Race for points at high stakes

— Men’s hockey team ready for series

With eight teams in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference vying to claim the first ever conference title, the top six are separated by just four points.

Sitting tied at No. 3 with 27 points, North Dakota could potentially move into first place with one win — but one loss could bump it to sixth.

Although non-conference competition provided a tough link to compete in the national tournament, the NCHC standings aren’t revealing anything surprising.

“On a national level, as a league, we didn’t do our job in a non-conference respect,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “In terms of within our league, we thought it would be extremely tight. A team that’s a few games over .500 might have chance to win the league, and that makes it tough on your winning percentage.

“That’s a challenge that’s accepted and we’ve got eight games to go. We’ve got to put one foot forward after another, and go out and do a real good job throughout the stretch of our regular season.”

This weekend, the puck will drop at the Ralph Engelstad Arena featuring North Dakota and Miami.

In its last 13 games, UND is 10-2-1 compared to a Miami team that has just one win in its past 10 games. The Red Hawks were swept at home last weekend against Western Michigan and sit tied at No. 7 with Colorado College at 14 points.

But with forwards Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik — who rank No. 1 and 2 in NCHC overall scoring, and each posting 16 power play points that top the league — North Dakota isn’t overlooking a tough opponent.

“Their record definitely doesn’t show how good they are,” senior captain Dillon Simpson said. “So for us, we can’t look at that. We’ve got to play our best hockey if we want to win hockey games.”

Winning hockey games, though, may come in accordance to an improvement in specialty teams.

In last Saturday’s 6-3 loss to Omaha, UND’s six power play opportunities didn’t yield any goals — extending its record to just 3-for-38 in the past nine games.

“I wouldn’t exactly say that’s clicking,” Hakstol said. “This hasn’t been a good stretch for us. Saturday night was hard. Everyone was trying. But the harder we tried, the worse things went for all of us.”

Hakstol said last weekend ended with the momentum on the negative side. With each point crucial, this weekend puts the minds of the players on more than just the task at hand.

“It’s one or two away from slipping all the way down the standings,” Simpson said. “So for us, we’ve got to play every game like it could be our last. I know for us, we take it game by game — but at the same time, we’ve got to look at the big picture. It’s a tight race.”

Elizabeth Erickson is the sports editor of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].