Chris Miller is back, offering WCHA picks and nostalgia. I am back, too, offering a little of this, a little of that. Here's Chris with the intro:
The start of the WCHA playoffs with North Dakota looking like a possible national champion. Hmmm.
Back in the old days they did the two-game, total-goal series in the first round. So, basically, a six-period game. I was batting the typewriter for the Northland’s Newspaper in Duluth when North Dakota had a powerhouse in 1986-87. Tony Hrkac had returned from a one-year banishment to the Canadian national team, and the “Hrkac Circus” (for you young punks, those words rhyme) was dazzling the league on their way to winning it all. Gino Gasparini had Dean Blais recruiting for him, and they brought Eddie Belfour down from Manitoba to play goalie when, quite frankly, they coulda won it all with your grandmamma between the pipes. This is before Belfour was “Eddie the Eagle” and he was just plain “Festus” for his nine months in GF.
First-round series, the Sioux played UMD, one of the worst seasons in Bulldawg history, they’d already lost four times to the Sioux by a combined 27-6 score (you can look it up). So Mike Sertich decides to slow it down (the league was a little more high-tempo in them days, kids) and have his guys ice the puck whenever they can. So they ice it like 70 times, Belfour is getting distracted and lets in a couple of softies. The Sioux only win 5-3 and Gino was STEAMING. Smoke was literally coming out of his ears, and it wasn’t because he was lighting one Pall Mall on another. I had the misfortune of being the first scribe on the scene and he just starting hollering about what a disgrace the game was to hockey and I’m like, hey, I just drove six hours in a snowstorm with tonsillitis, covering a team with 25 losses, spare me. I was sort of like that in my younger days, cranky.
But those total-goal series brought out the worst in everyone. Sertie played it straight up the next night and lost 8-1, I’m sure Bobby Joyce had several goals, and shortly after that they scrapped the total-goals concept. Ralph Engelstad very instrumental in the decision, I’m told.
Now the Sioux have the Michigan Techs this year in round one after hammering them last week in the U.P. Let’s kick off the predictions with that one, Roman, and tell me if I’m getting too long-winded.
Michigan Tech at North Dakota
Chris: The Techsters still have the biggest first-round upset in WCHA history, in ’94 when they finished 10th but beat first-place CC. The Don had led the miracle turnaround for CC, saved the program really, I’m being serious here, but they didn’t make the NCAAs, yep, the regular-season league champions don’t make the NCAAs, college hockey world very upset about that one. Probably led to the expansion of the NCAA tournament, don’t recall, didn’t want to look that one up. So will that happen again this weekend? I think Roman is poised to shock the world, I’m not, I see the Frattin kid becoming the front-runner for the Hobey with a big weekend as the Sioux romp. North Dakota 6-0 and 14-2
Roman: Michigan Tech may get one or two key players back for this series and will put up a better battle than last weekend. But the Huskies have already handed out their team awards. Coaches probably have vacations plahned for next week. They need sun and hugs after this season, which included a 26-game winless streak. If Tech wins this series, this might be the biggest first-round upset ever. Sioux sweeps 5-1, 4-2
Bemidji State at Nebraska-Omaha
Chris: The Bemidjis were 3-0-1 against the Omahas this year, and Roman has pointed out that cost Blaiser’s crew a shot at the league title. Worried about the Beavers goalie here. Thanks the miracle of television, I checked out the Bakala kid last weekend and he wanders a bit too much. The Mavericks are gonna run him, somewhat legally, and throw this series into chaos. Penalty records set. Omaha turns it up a notch (got that saying from watching the TV, too) and wins two. Nebraska Omaha 5-3 and 6-1
Roman: Beavers goalie Dan Bakala seems to own UNO. BSU plays aggressive and tough like the red Mavericks. The Gophers would really like to see BSU win, would help them in the PairWise. Right now BSU is not one of the 30 teams under consideration (TUC), but two wins in Omaha would probably get them back in. So going against the coach of the year in the WCHA, the seeding and logic ... BSU wins in three, 3-2, 2-4 and 4-3 OT
Wisconsin at Colorado College
Chris: Another series where the teams are meeting for the second weekend in the row, and you know what that means. What? Please tell me. It’s easier on the radio announcers is all I can think of. I heard on the radio this week that Bucky is in “free fall” so, based on that nugget, I’ll pick CC to win the three-game series in tennis-like fashion … Tigers win 6-4, 2-6, 6-3
Roman: The Badgers were the NCAA runners-up a year ago. And four, five weeks ago or so, seemed like a near lock to make the national tournament again. But the Gophers helped send UW into that free fall by taking three points out of Madison with a 5-2 win and a 3-3 tie. CC is on the NCAA bubble and needs to win this series, too, to stay in contention for an NCAA at-large spot for at least one more week. ... Badgers in mild upset, 4-3, 2-3, 3-1
St. Cloud State at UMD
Chris: The year Tech beat CC in the playoffs, I happened to be at a first-round series between UMD and St. Cloud State and I told then-Huskies beat writer Mike Killeen that if Tech pulled off the upset, I would walk across the National Hockey Center ice stark naked. I had no intention of actually doing it, because everyone knows I’m all talk and no action, but oddly enough in the past few years I have been on that campus when no one was around and thought about actually sneaking into the building and doing it, just in case when the Great Scorer comes to mark against my name, he marks not whether I won or lost but how I played the game. I didn’t, natch, because I’d screw it up somehow and get arrested or something, and that’s all I need, more bad publicity. Back to hockey. The St. Clouds beat the UMDs bad a couple of weeks ago, so you can throw out the record book, as the kids say. I’ll go with the ... Bulldogs take the series at home, losing 3-2, winning 4-2 and then taking a five-overtime thriller 6-5 on Sunday evening
Roman: Seems it has been a couple years since I've seen St. Cloud State. The Gophers split with SCSU in late October. Know much more about UMD. They can score. This Mike Connolly have five goals -- in one game -- against the U of M. Jack Connolly and Justin Fontaine find the net a lot, too. But the Amsoil Arena has not proved to be much of a home team edge this season. 'Dogs should try to move this series to the DECC. ... Being a contrarian Huskies win 4-2, 3-5, 2-1 overtime.
Minnesota State at Denver: Great story last weekend when MSU has Senior Night and dresses a guy named Brett Peterson for only the third time in four years. And naturally he scores the only goal. That’s what you call a money player. Based on goals-per-game average, I put that guy on my All-WCHA ballot. Actually, I couldn’t vote for an All-WCHA team … 96 ballots, and not one for a very thoughtful college hockey observer like myself? A shame, really. Only two media members from each WCHA city – I got news for ya, I don’t think there are two in Houghton – three coaches from each team (huh?), two captains from each team (rekindling the great debate … is it alternate captain? Or assistant captain?) and the very objective Sports Information Directors. One year when USA Hockey’s Dave Fischer was SID at Tech, he had everyone up there fill out their ballots with all Tech players so Tech would at least have six All-WCHA honorable mention choices. Crazy. The league moved quickly to issues sanctions and void the ballots. Very controversial stuff, not sure it’s ever been fully reported. Anyway, Fish was the best. Always stirring it up. He’s a big timer now. Roman tells me I’m wandering again. So here we go. ... Denver sweeps 1-0, 4-2
Roman: DU is 8-0-2 in last 10 meetings and MSU just got swept at home by UAA. ... Denver sweeps 4-2, 2-0.
Alaska-Anchorage at Gophers
Chris: We’re paying Roman big money to break down this series, so I’m not going to weigh in on the actual hockey action. I think the Gophers are usually dominant in home playoff series though, right? Once they came up to Duluth for a first-rounder and were winning Game 3 4-1 in the third period when the Bulldogs rally to tie the game, then win it in overtime. Sertich went bonkers and ran from center ice to slide into the net after the game. Gophers coach Doug Woog comes out to meet with reporters and we’re all wondering what pearls of wisdom he’s gonna drop, and all he can say is “What about Sertie sliding into the net?” Wooger. He knew just what to say. I’d trust Roman’s prediction on this one more than mine, but I’ll guess the ... Gophers win in three games, all of them ending in 3-2 scores.
Roman: Tricky series to pick. UAA has the hot goalie in Chris Kamal. The Gophers actually created him. He was stuck on the bench, when the maroon and gold blitzed Rob Gunderson 5-1 in the first game of a late Jan. series. Seawolves turned to Kamal for second game and he shut out the Gophers 1-0 on 30 saves. If he keeps standings on his head, his face will get very red and the Gophers could be in trouble. Not to mention Joel Maturi, the university's AD. He will get a boatload of e-mails asking for Lucia's removal. Three years without an NCAA bid. Outrageous. But the Gophers have more talent, are hot and are at home. ... So Gophers win 4-1, 3-2.
And we will see you next week in St. Paul at the X. (That's the Final Five, you know. Gophers missed that last year, too.)
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