Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
Five of the six first-round series in the WCHA playoffs ended on Saturday. Only one went to a third game. Wisconsin, the 10th seed, plays at Denver, the third seed for the final spot in this week's Final Five at the Xcel Energy Center.
If Denver, the favorite wins, the pairings will look like this:
At Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
Michigan Tech (16-18-4, sixth seed after re-seeding) vs. Denver (23-12-4, third seed), 2:07 p.m.
St. Cloud State (17-16-5, fifth seed) vs. North Dakota (22-12-4, fourth seed), 7:07 p.m.
Mich Tech/DU winner vs. Minnesota Duluth (24-8-6, second seed), 2:07 p.m.
SCSU/UND winner vs. Gophers (26-12-1, first seed), 7:07 p.m.
Saturday's championship for Broadmoor Trophy
Friday's winners, 7:07 p.m.
If Wisconsin wins on Sunday, the pairings will look like this:
At Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
Wisconsin (18-17-2, sixth seed after re-seeding) vs. North Dakota (22-12-3, third seed), 2:07 p.m.
Michigan Tech (16-18-4, fifth seed) vs. St. Cloud State (17-16-5, fourth seed), 7:07 p.m.
Wis./UND winner vs. Minnesota Duluth (24-8-6, second seed), 2:07 p.m.
Mich Tech/SCSU winner vs. Gophers (26-12-1, first seed), 7:07 p.m.
Saturday's championship for Broadmoor Trophy
Friday's winners, 7:07 p.m.
Somebody already asked, what happens if Wisconsin advances to the Final Five and upsets North Dakota in the quarterfinals. Would the Badgers, the sixth seed, play the top-seeded Gophers in the semifinals?
Nope. Teams are just re-seeded after the first round. Once they make the Final Five, they play in their bracket. Which makes sense.
If the Badgers were paired with the Gophers, than the winner of the late quarterfinal on Thursday would have to play at 2:07 p.m. on Friday. That would be five hours less rest for that team, which might play three games in three days.
North Dakota won the MacNaughton Cup and the Broadmoor Trophy last year.
Now the Gophers will try to do the same thing this week.
The Gophers have won 13 MacNaughton Cups, but only three of those teams won the MacNaughton Cup, which is presented to the regular-season champion, and the Broadmoor Trophy, which is given to the playoff champion. Those rare double trophy seasons came in 1975, 1981 and 2007.
Named the three stars of Saturday's game -- a Gophers' 7-3 victory over Alaska Anchorage -- were three Gopher forwards:
No. 1, Erik Haula ... two goals, two assists, a plus-4 rating, four shots on goal
No. 2, Zach Budish ... he had a goal and an assist and a plus-2 rating
No. 3, Nick Bjugstad ... he had a team-high five shots on goal, a goal and an assist
Senior Jake Kremer, the Gophers' practice goalie for four years, entered the game with 44 seconds to play. He did not make any saves, but this was the first time he had gotten into a real game. Kremer had played in three exhibition games before.
His teammates mobbed him when the game ended.
* Six different players scored goals for the Gophers; 10 different players had assists. Twelve different players had points.
When the Gophers took their helmets off for the pregame introductions, they got everyone's attention at Mariucci Arena on Friday.
All the players had dyed their hair blond. UMD did that last year and it worked for the Bulldogs, they won the NCAA championship.
That is the Gophers' goal, too, and they took step one Friday toward reaching it. They edged Alaska Anchorage 2-1 on Erik Haula's two second period goals.
The three stars of the game were:
No. 1: Haula. He scored two even-strength goals at 1:42 and 9:52 of the second period, both at even strength. They were goals No. 16 and 17 for him this season. He was a plus-2 for the game and took only two shots.
No. 2: Nate Schmidt. The sophomore defenseman had the key assist on both of Haula's goals. On the first one he made a pass from one blue line to the other, to send Haula in alone on UAA's goalie. On the second Haula goal, Schmidt hit the right post with a shot and the puck deflected to Haula -- just as planned. Ha.
No. 3: Chris Kamal. The sophomore netminder for the Seawolves stopped 32 shots, including 14 in the second period.
* Nick Bjugstad of the Gophers had a game-high seven shots on net, which almost equaled the eight that UAA had as a team the final two periods.
* Mark Alt blocked four shots and Justin Holl three for the Gophers, who had 13 blocks total.
* UAA was one-for-seven on power plays with eight shots on net; the Gophers were zero-for-two on power plays, with six shots on net, all on one two-minute man-advantage in the second period.
GOPHERS IN NCAAs?
Tim Brule of USCHO.com studies the PairWise ratings more closely than most. So when he says the Gophers have all but clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament this year, it means something.
And that's exactly what he said Saturday after the Gophers' 2-1 win over UAA. He said even if the Seawolves win the next two games, the Gophers probably wouldn't fall enough in the PairWise ratings to be excluded from an at-large bid.
Right now the Gophers are tied for No. 6 in the PairWise ratings, which mimic how the NCAA fills out its 16-team NCAA field. The top 14 or 15 in the final PairWise ratings after the conference tournaments make the NCAAs.
UMD, No. 2 in the PairWise behind Boston College , also will be in the NCAA tournament.
North Dakota is tied for No. 11, so two losses to Bemidji State might put them close to the bubble. The Fighting Sioux beat the Beavers 4-1 Friday.
Also close to the bubble is Denver, which dropped to No. 13 in the PairWise after losing 1-0 to Wisconsin. Another loss and DU's season could be over.
"It is surreal right now," goalie Kent Patterson said after the Gophers' 2-1 victory Saturday over Wisconsin. It clinched an outright WCHA title for them, which means they don't have to share the MacNaughton Cup.
If the Gophers had lost to the Badgers in their final regular-season game, Minnesota Duluth could have tied them for first place with a victory at St. Cloud State. As it turned out, UMD and SCSU tied 3-3 after a scoreless overtime.
So the Gophers finished 20-8-0 in the conference for 40 points, the Bulldogs 16-7-5 for 37 points.
"Our senior class has been working for moments like this for our whole four years," Patterson said. "There is no better feeling getting this trophy in this building in front of this great crowd."
Patterson said he threw a first pump when Erik Haula of the Gophers scored a short-handed goal five minutes into the third period to tie the score at 1-1. "And then, when we got the second one," Patterson said, "I threw an even harder one."
Sophomore defenseman Nate Schmidt scored the second goal on a power play three minutes after Haula's goal.
* On whether he liked the view from the Gophers' bench Friday after he was pulled for the third period: "No, I have seen it too many times."
* On the crowd: "You could definitely tell when we got that short-handed goal. Even on big hits, blocked shots, the crowd was into it. We just have great fans here at Mariucci. We wanted to be able to give them something back tonight and we did."
* On his defensemen: "Our D-corps has been there all year. They are going to have their ups and their downs, but the majority of the year, they have been there. They have been my backbone and helped me out when I have had my back turned. Just clearing shots, second chances. Blocking shots. Guys get the puck out.. I can't compliment them enough."
* On what's ahead: "This is the first step on our road. We have been working all season for this night. Starting next week, it is playoff time. And we are ready for that, we are ready to go."
THIS AND THAT
* Saturday was only the third time this season the Gophers have won after trailing after two periods. Their record in those situations is 3-8-1.
* Erik Haula's short-handed goal was the 200th point by a sophomore for the Gophers this season. Nate Schmidt's power-play goal three minutes later was the 201st.
Eleven sophomores have combined for 72 goals and 129 assists.
The 13 other players on the team have 57 goals and 87 assists for 144 points.
Sophomore defenseman Nate Schmidt of the Gophers had not scored a goal in 11 games. And he had not had a game-winning goal this season.
But on Saturday, his power play goal at seven minutes, 40 seconds of the third period was the decisive score as the Gophers edged Wisconsin 2-1 at Mariucci Arena before 10,241 fans. It was his third goal of the season.
"The whole night, [the Badgers] played hard," Schmidt said. "They stuck to their system. They created some turnovers. We had to make sure we stuck to our guns, especially in the third period. It is one of the best periods that we played."
That's saying something, considering the Gophers have outscored opponents 47-18 in the final period.
But this was Senior Night, the last regular-season home game for seven seniors. And Schmidt sensed the special atmosphere.
"It was good to get out there for a third period -- the last week of the year on our home ice," he said. "You can't get much better than that."
Schmidt said Erik Haula's short-handed goal at 4 minutes, 47 seconds of the third period got the crowd going. The goal was Haula's 15th of the season, but first short-handed.
"Once the crowd got into it, it got our bench going," Schmidt said. "And after our bench got going, it was really an uphill thing for us there. It was just getting the energy and the momentum back on our side. They had done a very good job of trying to take it away from us.That goal really helped us. It sparked our last period push."
He said the Mariucci crowd was as loud as he had ever heard it.
"You sit on the bench -- I was trying to talk to [backup goalie Mike] Shibrowski when Haula scored that first goal," Schmidt said, "and I couldn't even hear him talking back to me."
After the game, WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod presented the MacNaughton Cup to the Gophers team. Captain Taylor Matson carried it around. So did Patterson, another senior. A photographer took a picture of the team and coaches with the Cup.
"I took the option of not touching it," said Schmidt, showing his superstitious side. "But it was more of our seniors' thing. It is their deal. Those guys have battled hard for us all year. They deserved the first crack at her. It was good for them, good for our program."
This is the 13th time the Gophers have won the Cup, but the most recent years were 2006 and '07, before any present players were on the team.
* Haula, with his goal, moved into a tie for the team lead in points. He has 15 goals and 23 assists for 38 points. Sophomore center Nick Bjugstad has the mirror image: 23 goals and 15 assists for 38.
* Schmidt is fourth on the team in points -- one behind Kyle Rau -- with three goals and 30 assists for 33 points.
Senior Jake Hansen, an assistant captain for the Gophers, was protective of goalie Kent Patterson after the Gophers' 4-1 loss to Wisconsin on Friday. Patterson was taken out after two periods after giving up all four of the Badgers' goal on 15 shots.
"The kid has started every game this whole year, played every minute up until then," Hansen said. "And most of the year last year. That [the goalie switch] was a little strange."
Sophomore Mike Shibrowski replaced Patterson and stopped five shots in the third period.
"That one is not on Kent, it's on us," Hansen said, referring to the loss. "We played sloppy D. Our forwards were awful. We let Kent hang out to dry and we lost. Plain and simple."
Gophers coach Don Lucia was not critical of Patterson either. "It wasn't his fault," he said.
The one-sided score led to Lucia to change goalies. "It was 4-0 after two," he said. "Ok, let's get Shibby in there tonight."
Lucia said he did not ask Patterson how he felt about coming out. "That part of it is irrelevant," Lucia said. "At that point in time you are thinking big picture. It's 4-0 and the chance that you are going to come back are slim. You know what? Get a little bit of rest, and get ready to go [Saturday]."
Count on Patterson being back in the nets for the second game of this series.
His record when he gives up four or more goals now falls to 2-7-1.
THE DON SAYS
* On the Badgers: "Wisconsin came in and played a very good. And were assertive. And just were much more in sync that we were [Friday]."
* On Gophers' struggles: "We made some mistakes. We have been pretty good on specialty teams. We gave up two power-play goals. We have up a faceoff goal. It wasn't our night. It was their night. And they deserved to win the game without question."
* On his postgame plans Friday night: "My plan is to watch some video tonight, go home and get some sleep. And come back to the rink tomorrow."
* On his hopes for Saturday: "I just want to see a good, honest effort from start to finish."
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