This post has been updated to reflect that each team has two conference games remaining in the 2022-2023 regular season.
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 over the first nine seasons of NCHC play:
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
Denver has already clinched their third regular season league title, and their first-round opponent has been set. DU will host the Miami RedHawks in a best-of-three playoff series, with the winner advancing to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul on March 17th and 18th.
The rest of the conference standings and the other three first-round matchups have yet to be determined.
Here are the current standings with one week to play in the regular season (all teams have two games remaining):
1. Denver (50 points)
2. Omaha (41)
3. Western Michigan (39)
4. St. Cloud State (39)
5. Minnesota Duluth (29)
6. North Dakota (28)
7. Colorado College (25)
8. Miami (13)
Our eyes now turn to the last weekend of the regular season:
Denver vs./at Colorado College
Omaha at North Dakota
Western Michigan at Miami
St. Cloud State vs. Minnesota Duluth
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 #3 Denver: 417.0
KRACH #6 St. Cloud State: 317.1
KRACH #7 Western Michigan: 271.5
KRACH #15 Omaha: 201.3
KRACH #18 North Dakota: 166.3
KRACH #21 Minnesota Duluth: 147.3
KRACH #34 Colorado College: 83.2
KRACH #38 Miami: 74.6
Running the numbers, here are the average number of points that each team will end up with after the final week of the regular season, along with their predicted order of finish:
1. Denver: 55.00 league points
2. Omaha 44.29
3. Western Michigan: 43.71
4. St. Cloud State: 43.10
5. Minnesota Duluth: 30.90
6. North Dakota: 30.71
7. Colorado College: 26.00
8. Miami: 14.29
As you might have already noticed, there is a very close race among Omaha, Western Michigan, and St. Cloud State for second place in the conference, and Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota are battling it out for fifth place.
If these results play out, only one first-round playoff matchup – St. Cloud State vs. Duluth – would end up being a rematch of the final week of the regular season. The other two pairings would see Colorado College traveling to Omaha and North Dakota heading to Western Michigan.
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.
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!