The No. 1 ranked Denver Pioneers have the most important game(s) of the season so far coming up this weekend. The four best teams in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference will go head-to-head in a battle to be crowned NCHC champions.
It all starts on Friday with No. 4 Western Michigan taking on No. 2 Minnesota Duluth at 3:08 p.m. MST and then the main event at 6:38 p.m. MST between DU and No. 11 North Dakota. All games will be played at the Target Center in Minneapolis and will be televised on CBS Sports Network.
“We’re really excited to be at the Target Center,” head coach Jim Montgomery declared on Tuesday. “We think it’s an incredible event and it’s an event we haven’t been very successful in the last two years but we hope to have a little bit more success because we think this one and done tournament will help us prepare for the NCAA tournament.”
The Pioneers come in as the No. 1 seed in the tournament, winning the conference's regular season, but will be taking on last year's champions in the Fighting Hawks. The two teams played each other back in November during a two-game series in Grand Forks. The first game was won by North Dakota in double overtime, officially a tie, and the Pios won the second game 3-2.
“I think when I say we’re getting ready to play North Dakota adrenaline flows throughout the whole roster,” Montgomery said. “Our entire roster gets prepared and you can see that by how we practice [on Monday].
"No doubt the intensity in this game is going to be great from the get. You just have to look at the Frozen Four last year or even the games in North Dakota--they were intense games that were back-and-forth. It’s going to be great hockey and people better buy some tickets because you don’t get to see great hockey like this and we’re expecting it to be a barn burner.”
The first round was a best of three series, now the Pioneers will be entering the one-and-done portion of the tournament which always seems to bring some madness in March.
“The exciting part of being in a one-and-done is you have to play with urgency,” Montgomery said. “Itt’s something we talk about every year. I didn’t think we played with enough urgency in the first period against St. Cloud and it hurt us. So hopefully we come out from the puck drop with great urgency.”
The Pios will need to combine a lot of urgency with skill if they want to beat a couple of the top teams in the nation. Duluth, Western Michigan and North Dakota all have some talented hockey players on their team and big plans for the post-season.