Another college hockey weekend in the books, here are three things I think about the WCHA with just two weeks to go.
– What a colossal meltdown by Minnesota Duluth tonight down in Mankato. Here’s the setup: The Bulldogs led 4-2 late in the third period. Trailing first-place Minnesota by a single point in the standings, and the Gophers cruising to a win over Bemidji State, it appeared the Bulldogs were going to keep pace. Then two goals in 10 seconds happened. Two minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime went past and UMD gained just a single point against 11th-place Minnesota State. The deficit for the Bulldogs is now just two points, but if the Gophers and ‘Dogs finish tied in the league standings, remember tonight in Mankato. Minnesota owns the tiebreaker with UMD, so a tie would make Minnesota the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. And the difference between first and second right now could be a date with the hapless Seawolves or a rematch with the Mavericks, who have a winning record over the last six weeks.
– Speaking of Minnesota, the Gophers truly showed this weekend what they are capable of doing when playing well. The Beavers came into the weekend as one off the hottest teams in the league, and the Gophers absolutely blew them out of the building both nights, even Friday, which has been a struggle for much of the season. With two weeks to go, a trip to Omaha is on the horizon for Minnesota followed by a home series with Wisconsin. A 3-1 finish certainly looks realistic. Combined with the events in Mankato tonight, UMD could finish 4-0 and the Gophers would still own the No. 1 seed. UMD hosts CC and travels to SCSU to wrap up the season, so 4-0 would seem unlikely at this point. What does all this mean? It would take a pretty big letdown for Minnesota to not be the No. 1 seed at this point.
– Nebraska-Omaha captured a big win tonight in Colorado Springs, creating a three-way tie for fourth in the WCHA between the Mavericks, Tigers and North Dakota. As of now, all three would have home ice in the playoffs. All three are three points ahead of seventh place Michigan Tech and four points up on St. Cloud State. If all three simply split the rest of the way, all three should maintain home ice status. If there is one team below to worry about, keep an eye on Bemidji State. The Beavers have a favorable schedule against Wisconsin and Anchorage, meaning they could conceivably take 8 points the next two weeks. Should any of UND (at DU, MSU), UNO (MIN, DU) or CC (at UMD, MTU) struggle, it’s Bemidji that could sneak into the top-6. At six points back, the Beavers are the longest of home-ice longshots at this point. But a UNO collapse and a BSU run could set up yet another Omaha-Bemidji playoff match-up, perhaps a worst case scenario for Dean Blais and the Mavs.
Some final notes: Minnesota locked up home ice tonight. Anchorage, Minnesota State and Wisconsin are all mathematically eliminated from home ice. With Denver, Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota in the driver’s seat up top, fans of all 6 schools can likely start narrowing the focus onto each other for playoff match-ups. Remember, UAA is locked into 12th — the only thing guaranteed for the playoffs.