Bullish and bearish in the NCHA

With No. 2 St. Norbert’s vice-grip lock on the top spot, the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association may be mistakenly viewed as a one-horse race. The ongoing battles for the second through seventh spots continues to make for compelling viewing.

The campaign’s roller-coaster ride is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that all seven NCHA teams have been ranked in the Top-15 at some point this season. Some of those outfits have seen their fortunes soar, only to be rocked by underdogs, which have gone on to make a scintillating run of their own. Channeling CNBC Mad Money’s Jim Cramer, here is a mid-season Wall Street take on the topsy-turvy NCHA.

Running with the Bulls
St. Norbert: The No. 2 Green Knights (11-2, 7-1 NCHA) are in blue chip territory and ideal for the risk-aversed investor. They may suffer a few dips — as evidenced by the shock 2-1 loss to St. Scholastica Dec. 4 — but the Knights remain a solid performer. Offensively, Johan Ryd (four goals and 10 assists) leads a cadre of double-digit scorers while, defensively, B.J. O’Brien is a rock (as in Gibraltar) in goal. A nearly month-long break (until Jan. 7) only enhances this stock’s long-term outlook.

Wisconsin-Superior: With little fanfare, the No. 15 Yellowjackets (7-3-1, 5-1) have compiled some impressive returns. Each of the team’s three losses this season have been followed by modest gains, with two- and three-game winning streaks. Such resiliency is attractive to short-sell investors looking for quick gains. However, with the meat of the schedule remaining (St. Norbert, UW-Stout, UW-Eau Claire), the Yellowjackets’ ability to rebound will be severely tested in the second half.

Wisconsin-Eau Claire: The No. 14 Blugolds’ recent surge is no fluke and there is room for further growth potential as the team (7-4,3-3) hosts a foundering Wisconsin-Stevens Point squad this weekend. The Blugolds’ recent rally has been sparked by some robust play by sophomore goalie Brandon Stephenson (7-1, 2.64 GAA, .903 save-percentage) and a solid bottomline bolstered by scorers Ross Janecyk (7-5-12), Kurt Weston (6-5-11) and Jordan Singer (5-5-10). Like UW-Superior, though, UW-Eau Claire faces a stern second-half test with road games at St. Norbert and St. Scholastica in January.

Wisconsin-Stout: Despite dropping a pair to resurgent UW-Eau Claire last weekend, the Blue Devils (7-5, 4-4) have proven they’re among the NCHA’s top performers. UW-Stout had reeled off six-straight wins going into the pivotal Blugold series Dec. 3-4. Another upside is the team’s next six games are at home, including this weekend’s tilt against Wisconsin-River Falls. They feature one of the league’s top point-getters in Brendan Gay (6-8-14) and have a steady netminder in Tom Lescovich (7-3, 3.00 GAA, .914 save-pct.). They remain a sound part of the astute investor’s portfolio.

Bunking with the Bears
Wisconsin-Stevens Point: The once No. 9 Pointers’ stock has plummeted since their hard-fought encounter with St. Norbert where they were swept at home Nov. 13-14. In losing six straight games, the Pointers (4-7, 2-6) bear little resemblance to the team that reeled off four straight wins in early November and were ranked among D-III’s Top-10. The beleaguered squad may see a slight rebound after New Year when it plays seven of eight games at home.

Wisconsin-River Falls: The Falcons’ volatility has seen them ascend to No. 14 in the Nov. 8 rankings only to fall into obscurity with an indifferent 5-5-1 (2-4) record. Freshman goalie Scott Lewan (3-3-1, 1.99 GAA, .944 save-pct.) remains a solid asset but needs more offensive support like the kind administered in UW-River Falls’ weekend sweep of nonconference foe Lake Forest Dec. 3-4. If that trend continues, Falcons shares will shift from “sell” to “buy” in a hurry during the second half.

St. Scholastica: The Saints (5-6, 1-5) may appeal to the adventuresome investor who’s willing to sacrifice short-term gains with the prospect of hard-earned dividends in the final quarter. Some due diligence finds the team’s poor league record belies an outfit that has otherwise performed well outside NCHA circles, as four of its five victories have come against nonconference foes. The Saints’ recent upset win over No. 2 St. Norbert not only gives credence to its preseason No. 11 ranking, but offers a rallying point for a second-half bounce.

Players of the Week
Jordan Keizer, Milwaukee School of Engineering: The sophomore left winger scored both Raiders goals in the team’s 2-0 victory over St. Mary’s Friday and followed up with a hat trick and an assist in a 7-1 rout Saturday. The weekend sweep over the Cardinals pushed undefeated MSOE to No. 8 in the national rankings.

Connor Toomey, MSOE: The junior netminder only yielded one goal in 120 minutes in the No. 8 Raiders’ two-game sweep over nonconference opponent St. Mary’s Dec. 3-4. In doing so, the Burlington, Mass., native raised his record to 7-0 while maintaining a superlative 1.14 goals-against average and a sterling .949 save-percentage.

Joel Sauer, Augsburg: The senior right wing’s six-point weekend was highlighted by a two-goal and two-assist performance in the Auggies’ 6-3 win over St. John’s on Friday. In Saturday’s 4-2 triumph, he snagged the game-winner to complete the sweep over the Johnnies. The 5-foot-10 Madison, Wis., product’s 6 goals and 13 assists leads the team.

Pat Dalbec, Wisconsin-Superior: The freshman left winger continues to impress, as his four-point weekend aided the Yellowjackets in a weekend sweep over intrastate-rival Wisconsin-Stevens Point. The 5-foot-9
Superior, Wis., product assisted on Brad Phenow’s game-winner in Friday’s 2-1 victory and registered a goal and two assists in Saturday’s 4-2 triumph.