The inaugural National Collegiate Hockey Conference regular season is over and the Penrose Cup went to St. Cloud State after the Huskies beat Colorado College on Saturday night and UND lost to Western Michigan in the regular-season finale.
Now that we know the final standings, I decided to go back and look the preseason poll that I e-mailed the league.
My preseason poll
3. St. Cloud State
4. North Dakota
7. Western Michigan
8. Colorado College
For starters, I completely botched the Miami pick (as did everyone else). Their goaltending was very good a year ago and shockingly struggled big-time this year. The defensive corps really struggled, too. Miami winning the league was the pick I was the most confident in at the start of the year. I never would have imagined the RedHawks would finish last.
While Omaha ended up getting voted last place by the media, this ended up being one of my better picks. I really liked a lot about this Omaha team. The only question was goaltending, which didn’t end up being very good. But the Mavs still finished third with lots of explosive offensive players and a solid D corps.
Prior to the season, I said that if Omaha finishes last as predicted, I won’t eat pizza for two weeks. Thankfully, it won’t come to that.
St. Cloud State did a great job overcoming the losses of Drew LeBlanc, Nick Jensen and Ben Hanowski to win the league. As I said in the preseason preview, the Huskies had a number of guys who were ready to for larger roles like Joey Benik and David Morley. I still didn’t think they would be able to win the league after losing such prominent players.
I underrated UND in the picks. UND’s young defensive corps ended up coming around faster than I thought it would. I also never imagined this team would go on a run like it did to close the season, especially in a deep league like this one. Like St. Cloud, UND was trying to overcome the loss of some very prominent players, like Hobey finalists Danny Kristo and Corban Knight, and it did that.
I was only one spot off with Duluth and Colorado College and right on with Denver, so those teams did exactly as I thought they would. There wasn’t much about those teams that surprised.
Western Michigan finished two spots higher than I thought. The emergence of Shane Berschbach, who tripled his goals from his junior season, was huge. Justin Kovacs and Nolan LaPorte also increased their production by quite a bit.
So, now we’re headed toward the postseason.
As it stands, only St. Cloud State (No. 5) and North Dakota (No. 10) would make the NCAA tournament if it started today. I think St. Cloud State is in no matter what happens from here. I’m thinking that UND has to win the first-round series against Colorado College to get in, but I’ll wait for Jim Dahl’s weekly Pairwise predictor to make any definitive statements on that.
In past years in the old WCHA, the winner of the Final Five was always a team that was going to the NCAAs anyway (until last year). That’s where things could get interesting this year.
I would not be surprised in the least if a team other than UND or St. Cloud State won the Frozen Faceoff.
Right now, in the WCHA, the only team that would be in the NCAAs would be Ferris. Likewise, it would not surprise me in the least if Ferris did not win the Final Five.
That means you might have to finish higher in the Pairwise than years past in order to get an at-large bid.
Atlantic Hockey does not have a team in the top 30, therefore, it will take up one spot. So, at minimum, you need to be in the top 15 to get in. If we have “upset” winners in the NCHC and WCHA, which is very, very possible (not to mention the possibility in the ECAC), that would mean a top 13 spot is necessary.
So, as the conference tournaments start to play out over the next two weeks, keep an eye on that. If you finish No. 16, you are out. If you finish 14 or 15, I’d be nervous.
Nebraska Omaha and Colorado College’s combined nonconference record of 3-16-1 did not do the NCHC any favors in the Pairwise.
How much of an impact does that have?
If Omaha wouldn’t have lost to Bentley — and if it would have been able to gain splits against Cornell and New Hampshire instead of getting swept by both — then the NCHC would be in position to get four teams in: St. Cloud State would be 4, UND would be 7, Omaha would be 13, Duluth would be 15.
But as it stands, Omaha is 26 and Duluth is 19.