Here are the three things I think I learned about the WCHA this Valentine’s Day weekend with three weekends now remaining in the regular season.
The road to the WCHA Final Five will go through Big Rapids and Mankato
Ok, so I don’t think this one, I can safely say I know it for a fact.
First-round, best-of-three WCHA playoff series March 14-15 in Big Rapids, Mich., and Mankato, Minn., are no longer just an assumption, they are indeed a fact after both Ferris State and Minnesota State clinched home ice over the weekend thanks to Lake Superior State splitting with Northern Michigan and Alaska sweeping Michigan Tech.
The Mavericks and Bulldogs are tied for first in the WCHA with 34 points, which is the maximum number of points third-place Alaska-Anchorage can accumulate after taking three of four points at home against Bowling Green. NMU, which sits in eighth, can max out at 33 points while four other teams — Alaska, Tech, BGSU and LSSU — can only total 32 points tops the rest of the season.
The lowest either FSU or MSU can finish is in a tie with UAA for second place, or potentially a three-way tie for first in the league, which would leave the Mavericks first, Bulldogs second and Seawolves third based on number of league wins.
Ferris State and Minnesota State have been two of the best teams in the country on their home ice this year. Just in league play, FSU is 9-0-1 while the Mavericks are 11-1-0.
Anchorage is the last place almost anyone in the WCHA wants to play in the first round
The Bulldogs and Mavericks may be nigh unbeatable at home, but a trip to Mankato doesn’t involve hopping on planes and hanging out in airport terminals like a trip to Anchorage does.
While not as dominant as Ferris or MSU, the third-place Seawolves haven’t been half bad themselves at home, going 9-3-2 in league play and 11-3-2 overall at Sullivan Arena. The only team in the league that may welcome a trip to Anchorage is the Alaska Nanooks, who along with NMU and LSSU are one of three teams to get a win at Sullivan Arena.
To clinch home ice and return to Anchorage for the playoffs, UAA will have to win at Ferris State and at Alaska over the next three weeks. UAA is 3-7-2 overall this season on the road and 2-6-2 in league play away from Anchorage.
Along with the Nanooks, the WCHA would also probably be pleased with a fifth, sixth and if necessary seventh game between the Seawolves and Nanooks. If you remember a ways back, the league originally planned to have Alaska and UAA meet in the postseason every year to cut down on travel costs. It could still get its wish.
The WCHA standings will only get tighter
Last week, LSSU head coach Jim Roque said he felt like a broken record talking about how tight the league standings are each and every week.
Well, Roque’s record player isn’t getting fixed anytime soon. It’s probably going to get worse.
Roque’s Lakers and Wildcats solved little by splitting this weekend in Marquette, Bemidji State kept pace with an upset Saturday of league-leading Ferris State, and Michigan Tech was reeled back into the middle of the pack by Alaska, which joined the logjam with 7-3 and 7-2 wins in Houghton.
Bemidji, LSSU and Northern all have series coming up against last-place Alabama-Huntsville, meaning they are a weekend away from jumping from the bottom half of the standings to the top half, assuming they don’t slip up against the Chargers.
The Lakers and Wildcats also have two games in hand on everyone in front of them battling for home ice and a playoff spot, so the ‘Cats and Lakers can both make up some ground with a split while teams take their last bye.
What this all means is, if things continue the way they have been, someone may be missing the WCHA playoffs not because they lost a first or second tiebreaker, but because a third or fourth tiebreaker didn’t go their way.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to a flip of the coin, which would be dumb to rule out at this point considering how tight and unpredictable these past few weeks have been.
For WCHA tie breaking procedures, visit the league’s standings page here and scroll to the bottom of the page.