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College Hockey:
Final Five is set

It wasn’t until the clock neared midnight (ET) Sunday when Michigan Tech found out it will play Denver Thursday afternoon and North Dakota learned it will play St. Cloud State in primetime when Luke Salazar’s wrap-around goal in overtime sent the Pioneers to St. Paul for the Final Five.

After a typically dramatic weekend of WCHA playoff hockey, here are your Final Five matchups:

Michigan Tech and Denver will square off in Thursday’s 2 p.m. quarterfinal with the winner to play Minnesota-Duluth in Friday’s 2 p.m. semifinal.

St. Cloud State and North Dakota meet in the Thursday evening semifinal at 7 p.m. with the winner advancing to face Minnesota in Friday’s second semifinal at 7 p.m.

If Wisconsin would’ve won, it would’ve played UND Thursday afternoon with SCSU and Michigan Tech playing the nightcap.

Lower seeds unwilling to go down quietly, if at all

After nearly five months and 168 games to determine this past weekend’s first round playoff “favorites”, the WCHA’s bottom six inevitably neglected to read the memo outlining the way things were supposed to play out. When the dust settled, the field for this week’s Final Five was set but not without some tension-filled moments for the league’s top seeds.

No.12-seeded Alaska-Anchorage gave top-seeded Minnesota all it could handle in falling 2-1 on Friday and  surged to a 3-1 lead midway through Saturday’s game before the Gophers stormed back to win 7-3 behind Erik Haula’s four-point night (2-2–4). Turnabout is fair play for the Gophers who were swept by the Seawolves at Mariucci Arena to open last season’s conference playoffs.

11th-seeded Minnesota State essentially lost a pair of one-goal games in Duluth as No. 2-seeded UMD’s 4-2 margin in the series opener was aided by Wade Bergman’s empty netter. The Mavericks then took the Bulldogs to overtime on Saturday before dropping a 3-2 heartbreaker to UMD on Mike Seidel’s goal at 4:07 of the second extra session.

As Shane Frederick of the Mankato Free Press points out, this is the third straight season Minnesota State has been eliminated in overtime and seven of MSU’s last 12 playoff games have gone to OT with the Mavs  going 2-5 in those contests. On the other hand, Kevin Pates of the Duluth News-Tribune will tell you that prior to last night, UMD had been taken to a game 3 in four of the last five first-round playoff series it had hosted since 1998.

No.10-seeded Wisconsin and third-seeded Denver combined for one goal through the first five periods of their series with the lone tally being Sean Little’s third-period game winner for the Badgers on Friday. The Pioneers ultimately won Saturday’s third period 3-1 but only after Nick Shore’s goal into an empty net with 56 seconds to play sealed it for DU and extend the series to a deciding third game. The Badgers and Pioneers traded goals on Sunday and UW led 2-1 heading into the third period. But Nick Shore’s power-play goal for Denver at 2:o1 of the third period eventually sent the game to overtime where Luke Salazar won it for the Pioneers just 1:40 into the extra session.

After topping ninth-seeded Bemidji State 4-1 on Friday, No.4-seeded North Dakota led by the same score after Dillon Simpson’s goal five minutes into the Saturday’s third period. But the Sioux had to withstand a furious BSU rally—led by Jamie McQueen’s two goals 17 seconds apart with less than four minutes to play— to hang on for a 4-3 win.

In St. Cloud, the No.6-seeded Huskies won handily on Friday by a 4-0 score over seventh-seeded Nebraska-Omaha but the teams were tied 1-1 heading into the third on Saturday. But St. Cloud State’s Ben Hanowski’s goal with 43 seconds left and Travis Novak’s empty-net goal with one tick remaining on the clock gave SCSU a 3-1 win.

Which brings us to …

Colorado anything but rocky for Michigan Tech in postseason play

With consecutive 3-1 and 4-3 (in overtime) wins over No.5-seeded Colorado College, eighth-seeded Michigan Tech is heading to the Final Five for the first time since 2007 when the Huskies, ironically, took two of three from the Tigers on the road.

With only two seasons of data, and just one postseason remaining to add to it, considering MTU’s elimination of CC a WCHA trend after UAA won last season’s five vs. eight matchup over Minnesota is a stretch. What could be considered trendy, however, is the fact that the Huskies are 0-28 in regular season games at CC’s World Arena but have won four of five postseason games in the Tigers’ lair.

WCHA Coach of the Year Mel Pearson might have made his best coaching move yet in keeping his team in Colorado for the week rather than returning to Houghton after the Huskies were swept by the Tigers (5-2, 2-0) to close out the regular season. As a contributing factor to MTU’s first playoff advancement in five years, a week of acclimation to the altitude and Olympic-sized rink should not be underrated.

Future MTU opponents should beware that it would be wise to take the Huskies out in regulation as Michigan Tech is undefeated (4-0-4) in eight overtime games this season.

SCSU’s Lee has to be solid for the Huskies to make a run…

… and lately, he’s resembled a brick wall between the pipes. It was uncertain whether or not St. Cloud State junior goaltender, Mike Lee, would be able to help the Huskies make a playoff run when he had to undergo hip surgery back in October. Lee recovered ahead of schedule and made his return to the crease Jan. 27 at Minnesota.

Goaltending is often the cornerstone of successful team in the postseason and Lee is playing solid enough right now to give SCSU the chance to win three games at the Final Five and get a No. 4 seed in the national tournament.

In the 10 games since he returned, Lee has stopped 306 of 323 shots (.947 save percentage) and has allowed just 1.70 goals per game in that stretch. He gave up one goal on 60 shots this weekend against Nebraska-Omaha.

He’ll face North Dakota, Thursday, a team he’s struggled against throughout his career with an .878 save percentage through seven games. Lee hasn’t faced UND this season.

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  • Kuhn&Friends

    Remember, remember, the fifth of November…U of M will be chanting this, after they get swept this weekend

    • streaker

      Well… if that happens it will be the FIRST TIME EVER that WMU would pull it off at Yost. Here are some facts:

      1. The last time Michigan was swept by WMU in a consecutive regular season series was 2/21-22/86 and that was a H& H series. The next time was in a playoff series in K-zoo in 1988 when Michigan won the 1st game of a best of three and lost the next two. 

      2. Michigan’s longest losing streak to WMU (dating back to the series opener in 1979) was 6 games from 2/85-2/86. They lost 9 of 10 games thru 1/87. 

      3. Michigan went 14-0-3 against WMU between 2/3/89 and 10/30/92

      4. Michigan went 7-0-1 between 11/27/92-2/3/95 and 11-0-4 between 12/4/-96 and 1/20/01. 

      5. Since 10/19/01 Michigan is 22-5 against WMU with the 5 losses in 01, 03, 06,08 and in last season’s CCHA semi final. The last win at Yost was in 2008. 

      6. Michigan is 40-11-2 at Yost against WMU all time and are 67-27-10 all time, anywhere.

      I think WMU has risen from the ashes and proved it last year. But to say they’ll come into Yost and sweep… well I think you are confusing Halloween with April Fools Day. :)

      Go Blue!

      • Jkljeepster

        why is Michigan afraid to come to Kalamazoo? last year and this year both games are in Ann Arbor. Not really fair.

        • Paul

          The CCHA makes the schedule.  As much as we’d like to blame SCum for this, it wasn’t their decision.

          We just need to get all the Bronco fans to travel to Ann Arbor this weekend.

          • streaker

            Exactly- blame having 11 teams, too. WMU will have their shot next season, probably hosting two games in K-zoo. 

            Love all the chatter. Great to have relevant teams in Michigan other than in A2 and EL. NMU, Ferris, LSSU and WMU  all are playing well and kudos to M-Tech as well. Makes beating them all the sweeter.

          • Paula Weston

            I love the chatter, too, streaker. In addition to the teams you mentioned, I’d throw Bowling Green into the mix and OSU is no slouch this year, either.  Very exciting season shaping up for CCHA hockey.

      • Kuhn&Friends

        remind me again, what was the score last time U of M and WMU faced off

        • Knief

          It’s cute that you only have that one basket to put all of your eggs in.

          • Kuhn&Friends

            and UM fans are basing theirs on history too…history is meaningless in this game especially with all the roster changes in college sports. WMU just does not get respect because it is a mid-major school in all other sports and was awful under Culhane. But hockey is not a mid-major for WMU and Culhane era is dead.

          • CIS

            Exactly

          • broncobuster

            Right now all you have is talk. Regular season is only four weeks old and you guys act like you have arrived. Since meaningless stats seem to rev you up, here is another one: Michigan has won 19 straight games at Yost and 20 on home ice including the Big Chill. That was within the last year- so it is relevant. We aren’t just living in the past when banners are still being raised and the program is still winning in the NCAA tourney- beating elite teams like North Dakota along the way. 

          • Paula Weston

            I don’t think it’s true that WMU isn’t respected because it’s a mid-major school in all other sports.  I think schools become respected in college hockey when they’ve established themselves over a period of time.  Colorado College comes to mind as does Clarkson (which was fearsome for a long time and has carried that residual respect and benefit of the doubt since).  Lots of the so-called “little” schools make up the fabric of college hockey, and many of them have gained tremendous respect.

            I also think it’s incorrect to say that people don’t respect Western Michigan.  Every CCHA fan who’s followed college hockey for even a couple of years sees what WMU has done in just one season.  Most fans welcome it because it’s good for the sport; everyone is watching to see how long it is sustained.  Look at Miami now.  They’re at the bottom of the standings but no one will count them completely out before midseason, and even if the RedHawks have a down year, everyone will expect them to bounce back and be competitive — because that’s what Blasi has built there.  

            History isn’t meaningless.  That carried history counts for everything from the respect Western fans claim they’re not getting to a program’s ability to recruit top players.  It will certainly count for something when both teams take the ice Friday in Yost Arena.  Both of those squads know the shared history of those teams, and that — in part — will motivate their play.  

        • Paul

          WMU won 5 – 2 at Joe Louis Arena.

          • broncobuster

            and Miami won the CCHA tourney, Michigan won the CCHA regular season and played in the NC game. 

            Kids these days…

          • KAW

            Michigan won the CCHA regular season, but was helped greatly when WMU beat Notre Dame in the last weekend. How about we let THIS season decide who’s the better team?

        • streaker

          Is that all you have? One semi final win? UNO did that too, ya know and they have the same number of CCHA banners you have. You talk about living in the past and I am talking about your fans living off of one win. What about the other two games played last season? 

          Yep, Michigan stunk in the 70′s & 80′s- where was your program before 1979? Glad to see that WMU’s program is back, good for the rivalry, good for the trash talking.  Stop taking this so seriously… really.

      • 81GRRBRONCO

        Typical UofM comment looking historically, pulling out ALL the overall records versus present day. Blah, Blah Blah.  Arrogance Arbor forgets until they hired Berenson, Michigan stunk.  Blashill and now Murray have brought a new level of play that Michigan isn’t used to seeing out of WMU.

        Michigan might win more points this weekend, but it’s not likely it’s the last time these 2 teams play this year.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HVM5QWREKL5ZTSPY6HF2V2UPO4 Neil

    I hope the Broncos can keep this kind of level headed play into Yost this weekend, and for that matter for the rest of the season… and stay healthy…U of M seems to take penalties..especially after NMU on that Friday and with Ferris on Saturday. U of M is usually very disciplined and taking Chris Frank penaltiies, no matter how cool never wins games.   I do miss Frank the Tank hitting a Wolverine. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBtcM_uj5zQ

    • KAW

      You made a spelling error. “taking Chris Frank penalties” should have been “taking Shawn Hunwick penalties.”

      If WMU can draw first blood, they’ll get in Hunwick’s head and destroy the wolverines. I can only hope that the BEST team wins, since it’s sure to be a great series between two elite teams.

  • CIS

    Comparing past WMU teams and their records to this one is apples and oranges.  In the past, Western would pull off an occasional upset.  Now, I don’t think there is much dispute they are at least as good as Michigan. If the Wolverines would ever go to Kalamazoo this would be a WMU sweep.  In Ann Arbor, it’s a split and more respect for the Broncos.

    • streaker

      Really? One year makes your program? Try doing it for… say 20 years straight in the NCAA’s. Try hanging some banners or winning a NCAA game or two. Nothing will be really settled this weekend. Just a battle for six points. 

      • Kyle

        Obviously one year does not define a program. The fact of the matter remains that it is year 2011 and the last 20 years means NOTHING and people in Ann Arbor need to stop using this pathetic excuse as a defense. It is time for U of M hockey fans to wake up and accept the possibility that their program might not be the best, even in the their own state. Your also right that it is only a battle for six points, but if giving up six points is fine with you, than okay, the people of Kalamazoo will gladly take those off your hands for you. Look forward to seeing you this weekend in Ann Arbor.

        • streaker

          Last 20 years means nothing? Countless CCHA banners, GLI championships, Frozen Fours and two NC’s mean nothing? 

          I bet it means more than the zeros the Broncos have put up. 

          Another fan base writing checks on a program that has improved but hasn’t accomplished nothing yet.

          • Kyle

            Let me first start off by saying that what Red Berenson has done the last twenty-one years is nothing short of extraordinary. In my opinion it is one of the greatest accomplishments of all-time, in any NCAA sport, and I would never knowingly undermine this feat. 

            My argument is simply that, while impressive, this accomplishment has no weight on the current 2011 season. Teams are rarely comprised of the same roster as previous years, which holds true for both the University of Michigan and Western Michigan. So to use this argument is ludicrous and I think we can all agree on that. Why is it so hard to believe Western Michigan has the talent and drive to compete with a perennial powerhouse, just because of the lack of tradition.

            Well, I’ll leave you both to ponder this. There was a time when Yost had no banners and Michigan held no accolades. Over the years they built a prestige and tradition, that is all Western Michigan is trying to accomplish itself. Western has stressed that it wishes to become a national force to be reckoned with. The great thing about sports is at some point and time, there will be a changing of the guard, it does happen. This is why the argument of accomplishments of years past guarantees results to carry over into present day is insane.

            Disputes aside, this weekends matchup will be sure to produce amazing hockey and the players in the end will do the talking. So the answer is no, no checks will be written on a program that hasn’t accomplished anything, as long as none are written soley because a program has.

        • Paula Weston

          Kyle, I have to disagree with you.  I think the program that Berenson has established at Michigan is extraordinary — and I think every coach in the nation would agree.  That twenty years is quite a run in any sport.

          The Broncos are clearly headed in the right direction.  I’m excited about their prospects.

  • F55h19

    neil thanks for the clip showing the great hit………..awsome!

  • F55h19

    michigan is so happy that notre dame is going to hockey east.jacksons just getting his system going rthier.

  • F55h19

    since 1964 michigan/lake superior have won the same amount of national championships 3 each.the lakers in 64 didn’t have a team!

  • bluetell

    Western is going to get swept. Sure, we had a bad weekend in Marquette but we’re lights out at home. Michigan sweeps 4-2, 6-1

    • Anonymous

      pretty sure i read alot of the same talk before the CCHA semis last year. 

    • Jkljeepster

      not likely

  • RamboWildcat

    How come no talk about Lake State?  They haven’t been this good since their last national title in ’94. 

    • Paula Weston

      Read my response to David, above.  

  • David

    The USCHO editors want you to talk about Lake Superior State’s resurgence, Paula. They have the Lakers’ goalie, Kevin Kapalka, on the front page while your blog post doesn’t mention them at all for some reason.

    • Paula Weston

      David, the Monday blogs across the site pick three things that emerged from the weekend.  There’s also a weekly column and blogs for the weekend’s picks.  In other words, complaining Monday about what didn’t get mentioned from the previous weekend is a little premature, since there are at least two other articles about the CCHA coming this week.

      I devoted a column to LSSU and NMU a couple of weeks ago; I try to rotate column focus throughout the eleven teams in the league while still keeping it timely.  

      The three things that I wrote about this weekend are the three things that seemed most emergent to me.  Not to diminish what the Lakers accomplished against Miami, but it’s becoming clearer each week that this may not be the Miami team of a season ago, the Miami team to beat.  The Lakers are starting fast, without question, but four of those wins were against UAH and MSU — two teams that I do not expect to see anywhere near NCAA contention at the end of the year.  

      • Anonymous

        So you don’t mention the Lakers due to four of their wins coming against UAH and MSU, but you talk every week about how amazing Michigan is even though four of their wins came against Niagara, Bentley, and St. Lawrence – three teams that no one expects to see anywhere near NCAA contention.  How about Western’s four wins over UAH and Union – once again two teams not likely to be NCAA contenders.  Lets not forget Ferris State and their six wins over the power houses that are St. Lawrence, Renesselaer, and that Miami team whose bandwagon you’ve quickly jumped off of.  Your argument for not even mentioning LSSU holds as much water as the sieves that Knapp and Reichard have become.

        • Paula Weston

          My response was to clarify the way I saw the weekend.  As I said, I wrote about what seemed most emergent from this specific weekend.  

          And, as always, I remain fascinated with the way in which some fans are quick to jump to the conclusion that I am anti-[fill-in-the-team's-name] because I didn’t cover what those fans deem most important.  

          • Anonymous

            So you didn’t think it was worth mentioning Lake Superior State won their 6th and 7th game in October this weekend, and that they are currently leading the CCHA?  Instead you once again feel compelled to remind us just how impressive Michigan’s offense is like you do every week.  If you’re trying to mix things up try writing an article in which you don’t mention Michigan, because that’s something we’ve yet to see from you.

  • Alex

    The fact that you didn’t mention LSSU, one of the great stories in college hockey in the month of October, truly shows how much of a joke and major college hockey homer you are.

    Yeah Paula… we get it. You love UofM

    • Paula Weston

      Alex, read my response to David, above.

  • Paul

    WMU vs. U. of Michigan will be a match up of the 6th vs. 3rd teams, according to the USA Hockey magazine poll.

    • CIS

      #3 vs #4.  Western gets a 1st place vote, Michigan does not. 

      GO BRONCOS

  • TA

    wow..i take the chirping as evidence that WMU has definitely turned the corner…I don’t think Bronco fans could have gotten this reaction out blo-guers in year’s past…I see this weekend as a toss-up pure and simple with no expectations other than a great series between evenly matched teams….

  • 81GRRBRONCO

    WMU isn’t concerned about playing ScrewM any longer, they took care of that last year.  Michigan might win with the HOMER officiating, but Western’s not going away and looks forward to playing Red’s Team on Neutral ice, since they aren’t willing to come to Lawson.

    • Fact Checker

      As much as we want to blame scUM, the scheduling at Yost Arena this year and last is not their fault.  The CCHA makes the schedule.

  • Kuhn&Friends

    Red Berenson is one of the great coaches in college sports, I always give that man respect. He further shows this with his hefty suspension of Merrill, he commands discipline no matter what the talent level is of the individual. As a WMU fan I would be crazy to say Kzoo wouldn’t be excited to have Red as our coach. On the same note, Red does know what he is talking about, last year before the CCHA semi, he said WMU was the last team he wanted to play against…he was proven right. I can’t wait to hear what Red says this weekend. 
    Go Broncos.