Friday, March 5, 2010

WCHA's Final Weened Scenario Time

As the regular season enters its final weekend, the top five is locked in for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. Denver is the MacNaughton Cup champion; Wisconsin, St. Cloud State, UMD, and North Dakota have all clinched home ice. Of that group, North Dakota can finish no higher than third, but UMD and St. Cloud State can still end up bouncing Wisconsin out of second place. All this means is that there will be plenty of jockeying for positioning among first division teams.

At the bottom of the bracket, things are clearer. Colorado College, Minnesota, Alaska Anchorage, Minnesota State, and Michigan Tech all are resigned to opening the playoffs on the road. Michigan Tech has "clinched" last place; Colorado College and Minnesota will finish either sixth or seventh; Alaska-Anchorage and Minnesota State will finish either eighth or ninth. 

The final weekend's matchups are:
  • Wisconsin at Minnesota - The Gophers and Badgers split their prior series in Madison last November. The offensively-potent Badgers lead the WCHA with 105 goals scored, 17 more than the next-highest total. Sconnie comes into Minneapolis with a 9-3-1 in WCHA play during the new year and has won six of seven. Wisconsin is solidly in third place in the PairWise rankings and seems a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A win this weekend will assure the Badgers play either UAA or MSU in the first round instead of CC or Minny. The Gophers also need wins to improve their NCAA Tournament chances, but it's looking increasingly likely they'll need to run the table in the post-season just to get an invitation.
  • UMD at Alaska-Anchorage - The Bulldogs are still in desperation mode after the previous weekend's split with Minnesota. UMD is tied for 12th in the PairWise and needs wins to stay off the NCAA bubble. The 'Dogs are 3-7-0 in their last ten and have dropped far in the rankings. Still, this is a dangerous team come playoff time, with one of the nation's most potent power plays, and high-scoring threats like Mike Connolly, Jack Connolly, Justin Fontaine, and Rob Bordson. The two teams have not yet met this season.
  • Colorado College at Denver - This series looked huge a few weeks ago, but CC's 5-9-0 WCHA mark since January 1, highlighted by its current four-game losing string, has dismissed the Tigers from the NCAA Tournament bubble - for now. CC needs wins, and a series win over the Pioneers would help it tenuous PairWise (currently 18th) situation. The Pios, on the other hand, have clinched the MacNaughton Cup as WCHA regular season champion and are currently first overall in the PairWise. This series obviously means much more for CC than DU. Denver scored a win and a tie against the Tigers back in November.
  • St. Cloud State at Minnesota State - The Huskies had last weekend off after splitting series the previous two weekends with Wisconsin and North Dakota. SCSU is currently fourth in the PairWise and is holding off a late charge from North Dakota for the final #1 regional seed. Of course, there are still three weekends of hockey left to play, so many factors could change. However, the Huskies need a couple of wins this weekend to keep its position. Dropping to fourth place means having to play Minnesota in the first round playoffs instead of Alaska-Anchorage or Minnesota State. The Gophers are not as good of a matchup for the Huskies as those other two teams. Plus, it keeps SCSU's PairWise ranking in good standing. This is a big series for St. Cloud State.
  • Michigan Tech at North Dakota - UND took a while, but it is on its seasonal end-of-season roll right now, The Siouxies still have a shot at third place and are currently tied for fifth in the PairWise rankings. Winners of their last five, the Sioux would love to crack the top three to avoid Minnesota or Colorado College in the first round, but that looks to be difficult.
The fact that the Gophers are on the outside looking in this weekend is disappointing. Still, the WCHA is still wide-open outside of Denver and plenty of good teams have much on the line this weekend as the playoffs - and NCAA Tournament - loom.

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