Monday, January 25, 2010

Gopher Hockey: The Hard Facts

After this past weekend's sweep by St. Cloud State - the Huskies first over the 'U' since 2000, the Gopher hockey team finds itself in quite a predicament as it faces the WCHA's stretch run. With five series remaining in the regular season, this is the Gophers' reality:
  • With 16 points, the Gophers find themselves mired in seventh place in the WCHA
  • The team is much closer to ninth place (+5 points) than fifth (-7 points), which would qualify them for home ice advantage in the WCHA's first round playoffs
  • The weekend sweep dropped the Gophers to 24th in the PairWise rankings
  • Any wins this coming weekend at Alaska-Anchorage will not help the team's PairWise much, given UAA is not in the top 25
  • The UAA series is crucial, given the Seawolves are one point behind the Gophers in the standings
Now, for some positives:
  • Minnesota has played 18 conference games this season and has two games in hand over Colorado College and UAA, who have each played 20
  • After UAA, the Gophers have a week off, which gives banged-up players (aka Mike Hoeffel) an opportunity to rest up and heal before the stretch drive
  • After the week off, the season's final four weekends feature matchups against teams not only ahead of the Gophers in the standings, but ahead of them in the PairWise rankings
Cognizant of the fact that I am reaching a bit for my silver linings after last weekend's reality, it's too early to write off the Gophers' season because of the third bullet point above. Not to look past Anchorage, but the Gophers still have a schedule which is favorable in that it provides opportunities to improve their position in the PairWise rankings by beating teams ahead of them in the standings. The strength of schedule rankings show that the Gophers have played the nation's 18th-toughest schedule to date, but with matchups against Denver (1st), Colorado College (14th), UMD (7th), and Wisconsin (3rd) ahead, the Gophers have opportunities to defeat teams ranked very high in the PairWise. The strength of schedule ranking will improve once the Gophers hit the ice against the highly-ranked opponents, and the PairWise will improve with every win. 

Of course, the Gophers need to win these games in order to move up in the rankings, and with last weekend's sweep, have put plenty of pressure on themselves to do just that. 

Tem games remain in the regular season. A sweep at Anchorage is almost vital at this point, and three out of four points is a bare minimum haul for the long trek north. UAA is no pushover, however, with victories in three out of their last four outings. After getting throttled by Colorado College 6-1 last Friday night, the Seawolves came back to beat the Tigers 2-1 the next night. To give the Gophers further motivation to take care of business this weekend, UAA is one point behind the Gophers in the league standings.

With 20 points still up for grabs in the league, the Gophers have put themselves into a position where they realistically need at least 14 to put them in position to qualify for the tournament. The schedule helps them in that they have opportunities to make up some ground in the league and nationally.

However, they need to win games in order to move up, and not many Gopher fans are willing to bet on that happening, especially after last weekend. 

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