Looking at the Pairwise, it’s hard to figure out if this is a strong year for the WCHA or a down year. They have seven teams in the top 23 in the Pairwise, but just one in the top eight. Their 44-31-5 inter-conference record is the best in the country, but their 28-31-3 record against the other “Big Four” conferences is the worst among that group.
Looking ahead, we have a great race for the MacNaughton Cup, with St. Cloud State, Minnesota and Nebraska-Omaha gaining a little bit of separation from the rest of the pack. We also have a bunch of teams on the Pairwise bubble. Denver is 13th, Minnesota State 16th, UNO 21st and Wisconsin 23rd.
1. Minnesota (18-4-4, 10-4-4 WCHA) — Last week: 1
The Gophers stay in first after splitting with Minnesota State. They had their 10-game unbeaten streak snapped in Friday’s 2-1 loss, but they bounced back to win 4-1 the next night. Adam Wilcox stopped 57 of 60 shots on the weekend, while Nate Schmidt scored a pair of goals. Erik Haula and Zach Budish each had a goal and an assist on Saturday. The Gophers lead the WCHA in offense, defense, power play and penalty kill.
2. St. Cloud State (15-10-1, 12-5-1 WCHA) — Last week: 3
The Huskies put together another impressive weekend, as they took three of four points from North Dakota in Grand Forks. Jonny Brodzinski scored twice in Friday’s 3-1 win, and Ben Hanowski scored both goals in Saturday’s 2-2 tie. The Huskies gave UND just four power plays in the series, as they continue to take the fewest penalties in the league. St. Cloud now holds a one-point lead over Minnesota and UNO in the standings.
3. Nebraska-Omaha (15-9-2, 11-5-2 WCHA) — Last week: 4
The Mavericks swept Bemidji over the weekend to pull within one point of first. Matt White led the way with two goals and an assist in Friday’s 5-3 win, while John Faulkner stopped 22 of 23 shots in Saturday’s 2-1 victory. The Mavericks’ dilemma is that despite being in great shape in the league, they’re 21st in the Pairwise, mostly thanks to a 4-8-1 record vs. TUCs.
4. North Dakota (13-8-5, 8-5-5 WCHA) — Last week: 2
UND mustered just one point against St. Cloud, and they drop two spots as a result. They’re now just 1-3-2 in their last six and they’ve slipped to 10th in the Pairwise. They got outshot 33-16 in Friday’s loss, but then outshot the Huskies 36-18 in Saturday’s tie. Corban Knight and Danny Kristo each had a goal and an assist on Saturday.
5. Minnesota State (16-9-3, 10-9-1 WCHA) — Last week: 5
Brett Knowles scored with 44 seconds left in regulation to give the Mavericks a big 2-1 win at Mariucci on Friday, but then they couldn’t hold serve at home on Saturday. Their usually stellar penalty kill struggled on Saturday, as it went just 1-for-3. Stephon Williams made a career-high 37 saves on Friday.
6. Denver (13-8-4, 8-6-4 WCHA) — Last week: 6
The Pioneers had the weekend off, so they stay at six.
7. Wisconsin (11-8-5, 8-5-5 WCHA) — Last week: 7
The Badgers are right on the verge of breaking into the top six, as they swept UAA over the weekend to improve to 10-1-2 since the start of December. Michael Mersch and Tyler Barnes each tallied three points in Friday’s 5-2 victory, while Jefferson Dahl had two points in Saturday’s 2-1 win.
8. Minnesota-Duluth (10-11-3, 8-7-3 WCHA) — Last week: 8
The Bulldogs didn’t have any non-exhibition games over the weekend, so they stay at eight. They did beat the U.S. Under-18 Team 3-1 on Saturday, though.
9. Colorado College (10-14-2, 7-10-1 WCHA) — Last week: 9
The Tigers also had the weekend off, so they at nine.
10. Michigan Tech (7-12-4, 4-10-4 WCHA) — Last week: 10
Make it three in a row. The Huskies were off, too.
11. Bemidji State (5-14-5, 4-10-4 WCHA) — Last week: 11
The Beavers weren’t off, but they probably wish they had been. They got swept by UNO to extend their winless streak to eight games. On Friday, Andrew Walsh surrendered four goals for the fourth time during that stretch. Mathieu Dugas got the start on Saturday and stopped 24 of 26 shots.
12. Alaska-Anchorage (3-16-5, 1-15-4 WCHA) — Last week: 12
Speaking of bad stretches, the Seawolves got swept by Wisconsin to drop to 0-11-1 in their last 12. They rank last in the WCHA in offense, 11th in defense, last in power play and last in penalty kill.