The Chargers lost their first 15 games of the season before beating Bowling Green last Saturday.
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.
No. 2 Minnesota at No. 18 Wisconsin Friday; in Chicago Sunday
Matthew: A very tough recent slate of games has seen Minnesota fall into a pattern of not picking up maximum points from each series over recent weeks, and I see that happening again this time around. I doubt a noticeable home-ice advantage will be in place for either team outdoors in Chicago on Sunday, so it’s imperative for Wisconsin to get its weekend off to the right start indoors in Madison on Friday. Remember, UNO failed to win its series opener last Friday indoors against North Dakota and then got routed by UND in front of a split crowd outdoors the following night. I’m taking the Badgers to learn from that and give the Gophers everything UW has. Split, with Minnesota winning at Soldier Field.
Tyler: Minnesota leads the nation in first-period goals but has only scored five in the last six games. The Gophers need to jump on Wisconsin early and make the Badgers prove they’re capable of a comeback. This looks like another defensive battle like the ones in Minneapolis earlier this season. The ice conditions Sunday will even the playing field and slow things down, offensively, which plays into Wisconsin’s favor. Split
Michigan Tech at No. 9 Minnesota State
Matthew: Tech has hit a rich vein of form just in time for the Huskies’ trip to surprise top-ten team Minnesota State. MTU closed out its famous Winter Carnival weekend last Saturday with a 6-1 win over Alaska Anchorage, and Tech followed that up by giving Upper Peninsula nonconference (for now) rival Northern Michigan an 8-1 pounding on Tuesday night in Houghton, Mich.. Don’t be surprised if Tech picks up another point or two this weekend against a Minnesota State club that has lost each of its last three home games. Split.
Tyler: The Mavericks roll into the weekend coming off their first successful weekend in Duluth since 2006. Michigan Tech has played three games in the last week and will have completed an eight-hour bus ride when it gets to Mankato. MSU sweep
No. 16 Nebraska-Omaha at Alaska-Anchorage
Matthew: If this series was played on paper, UNO would have few issues against the Seawolves. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, though, they have lost each of their last three games – all in Omaha – and UAA has been punching above its weight in recent weeks, picking off the odd point and even picking up its first win since Dec. 1 last Friday at Michigan Tech. UNO’s the better team in this matchup, but the series won’t be a walkover. I’ll take the Mavericks to pick up three points in Anchorage.
Tyler: Nebraska-Omaha’s offense should overpower the Seawolves to bounce back after two home losses to North Dakota that killed the Mavericks’ chances at the MacNaughton Cup. UNO sweep
Minnesota-Duluth at Bemidji State
Matthew: It feels like it’s been ages since we last saw a scoreless tie in a WCHA game, but if it’s going to happen at any point this season, this seems the most likely series to give it to us. Both teams are in the bottom third of the WCHA in terms of scoring offense, UMD (winless in its last five) is fading fast, and BSU now has the WCHA’s longest winless skid, having not tasted victory since Dec. 15. I can genuinely see a low-scoring pair of ties in this series, so I’ll go with that as my pick.
Tyler: The Bulldogs are struggling to get their offense going in the past month with seven goals in five games and offense just isn’t Bemidji State’s thing. I think UMD can break out in one of these games but BSU’s defense is so frustrating that will give the Beavers a chance to win one. Split
Note from Tyler: Congratulations to Joe Paisley, who is once again working full-time at the Colorado Springs Gazette. I was glad to work with a professional writer like Joe this season and it’s even better to see a fellow writer working in a full-time capacity on his regular beat once again.
Matthew Semisch, a sixth-year vet as the USCHO arena reporter in Omaha, joins me for the homestretch of the season.
Northern Michigan at Michigan Tech
Tyler: The Huskies started flat with three shots in the first period when these teams got together in December, a game the Wildcats won 2-1. Tech struggled, offensively, before it scored 10 goals against Alaska-Anchorage but I think tonight’s game is going to be another defensive battle. The Huskies even the series, winning a low-scoring game.
Matthew: Considering we have two teams near the bottom of their respective leagues, this is a non-conference game that sadly won’t attract a lot of attention outside of the U.P. That said, though, I like Tech in this matchup. NMU beat their arch-rival Huskies at home in Marquette two months ago and is 3-1-0 on the road in non-league games this season, but as MTU just gave UAA a 6-1 pounding only a few days ago, I see Tech taking momentum from that and picking up a third win from its last four games. 4-2 Huskies.
Three pull away from pack
St. Cloud State, Minnesota and North Dakota all separated themselves from the pack in the race for the MacNaughton Cup.
With Saturday’s win, St. Cloud State maintained its lead atop the WCHA. St. Cloud leads North Dakota by three points and Minnesota by five.
St. Cloud State showed it belongs atop the WCHA by standing toe-to-toe with Minnesota and getting three points at North Dakota.
“In heavyweight fights, you are going to get hit and get hit hard,” SCSU Bob Motzko said. “You have to take a punch and deliver one.”
While the weekend was a good one for SCSU, keep in mind that Minnesota picked up a road split (never a bad thing unless you are in Anchorage) and has two games in hand on both UND and the Huskies.
Fans around the league have wondered, sometimes aloud, why North Dakota is playing like an average team.
While it was true in a few games, you cannot ignore the results, which ultimately decide the standings. A road sweep at Nebraska Omaha makes UND 10-4-4 since Nov. 30 and now No. 6 in the Pairwise rankings. If that kind of play continues, North Dakota could overtake SCSU and hold off Minnesota.
Regardless, it will be fun to watch over the next couple weeks.
WCHA making wise decisions of late
The addition of Alabama-Huntsville recently and now word that the league will drop the laughable “Alaska Plan’ are two positive signs that the WCHA will come out of this time of transition in good shape after all.
The delay acquiring UAH and the “Alaska Plan,’ which would have seen Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska-Fairbanks play one another in the first round regardless of regular-season finish, made me wonder.
As the Mankato Free Press first reported, the WCHA’s athletic directors approved an eight-team playoff format for the first four years of the league with the bottom two teams not advancing to the postseason.
The format must be approved by the school presidents. Let’s hope they do.
Don’t stick a fork in Colorado College just yet
The Tigers may not have retained the annual Gold Pan Trophy, but Colorado College put itself back in home playoff ice contention by taking three points from No. 9 Denver this past weekend and hurting the Pioneers’ MacNaughton chances.
After a 1-1 tie on Friday in Denver, CC pulled out a 6-5 overtime win in Colorado Springs.
CC went ahead 5-2 with six minutes left in regulation but defensive lapses (a trend this season) helped Denver reel off three goals in 3:18 to tie the game. That spurt came exactly a week after the Pioneers pumped in three in 91 seconds at Minnesota-Duluth to beat the Bulldogs.
Nothing is coming easy for the Tigers this season, but moving past UMD into eighth place and five points back of a three-way tie for fifth (Denver, Minnesota State and Wisconsin) gives CC hope headed into a much-needed bye week (five healthy defensemen).
The Tigers swept Wisconsin early this season and have two home games against MSU that could allow them to pull themselves up into sixth by season’s end if they can continue to play better.
No. 7 North Dakota at No. 14 Nebraska-Omaha
Joe: A lot has been made of the outdoor game but this series will be decided by North Dakota offense, which must attack the net against UNO’s defense, which is seventh overall in the WCHA. UND will, but expect UNO senior John Faulkner to steal one win. Split.
Tyler: I don’t think the outdoor aspect of Saturday’s game really points to either team as a favorite, but which team reacts to whatever elements they face, will win. Clarke Saunders has been shaky since Christmas and though Zane Gothberg had a great weekend against Wisconsin, UNO is a grade above offensively. Split
No. 1 Minnesota at No. 8 St. Cloud State
Joe: On paper, there is no clear advantage. SCSU matches up well with the Gophers, who remain a loaded team with a good-enough defense. At home, the Huskies get the split and keep the WCHA race as muddled as ever.
Tyler: In the best matchup of the weekend, I don’t see this series going one way. Both have a ton to play for and both teams are playing good hockey. The Gophers got last week off to rest up while the Huskies continued to roll into this series with a 5-0-1 record the last three weeks. Minnesota won 4-1 in a hostile environment two weeks ago in Mankato but the NHEC will be louder and the opponent is more skilled. Split
Colorado College versus No. 9 Denver
Joe: CC is scrambling for points. But that struggling Tigers defense means CC’s best offensive output may only be enough to garner a split against a solid Pioneers squad. Rivalry games in a home-and-home series are hard to pick, but a split is most likely.
Tyler: Colorado College hasn’t shown anything defensively all season and with a Denver squad that’s healthy and starting to click, I’ll take the Pioneers to sweep the rivalry series. This weekend will be physical, per usual between these teams, and if the Tigers can catch Denver in a shootout, they have a chance to pull one out. The odds of that happening are slim if Juho Olkinuora is on his game. DU sweep
No. 11 Minnesota State at Minnesota-Duluth
Joe: Expect the Bulldogs to rebound from last Saturday’s third-period collapse against Denver, but UMD is quite simply, not that good. Because the Bulldogs are at home, they get the split.
Tyler: The key to this one is going to be special teams. Both squads have top-10 power plays but UMD relies a little too much on it. Of all of the Bulldogs’ goals, 37.5 percent are scored on the power play while 30.1 percent of MSU’s goals are on the power play. Goaltending will also be important and MSU’s Stephon Williams has the edge. MSU Sweep
Bemidji State at No. 19 Wisconsin
Joe: Wisconsin may be offensively-challenged, but BSU is winless since mid-December (0-8-2). The Beavers are better than that but cannot overcome costly turnovers. Wisconsin, with its edge between the pipes, should get three points at home.
Tyler: The key to beating Wisconsin is to jump on the Badgers right away and force them to overcome a multi-goal deficit. That’s what UND did last weekend but Bemidji State doesn’t have the firepower. Wisconsin sweep.
Alaska-Anchorage at Michigan Tech
Joe: It is Winter Carnival time and the Huskies showed enough last weekend with that road win at Nebraska-Omaha to suggest they are playing better. MTU gets three points because UAA will get another tie.
Tyler: Pheonix Copley will have an easy weekend in net for Michigan Tech and the Seawolves are winless on the road this season. Michigan Tech sweep
As much attention as the final WCHA series between North Dakota and Minnesota received two weeks ago, North Dakota versus Wisconsin arguably had a lot more flavor in its last series before the teams leave for new conferences.
UND and Wisconsin won’t play next season but the are slated to play four seasons after that.
UND/Minnesota had the build-up but UND/Wisconsin had unmatched physicality and emotion this weekend. Friday’s game ended in a 1-1 tie and UND won 4-1 Saturday.
Heavy hits – some dangerous and some hazardous that went uncalled – and jaw-jacking that got the benches, coaches and the first-row fans involved were all part of the weekend.
The shouting/shoving/wrestling match near the end of Saturday’s game, which resulted in 78 penalty minutes including six misconducts, reached its climax when the Badgers’ Michael Mersch left his bench to challenge a UND player and removed his gloves and helmet.
While held back by a linesman, UND’s Stephane Pattyn dropped his gloves and threw off his helmet in response.
Suspensions from the league are a real possibility.
More importantly, UND picked up three huge points andgot back in the win column for the first time since its 5-3 win against Colorado College on Jan. 12. UND had gone 0-2-3 since.
The key Saturday was taking a 2-0 lead in the first 13:24. Wisconsin overcame a two-goal deficit once all season; Oct. 27 in a 2-2 tie at Minnesota-Duluth. Clearly the Badgers don’t have the firepower to do it often.
Saturday’s game was Wisconsin’s first loss in the league since Nov. 24 against Minnesota State, snapping an 11-game WCHA unbeaten streak.
Denver gets four impressive road points
If Denver still planned to compete for the MacNaughton Cup, it needed to take the majority of points against UMD. The Pioneers swept the Bulldogs and went from seventh place to a third-place tie with Minnesota and North Dakota and only five points out of first place.
It was a statement that Denver’s hot start to the second half of the season wasn’t a fluke, that it can win on the road and that it still is a contender to finish at or near the top of the WCHA standings.
After a bad outing at St. Cloud State Jan. 18 in which he allowed four goals on 37 shots and was benched the following night, Denver goaltender Juho Olkinuora bounced back for a 26-save shutout Friday. It was Olkinuora’s second shutout since Christmas.
The Pioneers killed off 84.6 percent of their penalties against the Bulldogs’ top-10 power play. It will take comparable performances in the next six games before hosting last-place Alaska-Anchorage for the final weekend.
A home-and-home series that’s sure to be very competitive both nights against rival Colorado College is up next. After that, the Pioneers host No. 7 UND (the crowd will likely be close to bipartisan in Denver) and travel to No. 1 Minnesota.
UMD was 5-1 in its last six WCHA games and on a roll. That momentum is stalled with the Bulldogs five points out of sixth place and the last seed for home playoff ice.
Copley, Michigan Tech steal one in Omaha
Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox and Minnesota State’s Stephon Williams have been steady freshman netminders for most of the season. But since Christmas, Michigan Tech freshman Pheonix Copley is demanding his share of the spotlight.
Nebraska-Omaha, with the nation’s second-best offense, fired four goals past Copley on Friday, but he followed it up with a 36-save gem for a 2-1 overtime win.
The Huskies victory threw a wrinkle in the MacNaughton race, taking two points from second-place UNO (26 points) and allowing first-place SCSU (29 points) some separation from the pack.
Copley has allowed two goals or less with three shutouts in Tech’s eight games since Christmas but only had a 1-3-1 record in WCHA play to show for it. Those two points from Saturday’s win were sorely needed by Tech.
No. 10 Denver at Minnesota-Duluth
Joe: The Pioneers’ first visit to the “new” Amsoil Arena will be a tough one against a still-inconsistent UMD squad that has improved over the course of the season. I expect Denver to bounce back following a bye week with a superior defensive effort to earn a road split.
Tyler: Paul Phillips said Tuesday that Denver is the healthiest it’s been all season after a full weekend off to get some players back from illness and injury and that’s what that offense needs. The Pioneers showed in the first five games after Christmas they were ready to rebound heading into the second half but all of those games were at home. Denver is 0-4-2 away from Magness Arena since Nov. 16. A lot is at stake for both teams in the WCHA standings as both try to break back into the top half. I’m going with a split.
Michigan Tech at No. 14 Nebraska-Omaha
Joe: The Mavericks picked up two quality wins against Bemidji State, which plays tough defense at home. Senior goalie John Faulkner is two wins away from tying Dan Ellis for the school career wins record (53). He doesn’t get it this weekend because the Huskies have had a week to heal and prepare. Split.
Tyler: Pheonix Copley has been one of the better stories in the league since late December, allowing eight goals in six games with three shutouts but those victories were against below-average offenses. The freshman has a lot to prove this weekend, going against the No. 2 Mavericks offense (3.65 goals per game) on the road. UNO, led by Ryan Walters, will overwhelm the Huskies. UNO sweep.
No. 12 St. Cloud State at Bemidji State
Joe: On paper, this is a road sweep for the surging Huskies. But my instincts tell me BSU must get a win sometime, right? The Beavers put together two solid home games and could not beat Omaha. Bemidji State’s struggles continue. SCSU sweeps.
Tyler: St. Cloud State has sure had its share of games against sub-.500 teams in which they become disengaged, unplugged and then lose. It happened in Duluth and Anchorage earlier this season and it happened at home against RPI and Northern Michigan. BSU plays a physical, slow-it-down style that can harness and frustrate the best offensive teams. I believe SCSU comes away with the sweep, only because it has to have learned from its earlier stumbles against the aforementioned teams and because Ryan Faragher’s play of late gives the Huskies the edge in a low-scoring game.
No. 19 Wisconsin at No. 7 North Dakota
Joe: The absence of Derek Lee (concussion) weakens an already poor Badgers offense. If North Dakota can string together a full 120 minutes it will cruise. It may not. But the offensive will produce enough to bust through against the UW defense. North Dakota sweeps.
Tyler: UND played uninspired and without much of a purpose in the 3-1 loss to St. Cloud State last Friday. Don’t expect to see that anymore from that team this season. The injury to the Badgers’ Lee – one of Wisconsin’s top playmakers – will no doubt hurt the Badgers without his presence and could create depth issues, but they’ve struggled offensively regardless. The Wisconsin ‘D’ wins many games and it will steal one this weekend. Split
Colorado College at Alaska-Anchorage
Joe: Inconsistent UAA plays like world-beaters one game and then gets blasted the next. There is no reason to think this pattern will not continue against a Tigers squad that is better on defense, but has plenty of room to grow. CC gets three points.
Tyler: The Tigers defense’s struggles have been well-documented but if the offense continues to score at the rate it is, the Seawolves (with the third-lowest scoring offense in the nation at 1.91 goals per game) won’t be able to keep up. CC sweep
No. 1 Minnesota, No. 15 Minnesota State are idle.
Here are three observations from this past weekend:
St. Cloud State makes a statement
A 1-3 mark in four nonconference home games suggested the Huskies were tailing off. A home sweep of a depleted Denver squad with 12 available forwards was a good start.
But getting three points at North Dakota was more convincing.That shows that this could be the year for St. Cloud State to win a league title.
Before this weekend’s series, SCSU coach Bob Motzko said the team was more focused in league play, saying that “a switch got flipped” after inconsistent nonleague play to start the second half.
If the Huskies can continue to put together a strong 60 minutes a night in this crazy tight race, such a weekend could propel them to the league title. Of course, the home series against Minnesota Feb. 8-9 and other games will have a lot to do with that.
Gopher fans need not worry
A visit to college hockey fan boards is a journey into manic-depression. A win prompts declarations of national championships while a loss send many into the doldrums laced with anger.
Here is a reminder for UM fans: A weekend split in a home-and-home series is no reason to panic.
Keep in mind that the Gophers bounced back from a tough home loss to get a road win against a good Minnesota State squad and stay only one point of out the league lead. There is little doubt that the regular-season title will not be decided before the end of March 9′s games.
Lee injury casts shadow over Wisconsin’s hopes for home playoff ice
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves looked to have found the right offensive mix after shuffling his top two lines. Entering the weekend, the second line had underperformed in Division I’s 50th-rated offense (2.2 goals). The seven goals after center Derek Lee and second-liner Mark Zengerle switched lines for a home sweep of struggling Alaska-Anchorage pushed UW up to 44th (2.33, 56 in 24 games).
Now, that slight progress could be stalled after an apparent head injury to Lee (19 points, team-high 12 assists) sustained Saturday night.
Eaves will not release an update before his Monday news conference. If Lee were to miss a number of games – in such a tight league race, two could prove significant – then the offensively-challenged Badgers’ chances at home playoff ice are slimmer.
The last time the Badgers (11-8-5, 8-5-5 WCHA) lost a league game, they were in 10th place. Thanks to the team’s strong defense, they are now tied for fourth and only four points out of first place.
Rest assured, the Badgers’ home playoff hopes are not done yet. But losing a playmaker like Lee could prove to be the momentum-killer Wisconsin call ill afford.
Alaska-Anchorage at No. 20 Wisconsin
Joe: The league’s No. 2 defense should be enough for the Badgers to get three points against the struggling Seawolves, who average only 1.91 goals (last in the WCHA), but usually manage one good game a weekend.
Tyler: The Badgers defense held the Seawolves to 12 shots in a game during the Jan. 4-5 series in Anchorage because Wisconsin had the puck for most of the game. Puck control, a solid defensive corps and goaltending are going to be too much for UAA. The Badgers have had trouble on the power play but they go against the Seawolves, who allow a power play goal once every four penalty kills. Wisconsin sweep
No. 15 St. Cloud State at No. 5 North Dakota
Joe: North Dakota played well enough to move up in the polls despite getting only one road point against Minnesota. That may say more about the high level the Gophers are playing right now than UND, which picked up its level of play. In Grand Forks, that should be enough for a sweep against the inconsistent Huskies in two tight games.
Tyler: I have to think UND will come out firing against St. Cloud State at home after a one-point weekend at Minnesota. Ryan Fargher has held his ground against UND in his career, allowing 12 goals in six games for a .942 save percentage and he’ll need to be a factor for the Huskies to get some points this weekend. This is going to be another entertaining series between two teams going for the WCHA title. Split
No. 14 Minnesota State vs. No. 1 Minnesota (H&H)
Joe: The Gophers will win at home while the Mavericks can take advantage of better line matchups at home and its strong team defense (2.31 goals) to generate a tie.
Tyler: Minnesota came out flat against Alaska-Anchorage Jan. 11 and needed two late power play goals to overcome a one-goal deficit. That was the first game after back-to-back games against the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the nation with rival UND coming the next week and the Gophers barely passed the trap game twice. Not sure if there’s any direct correlation, but Minnesota is 1-4 in its last five games following a regular season series with UND. The Gophers have the depth, goaltending and talent to get at least a split against any team, but have they come down from the high of grabbing three points in an emotional series? The Mavericks were competitive in a loss at Mariucci earlier this season and salvaged a split. These teams will split again.
No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha at Bemidji State
Joe: The Mavericks have a lot of offensive firepower which suggest they may win one game easily but have a tough time in one game. UNO will get out of Bemidji with three points.
Tyler: UNO’s offense can be quite a handful, but if the Beavers can hunker down and hold the Mavericks to two or less goals, BSU can put a few past a shaky UNO defense. The Beavers have had little trouble with the Mavericks since the teams entered the league playing similar styles no matter where the teams were positioned in the standings. BSU is 7-1-4 against UNO since 2010-11.