One of the things the NCHC has undoubtedly hoped for in its inaugural season is about to come to fruition.
The Penrose Cup, the new mammoth chalice awarded to the league’s regular season champion, will be on display this next weekend at St. Cloud State’s Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. That much was decided ahead of the Jan. 7 announcement of the trophy’s league-wide tour, but nobody truly knew back then that the cup would be in the same venue this late in the season as the two teams still in with with the most realistic chances to hoist it.
North Dakota (18-9-3 overall, 13-7-0-0 NCHC) and St. Cloud State (18-7-5, 12-5-3-0) go into the penultimate weekend of the regular season tied at the top of the league standings with 39 points. Six points — two wins’ worth — behind them in third place is Nebraska-Omaha on 33, while Western Michigan rounds out the league’s current top four on 31.
St. Cloud State came into last weekend with a three-point lead at the top of the standings, but the Huskies faltered Friday when last-place Miami rode two goals from Blake Coleman — who returned Friday after being out with an upper-body injury since Dec. 6 — en route to a surprise 4-3 win over SCSU in Oxford, Ohio.
Normal service from the Huskies resumed Saturday when goaltender Ryan Faragher stopped 33 RedHawks shots and helped kill all four of Miami’s power-play opportunities in a 3-0 win.
The damage to SCSU’s place in the league standings was compounded, however, by the pair of poundings North Dakota handed to Minnesota-Duluth on the Bulldogs’ own Amsoil Arena ice.
Sophomore UND goalie Zane Gothberg picked up his first collegiate shutout Friday in a 3-0 win over the Bulldogs, and UND went 3-for-4 on the power play the following night in a 6-2 victory.
If either UND or St. Cloud State picks up four or more points this next weekend, that team would then have one proverbial hand on the Penrose Cup going into the final weekend of the regular season. UND’s last action ahead of the NCHC playoffs will be at home to Western Michigan, while SCSU will finish out the regular season at Colorado College.
Tigers claim the Gold Pan
Speaking of CC, the Tigers continued this last weekend their recent mastery of archrival Denver by claiming the Gold Pan, the traveling trophy that the two Colorado NCHC schools have played for each of the past 21 seasons.
CC picked up the trophy for the 12th time after winning both games of the teams’ second home-and-home series this season. Denver had picked up a shootout win and regulation win Nov. 8-9, but the Tigers won the season series in the third and fourth games, first by winning 3-2 at Denver’s Magness Arena Friday before winning 3-1 in Saturday’s rematch at the World Arena in Colorado Springs.
The Tigers appeared destined to finish seventh in the NCHC going into their third and fourth games of the season against Denver, but the league landscape has changed considerably. CC is still in seventh on 24 points, but it’s now only four points behind a sixth-place Minnesota-Duluth team that has lost its last four games.
The news for Denver isn’t quite so good. Thanks to its sweep at the hands of CC, the Pioneers are in fifth place in the league with 29 points and two behind Western Michigan in fourth. If the season ended now, the Pioneers would travel to Kalamazoo, Mich., to face the Broncos in the first round of the league playoffs.
UNO forced to reschedule possible playoff series
One night after Nebraska-Omaha pounded Western Michigan 5-1 Friday in Kalamazoo, the Broncos scored four unanswered goals in Saturday’s third period to blow past the Mavericks 5-3 and salvage a split of the teams’ only scheduled series of the 2013-14 campaign.
UNO, however, still appears to be in great shape to clinch home ice for the first round of the playoffs. The Mavericks are four points above the split with four games left, and those will come against CC at home this weekend followed by a trip to Minnesota-Duluth on the final two nights of the regular season.
If the Mavericks are at home in the first round of the playoffs, though, it wouldn’t be a Friday-Saturday-Sunday series like the other opening-round sets will be.
When pop singer Demi Lovato announced the dates for her current tour back on Sept. 20, a March 16 date at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center, the city-owned arena in which UNO plays its home games, was on the list. And, as you would imagine, it still is.
March 16, a Sunday, is also the date set up for any third games needed in teams’ best-of-three first-round playoff series.
It appears, however, that UNO has already solved that potential problem. If the Mavericks do host a first-round series, it will be a Thursday-Friday-Saturday set, with the first two games starting at 7:37 and the third game, should one be necessary, a 7:07 start.