Saturday, March 14, 2015

Post Break-up Landscape of College Hockey is Good

No Matter Who is to Blame, WCHA and NCHC are Benefitting

College hockey in the west became very wild two years ago when the WCHA broke up and CCHA disappeared.

The just completed regular seasons have proven that teams in the west can survive and thrive.  Currently in the PWR, the NCHC and WCHA have eight teams ranked in the top 16 including spots 1-5.

It may not have been the way that some school would want change to occur, but Minnesota State Mankato and Michigan Tech cannot be unhappy with their first and second place finishes respectively in the WCHA.  MSUM is currently #2 in the PWR and MTU #5.

The top rankings of WCHA teams is not from easy opponents either.  MSUM has played the 13th ranked strength of schedule (SOS) and owns the best overall winning percentage in the nation at 0.7714 (26-7-3).

Likewise, MTU has taken the schedule given and run with it achieving a 27-8-2 record, third best in the nation at 0.7473 winning percentage.  Now with the first home playoff series since 1993, MTU is on the verge of taking the next step to the WCHA Final Five and likely onto the NCAA Tournament.  A trip to the NCAA's would be the school's first since 1981.

On the other side of the West's story is the NCHC, arguably the most powerful conference in the nation.  Currently the NCHC is working on their sixth team in the top 16 of the PWR.  Most likely all six will not make it, but there is the distinct possibility that five will make the NCAA's.

The depth of the league is most demonstrated by Minnesota Duluth who is currently on the road at Denver for the first round of the NCHC Playoffs despite currently holding the #4 PWR position.  Fans around the western region have questioned the PWR math, but the SOS of the NCHC teams make it a reality.

The eight teams of the NCHC hold the top eight SOS positions in the nation.  The strength of the conference lies in the success of the members in non-conference games and the even play in conference.

Going into the last weekend of NCHC conference play, UMD had the chance to be anywhere from second to fifth.  Even with a win on the weekend, coupled with a loss, the Bulldogs still found themselves in fifth again a testament to the strength of the NCHC.

There continues to be banter and "inside knowledge" of big changes forthcoming in college hockey west, right now the WCHA and NCHC are basking in the limelight of conferences that came out of the fray in good shape and getting stronger.

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