Teams gearing up for WCHA playoffs

by Tim Nichols

The underlying theme of this year’s race for a WCHA home playoff series is parity.
Only 16 points separate the second- and ninth-place teams in the conference, and 11 points is the difference between third place and last place.
Every team, it seems, has a chance to jump up or come crashing down in the standings.
“I think the preseason polls basically said that North Dakota and Colorado College were going to run away with it,” Michigan Tech coach Tim Watters said. “After that, everything is up in the air.”
For now, the Sioux are head and shoulders above the league, with only one loss in conference play thus far.
But from the second position, currently held by Colorado College, there is a little more debate.
“I think that there is parity from two to nine,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. “Colorado College hasn’t run away from anybody right now.”
The Tigers have been struggling recently, going 4-5-1 in their last ten games. They’ve also been bit by the injury bug, with Chris Hartsberg and K.J. Voorhees most notably in and out of the lineup.
But Gwozdecky doesn’t buy any of it.
“Injuries are a way for coaches to offer excuses,” Gwozdecky said. “It doesn’t really mean much when some of the players don’t play that much anyway.”
Regardless of the M*A*S*H unit mobilizing in Colorado Springs, or the circumstances of the other teams, the WCHA is going to be wide open for anyone to jump right in.
Which also gives the hometown team a little bit of hope heading into the post-season.
“We have a lot of key games — Michigan Tech, St. Cloud State, Alaska-Anchorage, Colorado College,” Gophers’ captain Wyatt Smith said. “If we go out there and play like how we did (against North Dakota), we might win.”
The race to a home advantage in the first round of the WCHA tournament is likely to come down to the final week of the season, which means that a lot of the coaches are going to be stocking up on bottles of Pepto-Bismol.
“North Dakota has run away, but the rest is very topsy-turvy,” Gwozdecky said. “Almost painfully so.”
Two Sioux honored
It must just have something to do with the Gophers.
North Dakota sophomore Jay Panzer and senior defenseman Brad Williamson were named offensive and defensive players of the week by the WCHA.
Williamson was instrumental in Friday’s 5-4 win against the Gophers, assisting on all five goals.
Panzer, who was also named U.S. College Hockey Online/CCM’s national offensive player of the week, scored five goals and two assists in the Sioux’s series sweep of Minnesota.
Who’s up, who’s down
Who’s up? Denver. The Pioneers have gone 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, coming off a thrilling sweep of the previously hot Alaska-Anchorage, 3-2 (in overtime) and 2-1.
Who’s down? Although it might be a moot point because this team has been down all season, Minnesota-Duluth. They were swept by St. Cloud State over the weekend and are playing host to the No. 1 team in the nation, North Dakota. They might be down for a long time.