I hope everyone had a great holiday season, and I’m excited for what promises to be another great second half of action in the WCHA.
I will jump back into the power rankings prior to next weekend, but I did want to stress how important the nonconference action this weekend should not be overlooked.
Because there are no WCHA games on the schedule, many will look at this weekend’s games and think “who cares?” Well, you shouldn’t care — if all you care about is winning the MacNaughton Cup. January means it’s time to start looking at those Pairwise Rankings a little closer, and for those of you who haven’t checked them out yet, you can find them here.
I am, by no means, a Pairwise expert — very few are. But I can tell you this with certainty: Only two WCHA teams are in good NCAA Tournament position as we head into the second half, as Minnesota Duluth (No.2) and Minnesota (tied for 4th) are the only two locks as of right now. Colorado College is square on the bubble, and would likely be one of the last one or two at-large teams in.
That’s it folks. Denver would be out (tied for 15th) as would North Dakota (19th), Nebraska-Omaha (tied for 21st), Bemidji State (tied for 23rd), Wisconsin (tied for 30th) and St. Cloud State (tied for 32nd). Michigan Tech, an October Pairwise darling, doesn’t even register today. Neither do Alaska-Anchorage or Minnesota State.
There is no doubt there are some good teams in the WCHA that would be out of the fold if the NCAA Tournament if it started today; Denver and Nebraska-Omaha can beat anyone in the country. And I wouldn’t put anything past North Dakota, especially come playoff time. And if there is one thing that is killing the league’s chances of fielding more than a couple of teams in the tourney this season it is the WCHA’s nonconference record.
Overall, the WCHA is 38-24-7 in games against other leagues this season… and while that doesn’t sound too bad, it’s record against Atlantic Hockey teams accounts for much of that ‘post-.500′ record (the WCHA is 11-1-0 against Atlantic schools). Against the big boys nationally, the WCHA is 8-12-1 against the CCHA and 5-7-3 against Hockey East (shutup Joe Meloni).
It’s .601 nonconference winning percentage is also uncharacteristic — the league’s lowest percentage over the last six years was .614, and in that season, the WCHA had the highest winning percentage of teams in the “big three” leagues. Last season, the WCHA had a .653 nonconference winning percentage.
Those records account for a large chunk of the RPI, which in turn, accounts for much of the Pairwise Rankings.
So, the WCHA would go a long ways towards helping itself in March by going 12-0-0 this weekend — especially since nonconference opportunities will be few and far between after this weekend (WCHA teams have a combined FOUR nonconference games the rest of the season following Saturday’s slate).
Going undefeated won’t be easy though.
Minnesota Duluth will look to extend it’s unbeaten streak at Western Michigan — a team that would be in the NCAAs if they started today (tied for 10th in the Pairwise). Minnesota plays Notre Dame in a one game series Saturday, with the winner moving ahead in the battle for No. 4 in the Pairwise — the teams are tied right now. Minnesota State plays at St. Lawrence and CC hosts Cornell in a chance for the WCHA to gain ground on the ECAC. Denver should pencil in a couple of wins against Alabama-Huntsville, but we thought the same of UNO. Not to mention, Jason Zucker will not play this weekend so he can rest up for conference action next week. Wisconsin has an opportunity to help the WCHA run up the score on Atlantic Hockey if they can take care of business at the Kohl Center, where they have been pretty goos this season.