This is the final weekend of the regular season in the women’s WCHA and there is still much on the line, including a league title and potential berths in the NCAA Tournament at stake. It should make for an exciting weekend of hockey.
Here are the standings heading into the weekend:
The bottom half of the league has settled itself. Bemidji State, Minnesota State, and St. Cloud State are locked into the 5th-6th-7th slots respectively. There is still a lot to decide at the top of the conference, however.
Wisconsin and Minnesota are each guaranteed to finish in the top two. Wisconsin holds a three-point edge in the standings on Minnesota, meaning at least three points by Wisconsin this weekend guarantees at least a share of the WCHA title, and four or more guarantees an outright title. Should Wisconsin and Minnesota finish tied in the standings, league rules dictate that they are considered co-champions. Wisconsin holds the tiebreaker, so they would get the top seed and a first round bye in the playoffs.
The battle for third place between Ohio State and Minnesota Duluth is even tighter. The two teams are tied at 40 points each, with Minnesota Duluth holding the tiebreaker by virtue of their head-to-head record with the Buckeyes.
Here is the schedule for this weekend:
St. Cloud State at Ohio State
Minnesota State at Minnesota
Wisconsin at Minnesota Duluth
The Buckeyes are very heavy favorites in their home series against St. Cloud State. They blasted the Huskies in pretty convincing fashion to begin the WCHA season in St. Cloud. Six points on the weekend likely puts Ohio State in pretty good shape for third place.
The same goes for Minnesota, who needs at least three, and more likely all six points to have any sort of hope of a league title. Minnesota State has been a pesky team this year, recently pulling off a major upset of Wisconsin, but it has been a very long time since Minnesota State upset Minnesota, and the Gophers crush Minnesota State by scores of 6-0 and 7-1 earlier this season in Mankato. Again, six points for the Gophers seems like the safe bet here.
That puts all the attention on the series in Duluth this weekend. Wisconsin swept the earlier season series in Madison, though both games were close. Wisconsin broke a 3-3 tie in the final minutes of regulation in the first game, then protected a 3-2 lead for the entire third period of Saturday’s contest before adding a pair of empty-net goals.
But there are a few things that may nudge this series more in Minnesota Duluth’s favor. Not only are the Bulldogs on home ice, but Saturday afternoon is their ‘Cram the Am’ promotion, with $1 tickets that should bring in a heavy crowd. And while out-pacing Ohio State for third place might not be realistic given their competition, the Bulldogs still remain in the hunt for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. They currently sit at 8th in the Pairwise Rankings, just one slot outside the bubble for a tournament bid. Even one win against Wisconsin would provide a nice boost to their tourney hopes. Finally, maybe there is a little extra chip on the shoulder of UMD star forward Gabbie Hughes, after being omitted from the Patty Kazmaier finalists list in favor of three different Badgers forwards.
The Bulldogs have played great hockey of late. They’ve only lost one game in 2020 with a win over Minnesota and a big home sweep of Ohio State. Meanwhille, Wisconsin has gone three games without a win for the first time since 2014-2015. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Minnesota Duluth steal at least one against the Badgers this weekend.