MEN'S HOCKEY: Similar road, same goal for UND, St. Cloud State
There are three weeks remaining in the regular season. North Dakota and St. Cloud State are tied for first place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings. UND's next two opponents: home against Minnesota Duluth and at Nebraska Omaha...
There are three weeks remaining in the regular season.
North Dakota and St. Cloud State are tied for first place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings.
UND's next two opponents: home against Minnesota Duluth and at Nebraska Omaha.
St. Cloud State's next two opponents: at Nebraska Omaha and home against Minnesota Duluth.
Meanwhile, Nebraska Omaha and Minnesota Duluth are currently tied for the fourth and the final home-ice advantage spot for the first round of the NCHC playoffs.
Omaha's next two opponents: St. Cloud State and North Dakota.
Minnesota Duluth's next two opponents: North Dakota and St. Cloud State.
The chase for the Penrose Cup and the race for home ice in the NCHC playoffs are uniquely intertwined in the next two weeks, which will make for fascinating matchups and an early taste of playoff-style hockey in Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center and Baxter Arena.
North Dakota had a chance to take control of the Penrose Cup chase last weekend at the University of Denver, but came away with two losses, leaving the Fighting Hawks and Huskies-the only two teams to win the NCHC regular-season title-tied atop the standings with 41 points.
Looking at schedules alone, neither team has an advantage.
Both UND and St. Cloud State have the exact opponents the next two weeks.
UND closes the regular season (March 4-5) at home against seventh-place Western Michigan, while St. Cloud State goes on the road to eighth-place Colorado College.
Doesn't this sound familiar?
Two years ago, the chase for Penrose came down UND and St. Cloud State on the final day, when Western Michigan won in Grand Forks and St. Cloud State won in Colorado Springs to take the league title outright.
To avoid that happening again, UND will need to address a few items from last weekend's rare sweep at the hands of the Pioneers.
For starters, both captain Gage Ausmus and coach Brad Berry said the team can't just assume it's going to win games. That's easy to do when you've lost three times in 28 contests, but the trip to Denver was a good reminder.
Secondly, UND will need to get back to being tougher to play against.
Early in the season, it was miserable to try to score goals against the Fighting Hawks. In fact, they allowed just four in a span of eight games. They allowed more than double that last weekend alone.
Third, UND needs to continue improving consistency up front. If the Fighting Hawks can get more consistency from its forward in all areas-scoring, faceoffs and defending-they'll be very difficult to beat.
The Penrose Cup is up for grabs. So is home ice.
Whoever reaches those goals will need to go through a gauntlet to get there.