Off The Top Of My Head
• Just as I suspected, the tight finish atop the WCHA didn’t pan out last weekend, and now Minnesota is a tie with St. Cloud State away from clinching the MacNaughton Cup.
• That doesn’t mean the races are over. Five teams are still mathematically in contention for second place in the league and every series this weekend pits teams that are either within five points of each other, or one place in the standings.
• It’s the last full slate of WCHA games in the regular season. Enjoy!
All But Over
With my luck lately, Minnesota will sweep this weekend and so will Wisconsin, virtually ending the race to the Cup.
When I closed out the top portion of last week’s column, this line was supposed to be like knocking on wood. Apparently it didn’t work, because that is almost exactly what happened.
Okay, so Wisconsin only took three points from St. Cloud State, but the race is indeed virtually over.
Sorry, St. Cloud fans, but that is the harsh reality. Before I start getting the barrage of emails telling me that it’s not over until it’s over and everyone is mathematically eliminated, think about what your argument will need to be.
Minnesota has lost four WCHA games all season and would need to lose four more in the next four games (or 0-3-1 if the tie is against Michigan Tech next week) to lose the MacNaughton Cup.
I don’t like it any more than you do, because as I said, I wanted a close finish. But the focus now moves to the race for second … and third, and fourth, and fifth …
Just Getting Started
While the battle for first is now more than an uphill battle, the rest of the top five, and bottom five for that matter, could come down to next weekend.
The full WCHA slate this weekend could not be any more exciting in the second-to-last week of the regular season.
Ironically, the series that looked like it would be the most important (and I guess, technically, still is), the Gopher/Husky series (seven points), is the only series that does not match up teams that are within five points of each other in the standings.
Just as important is North Dakota at Denver. The Pioneers, who once looked like a solid choice to finish second in the league, are just 2-4-1 in their last seven and face the two teams currently nipping at their heels in the final two weeks of the season.
North Dakota, which once looked like it could finish in the bottom half of the league, has now lost just once in 2007. Coincidentally, it was the Sioux’s first game of the new year and it came in the state of Colorado. Their schedule isn’t any easier. They have to go to second-place St. Cloud to close out the year.
What does all that mean?
Well, if you had Wisconsin in the bottom five of the final standings, I hope you used a pencil.
Yes, the Badgers have to go on the road for their final four games. Road games obviously aren’t easy and they haven’t swept at Duluth since the 2001-02 season, but with the teams ahead of them beating up on each other, they could very easily move up into the top five, I could see them as high as even third, and they are still mathematically in the running for second.
Three is the Magic Number
Want to win a game in 2007? Score three goals.
WCHA teams have a winning percentage of 78.5 percent (41-9-6) in games when they score three or more goals since the calendar turned over. Their winning percentage when scoring less than three? Just 32.3 percent (15-38-12)
Nobody knows this more than Alaska-Anchorage, which broke a six-game losing streak with a big six-goal outing against Minnesota State on Saturday.
The Seawolves didn’t score more than a pair in any of those six losses and are 0-9-0 when scoring less than three in 2007. The Seawolves are 2-0-1 when they get to three.
Coincidentally, St. Cloud State is the only other team that hasn’t won at least one game when scoring less than three times. The Huskies are 0-2-3 with two or fewer, but are 6-1-0 when they get to three.
North Dakota and Wisconsin are a combined 11-0-2 when they get to the magic number, but just 3-6-2 when they don’t.
Only two teams (Minnesota and Denver) have lost two games in the new year when they score three or more.
In Other Words
• WCHA Players of the Week were Wisconsin’s Andrew Joudrey on offense, Wisconsin’s Brian Elliott on defense and Minnesota’s Mike Carman for the rookies.
• Denver senior J.D. Corbin hopes to be back in action against North Dakota this weekend. He broke his leg and suffered ligament and tendon damage just four games into the season.
• Minnesota State’s Dan Tormey returned to the crease last weekend, playing the third period against the Seawolves Saturday. He missed 19 games due to a cut on his hand.
• Minnesota State, Anchorage and Duluth are the only teams out of contention for home ice in the WCHA playoffs.