The NCHC completed their Pod today playing an incredible 38 games over three weeks at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
It was an ambitious plan when the NCHC first announced the Pod, but they managed to pull it off. Two games out of the original 40 scheduled were lost when Colorado College had to shut down prior to the Pod, but once they were able to get all eight teams in Omaha, things went as well as could possibly be expected.
It was refreshing, not just to have hockey back, but to have it back without the worries of starts and stops, postponements and cancellations that have affected so much of college hockey outside of the bubble. Sure, it was odd watching games in an empty arena, but for probably the first time since last March, the focus was entirely on hockey, and not the virus and how it affected the game.
And the hockey was terrific too. Competitive games filled with skilled players. Here were some of the players that I thought emerged as standouts over the three weeks in the NCHC Pod.
F-Noah Cates, Minnesota Duluth
There were a couple different directions I could have gone in terms of UMD forwards, as their entire top line was very good. Nick Swaney drove the offense for the Bulldogs, registering 3-9-12 and generated five shots on goal per game. Kobe Roth scored some big goals at important times. But every time I watched the Bulldogs, I came away with all the little plays Cates made on both ends of the ice. He was a physical force that contributed on the offensive end, and made some big plays defensively. He was probably the most complete hockey player in the Pod.
F-Grant Cruikshank, Colorado College
Colorado College got a late start in the Pod, but Cruikshank made up for lost time, scoring six goals in his first seven games of the Pod. Cruikshank is a terrific skater and used his speed effectively to get into scoring areas.
F-Shane Pinto, North Dakota
What stood out the most to me about Pinto was his ability to make the players around him better by creating space for them, and getting them pucks in areas where they could be successful. He was also absolutely lethal on face-offs, which became a real weapon for North Dakota, especially in power play and penalty kill situations.
D-Matt Kiersted, North Dakota
Already on North Dakota’s top defensive pairing, Kiersted was forced into an even bigger role when fellow defenseman Tyler Kleven was a surprise late call-up to the US World Junior team, joining teammate Jake Sanderson, and another defenseman, Ethan Frisch was forced out of the line-up due to injury. That left North Dakota with just five available defenseman. But Kiersted was rock solid throughout the Pod, helping quarterback North Dakota’s power play unit and playing good two-way defense. The honor could just as easily have gone to his defensive pairing partner Jacob Bernard-Docker, who was a little stronger on the defensive end, but Kiersted’s ability to drive offense and produce points was a big key for North Dakota.
D-Nick Perbix, St. Cloud State
Perbix was the only defenseman to average a point-per-game in the Pod, but his contributions go so far beyond just the offensive end of the ice. He’s a leader for the St. Cloud State defense that is so good in all three zones. Just an ultra-reliable player.
G-Ryan Fanti, Minnesota Duluth
Minnesota Duluth came into the Pod with questions about who would replace Hunter Shepard in net. Fanti got the first opportunity in goal for Minnesota Duluth and he ran with it. Fanti ended up starting eight of Minnesota Duluth’s nine games and put up a .917 save percentage against really tough competition. And with a defensive group in front of him that is still kind of finding their way while trying to replace so many big names, Fanti had to earn that save percentage with a lot of big saves.
F-Carter Savoie, Denver
It was a disappointing Pod for Denver, who found themselves on the wrong end of a lot really good, close games against highly-ranked teams. But Savoie put the conference on notice with six goals in his first five games of the Pod, finishing with seven total to tie for the national lead in goal-scoring. Savoie is a pure sniper with great instincts for getting the puck at the right time and finishing off plays with a wicked shot.
F-Chayse Primeau, Omaha
Primeau only scored 26 points total in his first two seasons at Omaha, but showed that this could be a breakout season for him, as he came out of his nine games in the Pod with 12 points. He’s a big, physical player that can be a disruptive force, and his skating has improved to the point that he can now be a more consistent offensive threat.
F-Veeti Miettinen, St. Cloud State
The Finnish rookie found instant chemistry with linemates Easton Brodzinski and Jami Krannila and showed off his electrifying offensive skills with four goals and four assists. He’s got the speed, shot, and hands around the net to be a big-time collegiate scorer.
D-Michael Benning, Denver
Benning is just a pure playmaker from the back end. He handles the puck extremely well and has great offensive instincts, which makes him a lot of fun to watch.
D-Wyatt Kaiser, Minnesota Duluth
I was a bit skeptical of Kaiser making the jump directly from Minnesota high school hockey to the NCAA, but he looked like a veteran in the Pod. He quickly established himself as UMD’s best option defensively and played big minutes for the Bulldogs.
G-Ludvig Persson, Miami
Persson mostly served as the back-up to starting goalie Ben Kraws. But when he got the opportunity to play, he was excellent. He put together a streak of 162:02 without allowing a goal, including back-to-back shutouts of Omaha and Denver.