CONFERENCE-OPENING CLASHES: After Western Michigan and Colorado College opened conference play last weekend, four more NCHC teams begin conference play this weekend, including a top-10 showdown in Duluth as top-ranked Denver heads to No. 7 Minnesota Duluth in a match-up of the last three national champions. In the other conference series, Miami heads west for two games at No. 10 North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks are 5-0-0 at home this season.
NON-CONFERENCE NUMBERS: Three NCHC teams face non-conference foes this weekend, with Western Michigan and St. Cloud State facing WCHA foes and Omaha hosting Wisconsin of the Big Ten in a top-20 tilt. NCHC teams are 12-5-4 against WCHA teams this season and a combined 6-6-1 against Big Ten foes. Overall, NCHC teams are a combined 27-15-8 in non-conference play this season, with the .620 win percentage second among the conferences behind only the Big Ten at .641. The NCHC has posted the best combined non-conference winning percentage in four of the last five seasons, including last year (.659).
POLL POSITIONS: Four NCHC teams remain ranked in the USCHO.com Poll this week, though there was a newcomer to the poll this week, while three NCHC teams are ranked, all in the top 10, in the USA Hockey Magazine Poll:
DYNAMITE DEFENSE: Three NCHC teams rank in the top 10 nationally on defense. North Dakota leads the country allowing only 1.43 goals against per game and is also tops the country in fewest shots on goal allowed per game at 17.29 per contest, three fewer than any other team. Two other NCHC teams rank in the top six in defense as well, with Denver giving up only 1.62 goals per game, which ties for third in the NCAA, while Omaha is allowing only 1.83 gpg, ranking sixth in the NCAA.
SPECIAL SPECIAL TEAMS: Denver is 33-of-34 on the penalty kill this season, with the 97.1 percent kill rate tops nationally among teams with more than two games played. DU’s three short-handed goals also tie for the NCAA lead with Wisconsin. UND is fifth nationally on the penalty kill at 95.2 percent (20-of-21). On the flip side, the Badgers’ opponent this weekend, Omaha, ranks seventh in the NCAA on the power play at 30.3 percent, with UNO’s 10 power play goals tying for fourth nationally (10-of-33).
CLUTCH CONTRIBUTORS: Only three players in the NCAA have three game-winning goals already this season and two of them hail from the NCHC. Omaha freshman forward Joey Abate, who tallied the game-winner last Thursday at Alaska Anchorage, and Denver sophomore forward Cole Guttman, who had the game-winner last Friday vs. Niagara, each have three game-winners this season and in both cases they are their only three goals of the season.
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