February 20, 2012
Minnesota Duluth hosts Colorado College this weekend
MADISON, Wis. A total of 22 league games over the final two weeks will determine the regular season champion of the men's Western Collegiate Hockey Association for 2011-12 as well as set the six first-round playoff match ups. And 10 of those remaining 22 games will be contested over the upcoming weekend of Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24-25, in five two-game conference series that feature Minnesota at Nebraska Omaha, Minnesota Duluth hosting Colorado College, North Dakota traveling to Denver, Michigan Tech entertaining St. Cloud State and Wisconsin heading to Bemidji State. All five of those series will also mark the only two regular season encounters between those respective opponents.
At CenturyLink Center (15,959) in Omaha, league-leading and No. 5/6-ranked Minnesota (21-11-1, 17-7-0 WCHA) will skate against Nebraska Omaha (14-12-6, 13-10-1 WCHA). Face-offs are at 7:37 pm CT on Friday evening and 7:07 pm CT on Saturday night. The Gophers clinched a first round home playoff berth last weekend when they were the only league team to earn a sweep. The Mavericks, meanwhile, are in a three-way tie for fourth place with Colorado College and North Dakota and received votes in both of this week's national polls.
Up at AMSOIL Arena (6,726) this weekend, No. 4-ranked and second place Minnesota Duluth (20-7-5, 14-6-4 WCHA) will play host to No. 16-ranked Colorado College (16-12-2, 13-10-1 WCHA) in a pair of 7:07 pm CT encounters. The Bulldogs have joined Minnesota as the only two teams to have so far clinched home ice for the first round of league playoffs.
Another key series taking place this Friday and Saturday will have third place and No. 9-ranked Denver (18-10-4, 13-7-4 WCHA) going up against visiting and No. 12/14-ranked North Dakota (17-11-3, 13-10-1 WCHA) at Magness Arena (6,025). Puck drops in the Mile High City are at 8:07 pm MT Friday night and 7:07 pm MT Saturday evening. The Pioneers are four points back of the league-leading Gophers while UND is three back of DU.
In Houghton on Feb. 24-25, Michigan Tech (13-15-4, 10-10-4 WCHA) will host St. Cloud State (13-15-4, 10-11-3 WCHA) in back-to-back 7:07 pm ET face-offs at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena (4,128). Both teams are still in the home playoff berth hunt, with MTU sitting three points behind the three teams CC, UNO and UND tied for fourth and SCSU one point back of Tech.
And at Sanford Center (4,373), Bemidji State (15-14-3, 9-12-3 WCHA) will entertain Wisconsin (13-15-2, 8-14-2 WCHA) on Friday and Saturday, with those contests getting underway at 7:37 pm CT and 7:07 pm CT. The Beavers, three points up on the Badgers in ninth place, are six points back of the current three-way logjam in fourth place.
Outside the WCHA this weekend, Alaska Anchorage (8-20-2) will take on in-state rival and CCHA-member Alaska Fairbanks (11-17-4) in a home-and-home set for the Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup. Game one will be played at Sullivan Arena (6,251) in Anchorage on Friday at 7:07 pm AT with game two on Saturday at 7:05 pm AT at the Nanooks' Carlson Center (4,595).
Through 84 games overall this season, WCHA-member teams are a combined 47-28-9 (.607) in non-conference play through Feb. 20. League-member teams stand 13-1-0 (.929) vs the Atlantic Hockey Association, 8-2-0 (.800) vs Independents, 11-5-4 (.650) vs ECAC Hockey, 10-14-1 (.420) vs the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, and 5-7-3 (.433) vs the Hockey East Association.
Heading into the final two weeks of regular season action, the current top three teams in the WCHA Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth and Denver are separated by four points. The Golden Gophers continue out front with 34 points in 24 games, the Bulldogs are second with 32 points in 24 games, and the Pioneers are third with 30 points in 24 games. Three teams Colorado College (24 gp), Nebraska Omaha (24 gp) and defending champion North Dakota (24 gp) are tied in the fourth spot with 27 points apiece, followed by Michigan Tech (24 gp) in seventh with 24 points, St. Cloud State (24 gp) in eighth with 23 and Bemidji State (24 gp) in ninth with 21. Wisconsin (24 gp) and Minnesota State (26 gp) are tied for 10th this week with 18 points each although the Badgers have two games in hand. In 12th place is Alaska Anchorage (26 gp) with 11 points.
The team with the most points at the end of the regular season receives the MacNaughton Cup and the No. 1 playoff seed as conference champion. Should two teams tie for first place they would be declared co-champions with the top playoff seed determined by tie-breakers.
The top six ranked teams in the final regular season WCHA standings will earn home ice for the first round of playoffs. Those best-of-three series will be contested the weekend of March 9-11, with No. 1 hosting No. 12, No. 2 hosting No. 11, No. 3 hosting No. 10, No. 4 hosting No. 9, No. 5 hosting No. 8, and No. 6 hosting No. 7. To date, both Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth have earned home ice for the opening round of the league tournament.
The six first round playoff winners will then earn berths in the 2012 Red Baron WCHA Final Five, set for March 15-17 at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minn. At the Final Five, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeded teams will receive a first-day bye. There will be two games played on Thursday at 2:07 pm and 7:07 pm CT, and then two semi-final matchups on Friday at 2:07 pm and 7:07 pm CT. On Saturday, the Broadmoor Trophy championship game will be played at 7:07 pm CT. The winner of the Final Five receives the WCHA's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
In a full slate of six Western Collegiate Hockey Association series contested last weekend (Friday and Saturday, February 17 and 18), only one team first place Minnesota was able to bank four points with a two-game sweep. The Gophers won twice at home over Bemidji State. Both Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota also cashed in by gaining three points each while three two-game sets ended in splits.
At Mariucci Arena, Minnesota yielded just one goal in forging 3-0 and 4-1 victories over the visiting BSU Beavers. In game one last Friday, the line of right wing Zach Budish (2g), center Nick Bjugstad (1g, 1a) and left wing Kyle Rau (2a) contributed six points for the Gophers, with Budish netting the eventual game-winner just 1:00 into the first period. In nets, Kent Patterson made 13 saves for his seventh shutout of the season. Last Saturday, UM center Erik Haula led the way with two goals and one assist while right winger Jake Hansen scored the winner at 2:05 of the second period and added one assist.
At the Kohl Center in Madison last weekend, host Wisconsin split with Denver, coming back from a 3-0 setback in game one to log a 5-2 win in game two. Last Friday, goaltender Sam Brittain stopped all 28 shots on goal and right winger Luke Salazar knocked home the game-winning goal on an unassisted effort at 8:22 of the second period. On Saturday, the Badgers received three points from right wing Michael Mersch (1g, 2a) and two each from center Mark Zengerle (1g, 1a) and defensemen Justin Schultz (1g, 1a) and Jake McCabe (2a) while center Keegan Meuer scored the winner at 1:11 of the final period.
At the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, visiting Alaska Anchorage skated to a 3-2 overtime victory in the series opener on Feb. 17 before the Huskies battled back for a 8-3 triumph on Feb. 18. In game one, center Eric Scheid scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner at 2:18 of the extra session, linemate and left wing Scott Allen assisted on both of Scheid's markers, and Rob Gunderson earned the victory in nets with 24 stops. Last Saturday, SCSU received multiple-point games from eight players, led by three-point contributions from center Nic Dowd (1g, 2a) and left winger Jared Festler (1g, 2a) and two-goal games from center Travis Novak and right winger David Eddy. Eddy's first tally of the contest, coming at 3:39 of the third, was the game-winner.
At Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato last weekend, visiting Minnesota Duluth took home three points by virtue of a 4-2 win and 4-4 (ot) tie against Minnesota State. In the series opener, Bulldogs' center Travis Oleksuk scored twice and right winger David Grun had the game-winner at 10:51 of period three. In game two last Saturday, the Mavericks overcame a 4-2 third period deficit to earn the tie, as left winger Michael Dorr and center Eli Zuck (1g, 1a) scored back-to-back goals at 17:46 and 17:56. Also for MSU in that game, center Zach Lehrke scored a pair of goals while for UMD, left winger Keegan Flaherty had 1-1=2.
At Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks last Friday and Saturday, North Dakota tucked away three points with a 4-2 victory and 1-1 (ot) draw against Michigan Tech. On Feb. 17, linemates Corban Knight (C, 2g, 1a) and Brock Nelson (LW, 3a) each had three points and center Carter Rowney chipped in two goals, with Rowney's power-play marker at 10:19 of the second period standing as the winner. For Tech, center Jacob Johnstone netted two goals and right winger Alex MacLeod had two assists. Then last Saturday night, the two rivals battled to a 1-1 (ot) tie, with Knight staking UND to a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal at 6:04 of the third period before Huskies' right winger Jordan Baker came up with a shorthanded, game-tying goal at 9:32.
And at Colorado Springs World Arena last weekend, the host CC Tigers split a two-game league set with Nebraska Omaha. Colorado College earned a 4-3 triumph last Friday night behind the line of left wing Jaden Schwartz (1g, 2a), center Rylan Schwartz (1g, 1a) and right wing William Rapuzzi (2a), with Jaden Schwartz's goal at 2:47 of the third holding up as the game-winner. Then last Saturday evening, the Mavericks fought back to gain the split with a 5-3 decision over the Tigers, as left winger Ryan Walters tallied twice in the third period with a shorthander at 2:48 and the winner at 7:19 and defenseman Andrej Sustr came through with three assists.
Looking ahead to the final weekend of the 2011-12 regular season Friday and Saturday, March 2-3 there will be a full complement of six WCHA series contested. Minnesota will host Wisconsin, Minnesota Duluth will play at St. Cloud State, North Dakota will welcome Minnesota State, Denver heads to Nebraska Omaha, Colorado College hosts Michigan Tech, and Bemidji State travels to Alaska Anchorage.
In this week's (Feb. 20) USCHO.com Div. 1 Men's College Hockey Poll, Minnesota Duluth at No. 4 leads a group of five WCHA teams among the top 20. Minnesota comes in at No. 6, Denver is at No. 9, North Dakota is at No. 14 and Colorado College is at No. 16. Also receiving votes was Nebraska Omaha.
And in the latest USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Men's Div. 1 College Hockey Poll for Feb. 20, Minnesota Duluth is ranked No. 4, Minnesota is No. 5, Denver is No. 10 and North Dakota is No. 12. Others receiving votes were Colorado College and Nebraska Omaha.
This Week in the WCHA
Games for Friday, February 24: St. Cloud State at Michigan Tech (WCHA), 7:07 pm ET; Colorado College at Minnesota Duluth (WCHA), 7:07 pm CT; Minnesota at Nebraska Omaha (WCHA), 7:37 pm CT; Wisconsin at Bemidji State (WCHA), 7:37 pm CT; North Dakota at Denver (WCHA), 8:07 pm MT; * Alaska Fairbanks at Alaska Anchorage (NC), 7:07 pm AT. * Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup
Games for Saturday, February 25: St. Cloud State at Michigan Tech (WCHA), 7:07 pm ET; Colorado College at Minnesota Duluth (WCHA), 7:07 pm CT; Minnesota at Nebraska Omaha (WCHA), 7:07 pm CT; Wisconsin at Bemidji State (WCHA), 7:07 pm CT; North Dakota at Denver (WCHA), 7:07 pm MT; * Alaska Anchorage at Alaska Fairbanks (NC), 7:05 pm AT. * Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup
Last Week in the WCHA
Results of Friday, February 17: Bemidji State 0 at Minnesota 3 (WCHA); Denver 3 at Wisconsin 0 (WCHA); Alaska Anchorage 3 at St. Cloud State 2 ot (WCHA); Minnesota Duluth 4 at Minnesota State 2 (WCHA); Michigan Tech 2 at North Dakota 4 (WCHA); Nebraska Omaha 3 at Colorado College 4 (WCHA).
Results of Saturday, February 18: Alaska Anchorage 3 at St. Cloud State 8 (WCHA); Bemidji State 1 at Minnesota 4 (WCHA); Denver 2 at Wisconsin 5 (WCHA); Minnesota Duluth 4 at Minnesota State 4 ot (WCHA); Michigan Tech 1 at North Dakota 1 ot (WCHA); Nebraska Omaha 5 at Colorado College 3 (WCHA).