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Minnesota State heads (north) east for NCAAs

Massachusetts-Lowell, Boston College and Johnny McInnis.

Who will have the biggest fan base at the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass.?

McInnis, Minnesota State’s captain and the only Boston-born player for the Mavericks, hopes his friends and family members are there cheering on his team from nearly 1,400 miles away.

“We’re going to make it a home game as much we can,” McInnis said.

Minnesota State will play Lowell in the first round of the national tournament next Saturday.

Lowell and BC are the local teams, each located an hour or so from Worcester’s DCU Center. But the McInnis faithful lives nearby, too.

“My phone’s been blowing up,” he said during a Selection Show viewing party at a downtown Mankato, Minn., Buffalo Wild Wings.

The viewing party took place only a few hours after the team returned from an overnight bus trip from Grand Rapids, Mich., where they won their first WCHA playoff championship on Saturday night.

They defeated Ferris State, which will be the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, 4-1 for the Broadmoor Trophy. Now they are seeded third and face the No. 2-seeded River Hawks.

“This time of year, it doesn’t matter who you get slotted up against,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

The Mavericks are in the tournament for the second year in a row and the third time in their Division I history.

Ferris State draws Colgate in NCAA Midwest Regional in Cincinnati

BIG RAPIDS, Mich. — Ferris State and Colgate began their 2013-14 seasons against each other back on the first Saturday in October. Now on the final Friday of March, one of them will close its season against the other.

The Bulldogs are back in the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years and for the third time in school history as a No. 5 overall seed facing No. 12 Colgate in a 4:30 p.m. Midwest Regional semifinal game on Friday at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati on ESPN3.com.

The Raiders and Bulldogs split a series at Colgate on the opening weekend of the season with FSU winning 7-4 on Oct. 5 and losing 1-0 on Oct. 6.

Colgate also beat Ferris on Jan. 4 in the Mariucci Classic Championship in Minneapolis, 3-0.

“We’re familiar with them and obviously they are very familiar with us,” Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said. “What’s interesting, we were talking about it, after that (NCAA) game, we’ll have played them more times than Minnesota State this year. We’ve got a healthy dose of respect for them.

“It didn’t come as any surprise to us they made the tournament. I thought they were one of the best teams we faced during the course of the year. Both them and Minnesota State and then Alaska-Fairbanks were in my opinion were three of the best teams we saw.”

Both teams earned at-large bids to the tourney after losing in their respective conference championship game on Saturday.

Colgate, which finished second during the regular season in the ECAC, fell to Union in the ECAC final.

Ferris won the WCHA regular season title by a point over Minnesota State, but fell to the Mavericks in the Final Five championship on Saturday in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“We came up short tonight,” Daniels said following the 4-1 loss Saturday to MSU. “The good news is that we’ll have an opportunity to move forward and kind of erase this one from our memory bank.”

The last time Ferris State was in the NCAA tournament in 2012 as the CCHA regular season champ, it won the Midwest Regional championship before falling to Boston College in the national championship game.

The Bulldogs first made the NCAA tournament after winning the CCHA regular season title in 2003. They fell in the regional final.

On the other half of the Midwest bracket, No. 4 Wisconsin plays No. 14 North Dakota.

North Dakota, which finished third at the first NCHC tournament, snuck into the tournament as the final at-large team while Wisconsin won the inaugural Big Ten tournament championship. During the regular season, North Dakota finished second in the NCHC and the Badgers took second in the Big Ten.

WCHA Final Five picks

The WCHA Final Five is upon us with an entirely different look compared to year’s past. In essence, it’s become almost a cross between the CCHA’s old Super 6/championship weekend at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and the Final Five we all came to love and cherish at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

This year’s Final Five is being played at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. — home of the Detroit Red Wing’s AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins.

The teams: two from the old CCHA in Bowling Green and Ferris State and two holdovers from the old WCHA in Alaska-Anchorage and Minnesota State.

Who is going to come out on top? Here are our picks.

Bowling Green vs. Minnesota State

2 p.m. EDT Friday

Based on the comments of Falcons’ head coach Chris Bergeron on Tuesday, it appears the Falcons enter the Final Five with a huge chip on their shoulder after getting snubbed by the rest of the league at the end of the regular season. Despite finishing fourth, BGSU landed no one on the All-WCHA first, second, third or rookie teams. Not a single Falcon landed an award outside of all-academic team honors. In Bergeron’s own words: “We’re not trying to embrace the underdog role or under appreciated role, that’s just the one we’ve been painted with.” Falcons 4-3

Shane: Bergeron definitely talked the talk when it comes to the all-league snubs, but there’s no doubt the Falcons have some bulletin-board material. The Mavericks, meanwhile, had more all-league picks than anyone else in the conference. Is that why Minnesota State will win? I won’t say that, but I like that MSU has shown some resiliency over the course of their 11-game unbeaten streak. The Mavs were down four times last Saturday against Northern Michigan and came back to win in overtime. And they’ve trailed in four other games over the streak. Mavericks 4-3

Alaska-Anchorage vs. Ferris State

7 p.m. EDT Friday

Matt: Grand Rapids is just 60 miles south of the Bulldogs home in Big Rapids, and since Ferris finished off a double overtime win over Bemidji State late Saturday night, the university has been on a mission to get as many Bulldogs fans to Van Andel Arena as possible. Both @FerrisHockey and @ferrisathletics have taken over my timeline on Twitter with deals and packages even I felt may be too good to pass up. Those fans could prove to be the difference for a team that has been unbeatable at home in conference play this year. Bulldogs 3-1

Shane: The Seawolves are a great story, going from four wins a year ago to winning 18 and making the Final Five this year. They’re starting to play better away from Anchorage, too, which could be scary for the Bulldogs. They’re not to be taken lightly. Ferris State’s season won’t end with a loss, but I think the team will be motivated by being the de facto home team this weekend. Just how many fans will they put in the Van Andel? Enough to make the tournament look respectable on TV? Bulldogs 3-2

Broadmoor Trophy Championship

7 p.m. EDT Saturday

Matt (Bowling Green vs. Ferris State): No team this season has been more focused than Ferris State. The Bulldogs have their eye on the ultimate prize it seems: a national championship. It’s a lofty goal, but one the program believes it can shoot for after falling short in the NCAA title game two years ago. I don’t think it will matter who Ferris State plays in the WCHA title game, whether its Minnesota State or Bowling Green, I like the Bulldogs to win the Broadmoor Trophy this weekend. It’s not the program’s ultimate prize, but it is a key piece to their national championship puzzle. Bulldogs 3-2

Shane (Minnesota State vs. Ferris State): This will be the rematch everybody’s been waiting for since mid-January when the Mavericks swept the Bulldogs in Mankato and brewed up some bad blood as the weekend went on. It’s also the rivalry the WCHA needs as it tries to rebuild its brand. This could be a game MSU needs to get a berth into the NCAA tournament. Ferris State will have some revenge on its mind. Minnesota State, meanwhile, fell on point short of catching the Bulldogs for a share of the MacNaughton Cup but could have a chance to take the Broadmoor. Mavericks 3-2

Three things I think I learned from the first round of the WCHA playoffs

Here are three things I think I learned from the first round of the WCHA playoffs, with the Final Five weekend on deck.

The scrapped Alaska Plan was actually really entertaining

There were a lot of unhappy people in the summer of 2012 when the WCHA announced Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage would play in the first round of the league playoffs every season. Had we known it was going to be as entertaining as this weekend’s battle was, we might not have belly-ached so much — even if it was and still is a horrible idea.

The Alaska Plan got scrapped early in 2013 after Alabama-Huntsville was admitted to the WCHA, but happened anyway this year naturally when the Nanooks clinched the third seed with a 7-2 rout of UAA on March 7, followed by a 3-1 UAA win on March 8 to slot the Seawolves in sixth.

Of the seven games between the Nanooks and Seawolves this year — they first met in Anchorage Dec. 6-7 — six were decided by a goal with UAA winning the final two meetings to reach the WCHA Final Five.

The rivalry between the Seawolves and Nanooks has always been a heated one, but you have to think the four-turned-seven game series this year magnified it to a whole new level.

That especially has to be true for Alaska, which now must spend the entire offseason looking at the Governor’s Cup it won on March 8 in a shootout, only to know it was UAA that got to move on to the WCHA Final Five in Grand Rapids.

While I wasn’t happy to see the league force these two teams against each other on a yearly basis, I won’t complain if they meet again in the 2015 postseason and beyond naturally.

Bowling Green’s Chris Bergeron is an underrated coach

Chris Bergeron’s Falcons have had some up and down regular seasons since he took over as head coach prior to the 2010-11 season. That hasn’t been true in the postseason, however.

The Falcons improved to 4-0 in best-of-three, first-round league playoffs series with a sweep of Michigan Tech this weekend in Bowling Green. It was BGSU’s fifth best-of-three win in seven series to improve their playoff record to 10-10 in four years under Bergeron.

The Falcons four previous series wins all came on the road and all four series went three games. BGSU won at Northern Michigan in the first round of the CCHA playoffs in 2011 and 2012 as the No. 11 seed (last place) and at Lake Superior State in the first round as the No. 9 seed in 2013. BGSU also won in the second round of the CCHA playoffs at top-seeded Ferris State in 2012 — the year the Bulldogs reached the national championship game.

Bergeron’s ability to get the most out of his players at this time of the year is impressive. His Falcons should not be overlooked in Grand Rapids. Don’t be surprised if this is they year they capture a postseason title. They seem to do their best work when no one expects them too.

WCHA TV was the best things that could have happened to the league

One of the greatest joys of covering the WCHA this season was being able to watch so much league action without driving hours on end through blizzards, sleeping in uncomfortable hotel rooms and eating awful fast food.

As much as I’d love to be in a hockey rink every Friday and Saturday night when WCHA teams are in action, my location in Marquette and full-time job as sports editor at The Mining Journal prevents it.

So instead, when NMU was on the road or when I couldn’t make it to a Michigan Tech home game because my Corolla isn’t U.P.-winter friendly, I sat on my couch and flipped between game after game from 7 p.m. EDT often up until the final horn sounded in the state of Alaska.

And I wasn’t the only one. If you logged on to Twitter any Friday or Saturday night, a slew of fans, family and beat writers were chatting away about this game and that. It was especially true the last two weeks during the final weekend of the regular season and first round of the playoffs.

It all left me laughing at those who said “the WCHA was dead” because all I could think of was how big of a rock they must be living under. It was tough to ignore the WCHA this season, because so many people had so much access to games without having to subscribe to some expensive, over-priced satellite or cable package.

The only black eye this year to WCHA TV was the misinformation put out during the first-round of the postseason. Despite the WCHA advertising and then confirming with me — twice — that single games would cost $9 and regular-season passes would not work, the regular season passes people bought did work. Oh, and you only had to pay $8 for a 24-hour pass, not $9 per game.

Maybe it was a bug on America One’s end. Maybe the league was given wrong information, or misunderstood. Maybe someone woke up and realized $9 per game was a terrible rip off, especially when the NCHC was airing its games online for free.

Either way, the league needs to figure out its postseason plans before the 2014-15 season begins. I suggest it includes the complete postseason — first round and Final Five — in the regular season package, then offer those who missed out on the regular season a chance to buy a postseason package for $25-$30.

A midseason special wouldn’t be a bad idea either. The more access for fans the better.

WCHA first-round playoff picks

It’s playoff time, and there are some intriguing matchups to kick off the WCHA tournament. The fact that the first round pits former CCHA teams against leftover WCHA teams (following the league’s breakup) adds to the interest. But the tournament is bigger than bragging rights. A trip to the Final Five is on the line, and there are eight teams here who all think they can get to Grand Rapids.

 Ferris State vs. Bemidji State

Shane: The Beavers won’t make things easy for the league champs; they beat Ferris about a month ago in Bemidji and took them to overtime in November in Big Rapids. But the Bulldogs are 14-1-1 at home with 11 wins in a row there, and there’s incentive to play and have their fans follow them down the road at the Van Andel next week. Bulldogs sweep.

Matt: We’re starting with a clean slate in the postseason, right Shane? That’s what they always say about the postseason. Everyone, including us, is 0-0 now, so no more picking games for me. The Bulldogs appear to be focused on the ultimate prize being two-years removed from a berth in the NCAA Championship game. A sweep of Bemidji would be a good start to getting back there. Bulldogs sweep

 Minnesota State vs. Northern Michigan

Shane: For all the talk about Alaska being hot down the stretch, you can’t forget that the Mavericks are 8-0-1 in their last nine games. They’re stingy on defense, allowing just nine goals in that streak, something that gets overlooked by their big-name players up front. A tough Wildcats team that hung five on the Mavs one night in January won’t roll over, but I still say … Mavericks sweep.

Matt: In a one-game playoff on neutral ice, I like the Wildcats’ chances of pulling an upset after watching the most recent series between the two schools in Marquette. But in Mankato — where MSU has not lost since Nov. 8 — and against Cole Huggins — who has posted shutouts in three of his last five starts —  it’s tough for me to pick against Minnesota State. Mavericks sweep

 Alaska vs. Alaska Anchorage

Shane: Remember when the WCHA put forth its “Alaska Plan” in order to cut down travel costs in the playoffs? That was a pair of Bad Idea Jeans right there. Scrapping it must have been good karma for the league because it still got its wish. The Governor’s Cup was decided in a shootout last Saturday night. This will come down to the wire, too. Nanooks in three.

Matt: In the run up to the new-look WCHA, one of thing everyone was looking forward to was teams like Alaska and UAA being in the same conference, adding much more to their regular-season meetings. But a playoff series? This is going to be special. This is how a regional rivalry really heats up. It too bad they settled the Governor’s Cup with a shootout, because what good will that trophy mean to the Nanooks now if every time they look at it for the next year, it reminds them the Seawolves ended their season. I don’t think that will happen, but won’t be surprised if it does. Nanooks in three

 Bowling Green vs. Michigan Tech

Shane: I think these might be the two toughest teams to figure out. Tech has gone from scoring big to giving up a ton of goals to scoring big again before playing two tight, low-scoring games in Mankato. Bowling Green has won three straight, following a five-game winless stretch. Flip a coin and … Huskies in three.

Matt: The Falcons and Huskies inconsistencies this season could be attributed to both programs’ inexperience dealing with a lack of success. In the five seasons prior to this year, the fourth-seeded Falcons highest finish is ninth. For the fifth-seeded Huskies during that time, they topped out at eighth. I really like the Huskies chances in Bowling Green, but the Falcons have proven to be a dangerous postseason team under head coach Chris Bergeron, going 8-10 in the postseason with four best-of-three series wins. Falcons in three

Last week: Shane 7-2-1, Matt 7-2-1. Final regular-season records: Shane 134-62-22, Matt 126-70-22.

Three thoughts on the end of the regular season

WCHA awards

We were disappointed to learn last week that the WCHA scrapped tradition and shut the media out of this year’s vote for league awards. All that research and number crunching down the tubes, right? Wrong! Matt and I put our lists together, shuffled some things around, played some rock-paper-scissors and finally came to a consensus. So here are our very controversial, certain-to-be-scrutinized, likely-to-be-criticized all-conference teams and awards:

Player of the year: Cody Kunyk, Alaska

Rookie of the year: Cole Huggins, Minnesota State

Coach of the year: Bob Daniels, Ferris State

First team

Forwards: Cody Kunyk, Alaska; Jean-Paul LaFontaine, MSU; Johnny McInnis, MSU. Defensemen: Jason Binkley, FSU; Scott Czarnowczan, FSU. Goaltender: Cole Huggins, MSU.

Second team

Forwards: Matt Leitner, MSU; Matt Bailey, UAA; Colton Beck, UAF. Defensemen: Colton Parayko, UAF; Shane Hanna, MTU. Goaltender: C.J. Motte, FSU.

Third team

Forwards: Cory Ward, BSU; Tyler Morley, UAF; Garrett Thompson, FSU. Defensemen: Raif Freibergs, BGSU; Zach Palmquist, MSU. Goaltender: Kevin Kapalka, LSSU.

Rookie team

Forwards: Alex Globke, LSSU; John Siemer, NMU; Marcus Basara-UAF. Defensemen: Shane Hanna, MTU; Sean Flanagan, MSU. Goaltender: Cole Huggins, MSU.

A few thoughts …

Kunyk edged LaFontaine for MVP, and it really came down to the final weekend. Kunyk scored four goals on Friday to win the league scoring title and put the Nanooks into third place. He’s had a monster second half. … Huggins, like his teammate Stephon Williams a year ago, launched himself into rookie of the year and first-team goalie discussion with his recent play. That included getting his team-record fifth shutout on Friday night. Putting him ahead of Motte might not be a popular choice, but we went with the numbers. … Coach of the year was also tough. Matt Thomas has done a fantastic turnaround job in Anchorage and got close consideration. But we went with Daniels, who basically took Ferris State wire to wire to win the MacNaughton Cup. … Picking the final forward for the WCHA All-Rookie Team proved tough, but we went with Northern Michigan’s John Siemer because he accomplished in a half season what many did in a full season, averaging nearly a points per game. Siemer didn’t join the Wildcats until the final game before the holiday break.

Goalie pull

The Minnesota State-Michigan Tech game on Saturday night came to an anticlimactic tie. The Mavericks failed to clinch the MacNaugton Cup, and the Huskies didn’t get home ice for the playoffs. Both teams needed to win to achieve those goals. Postgame, the Twitterverse and Blogosphere were filled with discussions about whether or not the teams should have pulled their goaltenders in order to get the W. Both coaches considered it, according to reports, but they thought the risk outweighed the reward. MSU’s staff feared giving up an empty-netter would have been a big blow to its Pairwise Ranking (they were right), while Tech’s feared such a result would have sent the team to Fairbanks for the first round (instead the Huskies will go to Bowling Green).

Season’s over (for some)

We’ve known for awhile that Alabama Huntsville was going to miss out on the postseason under the WCHA’s new playoff format (or should that be the new WCHA’s playoff format?). But on Saturday night there were four teams hoping to avoid an early spring break. The odd team out ended up being Lake Superior State. The Lakers dropped their final four games – to Minnesota State and Ferris State. Lake Superior State was once the surprise team in college hockey, starting the season 4-0-1. The Lakers actually tied for eighth place with Bemidji State but lost the tiebreaker.

The WCHA playoff picture is finally set

With Alaska-Anchorage’s 3-1 victory over rival Alaska in Fairbanks this evening (or morning depending where you are), the first round of the WCHA playoffs has been set.

Ferris State won the WCHA outright via a sweep of Lake Superior State while Minnesota State only took three of four points from Michigan Tech. The Bulldogs and Mavericks will be the top two seeds.

Below are the best-of-three quarterfinal match ups. Winners advance to the WCHA Final Five March 21-22 at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich.

No. 8 Bemidji State (10-14-4 in WCHA, 24 points)
at No. 1 Ferris State (20-6-2, 42)

— Friday through Sunday in Big Rapids, Mich. Friday and Saturday’s puck drop are set for 7:07 p.m. EDT while Sunday’s game, if necessary, would begin at 5:07 p.m.

— FSU won the regular season series 3-1, winning 5-4 in OT and 5-3 in Big Rapids Nov. 8-9. The two sides split in Bemidji Feb. 14-15 with the Beavers winning 4-1 on Friday and losing 2-1 on Saturday.

No. 7 Northern Michigan (13-14-1, 27)
at No. 2 Minnesota State (20-7-1, 41)

— Friday through Sunday series in Mankato, Minn. All three games begin at 7:07 p.m. CDT each night.

— MSU won the season series 3-1 with a pair of 3-2 and 3-0 wins in Mankato Dec. 6-7. In Marquette Jan. 31-Feb. 1, the Wildcats won Friday 5-2 before the Mavericks won Saturday 5-1.

No. 6 Alaska-Anchorage (12-12-4, 28)
at No. 3 Alaska (14-12-2, 30)

— Thursday through Saturday series in Fairbanks, Alaska. All three games begin at 7:07 p.m. ADT (or 11:07 p.m. EDT). The Nanooks’ Carlson Center is hosting the opening ceremonies on Sunday for the 23rd Arctic Winter Games.

— The Nanooks and Seawolves split their season series 2-2, but Nanooks won the Governor’s Cup in a shootout Saturday. UAA snapped Alaska’s seven game win streak winning 3-1 on Saturday. The Nanooks routed the Seawolves on Friday 7-2. During their first meeting Dec. 6-7 in Anchorage, Alaska lost Friday 3-2, but won Saturday 5-4.

No. 5 Michigan Tech (12-22-5, 29)
at No. 4 Bowling Green (13-11-4, 30)

— Friday through Sunday in Bowling Green, Ohio. All three games start at 7:07 p.m. EDT each night.

— Michigan Tech won the season series 2-1-1 despite not beating the Falcons in Houghton. BGSU won 3-2 and rallied late for a 4-4 tie Dec. 13-14 at Tech. The Huskies swept the second regular season series in Ohio, 5-2 and 5-4 on Jan. 31-Feb. 1.

Note: Alaska wins the No. 3 seed over Bowling Green because the Nanooks won the B tiebreaker with BGSU, which is conference wins. Because the Falcons and Nanooks didn’t play each other four times, the A tiebreaker, head-to-head record, doesn’t apply.

The final WCHA standings with tie breaking procedures can be found here.

Saturday’s WCHA playoff scenarios

Going into the final night of the regular season, Ferris State and Minnesota State are still tied at the top of the league standings.

Two teams — Michigan Tech and Bowling Green — are fighting for the No. 4 spot and a chance to host a first-round playoff series next weekend.

And finally, three teams — Northern Michigan, Bemidji State and Lake Superior State — are vying for two playoff spots.

Below are the best and worst case scenarios for nine of the league’s 10 teams. Numbers indicate a team’s seeding if the season ended today 

Thanks again to Geof Morris of UAHhockey.com for staying up late with me and double checking my work. If you notice any mistakes or discrepancies, email me at matt.wellens@uscho.com.

1. Minnesota State (40 points, 20-7-0 WCHA record)

For the Mavericks, it’s simple. A win clinches a least a share of the MacNaughton Cup, the WCHA regular season title. They’s also be the No. 1 seed.

Best case scenario: The Mavericks beat Michigan Tech on Senior Night and Ferris State loses at home to Lake Superior State. MSU then wins the MacNaughton Cup outright.

Worst case scenario: The Mavs lose tonight and Ferris beats LSSU. The Bulldogs then win the MacNaughton Cup outright and MSU is the No. 2 seed.

2. Ferris State (40, 19-6-2)

Same story for the Bulldogs. A win clinches a least a share of the MacNaughton Cup and the WCHA regular season title. If they remain tied with MSU, the Bulldogs get the No. 2 seed.

Best case scenario: The Bulldogs beat Lake Superior State on Senior Night and MSU loses at home to Tech. FSU then wins the MacNaughton Cup outright and is the No. 1 seed.

Worst case scenario: The Bulldogs lose tonight and MSU beats Tech. The Mavs then win the MacNaughton Cup outright and FSU is the No. 2 seed.

3. Alaska (30, 14-11-2)

The Nanooks have clinched a first-round, home-ice playoff series and the No. 3 seed in the WCHA playoffs with Friday night’s win over Alaska-Anchorage in Fairbanks. The Nanooks will host the No. 6 seed in a Thursday through Saturday best-of-three series next week. Like the Chargers, Alaska knows where it’s finishing.

Best case scenario: The Nanooks beat UAA to win the Governor’s Cup.

Worst case scenario: The Nanooks lose to UAA in regulation or overtime, forcing a shootout the Seawolves win. The Nanooks lose the Governor’s Cup, but they’re still in third.

4. Michigan Tech (28, 12-11-4)

The Huskies are currently tied with Bowling Green for the No. 4 seed in the WCHA, but own the head-to-head tiebreaker, having gone 2-1-1 against the Falcons.

Best case scenario: Tech can clinch a home-ice, first-round playoff series with a win over Minnesota State tonight.

Worst case scenario: If the Falcons gain one more point than Tech tonight, the Huskies are hitting the road for the WCHA playoffs. In the event of a three-way tie for fourth at 28 points between Tech, BGSU and UAA, the Huskies lose out, finishing sixth.

5. Bowling Green (28, 12-11-4)

The Falcons clinched a spot in the WCHA playoffs with a win at home over Bemidji State on Friday.

Best case scenario: As detailed above, if the Falcons get one more point than Michigan Tech tonight, they take the final home-ice spot. BGSU loses a two-way tie with Tech due to head-to-head, but beats the Huskies and UAA in a three-way tie that comes down to record vs. top seeded Minnesota State.

Worst case scenario: The lowest BGSU can finish at this point is fifth. In the event of a two-way tie with UAA for fifth, BGSU wins out due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.

6. Alaska-Anchorage (26, 11-12-4)

The Seawolves have clinched a playoff spot despite losing Friday in Fairbanks because of losses by Bemidji State and Lake Superior State.

Best case scenario: The highest UAA can finish is No. 6 because it doesn’t have the tiebreakers to beat either Tech or BGSU. A win locks up the No. 6 spot and another series in Fairbanks.

Worst case scenario: The Seawolves are swept by the Nanooks and LSSU beats Ferris State. The Lakers win the tiebreaker via conference wins and UAA finishes eighth. BSU can not catch UAA.

7. Northern Michigan (25, 12-14-1)

The scenario is still as simple as it was yesterday for Northern: win and you’re in.

Best case scenario: NMU wins and UAA loses or ties at Alaska. Then the Wildcats finish sixth and get to go to Alaska … that’s as good as it gets, unfortunately.

Worst case scenario: NMU loses at Alabama-Huntsville while the Beavers and Lakers win. Then the Wildcats’ season is over.

8. Bemidji State (24, 10-13-4)

A win does not get the Beavers in. They need help tonight to get into the playoffs because they would lose a four-way tiebreaker at 26 points with UAA, NMU and LSSU due to a lack of conference wins. BSU also loses a three-way tiebreaker with UAA and LSSU or NMU and LSSU. BSU wins a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Lakers, meaning if both lose, the Beavers get in.

Best case scenario: Beavers win while NMU and LSSU lose. That gets BSU to seventh.

Worst case scenario: Bemidji loses while the Lakers get either a tie or win. Then the Beavers are out.

9. Lake Superior State (24, 12-15-0)

Like Bemidji, a win doesn’t guarantee the Lakers a playoff spot. They need the most help.

Best case scenario: The Lakers can climb to sixth via a win and losses by NMU, UAA and BSU.

Worst case scenario: If the Lakers lose tonight at Ferris State, their season is over.

March 7-8 WCHA picks, plus predicting the final standings

Unlike the WCHA standings, there’s no question how this regular season pick ‘em battle will end.

First place: Shane Frederick. Last place: Matt Wellens.

Unlike the last place team in the WCHA standings, however, I still get to make the playoffs for redemption.

Here is how Shane and I predict the final weekend of the regular season will pan out. There’s not much of a difference between us this weekend.

Does that mean the weekend will be predictable? Don’t count on it.

Michigan Tech at Minnesota State

Shane: MSU is playing for the MacNaughton Cup, and Tech is playing for home ice. This should be a really good series in Mankato. The Mavericks aren’t just on a seven-game win streak but have won 11 in a row at home. I think they keep things rolling. Mavericks 3-2, 4-1

Matt: I feel like Michigan Tech matches up better with Minnesota State than anyone, but there’s just too much at stake for the Mavericks to drop their first game in Mankato. Mavericks 4-3, 5-3

Lake Superior at Ferris State

Shane: The Bulldogs might be a bit angry after getting swept in Alaska a week ago. How they bounce back from that and the travel will be interesting. The Lakers are hoping to keep their playoff spot, but it could be tough in Big Rapids, where Ferris has been so good. Bulldogs 3-1, 4-2

Matt: It tough to call last week a slip up for Ferris State based on how well the Nanooks are playing. Meanwhile, the Lakers really struggled against Minnesota State at home. There’s too much at stake for Ferris to lose one this weekend. They may say their more concerned with the big picture of winning a WCHA playoff title and returning to the NCAA tournament, but losing the MacNaughton Cup could be a big blow to their confidence. Bulldogs 4-1, 3-1

Alaska Anchorage at Alaska

Shane: As we mentioned in our column Thursday, all eyes will be on Fairbanks late Saturday night. The Nanooks look like the most dangerous team in the league right now, and they close things out with a rivalry series. The Seawolves have been much improved, but I like the home team here. Nanooks 4-2, 3-2

Matt: Late Saturday night? Try early Sunday morning. Even if there were no postseason implications riding on this series, I’d still fight my hardest to stay up to 1:30 a.m. or on Sunday, 2:30 a.m. because of blasted daylight savings time. The Nanooks are the hottest team in the league right now. Besides the No. 9 seed, the biggest loser at the end of the weekend may be the No. 6 seed, which could be headed to Fairbanks. Nanooks 4-3, 3-2

Bemidji State at Bowling Green

Shane: Are the Beavers still stinging after splitting at home with Huntsville? That came a week after a huge home split against Ferris State. So which team will show up against the Falcons, who snapped a five-game winless streak last Saturday. Two desperate teams here. Beavers 3-1, Falcons 3-2

Matt: Despite splitting at Northern Michigan a week ago, the Falcons really only played maybe one solid period all weekend — the first on Saturday — and they rode that effort to a win. Bemidji obviously isn’t playing its best either right now having lost to Huntsville. If BSU misses the playoffs, that loss will haunt them for a long time. Falcons 3-2, Beavers 2-1

Northern Michigan at Alabama Huntsville

Shane: No one wants to admit it, but teams all but put themselves down for four points when they play the Chargers. The Wildcats have a chance to get themselves out of ninth place and into the postseason with a sweep. They’ve been warned by UAH’s win at Bemidji State last week. Wildcats 4-1, 3-2

Matt: One of the Wildcats biggest faults during the second half of the season was playing really good one night, and just awful another. Sometimes that less-than-stellar night came on Friday. Sometimes on Saturday. Minus the first period on Saturday, NMU put together two solid games a week ago. That kind of effort should be enough to sweep UAH. Wildcats 3-0, 3-1

Last week: Shane 6-2-0, Matt 3-5-0. Overall: Shane 127-60-21, Matt 119-68-21.

BONUS

So if by chance either Shane or I nail our picks this week, how would the standings look?

Here is how they’d shake out, with BSU-BGSU being the only series Shane and I disagreeing about. We have both teams getting a win — just one different nights — so our standings look the same.

Predicted WCHA Standings

Seed, Team, Points

1, Minnesota State, 42

2, Ferris State, 42

3, Alaska, 32

4, Michigan Tech, 28

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5, Bowling Green, 28

6, Northern Michigan, 27

7, Alaska Anchorage, 26

8, Bemidji State, 26

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9, Lake Superior State, 24

10, Alabama Huntsville, 5

Predicted WCHA First Round

No. 8 Bemidji State at No. 1 Minnesota State

No. 7. Alaska Anchorage at No. 2 Ferris State

No. 6. Northern Michigan at No. 3 Alaska

No. 5 Bowling Green st No. 4 Michigan Tech

What I think I’ve learned leading up to a crazy final weekend in the WCHA

Heading into the last week of the regular season in the WCHA, here is what I think I learned from last weekend.

You couldn’t ask for a more exciting final weekend

From the MacNaughton Cup, to the pursuit of home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, to just making the league playoffs, everything is up for grabs this weekend in the final days of the regular season.

Minnesota State and Ferris State, who will finish either No. 1 or No. 2, are tied atop the league standings with 38 points each and should they remain tied, they will share the league’s regular season title. The Mavericks, who currently have one more league win than Ferris State, would be the No. 1 seed if the season ended today.

Six other teams — Alaska, Michigan Tech, Bowling Green, Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State and Lake Superior State — still have a chance to host a first-round, home-ice playoff series with the Huskies and Nanooks already having clinched a playoff spot.

As for the Falcons, Seawolves, Beavers and Lakers, all four could be caught by ninth-place Northern Michigan this weekend and miss the playoffs.

The only team who has nothing to play for when it comes to the postseason is Alabama-Huntsville but …

The Chargers aren’t rolling over for anyone

UAH picked up its second win of the season on Friday when it scored a 2-1 victory over arch-rival Bemidji State in Bemidji. The Beavers rebounded for a 4-1 victory on Saturday, but the damage had already been done.

Instead of sitting tied for fifth with UAA and BGSU at 26 points, the Beavers now find themselves tied for seventh with LSSU and just one point ahead of ninth-place NMU.

What might be even worse for Beavers fans now is they will have to put away their “Who Hates Huntsville?” T-shirts and dawn some Charger blue — underwear is fine, it doesn’t have to be visible — this weekend in hopes their hated rivals can pull another upset.

The Chargers host the Wildcats this weekend and the first home win of the year for UAH might be enough to get BSU into the WCHA playoffs and keep the ‘Cats out.

The Chargers have been close on numerous occasions to winning at the Von Braun Center, having lost to Bemidji State, Ferris State, St. Cloud State and Lake Superior State (twice) by just one goal.

Then there’s UAH’s best result at home this season, a 1-1 tie with Alaska-Anchorage.

Now with a little confidence in them, don’t be surprised if UAH goes out with a win this season.

Every league should leave a team or two out of the playoffs

I spent four seasons covering the CCHA here in Marquette from 2003-2007 as a student at NMU and returned to the U.P. in 2011 to cover the league’s final three campaigns. During that time, I can’t remember once seeing anything as crazy as I’ve seen in the new-look WCHA this year.

And in comparison to the WCHA, the rest of college hockey has seemed kind of boring.

The only league that comes close is the NCHC, where St. Cloud State and North Dakota are tied for first with 42 points going into the final weekend of the regular season, with Nebraska-Omaha sitting three points back in third.

But the battle for the regular season title is where the drama ends for the NCHC. Yes, Minnesota-Duluth and Western Michigan are tied for the fourth and the final first-round, home-ice playoff spot, with Denver just two points back, but big whoop if you falter and don’t get to stay home for the first round.

All eight teams are still in the playoffs, and redemption is easily attainable the following weekend. You’ll just have sleep in a hotel bed instead the night before instead of your own.

Some teams flourish on the road away from distractions. It can actually be a blessing in disguise.

Looking around the rest of the Division I standings, four of the six regular season league champions all won or will win titles by comfortable margins, and while races for byes and home ice may have been tight, none of those teams are facing the pressure five WCHA teams face this weekend in four different games — that of being left out of the league playoffs.

There could be no next week for those five teams, meaning they will have to wait a lot longer than six days for redemption.

Try six-plus months.

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