While the other major college hockey conferences kick off their league tournaments this weekend, the #4 Denver Pioneers and the rest of the NCHC will play one final regular season series. The Pioneers will welcome the Miami Redhawks to Magness Arena and keep their eyes fixed on the other league games that will determine DU’s first round opponent in the NCHC tournament.
After earning two of six possible points against #1 St. Cloud State last weekend, the Pioneers locked themselves firmly into the second seed for next week’s first round. But while DU hopes to set themselves up well for that first matchup with two solid performances and perhaps some much-needed rest, there is still much to be decided lower down in the conference standings.
Any of the teams currently sitting between spots 4-7 in the NCHC standings — North Dakota (31 points), Omaha (28), Western Michigan (28) and Colorado College (28) — could end up being DU’s first round opponent as the seventh seed. Miami, which sits in last place with 22 points, is destined to be the 8th seed because they do not win tiebreakers against any of the teams that currently have 28 points.
As far as the action at Magness Arena, it will be noteworthy to see how DU head coach Jim Montgomery weighs his options. Miami, 28th in the PairWise rankings , is a team that the Pioneers should be able to handle when full strength. The teams split their games in Oxford in early January, but that was during a period of up-and-down performances for the Pioneers. In the ten games since Denver’s 4-3 win in the second contest at Miami, the team has lost just twice.
Even though DU has the second seed and home-ice advantage clinched for the first round, there still could be a rust versus rest trade-off to sitting down some of Denver’s top skaters. Additionally, the Pioneers are also hoping for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and would certainly be hurt in the PairWise and RPI with any losses this weekend.
All things considered, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Montgomery go all out trying to build a lead and then take his foot off the gas however possible. Senior goaltender Tanner Jaillet has started every game since early November. Star forward Troy Terry has also had a whirlwind month after returning from the Olympics and playing right away for the Pioneers last weekend against SCSU.
Friday’s game is an 8:00 PM start and can be seen on CBS Sports, while Saturday (7:05 PM) can be seen only on NCHC.tv.