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College Hockey:
WCHA first-round playoff picks

It’s playoff time, and there are some intriguing matchups to kick off the WCHA tournament. The fact that the first round pits former CCHA teams against leftover WCHA teams (following the league’s breakup) adds to the interest. But the tournament is bigger than bragging rights. A trip to the Final Five is on the line, and there are eight teams here who all think they can get to Grand Rapids.

 Ferris State vs. Bemidji State

Shane: The Beavers won’t make things easy for the league champs; they beat Ferris about a month ago in Bemidji and took them to overtime in November in Big Rapids. But the Bulldogs are 14-1-1 at home with 11 wins in a row there, and there’s incentive to play and have their fans follow them down the road at the Van Andel next week. Bulldogs sweep.

Matt: We’re starting with a clean slate in the postseason, right Shane? That’s what they always say about the postseason. Everyone, including us, is 0-0 now, so no more picking games for me. The Bulldogs appear to be focused on the ultimate prize being two-years removed from a berth in the NCAA Championship game. A sweep of Bemidji would be a good start to getting back there. Bulldogs sweep

 Minnesota State vs. Northern Michigan

Shane: For all the talk about Alaska being hot down the stretch, you can’t forget that the Mavericks are 8-0-1 in their last nine games. They’re stingy on defense, allowing just nine goals in that streak, something that gets overlooked by their big-name players up front. A tough Wildcats team that hung five on the Mavs one night in January won’t roll over, but I still say … Mavericks sweep.

Matt: In a one-game playoff on neutral ice, I like the Wildcats’ chances of pulling an upset after watching the most recent series between the two schools in Marquette. But in Mankato — where MSU has not lost since Nov. 8 — and against Cole Huggins — who has posted shutouts in three of his last five starts —  it’s tough for me to pick against Minnesota State. Mavericks sweep

 Alaska vs. Alaska Anchorage

Shane: Remember when the WCHA put forth its “Alaska Plan” in order to cut down travel costs in the playoffs? That was a pair of Bad Idea Jeans right there. Scrapping it must have been good karma for the league because it still got its wish. The Governor’s Cup was decided in a shootout last Saturday night. This will come down to the wire, too. Nanooks in three.

Matt: In the run up to the new-look WCHA, one of thing everyone was looking forward to was teams like Alaska and UAA being in the same conference, adding much more to their regular-season meetings. But a playoff series? This is going to be special. This is how a regional rivalry really heats up. It too bad they settled the Governor’s Cup with a shootout, because what good will that trophy mean to the Nanooks now if every time they look at it for the next year, it reminds them the Seawolves ended their season. I don’t think that will happen, but won’t be surprised if it does. Nanooks in three

 Bowling Green vs. Michigan Tech

Shane: I think these might be the two toughest teams to figure out. Tech has gone from scoring big to giving up a ton of goals to scoring big again before playing two tight, low-scoring games in Mankato. Bowling Green has won three straight, following a five-game winless stretch. Flip a coin and … Huskies in three.

Matt: The Falcons and Huskies inconsistencies this season could be attributed to both programs’ inexperience dealing with a lack of success. In the five seasons prior to this year, the fourth-seeded Falcons highest finish is ninth. For the fifth-seeded Huskies during that time, they topped out at eighth. I really like the Huskies chances in Bowling Green, but the Falcons have proven to be a dangerous postseason team under head coach Chris Bergeron, going 8-10 in the postseason with four best-of-three series wins. Falcons in three

Last week: Shane 7-2-1, Matt 7-2-1. Final regular-season records: Shane 134-62-22, Matt 126-70-22.

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