The postseason begins this weekend with six series making up the WCHA’s first round of playoff competition. By Sunday, half of these teams will be out of the conference playoffs and while a couple of those may still be able to squeeze into the NCAA’s they’ll need to rely on the success and/or failure of others to get there. Here’s how we see this weekend shaking out:
Nebraska-Omaha (14-16-6, 11-12-5 WCHA) at St. Cloud State (15-16-5, 12-12-4 WCHA)
Tyler: The Huskies come into this one flying, going 5-2-1 in the last four weeks. The Mavericks have stumbled down the stretch, going 2-5-1 in that same time, including five losses in the last two weeks. Plan on two more this weekend. Though UNO has clearly had SCSU’s number since joining the WCHA last season and the Huskies haven’t beaten the Mavericks in that time, SCSU’s momentum will take over this weekend. UNO used its power play to take three points against the Huskies in October, going 2-for-3 over the weekend, but the Mavericks’ PP has gone ice cold in the past five weeks (0-for-17). The Huskies penalty kill was stumbling in October, but has held opponents to three PP goals in the past 20 opportunities. SCSU in three.
Brian: Although these are a couple of teams traveling in vastly different directions in the last month there are a couple of things to consider. St. Cloud State’s 6-5-3 conference home record matches Nebraska-Omaha’s 6-5-3 road record in the conference. UNO has gone 5-4-1 in its last 10 games on the road while SCSU is in identical 5-4-1 in its past 10 at the National Hockey Center. I think the Huskies prevail but it takes three to do it.
Wisconsin (16-16-2, 11-15-2 WCHA) at No. 9 Denver (21-11-4, 16-8-4 WCHA)
Tyler: The Badgers have shown the past two weeks they can win on the road and I think they will win this weekend. The last two weeks included a sweep at Bemidji State, a 4-1 win at Minnesota Friday and a 2-1 loss Saturday when the Badgers held the Gophers scoreless through two periods. The Wisconsin goaltending is hot right now, allowing nine goals the past five games (A 5-2 win over Denver started that stretch). Joel Rumpel started the past three games for the Badgers and has allowed five goals in those three games. My upset pick: Wisconsin in three.
Brian: The youthful Badgers have seemingly figured out how to compete and win on the road having won three of their final four games away from the Kohl Center. In addition, Wisconsin has won 12 of its last 13 postseason games against Denver, including a 9-1 mark in its last 10 WCHA playoff matchups. But I think there’s too much firepower and too much Sam Brittain for this Badgers team to contend with at this time. Denver is playing well lately and wins in three.
Bemidji State (17-16-3, 11-14-3 WCHA) at No. 12 North Dakota (20-12-3, 16-11-1 WCHA)
Tyler: UND was in the dumps with a 4-7-1 after a 1-0 loss on a Sunday afternoon at BSU when UND couldn’t figure out how to score goals. Then, it put a seven spot on Colorado College five days later and is back to playing North Dakota hockey, burning through its WCHA schedule down the stretch. Dan Bakala has been shaky the past month and UND’s top line is licking its chops but the key is to get secondary scoring from its second and third lines. UND sweep
Brian: In hosting a WCHA first-round playoff series for the 10th consecutive season, the Sioux will be facing a team in Bemidji State with a winning overall record for the first time since the genesis of the streak in 2002-03 when UND beat Denver. But BSU is 2-22-1 all-time against North Dakota including 1-14-1 in Grand Forks. Hakstol’s teams are 14-3 in WCHA opening round playoff games and have yet to lose a series. The tea leaves say UND in two and I’m inclined to agree.
Minnesota State (12-22-2, 8-18-2 WCHA) at No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth (22-8-6, 16-7-5 WCHA)
Tyler: UMD has dominated MSU lately, holding an 11-1-2 edge in the past 14 meetings and the Mavericks haven’t won in Duluth since David Backes’ last season (2005-06) with the Mavericks. MSU will be much improved team next season if their young talent stays put and the recruits coming in can be as effective as some have said, but for now, the Bulldogs move on, and with ease. UMD sweep
Brian: Minnesota State has had to overcome a multitude of injuries and its own inexperience this season and while no one can deny the improvement they’ve demonstrated since those early-season woes, I think it is too much to ask of them to knock out the Bulldogs on home ice. I’m rolling with a UMD sweep.
Michigan Tech (14-18-4, 11-13-4 WCHA) at No. 18 Colorado College (18-14-2, 15-12-1 WCHA)
Tyler: Josh Thorimbert’s performance against Michigan Tech last week will be hard to top since the Huskies put 62 shots on him and only scored twice. The Tigers can’t lean on Thorimbert again. They need to get more shots to the net and the D needs to limit Tech’s chances. CC in three.
Brian: The enigma that is the CC Tigers has been a tough egg to crack. Will they dazzle you with firepower as they have been apt to do? Or will they be the punchless bunch that averaged 2.00 goals per game in their first 12 games after the break. After being swept by Colorado College last weekend, MTU remained in Colorado Springs and will have a week’s worth of elevation and rink size acclimation behind them. Eighth-seeded UAA took out fifth-seeded Minnesota last season and I think the same happens here although in one more game. Tech in three.
Alaska-Anchorage (9-23-2, 5-22-1 WCHA) at No. 5 Minnesota (24-12-1, 20-8-0 WCHA)
Tyler: The Gophers are bigger, faster and a lot more skill and it’s too much for the Seawolves to keep up. Minnesota gets its revenge for last season’s first-round loss to UAA.
Brian: Minnesota has a lot to prove after last season’s playoff debacle which sent the Seawolves to the Final Five. But that was a five vs. eight matchup while this is a one against 12 and the Gophers are so much better defensively this season. I think Minnesota sweeps this series handily.