WCHA Weekend Wrap: Is the race for MacNaughton over?

Posted by: Dan Myers

Good evening from the north woods of Minnesota.

Is the fat lady belting out her Do-Re-Mi’s when it comes to the regular season title? It very well could be the case. Minnesota wins tonight at St. Cloud capping a series sweep. Michigan Tech rolls, shockingly, to a 5-0 win over Minnesota Duluth, taking three points from the defending national champions at the house Jack Connolly built.

Minnesota now holds a five-point edge over the Bulldogs in the race for the league title as we head into the final month. Impossible to overcome? Not by any means. I once saw the Gophers overcome an 8-point deficit in the span of 8 days. And with UMD’s rather pedestrian schedule left, anything is possible.

I got some interesting insight from MSU coach Troy Jutting tonight on UMD’s recent 18-game streak. The Mavericks went on a 17-game unbeaten streak back in 2002-03, the only season MSU has made the NCAA Tournament. Jutting said this sudden swoon — at least in conference play — could be the best thing that could happen to the Bulldogs.

“The intensity of playing at that level, for that long, it takes its toll,” Jutting said. And he’s right. Perhaps this will allow the Bulldogs to refocus a bit. They have plenty of time and plenty to get back into a groove and a trip to Anchorage next weekend could be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Speaking of Minnesota State, I’ve seen the Mavericks play three times over their last four games. This isn’t a bad team, folks. MSU was the better team both nights this weekend in Bemidji, and if not for a gigantic effort by Dan Bakala last night, MSU would have left here with four points. Instead, consecutive splits have lifted the Mavs from the cellar. It’s been all about missed opportunities for this team. Their seniors haven’t shown up until recently, and tonight in Bemidji, their veterans were responsible for 8 points. Mavericks win 5-2. Coincidence? I think not…

Wisconsin swept at North Dakota. It’s going to be an early off-season for the Badgers. They can’t win on the road (its happened just once this whole season) and this team isn’t getting home ice, simple as that.

UND’s sweep, Tech’s three points and SCSU’s pair of losses has actually put some breathing room between Tech’s seventh place and St. Cloud’s eighth place, as three points now separate the namesakes. That three points is one more than what separates seventh place MTU from third place Colorado College. That could change if Denver wins at Anchorage tonight, as the Pioneers would move three points ahead of Houghton’s Huskies.

The fun part? Just one of the five teams jammed into that group has played 20 games (North Dakota). The rest have played just 18.

Meanwhile, Colorado College has sat idly by this weekend. As of now, they haven’t moved in the standings (although if DU wins, they drop a point behind the Pios). The Gold Pan is decided next weekend in a home-and-home in the Rockies. And with WCHA jockeying also on the line, and the potential return of Sam Brittain, the storylines are aplenty.

Be sure to check out my column tonight from Bemidji, discussing the future of these two WCHA ‘leftovers.’ Something tells me staying behind in a couple of years will be the best thing for both programs. And if this weekend is any indication, this could be an intense rivalry sometime in the near future — as it was in the distant past when they were Division II rivals. That story should be posted later tonight.

Also look for features this week on BSU’s Jordan George and MSU’s Phil Cook, who’s stunning turnaround will make MSU a pesky out in the WCHA playoffs just a little over a month from now.

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