NCHC First Round Playoff Preview

The first season of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference is in the books, and the first round playoff matchups are set. Before we dive into the postseason, though, let’s have a look back at my predicted order of finish for the inaugural NCHC campaign:

#1: Miami
#2: North Dakota
#3: St Cloud State
#4: Western Michigan
#5: Denver
#6: Minnesota-Duluth
#7: Colorado College
#8: Nebraska-Omaha

As you can see, I swung and missed badly on both Miami and Nebraska-Omaha. Otherwise, the order was pretty true to how things actually ended up:

#1: St. Cloud State
#2: North Dakota
#3: Nebraska-Omaha
#4: Minnesota-Duluth
#5: Western Michigan
#6: Denver
#7: Colorado College
#8: Miami

And that brings us to this weekend’s action. Miami will travel to St. Cloud State to face the Huskies, Western Michigan will head to Duluth, and both Colorado schools will be on the road (Denver at Omaha; Colorado College at North Dakota). All series are best-of-three, with the winners advancing to next weekend’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis. Aside from St. Cloud State and North Dakota, the other six league members may very well have to win the Frozen Faceoff to advance to the NCAA tournament. St. Cloud State is firmly in (5th in the Pairwise), while North Dakota is currently 10th and would solidify (but not guarantee) a spot in the national tournament with two victories this weekend.

As is customary, I’ll have a full weekend preview for Colorado College at North Dakota on game day.

And here are the capsules and predictions for the other three NCHC first round playoff series:

#8 Miami RedHawks at #1 St. Cloud State Huskies

2013-14 Season Series (tied 2-2)

November 8 (at SCSU): Miami 2, St. Cloud 0
November 9 (at SCSU): St. Cloud 2, Miami 1

February 21 (at Miami): Miami 4, St. Cloud 3
February 22 (at Miami): St, Cloud 3, Miami 0

Miami Team Profile

Head Coach: Enrico Blasi (15th season at Miami, 323-215-56, .591)

Pairwise Ranking: 40th
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 12-19-3 overall, 6-17-1-1 NCHC (8th)
Last Season: 25-12-5 overall (NCAA Midwest Regional finalist), 17-7-4-4 CCHA (1st)

Team Offense: 2.82 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.06 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.3% (31 of 153)
Penalty Kill: 80.5% (124 of 154)

Key players: Sophomore F Riley Barber (18-20-38), Junior F Austin Czarnik (11-32-43), Junior F Blake Coleman (18-6-24 in 23 games), Sophomore D Matthew Caito (3-12-15), Sophomore G Ryan McKay (7-12-3, 2.70 GAA, .913 SV%, 3 SO)

St. Cloud State Team Profile

Head Coach: (Bob Motzko, 9th season at SCSU, 183-133-40, .570)

Pairwise Ranking: 5th
National Ranking: #4
This Season: 21-8-5 overall, 15-6-3-0 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 25-16-1 overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 18-9-1 WCHA (t-1st)

Team Offense: 3.68 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.68 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 25.4% (34 of 134)
Penalty Kill: 77.7% (87 of 112)

Key Players: Senior F Nic Dowd (19-17-36), Sophomore F Jonny Brodzinski (20-19-39), Sophomore F Kalle Kossila (13-23-36), Junior D Andrew Prochno (3-16-19), Sophomore D Ethan Prow (4-16-20), Junior G Ryan Faragher (19-7-4, 2.67 GAA, .909 SV%, 1 SO)

The Prediction: Miami is the team no one wanted to face in the first round of the playoffs, as Enrico Blasi’s squad is healthy and hungry. St Cloud State tends to jump on teams early, outscoring opponents 42-23 in the first period and holding a 10-2-2 record when scoring the first goal. If the RedHawks can weather the first ten minutes on Friday night, they just might make it a series. I’ve got St. Cloud State in three games.

#6 Denver Pioneers at #3 Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks

2013-14 Season Series (Nebraska-Omaha leads 3-1):

November 1 (at DU): Nebraska-Omaha 3, Denver 2 (OT)
November 2 (at DU): Nebraska-Omaha 3, Denver 2 (OT)

February 14 (at UNO): Nebraska-Omaha 4, Denver 2
February 15 (at UNO): Denver 4, Nebraska-Omaha 1

Denver Team Profile

Head Coach: Jim Montgomery (1st season at DU, 16-14-6, .528)

Pairwise Ranking: 27th
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 16-14-6 overall, 10-11-3-2 NCHC (6th)
Last Season: 20-14-5 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional Semifinalist), 14-9-5 WCHA (t-4th)

Team Offense: 2.56 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.25 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.6% (32 of 155)
Penalty Kill: 88.0% (139 of 158)

Key Players: Freshman F Trevor Moore (12-16-28), Sophomore F Quentin Shore (7-18-25), Sophomore F Gabe Levin (5-16-21), Junior D Joey LaLeggia (10-11-21), Senior D David Makowski (9-12-21), Senior G Sam Brittain (15-12-6, 2.09 GAA, .933 SV%, 4 SO)

Nebraska-Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Dean Blais (5th season at UNO, 90-84-18, .516)

Pairwise Ranking: 26th
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 16-16-2 overall, 13-9-2-1 NCHC (3rd)
Last Season: 19-18-2 overall, 14-12-2 WCHA (7th)

Team Offense: 3.29 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.24 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 19.7% (34 of 173)
Penalty Kill: 80.5% (140 of 174)

Key Players: Junior F Josh Archibald (29-14-43), Senior F Ryan Walters (6-25-31), Junior F Dominic Zombo (16-16-32), Freshman D Ian Brady (4-16-20), Senior D Michael Young (3-19-22), Junior G Ryan Massa (10-7-1, 2.72 GAA, .900 SV%, 1 SO)

The Prediction: Denver goaltender Sam Brittain could be the difference for the Pioneers, but Maverick forward Josh Archibald, a Hobey Baker contender, just might pot five goals this weekend. This seems to be another series that will go the distance, and I’ll take the home team. Nebraska-Omaha in three games.

#5 Western Michigan Broncos at #4 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

2013-2014 Season Series (Minnesota-Duluth leads 3-1):

December 13 (at UMD): Western Michigan 5, Minnesota-Duluth 3
December 14 (at UMD): Minnesota-Duluth 4, Western Michigan 3

January 31 (at WMU): Minnesota-Duluth 5, Western Michigan 2
February 1 (at WMU): Minnesota-Duluth 3, Western Michigan 1

Western Michigan Team Profile

Head Coach: (Andy Murray, 3rd season at WMU, 57-39-19, .578)

Pairwise Ranking: 21st
National Ranking: NR
This Season: 17-14-5 overall, 11-11-2 NCHC (t-4th)
Last Season: 19-11-8 overall (missed NCAA tournament), 15-7-6-3 CCHA (3rd)

Team Offense: 2.68 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.62 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 12.4% (21 of 170)
Penalty Kill: 84.2% (165 of 196)

Key Players: Senior F Shane Berschbach (14-21-35), Junior F Justin Kovacs (12-19-31), Senior F Chase Balisy (12-21-33), Sophomore D Kenney Morrison (3-15-18), Junior D Jordan Oesterle (2-13-15), Sophomore G Lukas Hafner (8-6-2, 2.07 GAA, .924 GAA, 2 SO)

Minnesota-Duluth Team Profile

Head Coach: Scott Sandelin (14th season at UMD, 247-243-67,.504)

Pairwise Ranking: t-18th
National Ranking: #20
This Season: 16-14-4 overall, 11-11-2-2 NCHC (t-4th)
Last Season: 14-19-5 overall, 10-13-5 WCHA (9th)

Team Offense: 2.91 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.85 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 16.5% (26 of 158)
Penalty Kill: 82.7% (143 of 173)

Key Players: Junior F Caleb Herbert (12-18-30), Freshman F Alex Iafallo (11-11-22), Junior F Justin Crandall (14-11-25), Senior F Joe Basaraba (7-10-17), Sophomore D Andy Welinski (5-14-19), Freshman D Willie Raskob (0-12-12), Senior G Aaron Crandall (14-10-3, 2.74 GAA, .904 SV%, 1 SO)

The Prediction: Despite a UMD sweep at Western Michigan in late January and early February, these two teams are evenly matched and faltering to the finish line. Duluth is just 4-5-1 in the last ten games; the Broncos, 5-4-1. WMU’s power play has been an Achilles heel all season (12.4%), but the Bulldogs are just 5-8-3 at home. In a case of “somebody has to win”, I’ll take Andy Murray and the road squad in a mild upset. Western Michigan in three.

So there you have it. I’ve got St. Cloud State, Nebraska-Omaha, and Western Michigan advancing to Minneapolis, all in three games. Feel free to comment with your predictions below, and check back tomorrow for a full preview of Colorado College at North Dakota.

Leave a Reply