The National Collegiate Hockey Conference does the stretch run right.

For the final three weeks of the regular season, all eight NCHC teams are in action every Friday and Saturday and they all have the equal number of games played. It makes the stretch run easy and fun to follow.

UND knows it will enter that final three-week stretch in first place.

How big will that lead be?

The Fighting Hawks are up two points on Minnesota Duluth, which has its final bye week. So, UND's lead will be anywhere between two and eight points clear as it chases a third Penrose Cup in six years.

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But first things first.

UND has an opportunity to clinch home ice with three points (one regulation or 5x5 OT win) this weekend, according to Bryan Boger, the statistical wizard who I run almost all of my stat-related questions past before they go to print.

With one win, UND can win the regular-season series with the Pioneers, too.

More and more college hockey teams have been going with just a single go-to goalie this season, so this is a rare matchup where we'll enter each night not knowing who will be in net for either team.

For UND, Peter Thome has been excellent lately. He's 4-0-1 with a .928 save percentage.

But Fighting Hawks coach Brad Berry indicated that Scheel's past success against Denver is something that will be taken into account, too. Scheel has made six career starts against Denver, posting a .949 save percentage in those games. It wouldn't be surprising if each got a start.

It also wouldn't be surprising if Denver gave each Magnus Chrona and Devin Cooley starts this weekend.

Chrona started both games against UND in November as Cooley was returning from an injury. The last three series, Denver has started the 6-foot-6 Chrona, a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick, on Friday, while starting Cooley, a 6-foot-5 junior, on Saturday.

Cooley has started 26 games over the past two seasons, but only one against UND. That was a 4-1 Fighting Hawks victory last December in The Ralph.

As usual when Denver and UND get together, there are a lot of former teammates playing against each other. Not many go as far back as Jordan Kawaguchi and Kohen Olischefski, though.

Kawaguchi said he's known Olischefski since they were about 11 years old. They were linemates in Chilliwack and led the Chiefs to the BCHL finals in 2017, where they lost in Game 7 to a Penticton team that had UND's Gabe Bast and Jonny Tychonick and Denver's Griffin Mendel.

Follow the games

No. 6 Denver at No. 1 UND

When: 7:37 tonight, 7:07 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena.

TV: CBS Sports Network (GF Ch. 314/635 HD) tonight; Midco Sports Network (GF Ch. 27/622 HD) on Saturday.

Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).

Webcast: NCHC.tv on Saturday only.

Live blog: GrandForksHerald.com.

Tale of the tape

North DakotaStatistical categoryDenver
21-3-3Record17-6-5
1Poll ranking6
1Pairwise ranking5
4.19 (1st)Offense3.18 (17th)
2.04 (6th)Defense2.18 (7th)
9.6 (45th)Penalty minutes11.4 (24th)
21.2 (21st)Power play22.0 (15th)
87.5 (5th)Penalty kill86.4 (8th)
53.4 (8th)Faceoffs51.4 (18th)
59.4 (1st)Corsi (possession)58.6 (3rd)
.904 (31st)Goaltending.914 (14th)

National rank in parenthesis

Injury report

UND junior defensemen Matt Kiersted and Gabe Bast are both expected to be available for UND this weekend. Kiersted missed the series against Colorado College two weeks ago and Bast left the Saturday night game with an injury. They used the extra week to get healthy. UND forward Gavin Hain is doubtful for the series, though. Hain left Saturday night's game against Colorado College with a lower-body injury. After he left that game, Harrison Blaisdell played in Hain's spot on the shutdown line with Mark Senden and Cole Smith, but Fighting Hawks coach Brad Berry indicated that there are several players who could fill that role. Denver also had last weekend off to get healthy. In their most recent series, forwards Hank Crone and Brett Edwards were both out due to "illness."

Denver's Jaakko Heikkinen and UND's Matt Kiersted battle in front of the net in a game last season. Photo by Shannon Valerio/University of Denver.
Denver's Jaakko Heikkinen and UND's Matt Kiersted battle in front of the net in a game last season. Photo by Shannon Valerio/University of Denver.

The focus: Bobby Brink

Denver rookie forward Bobby Brink, the No. 34 overall pick in last summer’s draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, has electric speed and can create offense out of nowhere. The Minnetonka, Minn., product comes to Grand Forks on a six-game point streak and with points in 12 of the last 13 games. Brink, who is in a race with UND’s Shane Pinto for the NCHC’s rookie of the year award, has been particularly effective on the power play. Brink leads the NCHC with five power-play goals. Twelve of his 23 points have come on the man advantage.

Denver freshman forward Bobby Brink skates around a Minnesota Duluth player in a recent series. Photo by Justin Tafoya/Clarkson Creative
Denver freshman forward Bobby Brink skates around a Minnesota Duluth player in a recent series. Photo by Justin Tafoya/Clarkson Creative

Pick to click: Colton Poolman

Denver is one of the best defensive teams in the country. Scoring chances can be few and far between against the Pioneers. Don't be surprised if that offense comes from the back end. Last season, eight UND players scored goals against Denver. Half of them were defensemen: Hayden Shaw, Matt Kiersted, Colton Poolman and Jacob Bernard-Docker. Poolman hasn't scored a goal since Thanksgiving Day against Minnesota and is due for one against the Pioneers.

UND hockey captain Colton Poolman (6) watches the action during practice Wednesday morning at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
UND hockey captain Colton Poolman (6) watches the action during practice Wednesday morning at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks HeraldNick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Prediction: Split

When the NCHC started, UND played in the league’s first-ever game. It was televised by CBS Sports Network, the league’s broadcast partner. UND won that game and went 10-2 in its first 12 CBS games. Those fortunes have turned and the Fighting Hawks are 1-9-2 on CBS since the 2017 NCHC title game. Tonight’s game is on CBS, so we’ll adjust odds accordingly. Denver has lost just twice on the road this season (at Duluth, at Arizona State) and UND just once at home. This series has all the makings of a low-scoring split.

Denver 3-2, UND 2-1

Denver's Cole Guttman and UND's Jasper Weatherby search for a loose puck during a game last season in Magness Arena. Photo by Shannon Valerio/University of Denver
Denver's Cole Guttman and UND's Jasper Weatherby search for a loose puck during a game last season in Magness Arena. Photo by Shannon Valerio/University of Denver


NCHC standings Through Feb. 13, 2020
Team Points Games left Record
North Dakota 40 8 12-2-2
Minn. Duluth 38 6 12-4-2
Denver 28 8 7-5-4
Western Mich. 28 8 8-6-2
SCSU 25 6 8-9-1
Omaha 21 6 6-9-3
Miami 12 8 3-11-2
Colorado College 12 6 3-13-2
SOURCE: Grand Forks Herald

Stories to read

Feature: Before becoming a Hobey candidate, Jordan Kawaguchi left his mark in Chilliwack

Q&A: Five questions with Collin Adams on his old linemate Andrei Svechikov's highlight-reel goals

News: After last year's reunion, 1959 title team's logo is becoming one of Sioux Shop's top sellers

News: Student pregame party, general fan postgame party planned after Saturday night's UND-DU game

Feature: A new sound at UND's hockey practice

Podcast special: A list of 16 college hockey undrafted free agents who are getting NHL attention

Q&A: UND freshman defenseman Ethan Frisch talks upcoming series against Denver, playing golf and more

News: Who does Vegas have as favorites to win college hockey's national championship?

News: Brian Idalski's China-based pro team moved to St. Petersburg because of the coronavirus

Story: It's a decade too late for George Gwozdecky, but DU's locker room is finally on the other side of the ice

Throwback Q&A from last year: George Gwozdecky on coaching preps, the UND rivalry, his famous walk across the ice and what’s next

Pairwise Rankings

1. North Dakota 21-3-3

2. MSU-Mankato 26-4-2

3. Cornell 17-2-4

4. Minnesota Duluth 17-9-2

5. Denver 17-6-5

6. Boston College 16-8-1

7. UMass 18-9-2

8. Penn State 18-9-3

9. Clarkson 20-6-2

10. Arizona State 20-9-3

11. UMass Lowell 15-7-5

12. Northeastern 15-8-2

13. Maine 15-9-4

14. Quinnipiac 17-9-2

15. Ohio State 16-10-4

16. Providence 14-9-5

17. Bemidji State 16-8-4

18. Western Michigan 14-10-4

19. Northern Michigan 16-10-4

20. Michigan State 14-13-1

21. Harvard 11-7-4

22. Minnesota 13-11-4

23. Notre Dame 12-11-5

24. New Hampshire 15-11-2

25. Michigan 13-12-3

USCHO rankings

1. North Dakota (48 first-place votes) 21-3-3

2. Cornell (1) 17-2-4

3. MSU-Mankato (1) 26-4-2

4. Minnesota Duluth 17-9-2

5. Clarkson 20-6-2

6. Denver 17-6-5

7. Boston College 16-8-1

8. UMass 18-9-2

9. Penn State 18-9-3

10. Arizona State 20-9-3

11. UMass Lowell 15-7-5

12. Northeastern 15-8-2

13. Ohio State 16-10-4

14. Providence 14-9-5

15. Quinnipiac 17-9-2

16. Bemidji State 16-8-4

17. Maine 15-9-4

18. Harvard 11-7-4

19. Northern Michigan 16-10-4

20. Sacred Heart 18-8-2

Team stats

UND

Scoring

29 Jordan Kawaguchi, jr, f 15-26--41

11 Westin Michaud, sr, f 12-11--23

18 Collin Adams, jr, f 8-15--23

3 Matt Kiersted, jr, d 4-19--23

22 Shane Pinto, fr, f 13-9--22

16 Grant Mismash, jr, f 8-10--18

24 J. Bernard-Docker, so, d 3-14--17

26 Cole Smith, sr, f 10-6--16

14 Jasper Weatherby, so, f 9-6--15

6 Colton Poolman, sr, d 2-10--12

17 Jonny Tychonick, so, d 4-7--11

28 Judd Caulfield, fr, f 3-8--11

19 Mark Senden, so, f 5-5--10

10 Gavin Hain, so, f 2-8--10

8 Harrison Blaisdell, fr, f 2-8--10

4 Andrew Peski, sr, d 1-9--10

9 Dixon Bowen, sr, f 6-2--8

21 Jackson Keane, jr, f 1-3--4

2 Gabe Bast, jr, d 2-1--3

15 Ethan Frisch, fr, d 1-2--3

7 Zach Yon, sr, f 0-3--3

31 Adam Scheel, so, g 0-2--2

20 Josh Rieger, jr, d 1-0--1

5 Casey Johnson, sr, f 1-0--1

1 Peter Thome, jr, g 0-0--0

35 Harrison Feeney, fr, g NA

13 Carson Albrecht, fr, f NA

Goaltending

31 Adam Scheel, so 17-3-2 2.08 .903

1 Peter Thome, jr 4-0-1 1.35 .928

35 Harrison Feeney, fr NA

DENVER

Scoring

20 Emilio Pettersen, so, f 8-17--25

24 Bobby Brink, fr, f 10-13--23

15 Ian Mitchell, jr, d 6-16--22

7 Brett Stapley, so, f 4-17--21

19 Cole Guttman, so, f 10-10--20

13 Liam Finlay, sr, f 4-16--20

12 Kohen Olischefski, jr, f 8-9--17

11 Tyler Ward, so, f 6-7--13

37 Hank Crone, so, f 4-9--13

10 Jaakko Heikkinen, jr, f 6-6--12

9 Tyson McLellan, sr, f 5-5--10

18 Ryan Barrow, jr, f 4-6--10

17 Slava Demin, so, d 2-7--9

16 Jake Durflinger, jr, f 4-3--7

4 Griffin Mendel, jr, d 2-5--7

28 Brett Edwards, fr, f 3-3--6

32 Justin Lee, fr, d 1-2--3

21 Michael Davies, sr, d 0-3--3

26 Jack Doremus, jr, f 1-1--2

27 Kyle Mayhew, so, f 1-1--2

30 Magnus Chrona, fr, g 0-2--2

2 Erich Fear, sr, d 0-1--1

23 Lane Krenzen, fr, d 0-0--0

8 Jay Feiwell, fr, f 0-0--0

1 Devin Cooley, jr, g 0-0--0

Goaltending

30 Magnus Chrona, fr 13-5-3 2.23 .918

1 Devin Cooley, jr 3-1-2 1.64 .924

31 Michael Corson, so 1-0-0 0.00 1.000