Inside the WCHA
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
It was another fantastic game in Mankato on Saturday ... not quite as good as Friday's night's duel, but close. But how much are these two teams going to have left in the tank? After figuring in all the overtimes, they have played almost an extra game in this series, meaning Sunday's decisive game three is almost like a game four. Like Friday's game, the team playing better hockey down the stretch ended up losing the game. MSU had a number of quality rushes in the closing minutes of the game and in overtime. But all it took was a bad break for the Gophers to win. Mike Carman roared into the Mavericks' zone, and fired a wrister that deflected off Channing Boe's shin pad and over Mike Zacharias' glove, off the cross bar and into the net.
Carman commented after the game that it was about time the Gophers are the ones catching a break, and maybe he's right. It was Minnesota's first win in 14 overtime games this season (1-4-9). Now, both teams have won in a way that should devastate their opponent. Minnesota came back strong Saturday. Now it's up to Minnesota State. These Sunday games are the reason why you fight for home ice advantage during the season.
Amazing stat of the night: Kangas and Zacharias have combined for a .972 save percentage in this series ... talk all you want about a lack of offense. These games could have easily been 4-3 or 5-4.
Michigan Tech 3, North Dakota 2 (OT)
Another Sunday mystery comes from Grand Forks, where Michigan Tech scored a pair of third period goals — including one with under six seconds remaining to tie the score — and then score early in overtime to force a game three against North Dakota.
This one may shock some, but not me. The Huskies played terrible last Friday in Mankato in a 5-2 drubbing but responded with a 3-2 win Saturday. One thing is for sure Sunday, Tech can't count on another third period come back win. Not against North Dakota. Not at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Tech is not built to erase leads late in games. If they can grab a goal or two early and lock down the Fighting Sioux for the remainder of the game, they have a shot.
St. Cloud State 4, Wisconsin 3 (OT)
In what is the most surprising turn of the events this weekend, St. Cloud State takes care of Wisconsin in two games, using the home-ice advantage earned at Grand Forks the week before. In the process, the Huskies locked an NCAA tournament birth while at the same time, may have knocked the Badgers out. It's a complicated formula, and I'll explain my reasoning below. But how about the Badgers Saturday ... you think they didn't know their season was on the line? They outshot St. Cloud 49-21, including a 14-3 mark in the third period — the only period where neither team scored.
But kudos are in store for SCSU; this is a team nobody wants to play right now. If Jase Weslosky gets hot from here on in, look out. They have guys in their lineup that are flat out snipers. And they have one of the best power plays in the nation — always something that helps this time of year.
What do you think of Mike Eaves' decision to pull his No. 1 goaltender Shane Connelly after a shaky first period Saturday? The junior allowed two goals on nine shots and was yanked in favor of the untested Scott Gudmandson, on the road, in an elimination game. Does he know something about the NCAA Tournament that we don't know? Questionable call if you ask me, and if you look at Gudmandson's performance (two goals allowed on 12 shots), the math seems to be on my side as well.
Colorado College 3, Alaska-Anchorage 2 (OT)
What a time to take your first lead ... Alaska-Anchorage led 1-0 and 2-1 but could not hold either lead. On the road against one of the nation's best teams, the Seawolves put up a heck of a fight; they outshot the Tigers 28-20 Friday night and was tied until late in the second period. But in this case, CC just had too much firepower. Next weekend's trip to St. Paul will be the final true road trip of the season for the Tigers — they will host a regional in Colorado Springs in two weeks. If they advance to the Frozen Four, they will have a simple hour-long jaunt north to Denver. Life is good for CC right now.
Denver 1, Minnesota-Duluth 0
And mercifully, Minnesota-Duluth's pitiful second half comes to an end. Somehow, these guys are still ranked in the polls, but probably no longer. The Bulldogs score more than three goals in a game just three times since Thanksgiving, and were shutout in four of their final eight games. In two others, they scored once. Needless to say, there was some sort of power outage along the North Shore, where at one time, UMD was a top 10 team.
Denver didn't exactly close out the Bulldogs with authority — the Pioneers fired exactly 15 shots on goal Saturday night and took advantage of a very generous Alex Stalock Friday. A .785 save percentage? Gross. When your team is scoring one goal per game over its final eight, stopping 22 of 28 shots won't get the job done.
- Colorado College and Denver were in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happened this weekend. For Denver, it's all about nailing down that No. 2 seed.
- North Dakota is in the tournament no matter what happens Sunday — now it's a matter of whether it can climb high enough in the Pairwise to grab the No. 1 seed in the Madison regional. If both UND and Michigan earn No. 1 seeds, it will be interesting to see who gets the Madison regional and who gets sent out east. It may also depend on how many WCHA teams make the final 16.
- St. Cloud State all but nailed down a NCAA tournament bid and now it's about holding onto a No. 2 seed in the tournament. This is where it gets dicey. There isn't much wiggle room between St. Cloud State and Boston College (both tied for seventh in the Pairwise) and Minnesota State and Minnesota (tied for 11th). Say the Mavericks win Sunday, and beats SCSU in the play-in game of the Final Five next weekend. Would that, along with a 2-0 record already this season over the Huskies, be enough to catapult the Mavs to the top-8?
- I think Minnesota State secured an NCAA birth with its win over Minnesota on Friday. Ironically, I think Minnesota secured a birth with its win Saturday. Whichever team wins Sunday's game will be a virtual lock. Which ever team loses may lose some sleep, but probably not. There is a lot of room between the MSU-Minnesota-Wisconsin group and the Notre Dame-Harvard-Boston University group. There may not be enough games left for the second group to catch the first, although because Wisconsin is finished, it is probably a bit nervous.
- Minnesota-Duluth needed to win this series. If it did, it probably locks up a birth and pushes out one of those bubble teams. If Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Harvard or Boston University earn an at-large bid, they can send Denver a big, fat thank you card.
- Michigan Tech has played a brutal schedule, and entered the weekend as one of the teams under consideration. A win Sunday keeps their very slim at-large bid hopes alive. Because it would play teams in front of it in the Pairwise come Final Five time, one could see it continuing to move up as long as it kept on winning. But let's face it, the Huskies need to run the table. But hey, weirder things have happened.
- Alaska-Anchorage, like UMD, is finished. Nice effort this weekend, though.