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.
The WCHA's Final Five as been a tournament of upsets. Lower seeds have won all four games so far. And if the trend continues, Colorado College, which finished eight in the regular season, will beat Wisconsin in the title game tonight and get an automatic spot in the NCAA tournament.
Upsets have happened across the board in the four other Division I tournaments this week.
And that's a problem for St. Cloud State. The Huskies lost 4-1 to Wisconsin on Friday in the Final Five semifinals and now are tied for No. 11 in the PairWise Rankings, a mathematical formula which mimics how the NCAA seeds and fills out its 16-team tournament field.
No problem, you say? Actually, it is. The Huskies are "tied" for No. 11, but they lose the tiebreaker to both Niagara and Minnesota State, who have higher RPIs, a measurement of a team's strength of schedule.
So the Huskies are actually No. 13. They got themselves in that predicament by going 3-5-0 in nonconference games. (The Gophers were 8-0-0 in nonconference play, the only team in the country without a loss or tie outside its league. Minnesota State was 6-0-2.)
But there are 16 spots, right?
Yes, but two of them already will be taken by teams not in the PairWise's top 16.
The winner of the Wisconsin-Colorado College game will grab one. Wisconsin has the best RPI of teams tied for No. 17; ditto for CC among teams tied for No. 25.
The Atlantic Hockey champion also will be a team not among the PairWise's top 16. In fact, Canisus and Mercyhurst are not in the PairWise Rankings at all because their RPI is under .500.
What that means is the NCAA already can go 14 deep at most from the top of the PairWise Rankings. Remember St. Cloud State is No. 13.
If another team not in the PairWise's top 14 wins a tournament, the NCAA cutout drops to 13. And so on.
SCSU has to root for the favorites to win tournament games today and Sunday.
Here are the games the Huskies have to watch today:
Hockey East championship: UMass-Lowell, No. 3 with highest RPI, vs. Boston University, tied No. 17 with Wisconsin, but really No. 18, 6 p.m. in Boston ... Huskies need UMass-Lowell to win
ECAC championship: Union, No. 14, vs. Brown, No. 20 with highest RPI, 6 p.m. at Atlantic City, N.J. ... Huskies have to root for Union while at the same wondering if the Dutchmen could jump them in the PairWise with a win.
Notre Dame, No. 8 with highest RPI, vs. Ohio State, tied for No. 25, but really No. 26, 1 p.m. in Detroit
Miami, tied for No. 3 but really No. 4, vs. Michigan, No. 29, 4:35 p.m. in Detroit
Huskies need Notre Dame and Miami to win
SIX FOR WCHA?
If St. Cloud State can get in as at at-large team, the WCHA, in its final year with the present teams, would have six teams in the NCAA tournament. The other four conferences would have 10.
Hooray for the WCHA, huh?
Already securely in are the Golden Gophers as the No. 2 seed in the overall field behind Quinnipiac.
The Gophers are No. 2 in the PairWise, hence their seed. No. 6 North Dakota, No. 10 Denver, which lost in the first round to CC, and Minnesota State Mankato, the team with the highest RPI among teams tied for No. 11, are also in.
The Gophers will be the top seed in whatever region they are assigned to, probably the West Regional in Grand Rapids, Mich.
North Dakota will probably be a second seed wherever it goes, DU and MSU third seeds.
St. Cloud State clinched its first-ever WCHA regular season title last Friday with its win at Wisconsin. Then the next night the Gophers got a share of it when they won and the Huskies lost in Madison.
The Huskies celebrated their share of it at the National Hockey Center on Saturday with a postgame MacNaughton Cup presentation by WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod.
"It is like a Stanley Cup, it is a beautiful trophy that means a lot," Gophers coach Don Lucia said of the MacNaughton Cup.
He said his teams at Colorado College and Minnesota have won it seven times. "This is the first time we have been co-champions," he said on a recent radio show. "I assume it will probably go back and forth [for special events]. ... We are close enough that we can do it."
Other co-champions, he said, have taken turns having if for.six months at a time.
Lucia said he is happy for his player, that they get to hang a banner which they can come back and see in 10-20 years when they are "older, balder and heavier."
Even though the Gophers and the Huskies tied for first place with 37 points, SCSU got the No. 1 seed based on tiebreakers, in this case, who had the most victories in WCHA games.
"We're the No. 2 seed, and that's fine," Lucia said.
Actually, someone looking at the Final Five schedule wouldn't know that. The Gophers play in the second semifinal on Friday, in prime time. That's all about money. Whenever Minnesota is in the tournament and has a first-day bye,. the Gophers play in the second game Friday because they draw so well.
SCSU RELIES ON SOLID GOALIE
St. Cloud State has a handful of outstanding forwards, but the Huskies are also strong in the nets. Sophomore goalie Ryan Faragher of Fort Frances, Ontario, has a 22-12-1 record after beating Alaska Anchorage twice last weekend.
He needs three more wins this season to tie the team record of 25 set by Scott Meyer in 2000-01. Faragher owns a 2.27 GAA and a .916 save percentage.
It helps that opponents are rarely on the power play. SCSU is the least penalized team in the country, averaging 8.1 penalty minutes per game. Faragher's teammates block shots, too. Sophomore defenseman Andrew Prochno leads the Huskies with 45 blocks, junior forward Nic Dowd is next with 44.
After scoring 11 goals against UAA, the Huskies are averaging 3.42 goals per game, third among 59 Division I teams.
ONE WIN FOR VETERAN SCRIBE
I had one of my best weeks picking WCHA games last weekend, going 15-2. Picked all six series correctly, but gave myself two loses for predicting the Wisconsin-UMD and Gophers-Bemidji State series to go three games. Joe the Lawyer went 11-6. Maybe I should get a more opponent? -- just kidding Joe. You've beaten me several times this long season, too.
Our picks this week will be out early, sometime Thursday morning because the Final Five starts with Minnesota State and Wisconsin at 2 p.m. that afternoon.
* Lucia said he, his players and Gophers fans loved going up to Bemidji State for the final regular-season series. "They loved facility [the Sanford Center]. The hotel is close. ... We are go up there in October next year," Lucia said. "It is a very good venue. They hit a home run with the facility they build for their community."
* Lucia on freshman goalie Adam Wilcox: "He seems to make critical saves in a key point in the game."
* Five of the six teams in the Final Five will have their pep bands at their games.
The St. Cloud State is the No. 1 seed in the Final Five this week, but the Huskies have not had much success winning it.
In 13 previous appearances since joining the WCHA in 1090-91, they have won it only once, in 2001, when they beat North Dakota 6-5 in overtime.
This is SCSU's sixth time in the Final Five since Bob Motzko became the Huskies. The other trips were in 2006-08, 2010 and 2012.
The Huskies are 8-16-0 in Final Five games since their first trip in 1994. They have played in the title game four times, facing UND three times.
SCSU (23-14-1, 18-9-1 WCHA), which swept last-place Alaska Anchorage 6-1, 5-1 in the first round, are 6-9 in games at the X since it opened in 2000-01.
"The big thing for us," Motzko said Monday on his radio show, "is that our freshman scored Friday and our older guiys carried us on Saturday. We needed that combination. ... The top scorers in our league are all in this [Final Five] tournament."
Is Motzko right? Let's check. He is real close. Nine of the top 10 scorers in the WCHA are in the Final Five. Missing only is scoring leader Ryan Walters of UNO. The list:
1 Ryan Walters, UNO, jr 22-30-52
2 Danny Kristo, North Dakota, sr. 24-26-50
Drew LeBlanc SSCU, sr. 13-37-50
4 Erik Haula, Gophers jr 16-33-49
5 Rylan Schwartz, CC, sr 17-31-48
Corban Knight, UND, sr 15-33-48
7 Matt Leitner MSU, so SO 17-28-45
8 Alexander Krushelnyski CC jr 14-26-40
9 Kyle Rau, Gophers, so 15-24-39
10 Nic Dowd, SCSU, jr 14-24-38
LeBLANC A TERROR
Senior Drew LeBlanc scored one goal and three assists in the Huskies’ sweep of UAA to become the ninth player in team history to hit the 50-point plateau.
He leads the nation with 37 assists and ranks third in points with 50 points.
LeBlanc, of Hermantown, Minn., has 105 assists -- second in team history -- and 42 goals in his career for 147 points -- sixth most -- in a school record 167 games.
He became the first player in league history to win the WCHA Player of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year awards. LeBlanc has 15th multi-point games this season with his goal and two assists this past Friday. He has had three-or-more points in a game four times .
Besides LeBlanc, the Huskies also have a lot of other star power. Among other key SCSU players:
* Freshman forward Jonny Brodzinski had two goals in the Huskies’ 6-1 win over UAA on Friday. Brodzinski leads all Division I rookies in 2012-13 and the Huskies as a team with 21 goals. Brodzinski leads the Huskies with a plus-28 rating.
"This was truly a team that things needed to come together quickly," Motzko said. And they did. "Brodzinski's dad was the only person saying that this kid could score 20 goals," Motzko said. "He knew what he was talking about."
* Junior defenseman Nick Jensen was the first Huskies player selected the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year. He ranks second among D-I defensemen with 25 assists and is five shy of the SCSU record for most points by a defenseman set by Bret Hedican in 1990-91. In his career, Jensen has 84 points and 69 assists, fourth and second in team history, respectively.
Seven of the 11 highest scoring teams in D-I are from the WCHA:
1. Gophers 3.61 goals-per-game
3. St. Cloud State 3.42
4. Denver 3.39
5. North Dakota 3.31
6. Neb Omaha 3.26
10. (tie) MSU Mank 3.21
Colorado Col. 3.21
St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko, who always sounds genuine, was talking after his team's 5-1 loss to Michigan Tech on Saturday. He said his team played better than the night before, except for the first few minutes.
Oh, but those first few minutes decided the game.
Tech, the Huskies from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, scored three goals in the first 4 minutes, 23 seconds to take a 3-0 lead. Tanner Kero made it 1-0 at 28 seconds. Jujhar Khaira made it 2-0 at 3:51 and Riley Sweeney 3-0 at 4:23.
Saturday's loss -- after a 5-3 win the night before -- kept the Huskies, who joined the WCHA in 1990-91, from clinching a share of their first MacNaughton Cup which goes to the regular-season champion. And now the Huskies have to go on the road to play surging Wisconsin in Madison. But now at the Kohl Center, at small Veteran's Memorial, which holds just over 10,000.
"Give Tech credit, they were much more determined [Saturday]." Motzko said. "You could tell right from the start. ... Their top players were outstanding."
Motzko said the Huskies' defense did not give sophomore goalie Ryan Faragher much of a chance.
And at 13:03 of the middle period, Tech took a 4-0 lead on David Johnstone's goal. Freshman Alex Petan, who also had two assists, made it 5-0 at 8:28 of the third.
Faragher was replaced after Tech's fourth goal. He only had 14 saves. Rasmus Reijola, his replacement, stopped eight of nine shots.
Freshman Jimmy Murray finally broke the shutout at 17:16 of the third period.
Jamie Phillips, a 6-3 freshman who had not started since Dec. 3, made 36 saves. Tech coach Mel Pearson said he played a hunch to put him in. Tech improved to 11-17-4 with the win, 7-15-4 in the WCHA.
The home Huskies, playing in retro uniforms, outshot Tech 37-27 in the second game but were 0-for-7 on the power play, Tech was 0-for-2.
St. Cloud State (20-13-1, 17-8-1) did clinch home ice for the playoffs, but the Huskies want more than that.
"We just couldn't make a play," Motzko said.
He said his players know the situation, how tight the WCHA is, but are trying to focus on getting wins first and foremost.
"We are figthing for home ice," he said. "We are fighting for the NCAA tournament, we are fighting to win a league title." Motzko said.
Announced attendance on Saturday was 5,037.
Said Murray, who scored the lone goal for SCSU: "It is pretty fitting it goes down to the last weekend of the year."
St. Cloud State built a 4-0 lead in Friday's game before the visiting Huskies got within 4-3 in the third by scoring three goals within 4:37. It was a sign of things to come.
Faragher made 42 saves, which allowed SCSU to build its lead. Freshman forward Kalle Kossila scored two goals. A lout cheer went up at the National Hockey Center when the Gophers' score on Friday was announced: Denver 2, Minnesota 0.
But things change quickly in the WCHA.
It was the Gophers' fans cheering the next night because of SCSU's loss.
The St. Cloud Times story on Saturday's game is here.
* Kassila now has 15 goals for SCSU.
* St. Cloud State is tied for 10th in the PairWise ratings, which mimic how the NCAA seeds and fills out its NCAA field. The top top 14 teams in the PairWise are normally in.
* Since a 4-2 loss to the Gophers on Feb. 8 at St. Cloud State, the Huskies are 3-3, splitting series with the Gophers, Colorado College and Michigan Tech.
St. Cloud State Bob Motzko had a lot of nice words to say about the Gophers after playing them last weekend. The teams split, with the Gophers winning 4-2 Friday and the Huskies 4-3 Saturday at the National Hockey Center.
"It was a grear weekend, the intensity in the building was fantastic," Motzko said on his weekly radio show on Monday. "The big-time players played big. Minnesota had a great team. Their top players were good and our top players were good."
He said the Huskies had a tough time on Friday adjusting to the Gophers' speed, after playing two teams that like to dump the puck deep and chase before them.
"They don't dump the puck, they are a little mirror of ourselves. ... They are a tough team to play on a onetime shot."
This was the only regular-season series the two teams play this season, so that's why it wasn't a home-and-home series like it has been when they have played twice.
"The second night they didn't have lot of chances," said Motzko, a former Gophers assistant and still a friend of U coach Don Lucia. "They are a good defensive team. They get back on you, they make it hard to generate offense."
He said the Huskies did a much better job limiting the Gophers to high-quality scoring chances on Saturday: "The second night it was 8-8."
Although the Gophers had a 39-21 dominance in shots, he said many of the Gophers' shots, perhaps 10, were by defensemen from the blue line. Not dangerous.
BIG GUNS SCORED
So who were the key players who scored in this series?
Gophers leading scorer Erik Haula, a junior center, had two goals and two assists, giving him 13 goals and 22 assists for 35 points.
Sophomore forward Kyle Rau had three assists, giving him 13 goals and 18 assists for 31 points, second on the team
Junior defenseman Nate Schmidt had two goals and one assist, giving him eight goals and 20 assists, third.
Nick Bjugstad had two goals for the Gophers, giving him 12 goals and 15 assists for 27 points, fourth
Nate Condon had a goal and an assist, giving him 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points, fifth.
On the St. Cloud State side,
Senior cocaptain Drew LeBlanc had two goals, giving him 10 goals and 30 assists for 40 points, first.
Junior Nic Dowd had a goal and an assist, giving him 13 goals and 18 assists for 31 points, second.
Freshman Kalle Kossila had two assists, giving hm 12 goals and 15 assists for 27 points, third.
Freshman Jonny Brodinks had one goal, giving him 14 goals and nine assists for 23 points, tied for fourth.
Defenseman Nick Jensen had two assists, giving him three goals and 10 assists for 23 points, tied for fourth.
On Joey Benik, a freshman from St. Francis, getting his first college goal on Friday: "It was great for Joey. ... He had his best week of practice the week before. ... We [coaches] thought for sure he was going to score this weekend."
On the Gophers two mid-third period goals on Friday by Erik Haula at 9:32 and Nate Schmidt at 10:30: "They scored two goals in 50 seconds. That took the wind out of us." It also made the score 4-2. Both came during 4-on-4 situations.
CATCHY NAME NEEDED
Boston College won its fourth Beanpot tournament in a row on Monday, beating Northeastern 6-3. Sophomore forward Johnny Gaudreau, probably BC's most dangerous scorer, had two goals.
Johnny G. now has 15 goals. He had been in a little slump, one goal in his past 11 games. He missed the Eagles' 8-1 loss to the Gophers in the Mariucci Classic. He was playing for the U.S. team in the World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia.
With the Beanpot over, it brings to mind the Minnesota tournament next season. Plans for it have not been announced, just bits and pieces. Almost certainly it will be in the Xcel Energy Center -- I wrote Mariucci a while back, causing a fuss. And four of the five Minnesota Division I teams will play in it.
The Gophers will play St. Cloud State in one first-day game, Minnesota State Mankato will play Minnesota Duluth in the others. Then the first-day winners and losers will meet. Hopefully, it won't be called the Minnesota Cup or the Minnesota Invitational.
It needs a clever name. I suggested the Hot Dish a long time ago. I'm sure there are plenty of good names out there, but whichever one is chosen has to have a Minnesota-ring to it. Agreed?
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