Foregone conclusion: No. 1 UND will house MacNaughton for 12th time

North Dakota may be ahead by only two points heading into the final two weeks of the regular season but go ahead and send the MacNaughton Cup en route to Houghton, Mich. That’s where the Sioux will clinch the regular season title.

UND was up and down after the WCHA schedule resumed in January, going 2-3 with home losses to Minnesota and Nebraska-Omaha and a loss at Colorado College. The Sioux is unbeaten in the five games since and most recently, took three points at St. Cloud State this weekend.

Add it up and UND is ranked first in Division I for the first time this season although the Sioux is still ranked second behind Yale in the PairWise Rankings. It proves UND’s depth while it endures key injuries to Chay Genoway and Danny Kristo.

UND’s remaining schedule suggests the Sioux (in first place with 35 points) won’t lose any ground to Denver (33 points), Minnesota-Duluth (32) or UNO (32). Ninth-place Bemidji State rolls into Grand Forks, Friday. UND finishes at last-place Michigan Tech so the Sioux could and should finish the season with 43 points and take the Cup.

It’s been 41 years, two weeks and one day since UND lost to BSU and the Sioux has lost just once in Houghton over a 23-game stretch going back to 1995.

Denver has the best chance, if any, to catch the Sioux. The Pioneers have to go to third-place UNO and host ninth-place SCSU and even if the Pioneers run the table, they’ll probably still fall short to UND and its weak schedule.

It’ll be tough for UMD and UNO to gain ground on first or second place. They will likely finish third and fourth (in no particular order). The teams face each other in Duluth to end the season, which has split written all over it.

The top four teams have all clinched home ice for the first round of the playoffs and there are still two spots left. Minnesota has the schedule (home vs. MTU and at BSU) that has the potential for eight points in the standings which easily gives the Gophers the No. 5 spot.

That shines the spotlight on the season finale series between Wisconsin and Colorado College next week in Madison. The series could decide who gets the final home ice spot the following week and don’t be surprised if UW/CC is a first-round matchup as well.

Right now, Wisconsin and its No. 13 PairWise Rank is the last team into the NCAA Tournament picture. The latest bracketology suggests the Badgers would be a four seed, joining the WCHA’s top four teams in the tournament.

Minnesota and CC are both on the outside looking in at 18th and 19th, respectively, in the PairWise. The Gophers should gnaw their way back into the top 15 of the PairWise by the end of the regular season and with a Final Five appearance, could get an at-large bid.

CC’s remaining schedule will make it a lot more tough for the Tigers to reach the top 15 of the PairWise and will have to go deep into the Final Five to get an at-large bid or win the tournament to get the auto-bid (I say top 15 in the PairWise because the Atlantic Hockey champion won’t be in the top 16, which already takes away one at-large bid).

This is an exciting time of the season for college hockey. The races are heating up, playoffs are around the corner and the Final Five is less than a month away. Enjoy the show.