How Tough Is The NCHC? A Look Around Omaha’s Conference

NCHC logo. Photo courtesy NCHC.

Kenneth Pancake

In three years, the NCHC has provided six champions.

Why does that make sense? Because in 2016, 2017 and 2018 the NCHC conference tournament champions have fallen short in the NCAA tournament, but another NCHC team went all the way.

To put it bluntly, the NCHC is one tough conference.

Here is an inside look at the eight teams in the NCHC, in order of their preseason conference poll rankings.

  1. No. 1 Minnesota Duluth (209 points, 20 first-place votes)

Minnesota Duluth won two NCHC championships in 2016 and 2017, only to fall short in the final effort for the NCAA title. Last year, they didn’t even make it to the NCHC finals, but they finally nabbed the national championship against Notre Dame last spring.

Quite frankly, this squad, who returns with a large majority of last year’s team, doesn’t care.

“Last year is over,” Goaltender Hunter Shepard said recently. “This is a new year.”

For reference, the last team to repeat as NCAA hockey champions was Denver, going back-to-back in 2004 and 2005. If any team could do it next, it would be this one.

  1. No. 6 St. Cloud State (182 points, 6 first-place votes)

St. Cloud State entered the NCAA tournament ranked No. 1, but fell to 16-seeded Air Force in the first game. That’s only the second time that the top seed has lost in the first round, ever, in the NCAA playoffs.

Generally, that kind of a loss comes with a hangover. Senior Captain Jimmy Schuldt can’t deny the lasting impact that has on a team. “(It’s) something that you’re never going to forget,” Schuldt said.

  1. No. 11 North Dakota (150 points)

Their starting goalie for the last three seasons Cam Johnson graduated last spring, leaving the net “open.” There is little that is more valuable than a reliable goalie in hockey.

There are a few other questions with this squad, such as Collin Adams, who started the 2017-18 season as an elite winger, but fell off in the latter half of the season.

  1. No. 19 Western Michigan (121 points)

Even with an injury, all-NCHA player Wade Allison still gained 30 points last year. Those 15 goals and 15 assists were good enough for second on the team. In only 58 games, that’s a total of 59 points over Allison’s career. Any team will have to shut Allison down to have a chance at a win.

  1. No. 9 Denver (115 points, 1 first-place vote)

The USCHO experts and the NCHC pundits seem to disagree about this squad a little bit. Regardless, Denver returns 15 players from the 2017-18 season. Six of those players are NHL draft picks. If they don’t live up to the hype this year, they will dominate the sport over the next few years.

  1. Colorado College (98 points) 

Colorado College opted to avoid any kind of exhibition game, as Coach Mike Haviland elected to “jump right in.” There was no graduation turnover for the team over the offseason–a rarity in college hockey. The Colorado Springs Gazette reports that the defense is ‘banged up,’ however. In a league so offensive-powered this could be an issue.

  1. Omaha (61)

Omaha finally gets star Mason Morelli back from injury, and that could be very important. The older team still had a few spots in the lineup they are looking to solidify as of Oct. 3, and much of that process was accomplished with Omaha’s exhibition game on Oct. 7.

  1. Miami Ohio (36)

Coach Enrico Blasi has coached for the Red Hawks for 19 years. He has a record of 387-288-72, 10 NCAA tournament appearances (2 in the Frozen Four), and 5 conference titles. There’s not much to say about this under-valued team, but never count out Blasi.