No. 1 vs. No 2 was all it was cracked up to be
The marquee series of the weekend pitted No. 1 North Dakota against No. 5 Omaha. Coincidentally, the two teams were also second and first, respectively, in the NCHC. For once, such a series delievered, as they split, with both games being decided in overtime.
On Friday, Omaha took a two-goal lead into the third period, only to see North Dakota score twice to tie it, the tying goal being scored by Drage Caggiula with only 48 seconds left in the game.
However, the rally was ultimately futile, as Austin Ortego scored his nation-leading ninth game-winning goal with only 33 seconds left in the overtime. Ortega’s heroics led Omaha coach Dean Blais to say, “Austin Ortega’s got a horeshoe in his pocket.”
Saturday was the reverse of Friday, with an Omaha rally falling short. North Dakota took a 2-1 lead into the third. Omaha tied it on a power play at 4:00 of the third, but Stephane Pattyn scored at 9:15 to put North Dakota up 3-2. At 16:16, Brian Cooper scored a power-play goal to tie it for Omaha.
This time, it was North Dakota’s big player who made the big play, as Brendan O’Donnell scored the game-winner at 2:04. When O’Donnell scores, North Dakota is 19-0-1.
Omaha has a one-point lead on North Dakota in the race for the Penrose Cup, with one month remaining in the season. Both teams are 10-5-1, but Omaha has an extra point thanks to winning a shootout against North Dakota in the first game between the two teams back on Nov. 28.
Omaha has series left against Western Michigan, St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth, and Colorado College, while North Dakota has Denver, Western Michigan, St. Cloud, and Miami left.
Signs of life from St. Cloud
St. Cloud State has not had a memorable season so far in defense of its Penrose Cup title, but the Huskies took another step forward with a dominating sweep of Colorado College on the road. St. Cloud scored 13 goals in the series while holding the Tigers to just two goals.
Kalle Kossila led the way for the Huskies in Friday’s 7-1 win with one goal and three assists. Leading scorer Jonny Brodzinski added a pair of goals and an assist, while Joey Benik had a goal and two assists.
On Saturday, Brodzinksi stayed hot with two more goals and an assist in St. Cloud’s 6-1 win. David Morley added two goals to go with his two assists on Friday, and Ethan Prow had three assists after notching two on Friday.
St. Cloud is now in sixth in the NCHC, two points behind Denver and four behind Miami, though both of those teams have a game in hand on the Huskies. St. Cloud is also three points ahead of seventh-place Western Michigan.
The NCHC has the best out-of-conference record this season, and it shows in the PairWise rankings. As of today, half of the the top 10 teams in the PairWise are NCHC squads. North Dakota is at two, Omaha is tied for third, Minnesota-Duluth is fifth, Miami is eighth, and Denver is tied for ninth. On the outside looking in are Western Michigan at 22 and St. Cloud at 25.
Of the remaining top 16 teams, five are from Hockey East, three are from the WCHA, two are from the ECAC, and one is from the Big Ten. However, the five from Hockey East would not make it, as Vermont is at 16, and would be displaced by the AHC auto-bid winner.
While there is still a lot of hockey left to be played, it is very possible that the NCHC could have five, and even six, teams in the NCAA tournament come March.