This Week in the WCHA: March 5, 2009

As we figured, it comes down to the final weekend of play to determine the standings.

As we determined last week, a few things are certain, but there’s still a whole lot up in the air.

I will say, though, that some part of me feels like all is right with the world again, seeing seven WCHA teams back in the national rankings. It was so weird seeing the polls have only what, three WCHA squads in them back in December.

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Kael Mouillierat, MSU, M.
Why: Scored four points (3g, 1a) including two power-play goals to help his Mavericks take three points from Wisconsin.
Also Nominated: Chad Rau, CC; Kyle Ostrow, DU; Jordan Schroeder, UM; MacGregor Sharp, UMD; Darcy Zajac, UND; Ryan Lasch, SCSU; Tom Gorowsky, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Bryce Christianson, UAA.
Why: Earned back-to-back shutouts to help his Seawolves win both games of a home-and-home series with Alaska. The back-to-back shutouts were the first for a UAA team since the 1992-93 season.
Also Nominated: Brian Connelly, CC; Kent Patterson, UM; Brad Eidsness, UND; Jase Weslosky, SCSU.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Brett Hextall, UND.
Why: Had three goals and one assist to help his Fighting Sioux take three of four points from Colorado College.
Also Nominated: Gabe Guentzel, CC; Joe Colborne, DU; Kent Patterson, UM; Drew LeBlanc, SCSU.

The Wisdom of the Postseason

While we’re not quite there yet, a lot of coaches are already starting to think on what it will take to get them to the next level, whether it be home ice, the Final Five, an NCAA tournament bid or the Frozen Four — or even just the next win.

After Saturday’s loss against St. Cloud State, Denver’s George Gwozdecky verbalized what many coaches are thinking. Even though his words are specific to his team, I thought that they could apply to most teams given the battle that has been the WCHA this year.

“You build on what you’ve accomplished throughout the course of the last six months,” he said. “We’ve done an awful lot, both on the ice and in the classroom and it’s been a lot of work. These guys should be very proud of that and I think they can tap into those experiences they’ve had.

“We’ve been in some big games. We’ve had some very fun experiences — most of them good, some of them tough like tonight but all experiences that you can learn from and gain from because when you get into the postseason, everything becomes shorter,” he continued. “Everything becomes more magnified and when you’ve been in those games in the past like we have, you’re used to that and you understand how you have to mentally turn the volume down and turn the focus up.

“We’ve been in those situations quite a bit and we’re better for it. We’re starting to enjoy these situations; we didn’t enjoy the outcome of tonight, but that’s part of the fun of playing in big games like that and from here on in, we’re going to be in all those games … right to hopefully the middle of April.”

Playoffs: What We Know

The third through seventh playoff seeds are still crazy, but the picture is a little clearer.

• No matter what, MTU is finishing 10th.
• UAA will be the ninth playoff seed. The Seawolves still have potential to tie MSU, M, but they lose the head-to-head tiebreaker.
• MSU, M will most likely be eighth. If the Mavericks sweep SCSU and both UM and UMD get swept, so that all four of those teams stay at 27 points, the Mavericks would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with UMD, win the head-to-head tiebreaker against UM and either win or lose the second tiebreaker with SCSU depending on goals scored this weekend. Basically, the Mavs’ fate is still to be determined.
• However, I’m pretty sure that the Mavericks will be on the road.
• UMD can still finish anywhere from third through seventh.
• That is also true for CC, UW, SCSU and UM.
• However, UW will most likely be third or fourth as the Badgers win the tiebreakers with UM, UMD and CC.
• The Badgers need three points to clinch third and two to guarantee home ice.
• If UM sweeps, it will have home ice and can finish no worse than fifth.
• DU can finish first outright only beating CC, and then only if UW sweeps UND.
• DU can share the league title with a tie against CC and a UW sweep or a win against CC and a UND loss and tie. If that happens, UND will take the first seed for the playoffs due to winning the head-to-head tiebreaker with DU.

Matchups By the Numbers

We’ve got everyone in action this weekend, all jockeying for their final playoff positions.

Minnesota State and No. 18 St. Cloud State (home-and-home)
Overall Records: MSU, M — 14-15-5 (10-13-3 WCHA). SCSU — 18-14-2 (13-12-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: MSU, M leads the overall series, 56-42-8.

Alaska Anchorage @ No. 16 Minnesota Duluth
Overall Records: UAA — 12-15-5 (7-14-5 WCHA). UMD — 16-10-8 (10-9-7 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UMD leads the overall series, 37-16-12.

No. 6 North Dakota @ No. 19 Wisconsin
Overall Records: UND — 21-11-4 (16-6-4 WCHA). UW — 16-14-4 (13-10-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 81-59-10.

No. 17 Minnesota @ Michigan Tech
Overall Records: UM — 14-11-7 (11-10-5 WCHA). MTU — 5-22-7 (1-18-7 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 167-73-15 (or 164-75-15, depending on whom you ask).

No. 13 Colorado College @ No. 5 Denver
Overall Records: CC — 16-10-9 (12-9-6 WCHA). DU — 20-10-4 (16-8-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 152-106-12.

PairWise Watch

Who from the WCHA would be in the tournament if the regular season were to end today?

Denver (t-3rd) and North Dakota (7th) are locks. Minnesota Duluth (13th) is most likely in. Minnesota (16th), Colorado College (t-17th) and St. Cloud State (t-17th) are all on the bubble while Wisconsin (21st) and Minnesota State (23rd) could both use some help.

Odds and Ends

• With UAA’s two wins over Alaska, the Seawolves earned the Alaska Airlines Governor’s Cup for the third straight season.

• Even if their teams do not make the Frozen Four, a few WCHAers will be heading to Washington, D.C., to participate in the annual Frozen Four Skills Challenge. Minnesota’s Justin Bostrom, CC’s Chad Rau and UMD’s MacGregor Sharp will all be on the ice if their teams don’t participate (or unless they get injured).

There are also three WCHAers on the alternate list — UW’s Tom Gorowsky, DU’s Patrick Mullen and SCSU’s John Swanson.

• While no one from the WCHA ended up being a finalist for the 2009 Hockey Humanitarian Award, Denver’s Brandon Vossberg was a nominee, so congratulations to him.

WCHA Tiebreaking Procedures

For your knowledge in case we have some ties which, given this season, is entirely possible. All information is paraphrased from the WCHA’s website.

• If two teams are tied for first, they will be named regular-season co-champions.

• If two or more teams are tied, head-to-head competition during the regular season is the first tiebreaker.

• If two or more teams are still tied after that, the highest seed will go to the team with the most conference wins during the regular season.

• If two or more teams played a four-game series during the regular season and the teams have the same win-loss record and the same number of conference wins, the team having the fewer goals scored against it (most goals for) in the four-game series gets the higher seed. If it was just a two game series, this does not apply.

• If two or more teams are still tied after all that other stuff, the team with the greatest “winning margin” (WCHA goals for minus WCHA goals against during the regular season) will finally get the higher seed.

Note: Games played against conference opponents in holiday tournaments don’t count. For example, if DU and UND tied for first, UND’s game against MTU in the GLI wouldn’t count for tiebreaking purposes.

On Tap

Since the league postseason picture is still, quite frankly, a cluster, a few things planned for this week got pushed off the map until next week. So, things to look forward to next week:

• The second-to-last column of the year.
• Playoff series previews.
• The final numbers on whether a.) scoring went up and b.) if that penalty crackdown actually continued … even though I’m sure we all have enough anecdotal evidence to know whether it really did or not.
• The return of last year’s “On Brawling, Fighting and General Mischief.” It was a feature (for lack of a better word) that generated a lot of interest and I’d be interested to see the numbers for this year.
• Plus more, depending on what happens this weekend.

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