I was 6-2 in predicting the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association’s first-round playoff outcomes last weekend. Good, right? Well, this is where the old saying about statistics never lying but liars using statistics comes into play.
Yes, I perfectly forecasted results in six regulation playoff games, but missed the mark entirely on two mini-games that eventually sent No. 6 Wisconsin-River Falls and No. 4 Wisconsin-Stevens Point to this weekend’s semifinals. I incorrectly picked Wisconsin-Stout and Wisconsin-Eau Claire to advance along with Wisconsin-Superior. As predicted, No. 2-seed Yellowjackets made short order of No. 7-seed St. Scholastica in their first-round series.
So, I was only half right on the NCHA’s final four, which is nothing to brag about.
Now, the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association and Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference start their respective playoffs this weekend, and my 39-27-4 overall predication record is likely to see some seismic fluctuations.
NCHA semifinals (Winners advance to Peters Cup championship March 5, with the highest remaining seed serving as host)
Saturday, Feb. 28
Wisconsin-River Falls at St. Norbert. The No. 2-ranked and No. 1-seed Green Knights had the weekend off to further calibrate their already finely-tuned attack, while the plucky No. 6 Falcons (12-13-2, 7-10-1) were nothing short of heroic in their quarterfinal upset over No. 3 Wisconsin-Stout. UW-River Falls’ Josh Calleja scored with eight seconds left in regulation to force a decisive mini-game after the Blue Devils’ Robert Carr notched what appeared to have been the game-winner less than a minute earlier. The Falcons prevailed in the mini-game, 2-0, with Martin Sundstedt and Justin Brossman scoring.
UW-River Falls’ storybook weekend will carry little currency when pitted against host St. Norbert (20-4-1, 14-3-1), which is 11-0 at home and boasts NCHA Player of the Year B.J. O’Brien in net (17-2-1, 1.59 goals-against, .932 save-percentage). St. Norbert 3-1 .
Wisconsin-Stevens Point at Wisconsin-Superior. The question for the No. 2 Yellowjackets (15-11-1, 10-8-1) is whether they have been able to totally eradicate the goal-drought demons that plagued them during a recent woeful 1-7 stretch when they were shutout four times. The team was comprehensive in defeating St. Scholastica twice, 4-2 and 5-2, in the quarterfinals last weekend, but face a No. 4-seed Pointers’ squad instilled with self-belief (8-3-1 since Jan. 1). UW-Stevens Point (13-13-1, 8-9-1) eeked out a 1-0 win to force a decisive mini-game against UW-Eau Claire last Saturday. The Pointers also beat the Yellowjackets, 4-3, at home in their most recent encounter Feb. 5. The Pointers’ surging form, coupled with the Yellowjackets’ less-than-invincible 7-7 home record, points to an upset. UW-Stevens Point 3-2.
MCHA quarterfinals (Winners advance to face No. 5 Adrian and Marian in Harris Cup finals at Adrian’s Arrington Ice Arena March 5-6)
Friday and Saturday, Feb. 25-26
Northland at Lawrence. The visiting LumberJacks are on a better run of late, winning three of their last four, including an impressive 4-1 home victory over Marian Feb. 18. By contrast, the Vikings have dropped three of their last four, which included a not-so-impressive drubbing by Finlanda last Saturday. Lawrence (12-12-1, 10-10) holds a 3-1 regular-season series edge over Northland, but the Lumberjacks have the firepower — namely leading scorer Colin McIntosh (14 goals, 19 assists, 33 points) — to upset the slumbering Vikings at home. Northland 5-3, 6-2.
Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 26-27
Lake Forest at Milwaukee School of Engineering. The No. 11 Raiders should be able to shake any ill-effects of being swept at home by No. 5 Adrian last weekend and handle a listing Lake Forest team. The Foresters (5-19-1, 5-14-1) have lost eight of their last nine, with the lone win coming against cellar-dwelling Concordia (Wis.) Feb. 18. MSOE’s Jordan Keizer is tied for No. 1 in the nation with 23 goals, while Raiders goalie Connor Toomey’s 1.75 goals-against ranks No. 2 nationally. MSOE 6-1, 5-0.
MIAC – First Round (Winner advances to face No. 15 Hamline on Saturday)
Friday, Feb. 25
Augsburg at Gustavus Adolphus. The Gusties (14-9-2, 8-6-2) have been wildly inconsistent lately, pulling off a 5-4 overtime victory at home to Saint Mary’s to clinch a playoff spot on the last day of the regular season Saturday. Meanwhile, Augsburg (14-8-3, 8-6-2) went unbeaten in its last seven contests to snag the MIAC’s final playoff position. Home advantage gives the Gusties a slight edge in this battle of two otherwise evenly matched teams. Gustavus 4-2.
Semifinals (Winners advance to championship game March 2)
Saturday, Feb. 26
Gustavus at Hamline. The No. 15 Pipers (14-6-5, 9-3-1) were uneven down the stretch, going 2-3-2 in their last seven games. Scott Bell’s team clinched first place — and with it home-ice advantage in the playoffs — by throttling Concordia (Minn.), 7-4, on the last day of the regular season. That victory was more emblematic of an NCAA tournament-bound team and was a stark turnaround after being shutout 4-0 the previous night. The Pipers and Gusties split their regular-season series, with both teams winning at each other’s home. Hamline possesses a little more depth and overall savvy to advance. Hamline 3-1.
Concordia (Minn.) at St. Thomas. The visiting Cobbers (11-10-4, 7-5-4) have been playing their best hockey in the last month (6-2-1), which included winning four consecutive one-goal games. One of those narrow victories included a 3-2 decision over the Tommies on the road Jan. 15. St. Thomas (14-9-2, 9-5-2) is unbeaten in its last six outings (4-0-2) and holds a 2-1 regular-season series edge over upstart Concordia. The Tommies were also idle last weekend, which leaves them well-rested to focus on the task at hand (or vulnerable to a slow start depending on your point of view). This match up also features two freshmen goalies in the Cobbers’ Kelly Andrew (10-6-3, 2.85 GAA, .903 save-pct.) and the Tommies’ Geoff Sadjadi (9-5, 2.90 GAA,. .896 save-pct). St. Thomas’ home-ice advantage provides a whisker-thin edge. St. Thomas 3-2.