With five weeks to go, the WCHA race is becoming a bit clearer. Five of the 12 teams remain in realistic contention.
Here are the latest standings
1. Gophers 15-5-0 30 points ... bye week, but will be first no matters what happens this weekend
2. UMD 11-4-3 25 ... slipped up at home last weekend, with only one point for a tie vs. Mich. Tech
3. Denver 10-5-3 23 ... have won 5 in row, get Gophers in two weeks, getting healthy, preseason fave
4. Colo. Col. 11-7-0 22 ... could be hard to climb over three teams
NoDak 11-9-0 22 ... bye week, don't have 2 extra games like other top teams to catch U, out of title chase
6. Neb Omaha 9-6-3 21 ... outside title shot because Mavs finish with Gophers and DU at home
So how will top of WCHA standings look at the end of the regular season? UMD, with an easy schedule, looked like the favorite for the MacNaughton Cup until a 4-4 tie and a 5-0 loss against Michigan Tech at home last weekend.
Here's how I see the WCHA at the finish line:
1. Gophers ... have a bye week and then play four at home, four away. Play at Denver (split), host Bemidji State (sweep), play at Neb. Omaha (split), host Wisconsin (sweep). ... DU is hot, but Gophers are 10-0 on Saturdays in WCHA play. Just need a split to stay in good shape. Bemidji State and Wisconsin both have one road win in conference, so Gophers have to sweep them at Mariucci. No excuses. Dean Blais will have his troops fired up in Omaha, but Gophers should be smelling a title by then and get one win. So Gophers finish 6-2 for a ...
21-7-0 record and 42 points
2. UMD ... Bulldogs have four home and six away games. They are at UAA this weekend (sweep), host North Dakota (split at worst), at MSU Mankato (sweep), host CC (sweep), at St. Cloud State (split at worst if Huskies get healthier) ... UMD actually has a better away record (5-1-2) than home record (6-3-1) in conference games. Six away games won't bother the 'Dogs, so defending NCAA champions finish 8-2 for a ...
19-6-3 record and 41 points
If Gophers and UMD finish in a tie, with the same point totals, the WCHA will call them co-champions. That easily could happen, too.
3. Denver ... five home games, five away, starting with a home and home series with Colorado College (split). Host Gophers (split), at Wisconsin (split), host North Dakota (sweep), at Neb Omaha (split). Pios play three teams in the top six, a tough closing grind ... CC is archrival, and two teams have split two games already. Wisconsin isn't bad on home ice, 6-3-1. UNO is 5-2-1 at home so sweeping there will be hard. So DU will finish 6-4, with splits in four of its last five series and have a ...
16-9-3 and 35 points
4. Colorado College ... five home games, five away, starting with Denver (split). At Bemidji State (sweep), host Nebraska Omaha (split), at UMD (two losses), host Michigan Tech (sweep). ... CC is a solid 7-2-0 at home in the WCHA, but under .500 on the road at 4-5-0. ... Late series at UMD is crucial to Tigers' fate. Not expecting them to fare well there, so CC finishes 6-4 for a ...
17-11-0 record and 34 points
5. Nebraska Omaha ... six home games and four away. Host Bemidji State (sweep), at Michigan Tech (split), at Colorado College (split), host Gophers (split), host Denver (split). ... UNO finishes with three tough teams; all of them will be fighting for favorable playoff spots, so UNO could be a real spoiler. ... See a lot of splits in red Mavs' future, so UNO finishes 6-4 for a ...
15-10-3 record and 33 points
As conference teams move into the stretch run, the Gophers and UMD should battle it out for first based on my analysis, while DU, CC, UNO and North Dakota will battle it out for third place. I didn't break down UND's schedule because they really don't have a good chance to catch the Gophers.
If UND, for instance, finishes 8-0, they team without a nickname would be 19-9 for 38 points. The Gophers can get to 38 points by merely going 4-4 the rest of the way. I predicted the Gophers would finish 6-2. Even if the Gophers slip to 5-3, the reigning MacNaughton Cup champions couldn't catch them.
I'll do a WCHA standings forecast again several times before the regular-season ends. Hopefully, each subsequent prediction will be a little more accurate as the number of games left dwindles. That's the theory, at least.
Coming up later this week:
A lonely cry from an e-mailer to drop the subjective USCHO.com and USA Today rankings in stories in favor of the objective PairWise rankings.