The NCHC 2017-2018 season has flown by once again as the Bulldogs are hosting Nebraska Omaha for the final weekend series. If UMD is able to get one point they will clinch the third place position in the NCHC regular season standings after last weekend securing home ice for the playoffs. The excellent play since Christmas has put this team as an almost sure thing for the NCAA tournament. In my opinion this is quite an accomplishment.
Coming into the season with UMD down 10 players from last years NCAA runner-up team there were so many question marks that my expectations were set low since the NCHC is such a strong conference. This year the Bulldogs have shown they can beat tough teams and can win a bunch of games in a row and steal some games that they probably should have lost which makes for new expectations of a team that can be a real factor in the NCAA tournament. The players that returned from last year know the pressure they will face hopefully will be able to show the youngsters how to handle this pressure.
There are several bright spots with this young team first with goal tending and the second with the defense. The biggest question mark coming in was who would be heir apparent to Hunter Miska which has been answered by Hunter Shepard who has six shutouts on the season to his credit and the season isn't done yet. On defense, returning one starter usually is enough to cause heart palpitations, but this group of youngsters have stepped up and played fantastic. So good in fact, that everyone hopes they will wear the UMD sweater for several seasons and not be done after one or two. The future looks good.
As for the final two games of the season, UMD is in a good spot. The Bulldogs seem to match up well with the Mavericks. Back in December they split with the Mavericks scoring 11 goals in the two games in Omaha but did give up 9 goals.
This shows that Mavericks are a good team that can score a lot of goals but have have struggled to score at times as well. The Mavericks have had scoring outputs of one game of 11 goals, two games with 7 goals and three games with 6 goals, but like the Bulldogs they have been shutout on six occasions this season as well. Staying out of the penalty box will be very important for UMD if they want to keep the scoring low for the Mavericks.
Nebraska Omaha @ Minnesota Duluth: I like the way UMD has played on defense the last few weeks and they will continue this and pull out a sweep.
St. Cloud @ North Dakota: The Fighting Hawks have struggled recently but should be helped by facing a rival that clinched the Julie and Spencer Penrose Memorial Cup. My gut say major let down by the Huskies but I can't say a sweep by the Fighting Hawks, so it will be a split.
Miami @ Denver: These team split early in the year, but Miami hasn't been great on the road this year. Denver sweep.
Western Michigan @ Colorado College: Two big games for these teams. If the Broncos play like last weekend they will have a long trip back to Kalamazoo. The Tigers will sweep.