This Week in the WCHA: Feb. 15, 2007

Off the Top of My Head

Just three weeks left and the standings could get even closer this weekend. Can Minnesota add to its lead? Can St. Cloud keep pace? Only time will tell …

Two Crucial Series

We should know a lot more about the top of the WCHA standings after this weekend, especially if any of the top five teams bust out the broom.

The top two teams, St. Cloud and Minnesota, both take to the road in series that will have huge ramifications.

With the right combinations of wins and losses, there is a chance we’d see the top five teams in the league within six points of each other with just four games remaining on all of their schedules.

Stick with me as I play these situations out on paper.

For the fifth team to jump in the fray, North Dakota would need a sweep at home over Minnesota-Duluth. I know better than to call anything a lock on here — especially after the Sioux squandered a win against Minnesota State Saturday — but if they learned their lesson and can get two wins at home, they would be tied with idle Denver at 27 points.

We’ll assume, just for fun’s sake, that this happens as we break down the two crucial series.

League-leading Minnesota heads to Colorado College for its final road series of the season. The entire league will be rooting for Colorado College and if they can take three or four points from the Gophers, they would pull within three or four of first place.

St. Cloud heads to Wisconsin. I never know what to guess the Badgers will do next anymore, but they are coming off their first home sweep of the season.

It’s pretty simple: the Huskies need to take more points than the Gophers do this weekend if they want to make it any easier on themselves when they head to the Twin Cities next weekend.

Just imagine if St. Cloud swept UW and CC swept Minnesota. If everything worked out right, they would be tied atop the standings in one sweet showdown next week. Plus, the Tigers would be just three points back, Denver and North Dakota six.

I know what you’re saying … that’s a lot of If’s. I know, but I’d really like to see the league come down to a wild finish.

With my luck lately, Minnesota will sweep this weekend and so will Wisconsin, virtually ending the race to the Cup.

Making it a Little Easier

After this weekend, eight of the league’s 10 teams will have played 24 games. Minnesota State and Alaska-Anchorage each have an idle weekend left, having played 24 heading into the weekend.

I know that there is probably no way around these uneven amounts of games with all the scheduling across the country, but count me in as someone who is relieved that the picture will clear up a little bit.

I don’t want to be a nag, but it certainly would make my far-flung “If’s” a lot easier to figure out if we didn’t have to deal with games in hand.

Two Different Directions

The matchup between the Mavericks and Seawolves certainly pits two groups headed in different directions since we rang in the new year.

Anchorage, muddled by a bit of a coaching controversy, has won just once and picked up only three points since the begining of 2007. Suddenly, a miscue at home this weekend and they could be bringing up the rear in the league standings.

On the other hand, you have Minnesota State, which has nabbed at least a point in every series of 2007 except for its first. They’ve picked up nine points, already nearly doubling their first-half output.

And you just know Travis Morin is looking to go out in style. He’s averaged a goal per game against the Mavericks over his career.

Playoff Beards?

It isn’t very often that the coach comes right out to the media and let’s them in on who is breaking team rules and which rule it is.

Breaking team rules also rarely goes unpunished, but this is one of those times at Wisconsin.

Head coach Mike Eaves brought a fun tale to his weekly session with the media, divulging that his team is breaking a rule.

“We have a rule about we don’t want any facial hair during the season,” Eaves said. “That’s for playoffs. I’m looking at Jeff Likens and Jake Dowell, and they look like they’ve been out in the woods for a week and a half. I said what’s with the fuzz on the face. (They said) ‘coach, it’s playoff time. Our playoffs are starting right now.'”

Coming off their first home sweep of the year and heading into what could be their final appearances at the Kohl Center, I guess it’s one of those things you can let slide — especially if you are Eaves and these seniors are the first players that you recruited.

“If that’s symbolism of where their mindset is at, then that’s something that the coaches are going to have to bend the rule and let’s go ahead with that,” Eaves said. “But I think their mentality is they really want to get that so they can come back and play some more.”

But let’s not make this a habit for every team. All we need is to see 250 playoff beards by the time Valentine’s Day rolls around.

A Look at the Pros

Every once in a while I like to give you a look at how WCHA alumni are doing elsewhere, especially the record number of players who left early after last season.

Former Denver forward Paul Stastny is third among all NHL rookies with 47 points this year. Travis Zajac and Matt Carle have 27 and 25, respectively. Former Badger Joe Pavelski has 20 points in 29 games.

In Other Words

• WCHA Players of the Week were North Dakota’s Jonathan Toews on offense, Michigan Tech’s Lars Helminen on defense and Wisconsin’s Jamie McBain for the rookies.

• Toews has been on a tear since coming back from World Juniors. He has 15 points in five games.

• Duluth senior Bryan McGregor has a career-high 21 points and has 14 points in his last nine games. Not a bad way to finish up a career.

• Wishing for a tight finish like I am? Don’t get your hopes too high. Minnesota hasn’t had a losing record over its final 10 games since the 1998-99 season. The Gophers have only lost more than two games in their final 10 twice in that span. They’re already at two this year after being swept by the Sioux.

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