Take a glance at the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings and you'll see that St. Cloud State sits one point behind first-place North Dakota.

Take a glance at the PairWise Ratings, the formula the NCAA uses to seed and fill its 16-team tournament field, and you'll find the Huskies at No. 13, dangerously close to where the cut line might fall come Selection Sunday.

"We're in playoff mindset right now, to be honest," said St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson, whose team is home this week against Western Michigan, which is fifth in the conference but No. 10 in the PairWise.

Following that for the Huskies (14-9-5, 9-3-3 NCHC) are a road series against No. 5 Denver and a home set against rival Minnesota Duluth before conference tournament play begins.

"Every one of these games, whether it be for the league or for the PairWise, couldn't be more important," Larson said. "I'm just looking at how tight it is."

The Huskies, who are coming off a bye weekend, last played during a sweep of Miami (Ohio) on Feb. 9-10. They relied on a balanced lineup that featured six different goal-scorers and 11 players collecting at least one point.

Larson saw his team start slowly, with the Huskies dropping games to St. Thomas, Minnesota State Mankato and Alaska in October. As the team's youth and veterans began to mesh, St. Cloud State went on a 9-1-2 run through December. They're 3-3-4 since Jan. 12.

The top line of seniors Kyler Kupka and Zack Okabe and junior Mason Salquist have combined for 21 goals and 31 assists. Senior right winger Veeti Miettinen is on a line with a pair of freshmen — his brother, Verner, a center, and left winger Barrett Hall. That trio has 22 goals and 22 assists. "Veeti's a shooter, and Verner's a disher," Larson said of the Espoo, Finland, natives. "They complement each other really well."

Senior defenseman Dylan Anhorn, a transfer from Union, leads St. Cloud State with 24 points on four goals and 20 assists. Junior blue-liner Jack Peart, a second-round draft pick by the Wild in 2021, paces the team with 35 blocked shots. In goal, senior Dominic Basse is 11-9-2 with a 2.65 goals-against average and .901 save percentage, though Larson also has confidence in freshman Isak Posch.

A year ago, St. Cloud State won its second NCHC tournament title and advanced to the NCAA Fargo Regional final, where it lost 4-1 to the Gophers. Larson, who guided the Huskies to the 2021 NCAA title game, sees a team motivated to make noise come playoff time.

"Anytime you get to a game away from the Frozen Four, it only fuels you for the next year to want to make it back," he said. "We've gotten better throughout the year, and all the goals that we set out for the beginning of the year are still attainable."

CCHA tight at the top

With two weeks left in the regular season, Bemidji State is in first place in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association standings, but not by much. The Beavers hold a two-point lead over Bowling Green, Minnesota State, Mankato and St. Thomas.

The Beavers and Tommies play a two-game series on Friday and Saturday at St. Thomas Ice Arena, while Bowling Green is host to Michigan Tech, and Minnesota State is home against Lake Superior State. In the final week, the Mavericks and Beavers meet in Bemidji, while St. Thomas travels to Michigan Tech and Bowling Green visits Northern Michigan.

Minnesota State is No. 28 in the PairWise, the highest among CCHA teams, so it appears the conference will have only its tournament champion in the NCAA field. The exception is St. Thomas, which is in its probationary period from the move from Division III and is not yet eligible for NCAA play. Should the Tommies win the Mason Cup as tournament champs, the runner-up would get the NCAA berth.

The road to St. Paul

It's less than five weeks to Selection Sunday in men's hockey, when the 16-team NCAA men's tournament field will be revealed on March 24. The men's Frozen Four will be April 11-13 at Xcel Energy Center. Here's a projection of the field in the four regionals:

Springfield, Mass.

1. Boston College vs. 4. Bemidji State

2. Quinnipiac vs. 3. Gophers

Providence, R.I.

1. Boston University vs. 4. RIT

2. Maine vs. 3. Western Michigan

Sioux Falls, S.D.

1. North Dakota vs. 4. Cornell

2. Wisconsin vs. 3. Colorado College

Maryland Heights, Mo.

1. Michigan State vs. 4. St. Cloud State

2. Denver vs. 3. Providence