The NCHC pulled off what no other college conference has even attempted. The men's hockey league played 38 games in a bubble it called the Pod during the coronavirus pandemic in December in Omaha, Neb.

Despite the lack of fans, there was no lack of great games in the Pod. Of the 38 games, 10 were decided by one goal and five went to shootouts after the 3-on-3 overtime ended up tied.

There was also no shortage of players with great performances and sustained excellence during the duration of the Pod, in which teams played between 8-10 games each.

With that in mind, The Rink Live reporters Matt Wellens, Brad Schlossman and Mick Hatten have picked an NCHC All-Pod team, an All-Rookie team and an MVP from all those games at Baxter Arena. All three reporters saw the majority of all of the games and there was surprisingly not much variation in the ballots. In the few disputes, the majority ruled in the picks.



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All-Pod team

Forwards

Shane Pinto, North Dakota, (10 GP, 5-8—13, +7)

The sophomore from Franklin Square, N.Y., is tied for the NCAA Division I lead in points (13) and leads in faceoff wins (157, .657 win percentage). He had 3-4—7 on the power play. He had a game-winning goal and assists on three other game-winning goals.

RELATED: Commentary: Shane Pinto has one of the craziest faceoff performances you'll ever see

Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) saves a shot on goal by North Dakota forward Shane Pinto (22) in a shootout to determine NCHC standings after overtime play Thursday, Dec. 10, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) saves a shot on goal by North Dakota forward Shane Pinto (22) in a shootout to determine NCHC standings after overtime play Thursday, Dec. 10, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Nick Swaney, Minnesota Duluth (9 GP, 3-9—12, +4)

The senior from Lakeville, Minn., is right behind Pinto with 12 points and averaged one assist per game in the Pod. He had five multipoint games and helped the Bulldogs to a 5-0-1 start to the Pod.

RELATED: UMD men's hockey: Losing finale 'sucks' but overall Bulldogs call NCHC Pod in Omaha an 'awesome' experience

Minnesota Duluth forward Nick Swaney (23) high-fives teammates after scoring in a shootout to determine NCHC standings after overtime play against North Dakota Thursday, Dec. 10, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Minnesota Duluth forward Nick Swaney (23) high-fives teammates after scoring in a shootout to determine NCHC standings after overtime play against North Dakota Thursday, Dec. 10, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Grant Cruikshank, Colorado College (8 GP, 6-2—8, +5)

One of the players to break out in the Pod was Cruikshank, who led the Tigers in goals (6), points (8), shots on goal (33, 10 more than his nearest teammate), power-play goals (2) and had a short-handed goal. The junior from Delafield, Wis., used his speed and tenacity to lead the way after having 17 points in 34 games last season.

RELATED: Grant Cruikshank leads Colorado College with his Olympic parents as his role models

Colorado College forward Grant Cruikshank (21) celebrates his goal on St. Cloud State in the first period Friday, Dec. 18, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service
Colorado College forward Grant Cruikshank (21) celebrates his goal on St. Cloud State in the first period Friday, Dec. 18, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service

Defensemen

Matt Kiersted, North Dakota (10 GP, 2-7—9, +2)

With defensemen Tyler Kleven and Jake Sanderson having to leave after three games played to join Team USA for the IIHF World Junior Championship and sophomore defenseman Ethan Frisch battling an injury, the Fighting Hawks had to rely on Kiersted a lot and he delivered. The senior from Elk River, Minn., had seven assists on the power play and leads the team with 19 blocked shots.

RELATED: How Matt Kiersted became UND's latest coveted undrafted NHL free agent and a top college hockey defenseman

North Dakota defenseman Matt Kiersted (3) blocks a shot on goal by St. Cloud State in the third period Wednesday, Dec. 16, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service
North Dakota defenseman Matt Kiersted (3) blocks a shot on goal by St. Cloud State in the third period Wednesday, Dec. 16, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service

Nick Perbix, St. Cloud State (9 GP, 4-5—9, +5)

The Huskies were looking for Perbix to step up after the graduation of All-American Jack Ahcan. The junior from Elk River, Minn., leads the team in goals, assists, points and is tied with Kiersted for the NCAA Division I lead in points by a defenseman.

RELATED: Nick Perbix checks in as go-to defenseman for SCSU

St. Cloud State defensemen Seamus Donohue (3), Nick Perbix (25), and forward Sam Hentges (19) celebrate Perbix's goal on North Dakota in the second period Wednesday, Dec. 16, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service
St. Cloud State defensemen Seamus Donohue (3), Nick Perbix (25), and forward Sam Hentges (19) celebrate Perbix's goal on North Dakota in the second period Wednesday, Dec. 16, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service

Goalie

Isaiah Saville, Nebraska Omaha (9 GP, 5-3-1, .929, 2.00 GAA)

Saville was the lone goalie to play all the minutes of his team's first six games. The sophomore from Anchorage, Alaska, finished the Pod with a 34-save shutout of Colorado College and is second in the conference in wins, save percentage and goals-against average. He gave up two goals or less in six of his eight starts.

RELATED: Isaiah Saville plays fifth game in the Pod; how long can Omaha roll with the Vegas draft pick?

Nebraska Omaha goaltender Isaiah Saville (31) blocks a wraparound goal attempt by Minnesota Duluth forward Noah Cates (21) in the first period Wednesday, Dec. 16, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Nebraska Omaha goaltender Isaiah Saville (31) blocks a wraparound goal attempt by Minnesota Duluth forward Noah Cates (21) in the first period Wednesday, Dec. 16, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Honorable mention: Chayse Primeau, F, Nebraska Omaha; Jordan Kawaguchi, F, North Dakota; Ethen Frank, F, Western Michigan; Brandon Scanlin, D, Nebraska Omaha; Jason Smallidge, D, Nebraska Omaha; Ryan Fanti, G, Minnesota Duluth.

All-Rookie team

Forwards

Riese Gaber, North Dakota (10 GP, 7-2—9, +5)

After being named the USHL Player of the Year last season in juniors for the Dubuque Fighting Saints, Gaber made a great first impression with seven goals. The relentless play, speed and shot of the wing from Gilbert Plains, Manitoba, helped spark the top-scoring offense (3.9 gpg) in the NCHC with his play on his team's top line.

RELATED: Commentary: How Riese Gaber impacts UND's lines and top power-play unit

North Dakota forward Riese Gaber (17) celebrates his goal on Miami in the second period Sunday, Dec. 20, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service
North Dakota forward Riese Gaber (17) celebrates his goal on Miami in the second period Sunday, Dec. 20, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service

Carter Savoie, Denver (10 GP, 7-4—11, -2)

Savoie had a goal in each of his team's first five games and averaged 3.2 shots-per-game. The wing from St. Albert, Alberta, had four goals and seven points on the power play. His shot, speed and power were noticeable nearly every shift.

RELATED: Savoie and Benning: Hockey teammates from St. Albert, Alberta, to Sherwood Park in the AJHL to the University of Denver

Denver forward Carter Savoie (8) and defenseman Bo Hanson (14) celebrate Savoie's goal on Minnesota Duluth in the second period Wednesday, Dec. 2, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Denver forward Carter Savoie (8) and defenseman Bo Hanson (14) celebrate Savoie's goal on Minnesota Duluth in the second period Wednesday, Dec. 2, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Veeti Miettinen, St. Cloud State (9 GP, 4-4—8, +4)

Visa problems for the wing from Espoo, Finland, delayed Miettinen's arrival for his first practice until November. It did not seem to slow him much. The quick release of his shot got more evident as the Pod went along and he had three goals and two assists in his last five games.

RELATED: Veeti Miettinen participates in 1st practice with SCSU

The St. Cloud State bench is all smiles as they high-five Veeti Miettinen (29) after he scored on Denver in the third period Sunday, Dec. 20, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service
The St. Cloud State bench is all smiles as they high-five Veeti Miettinen (29) after he scored on Denver in the third period Sunday, Dec. 20, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service

Defensemen

Wyatt Kaiser, Minnesota Duluth (9 GP, 0-4—4, +4)

The 18-year-old from Andover, Minn., rarely looked like the youngest player on the ice, even though he was. Kaiser played on the top power-play unit, killed penalties and his smooth skating and steady puckhandling stood out throughout the Pod. He leads the Bulldogs in blocked shots (13).

RELATED: UMD men’s hockey: Fresh faces of Fanti, Kaiser shining early for Bulldogs in Omaha

Minnesota Duluth defenseman Wyatt Kaiser (5) reaches for an airborne puck as North Dakota forward Judd Caulfield (28) skates toward him in the first period Thursday, Dec. 10, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Minnesota Duluth defenseman Wyatt Kaiser (5) reaches for an airborne puck as North Dakota forward Judd Caulfield (28) skates toward him in the first period Thursday, Dec. 10, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Mike Benning, Denver (9 GP, 1-6—7, +1)

After the Pioneers lost Ian Mitchell to signing a pro deal after his junior season, there was a question as to who would run the team's top power play and supply some offense after Mitchell had 32 points last season. The answer appears to be Benning, who is from St. Albert, Alberta. He's a strong skater, can lead the rush, has good vision and a good shot.

RELATED: Savoie and Benning: Hockey teammates from St. Albert, Alberta, to Sherwood Park in the AJHL to the University of Denver

Denver forward Carter Savoie (8) and defenseman Mike Benning (20) celebrate Savoie's goal in front of the North Dakota bench in the third period Friday, Dec. 4, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Denver forward Carter Savoie (8) and defenseman Mike Benning (20) celebrate Savoie's goal in front of the North Dakota bench in the third period Friday, Dec. 4, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Goalie

Ludvig Persson, Miami (5 GP, 2-2-1, .962, 1.19 GAA)

The RedHawks went into the season with the unknown of who would play in net. Persson, who is from Hindås, Sweden, split time with sophomore Ben Kraws at the Pod. But Persson leads the NCHC in save percentage and goals-against average and gave up one goal in his last three starts (vs. Nebraska Omaha, Denver and Colorado College).

RELATED: Freshmen goalies force 1-1 tie between Colorado College, Miami

Ludvig Persson's consecutive save streak up to 57 after shutting out Denver

Swedish freshman connection gives Miami its 1st win of season

Miami goaltender Ludvig Persson (32) saves a shot on goal by Nebraska Omaha forward Jimmy Glynn (24) in the third period Saturday, Dec. 5, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service
Miami goaltender Ludvig Persson (32) saves a shot on goal by Nebraska Omaha forward Jimmy Glynn (24) in the third period Saturday, Dec. 5, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. Tyler Schank / Forum News Service

MVP

Shane Pinto, North Dakota

The Fighting Hawks (7-2-1) lead the conference, despite playing most of the Pod without a number of players missing time because of injury or being gone for the IIHF World Junior Championship. Pinto led the way with consistently strong play.

RELATED: UND running low on healthy players after loss to St. Cloud State

North Dakota forward Shane Pinto (22) and Minnesota Duluth defenseman Louie Roehl (6) compete for the puck in the third period Thursday, Dec. 10, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
North Dakota forward Shane Pinto (22) and Minnesota Duluth defenseman Louie Roehl (6) compete for the puck in the third period Thursday, Dec. 10, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

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