WCHA still in search of defining weekend

Josh Linehan

When the WCHA season is over, fans will point to one pivotal weekend where pretenders were vanquished and a champion separated itself from the pack.
But with five weekends left in the season, time is running out to find that weekend.
Three-time defending MacNaughton Cup champion North Dakota pulled into a first-place tie with Wisconsin last weekend with a sweep of cellar-dwelling Michigan Tech. All is not rosy in Grand Forks, however.
The Badgers hold two games on the Sioux and hold the tiebreaker thanks to a sweep of North Dakota in Madison.
Simply put, the Sioux don’t control their own destiny. North Dakota must keep winning and watch the scoreboard. If the teams play equally until the end of the season, the Badgers end North Dakota’s run at the top.
There is, however, another team holding the cards to take the WCHA pot.
St. Cloud, unbeaten in its last seven games, is one of the nation’s hottest teams, has the schedule to go all the way. The Huskies have series left against both North Dakota and Wisconsin.
All the Huskies have to do is win their remaining games and they would likely capture the crown. But that’s about as easy as skiing through a revolving door.

ù The two top contenders square off this weekend in St. Cloud, in a matchup pitting the top two offenses in the country. Both teams destroyed subpar competition last weekend and look at or near the top of their games.
Even if the Huskies sweep, North Dakota will stay in second in the league, with a one-point lead. This will be the most hotly contested matchup of the weekend, and though the games are played in St. Cloud, North Dakota should get one, keeping the Huskies at bay.

ù A Huskies-Sioux split means the big winner will be Wisconsin, which is virtually assured of four points when they visit Michigan Tech. Though Tech has nothing to lose, none of that will overcome the Badgers’ talent.

ù Minnesota State — only one spot out of home ice for the playoffs and fresh off a split with Minnesota — travels to Denver to face the struggling Pioneers.
The Mavericks have been road warriors this season, and have much more to play for than Denver as the season winds down. Minnesota State also holds the distinct edge in goaltending, a deciding factor in late-season and playoff hockey. Look for the Mavericks to sweep and gain ground on Colorado College.

ù That’s because Colorado College will drop at least one at Alaska-Anchorage. The Seawolves will use their slow-down style and tremendous home-ice advantage to take a game off CC.

ù All of which means Minnesota will have to sweep at Duluth this weekend to keep pace in the standings. Coming off a lackluster week of practice, coach Don Lucia should have his team fired up to visit another in-state rival.
The Bulldogs are coming off a hammering by St. Cloud, and always play the Gophers tough at home.
The game is also the last hurrah for Duluth native and current Gopher Dave Spehar in Duluth, where the fans are less than complimentary toward the former Duluth East star.
Spehar, however, has killed his hometown college. The senior’s career record includes 10 goals and three assists against the Bulldogs in 17 games.

Josh Linehan covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]