NCHC squares off against Big Ten for supremacy

When the B1G 10 hockey conference formed in 2013-2014, college hockey fans expected a powerhouse that would dominate college hockey. It may happen in the future but other conferences are more than holding their own, especially the NCHC – the home of the Denver Pioneers.

Since that time, Minnesota is the only B1G team to reach the Finals in 2015 but fell to upstart Union 7-4. The NCHC’s Denver and North Dakota have won the last two Frozen Four titles while Union (ECAC), Providence (Hockey East) and Yale (Ivy League) earned the crown before that. Minnesota has swept the regular season until this season when Notre Dame won the regular season and conference tournament in their first year since joining the B1G. 

No team has suffered more since joining the B1G than Minnesota, despite their regular season success on the ice. In an MPR article, Minnesota hockey fans lament the loss of past rivalries in the WCHA and the Gophers have seen a “drop in fan interest” at Mariucci Arena and “a general malaise surrounding the program.” On the other hand, there is an emerging conference hockey power, Penn State, who are already making national waves after going to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season after moving to Division I 2012-2013. Furthermore, the addition of Notre Dame from Hockey East has further strengthened the conference and added top-end depth.

On the NCHC side, Denver, North Dakota, St Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth have prospered while Miami-Ohio and Colorado College have struggled. Miami recently announced a coaching shuffle under Head Coach Enrico Blasi and Colorado College has shown drastic improvement in their fourth year under head coach Mike Haviland.

During the first two rounds of the NCAA playoffs, DU has a chance to send a strong message to several Big Ten programs that the NCHC is still the best conference in the land, at least at the top tier of the conference.

The Big 10 have three teams in the Pairwise top-10 and four overall in the 16-team tournament. Notre Dame (#2), Ohio State (#4) and Michigan (#8) reside in the top 10. The NCHC has two teams in the top 10 – St Cloud (#1), Denver (T#5) – while Minnesota-Duluth (#12) slipped into the tournament on the final day of regular season play.

When it comes to high-end players, the NCHC has two in the top 10 for the Hobey Baker award – Henrik Borgstrom (DU) and Jimmy Schuldt (SCSU) represent the NCHC and Cale Morris (Notre Dame) represents the Big 10. As for goaltenders, the Richter Award has three from the NCHC to include Tanner Jaillet (DU), Dávid Hrenák (St. Cloud), and Hunter Shepard (Minnesota Duluth). The B1G has two nominees – Cale Morris (Notre Dame) and Sean Romeo from Ohio State.

Interestingly, the Allentown bracket with Denver is the only bracket where the NCHC and Big Ten will clash with Denver against Penn State and then, if DU advances, likely Ohio State. The Sioux Falls bracket has two NCHC participants and a strong possibility of one of these two advancing to the Frozen Four. Unfortunately, an all-NCHC final is impossible because there are no NCHC teams on the right-side of the bracket.

Tickets: Denver Hockey in Allentown, Pennsylvania at the PPL Center 
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