This Week in NCHC Hockey: Conference standings coming into focus with teams battling for playoff positioning

St. Cloud State’s Brendan Bushy scored the first goal of his collegiate career in the Huskies’ 4-2 win over Miami last Saturday (photo: Rachel MacNeill).

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the NCHC is on the verge of accomplishing what it set out to do when the conference announced the regular season plans of the Omaha pod and then weekend series: have each team play a 24-game regular season.

Assuming the NCHC accomplishes that, the final standings, and the seedings for the NCHC tournament, will be decided by points, not winning percentage.

North Dakota is currently in the driver’s seat for the Penrose Cup with a four-point lead over second-place St. Cloud State and a game in hand. If the Fighting Hawks simply split their remaining four games with Omaha, they will finish atop the NCHC and gain another Penrose Cup.

The top four and bottom four seeds are set: North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth, and Omaha will finish in some order of 1-4, while Western Michigan, Denver, Miami, and Colorado College will finish in some order of 5-8. With no home ice in the first round of the playoffs, in some ways the teams are mainly gunning for pride, as well as positioning themselves for a possible NCAA tournament berth.

One big swing that happened last weekend was the result of Western Michigan sweeping Minnesota Duluth. That dropped the Bulldogs to third in the NCHC, and it also lifted the Broncos past Denver into fifth place in the NCHC.

NCAA tournament options

Since the NCHC was founded, the conference has never failed to send at least three teams to the NCAA tournament. The league sometimes gets more, including sending six in 2015. However, with a lack of interconference play, this year could see fewer NCHC teams qualify.

The NCAA announced Monday that the PairWise will still be used. As of now, only North Dakota is in the top 16 in the PairWise, and realistically, with each conference gaining one autobid, you want to be a positioned in the top 12 to have a shot.

However, the NCAA announced that there will be flexibility in the qualifying measures, and further announced a six-person committee to help with the selection process. That committee includes St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson, who could be in the unique position of advocating for his team to be in the NCAA field.

More about the selection process.

All good things must end

Since the 2001-02 season, Denver has won at least 20 games in every season.

That streak will come to an end this year.

While Denver has shown flashes of its usual self, consistency has been missing, and the Pioneers have struggled to put teams in away in games in which they lead. Denver will not only fail to win 20 games, they will finish with a losing record for the first time since the 1999-2000 season, when the Pioneers finished 16-23-2.

Another potential streak that will end is NCAA tournament appearances. Denver hasn’t missed the NCAA tournament since the 2006-07 season. Denver will almost certainly need to win the NCHC tournament to qualify for the tournament. The last time they faced that situation was Jim Montgomery’s first season as head coach, and Denver did manage to win the tournament at the Target Center in Minneapolis, defeating Miami in the title game to qualify.

Times, ticket prices announced for NCHC Frozen Faceoff

After the success of the pod format for the first half of the season, last week the NCHC announced that its playoff format would be changed this year to be held at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in North Dakota. All series are single-elimination format. The tournament will be held March 12-16. The quarterfinal matchups will be held March 12-13, with a five-hour window between puck drops.

The first games on March 12-13 will be held at 2:37 CST, with the second games each day at 7:37 CST. The semifinal matchups will be March 15, with games at 3:05 CST and 8:05 CST. The final will be March 16 at 7:35 CST.

In a press release, NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton stated, “Due to continued challenges with COVID-19, we are forced to alter the structure and location of the 2021 NCHC tournament. Circumstances surrounding travel, testing, and fan attendance made the traditional format difficult to complete. We are disappointed that we will not be able to culminate the season at Xcel Energy Center, but look forward to bringing one of college hockey’s best tournament experiences back to Saint Paul in 2022.”

The NCHC has announced a limited attendance policy of 3,000 fans in the 11,634 capacity Ralph Engelstad Arena, approximately 26% of capacity. Tickets go on sale this Saturday at 10:00 a.m. CST. More information is available at

Colorado College, Denver finalize two series

Denver and Colorado College have had to cancel two series due to COVID-19 protocols. This week, the two rivals finalized their makeups. They will play Thursday and Saturday series on back-to-back weekends, with CC hosting on Feb. 25 and March 6 and DU hosting on Feb. 27 and March 4.

CC and DU split their first series. To win the Gold Pan, CC will need to win three of the four games or get two wins and a tie. DU is off this weekend, so the four CC games are Denver’s last games before the playoffs. CC plays Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State this weekend.