Heading into the last week of the regular season in the WCHA, here is what I think I learned from last weekend.
You couldn’t ask for a more exciting final weekend
From the MacNaughton Cup, to the pursuit of home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, to just making the league playoffs, everything is up for grabs this weekend in the final days of the regular season.
Minnesota State and Ferris State, who will finish either No. 1 or No. 2, are tied atop the league standings with 38 points each and should they remain tied, they will share the league’s regular season title. The Mavericks, who currently have one more league win than Ferris State, would be the No. 1 seed if the season ended today.
Six other teams — Alaska, Michigan Tech, Bowling Green, Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State and Lake Superior State — still have a chance to host a first-round, home-ice playoff series with the Huskies and Nanooks already having clinched a playoff spot.
As for the Falcons, Seawolves, Beavers and Lakers, all four could be caught by ninth-place Northern Michigan this weekend and miss the playoffs.
The only team who has nothing to play for when it comes to the postseason is Alabama-Huntsville but …
The Chargers aren’t rolling over for anyone
UAH picked up its second win of the season on Friday when it scored a 2-1 victory over arch-rival Bemidji State in Bemidji. The Beavers rebounded for a 4-1 victory on Saturday, but the damage had already been done.
Instead of sitting tied for fifth with UAA and BGSU at 26 points, the Beavers now find themselves tied for seventh with LSSU and just one point ahead of ninth-place NMU.
What might be even worse for Beavers fans now is they will have to put away their “Who Hates Huntsville?” T-shirts and dawn some Charger blue — underwear is fine, it doesn’t have to be visible — this weekend in hopes their hated rivals can pull another upset.
The Chargers host the Wildcats this weekend and the first home win of the year for UAH might be enough to get BSU into the WCHA playoffs and keep the ‘Cats out.
The Chargers have been close on numerous occasions to winning at the Von Braun Center, having lost to Bemidji State, Ferris State, St. Cloud State and Lake Superior State (twice) by just one goal.
Then there’s UAH’s best result at home this season, a 1-1 tie with Alaska-Anchorage.
Now with a little confidence in them, don’t be surprised if UAH goes out with a win this season.
Every league should leave a team or two out of the playoffs
I spent four seasons covering the CCHA here in Marquette from 2003-2007 as a student at NMU and returned to the U.P. in 2011 to cover the league’s final three campaigns. During that time, I can’t remember once seeing anything as crazy as I’ve seen in the new-look WCHA this year.
And in comparison to the WCHA, the rest of college hockey has seemed kind of boring.
The only league that comes close is the NCHC, where St. Cloud State and North Dakota are tied for first with 42 points going into the final weekend of the regular season, with Nebraska-Omaha sitting three points back in third.
But the battle for the regular season title is where the drama ends for the NCHC. Yes, Minnesota-Duluth and Western Michigan are tied for the fourth and the final first-round, home-ice playoff spot, with Denver just two points back, but big whoop if you falter and don’t get to stay home for the first round.
All eight teams are still in the playoffs, and redemption is easily attainable the following weekend. You’ll just have sleep in a hotel bed instead the night before instead of your own.
Some teams flourish on the road away from distractions. It can actually be a blessing in disguise.
Looking around the rest of the Division I standings, four of the six regular season league champions all won or will win titles by comfortable margins, and while races for byes and home ice may have been tight, none of those teams are facing the pressure five WCHA teams face this weekend in four different games — that of being left out of the league playoffs.
There could be no next week for those five teams, meaning they will have to wait a lot longer than six days for redemption.
Try six-plus months.