Without further adieu, here’s this week’s power rankings.
With just two weeks left in the NCHC regular season, North Dakota remains in control for the Penrose Cup, up by three points over Miami, but only separated by seven back to fifth place UMD. So your guess is as good as mine as to who is going to hoist the Penrose come the end of next weekend. Also, a sixth NCHC team has clawed their way into the top 16 in pairwise this week, which will factor into my power rankings this week.
1. North Dakota (22-6-3 Pairwise 2 USCHO 1)
After a battle with Western Michigan on the road, last weekend, the six points they were rewarded were well earned. Friday night was a game controlled mostly by UND. Senior Mark MacMillan would open up the scoring for the green and white late in the first period to put UND up 1-0. However, the eventual game winner would be scored by the human highlight reel, Drake Caggiula, just shy of the 13-minute mark in the second.
Troy Stecher was a key factor on the UND blueline, before getting sidelined for two months, would give North Dakota that insurance goal they needed to go up 3-0 in the third period. With just 33 seconds left in the game, Zane McIntyre’s bid for another shutout this season went away when Western Michigan got on the board. Saturday was a much more tightly contested contest that took overtime to solve when the human highlight reel was at it again.
Drake Caggiula got a pass from Nick Mattson and sealed the win with a nice backhand goal. Currently, Caggiula is on a four-game goal scoring streak and scored the game winners in UND’s last two contests. It seems as if the junior out of Pickering, Ontario is finding the peak of his game at the right time.
This weekend, UND has their final home series of the season this weekend against a very tough St. Cloud State team who looks to spoil UND’s Penrose hopes going into the deciding weekend in Miami next week.
2. Miami (19-10-1 Pairwise 4 USCHO 5)
Coming off a battle for the ages against Duluth last weekend, in which they would split and their win coming last Saturday in overtime. Senior Austin Czarnik has taken on the role of Mr. Playmaker this year with 28 of his team-leading 30 points being assists. With five players on the Miami squad sitting above 20 points, and Cody Murphy sitting one point back at 19, this team is dangerous, much like North Dakota, where they score goals by committee and do not have that one go-to guy to score all their goals.
With a trip to Denver this weekend, Miami needs to get at least four points this weekend to make things interesting going into the final weekend against North Dakota, which likely will decide who hoists the Penrose Cup.
3. Denver (18-10-2 Pairwise 7 USCHO 7)
Completing yet another sweep against Colorado College last weekend, the Denver Pioneers have become players again in the race for the NCHC.
With no lack of offense last weekend, scoring six goals in each game, Denver’s defense needs to tighten up just a little bit if they want to make a deep playoff run. Looking back at their last few series, the Pioneers have given up 25 goals in their last seven contests, with a shutout of Colorado College thrown in the mix.
Giving up 3.57 goals per game is not the recipe for playoff success and maybe senior defenseman Joey LaLeggia, who is more known for his offensive skill on the blueline, needs to go back to the roots of his position and lead their defensive core back to shutdown hockey come the next couple weeks.
With Miami rolling into town this weekend, the task doesn’t get any easier for the Pioneers, but it’s the NCHC and anything can happen.
4. UMD (19-12-1 Pairwise 3 USCHO 6)
A split with Miami is something that any team within striking distance can be content with, even though UMD is on the bubble for being in contention for the Penrose Cup.
That being said, they are just sitting one point out for the last home ice playoff spot behind Denver and Omaha, who has fallen off a tad as of late. With their last three conference series being splits, it’s time to do better if they do really want that final home ice spot for the playoffs and the stakes don’t get any higher with Omaha rolling into Amsoil Arena this weekend.
Duluth needs their leaders Alex Iafallo, Tony Cameranesi, and Dominic Toninato to lead an offensive surge this weekend and keep UNO’s Austin Ortega at bay. A final series next weekend against Western Michigan to close out the regular season could be just what this team needs to sneak into the fourth and final home ice slot if they are only able to manage a split with Omaha this weekend.
5. Nebraska-Omaha (17-10-3 Pairwise 8 USCHO 8)
Well, getting swept in St. Cloud is not how head coach Dean Blais pictured his team coming out of last weekend, especially being shutout on Saturday night. 5-5-0 in their last 10 games, the once NCHC leaders find themselves going into a tailspin and falling down the ladder faster and faster. With sophomores Austin Ortega and Jake Guentzel leading the way on offense, they need to get the rest of the team to play follow the leaders with yet another difficult road series in Duluth ahead of them this weekend.
What was once a four-team race for the Penrose Cup, has seemingly become a three team race with the recent deflation of this Mavericks team. One really good thing is that they finish off their regular season against a disappointing Colorado College team at home, which could save them home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
6. St. Cloud State (15-14-1 Pairwise 14 USCHO N/R)
If the NCAA tournament were to start today, St. Cloud would now be the sixth NCHC team inside of the national tournament. A big help of that was their home-ice sweep of Nebraska-Omaha last weekend, including a Saturday night 2-0 shutout over the once first place Mavericks.
The sweep also put the Huskies above the 500 mark for the first time in quite awhile. Ham Lake, Minnesota native Jonny Brodzinski continues to lead this team towards the playoffs and still have a stray glimmer of hope at home ice if they are able to win their final four games of the season, but that will not be an easy task seeing as they are showing up to Grand Forks this weekend to try and keep the crowd at Ralph Engelstad Arena quiet this weekend.
Although the two teams did split when UND made the visit to St. Cloud in November, playing at the Ralph is a much different animal to tame and SCSU knows this. I bet they are wishing they had the UND killing goaltender Ryan Fahrager back for one weekend since he had put up some of the best visiting goalie numbers at the Ralph in quite some time.
One plus side to the weekend for SCSU is that their power play is a very strong one and UND likes to take some penalties. In order to have success this weekend, SCSU needs to capitalize on their power play chances.
7. Western Michigan (12-14-4 Pairwise 24 USCHO N/R)
Western Michigan was in the drivers seat last Saturday night rolling into overtime against North Dakota after tying the game with 30 seconds left in regulation. However, the strength of North Dakota was too much for the Broncos after Drake Caggiula would bury the game-winning goal in overtime and sweeping this Broncos team.
This season has seen some ups and downs, but when the downs outnumber the ups, it is hard to get anything too positive out of this season. Western Michigan is very likely to play the first round of the playoffs on the road this season, but where?
That question is not going to be answered for two more weeks when the regular season finally is over. If I were a betting man, I’d guess they will be playing the two seed, but as I said, right now that could be one of the four teams. The Broncos were able to upset their way to the Frozen Faceoff last season, so it will be interesting to see if they are able to do this again.
8. Colorado College (5-23-1 Pairwise 52 USCHO N/R)
The only team without 10 wins in the NCHC is also the only NCHC team that is outside the top 25 in the Pairwise Rankings as well.
This team knows they will be traveling to whoever is the NCHC regular season champion. I can’t find much new to say about the Tigers without sounding too much like a broken record.
I feel for Tigers fans on this brutal season they are having, but in this tough of a conference and a team this down on their confidence, this is still a team not to be overlooked come playoff time or they may be sending the top seed home early.
1. North Dakota (22-6-3 Pairwise 2 USCHO 1) Last 10: 8-1-1 (.850)
This past weekend, the University of North Dakota swept (3-1 W, 3-2 W O.T.) the Western Michigan Broncos in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
This weekend, UND entertains the St. Cloud State Huskies in Grand Forks. The two teams split in St. Cloud back in November.
According to the NCHC, UND can win the Penrose Cup (either outright or shared) this weekend, but needs at least five points vs. St. Cloud State and help in other conference games.
This past weekend, the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks were swept (3-4 L, 0-2 L) by the St. Cloud State Huskies in St. Cloud.
This weekend, the Mavericks travel to Duluth to take on the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. The two teams split earlier in the season in Omaha.
6. St. Cloud State (15-14-1 Pairwise 14 USCHO N/R) Last 10: 6-4-0 (.600)
This past weekend, the St. Cloud State Huskies swept (4-3 W, 2-0 W) the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks. The two teams split in St. Cloud back in November.
I know it sounds cliché, but this is going to be a hard-fought series.
“They’re a great team,” junior forward Drake Caggiula said. “Maybe their standings don’t show how well they’ve been playing, but they’re definitely a great team. In my three years here, they’ve always given us trouble playing at the Ralph. They’re trying to make their way up the Pairwise Rankings and so are we. It’s going to be a hard-fought series.”
7. Western Michigan (12-14-4 Pairwise 24 USCHO N/R) Last 10: 3-5-2 (.400)
The Broncos are going to finish in seventh place, this we know. This past weekend, the Western Michigan Broncos were swept (1-3 L, 2-3 L O.T.) by top-ranked North Dakota.
This weekend, the Broncos travel to Colorado Springs to take on the last-place Tigers. The Broncos took five-of-six points from the Tigers back in December.
8. Colorado College (5-23-1 Pairwise 52 USCHO N/R) Last 10: 0-10-0 (.000)
First, the Tigers aren’t moving up, they’re going to finish eight. This past weekend, the Colorado College Tigers were swept (4-6 L, 3-6 L) by their cross-state rivals the Denver Pioneers.
This weekend, the Tigers entertain the Western Michigan Broncos in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Broncos took five-of-six points from the Tigers back in December.