Colorado College takes unfamiliar position in WCHA

Michael Rand

Colorado College’s third-place position in the WCHA sticks out like a Chicago Bears fan at the Metrodome.
After winning the last three league titles, including last year’s by a comfortable 12-point margin over second-place Minnesota, the Tigers have pretty much conceded that 1997 won’t bring a four-peat.
Colorado College is looking up at North Dakota and Minnesota; is tied with Wisconsin; and is just above St. Cloud State, Denver and Minnesota-Duluth. Instead of thinking about a WCHA championship, the Tigers are worrying about something that hasn’t been a concern for a while — being in the top five and getting home-ice advantage in the league playoffs.
“Our first goal is to finish in the top half and get home ice,” Colorado College coach Don Lucia said. “After that, we’ll worry about getting into the top three.”
Lucia gave up on the league title after the Sioux split at Colorado College and then swept Minnesota the following weekend. He said North Dakota is the best team in the WCHA this season.
“They’ve been the most consistent from start to finish,” he said.
With six regular-season WCHA games remaining before the playoffs, Lucia figures the Tigers need three wins to guarantee home ice and four wins to have a good chance to finish in the top three.
The benefits of having the home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs are obvious. But teams that finish in the top three stand to gain even more.
First, it would mean a first round series against Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan or Alaska-Anchorage, three teams that have struggled this season. There is a big difference between playing eighth-place Alaska-Anchorage (17 points) and the teams directly above the Seawolves in the standings, Denver and Minnesota-Duluth (28 points each).
Second, there is a single game at the WCHA Final Five between the fourth and fifth seed to whittle the field down to four teams. Thus a team finishing in the top three and winning its opening round series avoids playing an extra game.
Lucia said this year’s Final Five at the St. Paul Civic Center is wide open.
“With the teams that are going to be there, it can be anyone’s tournament,” he said.
Go figure
After scoring just eight goals on 167 shots in series against Michigan Tech and Wisconsin, things looked grim for Minnesota-Duluth.
The Bulldogs compiled an 0-3-1 record in that span to fall to seventh place in the league standings. Their next series was against Denver’s hot goaltender, Jim Mullin.
But instead of falling harder, the Bulldogs roughed up Mullin, the WCHA leader in goals against average, for seven goals on 30 shots in a Friday 7-4 victory. They then completed the sweep with a 3-2 win against back-up Stephen Wagner.
In other leagues
ù Michigan State handed CCHA rival Michigan just its second loss of the season on Saturday. Both of the Wolverines’ (26-2-3) losses have come against the Spartans.
ù Boston University won the 45th annual Beanpot, a tournament featuring the Terriers and fellow Massachusetts schools Boston College, Northeastern and Harvard. It was BU’s 20th tournament title.
Backchecks
ù St. Cloud State’s 5-3 loss to Alaska-Anchorage on Saturday was the team’s first loss in 16 games this season when leading after two periods.
ù Goalie Kirk Daubenspeck became Wisconsin’s all-time saves leader in the team’s 5-2 win over the Tigers on Friday, breaking Duane Derksen’s record of 3,222. Daubenspeck now has a career total of 3,253.