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The NCHC's Sprint to the Finish

Matt Christians

One of the interesting features of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference league schedule is that no teams has a bye week in the final month of the regular season. All eight teams play four series each in the final weeks of the season, which makes for some interesting battles as teams jockey for playoff position.

Heading into the final month, the league's standings look like this:

Conference Overall
Team Pts GP W L T SW Win% GF GA GP W L T Win% GF GA
Omaha 32 16 10 5 1 1 0.656 52 41 26 16 7 3 0.673 79 65
North Dakota 31 16 10 5 1 0 0.656 48 37 27 19 6 2 0.741 93 58
Miami 29 16 9 6 1 1 0.594 49 38 26 16 9 1 0.635 78 56
Minnesota Duluth 28 16 9 6 1 0 0.594 49 40 28 17 10 1 0.625 87 66
Denver 27 16 9 7 0 0 0.563 48 41 26 16 9 1 0.635 78 56
St. Cloud State 22 16 7 8 1 0 0.469 48 37 26 12 13 1 0.481 74 66
Western Michigan 19 16 4 8 4 3 0.375 37 50 26 11 11 4 0.500 74 70
Colorado College 4 16 1 14 1 0 0.094 23 70 25 5 19 1 0.220 51 103

I created a matrix to show the remaining schedules for each of the eight teams. (The @ symbol indicates the team on the left axis is on the road. Denver vs. Colorado College is a home-and-home series)

Omaha @Feb 27-28 @Feb 20-21 Feb 13-14 Mar 6-7
North Dakota @Mar 6-7 Feb 13-14 Feb 27-28 @Feb 20-21
Miami Mar 6-7 Feb 20-21 @Feb 27-28 @Feb 13-14
Minnesota Duluth Feb 27-28 @Feb 20-21 Feb 13-14 @Mar 6-7
Denver Feb 13-14 Feb 27-28 @Mar 6-7 Feb 20-21
St. Cloud State Feb 20-21 @Feb 27-28 @Feb 13-14 Mar 6-7
Western Michigan @Feb 13-14 Feb 20-21 Mar 6-7 @Feb 27-28
Colorado College @Mar 6-7 Feb 13-14 Feb 20-21 Feb 27-28
Omaha North Dakota Miami Minnesota Duluth Denver St. Cloud State Western Michigan Colorado College

As you can see, not only does Omaha hold a slight edge in the league standings, but they've also got the easiest schedule based on current standings. North Dakota's isn't bad either. The key difference is that while UNO is at home against Colorado College to close the season, North Dakota has a very difficult road series at Miami.

The toughest road in definitely belongs to St. Cloud State. The Huskies currently sit in sixth place and play series against teams ahead of them in the standings. The good news is that they'll control their own destiny by playing teams they need to pass to get into contention for home ice in the playoffs. The bad news is that they were a combined 1-7-0 against those teams in the first half of the season.

Meanwhile, Denver and Minnesota Duluth don't meet again this season, but they play nearly identical schedules in the final four weeks as they battle for the last home ice playoff spot. Of course, with the right combination of results next weekend, either one of those teams could be in first place in the league come next Monday as well.

Only three of the remaining 16 series feature two teams currently in the top half of the league, but nearly every series in this league is a good one, and there should be some great hockey down the stretch. Five teams from the league are in strong position to make the NCAA tournament field this year, and with the top five teams so close in the standings, the league title race, and important playoff positioning likely won't be decided until the final weekend of the season.