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No Sweeps Allowed in Rugged NCHC

Recent matchups in men’s college hockey offer plenty of parity.

UMD sophomore Ben Steeves scored the overtime-winning goal in the split of 3-2 overtime wins vs. Colorado College. (MHM Photo / John Gilbert)

The St. Cloud State Huskies didn’t know they were setting the template for league parity when they made the trip to Denver to take on the Pioneers in a battle for midseason supremacy in the NCHC. And they certainly didn’t expect much out of the weekend after the Pioneers scored five straight third-period goals to take the first game in a 5-1 rout.

The Huskies were in far better spirits when they returned home Sunday, after they blew a 4-2 lead in the third period to force overtime, then nipped the Pioneers 2-1 in a shootout to come away with a victory, even though the rules note the game is counted as a tie in the standings. 

The game-one loss shows the disparity between national ratings and league standings, because St. Cloud State went into the series ranked No. 14 but led the NCHC with a 7-0-1 record. While Denver ranked No. 6 in the country. So, the Huskies flew home with a 7-1-2 league record, still good for first place. While Denver moved to 5-3-1, and the capacity for splitting NCHC series still alive and well.

St. Cloud State’s schedule doesn’t ease up at all, as the Huskies welcome North Dakota, which risked its 5-4 NCHC standing and No. 4 ranking in last weekend’s split against Omaha in Grand Forks.

More evidence of NCHC parity was obvious in last weekend’s visit by Colorado College to AMSOIL Arena to face UMD in a series that could have elevated one ahead of the other in the middle of the NCHC pack. Instead, the two teams split, and it couldn’t have been more equitable. UMD captured a 3-2 overtime victory Friday night, when Ben Steeves scored his 15th goal for the winner 1:06 into overtime. In the next game, Colorado College CC got the tying goal from Nicklas Andrews with 0:00.2 showing on the clock near the end of the second period. Noah Laba scored the winner for Colorado at 1:39 of overtime. The games also featured goaltending duels between UMD senior Zach Stejskal and CC sophomore Kaidan Mbereko.

Colorado College arrived in Duluth holding fifth place in the NCHC as a reward for coach Kris Mayotte’s rebuilding plan, while the Bulldogs were sixth. Friday night’s victory boosted the Bulldogs into a three-way tie for fifth with Colorado and Omaha.

The rest of the NCHC follows the rules of parity too, as Western Michigan split with Miami, and Omaha surprised North Dakota for a split.

Ohio State still dominates WCHA
Both UMD-CC games were part of a celebratory weekend in Duluth, with Friday’s dedicated to Make-A-Wish Foundation. Saturday night, both the UMD women’s and men’s games were part of the ceremonial tribute to Sophie’s Choice, a mental health foundation originated by UMD’s women’s star, Gabbie Hughes, who is now playing for PWHL Ottawa.

The UMD women made the best of the circumstances, playing Bemidji State through a tough first game Friday afternoon resulting in a 2-0 victory. 

The next night, it rained goals for UMD as the Bulldogs smothered Bemidji State 7-0. Reece Hunt, who transferred to UMD from Bemidji State for her final season, scored at 8:50 and 10:30 of the first period, then completed her hat trick at 8:50 off the second period to make it a 3-0 lead. Grace Sadura, Mannon McMahon and Danielle Burgen added second-period goals before Danielle Brunette added one more at 4:41 of the third period to complete the rout.

With a 10-6 record, UMD rises to fourth in the WCHA, behind Ohio State, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and leading St. Cloud State, Minnesota State-Mankato, Bemidi State and St. Thomas. A full WCHA slate is coming up this weekend, with UMD at Ohio State, Wisconsin at Mankato, Minnesota at Bemidji State and St. Thomas at St. Cloud State.

Last weekend’s series between WCHA leader Ohio State and the rebuilt Minnesota Golden Gophers was supposed to be some sort of showdown in Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. But Ohio State settled that issue with a 7-0 rout of the Gophers, followed up by a 6-1 hammering by the Buckeyes.

The high-flying Buckeyes are now 15-1 atop the WCHA, with Wisconsin second at 12-4, Minnesota third at 10-5-1, and UMD fourth at 10-6. St. Cloud State is hot on their heels at 9-6-1 in fifth place.

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