Losing conference record on the line with five series left

Minnesota hasn’t finished a season with a conference record below .500 since ’98-99.

by Brian Deutsch

Winning just one of its last six games has the Minnesota men’s hockey team down but by no means out.

While the majority of Western Collegiate Hockey Association teams are all but out of the race for the MacNaugton Cup, nine of 10 conference teams are still in the hunt for home ice in the playoffs.

Six teams, including Minnesota, are separated by just three points in the standings – Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin currently hold the last two home ice seeds with 17 points each.

That means teams like the Gophers will have to get WCHA points each weekend to close the gap, according to coach Don Lucia.

“Every weekend, you can put yourself in a good position or put yourself in a bad position,” Lucia said. “You just have to continue to get points. At least, you can tread water and then hopefully you can have a good week or two to propel.”

Only Alaska Anchorage is seemingly out of the race – the Seawolves are last in the conference and trail the rest of the pack by six points.

The Gophers (12-11-5 overall, 6-9-3 WCHA) will see both ends of the WCHA spectrum; however, they do have one of the toughest schedules in the country to close out the regular season.

Four of Minnesota’s five remaining series are against teams with better records, although it does evade another series with conference-leading Colorado College.

However, the Gophers own a 3-5-2 record against teams on its remaining schedule, which includes both Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin.

On Wednesday, freshman defenseman Stu Bickel spoke positively about the strong opposition the team will face in the coming weeks.

“It gives us an opportunity to make some strides in the second half,” Bickel said. “I feel that if our team comes together, on any given night we can beat anybody.”

Minnesota hasn’t finished a season with a conference record below .500 since 1998-1999 when it was 10-12-6 in the WCHA.

Why is that important?

First, the team was still able to finish fifth in the WCHA.

And second, it was Doug Woog’s last season as head coach.