Minnesota crosses finish line second, hoists the MacNaughton Cup first

St. Cloud State fans were launched onto cloud nine – sorry – when their Huskies knocked off No. 14 Wisconsin 4-2 in Madison, Wis. Friday and clinched a share of SCSU’s first (and final) WCHA men’s regular season championship.

What was missing in the visiting team’s locker room at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, however, was the trophy signifying the Huskies’ accomplishment.

Instead, the MacNaughton Cup materialized in the visitors’ room at Bemidji, Minn.’s Sanford Center late the following night, where it was held aloft for a second year running by the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Following the Gophers’ 5-1 win at Bemidji State Saturday night, the nation’s second-ranked team forced a tie at the top of the WCHA final regular season standings. SCSU and Minnesota, which are both leaving the WCHA at the end of his season in favor of the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference and Big Ten hockey conference, respectively, both finished this season with 37 points.

Eighth-ranked SCSU owned a tiebreaker over the Gophers, though, which means the Huskies are the No. 1 seed heading into this week’s first round of the WCHA playoffs. The Huskies will host 12th-seeded Alaska-Anchorage in a best-of-three series for a chance to go to the WCHA Final Five next weekend in Saint Paul, Minn..

Still, only the Gophers got to place their paws on the nearly three-foot trophy last weekend, and many in Minnesota’s room Tweeted photos of players decked out in maroon and gold while showing off the nearly 40 pounds of silver.

If that bothered SCSU head coach Bob Motzko, however, he hid it well when speaking with reporters following his Huskies’ 3-2 loss to UW on Saturday – a result that, if reversed, would have seen SCSU finish the regular season alone at the top of the WCHA tree.

“I’ve got a whole lot of other things to worry about besides that,” Motzko quite correctly said. “On a scale of one to 10, that’s a negative-8.”

Three teams finished tied for fourth place

A bit further down the WCHA table, Wisconsin, Denver and Minnesota State finished the regular season tied for fourth place with 33 points each.

All three teams won the second games of their respective weekend series – MSU knocked off North Dakota 2-1 at home in overtime Saturday night, while Denver routed Alaska-Anchorage 6-1 in a Sunday matinee – but the Badgers’ win on Saturday saw UW finish above both the Pioneers and the Mavericks.

Wisconsin will be back in its usual Kohl Center home this week – the Badgers played off-campus last weekend due to the Wisconsin state high school basketball championships going on at Kohl – for the first round of the WCHA playoffs to host No. 9 seed Minnesota-Duluth.

Denver and MSU will both be at home this weekend, as well. Fifth-seed DU will square off with arch-rival Colorado College, while No. 6 seed MSU will host Nebraska-Omaha for at least two clashes between the WCHA’s two sets of Mavericks.

UNO’s final-month woes continued

Some things go well together perfectly. Hands and gloves. Feet and shoes. Peanut butter and grape jelly.

Some other things, such as the month of March and the UNO hockey team in the four years that Mavericks head coach Dean Blais has been at the helm, don’t.

There always seems to be a disconnect somewhere for the Mavericks when the calendar gets flipped to the third month of the year. Under Blais, UNO is an eye-popping 1-12-0 all-time against WCHA opposition in the month of March.

In his 2009-10 season, Blais’s first in Omaha and the Mavericks’ last in the CCHA, things weren’t much better when the final month of the campaign came around. UNO picked up a pair of wins at home against league rival Bowling Green before being swept out of the first round of the playoffs at then-No. 13 Ferris State.

This current season and the last one, though, have left the Mavericks feeling particularly frustrated.

UNO lost each of its last six games of the 2011-12 campaign, topping off the Mavericks’ misery by way of a sweep at the hands of SCSU on the road in the first round of the WCHA postseason.

This time around, Blais’s bunch is in danger of experiencing a very similar fate. UNO has again lost each of its final four games of the regular season, leaving the Mavericks to yet again miss out on home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

UNO was swept at home by UW two weeks ago before losing another pair of games last weekend at Minnesota-Duluth, including a 6-0 setback on Saturday in which the Bulldogs scored five power play goals.

In fact, postseason hockey in general hasn’t exactly been UNO’s forte. The Mavericks haven’t made it into a neutral-site playoff game since getting to Detroit for the CCHA Super Six in 2005, and the program’s only appearance in a conference playoff championship game – versus Michigan State in Detroit in 2000 – resulted in a 6-0 loss to the Spartans.

UNO has been to the NCAA tournament twice in the Mavericks’ history, but they stumbled at the first hurdle both times against Boston University (in Worcester, Mass. in 2006) and Michigan (in St. Louis in 2011).

This week’s first-round series against the WCHA’s other Mavericks – the only Mavericks sticking around in the league after this season ends – was perhaps UNO’s best-case scenario in terms of who it might’ve had to travel to face this week. Make no mistake, though: Minnesota State will give UNO yet another daunting challenge.

MSU is currently listed ninth in the PairWise Rankings, and safe passage into the Final Five would go a long way towards the purple Mavericks punching their ticket for this year’s NCAA tournament.