Welcome to the Inside Hockey Power Rankings. Taylor Seibel and I return for another season. Three of us will be doing the weekly NCHC Power Rankings column.
This season, we’re adding Zach Hawkins to the mix, you can follow him at @Siouxhockey33. Hawkins is the Minnesota Wild and college hockey blogger for Inside Hockey. If you’re not familiar with Taylor Seibel you can follow him on twitter at @taylorSeibel. Seibel was a college hockey blogger for the now defunct The Hockey Writers-Combine.
Wins don’t come easy in the NCHC. Every series is a grind. Every game is an all-out war.
“There’s a lot of good teams in the NCHC, that’s obvious,” UND head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I am not talking about the polls or anything else like that. I think there are a lot of real good teams in our league. It makes those non-conference results so important to each of us individually. Because it’s hard to get wins in the league. It’s also very important collectively because he help each other by being successful as a league in non-conference (play).”
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1. North Dakota
Overall Record: 10-3-2
Conference Record: 5-2-1-0
Pairwise Ranking: 8*
North Dakota just normally doesn’t start like this. For the first time in Dave Hakstol’s career, the Sioux have won 10 games heading into December. North Dakota has had their struggles, and has dealt with injuries early on in the season, but are still putting up victories. While other teams may have more high end talent, arguably no other team in the country, let alone this conference, is a more complete team. For that reason, coupled with their strong start, I have North Dakota as the top team in the NCHC.
Overall Record: 10-4-0
Conference Record: 6-2-0-0
Pairwise Ranking: 5
The RedHawks lead the NCHC standings early on in the season, thanks largely in part to sweeps of both Colorado College and Western Michigan. Miami also split with North Dakota up in Grand Forks, and split with UMD up in Duluth. They have a strong argument for getting the nod for the top spot in these rankings, and may have the most high end talent in the conference. However, Miami still has question marks between the pipes, and the RedHawks still have had a few too many defensive let downs that have cost them games. That being said, Miami is certainly going to contend for the NCHC Title this season…far from the last place finish they put up in the inaugural season of the NCHC.
3. Minnesota Duluth
Overall Record: 9-5-0
Conference Record: 5-3-0-0
Pairwise Ranking: 3
The Bulldogs started the season 3-4, including losses to Minnesota, Minnesota State, and Denver. Following that start, Duluth responded with six straight victories, including sweeps of Minnesota and St. Cloud State. UMD relies heavily on their goaltending and defense, but they have a great group of young forwards that can cause havoc in the offensive zone. Scott Sandelin’s group have yet to play a team not ranked at least as high as 13th in the national polls, making their strong start even more impressive.
4. Nebraska Omaha
Overall Record: 7-3-2
Conference Record: 3-2-1-1
Pairwise Ranking: 4
The Mavericks had a strong showing this weekend up in Grand Forks, taking 2 of the 6 points available against North Dakota, and truly controlling play for significant portions of time. Dean Blais’ squad has surprised many with how strong Omaha has started this season given how many freshmen are on the squad. UNO relies heavily on Ryan Massa in net and a strong defensive corps to keep the puck out of their own net. So long as that combination continues, the Mavericks will be difficult to beat, and difficult to move out of the top 4 of these rankings.
5. St. Cloud State
Overall Record: 6-7-1
Conference Record: 2-3-1-0
Pairwise Ranking: 21
The Huskies have faced a tremendously difficult schedule early on in the 2014-2015 campaign. They have split with Colgate, Union, Minnesota, and Bemidji State in non-conference action. SCSU also split with North Dakota at home in NCHC play to go along with a 4 point weekend against Western Michigan. The low point of the season was getting swept at home by Minnesota Duluth. Despite their struggles, I believe that St. Cloud will rebound and be strong in conference play.
Overall Record: 8-3-0
Conference Record: 3-2-0-0
Pairwise Ranking: T-12
The Pioneers would currently be on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, but don’t crack the top half of my NCHC rankings. Denver has been solid early on this season, capturing big wins over Boston College, conference foe Minnesota Duluth, and a sweep of RPI. However, Denver also dropped a home game against Western (and could very well have been swept if not for a huge comeback in the Friday matchup). Given how strong the NCHC is this season, I see Denver as being at the bottom of a very talented top 6. Of course, DU could still make the NCAA Tournament even if they finish sixth.
7. Western Michigan
Overall Record: 5-8-1
Conference Record: 1-6-1-1
Pairwise Ranking: T-33
The Broncos dominated Ohio State and defending National Champion Union this past weekend in the Shillelagh Tournament. However, Western Michigan has struggled in conference play, only picking up 1 regulation win (against Denver). In another conference the Broncos might challenge for the middle of the pack, but this season in the NCHC is going to be a struggle for everyone.
8. Colorado College
Overall Record: 3-8-0
Conference Record: 0-5-0-0
Pairwise Ranking: T-51
The Tigers have struggled in conference play early on this season, dropping all five of their NCHC contests. Colorado College has fared slightly better in non-conference action, but still have to be considered the weakest team in the league at this point of the season. CC is only scoring 1 goal/game in conference play, and are allowing over 5. This could be a really rough season for the Tiger faithful down in Colorado Springs.
* I am using the Pairwise Rankings for 11/30/2014 as found on Siouxsports.com
1. North Dakota.
UND is still finding ways to win, even without freshman standout Nick Schmaltz. They now will have to overcome more key injuries to senior Brendan O’Donnell and junior Bryn Chyzyk. This team has a lot of talent and has overcome significant injuries in the past under coach Hakstol. Just look at 2011-2012. They probably should have missed the tourney, but won the WCHA tournament and made it to the West Regional Final.
The Bulldogs have impressed me this young season and their recent six game unbeaten streak was no joke. They swept two top 20 teams in the process, St Cloud at 16, and then number one Minnesota. The Dogs have a break until after the Thanksgiving holiday, but look for them to be a Penrose contender come seasons end.
The NCHC leader as of right now has looked like everyone thought they would have last season. With only two conference losses, Miami also looks like they could be a Penrose contender this season, making the NCHC look like the power conference inside the NCAA. With senior Austin Czarnik leading the way for the Red Hawks, look for Miami to stay near the top of the NCHC all season.
Dean Blais has done a fine job in Omaha, and this may be a tad low, but any one of this top five can be interchanged on any given day. At 7-2-1 this season, the Mavericks look to find themselves back in the Penrose hunt and looking to make the NCHC Frozen Face-Off for the very first time.
After an average season last year, the Pioneers find themselves back to their winning ways. Ranked 11 in the most recent USCHO poll, they make themselves almost the fourth NCHC team ranked in the top 10 and are looking to defend their NCHC tournament title come March.
6. St. Cloud State
The Huskies have struggled early, but looked very good in their Friday game against North Dakota. With one of the most lethal power plays in the NCAA, SCSU looks to rely on the power play a tad much to lead to their success. Two of the three goals came on the power play in their 3-1 victory over North Dakota and otherwise looked average at even strength. Key to beat the Huskies, don’t take penalties.
7. Western Michigan
The Broncos, with coach Andy Murray, lucked out to make the NCHC Frozen Face-off last season and played spoiler to North Dakota’s Penrose hopes last year as well. This year they are having trouble finding ways to win games, with only three victories on the season. Things need to turn around now if the Broncos want to have a shot at the tournament, let alone a return trip to the NCHC Frozen Face-off.
8. Colorado College
The Tigers hold the same overall record as Western Michigan, minus one tie (8-3-0) and have no victories in conference play as of yet. Top defensive talent, Jacob Slavin won’t hang around long if the Tigers can’t find a way to win games, and win games fast. They also lost recently 8-1 to inter conference rival and in state rival, Denver, 8-1 in an effort they surely would like to forget, and fast.
Note – I don’t think there’s a lot of difference between first and fifth. For the most part, those teams are pretty even.
1. North Dakota – (10-3-2, 5-2-1 NCHC)
The University of North Dakota is traditionally a second half team. During head coach Dave Hakstol’s tenure, his teams have been slow out of the gate to start the season. This year, UND has won 10 games before December for the first time since the 2001-02 season. That was Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise’s freshman season.
In the early going, UND has had injury trouble. UND is currently without forwards Bryn Chyzyk and Brendan O’Donnell. UND has incredible depth and has been able to play through the injuries without missing a beat.
The forward line of Drake Caggiula (7g-13a—20pts), Mark MacMillan (7g-6a—13pts) and Michael Parks (5g-11a—16pts) are one of the top scoring lines in the country.
UND also has one of the top defensive units in the country and is second overall in scoring by defenseman.
2. Minnesota-Duluth – (9-5-0, 5-3-0 NCHC)
Before their bye week, the Bulldogs were one of the hottest teams in the country. The Bulldogs have won five-of-six games and have series sweeps over the Minnesota Gophers and the St. Cloud State Huskies. The power rankings are a snap shot of the present, and at the present time the Bulldogs are one of the better teams in the NCHC and the Nation.
Up front, Dominic Toninato (9g-4a—13pts), Alex Iafallo (2g-9a—11pts), Austin Farley (4g-6a—10pts) and Kyle Osterberg (2g-8a—10pts) lead the way for the Bulldogs.
Freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo (8-4-0, 2.09 GAA, .924 SV%) is making a case for the NCHC All-Rookie Team goalie.
3. Miami – (10-4-0, 6-2-0 NCHC)
Last weekend, the Miami RedHawks were idle. The RedHawks have won five-of-six games. Their only loss in the last six games is to North Dakota.
After having a dismal season last year, the RedHawks have rebounded nicely this season. Three of Miami’s four losses have been against teams in the top-20.
The RedHawks have one of the best top-six forward groups in the country. Sean Kuraly (10g-6a—16pts), Blake Coleman (8g-7a—15pts), Austin Czarnik (0g-12a—12pts) and Riley Barber (6g-6a—12pts) lead the way for the RedHawks.
4. Nebraska-Omaha – (7-3-2,. 3-2-1 NCHC)
The Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks are an up and coming team. Their freshman class is as good as any in the country. The Mavericks top-five scorers are underclassmen.
The Mavericks traveled to Grand Forks, ND, this past weekend and played very well. The Mavericks controlled big parts of both games, but came up a little short taking two-of-six points from top-ranked North Dakota (2-2 SOW, 2-3 L).
The aforementioned underclassmen for the Mavericks are Austin Ortega (5g-8a—13pts), Jake Guentzel (5g-6a—11pts), Jake Randolph (2g-9a—11pts), Tyler Vesel (3g-6a—9pts), Justin Parizek (5g-2a—7pts).
5. Denver – (8-3-0, 3-2-0 NCHC)
The Denver Pioneers have a winning record, but they really haven’t played that tough of a schedule. Denver’s opponents have a combined record of (36-53-5, .405).
This week Denver travels to Ithaca, New York, to play the Cornell Big Red 4-4-1. The Big Red are a tough draw in Lynah Rink.
Statistically, Denver fifth nationally in scoring offense, scoring 3.64 goals per game. Denver is also pretty solid on defense giving up 2.18 goals per game. Again, they have amassed these numbers against less than stellar competition. They played two teams with .500 records and split those series.
6. St. Cloud State – (6-7-1, 2-3-1 NCHC)
The St. Cloud State Huskies are probably the best 6-7-1 teams in the nation. The Huskies started the season with Colgate, Union and Minnesota and compiled a 3-3-0 record. Since that nine game death march, the Huskies have gone 3-4-1.
Last weekend, the Huskies stumbled against the BSU Beavers splitting at the Sanford Center (6-3 W, 4-1 L). Their schedule doesn’t get any easier, they play Omaha, Quinnipiac and Miami the next three series.
I don’t think the Huskies are as bad as their record and they will make some noise before the season is over.
7. Western Michigan – (5-8-1, 1-6-1 NCHC)
The Western Michigan Broncos haven’t been very good in conference games, they have won one game in eight tries. Just when you’re about to label them as mediocre team, they go out and win the Shillelagh Tournament by beating Ohio State 6-2 and Union 8-2.
After last weekend, Western Michigan is averaging 3.00 a game. The problem is that the Broncos are giving up 2.79 goals per game.
8. Colorado College – (3-8-0, 0-5-0 NCHC)
There’s one thing for certain, the Colorado College Tigers are struggling. The statistics don’t lie, the Tigers are a bad hockey team. In five league games, they have yet to win a game. The Tigers are ranked 50th nationally in winning percentage.
The Tigers aren’t scoring a lot of goals. They’re scoring 2.00 goals per game and are ranked 46th nationally in offense. If an opposition team can score three goals against the Tigers, they probably win. The Tigers have the worst defense in division I college hockey giving up 4.36 goals per game.