Home ice for WCHA playoffs set, seedings still up in air

by Tim Nichols

With the top five home-ice positions for the first round of the WCHA playoffs solidified, all the remaining four teams can do is look back in regret.
The teams’ fate was set when Colorado College pulled off a road sweep of Alaska Anchorage 1-0 and 2-1, Minnesota swept Minnesota-Duluth, and Wisconsin was able to steal two points at home from North Dakota.
Not getting in the upper division of the conference affects all the teams who aren’t there, but the team that might be taking it a little harder than the rest is the Seawolves.
Before the Colorado College series, Alaska-Anchorage was in third-place and poised for its first ever home series in the playoffs. But two losses later, they were thrown into sixth place and out of the home ice race.
“It was a little disheartening,” Seawolves’ coach Dean Talafous said. “We were missing (Gregg) Zaporzan and (Rob) Douglas, our top two WCHA scorers. We fought hard, but the better team won.”
Even though Alaska-Anchorage will travel for its post-season bid, it has earned the respect from its WCHA counterparts and will be a tough series for its hosts.
Either Minnesota or Wisconsin — Alaska-Anchorage’s two most probable opponents in the first round — will respect Talafous’ squad.
“This is a pretty resilient group,” Talafous said. “We like our chances as much as anybody. Whether it’s Minnesota or Wisconsin, we feel that if we play our best, we’ve got a shot to win. In the past, our best wasn’t good enough to win, now it is.”
While the Seawolves were looking at home-ice as a major goal last weekend, St. Cloud State had a much different one — the Huskies just wanted to stay healthy.
“The toughest thing was having 12 players out of the line-up,” St. Cloud State’s coach Craig Dahl said. “It’s like the will is strong, but the flesh is weak.”
The Huskies’ have played hard, but when Dahl only has three lines and five defensemen to work with, things are going to breakdown.
Still, Dahl is happy with the effort his team has put out every weekend.
“I haven’t had any problems from them at all,” Dahl said. “They’re giving me everything they got. It’s hard on them physically, game after game, practice after practice. Emotionally, the team morale is great.”
St. Cloud State will travel to Grand Forks this weekend to take on No. 1 North Dakota; not exactly the cure-all for a short-handed team.
But it will be an important series for the Huskies because it will help determine the team they will have to play in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
Right now, Minnesota is looking like a really solid possibility. But Dahl doesn’t care where they have to go.
“At playoff time, everybody is tough,” Dahl said. “The team is happy because they don’t have to travel to Anchorage. I don’t know that we have a preference one way or the other.”

The Gophers story
Even though Minnesota has clinched home ice, what seed they will be is still a mystery. The Gophers are currently in fifth position, one point behind fourth-place Wisconsin, and three points behind third-place Denver.
If the Gophers want to be in that third spot, which would put them in the semifinals of the Final Five, Michigan Tech must sweep Denver and Minnesota must sweep Wisconsin.
For the Gophers to take over the fourth-place Badgers, they must take at least three points from Wisconsin this weekend in Minneapolis.
Minnesota will have to do it without freshman defenseman Mark Nenovich, who is out for the season because of a hernia. Nenovich, who played in 13 games this season, will undergo surgery on March 17.