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Five storylines at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff

Mar. 21—ST. PAUL, Minn. — The front doors at the Xcel Energy Center have National Collegiate Hockey Conference logos on them.

Signage is posted around the arena.

The building is ready for the second-to-last NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

The NCHC's signature event will move to campus sites in 2026, leaving just two more events in the home of the Minnesota Wild.

"We'll fill this barn out with green, I'm sure of it," UND forward Louis Jamernik V said. "It'll be fun."

Here are a few storylines for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, which will begin with UND and Omaha playing at 4 p.m. Friday in a semifinal game and Denver taking on St. Cloud State at 7:30 p.m. in the other semifinal.

UND won three of its last four Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Fives in Xcel Energy Center.

Brad Eidsness backstopped UND to the title in 2010. UND repeated in 2011 thanks to a double overtime goal by Matt Frattin in the championship game. In 2012, a shorthanded UND team stunned Minnesota in the semifinals —

the Dave Hakstol Timeout Game

— and beat Denver in the championship.

Things haven't been as great in the NCHC era.

UND won the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in 2021 when it was played in Grand Forks due to the pandemic.

Outside of that, the Fighting Hawks are 1-5 in semifinal games in the Twin Cities and 0-1 in title games.

UND is 0-3 in the early semifinal game and 1-2 in the late game.

The lone semifinal victory was 1-0 over Denver in 2017 in the Target Center.

"The only time we've won the NCHC playoff trophy was here in the playoff bubble," Berry said. "We want to prove that we can win in the Xcel Energy Center. There's only a couple more years left of that and we want to make sure we have a chance to do that."

A big key to Omaha's success this season has been its ability to win one-goal games.

Omaha is 16-2 in one-goal games, including seven overtime victories. The Mavericks have won a pair of one-goal games against UND this season.

Omaha was 8-8 in one-goal games last season, 6-6 in 2021-22, 8-2 in 2020-21 and 3-7 in 2019-20.

"That wasn't a thing my freshman year," Omaha captain Nolan Sullivan said. "We lost (seven) one-goal games. Whether that's just experience or learning from the past. . . I think we've been a lot more disciplined, too, playing smarter hockey. I think that helps a ton to not get in those special teams battles. I think there's a lot you can say about that. But I think it, once again, shows the group's mentality. There's no quit and we're comfortable in those situations."

Denver has played its last seven games without its top two centers — Massimo Rizzo and Carter King.

The good news: King is close to returning and could be in the lineup Friday night for the Pioneers.

The bad news: Rizzo is "highly doubtful" for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and even "doubtful" for next weekend's NCAA regional, coach David Carle said.

Denver is 6-1 without Rizzo and King, though.

"Different people have had to step up in big-time ways," Carle said. "Our freshmen have grown up a lot throughout the year. It's a little bit of what we envisioned in bringing this team together just with how young we were. With the 11 freshmen, we knew we'd have a real high ceiling, we just needed to keep pushing, keep working on our game."

For the second-straight year, St. Cloud State has had a surprising goalie emerge at playoff time.

This season, it's freshman Isak Posch.

Posch made just one start before Christmas as 6-foot-6 senior Dominic Basse took the crease.

"We turned it into a competition between two goalies," St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson said. "We went out to Duluth (two weeks ago) and played two games. To be honest, I planned to play both goalies and the guy we thought played better and was going to give us the best chance down the stretch, we were going to go with."

That's been Posch.

The Swede has made 11 starts since Christmas and played all three games in last weekend's NCHC quarterfinal series against Western Michigan.

"We kind of did the same thing last year," Larson said. "Last year, in the (quarterfinal) series against Duluth, Dom played the first two. Jaxon Castor played the third and went on a run from there."

Posch is 5-5-2 with a 2.79 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage. Basse, a Chicago Blackhawks draft pick, is 12-10-2 with a 2.75 goals-against average and an .896 save percentage.

"With goalies, you just never know who it's going to be," Larson said. "But at this point, Isak is giving us the best chance to win hockey games down the stretch. Dom's not far behind. And like I said, with goalies, you never know how it could all shake out here if we keep making a run."

In a strange turn, Denver's biggest rival might be its biggest fan group Friday.

Colorado College lost to Omaha in a decisive Game 3 of its NCHC quarterfinal series and is sitting on the edge of making the NCAA tournament at No. 14 in the Pairwise Rankings.

The Tigers need this weekend's games to go their way in order to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011.

St. Cloud State, sitting at No. 16 in the Pairwise Rankings, will try to take Colorado College's spot.

The Huskies can move into solid position with a win Friday, which would be bad news for Colorado College.

So, in a strange turn of events, Colorado College will be cheering on Denver.

"We have to focus on what we are in control of," Carle said. "(We) probably more kick ourselves that they'd be out of the picture if we swept them. But we're here to play a really desperate team in St. Cloud and to keep building and working on our game as we try to have a deep run into the postseason."