Down to the wire

Coming into the inaugural season of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), it was anticipated that the league would be ultra-competitive, and that the teams might be very close together in points. If that was what the league honchos wanted, they certainly have it.

Heading into the final weekend of play, the only positions in the league that are decided are the bottom two. Colorado College has clinched the seventh spot after Miami was swept by Minnesota-Duluth, and Miami will finish last.

The top six? There could be a lot of movement before the conference tournament starts.

First place is still up in the air. St. Cloud State and North Dakota split over the weekend, and both have 42 points entering the final weekend of play, tied for first. St. Cloud won the season series between the two, taking three of the four games, so you would think that St. Cloud would have the inside track to finish first, but you’d be wrong. The NCHC’s first tiebreaker is conference wins, and North Dakota owns that one.

If the two teams finish tied after next weekend, they will be named co-champions. North Dakota hosts Western Michigan this weekend, while St. Cloud State travels to Colorado College. St. Cloud got a tie/shootout loss and win against CC back in November, and North Dakota swept Western Michigan in Kalamazoo back in December.

(EDIT) However, Nebraska-Omaha could pass both of them if the Mavericks sweep Minnesota-Duluth and either North Dakota or St. Cloud State gets less than three points in their final weekend of play. If North Dakota wins at least one game this weekend, it would own a tiebreaker with UNO based on conference wins.

It would get really interesting if Western Michigan were to sweep North Dakota and UNO and St. Cloud were to end up tied atop the standings with 45 points, based on a UNO sweep and St. Cloud split, as the fourth tiebreaker, winning percentage aginst the remaining teams, would come into play, as UNO and St. Cloud would have the same number of conference wins, split their series, and have the same goals for and against each other in their two games.

Home ice
Barring that improbable series of events, Nebraska-Omaha will finish either third or fourth and claim home ice for the first round of the playoffs. The only way the Mavericks don’t get home ice is if Minnesota-Duluth sweeps UNO this weekend in Duluth AND Western Michigan sweeps North Dakota in Grand Forks. UNO currently has 39 points, while Minnesota-Duluth and Western Michigan each have 34.

An interesting backstory to the closing series between the Bulldogs and Mavericks is that UMD swept UNO in Omaha back in January. The Bulldogs just swept Miami in Oxford this past weekend by scores of 5-4 and 1-0. The Mavericks swept Colorado College in Omaha, though they needed an overtime goal from team captain Michael Young on Saturday to do so.

Barring a Bulldogs sweep of Nebraska-Omaha, which would push Minnesota-Duluth to third and Nebraska-Omaha to four, the Bulldogs are battling for the final home ice spot with Western Michigan and Denver. The Bulldogs are tied with Western Michigan in points with 34. Both teams have 10 conference wins, and UMD owns the second tiebreaker since it won the season series by taking three of four games against the Broncos.

If Western Michigan and Minnesota-Duluth were to split their series this weekend and finish with 37 points, sixth-place Denver, which split with Western Michigan last weekend in Kalamazoo, winning Friday 4-2 and losing Saturday 3-1 to Chase Balisy’s hat trick, could leapfrog both teams and claim the final home ice spot by sweeping reeling Miami at home this weekend. Denver faced the RedHawks in Oxford back in December and split.