Thursday, March 5, 2009

Around the WCHA: the clock is about to hit midnight, will the Badgers turn into pumpkins?

Last week there was no Around the WCHA, and I apologize for that. There is no reason to rehash the results from the past two weekends, let’s go right to the standings. (Actually, I should give some props to UAA for beating Alaska Fairbanks twice last weekend. It shows the depth of the WCHA, when the WCHA’s 9th place team sweeps the CCHA’s 4th place team.)

1 – North Dakota – 36 pts
2 – Denver – 35 pts
3 – CC – 30 pts
4 – Wisconsin – 29 pts
5 – minnesota – 27 pts
5 – Duluth – 27 pts
5 – St. Cloud – 27 pts
8 – Mankato – 23 pts
9 – UAA – 19 pts
10 – Michigan Tech – 9 pts

This is what is known for sure. Either DU or North Dakota is going to win the MacNaughton, and Mankato, UAA and Tech are all going on the road for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. Just like last season, the middle is once again wide open and comes down to the final weekend.

It’s amazing how two weeks ago Badger fans allowed themselves the hope to think that the MacNaughton might actually come to Madison for the first time since 2000. Those hopes were quickly destroyed by the OT loss to Denver. So following the Denver series hopes were still high for a third place finish, Wisconsin definitely had the inside track, and third place wouldn’t be horrible since Wisconsin could avoid the play-in game at the Final Five. Now that ending is also very much hanging in the balance following last weekend in Mankato. Third place is still possible, but so is seventh place if the team doesn’t pull itself together and gain at least two points this weekend. Here is the final WCHA regular season weekend schedule.

North Dakota @ Wisconsin – need a split badly and at minimum
CC @ Denver (one game) – Denver should win at home
minnesota @ Tech – gophers get three points
UAA @ Duluth – only Wisconsin & DU have beaten Duluth at home, one pt for the seawolves
St. Cloud home/home w/ Mankato – split

IF (huge IF) my predictions were to end correctly, North Dakota still raises the MacNaughton on Saturday night, Wisconsin would take third and there would be a three way tie for fourth.

As you can see from the schedule, Wisconsin really does need to get some points. The gophers and bulldogs have the easiest finishes and are only two points back in the standings. Luckily Wisconsin has the tie breaker w/ both teams, so getting to 31 points puts them into some home ice for the first time since 2006. St. Cloud is in the mix too, someone somewhere said UW holds that tie breaker too, but I’m not actually 100% sure what the second tie breaker is. Two weeks ago if you asked me if the team could at minimum split w/ the Sioux at home I would have had some sarcastic answer for you, now I can’t say the same thing. North Dakota has lost only once in 2009.

This looks a lot like last season, Wisconsin could miss home ice by a point or two again, or be on the right side of the line by the slimmest of margins. And it shouldn’t be this way. Wisconsin has blown at least eight league points in the second half of the season losing games they had no business losing. As nubeetle likes to say, snagging defeat from the jaws of victory. The Badgers should be sitting one point ahead of the Sioux in the standings and this should be the series for all the marbles. Disappointment reins supreme for a third consecutive season.