The four series all match a team new to the league this season against one that’s been around for a while.
After three weekends of nonconference play in the WCHA, the 2013-14 conference slate begins for Alabama-Huntsville, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan.
Alaska hosts one more nonconference series while Bowling Green plays Tuesday night.
Alaska-Anchorage, Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Minnesota State are all off this weekend, though the Lakers have a Tuesday home exhibition against Laurentian.
Here are the picks.
Bemidji State at Alabama-Huntsville
Matt: I was unaware how heated this rivalry was until the unofficial UAHHockey.com Twitter account (@UAHHockey) started chirping back and forth with the official Bemdji State University Twitter account (@bemidjistate). This will be fun. Chargers 3-2, Beavers 2-1.
Shane: I really thought Bemiidji State and Minnesota State would be a big rivalry because of their long history and the fact that they continued to play nonconference games after going D1. But these were the best teams in the CHA for several years and that fact remains fresh in the teams’ and fans’ minds. I agree it will be fun, and I agree on a split. Chargers 2-1, Beavers 3-1
Michigan Tech vs. Northern Michigan (home and home)
Matt: The Wildcats host the Huskies on Friday in Marquette before the two sides play again 24 hours later in Houghton. This has been a tame series in recent years, partially because Tech has been in rebuilding mode. The Huskies’ 8-2 butt kicking of the ‘Cats last year may have lit a spark in the NMU locker room. Now we’ll see if a four-game series ignites it further. Wildcats 4-3, Huskies 4-2.
Shane: Good for the WCHA to schedule a pair of rivalry series to kick off the conference schedule. It will be interesting to see how this one develops now that these teams are back in the same league for the first time since 1997. They’ll split, but I think each wins at the other’s barn. Huskies 5-2, Wildcats 3-2
Mercyhurt at Alaska
Matt: With wins over Denver and Air Force, plus a tie with Western Michigan, the Nanooks are off to a solid start at 2-1-1. Mercyhurt is 1-4-0 to start the year and the last time the Lakers were in Fairbanks two years ago, they got hammered by both the Nanooks and Seawolves. Nanooks 5-1, 3-1.
Shane: These are the final nonconference games for the Nanooks, who are also at home. Mercyhurst might be road weary after playing in a tournament at Minnesota, then home against Ferris State then at Merrimack. Now a trip to Fairbanks? Their frequent-flyer miles will be rewarded with a pair of losses. Nanooks 3-2, 6-2
Bowling Green at Ohio State
Matt: It’s Part II of what was an exciting Tuesday night game a week ago, with BGSU scoring four unanswered goals in the second and third periods to rally for a 4-3 win over the Buckeyes in Bowling Green. Now the series shifts to Columbus, where the 0-3 Buckeyes have been stewing since. I like a confident Falcons team. BGSU 3-1
Shane: Ohio State plays a home-and-home with Robert Morris this weekend, so it will be interesting to see how it comes out of that series. But I still think the Buckeyes are a mess, while the Falcons are showing off their depth without Ryan Carpenter. Falcons 4-3
Last week: Shane, 11-5-2; Matt 8-8-2. Overall: Shane 21-12-5; Matt, 18-15-5.
Three things I think I learned this weekend …
Turning into a trend?
Lake Superior State improved to 4-0 to start the season, sweeping Union 6-5 in overtime and 3-2 on the road over the weekend. The Lakers are one of just four 4-0 teams and six unbeaten teams remaining in the country.
Stephen Perfetto scored the overtime winner on Friday. He had three assists earlier in the game and ended up with a four-point night. He also had an assist on Saturday.
Across the continent, Alaska-Anchorage came back to earth a bit with a 6-2 loss to Western Michigan on the first day of the Alaska Goal Rush in Fairbanks, Alaska. But this is a new Seawolves team. the next night it defeated WCHA defector Denver 3-2 in overtime thanks to a Matt Bailey goal. The win snapped a 10-game winless streak against the Pioneers.
Alaska, meanwhile won its second straight Goal Rush with a win over Denver and a tie against its old CCHA foe Western Michigan. A shootout victory gave the Nanooks the tournament title.
Old guys rule
Every coach will tell you that his seniors are going to lead the way. Glancing at the the early season scoring list, look which players sit at the top.
Six of the top eight scorers in the WCHA are seniors (the other two are juniors), with Bryce Williamson, a forward for Bowling Green, leading the way with four goals and seven points. He had two goals and two assists in a win and tie against Colgate. Ferris State senior Garrett Thompson and junior Justin Buzzeo also have seven points apiece.
Anchorage’s Bailey has four goals (and six points), as does Alaska’s Cody Kunyk. The top-scoring defensemen are seniors: Northern Michigan’s C.J. Ludwig and Lake Superior’s Zach Sternberg each have five points.
Minnesota State’s Johnny McInnis had a three-assist weekend in the Mavericks’ sweep of Connecticut.
Appreciate the candor
With league games beginning next week, coaches will start to tighten their lips when it comes to officiating, under the threat of fines.
Out of conference, well, enjoy the honesty.
Minnesota State’s Mike Hastings went off on the eastern officials last week at Providence, and Sunday, Michigan Tech’s Mel Pearson spoke his mind after his team received 85 minutes worth of penalties in a 7-3 loss at Notre Dame.
“I was really disappointed in the refereeing today,” Pearson said in Michigan Tech’s press release. “I feel bad for the players, the fans, everyone.
“We had a lot of guys play well, and I thought we were the better team when it was five-on-five and we’d tied the score. But when your top guys are killing penalties all night, it’s tough to get anything going offensively.”
At Northern Michigan on Saturday, Nebraska Omaha’s Dean Blais, whose team is no longer in the WCHA, expressed frustration with penalties after his team lost to the Wildcats at Marquette.
It’s week two, and for six of the WCHA teams, they get to open their home schedule. Should be fun in those barns this weekend. It’s also been fun trying to figure out this new league, getting to know different programs and players. It will take some time, that’s for sure. So with one weekend to go by, here’s a stab at this week’s games:
Lake Superior at No. 16 Union
Shane: The Lakers had a solid start at home last weekend and now make the long trip east, which wasn’t very kind to WCHA teams last week (just ask Mike Hastings!). A split would keep their spirits high. Lakers 3-1, Dutchmen 4-1
Matt: LSSU head coach Jim Roque had a reputation for getting fined in the CCHA for his comments about officials. He won’t wait for a postgame press conference like Minnesota State’s Hastings to voice his displeasure with the men in stripes. Kevin Murdock will steal a game from Union, probably Friday. Lakers 2-1, Dutchmen 2-1
Colgate at Bowling Green
Shane: The Falcons are riding high after that comeback victory over Ohio State, and they’re scoring goals, too. Will that keep the home crowd coming? If so, I see a Bowling Green sweep. Falcons 4-2, 5-3
Matt: The road wasn’t kind to the WCHA last week, but home ice sure was, especially for BGSU in that third-period comeback against the Buckeyes. It appears the Falcons are surviving just fine without Ryan Carpenter, but five games in nine days can be taxing. Falcons 4-1, Colgate 3-2
St. Lawrence at Ferris State
Shane: The big challenge will be slowing down the Saints’ Greg Carey, who led the nation in goals (28) and was fourth in points last season (51). It’s Ferris’ home opener, though, so they’ll split. Bulldogs 4-3, Saints 5-2
Matt: If anyone in the WCHA can slow down Carey on back-to-back nights, its the Bulldogs C.J. Motte. I’m sure Carey will get a goal or two, but not enough to beat Ferris State. Bulldogs 3-1, 2-1.
Nebraska Omaha at Northern Michigan
Shane: The Wildcats are going to get an angry Omaha team that split at home against Bentley. Playing at home for the first time, though, Northern will get its first win of the season and split. Mavericks 3-1, Wildcats 4-3
Matt: The shorthanded Wildcats seemed to find a better forward rotation Saturday at Wisconsin by compressing four lines into three. That should work Friday, but by the third period on Saturday, there will be some forwards out of gas in the third period. Wildcats 2-1, Mavericks 2-0.
No. 3 Minnesota at Bemidji State
Shane: The Sanford Center will be rocking with the Gophers in town. But this is a really tough matchup for the offensively challenged Beavers, who are 1-14-1 all-time vs. Minnesota, including 0-4-1 in Bemidji. Gophers 5-1, 5-2
Matt: If the Gophers are anywhere as good as the Badgers looked last weekend in Madison, the Beavers are in for a long weekend … and there is an epic Big Ten battle on the horizon. Gophers 4-0, 3-1
UConn at No. 18 Minnesota State
Shane: The Mavericks got knocked down a few pegs last week in Providence, scoring just one goal and parading to the penalty box. They’re back home and a little banged up, but they seem ready to rebound. Mavericks 4-1, 4-2
Matt: I’m sure two losses caught a few people in Mankato off guard last week, but it sounds like Providence is the real deal. UConn, on the other hand, is still building up its program and playing its first hockey of the season Friday and Saturday. Mavericks 3-1, 2-0
Michigan Tech at No. 4. Notre Dame (Friday-Sunday)
Shane: The Huskies have a brutal start to their season, playing seven of their first eight games on the road. This weekend is no picnic at South Bend, unless they get to go to the USC game on Saturday night. Irish 4-1, 3-2
Matt: Kudos to the Huskies for scheduling tough competition. Too bad it’s all on the road this season. Fans in Houghton shouldn’t be discouraged if Tech is still winless after the weekend. Irish 5-2, 4-3
Brice Alaska Goal Rush
No. 12 Denver/Western Michigan at Alaska
Shane: The Nanooks will open their home schedule at with the Alaska Goal Rush (got it right that time!), and it’s a pretty tough field with some familiar foes that are now in the NCHC. Alaska will split at home this weekend. Nanooks 2, Pioneers 1; Broncos 3, Nanooks 2
Matt: I don’t think the Nanooks are going to be able to take advantage of a travel-weary Denver team like it did last Friday against Air Force, scoring six goals on 17 shots. Western Michigan, however, returns to the former CCHA city of Fairbanks after going scoreless at Notre Dame. Even more troublesome for Western are the five goals Frank Slubowski gave up to the Irish. Pioneers 4, Nanooks 3; Nanooks 2, Broncos 1
Western Michigan/No. 12 Denver vs. Alaska Anchorage
Shane: We got ripped last weekend for disrespecting the Seawolves. Do folks forget they won just four games last year? Last weekend was a nice start to the season. Western hasn’t scored a goal yet; Denver hasn’t allowed one. Seawolves 4, Broncos 1; Pioneers 3, Seawolves 1
Matt: Shane and I definitely under estimated the Nanooks and Seawolves a week ago, but it’s not like anyone was calling us out for those picks before the games. The two teams combined to go 3-1 on the weekend, but face programs this weekend more accustomed to the trip to Alaska. UAA splits. Seawolves 2, Broncos 1; Pioneers 3, Seawolves 2
Shane’s record: 10-7-3 (last week 10-7-3)
Matt’s record: 10-7-3 (last week 10-7-3)
Every team in the WCHA now has two games under its belt after two weekends of hockey, with both games still to be played Tuesday night by Ferris State at Mercyhurst and Bowling Green against Ohio State at the BGSU Ice Arena.
Minus those two games, here are three things I think I learned from the first full weekend of action in the WCHA.
1. Don’t count out the Seawolves this season
Alaska-Anchorage knocked off the defending Atlantic Hockey champions from Air Force and the 2012-13 NCAA Division I national runners-up in Quinnipiac to start 2-0-0 in its first season under coach Matt Thomas.
The wins also gave the Seawolves their third-straight Kendall Hockey Classic title and first 2-0 start to a season since 1996-97.
The Seawolves, who only won four games last year, took a 2-0 first-period lead against the Bobcats on Friday en route to a 3-1 victory. On Saturday, UAA rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the final 1:52 to win 4-2.
Senior Jordan Kwas finished with a hat trick on Saturday. He tied the game at 1-1 late in the second period, tied the game again at 2-2 at 18:08 of the third period and sealed the win with an empty netter with one second remaining on the clock.
UAA senior Matt Bailey, who assisted on both of Kwas’ previous two goals, recorded the game-winner with an assist from Kwas with four seconds to play in regulation.
2. Lakers depth doesn’t end in goal
The only other WCHA team to start 2-0 this season, Lake Superior State, picked up six goals from six different players to sweep Robert Morris in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. this weekend by a score of 3-1 each night.
LSSU freshman forward Alex Globke picked up his first collegiate goal on Friday and another freshman forward, Matt Johnson, earned his first collegiate goal on Saturday.
Junior forward Chris Ciotti and senior defenseman Matt Bruneteau also scored Friday, while junior forward Andrew Dommett and junior defenseman Kevin Czuczman scored on Saturday.
LSSU entered the 2013-14 season minus it’s two leading goal scorers from a year ago in seniors Domenic Monardo and Nick McParland, plus the Lakers lost two eight-goal scorers in Kellan Lain and Buddy Robinson.
It’s just one weekend, but head coach Jim Roque should be encouraged that six different guys stepped up over the weekend to fill the void left by Monardo, McParland, Lain and Robinson.
3. The WCHA will be a one-bid league with weekends like this
The WCHA posted a dismal 5-10-3 record over the weekend and combined with Ferris State’s split two weeks ago at Colgate, is 6-11-3 in nonconference play so far.
The WCHA went 4-0 against Atlantic Hockey, 2-3-1 against the ECAC, 0-2-2 against the NCHC, 0-2 against the Big Ten and 0-4 against Hockey East.
That’s not a recipe to get multiple bids to the NCAA tournament.
The WCHA went winless on the road with Northern Michigan (at Wisconsin), Minnesota State (at Providence) and Alabama-Huntsville (at Northeastern) getting swept while Bemidji State (at St. Cloud State), Michigan Tech (at Minnesota-Duluth) and Bowling Green (at Union) finished with a loss and tie.
(Note the WCHA and NCAA don’t recognize shootouts, while the NCHC and Big Ten only do in their conference standings.)
Alaska, who was on neutral ice at UAA’s Kendall Hockey Classic, split its two games, beating Air Force and losing to Quinnipiac.
The only teams to play at home this weekend, UAA and LSSU, both swept.
We’ll see if the league rebounds this weekend with Bowling Green hosting Colgate, Bemidji hosting Minnesota, Ferris hosting St. Lawrence, Minnesota State hosting UConn and Northern hosting Nebraska-Omaha.
The Nanooks also host the Brice Alaska Goal Rush, which includes the Seawolves playing a pair of neutral-ice games against the NCHC’s Western Michigan and Denver.
Michigan Tech is at Notre Dame and LSSU heads to Union.
Ferris State kicked off the WCHA’s 2013-14 regular season a week ago by splitting with the ECAC’s Colgate in Hamilton, N.Y. — a 7-4 win Friday and 1-0 loss Saturday — and will take the weekend off before playing another nonconference game on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the other nine conference members are all in action on Friday and Saturday, with Bowling Green State playing again on Tuesday as well.
Here are the picks.
Kendall Hockey Classic at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage
Air Force vs. Alaska
Matt: Thanks to the government shutdown, the Falcons have found themselves in a constant state of limbo. They’ll be in Anchorage this weekend, but in what kind of shape? The trip to Alaska is tough as it is, it has to be even tougher not knowing until the last minute whether you are going or not. Alaska 2-1.
Shane: I’m with you on the shutdown. That can’t be easy, twisting in the wind like that, wondering if you’re going to play. The Nanooks have a pretty solid group back from the only team, other than Minnesota State, to have a winning record among the teams that make up the new WCHA. Alaska 3-1.
No. 10 Quinnipiac at Alaska-Anchorage
Matt: The Seawolves start their rebuilding against a very tough challenge in Quinnipiac, one that’s probably too much to overcome this early in the season. Quinnipiac 4-1
Shane: Quinnipiac isn’t the same team as last year’s Frozen Four squad, but it’s still an uphill battle for Anchorage. Quinnipiac 4-2.
No. 10 Quinnipiac vs. Alaska
Matt: I tend to think more highly of Alaska than others in the league, but not enough to take them over the 2012-13 national runners up. The Bobcats really impressed me last year in the tournament. Quinnipiac 3-1
Shane: I’m going the other way here. No Eric Hartzell for Qunnipiac. Alaska’s John Keeney will be the better goalie. Alaska 2-1.
Air force vs. Alaska-Anchorage
Matt: If it wasn’t for the chaos surrounding the shutdown, I would have taken Air Force over Alaska. I think the Falcons rebound Saturday. Air Force 2-0
Shane: In what is basically the third-place game, I like Air Force as well. Air Force 3-1
Robert Morris at Lake Superior State
Matt: The Lakers and Colonials were once rumored as possible league-mates when the CCHA was eyeing former College Hockey American teams in the East to save itself. I’m not sure those rivalries would have played out very well. LSSU 2-1, RMU 3-1
Shane: I’m still getting to know the former CCHA teams but was surprised to see Lake Superior drop its exhibition game to the U.S. Under-18 team. The Lakers are honoring their 1988 National Championship team this weekend. That might fire them up for one win. I’m with Matt here with a series split. LSSU 2-1, RMU 4-2
Alabama-Huntsville at Northeastern
Matt: This is the Chargers only series before opening WCHA play on Oct. 25-26 against Bemidji State. They’ll have to use the trip to Boston almost as a preseason series to fine tune things. Northeastern 4-1, 3-1
Shane: I’m curious to see what a stable Huntsville team can do, one with a coaching staff in place and recruits who knew they were coming to a program that’s sticking around for a while. It will take coach Mike Corbett some time to get things going, and I also see a Northeastern sweep. Northeastern 5-1, 2-1
No. 11 Minnesota State at No. 14 Providence
Matt: Picked to win the WCHA by the coaches and media, other NCAA tourney hopefuls in the league, like Ferris State, would welcome a Mavericks sweep. That’s tough to do opening weekend on the road. Providence 3-1, MSU 4-3
Shane: The Mavericks swept the Friars in Mankato last season, but Providence was without All-American goalie Jon Gillies. It will be Gillies vs. Stephon Williams, the best goalie from Hockey East vs. the best from the WCHA. They’ll split, with MSU taking the opener and the Friars coming back. MSU 3-1, Providence 2-1
Bemidji State at No. 9 St. Cloud State
Matt: It’s the first series at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center since it’s grand re-opening this fall. That will be a tough environment for the Beavers to win in. SCSU 4-1, 3-1
Shane: Bemidji’s tough schedule opens in a really tough spot. The Huskies will be raising banners, and the crowd will be into it. The Beavers are going to have trouble scoring goals this season. St. Cloud sweeps. SCSU 3-1, 5-1
Michigan Tech at Minnesota Duluth
Matt: Another matchup between former WCHA rivals, which was dominated by the Bulldogs last season. All the Huskies could manage was a tie. Both of Tech’s losses in Duluth were by a goal, however. UMD 3-2, Tech 4-3
Shane: I think Michigan Tech is a top-three team in the WCHA. The Huskies will stun the Bulldogs in the first game, but Duluth will bounce back for the series split. Tech 5-2, UMD 3-2
Bowling Green State at Union
Matt: With Ryan Carpenter reportedly having surgery on a broken hand today, the Falcons are really going to have to rely on Dan DeSalvo offensively. Union 2-0, BGSU 2-1
Shane: That’s a big blow for Bowling Green off the bat, and Union was an NCAA team last season. Union sweeps a pair of close games. Union 2-1, 2-1
Northern Michigan at No. 3 Wisconsin
Matt: The Badgers have struggled in season-opening series against NMU the last two seasons, losing three of the last four all in Wisconsin (NMU swept UW in Green Bay last year). NMU has won three of its last four games in the Kohl Center dating back to January of 2009. NMU 3-2, UW 5-2
Shane: My first thought was to pick a sweep by the Badgers, the nation’s third-ranked team, but Matt’s pulled up some impressive stats. I’ll flip-flop the split, with Wisconsin winning the series opener and Northern pulling off an upset on Saturday. UW 4-2, NMU 2-1
Ohio State at Bowling Green State
Matt: The only win the Falcons could steal from the Buckeyes last year in their final season together in the CCHA was in a shootout, which doesn’t really count. Both teams meet again Oct. 29 in Columbus. OSU 2-1
Shane: I’ll take a Bowling Green bounce-back here. There will be a hangover for Ohio State’s tumultuous offseason. BGSU 3-1
Ferris State at Mercyhurst
Matt: The Bulldogs and Lakers were once league rivals in everything but hockey in Division II’s Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The Lakers are participating in the IceBreaker in Minneapolis on Friday and Saturday while the Bulldogs are off. For once, a Bulldogs team will be the well rested ones after a seven hour trip from Big Rapids, Mich. to Erie, Pa. FSU 4-2
Shane: I’ll go with Matt on this one. FSU 4-2
Midwest Regional Final – No. 2 Miami v No. 4 St. Cloud State
Matthew: Although six WCHA teams qualified for this year’s NCAA tournament, St. Cloud State finds itself Sunday as the only team from the league still standing and carrying the WCHA flag in this competition. I was very impressed with what the Huskies were able to do Saturday in their 5-1 dismantling of Midwest Regional No. 1 seed Notre Dame, as SCSU looked excited for the opportunity at hand but also relaxed and got solid contributions from all over its lineup against the Fighting Irish. Miami will hand the Huskies an equally tough test in Sunday’s regional final, but I like St. Cloud in that matchup. The RedHawks boast the country’s second-most stingy defense in the country (1.68 goals per game), and MU freshman goaltender Ryan McKay looked great again Saturday in a 4-0 blanking of Minnesota State, but I think the Huskies’ offensive weapons will find a way past him often enough to punch SCSU’s ticket to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. I’m taking the Huskies to advance.
Tyler: Saturday, you saw a St. Cloud State team that plain and simply wanted it more than Notre Dame. The Huskies executed their passes and got to the right spots for rebounds. The key was in the way SCSU skated much harder with twice the effort, forcing the flat-footed Irish into stick infraction penalties. Yesterday wasn’t about SCSU’s big guns piling up the points (top two centers Drew LeBlanc and Nic Dowd didn’t record a goal or assist), it was about the effort. If they play with that kind of will again today, the Huskies advance past the regionals for the first time. SCSU wins.
West Regional final – Grand Rapids, Mich.
No. 2 North Dakota vs. No. 4 Yale
Matthew: North Dakota was the only WCHA team of the four playing in Friday’s opening day of the NCAA tournament to progress to a regional final, and UND was made to work for its success in a 2-1 triumph over Niagara. Many UND fans are happy their team won’t face Minnesota in Saturday’s regional final, but Yale will provide a much tougher test than the Purple Eagles did in the opening round. The No. 15 Bulldogs’ upset win over the second-ranked Gophers Friday afternoon was hardly a fluke – Minnesota largely dug its own grave, including a turnover in the Gophers’ own zone that led to an overtime game-winning goal for Yale nine seconds into the extra period – and UND can’t afford to overlook them. It’s worth keeping in mind that UND lost to Yale in a regional in 2010, but I don’t see history repeating itself here. UND wins and punches its ticket to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.
Tyler: North Dakota didn’t look nearly as dialed in as I thought it would be Friday but it did face a great goaltender, Hobey Baker finalist Carsen Chubak, who turned in a splendid performance. From a psychological angle, UND can’t rest on its laurels knowing it doesn’t have to face Minnesota, but, if you watched Yale Friday, there’s no reason to overlook a team that seemed as poised as the Bulldogs did against the Gophers. I see UND playing focused, taking care of business and advancing to the Frozen Four. UND wins and perhaps its fans can erase the memory of the regional loss to Yale in 2010.
Midwest Regional semifinals – Toledo, Ohio
No. 4 St. Cloud State vs. No. 1 Notre Dame
Matthew: Notre Dame has been virtually perfect so far this month, winning four games in a row against Bowling Green and sweeping through the last-ever CCHA playoffs, conceding only five goals in that competition. However, I think St. Cloud State is very dangerous as a No. 4 regional seed, and the Fighting Irish will pay if they overlook the Huskies at all. I wish I was more convinced by SCSU’s defense and goaltender Ryan Faragher – the Huskies are giving up an average of 2.49 goals so far this season – but I don’t think high-flying SCSU seniors like Drew LeBlanc and Ben Hanowski will allow their collegiate careers to end with a whimper. I’m picking SCSU to win in what would be less of an upset than fourth-over-first results in these regional semifinals normally suggest.
Tyler: St. Cloud State is the No. 4 seed no top seed wants to play and, if not for a few slip-ups early in the season, the Huskies would be seeded higher. Ryan Faragher needs to be better in goal for SCSU than he was last week, now facing a very skilled Irish team that enters the tourney on one of the better hot streaks in the country. SCSU’s power play struggled down the stretch but is 4-for-13 in the playoffs, while Notre Dame’s penalty kill is middle-of-the-road. There’s definitely some talent on that top unit for SCSU, so if it gets a fair amount of opportunities and it takes advantage, I’m calling a Huskies win.
No. 3 Minnesota State vs. No. 2 Miami
Matthew: Minnesota State’s 7-2 loss at the hands of Wisconsin in the teams’ WCHA Final Five quarterfinal last week leaves me very concerned for MSU this time around against Miami. The RedHawks boast the country’s second-best scoring defense (1.73 goals per game), and, although Michigan handed Miami a 6-2 thumping in MU’s last game (CCHA playoff semifinal Mar. 23 in Detroit), freshmen netminders Ryan McKay and Jay Williams have been superb this season. MSU hasn’t played against a top-ten defense since splitting with Minnesota nearly two months ago, and, unfortunately for the Mavericks, I think the RedHawks will shut them down and advance to the Midwest Regional final.
Tyler: MSU needs Stephon Williams to be on top of his game for MSU to be successful. He’s coming off an upper-body injury he suffered last Thursday against Wisconsin when he appeared to get dinged in the head by a Badger. Another key is special teams, where if Miami’s top-notch penalty kill neutralizes MSU’s fourth-ranked power play, the Mavericks season will end Saturday. MSU became a little too reliant on its power play, scoring five of its 10 playoff goals with the man advantage and were fortunate to get nearly five power plays per game since the playoffs started. I’m taking Miami.
West Regional – Grand Rapids, Mich.
No. 4 Yale vs. No. 1 Minnesota
Matthew: Yale is perfect so far this season against WCHA opposition – the Bulldogs won at both Denver and Colorado College back around Thanksgiving – and perhaps that ought to ring some alarm bells for Minnesota. The Golden Gophers will be looking to redeem themselves, however, for a flat performance last Friday against Colorado College in Minnesota’s only Final Five appearance this season, and I think the Gophers will keep the passing lanes open, get their scoring chances and not allow Yale to dictate Friday’s play. Minnesota wins and advances to the West Regional final.
Tyler: Yale blew past non-tournament teams in five straight games down the stretch and then didn’t even show up for the ECAC Tournament, getting outscored 8-0 in two losses. Minnesota needs to take advantage of its chances, which it didn’t do in the loss to Colorado College. If the Gophers create some opportunities off the odd-man rush and keep it a free-flowing game, Minnesota’s depth will take over. Gophers win.
No. 3 Niagara vs. No. 2 North Dakota
Matthew: In terms of the stranger-things-have-happened angle, given Niagara pulled off one of the more famous upsets in NCAA tournament history back in 2000 against New Hampshire, I wouldn’t be stunned if the Purple Eagles win this game. That more than likely won’t happen, though. North Dakota’s goaltending has been very suspect this season – neither junior Clarke Saunders nor freshman Zane Gothberg are in the nation’s top 30 netminders statistically – but UND has far too many weapons on the blue line and deep in the attacking zone for Niagara to handle. North Dakota wins and gets an opportunity to avenge its’ 5-2 loss to Minnesota in last year’s West Regional final.
Tyler: North Dakota missing its opportunity to advance and give itself have a chance to go for another Final Five title will do nothing but have the team motivated going into this weekend. UND will take advantage of a Niagara team that’s also struggling and advance.
Northeast Regional – Manchester, N.H.
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Massachusetts-Lowell
Matthew: Considering both Lowell and Wisconsin are red-hot entering their Northeast Region semifinal in Manchester, it’s very unfortunate for both teams that the PairWise Rankings brought these two together in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The River Hawks boast one of the nation’s best defenses and has only allowed six goals so far in March, but I love the Badgers’ game lately – eight wins for UW so far this month and the Badgers’ 24 goals from five WCHA playoff games speak volumes to how good Wisconsin has looked lately – and UW is my one No. 4 seed to beat a No. 1 in this year’s NCAA tournament.
Tyler: This game features two of the hotter teams coming into the regionals. The Badgers are 8-1 with a nation-high 36 goals scored in March and Lowell is 7-1 with just six goals allowed this month. This one looks really close on paper and both teams play a really tight style but I’m going to take Lowell, which is located 40 minutes down the road from Manchester.
No. 3 Denver vs. No. 2 New Hampshire
Matthew: Although New Hampshire isn’t the top seed in this regional, the atmosphere in Manchester Friday evening will make it seem as though the Wildcats are the host school. That would only make things worse for Denver if they come out flat and looking snakebit following a WCHA playoff showing in which the Pioneers were shut down at home by a hot goalie in the form of Colorado College netminder Joe Howe. On Friday, DU will face another solid goalie in UNH’s Casey DeSmith (2.24 goals-against average, .924 save percentage), and I’m not sold enough on the Pioneers to be convinced they’ll find safe passage into the regional final. UNH wins.
Tyler: History tells us not to side with Denver in this matchup because the Pioneers are 1-4 in first-round games since they won back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005. It doesn’t help that Denver is has to travel east and New Hampshire is hosting. One thing the Pioneers can us to their advantage is its week off after missing the Final Five. They didn’t have to travel to Minnesota and New Hampshire on back-to-back weekends unlike most years, when they make similar trips on consecutive weeks. Both teams are limping into the tournament with records around .500 but I’m going to take the host team Wildcats.
Colorado College used a certain mentality that nearly helped the Tigers win the Final Five and earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.
We don’t need to win three games in a row. We need to win one game three times.
“That was the mentality we used against North Dakota last night,” said CC goaltender Joe Howe. “All that mattered tonight was leaving it all on the ice against Minnesota.”
The Tigers’ Cinderella run ended Saturday when Wisconsin beat them in the title game. The Badgers were in the same situation, needing to win the Final Five to earn the WCHA’s automatic bid to get in the tourney.
Any matchup involving Wisconsin or Colorado College against a team that was in position for an at-large bid, the Badgers or Tigers won (also of note: the teams that won the shots on goal battle lost each of the first four games).
Wisconsin and CC showed this weekend how dangerous teams playing for their seasons can be.
First-place SCSU sweats out Friday, Saturday
One of the last St. Cloud State players to leave the locker room after the Huskies fell 4-1 to Wisconsin Friday, Nic Dowd was as dejected his teammates that exited before him.
He was unsure whether or not SCSU’s season would continue. Until Saturday night when Massachusetts-Lowell eliminated Boston University, the Huskies season was in Limbo.
“Hopefully we can sneak in there,” Dowd said Friday. “I think we’ve earned a spot in the tournament. We won our conference and that’s hard to do.
“We didn’t compete against some teams we should’ve beaten earlier in the year and hopefully it doesn’t come back to bite us. A lot of teams don’t get a second chance and hopefully we will.”
Friday afternoon was a nightmare for SCSU, considering what was happening out east with underdogs knocking off high seeds and threatening to steal at-large bids. Brown beat Quinnipiac in the ECAC, Canisius beat Niagara in Atlantic Hockey and BU beat Boston College in Hockey East.
That might be the only time a MacNaughton Cup winner left its tournament hopes in the hands of results in other tournaments.
The PairWise Rankings determine the NCAA tournament field and takes into account every game a team plays at any time during a season. Those home losses to Northern Michigan in January almost killed SCSU’s chances to qualify.
Head east: it’s regional week
Six teams from the WCHA qualified for the NCAA tournament and they’ve been placed into three of the four brackets, leaving the East Region without a WCHA team.
When you draw up the brackets by ranking the teams 1 through 16, WCHA teams are spread out over all four brackets, which seems ideal with the high amount of teams from the league that made the tourney.
But the NCAA put travel distance and attendance numbers ahead of bracket integrity and moved North Dakota from the East Regional to the West where it could face Minnesota in the second round.
It’s a good move because it regionalizes the bracket a little more and it provides the potential for a rivalry game with a Frozen Four berth on the line.
In the Northeast, Denver and Wisconsin are the two least fortunate WCHA teams in their regional draws, given their opponent locations.
The Pioneers play the host New Hampshire, which is located 39 miles from the arena in Manchester. Wisconsin faces No. 1 seed Massachusetts-Lowell, which is around 35 from Manchester.
Both low seeds, SCSU and MSU play Notre Dame and Miami, respectively, in Toledo. South Bend, Ind. (Notre Dame) is a 2 1/2-hour drive to the Huntington Center in Toledo and Oxford, Ohio (Miami) is three hours away.
The Xcel Energy Center is really the only arena in the within a short driving distance for fans in the heart of WCHA territory under current rules that require regional sites to be neutral.
The Resch Center in Green Bay, Wis. is stretching it in terms of travel distance and Denver’s Pepsi Center is great for fans in Colorado, but when Minnesota doesn’t host in St. Paul, count on flying.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Here are videos of the postgame news conferences after Wisconsin’s 3-2 victory over Colorado College in the WCHA Final Five championship game: