World-Herald staff writer Rob White ranks the NCHC as published in The World-Herald on Feb. 24. * * *
1. North Dakota (18-9-3, 13-7-0 for 39 points, No. 10): North Dakota keeps trucking, with back-to-back sweeps of Miami (Ohio) and Minnesota-Duluth since a 6-3 home loss to UNO on Feb. 8. North Dakota has been lethal the past two Saturdays, winning 9-2 against Miami and 6-2 against Minnesota-Duluth. North Dakota is 14-2-1 since Nov. 29 after a 4-7-2 start. North Dakota had four second-period goals, three on the power play, in Saturday's win over Duluth. Zane Gothberg has started the past three games in goal after missing time with an injury. Rest of season: This week, at St. Cloud State. March 7-8, Western Michigan.
2. St. Cloud State (18-7-5, 12-5-3 for 39, No. 5): Huskies surrendered sole possession of first place in the NCHC with Friday's loss to Miami (Ohio), but bounced back for a 3-0 Saturday win. St. Cloud State was 4-1-1 in six games prior to Miami series, with the only loss the wild 8-6 defeat at UNO. The St. Cloud power play, ranked fourth in the country at 25.2 percent, scored twice Saturday. Path to Penrose Cup is easier than that for North Dakota, which has to travel to the National Hockey Center this weekend. St. Cloud State closes at Colorado College, while North Dakota faces tough Western Michigan. Rest of season: This week, vs. North Dakota. March 7-8, at Colorado College
3. UNO (13-15-2, 10-8-2-1 for 33, No. 28): UNO would have gladly taken a split at Western Michigan — until it had a two-goal, third-period lead Saturday and wound up losing and, in the end, splitting. Still, the Mavericks have a bit of a home-ice cushion — four points better than fifth-place Denver with four games to go. But the final two weekends of the regular season haven't been kind to the Mavs the past two seasons. The Mavs don't show signs of letting down — they're 5-4-1 since Jan. 11. After a three-goal weekend, Josh Archibald is second in the country in goals with 26, behind only Boston College's Johnny Gaudreau. Rest of season: This week, vs. Colorado College. March 7-8, at Minnesota-Duluth
4. Western Michigan (15-12-5, 9-9-2-2 for 31, No. 23): The Broncos came back from the brink with a third-period rally against UNO to both salvage a split and take hold of the fourth home-ice position ahead of faltering Minnesota-Duluth and Denver. Holding on to it won't be easy, with a home series against Denver and a road trip to North Dakota. Coach Andy Murray said Colorado College was playing as well as anyone when it took four points from the Broncos Feb. 14-15, and Denver (swept by the Tigers this past weekend) would probably agree — so UNO, look out this weekend with CC coming to town. The Broncos are 3-4-1 over their last three series, though two of the wins were over last-place Miami (Ohio). Rest of season: This week, vs. Denver. March 7-8, at North Dakota.
5. Minnesota-Duluth (13-13-4, 8-10-2-2 for 28, No. 21): Losing streak has reached four games, but some forgiveness is warranted — losses were to St. Cloud State and North Dakota. However, getting thumped 9-2 over two games against North Dakota, after giving up nine goals in the St. Cloud State series, suggests there are some problems that need addressed. The Bulldogs were 6-1-2 in previous nine games against NCHC teams prior to the recent rut. Strong non-conference schedule, and showing, gives them the NCHC's best chance for a third NCAA tournament bid behind North Dakota and St. Cloud State, but that's still a bit of a long shot and not many power points are available the next two weekends. Rest of season: This week, at Miami (Ohio). March 7-8, vs. UNO.
6. Denver (14-12-6, 8-9-3-2 for 29, No. 26): Surprising sweep at the hands of state rival Colorado College puts the Pioneers in fifth place in the league. Denver is 1-4 over its last five games, with the lone victory coming as backup goalie Evan Cowley starred in a 4-1 win over UNO. A road split this weekend at Western Michigan would keep Denver within striking distance of home ice, with last-place Miami (Ohio) coming to Magness Arena the final week of the season and Western venturing into North Dakota. Don't rule out third place either. Like everyone other than North Dakota and St. Cloud State, winning the NCHC playoffs is Denver's best chance at an NCAA berth. Rest of season: This week, at Western Michigan. March 7-8, Miami (Ohio).
7. Colorado College (5-18-6, 5-9-5-1 for 21, No. 47): The temptation is to jump the Tigers ahead of slumping Minnesota-Duluth and Denver after extending their winning streak to three games and unbeaten streak to four with home-and-home sweep of Denver. But the first four months of the season still have to count for something, right? CC is 4-2-2 over is last eight league games, and is 5-4-3 in the league since taking four points with a win and a tie against UNO in Colorado Springs in late November. Rematch this weekend at the CenturyLink Center could wreck UNO's home-ice playoff plans. The Friday win at Denver was CC's first on the road all year (1-11-2). Rest of season: This week, at UNO. March 7-8, St. Cloud State.
8. Miami (Ohio) (11-16-3, 5-14-1-1 for 17, No. 37): The RedHawks are still showing some fight, knocking off St. Cloud State 4-3 in Friday's series opener. But that broke a four-game losing streak and the preseason NCHC favorites are 2-9-1 against league foes since the Christmas break. UNO wouldn't mind seeing Miami take down Minnesota-Duluth a time or two this weekend, and it's not out of the question. Miami's most probable first-round playoff foe is either St. Cloud State or North Dakota. The RedHawks split a four-game series with the Huskies and, though North Dakota won three of four, including a 9-2 game, neither team can feel too good about seeing talented Miami again. Great league, top to bottom. Rest of season: This week, Minnesota-Duluth. March 7-8, at Denver.