One of the big problems with the format the WCHA uses for their playoffs compared to the CCHA's system is that it's more likely to create some lopsided match-ups in the first round of the playoffs. That wasn't the case this year in the WCHA where most of the underdogs gave their opponents some serious fight, and in a couple cases, pulled off the big upset.
Top seed North Dakota finally put Michigan Tech out of their misery with 8-0 and 3-1 wins. Matt Frattin got to pad his Hobey resume with a five point weekend. Things have got to get better for Michigan Tech next year. They've got a lot of young talent that will be a year older, and hopefully won't have as many freakish injury problems.
Minnesota State blew their fourth, fifth, and sixth third period lead over Denver this season--and second two-goal third period lead--en route to a 4-2 loss on Friday and 3-2 overtime loss on Saturday. Slow starts have to be a bit of a concern for Denver heading into the tournament. If they get behind like they did against RIT last year in the tournament, they may not be able to come back as easily as they did against a Minnesota State team that couldn't hold a lead to save its life. A lot of WCHA teams--including Denver, to an extent-- were hoping this series would go at least three games so that it would keep Minnesota State on the right side of the TUC cliff, but alas, they got a taste of the constistent disappointment that is Minnesota State.
The Nebraska-Omaha/Bemidji State series may have been the 3/10 match-up on paper, but the Beavers were 3-0-1 against UNO in the regular season. They continued that dominance over the Mavericks by sweeping UNO in Omaha. Bemidji goalie Dan Bakala stopped over 40 shots both nights.
UNO is still on the right side of the bubble, but are in a pretty tenuous position, and will be sitting at home hoping everybody else takes care of business for them. Bemidji would have to win all three games at the Final Five and earn the automatic bid to get into the tournament, and there's a lot of fans of bubble teams rooting for them to lose at least one game so they don't take away a precious tourney spot.
The last time St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth met in a first round playoff series, the series ended with an epic game 3 triple overtime thriller in St. Cloud with the Huskies coming out on top. This time, with Duluth hosting, it was time for the Bulldogs to repay the favor. Mike Connolly scored just over a minute into the third overtime on Saturday to advance UMD to the Final Five, and end a very disappointing season for St. Cloud.
Everything seemed to be going so well for Minnesota. They had run off a nice streak without a loss and were looking like they were on their way back to the NCAA tournament. Then they hit a roadblock in Alaska-Anchorage, were swept, and now, no Final Five, no NCAA tournament, and perhaps no more job for Don Lucia. It's hard to find a worse four-year stretch for the Gopher hockey program than these past four years in the school's long history. Alaska-Anchorage has carved out a pretty respectable season. They're still not great, but at least not embarrassing like in previous years. They're another team that could mess things up for some bubble teams if they happened to win three straight next weekend.
Wisconsin traveled to Colorado College and the two played a great series with both teams fighting to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. Wisconsin won the first game, and held a one-goal lead with five minutes remaining in Saturday's game. It looked like another typical CC season where they play well, but can't put it together at the end of the year and end up losing a home playoff series. But Scott Winkler was able to tie the game late for the Tigers, and they won in overtime, setting up a Sunday game. On Sunday, Colorado College scored two third period goals to steal a 2-1 win over the Badgers.
The loss, combined with a terrible finish to the regular season, cost Wisconsin a spot in the NCAA tournament. Colorado College is on the bubble for the NCAA tournament. They may have caught a little bit of a break with some of the other upsets in the league. They'll draw 9th seed Alaska-Anchorage--though UAA swept CC in their last meeting--on Thursday as opposed to third seed UNO had things gone according to plan.
So that sets up the first ever six-team Final Five next weekend. Bemidji State and Minnesota-Duluth will play in the Thursday afternoon game, followed by Alaska-Anchorage taking on Colorado College. I'm very interested to see how attendance looks, because with that schedule, it could be absolutely brutal. North Dakota and Denver both get byes and will face one of the Thursday winners.