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NCHC playoffs: Two rematches from last weekend of regular season are among four conference series

UMD will face SCSU and UND will face UNO in best-of-three opening round series. In the other two series, Miami is at regular season champion Denver and Colorado College is at Western Michigan

college men play ice hockey
St. Cloud State forward Jami Krannila (13) is not happy with the play of Minnesota Duluth defenseman Will Francis (23) in front of the net at the Herb Brooks National Ice Center on Saturday, March 4, 2023, in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

There should be few surprises in terms how the opponent is going to play in the best-of-three NCHC quarterfinals series that will be played this weekend. The opponents have all faced one another four times during the regular season.

Fourth-seeded St. Cloud State (20-11-3) will play host to fifth-seeded Minnesota Duluth (15-18-1) and third-seeded Nebraska Omaha (18-13-3) will play host to sixth-seeded North Dakota (16-13-6) in series that begin Friday. This will be the second straight weekend that those matchups will take place.

In the other two series, eighth-seeded Miami (8-22-4) will play at top-seeded Denver (28-8) and seventh-seeded Colorado College (10-21-3) will be at second-seeded Western Michigan (23-12-1).

The winners of the four series will advance to the Frozen Faceoff semifinals, which will be held at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. March 17 at Xcel Energy Center. The championship game will be held at 7:30 p.m. March 18 at Xcel.

The winner of the Frozen Faceoff will get an automatic bid into the 16-team NCAA Division I tournament. Three teams go into the tournament in good shape in the PairWise Rankings , which try to mimic the criteria used by the NCAA committee to pick the field.


Here's a look at each of the opening-round series and the teams:

SCSU vs UMD_1384.jpg
St. Cloud State forward Jack Rogers (20) and St. Cloud State defenseman Spencer Meier (9) try to work the puck past Minnesota Duluth goaltender Zach Stejskal (35) in the third period Friday, March 3, 2023, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live


The Huskies were the lone team that the Bulldogs won an NCHC regular season series with all season. UMD was the lone team that SCSU did not get at least three points in the conference standings out of. UMD was 3-1 against SCSU during the regular season.

Game times: 7:37 p.m. Friday, 6:07 p.m. Saturday, 6:07 p.m. Sunday (if necessary). All games on FOX 9+.


Leading scorers: Ben Steeves (Freshman, forward, 20 goals, 6 assists, 26 points), Dominic James (So., F, 8-16-24), Quinn Olson (Sr., F, 7-15-22), Wyatt Kaiser (Jr., D, 4-15-19), Luke Loheit (Sr., F, 7-10-17).

Goaltending: Jr. Zach Stejkstal (7-9-1, 3.11 goals-against average, .895 save percentage), Sr. Matthew Thiessen (8-9-0, 2.64, .905).

Special teams: The Bulldogs convert at 24.3% (8th in the country) on the power play, 77.9% (47th) on the penalty kill.

PairWise Ranking: 23rd.


Outlook: The Bulldogs need to win the conference tournament to get into the national tournament. UMD has struggled to score goals (2.6 per game, 38th) this season, but scored 18 goals in four games against the Huskies during the regular season. Steeves has scored five of his 20 goals against SCSU and UMD is 8-for-17 (47%) on the power play against the Huskies.


Leading scorers: Jami Krannila (Sr., F, 19-18-37), Zach Okabe (Sr., F, 16-16-32), Grant Cruikshank (Gr., F, 20-11-31), Veeti Miettinen (Jr., F, 10-20-30), Dylan Anhorn (Sr., D, 5-20-25).

Goaltending: Sr. Jaxon Castor (10-7-1, 2.26, .915), Jr. Dominic Basse (10-4-2, 2.27, .913).

Special teams: The Huskies convert at 26.4% (4th) on the power play, 76.3% (54th) on the penalty kill. Since Anhorn went down with his foot injury, the Huskies are at 70.3% on the penalty kill.

PairWise Ranking: 7th.

Season series: UMD, 3-1 (5-3, 6-3, 4-3 UMD; 4-3, OT, SCSU).

Outlook: The Huskies are in good shape to make the NCAA tournament, likely as a No. 2 seed in a regional. SCSU is hoping to be healthier this weekend than last when defensemen Jack Peart and Ondrej Trejbal were both out with injuries. With Anhorn in the lineup, the Huskies were averaging 3.61 goals-per-game, without him, SCSU is averaging 2.91 gpg.

SCSU vs UND_0372.jpg
North Dakota forward Jackson Blake (9) celebrates his goal against St. Cloud State in the first period Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live



Game times: 7:07 p.m. Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday, 6:07 p.m. Sunday (if necessary). NCHC.tv.


Leading scorers: Jackson Blake (Fr., F, 15-25-40), Riese Gaber (Jr., F, 19-15-34), Chris Jandric (Gr., D, 4-28-32), Ethan Frisch (Sr., F, 6-11-17), Judd Caulfield (Sr., F, 9-7-16), Mark Senden (Gr., F, 7-9-16).

Goaltending: Gr. Drew DeRidder (11-7-4, 2.62, .898), So. Jakob Hellsten (5-5-2, 2.72, .875).

Special teams: The Fighting Hawks convert at 28.4% (1st) on the power play, 82.7% (16th) on the penalty kill.

PairWise Ranking: 22nd.

Outlook: Realistically, the Fighting Hawks need to win the conference tournament to make the NCAA tournament. UND has a 7% chance of getting an at-large bid to the NCAAs without winning the tournament, according to College Hockey News' PairWise Probability Matrix . On the positive side, UND has points in each of its last six games, including a home sweep of UNO last weekend.

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Leading scorers: Jack Randl (Sr., F, 18-16-34), Tyler Weiss (Gr., F, 6-21-27), Jonny Tychonick (Gr., D, 8-18-26), Ty Mueller (So., F, 12-13-25), Matt Miller (Jr., F, 13-12-25).


Goaltending: Fr. Simon Latkoczy (10-4-1, 2.25, .920) and Jr. Jake Kucharski (8-9-2, 2.72, .904).

Special teams: The Mavericks convert at 22.5% (17th) on the power play, 78.2% (45th) on the penalty kill.

PairWise Ranking: 19th.

Outlook: In the PairWise Probability Matrix, the Mavericks have a 13% chance of making the NCAAs without winning the NCHC tournament. A bad sign for UNO is that it is 1-3 in its last four games, 2-5-3 against UND in the last two seasons and the Mavericks have never won an NCHC quarterfinals series.

Season series: UND, 3-0-1 (4-1, 3-3, 5-4 OT, 2-1).

men's hockey players compete in game at indoor arena
Colorado College goaltender Kaidan Mbereko (33) deflects a shot on goal against Minnesota Duluth at Amsoil Arena on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Colorado College at Western Michigan

Game times: 6:05 p.m. Friday, 6:05 p.m. Saturday, 5:05 p.m. Sunday (if necessary). NCHC.tv.


Leading scorers: Hunter McCown (Jr., F, 19-6-25), Noah Laba (Fr., F, 10-9-19), Stanley Cooley (So., F, 6-12-18), Bryan Yoon (Gr., D, 1-13-14), Ryan Beck (Fr., F, 2-11-13).


Goaltending: Fr. Kaidan Mbereko (6-15-2, 2.43, .923), Sr. Matt Vernon (4-6-1, 2.57, .905).

Special teams: The Tigers convert at 20.6% (26th) on the power play, 81.6% (22nd) on the penalty kill.

PairWise Ranking: 40th.

Outlook: The Tigers have to win the conference tournament to reach the NCAAs. Mbereko gives them a chance because he is 7th in the nation in save percentage. If Colorado College is going to win, it's going to have to be a low-scoring series because the Tigers are 54th (2.1 gpg) in the nation in offense. The Tigers are 0-10-2 in the last four seasons against the Broncos. CC's last win over WMU was March 16, 2019.


Leading scorers: Jason Polin (Sr., F, 29-16-45), Ryan McAllister (Fr., F, 11-34-45), Max Sasson (So., F, 14-25-39), Luke Grainger (Jr., F, 12-20-32), Zak Galambos (Jr., D, 11-17-28).

Goaltending: Jr. Cameron Rowe (22-11-1, 2.42, .908).

Special teams: The Broncos convert at 23.6% (12th) on the power play, 75.8% (56th) on the penalty kill.

PairWise Ranking: 9th.


Outlook: In the PairWise Probability Matrix, the Broncos are almost locked into making the NCAA tournament field for an at-large bid. WMU is second in the nation in offense (4.0 gpg) and have eight players with 22 or more points. Polin leads the charge. He leads the nation in goals (29) and 21 have come on even strength. WMU reached the NCHC championship game and an NCAA regional championship game last season in Pat Ferschweiler's first season as head coach.

Season series: WMU, 4-0 (4-1, 4-1, 4-1, 2-1).

SCSU vs Denver_0668.jpg
Denver forward Massimo Rizzo (13) carries the puck against St. Cloud State in the second period Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Miami at Denver

Game times: 8:05 p.m. Friday, 7:05 p.m. Saturday, 7:05 p.m. Sunday (if necessary). NCHC.tv.


Leading scorers: Matthew Barbolini (Jr., F, 10-13-23), John Waldron (Fr., F, 9-5-14), PJ Fletcher (Jr., F, 4-10-14), Joe Cassetti (Sr., F, 9-5-14), Red Savage (So., F, 7-7-14).

Goaltending: Jr. Ludvig Persson (8-17-4, 3.46, .897), Sr. Logan Neaton (0-5-0, 3.76, .898).

Special teams: The RedHawks convert at 15.6% (48th) on the power play, 78.1% (46th) on the penalty kill.

PairWise Ranking: 44th.

Outlook: In their last four series, the RedHawks picked up points in each series, but went 1-5-2 in those games. On paper, this is a mismatch. Denver won all four times the teams met this season by a combined score of 22-2. This is the second straight season the teams have met in the quarterfinals. Miami's last win over Denver was 3-0 on Dec. 17, 2020, at the NCHC pod. The last time the RedHawks won a conference quarterfinals series was 2015 when they went on to win the Frozen Faceoff title.


Leading scorers: Massimo Rizzo (So., F, 17-29-46), Carter Mazur (So., F, 22-13-35), Mike Benning (Jr., D, 13-20-33), Casey Dornbach (Sr., F, 12-18-30), Aidan Thompson (Fr., F, 9-19-28).

Goaltending: Sr. Magnus Chrona (22-7-0, 2.22, .914), So. Matt Davis (6-1-0, 1.72, .923).

Special teams: The Pioneers convert at 25.7% (6th) on the power play, 78.3% (44th) on the penalty kill.

PairWise Ranking: 3rd.

Outlook: The defending national champions are contenders again after winning the NCHC regular season title. Since getting swept Jan. 20-21 at SCSU, Denver is 9-1. The Pioneers are a combo platter of one of the best offenses (3.8 gpg, 6th) and best defenses (2.2 gapg, 5th) in the nation. In the PairWise Probability Matrix, the Pioneers are at 98% ... to be a No. 1 seed in a regional.

Season series: Denver, 4-0 (4-0, 4-2, 7-0, 7-0).

Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com

For more coverage of St. Cloud and the surrounding communities, check out St. Cloud Live.
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