After four months of intense competition on the ice, a champion has been crowned in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
On the second-to-last weekend of the regular season, North Dakota needed to equal or exceed the points earned by second-place Minnesota Duluth to earn at least a share of the regular-season title on home ice, and while it took overtime on Saturday, Brad Berry’s team would get the job done in the end.
Shane Pinto would score two minutes into the extra frame to complete the weekend sweep of Western Michigan and hand UND their third Penrose Cup in the last six years, equaling St. Cloud State for the most regular-season titles in league history.
UND’s 2-1 OT win came on the heels of a 3-1 victory on Friday, results that were necessary because Duluth would also pick up six points on the weekend. The Bulldogs earned a pair of road wins against Colorado College to improve to 9-1-1 in their last 11 games at World Arena and lock up no worse than the two-seed in the NCHC Tournament. UMD’s win Saturday was their 20th of the campaign, the fourth year in a row the two-time defending national champs have hit that target.
Joining North Dakota and Duluth with back-to-back wins on the weekend was Miami, as the Redhawks rolled over Omaha on Senior Weekend in Oxford for their first conference sweep since January of 2017. NCAA First Star of the Week Ryan Larkin was perfect against the Mavs, notching 48 saves to earn a pair of shutouts and propel Miami ahead of CC into 7th place in the league standings.
The only split of the weekend came in St. Cloud, as the Huskies shared the spoils with Denver to more or less maintain the status quo in the fight for home ice. SCSU won 5-1 in a dominant performance on Friday, only to see their seven-game unbeaten snapped with a 5-2 defeat to the Pios the following night.
That win for DU coupled with Western’s losses in Grand Forks has pushed David Carle’s team ahead of the Broncos into third place in the NCHC standings, though it’s still yet to be determined who earns the final two home ice spots between those two and St. Cloud. Denver needs three points against CC to lock up a top-half finish, while Western’s magic number is five. The Huskies, meanwhile, need at least three points against Duluth and a little help from either the Redhawks or the Tigers to keep their hopes of another home weekend intact.
Finally, even though they’ve already won the Penrose, North Dakota does need one point at Omaha to clinch the top seed in the conference tournament while preventing Duluth from earning a share of the title. UNO is the only team to beat UND in Grand Forks this season, though, and they’ll be looking for three points to lock up the six seed.
With much yet to be determined and so many old rivals facing off, it should make for a fascinating end to the regular season in the nation’s greatest college hockey conference.