The WCHA has caught a bunch of grief for being a pretty weak conference nationally this season. And generally, it has been.
But as I write this, the WCHA would have four teams in the NCAA Tournament if it started tomorrow (Minnesota Duluth, Denver, Minnesota and North Dakota). Four teams is the same number Hockey East would have in. Only the CCHA, with five, would have more. Obviously, there is a lot of hockey yet to be played. A whole bunch can change between now and Selection Sunday. Heck, a whole lot can, and will, change between now and this time tomorrow night.
Needless to say, nice second half runs by Denver and North Dakota have put those teams squarely in the NCAA Tournament mix. The Fighting Sioux are situated at the No. 13 spot right now — theoretically in by a couple of spots. But there are always upsets in the conference tourneys and a team much lower in the Pairwise Rankings often slip into an automatic spot, eating up those at-large spots. By the time that Sunday in mid-March rolls around, No. 13 is typically the lowest you’d like to find yourself.
St. Cloud State’s loss to Alaska-Anchorage tonight nearly dropped the Huskies off the TUC cliff, as they now sit 29th. Another loss tomorrow could certainly shake some things up for those teams at the top.
Colorado College and Nebraska-Omaha are playing as I write this, with CC holding a 3-1 lead. This series is absolutely critical in the WCHA standings with both teams tied for fourth. The winner stays in the MacNaughton Cup race while the loser is likely playing for playoff positioning. Unless one of these squads wins out, an at-large berth appears unlikely.
Bemidji State’s loss to Minnesota didn’t really move the Beavers much in the Pairwise (presently ranked No. 23), and thanks to some help from the Seawolves, kept them tied with St. Cloud State in the standings. BSU could win out and not be an at-large team, so it’s all about playoff positioning.
Michigan Tech’s was not a TUC and will not be one, even if it wins tomorrow. The at-large bid sailed weeks ago.
Minnesota State, Wisconsin and Anchorage have been long since forgotten in the Pairwise and will need a miracle playoff run to make the NCAAs.
There was little movement in the race for home-ice tonight — actually, there was none. A UND win tomorrow will make it increasingly difficult for the Sioux to lose it. The final hope for the lower division teams would be a rough finish for Nebraska-Omaha, which if the score in the Springs holds, would drop the red-Mavericks to sixth. With games against Minnesota and Denver the next two weeks, UNO probably has the most difficult remaining schedule too.