Sorting out the WCHA

Bellum omni contra
omnes
is perhaps the best way to describe what the final three weekends of
WCHA play will be.  The “war of all
against all” begins Friday, and the dust from the battlefields across WCHA
nation won’t settle until the first Sunday in March.

Right now, the preseason pick to win the league, Denver,
sits alone atop the mountain with 32 points.  St. Cloud State sits one point behind in second, only six
points ahead of fifth place Colorado College.

The only part of the picture that seems to be clear is the
order of the final six teams.  CC will need to play great hockey over the next three weeks, but will need the
teams ahead of them to slip if they hope to finish higher than fifth.  The 6-10 spots are North Dakota,
Minnesota, Alaska Anchorage, Minnesota State and Michigan Tech, and that order
shouldn’t change.

So, the real questions come in the top four.  Who will win the MacNaughton Cup?  Here is how I see it all playing out:

1.  Denver  – The Pioneers finish with the easiest
schedule out of all the teams in the conference (vs. Michigan Tech, at
Minnesota State, home and home with Colorado College).  At first glance, I only see one loss
coming for Denver in their remaining six, most likely against CC.  However, they could go 6-0 with how
they’ve been playing lately.  DU’s
top line has been scorching, and they have the best goalie in the country
between the pipes in Marc Cheverie.  From what I’ve
seen in the eight games I’ve watched Denver play this year, they look poised to
win the regular season hardware.

2.  Wisconsin –
Even though the Badgers still have two tough series ahead of them (SCSU in
Madison, Gophers in Minneapolis), it looks like the Badgers will only suffer one
setback in their next six games.  I
don’t expect St. Cloud State to get more than a point in Madison this weekend,
because UW is awesome on home ice. 
Michigan Tech shouldn’t pose any problems, but they can’t take them
lightly.  And Minnesota?  Well, who knows what to expect when you
play the Gophers.  Why do I have so
much confidence in the Badgers?  UW has the most depth at forward in the league.  But defense wins championships, and
Wisconsin also has the best D-core in the WCHA.  The only problem I have with this team is that they continue
to rotate goalies.  At this point of the season, coach Mike Eaves needs to make a decision

3. 
Minnesota-Duluth – With how the Bulldogs have been playing since their
back-to-back sweeps of Colorado College and Minnesota State, I have trouble
expecting them to do any better than .500 in their final games.  Grand Forks is never an easy place to
play, especially when the host team is coming in after an emotionally charged
8-1 win.  UMD does have Minnesota
at home, which could be their only chance to break out the brooms prior to the
playoffs.  And finishing at
Anchorage, where winning on Saturday against the Seawolves has been nearly
impossible this year, will be tough. 
So why do I have them finishing third?  Well, have you seen them when they’re on?

4.  St. Cloud
State – I’d have the Huskies higher if they hadn’t already played two more
games than everyone else in the top seven.  Like I mentioned earlier, SCSU will be lucky to find a point
at Kohl Center this weekend, and will finish with a home and home with
Minnesota State after a bye week. 
I was impressed with their win over North Dakota Friday night, but they
were destroyed on Saturday, and who knows how that will affect them in the long
run.  This time of year always is
full of Husky Homers proclaiming to the college hockey world that they are the
real deal, but only time will tell if this team can finally get over the hump,
both in the WCHA and on the national scene.  In all honesty, I don’t see either coming to fruition this
year.

5.  Colorado
College – It will take the most bizarre finish to the WCHA regular season for
CC to move EITHER up or down in the standings.  The Tigers will get the final home ice playoff spot.

6.  North Dakota
– I have the Sioux will finishing to go 4-2 in their final six, and they will get to visit
Colorado Springs twice in three weeks to battle the Tigers.

7.  Minnesota –
I have the Gophers penciled in to go 3-3 over their last six, but that is a
very bold prediction as far as I’m concerned.  After all, can you remember the last time “the U” scored
three goals in a game?

8.  Alaska
Anchorage – Maybe the Seawolves can catch a ride to Duluth with the Bulldogs
after their series in March – it appears they’ll be playing in the Twin Ports
the next weekend anyway.

9.  Minnesota
State – The Mavericks came into the year with high expectations.  As they close the book on the season,
maybe they can hang their hats on the “spoiler” role that they’ll be playing
from here on out.

10.  Michigan
Tech – It’s interesting that the best team in the league finishes with the
easiest schedule, while the worst team ends with the hardest.  A win for the Huskies in the final
three weeks would be worthy of a gold star for effort, but not much else as far
as Tech faithful are concerned.

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