With the conclusion of the Denver-Wisconsin series tonight in the Mile High City, next weekend’s WCHA Final Five is officially set: Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, Denver, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Michigan Tech.
First, a few thoughts on this weekend: The number of series that lasted only two games was very surprising to me, especially considering how competitive these games were.
– Alaska-Anchorage had Minnesota on the ropes Saturday night, leading 3-1 in the second period. But a series of penalties allowed Minnesota to gain momentum and eventually the dam broke, as the Gophers rallied with six straight goals. That sweep wasn’t a surprise.
– Minnesota State put forth quite a fight in Duluth, losing 4-2 Friday (with an empty-netter) and 3-2 Saturday in a game that went two overtimes. From all reports, the Mavericks nearly won the game several times Saturday and actually led in the game on two different occasions. But as has been the case all year, the Mavericks could never seem to find the key separation goal.
– Kudos to Wisconsin for a heck of a final month, and if it’s any indication of how this extremely young team is going to play next season, the Badgers are gonna be in great shape. Undoubtedly, early departures will rob Wisconsin of at least one of its big two — Justin Schultz is almost guaranteed to end up with the Anaheim Ducks. Mark Zengerle could also be a free agent target for numerous NHL teams. Perhaps most importantly though, the Badgers appear to have settled on a goaltender with Joel Rumpel. He’s only gonna be a sophomore next year too.
– Bemidji State was able to climb within a goal of North Dakota in the third period each night, but a crushing Sioux goal Friday night just a minute later ended any hopes of a rally. Consecutive goals Saturday for the Beavers just came too late in a 4-3 loss.
– Colorado College, the only victim of the weekend, was swept at home against a team that is 0-22 all-time at World Arena in the regular season, and a team the Tigers swept just a week earlier in the same building. Tech, by the way, is now 8-2 all-time against CC in the post season — one of the most unusual stats you will ever see. Saturday’s game went to overtime, and unlike MSU, the Huskies were able to get a big third goal Friday, doubling a one goal-lead in the third period.
– What a late season collapse by Nebraska-Omaha. After looking like a shoe-in for home ice in mid-February, the Mavericks coughed up that opportunity on the season’s last two weekends, failing to get even a single point in four home games against Minnesota and Denver — just one point would have been enough to get home-ice against St. Cloud. The Huskies then swept UNO at the National Hockey Center, sending Dean Blais and UNO home with six straight losses to end the year. Wow.
Next Weekend’s Final Five Schedule features some great games.
Denver will play Michigan Tech Thursday at 2 p.m. in the first quarterfinal match-up while North Dakota and St. Cloud State will play Thursday night at 7 p.m.
Minnesota will play the lowest remaining seed Friday night. Minnesota-Duluth will play the highest remaining seed Friday afternoon.
Because the Final Five is a one and done format, anyone of the six teams could win this thing. An early prediction: Minnesota-Duluth over North Dakota in the title game.