NCHC picks: March 15

Candace and I both predicted Miami to sweep Western Michigan this weekend in the teams’ NCHC first-round playoff series, but Western forced a Game 3 with a win last night in Game 2. Ahead of tonight’s series-decider, here are our updated predictions.

Candace: Western Michigan has made this series very hard on the RedHawks, and could have swept had it held on Friday. I still think home ice matters, though. Miami 4-3

Matthew: I have to admit I’m impressed with the Broncos, considering I thought Miami would have the easiest time of any of the favored teams in the first round. I still think Miami goes through, though, but tonight’s game will be another tight one. Miami 5-3

NCHC picks: March 13

We ended our picks race last week in the regular season with me up. Last week, I went 4-3-1 (.562)  and Matthew went 5-2-1 (.687). On the year, I finished the regular season with a very respectable 111-52-14 (.667) record, while Matthew went 105-58-14 (.632).

Let’s see how we can do in the playoffs.

Friday-Saturday-Sunday, March 13-15

Colorado College at North Dakota
Candace: CC will play North Dakota close, but lose both games. North Dakota 4-2, 3-2
Matthew: I could see this series maybe — maybe — going to three games, but for as much as I think CC could give UND headaches, I can’t see the Tigers advancing to Minneapolis. North Dakota 3-2, 5-2

Western Michigan at Miami
Candace: Western looked good last weekend in beating Minnesota-Duluth, but I think the Broncos’ season ends this weekend. Miami 3-2, 3-1
Matthew: This might be the most straightforward series for any first-round favorite. Western has been more down than up in recent weeks and I’m finding it hard to see them getting anything this weekend in Oxford. Miami 4-1, 4-2

St. Cloud State at Omaha
Candace: Like Matthew, I see it going three games, but probably see a different winner. I wonder how @RedArmyUNO feels about this? Omaha 4-2, St. Cloud 3-2, Omaha 4-3
Matthew: St. Cloud is less than a month removed from sweeping UNO in Minnesota and the Mavericks haven’t made it to a league playoff championship weekend in more than a decade. I think this series goes three, but flip a coin as to who wins the third game. Omaha 3-2, SCSU 3-1, SCSU 3-2

Minnesota-Duluth at Denver
Candace: These two teams played four times this season, and went 2-2. I like Denver to win in three. Denver 3-2, Minnesota-Duluth 3-2, Denver 4-2
Matthew: There really isn’t much to separate these two, but we often see the road team win in these middle-of-the-pack first-round series so I’ll take the Bulldogs in three. Minnesota-Duluth 2-1, Denver 3-2, UMD 4-2

Three Things: March 7

North Dakota wins Penrose Cup outright
Congratulations are in order for North Dakota, which won the NCHC regular season championship outright on Friday by virtue of a 2-1 road win over second-place Miami.

The RedHawks could have picked up a share of the Penrose Cup title if they had swept UND this weekend in Oxford Ohio. UND came into the series six points ahead of its hosts.

At the end of the weekend’s action, though, the six-point gap remained. The most notable portion happened in the series’s first game in which UND goaltender Zane McInytre stopped 43 of the 44 shots he saw in order to help his team reach one of its bigger goals for this season.

Miami exacted a certain level of revenge on Saturday by posting a 6-3 win, but UND had already gotten what it came to Oxford for. UND will host last-place Colorado College next weekend in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, while Miami will welcome Western Michigan to Steve Cady Arena.

Ortega seals place in record books
Omaha needed a win on Saturday against CC to lock home home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and one of the Mavericks’ biggest stars helped UNO make that happen.

Austin Ortega picked up his NCAA-record 11th game-winning goal of the season on Saturday in a 4-2 win over the Tigers. Seven other college players had held the previous record of 10 game-winners in a single campaign, with the last coming back in 2002.

His latest game-clinching goal couldn’t have come at a much better time, as he found a way past CC goaltender Tyler Marble with 1:55 remaining in Saturday’s game at CenturyLink Center. The goal was Ortega’s team-leading 18th of the season.

Omaha will play host to St. Cloud State next weekend in the first round of the postseason.

Denver, St. Cloud share spoils
The Denver Pioneers locked up the No. 4 seed in the NCHC playoffs thanks to one win from two games this weekend at St. Cloud State.

SCSU finished sixth in the league’s regular season standings, but they opened their last weekend before the playoffs with a loss. The Huskies didn’t allow DU to open up much separation in the game, which was tied 2-2 early in the third period, but an Adam Plant goal at 5:54 of that frame stood up as the game-winner for the Pioneers.

St. Cloud then returned the favor on Saturday by handing DU a 4-2 loss in the teams’ regular-season finale. Three SCSU goals in the second period – two from Jonny Brodzinski and another from David Morley – proved too much for DU to overcome despite a third-period comeback.

DU will host Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the playoffs. Denver and UMD finished just two points apart in the final NCHC regular season standings.



NCHC picks: March 5

Well, I don’t see any way for Matthew to catch me, so I think I’ve won our season picks race. Last week, both Matthew and I went 1-4-3 (.312), as the games we picked differently ended in ties. On the year, I am 107-49-13 (.671) and Matthew is 100-56-13 (.630).

Let’s get to the final weekend.

Friday-Saturday, March 6-7

North Dakota at Miami
Candace: I think this is a split, though if UND wins Friday, they probably sweep. Miami 3-2, North Dakota 3-1
Matthew: UND gets what it needs to win the NCHC regular season title outright, but this will likely end up in a split. North Dakota 3-1, Miami 3-1

Denver at St. Cloud
Candace: The Pioneers swept the Huskies at home back in January. I don’t think that happens again, but which night does St. Cloud win? Denver 3-2, St. Cloud 2-1
Matthew: I’ll take Denver to win both as the Pioneers work to lock up home ice next weekend. Denver 3-1, 3-2

Colorado College at Omaha
Candace: @RedArmyUNO probably will have a coronary, but even after CC picked up another league win last weekend, I have trouble seeing them get another. The Tigers haven’t won a league road game yet this year. Omaha 4-2, 4-1
Matthew: It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see CC give Omaha problems again. I’ll go out on a limb and call a split. CC 2-1, UNO 4-1

Minnesota-Duluth at Western Michigan
Candace: The Broncos gave the Bulldogs fits in January in Duluth, but I like UMD to exact some revenge. Minnesota-Duluth 3-2, 2-1
Matthew: Tough to see UMD slowing down here, even if the Bulldogs are on the road. Minnesota-Duluth 3-1, 2-1

Three things: March 1

No. 1 thrice
North Dakota, which before last weekend’s series against St. Cloud was ranked No. 1 in the USCHO Men’s D-I poll, is now the top dog in a couple of other places as well.

Thanks to UND’s sweep of St. Cloud and the tie between Minnesota State and Michigan Tech, North Dakota is now No. 1 in the PairWise rankings, barely ahead of Minnesota State, with whom UND is tied in the winning percentage rank.

More importantly, North Dakota’s sweep, combined with Miami’s split with Denver, ensures that North Dakota is at least a co-champion of the NCHC’s regular season, and co-holder of the Penrose Cup.

The only way for North Dakota not to become sole champion in the NCHC is for Miami to sweep the series between the two next weekend in Oxford, Ohio. Those wins would need to be in regulation; if North Dakota gets any points, it wins the NCHC regular season outright, as it currently has a six-point lead on the RedHawks.

Another place set
After this weekend, in which Western Michigan tied and lost to Colorado College, the Broncos are in seventh place, and can’t move any higher or lower, as they trail St. Cloud State by seven points and are ahead of Colorado College by 16 points.

St. Cloud State was swept by North Dakota, and while the sixth-place Huskies could conceivably finish fifth, they know they will be on the road regardless, as they trail fourth-place Denver by seven points.

Home ice shuffle
Four teams are battling for three home-ice spots. Miami is currently in second place with 41 points, Omaha in third with 39, Denver in fourth with 38, and Minnesota-Duluth in fifth with 36.

Entering last weekend’s games, Denver was in third place in the NCHC. After the weekend, the Pioneers are in fourth, despite splitting a series with Miami, because Omaha earned two ties/shootout wins over Minnesota-Duluth. Denver travels to St. Cloud this weekend; the Pioneers swept the Huskies in January.

In the final weekend of the year, Minnesota-Duluth travels to Western Michigan, Omaha hosts Colorado College, and Miami hosts North Dakota. Depending on how the weekend shakes out, it is still possible that second-place Miami could drop to fifth and Minnesota-Duluth could move up to second.

However, the series between Duluth and Western Michigan and Omaha and Colorado College are not pushes for the higher-ranked teams. Omaha and CC split back in January in Colorado Springs, and Western Michigan got a tie and a win against the Bulldogs the same weekend that CC beat Omaha. Miami and North Dakota split back in November.

NCHC picks: Feb. 27

Matthew is fading in the rearview mirror, as I correctly picked Denver to sweep Colorado College. I went a measly 4-4 (.500), but Matthew went 3-5 (.375), so on the year, I am 106-45-10 (.720) and Matthew is 99-52-10 (.677), a healthy seven-game lead with two weeks left.

Let’s get to this week’s action.

Friday-Saturday, Feb. 27-28

Western Michigan at Colorado College
Candace: Somehow, I think CC finds a way to lose when it should win. Besides, I think the Broncos are playing for position. Western Michigan 3-2, 3-2
Matthew: Is this the weekend that CC gets back into the win column and starts its stretch run in earnest? It wouldn’t surprise me. Colorado College 3-2, Western Michigan 3-2

No. 5 Miami at No. 7 Denver
Candace: Yes, this is a split. Miami has to hope it can stay within striking distance of North Dakota. Denver 3-1, Miami 4-3
Matthew: This series has “split” written all over it, but the difficulty is in predicting who wins which night. Denver 3-1, Miami 3-1

No. 8 Omaha at No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth
Candace: I feel like I should pick an Omaha sweep, just to strike terror into the heart of @RedArmyUNO, but I’m not that cruel. Neither team has been setting the world on fire of late. Minnesota-Duluth 2-1, Omaha 3-2
Matthew: UMD’s results have been pretty up-and-down of late, but Omaha has lost four of its last five and I’m wondering what’s going on with the Mavericks. Minnesota Duluth 3-1, 3-2

St. Cloud State at No. 1 North Dakota
Candace: A few weeks ago, I’d have picked North Dakota to sweep. I’m still tempted to, but I think the Huskies get a split. St. Cloud 2-1, North Dakota 3-0
Matthew: SCSU has won five of its last six games, and UND could be for its first regulation home loss in almost two months. Split. St. Cloud 3-1, North Dakota 2-0

Three things: Feb. 22

Some of the bigger talking points from the weekend that was in the NCHC:

Omaha suffers sweep
Before Omaha visited unranked St. Cloud State this weekend, UNO hadn’t been shut out in a single game this season. Nor, in fact, had the Mavericks been swept in any two-game set during the current campaign.

Both of those things happened to UNO in Minnesota, though, and neither came at a good time for the Mavericks.

The Mavericks’ misery this weekend started late in Friday night’s series-opener at SCSU. UNO led 3-2 going into the final minutes of regulation, but the Huskies Blake Winiecki and David Morley scored a pair of goals 16 seconds apart to snatch a 4-3 victory.

SCSU then shut Omaha out 2-0 on Saturday. Nathan Widman and Jimmy Murray found the back of the net for St. Cloud, while Charlie Lindgren stopped all 21 Mavericks shots he faced.

Following the setbacks in St. Cloud, UNO (17-10-3, 18-11-1-1 NCHC) fell into a tie for third place with Denver. The Mavericks are on the road again next weekend at No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth, while St. Cloud State (15-14-1, 10-9-1-0) visits North Dakota.

Miami slips at home
UMD is proving to be a tougher out seemingly by the week, and the Bulldogs proved their worth again this weekend on the road.

Miami found that out the hard way when Duluth visited Oxford, Ohio for a pair of games. In the end, following a split against UMD, the RedHawks found themselves down a peg on the NCHC ladder into sole possession of second place.

Duluth reaped the most appealing fruits of its labor in the series’s first game. UMD and MU scored one goal each in the game’s first eight minutes and two seconds, and the score remained locked at 1-1 until Duluth scored twice in the third period to roll away a 3-1 winner.

The RedHawks bounced back the following night, however, but only just. A Blake Coleman goal 3:58 into overtime gave Miami a 4-3 win and all of the points on offer on Saturday.

Miami (19-10-1, 12-7-1-1) makes the long trip west next weekend to face Denver, while UMD (19-12-1, 11-8-1-0) returns home to prepare for UNO.

North Dakota stays on top
With UNO and Miami both slipping this weekend, UND had an opportunity to claim the No. 1 spot in the league for the team’s own when it visited Western Michigan.

UND took care of business by sweeping the Broncos on their own Lawson Arena ice. Three different UND players scored in a 3-1 win on Friday night before an overtime goal from Drake Caggiula 3:31 into an extra period on Saturday gave the guests a 3-2 victory.

As things stand now, UND (22-6-3, 13-5-2-0) is alone in first place in the league on 41 points, while Miami is three behind on 38. Denver and Omaha (35 points) each would also have home-ice advantage in the first round of the NCHC playoffs if the regular season had ended on Saturday night.

UMD is only one point behind both DU and UNO, while SCSU (31 points) gave itself a lifeline with its sweep of Omaha.

Tiebreakers explained
As we’re quickly coming up towards the playoffs, here’s a quick guide to the NCHC’s tiebreaker system for playoff seedings, should there be a need for them to be used. You may want to sit down for this.

1.) If two or more teams are tied in the standings at the end of the regular season and they played a balanced schedule (equal number of home and away games) against each other, the highest seed will go to the team with the best regular-season winning percentage in games against the other teams in the tie in the standings. If any of the teams in the tie played an unbalanced schedule against other teams in the tie, this criterion doesn’t apply to the tiebreaker and the next one does.

2.) If the first criterion doesn’t break the tie, the highest seed goes to the team with the highest number of NCHC regular-season wins.

3.) If the first two criteria don’t break the tie, the highest seed goes to the team with the best league regular-season winning percentage against other teams involved in the tie, balanced schedules or not.

4.) If the first three criteria don’t break the tie, the highest seed will be determined by a comparison of total goals for and against during regular-season games against other teams involved in the tie.

5.) If the first four criteria don’t break the tie – Still with us? – the highest seed will be determined by comparing the winning percentages of the tied teams against the remaining highest-ranked NCHC teams, successively, until either the tie is broken or all league games have been taken into consideration.

6.) If the tie is still in effect at this point, it would be broken by the flip of a coin.

We’re not sure what would be more interesting: The drama involved with No. 6 or the fact that a tiebreaker would have gotten to that point in the first place.



NCHC picks: Feb. 20

Well, Matthew got a couple of games back on me last week. I went 4-3-1 and Matthew went 6-1-1. On the year, I am 102-41-10 and Matthew is 96-47-10.

Friday-Saturday, Feb. 20-21

No. 9 Denver vs. Colorado College (home-and-home)
Candace: Normally, I’d think CC would have this in the bag, but it’s been a pretty unusual season for the Tigers, and Denver gets coach Jim Montgomery back. Denver 2-1, 4-1
Matthew: CC is due for a win and I think they’ll get one this weekend, but only one. Home teams win. Colorado College 2-1, Denver 4-1

No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth at No. 6 Miami
Candace: This one is really hard to pick the split order in. I think the road trip means Miami wins the first. Miami 3-2, Minnesota-Duluth 3-2
Matthew: A battle of two teams that have been hot lately. Hard to call anything other than a split here, but who will win which night? Miami 3-2, Minnesota-Duluth 2-1

No. 5 Omaha at St. Cloud State
Candace: It’s possible this might be a split, but it’s pretty hard to pick the order, so … Omaha 4-2, 3-2
Matthew: UNO has split its last two series and needs to turn that around this weekend in St. Cloud. I think the Mavericks will do it. Omaha 3-1, 3-2

No. 1 North Dakota at Western Michigan
Candace: North Dakota takes another step toward the Penrose Cup. North Dakota 2-1, 4-1
Matthew: Teams can’t afford to sleep on this Western team, but I think UND will do what it takes to stay at least tied at the top of the league. North Dakota 3-2, 3-1

Three things: Feb. 15

Three for three
There are three weeks left in the regular season. There are currently three teams tied for first place in the NCHC: Miami, North Dakota, and Omaha, each of which have 35 points. These three teams have also been battling for first for most of the last month and a half.

Miami moved into the tie thanks to a sweep of Colorado College. North Dakota had an opportunity to take sole possession of first place on Saturday, but ended up tying Denver, while Omaha rebounded from a loss to Western Michigan on Friday to win and move back into the first-place tie.

Were these three teams to remain tied at the end of the season, the NCHC has a six-step tiebreaking system to decide seeding in the NCHC playoffs. All three teams would be named co-champions of the league. The first tiebreaker depends on whether the teams have played a balanced schedule against each other. They have not, because Miami will not have played four games against Omaha.

The second tiebreaker is greatest number of wins. Currently, all three teams have 11 league wins.

The third tiebreaker is the team with the best regular season winning percentage among the games played against the other teams. Miami is currently 2-2 against North Dakota and Omaha, while North Dakota is 3-2-1 against Omaha and Miami and Omaha is 2-3-1 against the other two.

Hence, if the season had ended today, North Dakota would have claimed the top seed, Miami would be second, and Omaha third.

If the winning percentage is tied, the NCHC goes to goals for and against each of the teams in the tie, then winning percentages of the teams against the remaining NCHC teams. The final decision would come to a coin flip.

Down the stretch, Omaha is on the road the next two weeks at St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth, then hosts Colorado College on the final weekend of the year. North Dakota is on the road next weekend at Western Michigan, hosts St. Cloud, and then ends with a possible championship-deciding weekend in Oxford against Miami. Prior to North Dakota, Miami hosts Minnesota-Duluth then faces Denver on the road.

Four to Seven
Right now, the only sure thing in the NCHC is that Colorado College will finish last and be on the road in the first round against the league champion. Other first round matchups are up in the air.

Minnesota-Duluth is in fourth for the final home ice spot with 31 points, two points ahead of fifth-place Denver, six ahead of sixth-place St. Cloud State, and nine ahead of seventh-place Western Michigan. Duluth has Miami on the road, Omaha at home, and Western Michigan on the road down the stretch, Denver has Colorado College in a home-and-home, Miami at home, and closes on the road at St. Cloud State, St. Cloud hosts Omaha and travels to North Dakota before Denver, and Western Michigan hosts North Dakota, travels to Colorado College, and hosts Duluth.

With each win in the league worth three points, plenty of movement could still happen. Any one of the teams in the four to seven spots could still claim home ice in the first round with enough wins and a combination of losses by other teams. It’s also possible all four teams could go 3-3 and be in the same position come March 7, especially given how much NCHC teams beat up on each other.

Tying a record
Omaha’s Austin Ortega tied the NCAA mark for game-winning goals with 10 in a season on Saturday when Western Michigan’s Sheldon Dries scored an extra-attacker goal at 19:33 of the third period to get the Broncos on the board, meaning Ortega’s goal, Omaha’s second, stood as the game-winner in Omaha’s 3-1 win.

“It’s a good feeling,” Ortega said. “Obviously I don’t look too much into that. I mean, tonight it was definitely lucky; it wasn’t an overtime winner or anything.”

The next closest players to Ortega in the game-winner stat this season are Miami’s Sean Kuraly with nine, Michigan Tech’s Alex Petan with seven and Michigan Tech’s Tanner Kero with six.

NCHC picks: Feb. 13

Last week, thanks to Miami, I put even more distance between Matthew and I, as I was perfect, going 4-0 while Matthew went 3-1. On the year, I am 98-38-9 while Matthew is 90-46-9. Let’s see if I can do even better this week.

Friday-Saturday, Feb. 13-14

No. 7 Miami at Colorado College
Candace: I’m sure one of these will be close, but I think the RedHawks will avoid a letdown and keep pace with those above them in the standings. Miami 3-2, 4-1
Matthew: I’m starting to feel a bit bad for CC at this point. We keep saying the Tigers are better than their record — and they are — but I think their record will be a little worse come late Saturday night than it is now. Miami 3-2, 4-2

St. Cloud State at No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth
Candace: Duluth swept this series back in November in St. Cloud, with one game going to OT. The Huskies looked good their last time out against Colorado College, but they generally haven’t done as well on the road. I’m picking a Bulldogs sweep, simply because the split seems to hard to pick a night for each win. Minnesota-Duluth 3-2, 3-1
Matthew: A team that’s won three of its last four visits a team that’s won its last three in a row. Wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a split here. Minnesota-Duluth 3-1, St. Cloud State 2-1

No. 9 Denver at No. 2 North Dakota
Candace: These two split back in December in a barn-burner of a series. I think they split again. Denver 2-1, North Dakota 3-2
Matthew: DU has been subpar away from home this season and UND is 11-3-2 in Grand Forks since the campaign began. This will probably be a split but I’m going to stick my neck out slightly and call for a sweep. North Dakota 3-1, 3-2

Western Michigan at No. 4 Omaha
Candace: Every time I think Western Michigan is getting ready to roll, the Broncos stumble. I’m sure both games will be close, but I’m picking an Omaha sweep. Are you happy @RedArmyUNO? Omaha 3-2, 4-2
Matthew: UNO has had too much going for it lately for me to think they’ll slip up in this series at home. If it was in Kalamazoo, I might call it a little differently but not here. Omaha 4-2, 3-1

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