Hockey Series of the Week: North Dakota @ Denver
The NCHC playoffs will hold its quarterfinals this weekend, and it brings about one of the most compelling series of all the conference quarterfinals. North Dakota will travel to Colorado to take on Denver this weekend in a best-of-three series.
The two teams have met in two series in the regular season, in which North Dakota had a slight edge, with a record of 2-1-1 against the Pioneers. While the middle spot in a bracket is usually looked at as the most volatile in the conference playoffs - in this case Denver and North Dakota four and five seeds, respectively - this series seems to be even more up for grabs. Last week Denver was upset twice in a sweep by Colorado College, while North Dakota is coming off of a sweep of Omaha-Nebraska. In a sport so heavily dependant on momentum, the first period of game one should show a lot about how each team will handle last weekend’s results.
On the national scale, this tournament is do-or-die for North Dakota. At 18 in the pairwise, elimination this weekend would mean the end of the road for the Fighting Hawks. For Denver, currently sitting at No. 7 in the pairwise, this tournament is an opportunity to boost their position in the pairwise along with their seeding in the NCAA tournament. If Denver were to lose this weekend’s series, there is still a slim chance that they would fall out of the NCAA tournament, so there is still a bit of a do-or-die feeling for the Pioneers too.
The Fighting Hawks took a major blow late in February, when their standout freshman goaltender Adam Scheel suffered a knee injury. Scheel was selected for the NCHC All-Rookie team earlier this week. He was joined in the selection by Denver goaltender Filip Larsson. Larsson missed a large part of the fall due to injury but was a major part of Denver’s seven-game win streak early in 2019.
Offensively, neither team has any huge names. Liam Finlay leads Denver with 13 goals and 32 points while Jordan Kawaguchi leads North Dakota with 10 goals and 26 points. Both teams play a defensive style of hockey and fall inside of the top twenty teams in the goals allowed statistic, with Denver ranking 11 and North Dakota in a three-way tie for 17th.
The teams will each need big names to step up this weekend and, to me, the first to break through the other’s defense in each game will have a much easier time in this potentially low-scoring series. North Dakota has the momentum advantage going into this series, but Denver has the (slightly) higher powered offense. Either way, the winner of this series will most likely have to play powerhouse St. Cloud State, who plays an abysmal Miami team this weekend, in the semi-finals.
Nathan Pullen is a freshman studying journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.