Minn. on the bubble but No. 1 in WCHA

Minnesota will host Bemidji State this weekend at Mariucci Arena.

Gophers' forward Taylor Matson chases a puck Dec. 9, 2011 during a game against Michigan Tech at Mariucci Arena.

Marisa Wojcik

Gophers' forward Taylor Matson chases a puck Dec. 9, 2011 during a game against Michigan Tech at Mariucci Arena.

Dane Mizutani

One week ago, the Gophers were the second-ranked team in the nation and had a chance to take Denver out of the WCHA race completely.

However, after a sweep at the hands of the Pioneers Feb. 10-11, No. 7 Minnesota (19-11-1, 15-7-0 WCHA) is now at risk of missing the NCAA tournament altogether.

The Gophers sit 14th in the latest PairWise ratings, a system used in the selection process for the NCAA tournament.

On average, the top-16 teams in the PairWise rankings make the NCAA tournament. A team can also secure a bid to the tournament by winning its league.

Despite being considered “on the bubble” in many cases, head coach Don Lucia said he is fine with where the team is at.

“We’re in a good position right now,” Lucia said. “We control our own destiny … [and] as long as you win games, you don’t have to worry.”

The PairWise ratings were implemented in the early 1990s in an attempt to objectively compare teams.

It uses four criteria to make the comparison: ratings percentage index, or RPI; record against “teams under consideration”; record against common opponents and head-to-head record.

RPI is calculated by averaging a team’s winning percentage, the average of the team’s opponents’ winning percentages and the average of the team’s opponents opponents’ winning percentages.

The system considers “teams under consideration” to be teams with an RPI of .500 or higher.

Confused?

Essentially, it’s a way to balance the varying strength of schedule between every team in the nation.

It’s a confusing system and has been criticized in the past.

“It’s so close with everybody right now, and the system — they say it all the time — was meant to be looked at when the final game has been played,” Lucia said. “There’s a lot of hockey to be played.”

Three weeks of hockey, to be exact, for Minnesota, which holds a one-point lead atop the WCHA.

The Gophers start that stretch with Bemidji State this weekend before finishing off the schedule with Nebraska-Omaha and rival Wisconsin.

“We’re first [place] now and it’s just something to be proud of, but we have to keep fighting through — we know it’s going to be a hard road,” goalie Kent Patterson said.

Bemidji State (15-12-3, 9-10-3) is 11-4-2 since late November and is fresh off a series sweep of Colorado College last weekend.

Beavers goaltender Dan Bakala has been just as hot as his team lately.

Bakala allowed three goals on 55 total shots last weekend against Colorado College and was recently named the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week.

“They’re obviously going hard right now,” senior Jake Hansen said. “We know they’re playing good … they wait for you to make a mistake and they counterattack.

“We just have to be patient, move our feet, and play physical and play hard.” 

Hansen has not made the NCAA tournament in his career with the Gophers and has not even sniffed the McNaughton Cup.

Both are possible this season.

“We’re at [No. 14] in the PairWise ratings, which is obviously the most important thing, but we’re still first place in the WCHA,” senior Jake Hansen said. “We have a chance of really winning the McNaughton Cup, which is a great feeling, but for us right now it’s all about winning on Friday, this weekend, against Bemidji.”

Celebrating the champs

The Gophers will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2001-02 national championship team this Saturday at Mariucci Arena.

It was the first of Minnesota’s back-to-back titles.

The Gophers finished with an overall record of 32-8-4 that year and defeated Maine 4-3 in overtime to win the championship.

Several members of the championship team will be in attendance this weekend for the series against Bemidji State.