For the past six seasons, the road to the NCAA tournament for teams in the new CCHA and the last version of the WCHA men's league ran through Mankato, where Mike Hastings built Minnesota State into a national contender.

Hastings left for Wisconsin following six consecutive conference regular-season titles and eight in a nine-year span, the move offering hope in the CCHA that the Mavericks' stranglehold might end. Conference coaches in their preseason poll picked Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan as title favorites.

Five months later, the road to the title goes through Bemidji, where Bemidji State is host to Minnesota State this weekend with the CCHA regular-season title on the line. The Beavers (15-15-2, 13-7-2 CCHA) have 42 points in the standings to 38 for the Mavericks (16-12-4, 12-8-2). If Bemidji State gains two of a possible six points this weekend, it would win the MacNaughton Cup outright. Minnesota State needs a regulation sweep to claim an outright title.

"You want a regular season to come down to a series like this," said Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore, whose Beavers won the WCHA regular-season title in 2017. "[Bemidji State] and Mankato have done this a few times over the years. It's nice to have this much on the line in the final week."

While the regular-season conference winner won't earn an automatic NCAA tournament bid ― that goes to the Mason Cup tournament champion — home-ice advantage throughout the CCHA playoffs is up for grabs.

"If you go back to the Division II days, it was Green vs. Purple then too," first-year Minnesota State coach Luke Strand said. "So, there's no love lost. But at the same time, the importance of the series should tighten everything up."

Bemidji State will try to build on a six-game unbeaten streak to move to the top of the standings. The Beavers are coming off a road sweep of St. Thomas by 6-5 (overtime) and 2-1 scores. They're averaging 3.8 goals in their streak compared with 2.8 for the rest of the season. Sophomore forward Lleyton Roed leads Bemidji State with 14 goals and 28 points, and seven other Beavers have 15 or more points.

"We found our identity," Serratore said. "We're playing well defensively, but we're also generating a lot of offense. … The guys have been playing with a lot of sacrifice, and that's all over the rink."

Minnesota State is 5-4-1 in its past 10 games, dropping from first place in the conference. The Mavericks have six players with 20 or more points, led by senior forward Sam Morton's 31 points on 22 goals and nine assists.

Strand was an assistant at Ohio State last season after the previous five as coach of the Sioux City Musketeers of the U.S. Hockey League. He's learning the league and is impressed by the depth of coaching in the conference but is not about to cede anything.

"I'm way more confident than everyone who picked us sixth [in the CCHA preseason poll]," he said. "I love our crew. They've got each other's backs. They've got a little warrior mentality."

Head-scratcher in WCHA

The All-WCHA teams were announced Thursday, and the first team included Wisconsin forwards Kirsten Simms and Casey O'Brien, who rank 1-2 nationally in scoring with 61 and 56 points, respectively. The third forward spot went to Ohio State's Hannah Bilka, who is tied for 18th nationally with 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists).

Absent from the first team was Gophers forward Abbey Murphy, who leads the nation with 31 goals and is tied for eighth with 51 points. Murphy, who made the second team, has 15 more goals and 12 more points than Bilka, who played for the regular-season champion Buckeyes.

The gritty Murphy plays with an edge, as evidenced by her nation-high 38 penalties. She also capped Saturday's victory over Minnesota Duluth by taking a slap shot for an empty-net goal, prompting Bulldogs forward Clara Van Wieren to shove Murphy after the play. Van Wieren received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

The league's coaches voted for the All-WCHA teams, with head coaches nominating players for consideration. Each school had three votes — the head coach and two assistants.

The road to St. Paul

We're roughly 3½ weeks away from Selection Sunday in men's hockey, when the 16-team NCAA men's tournament field will be revealed on March 24. The men's Frozen Four will be April 11-13 at Xcel Energy Center. Here's a projection of the field in the four regionals:

Providence, R.I.

1. Boston College vs. 4. Bemidji State

2. Denver vs. 3. Providence

Springfield, Mass.

1. Boston University vs. 4. Massachusetts

2. Quinnipiac vs. 3. Maine

Sioux Falls, S.D.

1. North Dakota vs. 4. Michigan

2. Gophers vs. 3. St. Cloud State

Maryland Heights, Mo.

1. Wisconsin vs. 4. RIT

2. Michigan State vs. 3. Western Michigan