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College Hockey:
Five of six first-round series go chalk

Three of the WCHA’s six opening-round, best-of-three playoff series required third games. In the end, only one of the pairings’ favored squads didn’t move on to this week’s Final Five showcase in St. Paul, Minn..

The only team that hosted a first-round series last weekend but didn’t advance was WCHA No. 5 seed Denver. The Pioneers, ranked 13th in the latest PairWise Rankings, split with intrastate rival Colorado College on Friday and Saturday before the Tigers upended DU in Sunday’s series-decider by a 4-3 count.

DU won Friday’s game 5-3, jumping out to a 3-1 lead before weathering a comeback attempt from the Tigers. CC then won Game 2 on Saturday, 2-1, before besting the Pioneers again on DU’s home ice Sunday night.

Elsewhere, as expected, the WCHA’s regular season co-champions sailed through to spots in Friday’s WCHA semifinal games. St. Cloud State swept Alaska-Anchorage at home last weekend (6-1 Fri., 5-1 Sat.), while Minnesota faced a sterner test against Bemidji State in Minneapolis but also won the series in two games (2-1 (OT) Fri., 4-3 Sat.).

The WCHA’s third and fourth seeds also won their first-round series on home ice. No. 3 seed North Dakota was in the driver’s seat following a 5-3 win over visiting Michigan Tech on Friday, but when the Huskies pulled out a shock 2-1 upset in Grand Forks the following night, UND was fazed but came back Sunday and downed Tech convincingly in a 6-0 rout.

There was one other sweep in the first round, as Wisconsin took care of Minnesota-Duluth in two games at the Badgers’ Kohl Center home. UW gave up the first goal on Friday, but the hosts ran out 3-1 winners in Game 1 before also coming out on top in the rematch, 4-1.

In Mankato, Minn., Minnesota State outlasted Nebraska-Omaha in three games in the WCHA’s final battles between its two sets of Mavericks before UNO leaves for the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference. MSU won Friday’s opening game in overtime by a 4-3 count before overcoming a 2-1 loss to UNO Saturday by winning Sunday’s deciding game by a 3-1 margin.

Final Five week pairings decided Sunday

Once the Magness Arena’s clock hit all zeroes at the end of Sunday’s series-deciding game between DU and CC, the WCHA’s teams that survived the first round and advanced to the Final Five learned their fates as to who they will be playing when this week.

As the two highest seeds, St. Cloud State and Minnesota earned quarterfinal round byes, which means the Huskies and Gophers earned an extra day off to watch the Final Five’s other four participants – yes, it’s really called the Final Five, and, no, don’t ask – beat up on each other in Thursday’s two games.

Minnesota State will play Wisconsin in the day’s early quarterfinal game at Xcel Energy Center, starting at 2:07 p.m. CT, and Colorado College and North Dakota will square off that evening at 7:07.

The same start times apply for Friday’s semifinal games. St. Cloud State will play the winner of Thursday’s MSU-UW tilt in Friday’s afternoon game, while Minnesota will face either CC or UND that night.

At 7:07 local time Saturday, Friday’s semifinal winners will vie for the Broadmoor Trophy in the league’s playoff championship game. The winner will earn the WCHA’s automatic bid for a spot in this year’s NCAA tournament.

NCAA spots still up for grabs, but how many WCHA teams will get in?

In terms of how many of the league’s teams will get into the national tournament, last weekend’s first round of the WCHA playoffs didn’t leave us with a whole lot of solid conclusions.

Minnesota, listed second in the current PairWise Rankings, is a lock for the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens in St. Paul this week. Also in  fairly solid positions right now are North Dakota (tied for sixth with Hockey East regular season champion Massachusetts-Lowell) and Minnesota State (tied for ninth with both Notre Dame and Niagara).

After that, things get a little cloudier. SCSU (12th) is still somehow on the bubble, and Denver (13th) didn’t help itself in crashing out of the WCHA playoffs in the first round to Colorado College, which is 25th in the PairWise.

Wisconsin is still in with a chance of getting into the national tournament, but, as the Badgers are currently locked in a five-way tie for 16th in the PairWise, UW could use one or two more wins in order to further strengthen its case.

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