Duluth gains important sweep
With its weekend sweep of Miami, Minnesota Duluth moved into a tie for third place in the NCHC standings with North Dakota. Though the Bulldogs swept the Fighting Hawks this year, the two teams only played two games against each other, what the NCHC deems an “unbalanced schedule,” so the next tiebreaker would be used, “greater number of NCHC regular-season wins,” a tiebreaker the Bulldogs currently own with 10 conference wins compared to North Dakota’s eight.
The Bulldogs blanked the RedHawks in both games, with goaltender Hunter Shepard making 16 saves on Friday in a 4-0 win and another 34 on Saturday in a 3-0 win. Joey Anderson had a goal and assist on Saturday, while Mikey Anderson did the same on Friday and also had a point on Saturday. Shepard improved to 16-11-1 on the year, and now sports a 2.14 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
Duluth only had one power-play goal in seven attempts on the weekend, but killed six Miami power plays.
This weekend, the Bulldogs travel to Kalamazoo to play Western Michigan. The Broncos only trail Duluth and North Dakota by two points, with each team having four games left in the season.
St. Cloud takes command
With a three-on-three OT win and win over Western Michigan this weekend, combined with Denver’s loss Saturday to Colorado College, the St. Cloud State Huskies now have a five-point lead on the Pioneers in the race for the Penrose Cup, awarded to the NCHC regular season champion. It would mark the second Penrose Cup for the Huskies, who also won the first one, in 2013-14.
In the games against Western, St. Cloud had to rally in each. Friday, the Huskies trailed in the third after Hugh McGing gave the Broncos the lead, but a power-play strike from Jimmy Schuldt tied it at 9:15. Western again took a one-goal lead when Dawson DiPietro scored at 17:35, but Mika Ilvonen scored his second of the game with just 49 seconds to go to tie it, and after neither team could score in the OT, Schuldt scored 35 seconds into the three-on-three OT to get the Huskies the extra point.
Saturday, St. Cloud again scored first, but trailed 2-1 entering the third after DiPietro’s goal in the second. Again, it was the power play that came up big for the Huskies, as Mikey Eyssimont’s power-play goal at 11:19 proved the game-winner. The Huskies also got a power-play strike from Easton Brodzinski at 4:16 of the second to go up 1-0 before two goals from Western in a three-minute span set up the rally for the third period.
This weekend could be for all the marbles, as the Huskies host Denver. The Pioneers swept St. Cloud in Denver back in November. To add further intrigue, both teams are missing players to the Olympics, with Denver missing Troy Terry and St. Cloud missing Will Borgen. It is unclear at this point whether either player could play next weekend if Team USA is eliminated prior to the medal round.
Colorado College gets first win over Denver in four years
It had to happen sooner or later. After not beating the Pioneers since Feb. 22, 2014, a streak that spanned 17 games, Colorado College defeated Denver in Denver Saturday, 1-0, thanks in part to 40 saves by goalie Alex Leclerc. CC also earned five of six points in the two games at Magness Arena, harkening back to the games in the earlier part of this decade where CC more often than not won the Gold Pan, given to the team that wins the season series between the two clubs, and often treated Magness like World Arena North.
More important for CC was the three points that came with the win. Most observers close to the league again picked CC to finish last. It’s still mathematically possible for that to happen, but CC is currently in sixth place with 26 points, two ahead of Omaha and nine ahead of Miami. Sixth would be CC’s best finish in the brief history of the league; the last three seasons, CC has finished last, and in the first season the Tigers finished seventh. CC’s current point total of 26 is its best ever in the conference.
Captain Mason Bergh said afterward that he hoped they could use the win to build momentum, and possibly avoid playing Denver in the first round again, commenting, “It’s a lot of fun to play against those guys; hopefully, we don’t have to play them again. Hopefully, we can build off that win.”