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.