The Bulldogs netminder leads the nation with an 11-0-2 record.
No. 12 seed at Alaska-Anchorage at No. 1 St. Cloud State:
Matthew: Alaska-Anchorage took a pair of poundings last Friday and Sunday at Denver, losing the teams’ two games by a combined 13-2, and this weekend doesn’t look any brighter for the Seawolves. UAA head coach Dave Shyiak is in the final season of his current contract, and he might be reaching the end of the line in this series. Huskies sweep.
Tyler: These teams split earlier in the season in Anchorage and if it weren’t for the disparity in depth and talent, it could’ve easily been a Seawolves sweep. The Huskies had to rally the first night and was as flat as can be in the Saturday game. SCSU doesn’t let that happen this time and sweeps in convincing fashion.
No. 11 seed Bemidji State at No. 2 Minnesota:
Matthew: This is a series that’s very similar to UAA-SCSU in that it’s a mismatch which the home team should have no major issues dealing with if it’s on its game. BSU could give Minnesota fits – remember, the Beavers picked up a tie in one game at North Dakota two weeks ago and held their own in the other – but the Gophers are the better team by far in this series. I don’t see a blowout in either game, but I have Minnesota sweeping its way to its final Final Five.
Tyler: I think the fact that these teams played each other last week helps Minnesota. Bemidji State hangs back in a defensive style that takes time for some teams, even the most skilled teams, to get used to. The Gophers have seen it now and though I don’t expect blowouts, the Gophers should control both games and move on to the Final Five in a sweep.
No. 10 Michigan Tech at No. 3 North Dakota:
Matthew: Surprisingly, this is a matchup of teams with the nation’s two best power play units over the course of the 2013 portion of this season (MTU’s first at 28.6 percent, and UND’s at 27.7). I’m a little concerned by the fact that UND has dropped at least one point in each of the last three weeks, but while I think this could be a close series in the end, and maybe I’m being a little charitable towards the Huskies, but I don’t see Tech advancing. UND in three.
Tyler: To find North Dakota’s last loss in the WCHA Playoffs, you’d have to go back 13 games to Game 2 of the 2010 first round against Minnesota. Though it hasn’t always translated to success in the NCAA tournament, UND seems to play at its highest level in the league playoffs. You never know which version of Michigan Tech goaltending shows up and I think UND will expose that inconsistency. UND sweeps
No. 9 Minnesota-Duluth at No. 4 Wisconsin:
Matthew: UMD scored a ridiculous five power play goals last time out in a 6-0 win over Nebraska-Omaha, but the Bulldogs are on the road this weekend against a much better team than UNO has been lately. Duluth has been playing much better in recent weeks, but it’s hard to be too impressed by sweeps at home over Alabama-Huntsville and a UNO team that’s had serious difficulties on the ice lately. Wisconsin’s a better team on the road this season than it is in Madison, so that could be a plus for the Bulldogs, but I still see UW winning this series in three games.
Tyler: The last two weekends probably gave the Bulldogs confidence, offensively, outscoring their opponents 19-6 in four games. Like Matthew said, that isn’t all that impressive given the opponents. Wisconsin’s defense has carried the team all season and will get the Badgers to the Final Five with a series win in three games against UMD.
No. 8 Colorado College at No. 5 Denver:
Matthew: Obviously I can’t speak for you, Tyler, but this looks to me like our best chance at seeing an upset in the first round. CC took three points from the Pioneers early last month in the teams’ second home-and-home series of the season, and I have a gut feeling that CC will turn DU over again this weekend at Magness. I’m taking the Tigers in three.
Tyler: I agree this is the best chance for an upset because the Pioneers are so unpredictable. Denver has proven it can tighten up and contain good offensive teams but turn around and allow five goals the next night. CC has the ability to pour it on in the offensive zone but I think the Pioneers outlast the Tigers. Denver in three
No. 7 Nebraska-Omaha at No. 6 Minnesota State:
Matthew: Although Minnesota State’s ninth in the current PairWise Rankings, MSU is a more ideal matchup for UNO than everyone else in the WCHA’s top six. UNO has lost each of its final four regular season games for the second year running – and the red Mavericks have lost six of their last eight games this time around – and though I see this series going to three games, I think MSU will prevail.
Tyler: Something has to give in a series between two teams that have had constant struggles in this round of the playoffs. Though MSU got the short end of the three-way tie for fourth place, ending up with the sixth seed, I think it got the best draw of those three teams. Nothing’s going right for UNO and its penalty kill is terrible, lately, which MSU’s efficient power play should take advantage of. MSU sweep
St. Cloud State fans were launched onto cloud nine – sorry – when their Huskies knocked off No. 14 Wisconsin 4-2 in Madison, Wis. Friday and clinched a share of SCSU’s first (and final) WCHA men’s regular season championship.
What was missing in the visiting team’s locker room at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, however, was the trophy signifying the Huskies’ accomplishment.
Instead, the MacNaughton Cup materialized in the visitors’ room at Bemidji, Minn.’s Sanford Center late the following night, where it was held aloft for a second year running by the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Following the Gophers’ 5-1 win at Bemidji State Saturday night, the nation’s second-ranked team forced a tie at the top of the WCHA final regular season standings. SCSU and Minnesota, which are both leaving the WCHA at the end of his season in favor of the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference and Big Ten hockey conference, respectively, both finished this season with 37 points.
Eighth-ranked SCSU owned a tiebreaker over the Gophers, though, which means the Huskies are the No. 1 seed heading into this week’s first round of the WCHA playoffs. The Huskies will host 12th-seeded Alaska-Anchorage in a best-of-three series for a chance to go to the WCHA Final Five next weekend in Saint Paul, Minn..
Still, only the Gophers got to place their paws on the nearly three-foot trophy last weekend, and many in Minnesota’s room Tweeted photos of players decked out in maroon and gold while showing off the nearly 40 pounds of silver.
If that bothered SCSU head coach Bob Motzko, however, he hid it well when speaking with reporters following his Huskies’ 3-2 loss to UW on Saturday – a result that, if reversed, would have seen SCSU finish the regular season alone at the top of the WCHA tree.
“I’ve got a whole lot of other things to worry about besides that,” Motzko quite correctly said. “On a scale of one to 10, that’s a negative-8.”
Three teams finished tied for fourth place
A bit further down the WCHA table, Wisconsin, Denver and Minnesota State finished the regular season tied for fourth place with 33 points each.
All three teams won the second games of their respective weekend series – MSU knocked off North Dakota 2-1 at home in overtime Saturday night, while Denver routed Alaska-Anchorage 6-1 in a Sunday matinee – but the Badgers’ win on Saturday saw UW finish above both the Pioneers and the Mavericks.
Wisconsin will be back in its usual Kohl Center home this week – the Badgers played off-campus last weekend due to the Wisconsin state high school basketball championships going on at Kohl – for the first round of the WCHA playoffs to host No. 9 seed Minnesota-Duluth.
Denver and MSU will both be at home this weekend, as well. Fifth-seed DU will square off with arch-rival Colorado College, while No. 6 seed MSU will host Nebraska-Omaha for at least two clashes between the WCHA’s two sets of Mavericks.
UNO’s final-month woes continued
Some things go well together perfectly. Hands and gloves. Feet and shoes. Peanut butter and grape jelly.
Some other things, such as the month of March and the UNO hockey team in the four years that Mavericks head coach Dean Blais has been at the helm, don’t.
There always seems to be a disconnect somewhere for the Mavericks when the calendar gets flipped to the third month of the year. Under Blais, UNO is an eye-popping 1-12-0 all-time against WCHA opposition in the month of March.
In his 2009-10 season, Blais’s first in Omaha and the Mavericks’ last in the CCHA, things weren’t much better when the final month of the campaign came around. UNO picked up a pair of wins at home against league rival Bowling Green before being swept out of the first round of the playoffs at then-No. 13 Ferris State.
This current season and the last one, though, have left the Mavericks feeling particularly frustrated.
UNO lost each of its last six games of the 2011-12 campaign, topping off the Mavericks’ misery by way of a sweep at the hands of SCSU on the road in the first round of the WCHA postseason.
This time around, Blais’s bunch is in danger of experiencing a very similar fate. UNO has again lost each of its final four games of the regular season, leaving the Mavericks to yet again miss out on home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
UNO was swept at home by UW two weeks ago before losing another pair of games last weekend at Minnesota-Duluth, including a 6-0 setback on Saturday in which the Bulldogs scored five power play goals.
In fact, postseason hockey in general hasn’t exactly been UNO’s forte. The Mavericks haven’t made it into a neutral-site playoff game since getting to Detroit for the CCHA Super Six in 2005, and the program’s only appearance in a conference playoff championship game – versus Michigan State in Detroit in 2000 – resulted in a 6-0 loss to the Spartans.
UNO has been to the NCAA tournament twice in the Mavericks’ history, but they stumbled at the first hurdle both times against Boston University (in Worcester, Mass. in 2006) and Michigan (in St. Louis in 2011).
This week’s first-round series against the WCHA’s other Mavericks – the only Mavericks sticking around in the league after this season ends – was perhaps UNO’s best-case scenario in terms of who it might’ve had to travel to face this week. Make no mistake, though: Minnesota State will give UNO yet another daunting challenge.
MSU is currently listed ninth in the PairWise Rankings, and safe passage into the Final Five would go a long way towards the purple Mavericks punching their ticket for this year’s NCAA tournament.
MADISON, Wis. — It wasn’t much more than 15 minutes after one of the most important accomplishments in the 26-season Division I history of St. Cloud State hockey, and Drew LeBlanc was already thinking about the next step.
The Huskies clinched at least a share of the MacNaughton Cup and the top seed for the WCHA playoffs with a 4-2 victory over Wisconsin on Friday. It’s the first WCHA regular season championship for the school but at least for one night it comes with that “shared” caveat because the Huskies have a two-point lead on Minnesota and North Dakota with one game to play.
In this case, it seems no one in the St. Cloud State dressing room is in a sharing mood.
“Call us selfish but we want to win it outright,” said LeBlanc, the Huskies’ top-line center, “so we’ve got some work to do tomorrow.”
There are of course steps beyond that — the WCHA tournament and the NCAA tournament — but the Huskies were making sure to at least briefly acknowledge the gravity of their first, and last, WCHA regular season championship.
The Huskies had a chance to clinch at least a share of the title at home last Saturday but slumped to a 5-1 loss to Michigan Tech. It was quite a change six days later after a three-goal, third-period rally.
“We’re a happy bunch of guys right now,” said LeBlanc, the senior captain. “It means a lot to our program, obviously, and the coaches and alumni and the community of St. Cloud. It’s a big thing. It’s a good time to be a Husky.”
St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko wasn’t exactly throwing cold water on the celebration but he didn’t want his players to get too wrapped up in it, either.
“We’ve got to celebrate another day,” he said. “We’re a bubble team. We’ve got too much to play for. And I’m not trying to take anything away from the accomplishment. I’m proud of these guys. They hung in there all darn year and had a very, very good regular season — an excellent regular season. But we all know if you screw up in the next two weeks it’ll sting. You’ve got to enjoy this for a short time.”
No. 8 St. Cloud State at No. 14 Wisconsin:
Matthew: Thanks to the Wisconsin high school state basketball championships going on at UW’s Kohl Center, this series will take place at Madison, Wis.’s much older Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Many Badgers fans aren’t over the moon about it – the two games aren’t part of the team’s season ticket package, and tickets for the series are expensive even before factoring in handling fees – but the UW fans that do go to these games will be in for a treat. St. Cloud State is on the verge of winning its first (and final) WCHA regular season championship – and I think the Huskies will do just that – and the Badgers could still secure home ice in the first round of the playoffs despite having experienced a nightmarish start to this season. Four points would be huge for both teams, but I think they’ll have to settle for two apiece.
Tyler: Anytime Wisconsin has had a small ice sheet to work with, they’re successful because of the style it plays, and this weekend’s series is at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on the smaller regulation rink. That gives the Badgers an advantage, but the Huskies are going to be gunning for their first WCHA regular season title and a higher seed in the national tourney. SCSU’s skilled offense against the Badgers defense will ensure a split.
No. 2 Minnesota at Bemidji State:
Matthew: On paper, this series should belong to Minnesota. The problem for the Gophers, though, is that that’s not what games are played on. Bemidji, Minn.’s Sanford Center ought to be packed for the Beavers’ final home games of the season – and playing the state’s flagship school for the last time in league regular season play will help – and I can see BSU frustrating the Gophers, perhaps even picking up a point from the four on offer this weekend. That’s the most I can see head coach Tom Serratore’s Beavers picking up, however, and that’s what I’ll go with here. Minnesota gets three points and finishes the regular season in second place with 36 points, one behind SCSU.
Tyler: The Beavers will rely on a pesky defense to keep these games close but the Gophers will be able to get past it and Minnesota’s skill will overmatch Bemidji State. Minnesota sweeps.
No. 5 North Dakota at No. 10 Minnesota State:
Matthew: Minnesota State probably ought to have wrapped up home ice in the first round of the playoffs last weekend at Colorado College, but the Mavericks only picked up two points in Colorado Springs. The good news is that MSU is at home this time around, but head coach Mike Hastings’ men will face a fifth-ranked North Dakota team that, tied on points with Minnesota, could also still win the regular season title if a bunch of results go UND’s way. However, I see these two teams canceling each other out. Split.
Tyler: This series doesn’t have the same ramifications as SCSU/Wisconsin, but it will certainly be the most entertaining series in WCHA play this weekend. MSU has gotten big contributions from senior Eriah Hayes as well as a solid group of underclassmen this season, while UND has arguably the best top line in college hockey that includes Danny Kristo and Corban Knight. Goaltending is going to be an important variable and I think the Mavericks have a slight edge with freshman Stephon Williams. Split.
No. 16 Nebraska-Omaha at Minnesota-Duluth:
Matthew: UNO is incredibly only 1-10-0 in the month of March under head coach Dean Blais, and many Mavericks fans feel now as though they’re watching something similar to last season’s capitulation in which UNO lost its final four regular season games, went on the road in the first round of the WCHA playoffs and was swept by St. Cloud State. This UNO team is better than last season’s, but the Mavericks have lost five of their last seven games and, although UNO swept Minnesota-Duluth in Omaha back in November, I think a split this weekend at Amsoil Arena might be the best the Mavericks can hope for this time around. That’s what I’m going with as my prediction for this series.
Tyler: UMD has an advantage on special teams with an effective power play that recovered after it went into a mid-season lull. Meanwhile, the Mavericks offense has struggled and its defense hasn’t done UNO any favors, either. UMD sweeps.
Alaska-Anchorage at No. 12 Denver (Friday-Sunday):
Matthew: UAA cemented itself to the bottom of the WCHA standings a couple weeks ago, and the best the Seawolves can hope to do now is play the spoiler role against first 12th-ranked Denver and then whichever team wins the league’s regular season championship. I can’t see any upsets here, though. George Gwozdecky’s Pioneers will sweep this series and, if DU picks up more points this weekend than UNO does, will be at home in the firs round of the playoffs.
Tyler: Denver finishes out the regular season with a pair of wins and sneaks into the top six of the standings and get a home playoff matchup. The Pioneers are the far better team and, more importantly, they have something big to play for, and that makes them the heavy favorite this weekend. Denver sweeps.
Colorado College at Michigan Tech:
Matthew: Tech is in a similar situation to Bemidji’s in that this weekend sees the Huskies play their final two home games of the season against a team that soon will be leaving in favor of a new breakaway league. Both of these teams will be on the road in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, so there’s not much on the line here apart from vying for higher postseason seeds. CC’s the marginally better team here, and even though this series is in Houghton, Mich., I’m taking the Tigers to pick up three points against MTU.
Tyler: Colorado College has played well the last month and a half and went 3-2-1 against solid competition in the last three weekends. The Tigers got bogged down in a second period marred by penalties in a loss to Minnesota State last Saturday. That kept their regular offense from getting into a rhythm, but otherwise, it’s been clicking. I’ll call a split because Tech has played well at home in the second half of the season. After two straight weekends on the road, the Huskies will look to finish the season strong in front of their own fans.
Had St. Cloud State finished off a sweep of Michigan Tech like it was expected to Saturday at home, SCSU would’ve clinched at least a tie for its first WCHA title.
SCSU didn’t finish Tech. In fact, Tech didn’t let SCSU get started and went up 3-0 on the home team in the first 4:23 of the game.
SCSU’s lead is now two points on North Dakota and Minnesota, which are tied for second place at 33 points. SCSU is at Wisconsin to end the season and the Badgers just won two road games this weekend at Nebraska-Omaha.
Minnesota has a better chance to catch SCSU by finishing with a series at 11th-place Bemidji State than UND does finishing with a couple of tough games at Minnesota State.
Michigan Tech was a much faster team in the opening minutes Saturday and executed their chances with three goals on five shots. Jamie Phillips played a solid game in goal for Tech and kept SCSU from getting the all-important first goal until late in the third period.
SCSU outplayed Michigan Tech for large portions of the game but was too sloppy to string together solid scoring chances. It certainly didn’t look like the SCSU team that had executed so well in the second half.
And since SCSU left the door was open a crack, don’t be surprised if the Gophers, or even UND, sneaks in and grabs at least a piece of the MacNaughton Cup.
Power play explosion springs MSU
Minnesota State’s fourth-ranked power play went scoreless in three chances in a 4-1 loss to Colorado College Friday.
After going 0-for-5 on the man advantage through the first 35 minutes, which included two five-minute major penalties against CC, the Mavericks power play got back to its usual form in a hurry.
Ian Young took CC’s second game misconduct with a check from behind on the same play Matt Leitner scored on the delayed call with 4:06 left.
Leitner wasn’t done, finishing a hat trick in the time it takes to run to the concessions stand. He scored with 1:03 left in the second period, Josh Nelson netted 30 seconds later, and, with 13 seconds remaining in the second period, Leitner scored goal No. 3.
MSU led 1-0 going into the final four minutes of the second period and thanks to CC’s third major penalty of the game, the Mavericks led 5-1 at the second intermission and eventually salvaged a split with a 7-2 win.
Wisconsin’s playoff chances appeared to diminish when it lost to Penn State Monday.
The defeat dropped the Badgers from the top 20 to 29th in the PairWise Rankings and all of the sudden, the talk was that Wisconsin would need to run the table in the playoffs to get the WCHA’s auto-bid into the NCAA tournament.
That might not be the case, now.
The Badgers moved up to the mid 20s during the week as a result of other games around the country during the week. The Badgers are 20th as of Sunday night after sweeping UNO with one regular season series left (at home against SCSU), and UW also has the first round of the WCHA playoffs and perhaps the Final Five in which to shoot up five (or so) spots to get in position for an at-large bid.
On Friday with four days rest, Wisconsin put four goals past a WCHA team for just the fifth time this season before scoring six goals in the rematch, the first time this season the Badgers had scored that many in a game.
The Badgers had 11 power plays goals going into Saturday’s game before they scored two on the man advantage to complete the sweep of the Mavericks.
No. 16 Wisconsin at No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha:
Tyler: In a battle of two teams that need two wins, I’m giving UNO a slight edge but I’m not going with a sweep. If the Badgers settle into their structured defensive style and take away UNO’s speed, they’ll have chance to come away with a win, but they’re not leaving with a sweep. The Mavericks have had plenty of rest and time to prepare for this series while the Badgers are four days removed from a series that finished with a deflating loss to Penn State Monday. I’m picking a split, which would mean neither team gains much ground unless they get help from elsewhere.
Matthew: Both teams could really use a sweep from this series as they try and clinch home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs – and, in UNO’s case, stay in the hunt to win the league’s regular season championship – but it’s hard to pick anything other than a split here. Wisconsin doesn’t score a ton of goals, and it will miss injured Badgers power play quarterback Derek Lee this weekend, but UW’s defense is stingy enough that the normally high-powered UNO offense won’t score many, either. Split.
No. 10 Denver at No. 2 Minnesota:
Tyler: Last weekend’s series against struggling Minnesota-Duluth had to be a wake-up call for the Gophers, who couldn’t put the Bulldogs away in the third period of Saturday’s game and went 1-for-9 on the power play for the weekend. Minnesota will get plenty of chances to improve their top-ranked power play (25.4 percent) against the nation’s most penalized team: Denver. Minnesota sweeps.
Matthew: Between goaltenders Jussi Olkinuora and Sam Brittain, Denver leaked 10 goals last week at home to North Dakota, and things might not get a whole lot better for the Pioneers this weekend when they head north to meet in Minneapolis a Minnesota team that has scored more than three and a half goals per game this season. The Gophers were made to work hard for their three points last weekend against an UMD team punching above its weight, but I’m taking the Gophers this weekend to pick up three points as they try to keep pace with St. Cloud State at the top of the WCHA table.
Bemidji State at No. 6 North Dakota
Tyler: I’ll take UND for a home sweep against the Beavers, who have won one road game since they took three points at Nebraska-Omaha in their WCHA opener in October. Anything but a sweep for UND would be a major letdown.
Matthew: UND lost little ground to the league leaders last weekend despite dropping two points at Denver, and I think UND will pick up another four points here to keep the heat on the other teams at the top. Bemidji State will be up for its final regular season WCHA road trip to Grand Forks, but UND has been the better team by far this season and it ought to win both of these games, thereby staying alive in the race for the MacNaughton Cup. UND sweeps.
Michigan Tech at No. 7 St. Cloud State:
Tyler: The key for SCSU is to stay locked in and focused this weekend and not overlook Michigan Tech, which had a week off after a bad pair of losses in Mankato, Minn. two weeks ago. SCSU is better offensively and should be fixated on staying in first place of the regular-season title race. SCSU sweeps.
Matthew: Tech has taken its lumps this season one year removed from seeing the Huskies’ Mel Pearson pick up WCHA Coach of the Year honors, and MTU will take some more this weekend. SCSU gave a much better account of itself in its 5-2 win at Colorado College last Friday than the league’s red-and-black Huskies did in their 4-3 loss to CC the night before, and it’s tough to see St. Cloud dropping points this time around in what looks like a mismatch. SCSU sweeps.
No. 9 Minnesota State at Colorado College:
Tyler: MSU’s defense is one of the best in the country (2.22 goals allowed per game), and freshman Stephon Williams is one of the hottest goaltenders in the nation with 11 goals allowed in seven games. That’s going to help the Mavericks contain one of the country’s top offenses in CC. The Tigers are a team that’s been playing better over the last month. Split.
Matthew: MSU has the toughest remaining schedule among the teams currently among the WCHA’s top six, and that makes this week’s trip to Colorado College especially important. The Tigers would love to play the spoiler role again this time around – CC took two points from league-leading St. Cloud State last weekend in Colorado Springs – but MSU can hardly afford to let its chances of home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs hang on next week’s set (albeit at home) against North Dakota. I’ll take the Mavericks to take three points this weekend at World Arena.
Alabama-Huntsville at Minnesota-Duluth:
Tyler: The Bulldogs have to take advantage of a UAH team that has the worst offense in Division I, one of the worst defenses and hasn’t beat a Division I team since Nov. 16. Until last Saturday at Minnesota, UMD was bad in third periods but when the talent gap is so wide, some teams can get by on sloppy play. But, like Penn State showed everyone, don’t fall asleep on a major underdog. UMD sweeps.
Matthew: UMD has played its way out of a home-ice spot in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, but I think the Bulldogs will blow off some steam this weekend at home against a UAH team that has hasn’t beaten a Division I team since before Thanksgiving. I’m a big fan of Chargers head coach Kurt Kleinendorst and want nothing but the best for UAH, so I’m willing to give let heart compromise with head and give Huntsville some love here, but I’d be surprised if UMD lost either game this weekend in Duluth. I’ll take the Bulldogs to pick up one win and a tie from this series.
Alaska-Anchorage vs. Alaska (Home-and-home; Alaska Airlines Governor’s Cup):
Tyler: I’m giving the team from Fairbanks the edge in this rivalry series. The Nanooks are on the NCAA tournament bubble, sitting at 17th in the PairWise, so there’s something to play for. The Seawolves power play is the only thing they can rely on, offensively, with just six even-strength goals in five games, and Alaska has killed off 31 of its last 33 penalties. Nanooks sweep.
Matthew: UAA has had yet another poor season results-wise under Seawolves head coach Dave Shyiak, and I don’t imagine fans in Anchorage are willing to take much more of what they’ve seen from their team. This weekend’s home-and-home series against intrastate rival Alaska, however, is a break from its tough WCHA slate and a chance for UAA to play for pride and also earn some bragging rights against its most disliked nemesis. I’m not sure the latter will happen, but I’ll take the Seawolves to win at home on Saturday after having lost in Fairbanks the night before.
When Denver spotted North Dakota seven power plays Friday, the Pioneers survived for a 5-4 win. They gave UND nine power play chances Saturday and it doomed them in a 6-1 loss.
Denver killed off six of seven penalties Friday as its power play went 2-for-5 but one night later, UND took advantage of Denver’s penalties for three goals on the man advantage.
UND wasn’t getting many opportunities early Saturday, but Danny Kristo scored 10:34 on UND’s fourth shot on goal of the game.
Carter Rowney scored the first UND power play goal with 1:36 left in the period UND and Rocco Grimaldi added another with 12 seconds left to chase Juho Olkinuora after 20 minutes. Mark MacMillan scored another in the third minute of a five-minute major with one second left in the second period.
Dillon Simpson scored the third UND power play goal in the third period to make UND 3-for-7 on the man advantage and the game so out of reach at that point that it didn’t matter UND couldn’t convert on the last two PP chances.
The Pioneers are the nation’s most penalized team but 16 power plays to the opposition in one weekend is a number that’s unacceptable, especially against a high-efficiency power play.
UND’s power play was operating at a 25.9-percent rate going into the Denver series, which is better than the national leader (Minnesota, 25.4 percent).
SCSU takes a hit in the PairWise
St. Cloud State is in first place in the WCHA standings but slipped to 10th in the PairWise Rankings, knocking the Huskies into low-seed territory. It’s odd to think that SCSU, which has gone 7-2-1 in the WCHA in the second half, is so low in the PairWise.
For those who don’t know, the PairWise is used to determine the NCAA tournament field.
The loss to Colorado College, which has become a team under consideration while going on a six-game unbeaten streak, hurts the Huskies; so does the 3-5-0 nonconference record.
Although SCSU didn’t come out of the gates flat in Friday’s loss like they had coming off of byes throughout the season, the loss dropped the Huskies to 1-4-0 on Friday’s when they didn’t play the week before.
UMD sees a bright spot in third period woes
Minnesota-Duluth has struggled in third periods an awful lot since Christmas, but Saturday, the Bulldogs did just enough in the final 20 minutes to earn a 2-2 tie at No. 2 Minnesota.
UMD has scored four times in third periods since the break and is minus-15 in third-period goal differential.
The Bulldogs’ only goal in third periods from Jan. 19 up until Saturday was in a Feb. 16 tie at Bemidji State. UMD got outscored 2-0 in Friday’s loss to the Gophers and UMD’s chances looked grim as half the third period went by Saturday without a goal facing a one-goal deficit.
Then, with 7:06 left in regulation, Keegan Flaherty got to a loose puck below the goal line, threw it off the side of the net and it ricocheted out to Jake Hendrickson in the slot. Hendrickson split Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox’s wickets as Wilcox looked for the puck to tie the game at two.
The Bulldogs are ninth in the WCHA in third-period scoring and 43rd in the nation yet they’re ranked second nationally in first-period goals.
Note: Penn State and Wisconsin are set to take part in a rare Sunday-Monday series in Madison, Wis.. The two-game set was pushed back due to the Wisconsin high school wrestling championships taking place at UW’s Kohl Center over the past few days.
Penn State at No. 18 Wisconsin:
Matthew: I can’t get over a nagging feeling that this could be a trap series for the Badgers. UW is certainly a better team than Penn State, but Guy Gadowsky has done a terrific job in State College so far, and the Nittany Lions would love to finish their first Division I season on a high note on Sunday and Monday in Madison. Do I think PSU will beat the Badgers in either game? No, but I wouldn’t be surprised if UW didn’t won both. I’m picking the Nittany Lions to pick up a tie in one of the games – Just enough to give both sets of fans something to think about before these two clubs start playing for Big Ten league points next season.
Tyler: Penn State has been able to hang with some of the middle-of-the-road Division I teams it’s played this season, going 2-1 against its future Big Ten opponents. The Badgers don’t necessarily have the offensive spark to bury the Nittany Lions, but UW has a defense like nothing PSU has seen. Wisconsin sweep
No. 6 North Dakota at No. 10 Denver:
Matthew: In only picking up one point from a possible four last time out against intrastate rival Colorado College, DU missed an opportunity to keep its name on the still fairly large list of WCHA teams that still have a realistic chance of winning the league’s regular season championship. The Pioneers would be more than happy to swap their frustration for wins this weekend against another hated rival in the form of North Dakota, but it’s tough to call anything other than a split here. UND has been the better team lately, but, among the drama that we always seem to get when these two teams come together, I’d be surprised if either club here got more than two points against the other. Split.
Tyler: Watching skilled players playing chippy and physical, then throw in an engaged bi-partisan crowd and you have what makes this rivalry so entertaining. Both teams are coming off bye weeks and playoff positioning is at stake. UND was the more physical team and Juho Olkinuora had to save the Pioneers when UND took three points in December at Grand Forks. Denver’s offense is out of the hibernation mode it was in at that point of the season and needs to apply pressure in the offensive zone to establish a home-ice advantage this weekend. Split
No. 7 St. Cloud State at Colorado College:
Matthew: SCSU currently sits at the top of the WCHA standings, but with only four points separating first place in the league from sixth, the Huskies need to keep picking up wins. I think they’ll get one this weekend at CC, but, although the Tigers are a lower-echelon team in the WCHA right now, they haven’t been swept at home so far this season, and I don’t see it happening this weekend, either. I’m taking SCSU to get three points in Colorado Springs.
Tyler: What concerns me about the first-place Huskies has been a lack of jump in their step coming off bye weeks. SCSU is 1-3 in the first games of series when it didn’t play the week before and has scored just three goals in the first periods of those four games. This will be another fun series between two teams that are strong offensively and although SCSU has the edge on ‘D’, I think CC can get some pucks past SCSU goalie Ryan Faragher. Split
Minnesota-Duluth at No. 2 Minnesota:
Matthew: Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, I see this weekend being one they and their fans might want to forget in a hurry. It’s possible the Gophers could experience a Hockey City Classic hangover after losing to border rival Wisconsin in Chicago last Sunday, but Minnesota’s a far better team than UMD is right now. Even if the Gophers take a night or two off this weekend, their talent ought to help see them through this series. Minnesota sweeps.
Tyler: The Gophers’ depth and balance are going to wear down the Bulldogs, who have had scoring issues throughout their seven-game winless streak and Minnesota plays good team defense with a solid goalie in Adam Wilcox backing it up. UMD may be able to slow the Gophers down one night to make it competitive but it won’t be enough to prevent a Minnesota sweep.
Border rivals Minnesota and Wisconsin split their final regular season series against each other as members of the WCHA, with the Gophers picking up a win in Madison on Friday before the Badgers won outdoors on neutral ice in Chicago late Sunday afternoon.
Minnesota opened the weekend well but had to survive a late comeback bid from Wisconsin in the Gophers’ 3-2 win on Friday. Badgers goaltender Joel Rumpel was busier than his Gophers counterpart in making 40 saves on the night, but Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox and his teammates had to weather a late storm that included a Tyler Barnes goal with 1:02 remaining that cut the Gophers’ lead to a single goal.
UW then turned the tables on Sunday at Chicago’s Soldier Field, picking up a 3-2 win of the Badgers’ own in the second game of the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic. The Badgers opened up a 3-0 lead with a trio of goals all in a marvelous second period for UW, but then came Minnesota’s turn to launch a third-period comeback that would fall just short.
Goals in the final frame from Minnesota forwards Seth Ambroz and Zach Budish breathed life into a Gophers squad that looked all over the place at times over the first 40 minutes, but Minnesota couldn’t find an equalizer after Budish’s tally at the 18:18 mark.
Minnesota’s performance outdoors on Sunday also drew comparisons to Nebraska-Omaha’s a week ago against North Dakota. UNO started flat and fell into an early 3-0 hole outside at TD Ameritrade Park on Feb. 9, and, though the Mavericks showed signs of life in the third period and got back into the game at one point, their efforts proved insufficient.
Turning back to the Badgers, just as he had in Madison on Friday, Rumpel came up big again in the UW net Sunday in Chicago. He made 36 saves in the rematch — and was much busier than Wilcox, who recorded 16 — and his save on a shot from Minnesota’s Nate Condon as time ran out sealed the win and a split of the teams’ weekend set.
Other observations from this past weekend’s WCHA action:
Bemidji State snapped the WCHA’s longest winless streak
With Minnesota-Duluth stuck in a rut in which it had lost each of its last five non-exhibition games, Bemidji State couldn’t have picked a better time than last weekend to welcome the Bulldogs to Bemidji, Minn.’s Sanford Center.
UMD has been fading fast in the hunt to finish in the WCHA’s top six and clinch home ice in the first round of the league playoffs, and things got even worse for Duluth in Bemidji. Tenth-place BSU took three points from the Bulldogs on the weekend, including the Beavers’ 4-2 win on Friday.
With the victory, BSU shed the league’s longest winless streak, having not tasted success since defeating current No. 11 Denver in Bemidji back on Dec. 15.
The Beavers and Bulldogs then shared the spoils the following night, as Saturday’s rematch ended in a 1-1 tie.
UMD now holds the league’s longest winless skid at seven and is now five points below the top-six split with four league games remaining. Things may get even worse for the Bulldogs this week when they head a few hours south to face an intrastate rival in the form of second-ranked Minnesota.
UAA condemned to last-place finish in heartbreaking fashion
Alaska-Anchorage has taken more than its fair share of body blows so far this season, but what happened at the end of UAA’s 6-5 overtime loss Saturday at home to Nebraska-Omaha seemed particularly harsh on the Seawolves.
UAA has been playing better hockey lately than it had earlier in the season, and things were looking good early on in Saturday’s game with the Mavericks. After ending UNO goaltender Dayn Belfour’s night early at the 13:56 mark of the second period, the ‘Wolves looked as though they were on course to avenge their 3-0 loss to the Mavericks in Anchorage the previous night.
The hosts’ good fortune on Saturday didn’t even end when Belfour was chased off, though. UAA scored a total of four power play goals on the night — this after getting zero power plays at all the night before — and peppered the UNO net more than enough to pick up two points.
The Seawolves were leaking goals in their own end, though, and UNO, often down by a goal on Saturday and even down two at one point, found a way back into the game in the third period.
Mavericks forward Josh Archibald eventually tied the game at 5-5 at 16:33 on a 6-on-4 power play tally, moments after UNO head coach Dean Blais pulled goaltender John Faulkner for a second extra attacker.
UAA held up well for most of the overtime period, but the hosts couldn’t hold on in the end. Seawolves goaltender Rob Gunderson eventually conceded a sixth goal of the night in the dying moments of the game, with UNO forward Johnnie Searfoss scoring his second goal of the night with 31.2 seconds remaining on the Sullivan Arena clock.
Saturday’s result was a particularly bitter pill for the Seawolves to swallow, as UAA is now cemented at the bottom of the WCHA standings. Anchorage now sits six points behind 11th-place Michigan Tech, and the Seawolves have only one league series — at No. 11 Denver on the final weekend of the regular season — left to go.
As for UNO, in terms of keeping alive its shot at winning the WCHA regular season championship in the Mavericks’ final season in the league, the Mavericks needed their sweep of UAA badly. A bonus arrived for UNO on Sunday, though — fourth-place Minnesota’s loss to Wisconsin in Chicago — and the Mavericks are now only one point behind St. Cloud State at the top of the WCHA tree.