Thursday, March 11, 2010

WCHA Round One Previews

The most exciting four weeks in college hockey get under way this weekend with the WCHA's first round playoffs. All ten teams will face off against one another in reverse order for best-of-three series.

In order to prepare for this weekend, we'll look at four matchups today and save the Minnesota/North Dakota preview for Friday.

#10 Michigan Tech at #1 Denver – The supremely-talented Pioneers raced to the top of the league’s standings this season and won the MacNaughton Cup in convincing fashion, finishing five points ahead of Wisconsin. They scored the second-most goals and allowed the second-fewest tallies in league play. Goaltender Marc Cheverie (.937 Sv%; 1.97 GAA; 6 shutouts) is among the nation’s best, and forwards Rhett Rakhshani (20-28-48) and Tyler Ruegsegger (16-23-39) will lead the offense. The Huskies, on the other hand, suffered through yet another last-place finish, accumulating only eight points in 28 games. This series is a mismatch in every stretch of the imagination and the Pios should score early and often against the Huskies. MTU goaltender Kevin Genoe (.904 Sv%) has been solid this season, but Tech gives up far too many shots on goal and Denver should be able to buzz around all night long.

The teams met for two games in Denver in February with the Pioneers winning both contests.

DU Roster, Stats, and Schedule
MTU Roster, Stats, and Schedule
Donny Puck Prediction: Denver Sweep

#9 Alaska-Anchorage at #2 Wisconsin – The Badgers have undergone an offensive explosion in the second half of the season. Sconnie has notched 109 goals in 28 games of WCHA play. Before last weekend’s series at Minnesota, the Badgers had scored 17 goals in three games, including putting a seven-spot in normally stingy St. Cloud State. Wisconsin has five players who notched double-figures in goals, including the WCHA’s leading goal-scorer Blake Geoffrion (21-16-37). The team features three 40-point getters – Michael Davies (15-30-45), Derek Stepan (8-33-41), and Brendan Smith (15-25-40). Goaltender Scott Gudmandson (.910 Sv%; 2.41 GAA; 14-3-4 record) has been a revelation for Wisconsin this season. On the UAA side, the team played reasonably well in the month of January, going 4-3-1 against Denver, Michigan Tech, Colorado College, and Minnesota, but a five-game losing streak in February cooked a promising season. Kevin Clark (23-14-37) turned in a nice offensive season, but defense and goaltending has been suspect for UAA all season long. The Badgers’ high-energy attack should be a big mismatch for the Seawolves.

The two teams met for one series in Madison back in November with the Badgers winning both games convincingly.

UW Roster, Stats, and Schedule
UAA Roster, Stats, and Schedule
Donny Puck Prediction: Wisconsin Sweep

#8 Minnesota State at #3 St. Cloud State – The Huskies forced a rematch of last weekend’s series with the Mavericks when they held on for a tie last Saturday night. Cloud rode a nine-game winning streak in the month of January toward the top of the national rankings, but a 1-3-1 finish over the final three weekends of regular season play knocked them down a bit. Still, in a season expected to be one of transition following the departure of two-year starting goaltender Jase Weslosky, St. Cloud has surprised many. The turnaround started in goal, where both Dan Dunn (.914 Sv%; 2.57 GAA) and Mike Lee (.914 Sv%; 2.81 GAA) have been solid on the season. Ryan Lasch (18-22-40), Garrett Roe (16-23-39), and Tony Mosey (11-20-31) have been productive up front for SCSU. For Minnesota State, it has been a tough season. The team has struggled to find a consistent goaltender following the graduation of long-time starter Mike Zacharias, and the team has used three goaltenders semi-regularly all season. The Mavs have struggled to score goals all season long, notching just 75 in 28 WCHA games, third-lowest among the ten teams. Freshman Phil Cook will likely get the nod in goal in the playoffs and the Mavericks will play St. Cloud very hard. This is a matchup which is not overly favorable to St. Cloud State, but they should have enough firepower in the end.

The two teams met for two games last weekend – the only seriesof the season – and Minnesota State won at home on Friday and tied up in St. Cloud on Saturday.

SCSU Roster, Stats, and Schedule
MSU Roster, Stats, and Schedule
Donny Puck Prediction: St. Cloud State wins in three games

#6 Colorado College at #5 UMD – Inconsistency has plagued the Bulldogs all season long. UMD features one of the most potent forward corps of any collegiate team, yet has struggled to score goals elsewhere. The foursome of Jack Connolly (18-27-45), Justin Fontaine (21-21-42), Rob Bordson (9-28-37), and Mike Connolly (11-25-36) is as formidable as any combo in the country. Sophomore goaltenders Kenny Reiter (.908 Sv%; 2.45 GAA) and Brady Hjelle (.898 Sv%; 2.85 GAA) have been solid all season long. However, UMD has not played very well in the months of February and March, going 3-5-0 down the stretch. Colorado College has struggled mightily after a very strong start. As 2009 turned to 2010, the Tigers stood at a surprising 12-5-3 (8-3-3 in the WCHA) despite losing star goaltender Richard Bachman. However, CC went 6-10-0 down the stretch to finish 18-15-3 and drop out of the PairWise consideration. Freshman goaltender Joe Howe was solid this season but seemed to tire as the year went on. Still, he finished with a .908 Sv% in his debut season. The Tigers and Bulldogs desperately need victories to make a NCAA Tournament run, so this series should be a good matchup.

The two teams met for two series this season with UMD holding a 3-1-0 edge. The lone CC victory came in Colorado Springs.

UMD Roster, Stats, Schedule
CC Roster, Stats, Schedule
Donny Puck Prediction: UMD wins in a three game series

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