WCHA tournament once again proves to be unpredictable

After playoff loss, defending NCAA Champion Wisconsin will not be able to defend its title.

Mark Remme

When it comes to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five, nothing that occurs during the regular season carries any weight.

Just ask Minnesota’s men’s hockey team. A year ago, the Gophers won the MacNaughton Cup before losing 8-7 to St. Cloud State and 4-0 to Wisconsin in an embarrassing fashion at the Final Five.

Or, more recently, St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko could echo similar sentiments. The Huskies carried the No. 2 seed into this weekend’s WCHA tournament at the Xcel Energy Center only to lose back-to-back games to lower seeds.

“It’s a disappointing ending (to the WCHA season),” Motzko said.

St. Cloud State dropped a 6-2 decision to North Dakota on Friday in a semifinal matchup, and while the Huskies hung with the high-powered Sioux for just more than one period, mistakes crippled their chances at victory.

“We made three mistakes, kind of like last year against these guys (in their WCHA championship game matchup, a 5-3 North Dakota win),” Motzko said. “It resulted in goal, goal, goal.”

But perhaps most devastating for the Huskies (22-10-7 overall) was a 4-3 overtime loss to Wisconsin in the third place game Saturday, a contest where St. Cloud State let a 3-1 lead slip away before losing on a game-winning goal with 10 seconds left in overtime.

The loss dashed the Huskies’ chances of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Badgers’ last stand

Wisconsin needed to win the Final Five in order to have a shot at defending its NCAA national championship from a year ago, but those hopes ended with a 4-2 loss to Minnesota in Friday night’s semifinal.

But the Badgers showed the same resiliency in Saturday’s third place game that helped them to the national title a year ago, scoring three unanswered goals to knock off St. Cloud State 4-3 in overtime.

“We played our best hockey at the end of the year,” coach Mike Eaves said. “We went 8-3-2 at the end, but it might’ve been a little too late.”

But Eaves showed no disappointment in the effort of his team, a squad that had difficulty scoring throughout the season but still managed to sweep fourth-seeded Denver in the WCHA first round.

“Everyone intrinsically knew what it (took); that’s why we played so well down the stretch,” Eaves said.

Motzko said there will be coaches around the country feeling lucky that they won’t have to face the Badgers in the NCAA tournament.

“There are a lot of No. 1 seeds breathing a sigh of relief not seeing a No. 4 seed Wisconsin – defending champs, a WCHA team – in the tournament,” he said.

Then there were three

With the Badgers’ two games to none sweep of Denver coupled with their third place finish in the WCHA playoffs, the Pioneers will, for the second straight season, officially not make the NCAA tournament.

Denver (21-15-4), aside from Wisconsin’s hopes of winning the WCHA tournament and receiving an automatic bid, was the only other team in the conference with a shot at joining Minnesota, St. Cloud State and North Dakota in representing the WCHA at the NCAAs.