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Figuring Out the WCHA

We all know that Wisconsin is good. But just how good are they? According to the KRACH Ratings, not only does Wisconsin have the best winning percentage in all of college hockey, they've also played the toughest schedule in the country.

From here on out, the Badgers have to play just better than .500 the rest of the way to close out the WCHA, and with their schedule, that really shouldn't be a problem.

A lot of people are going to end up judging Wisconsin's season by what happens in the postseason, which may not necessarily be fair. Wisconsin is great, but in a single game elimination tournament, anything can happen. If Wisconsin finishes the regular season at the pace their setting, I think they have to be considered as one of the great teams in college hockey history. If they do win the NCAA tournament, that would vault them into the elite company of one of the top couple of teams in NCAA history.

The race for second place is most likely between Minnesota and Colorado College. Ultimately, it's mostly a cosmetic thing. Playing a 9th place Michigan Tech team is probably better than playing whoever finishes 8th, but Minnesota and Colorado College should be able to handle either at home. They'd end up meeting each other in the Final Five semifinal regardless of who finished in second.

The really interesting race is for the 4th-8th spots in the league. The battle for the last two home ice spots is going to be a dogfight going down the stretch. Denver and North Dakota hold the slight advantage right now and should probably be the favorites, but St. Cloud State and Minnesota State are both charging hard, and Duluth has the potential to get hot and make a run at things.

Denver looks to be a team that is struggling right now. They had the horrible holiday tournament, and followed that up with an uninspiring split at home with St. Cloud. Hopefully they'll get defenseman Chris Butler back from his World Juniors injury soon.I still have serious doubts about Denver's depth. The key series for Denver down the stretch will be the back to back weekend series at Alaska-Anchorage and at home against Mankato. If they play well in those two series, they should be able to lock up home ice. Both teams shut out Denver in the first half of the season though.

North Dakota is another team that looks to be struggling. They looked shaky against Minnesota, but came away from the weekend with 2 huge points to give them a 3 point cushion over the 6th place teams. It remains to be seen whether UND's freshmen defenseman will mature into better players in the second half, or hit a wall and struggle down the stretch. The schedule plays in their favor a bit because the 4 teams chasing them in the standings all have to go to the Ralph to play a series down the stretch.

Minnesota State is starting to make their second half run at home ice and they're doing in about as quiet a fashion as you can do it. Both College Hockey News and The GopherBlog offered a nice "no comment" on the Mavericks dominating sweep over Alaska-Anchorage as they recapped the weekend. In the first half of the season, the Mavericks were a good team that couldn't find a way to put the puck in the net. Now that they are scoring at a decent rate, they could be a dangerous team down the stretch. I guarantee that no team will be looking forward to playing against their grinding offensive style.

Minnesota-Duluth was looking to be in good position until they were swept by Michigan Tech last weekend.The Bulldogs powerplay has been horrendous lately. The Bulldogs were lucky to steal 3 points in weekends against Minnesota and Minnesota State earlier this season, but I'd be very surprised if they duplicated that performance in the second half.

St. Cloud is another team that looks to be making a second half run. Bobby Goepfert's ability to steal games is always going to make the Huskies a threat, but they're going to need the offense to step up big time for them to make a run at home ice. Their ability to take points from bottom-feeders Tech and Anchorage at home, as well as their road trip to Mankato in February will most likely determine where they finish in the league.

Michigan Tech is technically still in the race, but it's hard to imaging them taking enough points to mount a serious run at home ice in the playoffs. They're most likely relegated to the role of spoiler for St. Cloud and Mankato, like they did against Duluth.

The good news for Anchorage is that their season is over before everyone elses since they are the only team with only 5 series left. I feel bad for Dave Shyiak, who I like as a coach, because his team is just awful this year. They present a difficult challenge for teams down the stretch though, because a series against them requires that you take all 4 points, but Anchorage does have the ability to steal a game or two here or there.

As far as the NCAA tournament goes, Wisconsin is going to be a number one seed. Minnesota and Colorado College are definitely in as well. Things after that get a little murky for the WCHA though. North Dakota would be in the tournament if it started today, but they could potentially slip out if they didn't play well down the stretch. St. Cloud is the next closest team in the PWR, and it would take a minor miracle for them to qualify for an at-large bid. The last team currently under considersation for the WCHA is Denver, who has pretty much no chance of earning an at-large bid.

One thing to watch as far as WCHA seedings go, is if Mankato and Duluth can crack the .500 mark in the RPI and earn the TUC title. That would go a long way in helping some WCHA teams with their NCAA tournament seeding.