The 2012 Red Baron WCHA Final Five begins on Thursday, March 15, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. This year’s field includes five of the top six teams in the regular season, including MacNaughton Cup champion Minnesota. Tournament games get underway at 2:07 p.m. on Thursday, with the championship game set to start at 7:07 p.m. on Saturday.
Below is a complete tournament schedule, along with team capsules for each of the squads in this year’s tournament.
FINAL FIVE SCHEDULE
No. 3 Denver vs. No. 6 Michigan Tech, 2:07 p.m.
No. 4 North Dakota vs. No. 5 St. Cloud State , 7:07 p.m.
No. 2 Minnesota Duluth vs. Denver/Michigan Tech winner, 2:07 p.m.
No. 1 Minnesota vs. North Dakota/St. Cloud State winner, 7:07 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 7:07 p.m.
No. 1 Minnesota Gophers
How they got here: Swept Alaska-Anchorage last weekend at Mariucci Arena (2-1, 7-3)
WCHA Playoff Championships: 14 (most recent, 2007)
Head Coach: Don Lucia
Key Players: Erik Haula, F, So. (19-25-44); Nick Bjugstad, F, So. (24-16-40); Kyle Rau, F, Fr. (16-20-36); Nate Schmidt, D, So. (3-33-36); Mark Alt, D, So. (5-17-22); Kent Patterson, G, Sr. (26-12-1, 2.12, ,914)
Why the Gophers win: After winning the MacNaughton Cup this year, the Gophers come into the Final Five as the favorites. With its balanced attack and a guy like Patterson in goal, Minnesota is as dangerous as ever at the right time of year.
Why the Gophers lose: Minnesota doesn’t have the playoff experience of the rest of the teams in the tournament, putting it behind the eight ball when it comes to managing the atmosphere and expectations. How the Gophers play under pressure will be the key.
No. 2 Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs
How they got here: Swept Minnesota State last weekend at Amsoil Arena (4-2, 3-2)
WCHA Playoff Championships: 3 (most recent, 2009)
Head Coach: Scott Sandelin
Key Players: Jack Connolly, F, Sr. (18-38-56); Travis Oleksuk, F, Sr. (21-29-50); J.T. Brown, F. So. (23-23-46); Brady Lamb, D, Sr. (9-20-29); Wade Bergman, D, Jr. (3-15-18); Kenny Reiter, G, Sr. (22-7-6, 2.39, .912)
Why the Bulldogs win: Much like last year, UMD is led by its high-powered offense. Connolly, Oleksuk and Brown will have to do what they do, but role players will have to chip in with timely scoring to put the Bulldogs over the top in 2012.
Why the Bulldogs lose: The Bulldogs have given up nine power play goals in their last seven games, a trend that will kill them in the playoffs. If UMD doesn’t find a way to mend its issue while a man down, the trip to St. Paul might be a short one.
No. 3 Denver Pioneers
How they got here: Won its best-of-three series against Wisconsin at Magness Arena (0-1, 3-1, 3-2)
WCHA Playoff Championships: 15 (most recent, 2008)
Head Coach: George Gwozdecky
Key Players: Drew Shore, F, Jr. (21-29-50); Jason Zucker, F, So. (20-24-44); Nick Shore, F, So. (13-26-39); Joey LaLeggia, D, Fr. (11-26-37); John Lee, D, Sr. (3-11-14); Juho Olkinuora, G, Fr. (8-7-3, 2.08, .928), Sam Brittain, G, So. (7-3-0, 2.44, .925)
Why the Pioneers win: Denver might be getting back to full strength at the perfect time. Forward Beau Bennett skated in warmups this past weekend, suggesting he might be ready to play in the Final Five. His addition will only make the Pioneers stronger up front.
Why the Pioneers lose: The Pioneers took the most penalties out of any WCHA team this season, and with all of the teams in the Final Five (besides Michigan Tech) sporting a power play that’s clicking at a 20 percent cut or better, Denver will tempt fate every time it heads to the box.
No. 4 North Dakota Fighting Sioux
How they got here: Swept Bemidji State last weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena (4-1, 4-3)
WCHA Playoff Championships: 10 (most recent, 2011)
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol
Key Players: Brock Nelson, F, So. (23-17-40); Danny Kristo, F, Jr. (17-23-40); Corban Knight, F, Jr. (13-22-35); Ben Blood, D, Sr. (3-15-17); Andrew MacWilliam, D, Jr. (2-4-6); Brad Eidsness, G, Sr. (8-3-1, 2.18, .920), Aaron Dell, G, Jr. (14-9-2, 2.79, .896)
Why the Sioux win: North Dakota is on its usual second half surge, having lost only five times since Thanksgiving. The powerful Sioux forwards and veteran defenders will have to play the “playoff” brand of hockey this week in St. Paul.
Why the Sioux lose: Injuries have been the story of the UND season, and it will take only 17 skaters to the Final Five. That could spell trouble for the Sioux if it has to play three games in three nights.
No. 5 St. Cloud State Huskies
How they got here: Swept Nebraska-Omaha last weekend at National Hockey Center (4-0, 3-1)
WCHA Playoff Championships: 1 (2001)
Head Coach: Bob Motzko
Key Players: Ben Hanowski, F, Jr. (22-20-42); Jared Festler, F, Sr. (15-19-34); Travis Novak, F, Sr. (12-13-25); Nick Jensen, D, So. (6-26-32); Andrew Prochno, D, Fr. (5-23-28); Mike Lee, G, Jr. (8-5-2, 2.24, .930), Ryan Faragher, G, Fr. (9-11-3, 2.77, .915)
Why the Huskies win: It looks like Lee is starting to look like the Lee of old, especially last weekend when he gave up only one goal on 59 shots. If the Roseau, Minn., native can keep it up, the Huskies will be in good shape.
Why the Huskies lose: St. Cloud State will have to be sound defensively to hold the tough Sioux off. If they get past the first test, Minnesota will be waiting for the Huskies with its speedy offense. To win it all, it starts and ends with defense for SCSU.
No. 6 Michigan Tech Huskies
How they got here: Swept Colorado College last weekend at World Arena (3-1, 4-3)
WCHA Playoff Championships: 9 (most recent, 1981)
Head Coach: Mel Pearson
Key Players: Brett Olson, F, Sr. (10-20-30); David Johnstone, F, Fr. (11-18-29); Jordan Baker, F, Sr. (10-17-27); Steven Seigo, D, Jr. (5-17-22); Dan Sova, D, So. (3-10-13); Josh Robinson, G, Sr. (15-13-4, 2.83, .908)
Why the Huskies win: Michigan Tech is the true underdog of the tournament, and it will embrace that role and try to upset a trio of teams to march its way into the NCAA tournament. The Huskies have the ability to do it, too.
Why the Huskies lose: Consistency isn’t something that’s been on the Huskies’ side lately, and you never know which MTU team will take the ice on a night-to-night basis. If the team that played in Colorado Springs last weekend shows up, they’re good to go. If not, well…