The WCHA race for the MacNaughton Cup appears to be down to three teams: St. Cloud State, which is in first; North Dakota, which is alone in second, and the Gophers, who are tied for third but qwho have two games in hand on all the contenders.
Here are the standings:
St. Cloud State 15-6-1 31 pts.
North Dakota 11-5-6 28
Gophers 11-5-4 26
Neb Omaha 12-8-2 26
So why is UNO out? Well, if the Huskies just go 3-3-0 in their final six games, they will finish with 37 points. To reach that total the Mavericks would have to close 5-0-1. A daunting task and they also would have to climb over North Dakota and the Gophers, who have eight games left and a potential of 16 points.
UNO was looking good until being swept by UND at home this past weekend.
The three teams tied for fifth -- Denver (10-7-5), Minnesota State Mankato (12-9-1) and Wisconsin (9-6-7) -- face a problem similar to UNO. They have 25 points, so they would have to make up six points on SCSU in six games. And climb over three other teams. An unlikely scenario.
So let's look at the three contenders:
St. Cloud State, 15-6-1, 31 points, alone in first place with a three-point lead.
Schedule: at Colorado College, vs. Michigan Tech, at Wisconsin.
Lowdown: The Huskies have only two games left at home, four on the road. ... They can probably afford a stumble or two and still win the Cup. ... CC is coming off an emotional series with Denver. The Tigers got a tie in the first game and an overtime win in the second. Can they get up for the Huskies? ... Winning at the Kohl Center against Wisconsin could be tricky. ... But the Huskies have as much talent as any of their final three opponents.
North Dakota, 11-5-6, 28 points
Schedule: at Denver, vs. Bemidji State, at Minnesota State
Lowdown: UND has two games at home against what appears to be its easist opponent left, Bemidji State, and four games on the road at two tough spots, Denver and Mankato. ... North Dakota has to win two more games than SCSU in the final six to overtake the Huskies. ... Freshman Zane Gothberg played well in the nets last weekend as UND swept Omaha on the road. This is the Year of the Freshman Goalie. Think of the Gophers Adam Wilcox and MSU Mankato's Stephon Williams and UMD's Matt McNeeley. All are playing well.
Gophers, tied for third at 11-5-4, 26 points
Schedule: at Wisconsin, vs. UMD, vs. Denver, at Bemidji State
Lowdown: The Gophers have four games left at home, three on the road, and one at a neutral site (Soldier Field with Badgers next Sunday). They squandered a golden opportunity to close ground on the Huskies Saturday, when they lost 4-3 at SCSU.
Now if the Huskies finish 3-3 for 37 points, the Gophers will have to finish 6-2 to pass them with 38 points. If the Huskies go 4-2, the Gophers will have to close with a 7-1 run. They haven't shown they can do that.
The Gophers have only swept one WCHA team in 10 series. Here is the breakdown:
Sweep (four points): One time, vs. last-place Alaska Anchorage
Win and a tie (three points): four times.
Split: Five times.
They have earned at least two points every weekend. That's why they are still in the race. But that's not good enough anymore. They need at least two, three WCHA sweeps to catch SCSU.
Not likely, so St. Cloud State will win the MacNaughton Cup, although the Huskies probably won't clinch until the last weekend of the regular season.
RUN AT NO. 1 OVER FOR U?
Don't be surprised if Quinnipiac of the ECAC is the No. 1 team in both major hockey polls when they are released later on Monday. The Bobcats just don't lose while the Gophers, who have held the top spot for more than a month, split another series this weekend, this time at St. Cloud State.
The Quinnipiac Bobcats of Hamden, Conn., beat Cornell 4-1 and Colgate 3-2 to extend their unbeaten streak to 21 games (18-0-3). Junior Kellen Jones had two goals in their one-goal win over Colgate while senior goalie Eric Hartzell of White Bear Lake made 17 saves.
Hartzell's latest win enabled him to tie Quinnipiac's single-season record for victories. He is 21-2-4. Quinnipiac is pushing him for the Hobey Baker Award.
The Bobcats are 21-3-4 overall and 14-0-2 in the ECAC. Their last loss was 2-1 to American International on Nov. 6. In the game before that, they lost to Colgate 5-1 on Oct. 27. So beating Colgate was not a given.
"I didn't think we had out best effort," Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said after the Colgate win. "We were sloppy at times and lost our composure. But we found a way to win again."
Quinnipiac, the No. 1 team in the PairWise rankings, has been closing the gap with the Gophers and this week probably will move ahead of them.
The Bobcats have six regular-season games left.
ANOTHER CHALLENGING WEEK
I was right on the Gophers and St. Cloud splitting their series in my WCHA picks, but had a rough week otherwise picking WCHA games. Had UMD sweeping Minnesota State Mankato and Denver taking two from Colorado College.
Instead, the Mavericks swept and CC took three points. So my final score was 6-1/2 right, 5-1/2 wrong. Not good. But I'll keep trying for that perfect week.