Gophers up by a nose over Bulldogs entering season’s final stretch
When Minnesota stunned defending national champ Minnesota-Duluth in mid-October by sweeping the Bulldogs in Duluth to open conference play, the Gophers grabbed an early share of first place in the WCHA. With the exception of one week in January in which the teams were tied, Minnesota has looked over its shoulder ever since to find UMD hot on its tail in the race for the MacNaughton Cup.
After sweeps this past weekend for each team (Minnesota on the road over Nebraska-Omaha and UMD at home over Colorado College) the Gophers maintain a two-point lead over the Bulldogs with two games to play. That sweep in the only meetings between the two schools gives Minnesota, hosts to Wisconsin this weekend, the only tiebreaker advantage it needs meaning UMD must out-point the Gophers by three or more in their final two games this weekend on the road against St. Cloud State.
Although UMD is unbeaten in its last five games (4-0-1) it will be a tall order considering that even if the Bulldogs pull off a road sweep over an SCSU team which still has an outside shot at playoff home ice, the Gophers, winners of four in a row, would need to take just two of four points from a Badger team which, despite sweeping Bemidji State in Bemidji last weekend, has nonetheless struggled on the road this season.
As potential playoff matchups come into focus, battle for home ice remains unsettled
Although Minnesota and UMD are battling for the top spot in the standings, plenty of drama remains for the middle of the conference pack.
Denver locked up a top-four finish and North Dakota will finish in the top 6 given everything that happened this weekend. That leaves two spots for home ice advantage. Colorado College and Nebraska-Omaha are tied with 27 points, Michigan Tech has 26 and St. Cloud State is still mathematically in the mix with 25 points.
One series this weekend will have a lot of influence on who stays home for the first round of the WCHA Playoffs and which teams hit the road. Tech heads to CC and whichever team comes out on top will take home ice.
Actually, CC can clinch home ice with just one win. Three points for Tech this weekend clinches home ice for Huskies. If UNO lays an egg this weekend against Denver, the Mavericks could be spending March 9-11 in Houghton or Colorado Springs. If UNO earns a minimum two points, the Mavericks get home ice.
There’s a good chance this is going to come down to tiebreakers. CC has the tiebreaker over UNO by second criteria (more WCHA wins) of which the Tigers have two more. UNO took three of four points against Tech a couple weeks ago, giving the Mavericks the tiebreaker edge by first criteria.
So what about SCSU? It’s a long shot, but for SCSU to get home ice, it needs a) to sweep UMD and Denver to take three or more points at UNO because either CC or Tech is locked in for at least 29 points and UNO owns the tiebreaker over SCSU … or b) to take three points against UMD, Denver to sweep UNO and CC to take two points against Tech. The second scenario leaves SCSU in a sixth-place tie with Tech for 28 points and SCSU owns the tiebreaker by second criteria (WCHA wins).
Of course, these are just possibilities, some more far-fetched than others and it’s also possible the scenarios will play out without all the confusion … then again, this weekend wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t have to scratch our heads.
Badgers triple road win total in Bemidji and shuffle lower third of standings
With its four-point weekend in Bemidji, Wisconsin raised its road record to 3-8-1 on the season. If timing is indeed everything, as the old adage goes, Wisconsin would like nothing more than to prove the notion correct as the Badgers remain in the road the next two weekends; at Minnesota and on the road to open the WCHA playoffs.
In becoming the first team to sweep the Beavers at home this season, UW broke its 11th-place tie with idle Minnesota State and vaulted past BSU into sole possession of ninth place with an outside shot at climbing as high as eighth. The two losses up Bemidji State’s losing streak to four following an impressive 17-game stretch (11-4-2) earlier this season.