After a fun Final Five back in St. Paul, here are my (late-arriving) three thoughts on the end of the WCHA season.
1. Mavs make it two, earn the No. 1
Minnesota State capped its stellar season in style, using a comeback victory to defeat Michigan Tech 5-2 and win the Broadmoor Tropy for the second straight season. The win earned the Mavs the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and they enter the NCAAs on a roll, having won five straight after losing at Bemidji State March 6.
And MSU has a great reason why they’re No. 1, which they proved this weekend: Depth. Although top-liner upperclassmen like Matt Leitner and Bryce Gervais are known scorers, the Mavs have some solid underclassmen. Freshman Brad McClure (you might remember him from such Final Five performances as 2015…) scored five goals on the weekend to earn the MVP award while freshman CJ Franklin also scored and sophomores Jordan Nelson, Casey Nelson and Michael Huntebrinker also contributed to the scoring.
Anything can happen in the playoffs, but MSU’s depth has them looking like a good bet to make a deep Frozen Four run.
2. Huskies in, Falcons out
Although new commissioner Bill Robertson’s goal coming into this season was to get three league teams into the NCAA tournament, that fell just ever-so-slightly short. Michigan Tech made it in as a No. 2 seed, but Bowling Green was the last team out. After falling to the Huskies 5-2 in their semifinal game on Friday, the Falcons spent most of Saturday waiting for other results to go their way. One of the things they needed to have happen was for Michigan Tech to beat MSU in the Broadmoor Trophy title game. That, obviously, didn’t happen so Chris Bergeron’s team will be on the outside looking in. It’s a tough way for their season to end, but Bergeron has a great core of juniors and sophomores coming back and will be a main threat to win the league next season.
Michigan Tech, meanwhile, is back in the tournament for the first time since the early 1980s. They have a tough matchup with St. Cloud State ahead of them in the first round and are placed in the Fargo regional with North Dakota. A difficult prospect, to be sure, but Mel Pearson’s team has been setting school records left and right this season and also have the depth to get back to the Frozen Four. Whatever happens, that West regional is going to be insane.
3. Attendance decent back in St. Paul
The Final Five was back in St. Paul, Minn., for the first time since conference realignment. And while the attendance numbers were hardly at old-school WCHA levels, fans came out to support their teams. Friday’s semifinals totalled 6,844 for both games while Saturday’s MSU/Tech finals had 8,204. Hardly a sellout — not quite half — but decent, especially compared to last season’s attendance in Grand Rapids, Mich. The final had a total attendance of 3,968. It’s too early to say if hosting it in St. Paul is the answer or not — last year, after all, was a transition period for all the conferences — but it’s clear, at least, that people are starting to get used to the new WCHA and have seen for themselves how good the top teams actually are. It will never be like before, and it might take another few years but I think we’ll see more and more people get used to seeing this combination of competitive teams every year.