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U's WCHA season could go either way: repeat title or on road for playoffs

  • Blog Post by: Roman Augustoviz
  • February 19, 2013 - 6:44 AM

Gophers coach Don Lucia reflected on how tight the WCHA race is on his weekly radio show: Six points separate first place from seventh.

"I don't think I have ever seen it this close, this late, with that many teams," he said.

The Gophers had two games in hand over first-place St. Cloud, North Dakota and Denver going into this weekend and picked up two points on them.

And the U still has two in hand over Omaha and Wisconsin.

"Obviously, getting back home will be critical we have success if we want to make sure we finish right toward the top of the standings," Lucia said. "Because we are in a position where we can still win league or we still could be on the road for the first round of the [WCHA] playoffs."

 The Gophers play Minnesota Duluth and Denver at Mariucci the next two weekends, then plays at Bemidji State.

Here are the top seven teams in the WCHA logjam:

1. St. Cloud State           31 pts.,   six games left

2. Omaha                         30, four games left

3. Minnesota State         29, four games left

4. Gophers                       28, six games left

    North Dakota                28, six games left

6. Wisconsin                    27, four games left

7. Denver                          25, six games left

Comments: SCSU goes 5-1, the MacNaughton Cup goes to the Granite City. Even 4-1-1 assures SCSU a tie for first. ... If Huskies go 4-2, Gophers would have to finish 5-0-1 to tie them.

"The best thing that happened to us is what we did nonconference, being 8-0," said Lucia, whose Gophers have just one sweep in 11 conference series. "It certainly put ourselves in great shape for the NCAAs. A year ago ... we came back from Denver after losing two and we were first in the WCHA , but we were a bubble team for the NCAA tournament. That certainly not the case this year."

The Gophers were the only Division I team which won all its nonconference games. So despite being fourth in the WCHA, they are No. 2 in the PairWise ratings which mimic how the NCAA fills out and seeds its 16-team tournament.

That means if the tournament were starting today, the Gophers would be one of the four No. 1 seeds dispersed through the four regionals.

Lucia said SCSU is in the driver's seat for the MacNaughton Cup, which would be the Huskies' first ever.

"We are in pretty good shape," Lucia said. "I am confident we are going to win a few more games here the rest of the year. Hopefully, we can continue to win to put some pressure on not only the top teams ... but maybe put some distance between some teams behind us as well."

The Gophers have the tiebreaker with North Dakota, so it's akin to being one point ahead of UND.

They also have two games in hand on Omaha and Minnesota State Mankato.

"People are going to be beating up on each other," Lucia said. "... We just have to win games and not worry about the league or  winning it. It is just trying to continue to improve and play our best hockey in four weeks."

That would be for the start of the WCHA playoffs.

A bit of separation has occurred between the top seven and the team Nos. 8-12. UMD is tied for No. 8 with Colorado College. Both have 20 points.

The Bulldogs were in contention for home ice until a seven-game winless slide. The scores:

at Colorado College, L 5-1

Denver, L 3-0

Denver, L 4-3

Minnesota State Mankato, L 4-2

MSU Mankato, L 5-1

at Bemidji State, L 4-2

at Bemidji State, T 1-1 OT

So the Bulldogs have scored 10 goals in the past seven games.

"I am not sure we are catching Duluth at a great time," Lucia said. "Having lost a half-dozen in a row, the law of averages says that they are too good of a team for that to continue. They are going to win some games here."

Lucia said the Bulldogs are outshooting their opponents most games.

"A couple of their freshman are leading the charge from an offensive standpoint," Lucia said. "But I think they are  a dangerous team. They are a very good skating team, which the Olympic-size sheet [at Mariucci] should suit them well this weekend."

Lucia said the Gophers have the ability to win every game they play and they have been in every game, but now they have to take the next step. "You are not going to win a league title, if you are not going to win two games on a weekend."

The Gophers have swept only one WCHA team this season, last-place Alaska Anchorage.

He said what separates the Gophers' record last year from this year are the four ties. Last season the Gophers were 20-8 in the WCHA for 40 points. Now they are 12-6-4. 

"Those four ties will probably come back and bite us in the rear end before it is all said and done," Lucia said.

* The Gophers are 12-2-2 at home with a four-game homestand coming up. "We have played well at home," Lucia said. "Adam [goalie Adam Wilcox] has played very well at home. And that needs to continue this weekend against the UMD Bulldogs."

* St. Cloud State is 9-1-1 in WCHA games since mid-December. That one loss was to the Gophers.

 

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