The second half of the WCHA regular season is always by far the most interesting part of the college hockey season. Yes, even more interesting than the throw-everyone-in-a-Yahtzee-shaker NCAA tournament. This year is no exception with nine of the conference's teams hanging out as teams under consideration in the Pairwise Rankings, most every series has some pretty interesting national implications.
Minnesota traveled to North Dakota for what is always an interesting series. Amid Friday's very surprising result, a Minnesota win, a number of very unsurprising things happened at the end of the second period. You can watch the video of it here.
If Brad Malone's hit doesn't qualify as "violently checking a player into the boards" for a boarding penalty, then I think we have a better understanding how an officiating crew lost complete control 40 minutes into a weekend series. I'd lean closer to a two-minute penalty than a major since Wehrs' flimsiness is part of the problem as well, but to not call anything seems pretty ridiculous. Otherwise, there's not much to the fight.
Alaska-Anchorage returned to the ice after over a month off and was able to sweep Colorado College in Anchorage. Colorado College seems destined for a repeat of last season, where they put together a nice first half of the season, but things are kind of held together by Scotch tape and paper clips and it all ends up falling apart in the second half of the season. The sweep this weekend dropped them from on the bubble for an at-large bid, to barely being a team under consideration.
I thought after two straight wins, this could be the year Anchorage finally finishes with a winning record for the first time since 1992-93, the year before they joined the WCHA, but alas, the wins only move them to 7-10-3 on the season. With series remaining at Denver, at Minnesota, and at North Dakota, it's going to be a pretty tall order to go 9-5 in their last 14 games and win a playoff series to finish .500 or better.
Denver earned three tough points on the road thanks to two pretty impressive choke jobs by Minnesota State. On Friday, Minnesota State took a 4-3 lead with just 1:47 left to play and held onto it for an entire 31 seconds before Denver notched the tying goal. Saturday, MSU took a two-goal lead into the final 10 minutes of the third period, before giving up two goals to tie the game, and quickly losing in overtime. The Mavericks are still 8-3-1 in their last 12 games, but have blown third period leads in two of the losses and one of the ties, putting them, much like Colorado College, on the TUC bubble rather than the At-Large Bid bubble. Denver meanwhile, slides into a tie for the number two spot in the PWR, though the second spot has slightly less meaning this year, with likely only one autobid from outside the top 16.
Also of note, normally I'd berate the WCHA officials for not taking their job seriously enough to show up on time for the Friday game, but since I spent two hours stuck behind the same morons utterly confounded by an inch and a half of snow in the Twin Cities, I actually appreciated the late start.
Nebraska-Omaha continued to struggle with Bemidji State, earning only one tie against the Beavers in Omaha. Since starting the season 8-1-1, Nebraska-Omaha is just 4-6-2, with two of those wins being freebies against Michigan Tech. Bemidji, meanwhile, has played well recently, pushing their record to 9-11-2, and while not an easy stretch, their next four series are against St. Cloud, Minnesota State, Michigan Tech, and Colorado College. That could be an opportunity for them to make some noise.
Wisconsin at Minnesota-Duluth was a pretty big series with both teams being inside the bubble for the NCAA tournament, though the series ended in a split, meaning neither team moved all that much. Wisconsin moved up a little, but they seem to have a pretty tenuous grasp on a number 2 seed in the tournament right now. After a pretty rough stretch in November, the Badgers have played very well of late. With Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, and North Dakota all being in the top 4 of the Pairwise, that means Wisconsin is now 1-6-1 against the top 4 nationally, and 14-2-2 against everyone else, and they're now done with the big guys until playoff season.
The rest of the weekend's action comes after the jump.
There was a pretty big series in Kalamazoo this weekend for the first time in what seems like forever with Western Michigan having pushed themselves onto the bubble, and Ohio State climbing their way into the top 25 off a sweep of Miami. Western took four points thanks to a win and a shootout loss. That keeps them on the NCAA tournament bubble, and within striking distance of a top four finish in the CCHA. It's also worth noting that Western Michigan had sellouts both nights, which is a positive step forward for the team. Lawson was once a pretty intimidating place to play, and the Broncos could be very tough if they get that advantage back.
Michigan responded to the dismissal of two of their teammates by putting together their first really solid full weekend of the season with a sweep of a home-and-home series against Ferris State. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Ann Arbor on Friday, but lost the lead and were seemingly never able to recover.
Michigan moved into a position where they could take over first place in the CCHA--they trail Notre Dame by one point, with a game in hand--thanks to Notre Dame splitting at home against Alaska. Notre Dame's schedule to close out the regular season is starting to look a little more formidable than it once did, with series at a suddenly dangerous Ohio State, against a suddenly on-the-bubble Miami sqaud, an always dangerous at home Ferris State team, and a very solid Western Michigan team.
Miami got back on track with a pair of easy wins over Bowling Green. The Redhawks RPI rank is better than their record rank right now, so improving their record, regardless of who it is against, is pretty important right now.
Michigan State took four points from Lake Superior in Sault Ste Marie. Saturday's shootout loss kept Michigan State two points behind the Lakers in the fierce fight for ninth place in the conference. It's just hard to fathom how Michigan State can be that bad. One of the only positives is that Soo Canada native Brett Perlini continued his strong season with a pair of goals near his hometown on Friday night.
And finally, a lot of people viewed a non-conference series against St. Lawrence as one of the best opportunities for Michigan Tech to end their dreadful losing streak. They sort of did, climbing back from two goals down in the third period, to earn a 4-4 tie, which ended a 15-game losing streak, but marked their 17th straight game without a win, which was then pushed to 18 straight on Saturday with an embarrassing 6-0 loss. Brett Olson did return to the lineup for the Huskies, which should help, but the frustration of not having won since mid-October definitely seems to be setting in, and there's likely little that could help at this point.