Seven of the NCHC’s eight teams were in action this weekend, and plenty of storylines were created. Here are three that particularly stuck out in my mind.
Omaha leaps into first place
Most years, the sporting totem pole in Omaha isn’t even topped by an Omaha team. Nebraska football is normally the top dog, followed by Creighton men’s basketball and UNO hockey in third place.
These days, though, the Mavericks are making quite the case for making the No. 1 spot their own.
Omaha found itself clear at the top of the NCHC standings on Saturday night thanks to a two-game home sweep of Denver at CenturyLink Center. Each point was hard-earned, though, as the Pioneers went far from quietly.
Four goaltenders saw action on Friday in a 5-4 win for Omaha, and it was arguably a game Denver should’ve won. DU jumped out to a 3-0 lead and even led 4-3 late in the third period after a UNO comeback, but two more Mavericks goals 59 seconds apart from David Pope and Dominic Zombo put Omaha over the top.
In the rematch, Mavericks sophomore goaltender Kirk Thompson picked up the first shutout of his collegiate career in a 1-0 UNO victory. Thompson stopped 39 DU shots along the way, and Austin Ortega’s goal 3:29 into the game stood up the rest of the way as the game-winner.
UNO (14-5-3, 8-3-1-1 NCHC) will look to keep its momentum rolling next weekend when it visits last-place Colorado College.
Huskies pull off surprise sweep
There was arguably no more maddeningly inconsistent team in the NCHC in the first half of the season than St. Cloud State. If this weekend’s action was any indicator, though, that may be changing.
Fifth-ranked Miami came into St. Cloud, Minn. earlier this week sitting pretty at the top of the NCHC standings, but the RedHawks are no longer there. Instead, Miami now finds itself in fourth place in the conference after falling twice to SCSU.
The Huskies fell behind 5:06 into Friday’s series-opener when Sean Kuraly put the visitors ahead, but that’s all Miami would get on the night. David Morely tied the game up on a 5-on-3 power play goal before the opening frame was out, and a goal from Joe Rehkamp 4:09 into the third period ended up being enough in an eventual 3-1 win for the Huskies.
St. Cloud kept rolling in Saturday’s first period and found itself up 2-0 after 20 minutes. Another Rehkamp game-winner in the third period was required, though, in what ended up as a close 3-2 triumph for SCSU.
The Huskies (9-10-1, 4-5-1-0) will try and build on its success this weekend when it travels westward to face Denver next week. Miami (14-8-0, 7-5-0-0) is idle next week before the RedHawks host DU on Jan. 23-24.
Western Michigan sweeps former league rival
I wrote in my column for last Thursday that it seems like something positive is stirring within Western Michigan’s hockey team. Writing this a few days later, I’m considerably more sure of it.
The Broncos, I wrote in midweek, had won five of their last six games. Make that seven of their last eight after Western pulled off a home-and-home sweep this weekend against former CCHA rival Notre Dame.
Western hosted first on Friday, and the Broncos picked up a 4-2 win over the Fighting Irish in Kalamazoo, Mich. Nine different WMU skaters found their way onto the scoresheet, with four different players scoring goals for the hosts and five more recording assists.
The teams then met again on Saturday in South Bend, Ind., but Notre Dame ran into similar problems to what it had the day before. Western won the rematch 4-3, again with four different Broncos finding the back of the Irish’s net.
Western (9-9-2, 2-6-2-2) is still in seventh place in the NCHC, but it now only sits two points behind sixth-place Denver. Next weekend, the Broncos will face another tricky test as they visit Minnesota-Duluth.