UMD, Denver atop WCHA after weekend filled with splits

Meanwhile, the Gophers dropped to eighth in the standings

by John Hageman

After going winless in a weekend road series at No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth, the Gophers have fallen behind in the race for home-ice advantage in the WCHA playoffs.

Minnesota dropped below Alaska Anchorage, which split with the Gophers two weeks ago and swept Michigan Tech last weekend.

While the Gophers and their 19 points remain just one point behind sixth-place Colorado College, they are in the midst of the toughest stretch of games they have had all season. This weekend, No. 4 Denver will pay a visit to Mariucci Arena, and Minnesota will travel to surging Wisconsin the week after.

But despite winning just one out of its last four games, the Gophers arenâÄôt feeling any desperation with the final stretch on the horizon. Or at least theyâÄôre not showing it.

âÄúItâÄôs just a week-to-week league,âÄù Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said after SaturdayâÄôs 6-4 loss to the Bulldogs.

With the win and tie against the Gophers, Minnesota-Duluth has moved up to tie Denver, which split with Colorado College this weekend, at the top of the WCHA standings. Each squad has 29 points through 20 games.

Meanwhile, North Dakota, which was idle after splitting its last three series, remains within striking distance with 28 points. Nebraska-Omaha has 26 and Wisconsin remains at 24.

HereâÄôs a look at what went on around the conference this weekend while the Gophers battled in Duluth, Minn.

Colorado College (16-13-1, 10-10-0) at Denver (17-6-5, 13-4-3)

With North Dakota idle over the weekend, the Pioneers had a chance to take the top spot in the conference for themselves with a home series against Colorado College. Riding an eight-game unbeaten streak, the Pioneers seemed poised to do just that.

But one week after defeating the Sioux, Colorado College performed an upset encore by beating Denver 3-2. The Tigers scored the first two goals of the game, and goaltender Joe Howe had 26 saves in the win.

Colorado College jumped out to another early 2-0 lead Saturday, but the Pioneers came roaring back with four unanswered goals to salvage a split.

St. Cloud State (11-14-3, 7-11-2) at Nebraska-Omaha (16-10-2, 12-6-2)

Junior goaltender John Faulkner earned his NCAA-leading sixth shutout in a 3-0 win over St. Cloud State on Friday, but was pulled after giving up three first period goals to the Huskies the following night.

Down 3-0 after 20 minutes, the Mavericks answered with four unanswered goals, including three in the final period to complete the comeback and the sweep over St. Cloud State. Freshman Mike Taffe had 17 saves in the last two periods in relief of Faulkner to earn his first collegiate win.

With the sweep, Nebraska-Omaha regained control of fourth place in the conference over an idle Badgers squad.

Bemidji State (10-14-2, 6-12-2) at Minnesota State (12-12-6, 6-12-4)

After trailing 1-0 for much of the game Friday night, Bemidji StateâÄôs Jordan George scored the game-tying goal with just 2:25 left in the game. But the Mavericks squashed the comeback attempt with a goal from Channing Boe midway through overtime.

The Beavers came back with a vengeance Saturday night, scoring the final four goals of the game in a 4-1 victory. Goaltender Dan Bakala had 40 saves in the win.

Michigan Tech (3-22-3, 1-18-1) at Alaska Anchorage (10-13-3, 9-11-2)

One week after splitting with the Gophers on the road, Alaska Anchorage returned home and took care of business against conference basement-dwellers Michigan Tech.

In the only sweep of the weekend, the SeawolvesâÄô normally unproductive offense came up with four goals each night in 4-1 and 4-2 victories, as well as two-goal games from Curtis Leinweber and Sean Wiles.

Although the Seawolves moved past the Gophers in the standings, they are one of two teams that have played 22 conference games. Everyone else, with the exception of Minnesota State, has played 20.

The Seawolves will play non-conference foe Alaska at the end of the month.