively, UND currently sits 40th in the nation. Jordan Kawaguchi is the team’s leading scorer with only 11 points. Rhett Gardiner is having a strong goal scoring season with 8 goals, but he’s got more offensive game to give. As do Grant Mishmash and Colton Poolman. North Dakota has talent, as always, but needs to piece together their lines to score more goals.
5. Miami RedHawks (9-6-3, 3-3-2)
The Brotherhood performed well early in the season, but tapered off near before Christmas hit. The Redhawks tied and lost to New Hampshire before drawing with St. Cloud over two games to stay just a notch below 10 wins. Miami ranks right about the middle of the pack in goals scored per game, and rides Josh Melnick and Gordie Green to wins up front. Ryan Larkin is an excellent goaltender who has backed up his defense well, but in the stacked NCHC, his blue line must give him more help if the Redhawks are to make it back to the Big Dance.
4. Denver Pioneers (10-4-2, 4-4-0)
Alex Carle has succeeded Jim Montgomery beautifully in his first year as a collegiate head coach. The Pioneers, still boasting National Championship and NCHC Championship experience, are poised to take another run at the title. Veteran Jarid Lukosavecious and freshman Emilio Petterson are tied for the team lead in points pn the 11th best scoring team nationally. DU lost Richter Award winner Tanner Jaillet to graduation, but Devin Cooley has been superb, posting the nation’s 8th best save percentage. A few more wins in conference will assure Denver of a return-trip to the NCAA Tournament.
3. Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (10-4-2, 4-3-1)
The reigning National Champions have dominated the sport, as was expected. The entire blue line returns and has impressed, as expected. In particular, Scott Perunovich has been a dominant defenseman. The second round, St. Louis Blues draft choice is only three points back of the national lead for assists and has helped the Bulldogs to the 4th best Goals Allowed Average. Nick Wolfe and Mikey Anderson have also impressed in the D Corps, while Riley Tufte, Parker MacKay and Peter Krieger have continued the physical style from the forwards that led to a National Crown. Scott Sandelin will go to help the US World Junior team and return to a team with legitimate chances to be the first repeat National Champions in almost 15 years. A bit more offensive production would help, the team only has four double-digit scorers, but the Bulldogs still have the pieces to reach the Tournament and make noise again.
2. Western Michigan Broncos (9-6-1, 4-3-1)
The Lawson Lunatics have the most pleasant surprise in the NCHC to cheer for. Western Michigan regressed last season after making the 2017 NCHC Frozen Frozen Faceoff and the NCAA Tournament. Trevor Gorsuch has been excellent in net this season, ranked 14th nationally with a .927 save percentage. Beyond him, the Broncos ride Joe Passolt, Colt Conrad, and Hugh McGing into the nation’s 8th best offense. Some defensive execution while keeping the offense on rhythm will see the boys from Kalamazoo return to the Big Dance behind Andy Murray. There’s not much room for error in this conference, though.
1. St. Cloud State Huskies (13-1-2, 6-0-2)
St. Cloud entered with big expectations after a disappointing end to last season. The Huskies were upended in both the NCHC Championship game by Denver and the NCAA Tournament’s opening round by Air Force last season. This year, St. Cloud has dominated the sport with only one loss, coming against Northeastern before Halloween. Since then, the only team to get so much as a point off the Huskies was Miami around Thanksgiving. Otherwise, Brett Larson’s first year on the job has been perfect. St. Cloud is the nation’s second-best offensive team behind Ryan Poehling, Patrick Newell, and Nolan Walker. They’re also the nation’s third-best defensive outfit in terms of goals allowed and have surrendered the fewest goals this year behind a great goalie tandem of Jeff Smith and David Hrenak. Jimmy Schuldt and Jack Achan anchor one of the best blue lines in the nation as well. Until further notice, St. Cloud is the best team in the nation and not just a favorite to reach the Frozen Four, but a favorite to win it all.
Arizona State Sun Devils (14-7-1)
Every so often, a miracle happens that must be paid attention. This year, the newest program is that miracle. Arizona State is playing the bulk of their home games in a 700 person local rink, with an independent schedule that few could ever handle, and their closest geographical opponent is almost 800 miles away at Colorado College. Still, the Sun Devils have grabbed headlines and attention for how well they’ve played. Johnny Walker is the nation’s best goal scorer by a big margin and Joey Daccord is an elite goaltender. Admittedly, this team is a bit thin beyond their top gunners, but the Sun Devils are an elite program and team, boasting a new building in the works and a unique place for potential recruits to play their college hockey.