In the nine completed seasons of the NCHC, only three teams have ever won the Penrose Cup as league champions: North Dakota (2015, 2016, 2020, 2021, 2022), St. Cloud State (2014, 2018, 2019), and Denver (2017, 2022).
Minnesota Duluth has to be considered the fourth team of the “Big Four”, with second- or third-place finishes in five of the past six seasons.
Here is the average finish for each of the eight conference opponents:
North Dakota: 2.33
St. Cloud State: 3.11
Minnesota Duluth: 3.22
Western Michigan: 4.89
Colorado College: 7.33
And here are the complete results for each season (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.):
2022: DU, UND, WMU, UMD, SCSU, UNO, CC, MIA
2021: UND, SCSU, UMD, UNO, DU, WMU, CC, MIA
2020: UND, UMD, DU, WMU, SCSU, UNO, MIA, CC
2019: SCSU, UMD, WMU, DU, UND, CC, UNO, MIA
2018: SCSU, DU, UMD, UND, UNO, WMU, CC, MIA
2017: DU, UMD, WMU, UND, SCSU, UNO, MIA, CC
2016: UND, SCSU, DU, UMD, MIA, UNO, WMU, CC
2015: UND, MIA, UNO, DU, UMD, SCSU, WMU, CC
2014: SCSU, UND, UNO, UMD, WMU, DU, CC, MIA
This season, Denver appears to be in the driver’s seat for their third regular season league title, with an eight-point lead over Western Michigan, Omaha, and St. Cloud State.
Here are the current standings with three weeks to play in the regular season (all teams have six games remaining):
1. Denver (41 points)
2. Western Michigan (33)
3. Omaha (33)
4. St. Cloud State (33)
5. Minnesota Duluth (23)
6. Colorado College (23)
7. North Dakota (21)
8. Miami (9)
Our eyes turn next to the remaining schedule for each team:
1. Denver: vs. UMD, at WMU, vs./at CC
2. Western Michigan: vs. CC, vs. DU, at Miami
3. Omaha: at Miami, vs. SCSU, at UND
4. St. Cloud State: at UND, at Omaha, vs. UMD
5. Minnesota Duluth: at DU, vs. Miami, at SCSU
6. Colorado College: at WMU, vs. UND, at/vs. DU
7. North Dakota: vs. SCSU, at CC, vs. Omaha
8. Miami: vs. Omaha, at UMD, vs. WMU
If only there were a way to directly compare teams and derive a likely result from each game (worth three league points) or series (worth six). And thankfully, there is. KRACH is the most logical system for both ranking and comparing teams, and it gives us a way to predict how the league race will shake out in the NCHC.
Not only does KRACH do a better job of objectively ranking teams, it assigns a rating to each team. If Team A has a rating of 900.0 and Team B has a rating of 100.0, Team A will win nine out of ten games between the teams. Or, in the case of a weekend series, we could surmise that Team A will take 90 percent of the league points available, for an average result of 5.4 out of 6 possible points.
It comes as no surprise that Denver- at the top of the league standings – is also the highest-rated team according to KRACH. Using the following ratings along with the schedule of remaining games listed above, we can run all of the numbers and predict the league race.
Here are the ratings:
KRACH #4 Denver: 390.4
KRACH #6 St. Cloud State: 352.9
KRACH #8 Western Michigan: 290.3
KRACH #16 Omaha: 185.5
KRACH #17 North Dakota: 156.8
KRACH #19 Minnesota Duluth: 145.8
KRACH #33 Colorado College: 88.8
KRACH #37 Miami: 75.5
Running the numbers, here are the average number of points that each team will end up with over the final three weeks of the regular season, along with their predicted order of finish:
1. Denver: 53.70 league points
2. St. Cloud State: 45.33
3. Western Michigan: 44.91
4. Omaha: 42.60
5. Minnesota Duluth: 30.34
6. North Dakota: 29.42
7. Colorado College: 27.69
8. Miami: 14.03
As you might have already noticed, the two most compelling races to watch are between St. Cloud State and Western Michigan for 2nd place and between Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota for 5th place. It seems fairly certain that Miami will travel to Denver for the first round of the conference playoffs. St. Cloud State, Western Michigan, and Omaha should end up hosting the first round; their opponents are still very much undecided.
As with the stock market, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results, but this method does give us some insight into what to expect and which games will have more of an impact on playoff seeding in the most competitive league in the country. The other unknowns, of course, are which teams stay healthy and get better goaltending in games that will certainly tighten up as the playoffs approach.
Depending on interest, I may revisit this on a weekly basis throughout the month of February, noting which teams outperform or underperform their expectation each weekend.
So now it’s your turn. Do any of these ratings or results surprise you? What do you expect down the home stretch? How would you predict the final standings? Please feel free to comment below!
As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!