A home ice-clinching sweep, a big rivalry series win on the road and a classic inter-city battle under the stars. Just another week in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
This past weekend only saw five of the league’s teams in action, but the less-than-full slate still produced great hockey and meaningful results, none bigger than in Grand Forks, where top-ranked North Dakota took all six points from No. 6 Denver with a 4-1 win on Friday and a 3-1 decision the following night. Newly-minted NCHC Goaltender of the Week Peter Thome stopped 51 of the 53 shots he faced, while the Fighting Hawks’ offense featured six different goal scorers and a power play that went 3-for-6. UND has now won five straight, while DU has dropped four in a row, albeit to the top two teams in the league standings.
The only other conference series saw Western Michigan earn a win and a tie in Oxford against Miami. The Redhawks came back from a 2-0 deficit in Game 1 to earn the extra point in 3-on-3 OT thanks to a Gordie Green goal just 19 seconds into the second extra frame, but WMU would get revenge the following night, scoring four unanswered (after conceding in the first minute) en route to a 4-1 victory. Western has now won eight of their last ten, while Miami is winless in their last nine outings.
The final non-conference series of the NCHC regular season took place in Colorado Springs, with Colorado College and Air Force resuming the Battle For Pike’s Peak, first in World Arena on Friday – a 6-2 win for the Tigers that officially retained the Pike’s Peak Trophy – and then, at Falcon Stadium on Monday after the Avalanche and Kings had played there as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series two days earlier. CC would complete the sweep of their cross-town Atlantic Hockey rivals, winning 4-2 on the back of the first career hat trick from Grant Cruikshank.
To the standings now, where thanks to a six-point weekend, North Dakota has re-established their eight-point gap at the top with six games to go while securing home ice in the league quarterfinals in the process. Meanwhile, Denver’s struggles in Grand Forks have kept the door open for a potential top-half finish for St. Cloud State, who only sits a game back of the Pios in 5th. Those two will meet at the Brooks Center on the final weekend in February.
This coming weekend sees all eight NCHC teams back in action, as the stretch run officially gets underway. UND goes to St. Cloud State in a matchup of teams yet to lose in the month of February, while Omaha will try to keep their home-ice hopes alive as they host CC. Miami is in search of their first win since January 10, but they’ll have to do it on the road against a Denver team who swept them in Oxford four weeks ago.
This week’s feature series is in Kalamazoo, as second-place Minnesota Duluth goes to third-place Western Michigan. The Broncos are currently 15th in the PairWise and would greatly benefit from positive results against No. 4 UMD, while the Bulldogs would help their cause for a number-one seed in the NCAA Tournament with a pair of quality road wins.
Meanwhile, UND fans will be monitoring the goings-on at Lawson as well, because if Western earns at least five points – and if North Dakota picks up another sweep – then UND would clinch the Penrose Cup this Saturday night.
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