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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.