Here are three things I think I learned from the first round of the WCHA playoffs, with the Final Five weekend on deck.
The scrapped Alaska Plan was actually really entertaining
There were a lot of unhappy people in the summer of 2012 when the WCHA announced Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage would play in the first round of the league playoffs every season. Had we known it was going to be as entertaining as this weekend’s battle was, we might not have belly-ached so much — even if it was and still is a horrible idea.
The Alaska Plan got scrapped early in 2013 after Alabama-Huntsville was admitted to the WCHA, but happened anyway this year naturally when the Nanooks clinched the third seed with a 7-2 rout of UAA on March 7, followed by a 3-1 UAA win on March 8 to slot the Seawolves in sixth.
Of the seven games between the Nanooks and Seawolves this year — they first met in Anchorage Dec. 6-7 — six were decided by a goal with UAA winning the final two meetings to reach the WCHA Final Five.
The rivalry between the Seawolves and Nanooks has always been a heated one, but you have to think the four-turned-seven game series this year magnified it to a whole new level.
That especially has to be true for Alaska, which now must spend the entire offseason looking at the Governor’s Cup it won on March 8 in a shootout, only to know it was UAA that got to move on to the WCHA Final Five in Grand Rapids.
While I wasn’t happy to see the league force these two teams against each other on a yearly basis, I won’t complain if they meet again in the 2015 postseason and beyond naturally.
Bowling Green’s Chris Bergeron is an underrated coach
Chris Bergeron’s Falcons have had some up and down regular seasons since he took over as head coach prior to the 2010-11 season. That hasn’t been true in the postseason, however.
The Falcons improved to 4-0 in best-of-three, first-round league playoffs series with a sweep of Michigan Tech this weekend in Bowling Green. It was BGSU’s fifth best-of-three win in seven series to improve their playoff record to 10-10 in four years under Bergeron.
The Falcons four previous series wins all came on the road and all four series went three games. BGSU won at Northern Michigan in the first round of the CCHA playoffs in 2011 and 2012 as the No. 11 seed (last place) and at Lake Superior State in the first round as the No. 9 seed in 2013. BGSU also won in the second round of the CCHA playoffs at top-seeded Ferris State in 2012 — the year the Bulldogs reached the national championship game.
Bergeron’s ability to get the most out of his players at this time of the year is impressive. His Falcons should not be overlooked in Grand Rapids. Don’t be surprised if this is they year they capture a postseason title. They seem to do their best work when no one expects them too.
WCHA TV was the best things that could have happened to the league
One of the greatest joys of covering the WCHA this season was being able to watch so much league action without driving hours on end through blizzards, sleeping in uncomfortable hotel rooms and eating awful fast food.
As much as I’d love to be in a hockey rink every Friday and Saturday night when WCHA teams are in action, my location in Marquette and full-time job as sports editor at The Mining Journal prevents it.
So instead, when NMU was on the road or when I couldn’t make it to a Michigan Tech home game because my Corolla isn’t U.P.-winter friendly, I sat on my couch and flipped between game after game from 7 p.m. EDT often up until the final horn sounded in the state of Alaska.
And I wasn’t the only one. If you logged on to Twitter any Friday or Saturday night, a slew of fans, family and beat writers were chatting away about this game and that. It was especially true the last two weeks during the final weekend of the regular season and first round of the playoffs.
It all left me laughing at those who said “the WCHA was dead” because all I could think of was how big of a rock they must be living under. It was tough to ignore the WCHA this season, because so many people had so much access to games without having to subscribe to some expensive, over-priced satellite or cable package.
The only black eye this year to WCHA TV was the misinformation put out during the first-round of the postseason. Despite the WCHA advertising and then confirming with me — twice — that single games would cost $9 and regular-season passes would not work, the regular season passes people bought did work. Oh, and you only had to pay $8 for a 24-hour pass, not $9 per game.
Maybe it was a bug on America One’s end. Maybe the league was given wrong information, or misunderstood. Maybe someone woke up and realized $9 per game was a terrible rip off, especially when the NCHC was airing its games online for free.
Either way, the league needs to figure out its postseason plans before the 2014-15 season begins. I suggest it includes the complete postseason — first round and Final Five — in the regular season package, then offer those who missed out on the regular season a chance to buy a postseason package for $25-$30.
A midseason special wouldn’t be a bad idea either. The more access for fans the better.