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Breaking Down the NCHC Playoff Picture

NCHC

While many conferences have gone to a three-weekend playoff tournament format, the NCHC is old school, with a more traditional two-week format, meaning the league has one more weekend to play, with some very important playoff seedings on the line.

Here’s where the league stands heading into the final weekend of the regular season:

  1. North Dakota—51 points
  2. Denver 47—points
  3. Western Michigan—37 points
  4. Minnesota Duluth—34 points
  5. St. Cloud State—32 points
  6. Omaha—28 points
  7. Colorado College—18 points
  8. Miami—17 points

Here is the schedule for the final weekend of the season. All games are two-game Friday-Saturday series:

Colorado College vs. Denver (home-and-home)

St. Cloud State at Minnesota Duluth

North Dakota at Omaha

Miami at Western Michigan

And if you needed a reminder on the league’s tiebreaking procedures, they’re all listed here. The first one is head-to-head record in regulation among the tied teams(if all teams played an equal number of home and road games against each other), followed by league wins in regulation.

Starting with the race for the Penrose Cup, given to the league’s regular season champion, North Dakota is pretty clearly in control.

Denver trails the Fighting Hawks by four points and can gain a maximum of six points against Colorado College next weekend. That means some combination of three points either won by North Dakota or lost by Denver would give North Dakota the outright title.

Should Denver find a way to tie with North Dakota in the standings, things become slightly more complicated, but all paths lead back to North Dakota holding the tiebreaker for the top seed in the playoffs. North Dakota won the season series against the Pioneers with a sweep in Grand Forks, but because they never made a return trip to Denver, the first head-to-head tiebreaker is moot.

The next tiebreaker is regulation wins. North Dakota currently holds the edge 16-15 in that category. If Denver takes all six points this weekend—a pair of regulation wins—while North Dakota only takes two points—two OT losses, or an OT win and a loss—then the Pioneers would jump North Dakota with their 17 regulation wins. North Dakota would also hold the tiebreaker if they were swept while Denver won in overtime twice.

If Denver got a regulation win and an OT loss for their four points, while North Dakota was swept, each team would have 16 regulation wins and they would move to the third tiebreaker, which is head-to-head record regardless of a balanced schedule, and North Dakota swept the season series.

Western Michigan is in third place and unable to catch Denver for second place. They could drop to fourth place, but regardless, have secured home ice in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. Should they finish tied with Minnesota Duluth for third place, the Bulldogs hold the tiebreaker over the Broncos by virtue of their 2-1-1 record in regulation against them this season.

The race for the final home ice playoff spot is an interesting one, coming down to Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State, who happen to be playing each other this weekend. The Bulldogs are currently ahead by two points in the standings, so three points and they take the final spot out right. One or fewer points and St. Cloud State takes the final home ice spot. If St. Cloud wins one game in regulation and loses in overtime in the other game, the Huskies win the tiebreaker, by virtue of their regulation head-to-head record. If St. Cloud State wins both games in overtime, Minnesota Duluth holds the tiebreaker by virtue of more regulation wins.

Omaha is six points back of fourth place heading into the weekend, and could pass Minnesota Duluth in the standings(Mavericks would hold that tiebreaker), but if that happened, St. Cloud State would then have enough points to move into fourth place, so Omaha is guaranteed to be on the road next weekend. Omaha only needs to gain four points on St. Cloud State to pass the Huskies for fifth place, as they hold that tiebreaker too.

Colorado College and Miami will take the seventh and eighth spots in the league. Colorado College holds a one point lead on the RedHawks and also own the tiebreaker if they finish tied.