This is the time to start looking at the PairWise ratings. They are statistical comparisons that mimic how the NCAA seeds and picks out 16 teams for it postseason tournament.

Five conference champions receive automatic bids, then the nine highest teams in the PairWise ratings -- not yet in -- get invited.

As of now, before the conference tournaments, the WCHA would have five teams in the field:

* The Gophers, No. 2 in the PairWise behind Quinnipiac. They would be one of the four No. 1 seeds, probably in the West Regional, in Grand Rapids, Mich.

* North Dakota, tied for No. 5. Just on the verge of being another No. 1 seed in the regionals.

* Minnesota State, No. 7. Mike Hastings has probably done enough with the Mavericks to be voted the WCHA Coach of the Year, barring a late-season collapse and St. Cloud winning the MacNaughton Cup for the first time ever. If both those things happen, I could see Bob Motzko winning the award.

* St. Cloud State, No. 11. Motzko's Huskies lead the WCHA by two points over the Gophers, 33 to 31 points, with four games left. If SCSU finishes 4-0 or 3-0-1 the WCHA regular-title will go to the Huskies. Even if they go 3-1, they will have at least a share. But because of a spotty nonconference record, the Huskies would probably be a No. 3 seed at a regional.

* Denver, tied for No. 12. The Pioneers could help themselves a bit by sweeping the Gophers this weekend at Mariucci. Two losses, on the other hand, would move them closer to the bubble.  Not what coach George Gwozdecky wants.

On the outside now, looking in are three other WCHA teams: No. 22 Nebraska Omaha, tied for No. 25 Wisconsin and No. 30 Colorado College. To get into the NCAAs, those teams probably have to win the Final Five. And all have enough talent to do so in this crazy season.

Crazy? Let me explain. Only 10 teams have under 10 losses. It's the season of parity in college hockey.

Quinnipiac has the best record -- 23-4-5. The Gophers and Niagara are next at 21-6-5 each. And the arguement could be made that Quinnipiac and Niagara both played easy schedules.

And the U of M hasn't exactly been on a roll. The Gophers are 4-3-2 in their last nine games, barely above .500 with a second MacNaughton Cup at stake.

Maybe Don Lucia should get that sports psychologist that Tubby Smith had talk to his team before the Gophers victory over No. 1 Indiana in basketball? The Gophers have a chance to do something very odd, which is to either lose or tie with every other team in the WCHA.

They have a tie or loss against nine of them. And now they play Denver at home and Bemidji State on the road in their last two series. The Gophers have only one sweep in the conference this season,  over Alaska Anchorage at home in January. But the Seawolves tied the Gophers in one game up in Alaska early.


Based on the current PairWise rankings, the other teams in the NCAA tournament today would be:

Four teams  from the ECAC, three from the Big East and the CCHA, which will disband after this season, and one from Atlantic Hockey.

ECAC: Quinnipiac, RPI, Darmouth and Yale

CCHA: Miami, Western Michigan, Notre Dame

Big East: New Hampshire, Boston College, UMass-Lowell

Atlantic Hockey: Niagara


Because of the state wrestling tournament behind held at the Kohl Center last weekend, Wisconsin played Penn State, a first-year, independent program on Sunday and Monday.

The Badgers. coming off a split with the Gophers, won the first game 5-0 but lost the second 3-2 in overtime. Taylor Holstrom scored the game-winner with 33 seconds left in the extra period. Max Gardiner, the ex-Gophers forward, had an assist on that goal and also on Holstrom's first of the game early in the third period.

Monday's game was the last one of the season for PSU. The Nittany Lions finished 13-14, including 3-2 against future Big Ten opponents next season. They had wins versus Ohio State and Michigan State, too.

Gardiner, a sophomore forward who left the Gophers after his freshman season, was PSU's third leading scorer with three goals and a team-high 19 assists for 22 points.

Penn State fell behind the Badgers 2-0, but got 36 shots on one of the best defensive teams in the WCHA.