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NCHC establishing itself as top league again

UND's Nick Jones and Wisconsin's Tarek Baker work for position in the third period of last Saturday's game. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

We're more than halfway through the nonconference portion of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference schedule.

It's nearly 60 percent complete.

And the NCHC, once again, appears set to establish itself as the league with the best nonconference record.

After UND's two-game sweep of Wisconsin last weekend, the NCHC holds a 31-13-5 (.684) nonconference record. That's more than 100 points ahead of the Big Ten, which comes in second with a 22-16-3 (.573) nonconference record.

The three Western-based leagues are currently ranked 1-2-3 in nonconference records as the Western Collegiate Hockey Association is in third with a 19-21-3 (.477) record.

The Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference is fourth with a 15-17-1 (.470) record and Hockey East is fifth at 19-22-2 (.465).

Atlantic Hockey is last with a 5-22-2 (.207) nonconference mark.

During the last five seasons—the lifespan of the NCHC—it has the best nonconference record of any of college hockey's six leagues.

It has produced the last three NCAA national champions—UND in 2016, Denver in 2017 and Minnesota Duluth in 2018.

In this week's national poll, the NCHC had four teams in the top 11—Minnesota Duluth is No. 1, St. Cloud State is No. 2, Denver is No. 5, UND is No. 11 and Miami is No. 19.

Omaha, Colorado College and Western Michigan are unranked.

After starting the season 0-2-1 in nonconference play, the Fighting Hawks have won four in a row to go to 4-2-1. They have just two nonconference series left—home against Alaska Anchorage on Thanksgiving weekend and a road series at Canisius in Buffalo, N.Y., in January.

UND went 6-2-4 in nonconference play last season.

Arizona State nearing the polls

One of the surprise stories early this college hockey season is the emergence of Arizona State.

The Sun Devils were one single vote away from appearing in the top 20 national poll for the first time ever this week.

They're off to a 7-3 start with a win at previously undefeated Penn State under their belt.

Sun Devils forward Johnny Walker is scoring at a remarkable pace. He has 11 goals in 10 games so far this season to lead the country. Going back to last season, Walker, an Arizona native, has 23 goals in his last 21 games.

Bemidji State goaltending strong

UND was the first team in the country to figure out that the post-Michael Bitzer era won't be a problem for Bemidji State.

The Beavers replaced their star goalie with St. Cloud State transfer Zach Driscoll and sophomore Henry Johnson—and both have been outstanding.

Driscoll is 2-0-1 with a 0.97 goals-against average and a .962 save percentage. Somehow, Johnson's numbers are even better at 0.67 and .973.

The Beavers are 4-1-1, despite playing just one home game so far.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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