Figuring out the race for the MacNaughton Cup

I tried to deflect the question I knew was coming by saying right at the top of a radio interview the other day that I thought trying to pick who’ll end up with the MacNaughton Cup as WCHA regular season champions three months from now is a futile effort.

Didn’t work. Still got the question.

Who do I think will win the WCHA? I threw out Denver as my best guess.  There was little science behind the pick, which is odd for me — I like backing up opinions with stats or trends or the like. Nope, this one was just a pure guess based on the vibe that seems to be coming out of not only the Pioneers but also Minnesota and Colorado College over the last few weeks of the first half.

Let’s start with this assessment: There are a lot of teams that have a shot at the Cup given their point totals at the holiday break. But I’m looking at Denver and Minnesota as the top group in the chase for the title. The Gophers established themselves early, but the reality is that, even though they have put up a lot of points, they haven’t swept a series since the opener against St. Cloud State. That may not sound like a big deal, but every point counts when you’re talking about the difference between first place and second place.

Denver looked like it was in trouble after it was swept at St. Cloud State, then lost the opener of a home series against the Gophers. But since the Pioneers blanked Minnesota in the finale on Nov. 22, they haven’t lost. It’s not necessarily that they’re on a seven-game winning streak as much as that they might be figuring out how they have to play to be successful that makes them impressive to me. We’ll see how much time Tyler Bozak misses after knee surgery, and how much that absence will impact the Pioneers’ balance.