There are four weekends left in the regular season in the NCHC, and some interesting battles are emerging in the final weeks of the regular season. It's a two-horse race to take home the regular season league title, but a major battle is shaping up for home ice in the NCHC playoffs as teams jockey for league position, and to try stay on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Here's how the leagues major races stand as of today, and how they might shake out by March.
Penrose Cup Race
1. North Daktoa--41 points, 16 games played
Remaining series: at Denver, vs. Minnesota Duluth, at Omaha, vs. Western Michigan
2 St. Cloud State--41 points, 18 games played
Remaining series: at Omaha, vs. Minnesota Duluth, at Colorado College
The Huskies had a chance to extend a lead atop the league with North Dakota taking their final bye of the season last weekend. Instead, a split with Miami meant the Huskies only managed to draw even with the Fighting Hawks with North Dakota still holding two games in hand. St. Cloud State would hold the tiebreaker over North Dakota unless North Dakota finishes with more regulation wins than the Huskies.
Strength of schedule slightly favors North Dakota. After North Dakota plays at Denver this weekend to make up their extra two games, series home vs. Duluth and at Omaha cancel each other out for both teams. To close the season, North Dakota gets Western Michigan at home, while St. Cloud State has to travel to Colorado College, who has already split with St. Cloud State in St. Cloud.
Home Ice Race
3. Denver--29 points, 16 games played
Remaining series: vs North Dakota, H/H vs. Colorado College, at Western Michigan, vs. Omaha
4. Minnesota Duluth--25 points, 18 games played
Remaining series: at North Dakota, at St. Cloud State, Miami
5. Miami--22 points, 18 games played
Remaining series: at Western Michigan, vs. Colorado College, at Minnesota Duluth
6. Omaha--19 points, 16 games played
Remaining series: vs. Western Michigan, vs. St. Cloud State, vs. North Dakota, at Denver
Two of these teams will earn home in the NCHC playoffs and more than likely play one of the two teams that don't earn home ice.
Denver has the inside track on a spot with a four-point lead on Minnesota Duluth, an extra series in hand. The Pioneers have also been playing great hockey of late, only losing one game since being swept at home by St. Cloud State in mid-December.
The last home ice spot should be interesting. Duluth has a three-point lead on Miami, but the RedHawks have a huge advantage in schedule. The Bulldogs have road series against the top two teams in the league, while Miami draws the two weakest teams in the league. It's very likely that Miami makes up that difference and that final weekend of the regular season in Duluth between those two teams determines who hosts whom the following weekend.
Omaha has struggled with inconsistency in the second half of the season, but they have two games in hand on both Miami and Duluth. A clean sweep at home over Western Michigan this weekend and the Mavericks are tied with Duluth for fourth place heading into the final three series. They'll have to play the top three teams in the league in the final weeks though, which is a tough task.
Also Playing Hockey
7. Western Michigan--14 points, 16 games played
Remaining series: at Omaha, vs. Miami, vs. Denver, at North Dakota
8. Colorado College--13 points, 18 games played
Remaining series: H/H vs. Denver, at Miami, vs. St. Cloud State
These guys are mostly playing the role of spoiler in the final weeks. They won't win many games, but should win enough to keep things interesting. Western Michigan gets two series at home, where they've been very tough to beat Colorado College has proven they're not an easy out either after their dreadful start to the season.