First place and on the outside

Here’s an interesting case: Wisconsin moved into a tie for first place in the WCHA by completing a two-game road sweep of Minnesota on Saturday night, and it didn’t even move up into an at-large spot for the NCAA tournament.

The Badgers are 15th in the PairWise Rankings — the usual cutoff is 14 because of automatic bids for Atlantic Hockey and the CHA, which usually field teams down lower in the PairWise. One longtime WCHA observer I talked to during today’s Wisconsin-Minnesota women’s game next door at Ridder Arena compared that to the Colorado College situation in the 1990s, when the Tigers won the regular season title and didn’t make the national tournament after losing to Michigan Tech in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

That, of course, was in the days of a 12-team tournament, so it seems less likely that something like that would happen today. Especially because, to win the WCHA, Wisconsin would need to post some impressive and PairWise-boosting victories in its final six games — home for Denver, at Minnesota State and home for North Dakota.

But the Badgers’ story is an interesting one. They started the season 0-6-1 in a daunting schedule but got a breakthrough victory over North Dakota in their eighth game and have done quite well since, despite a few bumps.

Wisconsin learned how to better control its defensive zone and has benefitted from improved special teams. They’re getting scoring from plenty of sources. Goaltender Shane Connelly gave up six goals against the Gophers, but it may have been his best weekend of the season because of the setting and the stakes.

Who knows where it will go from here for the Badgers, but pulling themselves out of the hole they were in early deserves at least a nod in their direction.