Here are four things still on the line for UND this weekend against Omaha
OMAHA, Neb. -- UND won the Penrose Cup last weekend as National Collegiate Hockey Conference regular-season champions.
They were handed the trophy by NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton on the ice in Ralph Engelstad Arena after a dramatic 2-1 overtime victory Saturday against Western Michigan. The players celebrated with it for the third time in six years.
With the Cup already in hand, is there anything left to play for this weekend in Omaha as UND closes the regular season in Baxter Arena (7:07 p.m. Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday)?
Yes, there are four key things.
1. Winning the title outright
The Penrose Cup has never been shared in the NCHC's seven years of existence and UND doesn't want that to start this season.
Minnesota Duluth can still tie UND atop the standings if the Bulldogs sweep St. Cloud State in Duluth's AmsOil Arena and UND gets swept by Omaha. This would give Minnesota Duluth its first regular-season conference title since 1993, when it won the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's MacNaughton Cup.
The Fighting Hawks aren't in the sharing mood.
"Absolutely not," UND junior forward Jordan Kawaguchi said. "We don't like Duluth and Duluth doesn't like us. There's that rivalry there. We definitely don't want to share the Penrose. We're going to go into this weekend with that in mind."
2. Locking down the No. 1 seed
If UND and Minnesota Duluth were to share the Penrose Cup, the Bulldogs would have the tiebreaker based on conference wins and would take the No. 1 seed in the NCHC tournament.
After celebrating with the Penrose Cup, losing the top seed would be a punch to the gut for the Fighting Hawks.
The top-seeded team is most likely to face Colorado College in the first round of the playoffs. Although the Tigers can be a tricky out -- they nearly won at Ralph Engelstad Arena once this season -- they are a more favorable matchup than Miami because of the RedHawks' explosive top line featuring Gordie Green, Karch Bachman and Casey Gilling.
The Green, Bachman and Gilling line combined for 14 points in two games when UND and Miami met in January. It's safe to say that the Fighting Hawks would rather not deal with them again.
The top-seeded team would also get last line change (meaning they get to see what line the other team puts on the ice after whistles) for the entirety of the NCHC tournament, which UND is looking to win for the first time.
3. Staying No. 1 in the Pairwise
Speaking of last line change, the better-seeded team will get last line change in the NCAA tournament.
For this Fighting Hawks team, that could be an important tool.
UND coach Brad Berry has a shutdown line -- sophomore Gavin Hain, sophomore Mark Senden and senior Cole Smith -- that has excelled against opponents' top lines this season. If Berry gets the opportunity to set line matchups after whistles, this could help the Fighting Hawks in the NCAA tournament.
"We match up lines with Smitty and Senden's line there," UND captain Colton Poolman said. "We try to get them out there when we can and they play heavy minutes for us. So, that's a big deal. When you don't have that, it's just another option that's taken away. It's out of your control. The more things you can have a little bit under your control, the better you'll end up being."
UND currently is No. 1 in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to seed the 16-team field. Minnesota State-Mankato is ranked No. 2 and Cornell is No. 3.
4. Keeping momentum
Just as he did during UND's 2016 run to the NCAA national championship, Berry has repeatedly emphasized the importance of winning back-to-back games on a weekend.
Berry gathered his team around at practice Wednesday and repeated that. To win a national championship, you have to win two games on a weekend both at the regionals and at the NCAA Frozen Four.
Berry wants his team to get used to do that now.
"Most of all, it's about keeping on where we're at here," Berry said. "In order to do the things we want to do, you have to win two games on a weekend. Knowing that, we want to keep our foot on the gas, be sharp with all of the habits and details, starting from Monday through Saturday night."
No. 2 UND at Omaha
When: 7:07 p.m. Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Baxter Arena, Omaha.
TV: Midco Sports Network (GF Ch. 27/622 HD).
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).
Records: UND 25-4-4 (16-3-3 NCHC); Omaha 13-16-5 (7-12-3).