ST. PAUL – There are only four teams left at the 2009 WCHA Final Five. Of them, one of them (Wisconsin) knows they have to win the tournament and “steal” the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Two (North Dakota and Denver) could fall flat on their faces in St. Paul, and still make the field safely. Such is life when you’ve finished first and second, respectively, in the regular-season standings of one of the toughest conferences in the country.
The other (Minnesota-Duluth) can make the NCAAs without winning another game, but only if nothing else goofy happens when the puck is dropped on other conference tournaments later Friday. Their safest path to the icy version of the Big Dance is to win one more game, whether it be Friday in the semifinals or Saturday in the finals (remember, the WCHA does play a third-place game).
To make things more interesting, the team eliminated Thursday night (Minnesota) can still make the NCAAs, but they must sit at home and watch the events of the weekend unfold first. If they can hold on to 14th position in the Pairwise, and no upsets occur in any league tournaments, the Gophers can still make the field. It’s going to be about 34 more hours, however, before they know which “sticks” they’ll be getting out next: hockey, or golf.
A depleted Denver team battles Wisconsin in the semifinals, while UMD takes on red-hot top-seed North Dakota.