An early look at the race for the MacNaughton Cup

Even though it feels like we’re headed to the halfway point of the season, we’re really just over a third of the way through our league games. UND has played ten conference games (out of 28), and sits at 5-2-3 (.650).

The league standings show North Dakota in a tie for fifth place, but that’s misleading since UND (as well as three other teams) has played two fewer games than the majority of the WCHA. A closer look at the top teams reveals that North Dakota is the only program with only two losses in conference play (DU, Minnesota, and UNO have three), and by winning percentage order, UND is tied for 2nd place with Nebraska-Omaha, behind only Denver. The Pioneers have earned three more league points in one extra weekend of WCHA action.

After the games at Michigan Tech this weekend, North Dakota has a tough WCHA road schedule moving forward. The Green and White travel to Minnesota, Nebraska-Omaha, Denver, and MSU-Mankato in the second half. Four points in Houghton is an absolute must, as I see UND earning nine or ten points from the other four series.

At home, it’s a bit easier. After a non-conference series with Holy Cross, North Dakota will host Colorado College, St. Cloud State, Wisconsin, and Bemidji State in league play. Sweeps against the Badgers and Beavers are possible, but I see five or six points against the Tigers and Huskies.

Those results would put UND in the 39-41 point range at the end of the race for the MacNaughton Cup. Over the past five years, the WCHA champion has averaged 41.2 points, with only North Dakota’s 2008-09 league championship (17-7-4, 38 points) coming in under 40 points.

There are some who would say “if only UND had tied Colorado College on Friday night” or “North Dakota deserved to beat Denver in the first game”, but there are also instances where the Green and White stole an extra point or two out of the weekend (Minnesota-Duluth comes to mind), so I think that UND’s current conference mark feels about right for the way they have played to date.

The most encouraging aspect of North Dakota’s first half is that they’ve played their best hockey over the past two weekends, the lines appear to be coming together, and the team is closer to healthy than they’ve been in a long time. As we’ve seen so many times in the past, the second half is going to be quite a ride.

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