Weekend brings an abundance of regrets to WCHA race
When the dust settles on the WCHA season on March 3, the results of this past weekend may come back to haunt a handful of teams as they eye the first round playoff matchups.
The league’s bottom three teams (Wisconsin, Minnesota State, and Alaska-Anchorage) earned in important five out of a possible 12 points, none of which were gained from feeding upon one another. All five came at the expense of teams in the chase for home-ice advantage in the first round and/or battling for preferred postseason seeding.
With a stunning two goals in ten seconds with just over two minutes to play on Saturday against Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State snatched a 4-4 tie from the Bulldogs’ jaws of defeat. In the process, the Mavericks seized an important point from UMD in its quest to catch and surpass Minnesota for the league’s No. 1 overall seed and a home date with 12th-seeded Alaska-Anchorage.
Minnesota’s sweep of Bemidji State gives the Gophers a two-point lead over the Bulldogs who must win the league title outright to earn the top seed as Minnesota holds the tie-breaker over UMD courtesy of its sweep of Minnesota-Duluth in the season’s only meetings between the teams back in October.
Considering UMD hosts Colorado College next week and concludes the season at St. Cloud while the Gophers trek to Omaha before hosting Wisconsin (1-8-1 away from the Kohl Center), catching and passing Minnesota, although not impossible, appears unlikely at this point for the Bulldogs.
Denver’s inability to seal the deal in Madison, thanks to a 5-2 loss to the Badgers on Saturday, cost the Pioneers a chance to hold steady at two points behind the Gophers without the tie-breaker concern facing UMD due to their sweep of Minnesota last weekend. With North Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha on the horizon for DU, it looks like a battle for second with the Bulldogs for the Pioneers.
Neighboring Colorado College is three points back of DU and blew a golden opportunity to narrow that gap to one on Saturday. The Tigers watched their 3-1 second-period lead over Nebraska-Omaha dissipate into a devastating 5-3 loss to the Mavericks.
UNO’s rally not only cost Colorado College a chance to take on a recently enigmatic UMD team in Duluth trailing them by just three points and turned CC’s potential four-point cushion over UNO into a three-way logjam for fourth place with the Mavs and North Dakota.
The extra couple of points would have come in just as handy for Dean Blais’ Mavericks which, despite being the only WCHA team set to host its final two series, “welcomes” a pair of noteworthy adversaries in Minnesota and Denver
UNO had a potential tying goal by Dominic Zombo with 2:46 to go on Friday disallowed when the officials ruled Zombo intentionally kicked the puck into the net. In a story published in the Omaha World-Herald, Blais adamantly expresses his disagreement with the call.
Check out the video and judge for yourself.
Although the Fighting Sioux opened up a three-point gap over Michigan Tech for the sixth and final home ice spot with a win and a tie against the Huskies at home, Jordan Baker’s third-period shorthanded goal for MTU on Saturday denied UND of sole possession of fourth place. It’s a point North Dakota may come to miss dearly with a trip to Denver and a return home to face what has become a pesky Minnesota State team in recent weeks.
Michigan Tech’s one-point weekend may have dealt the Huskies a fatal blow to their home ice dreams. Splits by the trio above them, against which MTU currently holds no tie-breaker advantages, would require the Huskies to go 4-0-0 to close out the schedule at home against SCSU and at Colorado College.
Speaking of St. Cloud State, the Huskies picked the wrong weekend to lose at home to Alaska-Anchorage for the first time in school history and, without significant help, will be hitting the road come playoff time.
Unless it had swept the Gophers over the weekend, Bemidji State cost itself little in terms of home-ice potential in its trip to Minneapolis. But with tenth-place Wisconsin at home and a trip to last-place Alaska-Anchorage on the docket, the Beavers could move up a spot or two into a potential series with Nebraska-Omaha which, given recent history, would probably suit BSU just fine.
Gophers offense needs Haula’s impact
No one in the WCHA got off to hotter start to this season than Erik Haula did. His 17 points through the first seven games were among the country’s best and were six more points than current team leader Nick Bjugstad had through seven.
Then, the sophomore hit a wall. A three-game pointless drought turned into one point through six games. In the six games he’s been held pointless since the Christmas break, Minnesota went 1-5. In that same time frame, the Gophers are 6-2 when Haula records a goal or assist. Minnesota is 8-1 this season when Haula records a mutli-point game, as he did Saturday with his two goals and one assist.
Haula has seven points in the last six games.
Eidsness gives UND a good 1-2 punch in goal
North Dakota goaltender Aaron Dell was listed day-to-day with an undisclosed injury before Friday’s game against Michigan Tech. Rumor is that he had the flu but that’s not confirmed.
So, Brad Eidsness got off the bench and turned away 19 of 21 shots in a 4-2 win Friday and when Dell was still out Saturday, he started the season finale, too. Eidsness lost the starting job to Dell early in 2010-11 and hasn’t gotten it back, but when he’s filled in this season, he’s been stellar. Eidsness has a .926 save percentage and a 1.92 goals against average with a 5-2-1 record.
Eidsness allowed one goal on 24 shots in Saturday’s 1-1 tie.