Best of WCHA will be on display during the final few weeks of the season

Minnesota State has had multiple landmark victories for its program this season.

by Brian Deutsch

With less than a month before the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs, things are starting to look very interesting in the State of Hockey.

Second-ranked Wisconsin leads the WCHA with 35 points, six points ahead of Minnesota Duluth.

However, the Badgers (21-1-3 overall, 16-1-3 WCHA) have one of the toughest remaining schedules – facing off against two nationally ranked teams: the Bulldogs and Ohio State, as well as red-hot Minnesota State.

The seventh-ranked Bulldogs (15-7-1, 14-5-1) have an equally strong schedule with a season-ending series against Minnesota, along with series against Wisconsin and Ohio State.

The slumping Gophers are third in the WCHA after losing five out of six conference games.

However, Minnesota, ranked No. 8 (15-8-1, 12-7-1) nationally, has a relatively weak schedule until it faces off with Minnesota Duluth at the end of the regular season.

The Gophers take on North Dakota this weekend followed by St. Cloud State and Bemidji State.

Minnesota holds a 71-2-3 all-time combined record against the three upcoming opponents, giving the Gophers a great chance to get back on track for the Bulldogs.

“Looking at the numbers in the WCHA this year, I don’t remember a time seeing the standings so close,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “With the parity that we have this year, you never know how things are going to work out.”

Ohio State and Minnesota State are fourth and fifth in the WCHA, respectively, with the 10th-ranked Buckeyes owning a two-point lead over the Mavericks.

If both teams can maintain their current level of play, expect to see an exciting series as those two teams battle it out for home-ice advantage in the regular season finale.

Bemidji State (10-13-3, 8-10-2 WCHA) is still in the hunt for home-ice advantage also – only one win separates the Beavers from the Mavericks.

But, with the Badgers, Gophers and red-hot Minnesota State looming on the horizon, Bemidji State’s chances of home ice are fading fast.

St. Cloud State (8-12-6, 4-12-4 WCHA) and North Dakota (3-21-2, 0-19-1 WCHA) round out the standings in seventh and eighth place, respectively.

Mavericks extend streak

With two wins over the Gophers last weekend, Minnesota State extended its school-record winning streak to seven games.

The Mavericks picked up several landmark wins this season besides their first-ever sweep of the Gophers.

Earlier this season, Minnesota State picked up its first win over Minnesota Duluth in three years.

The 5-3 win was the third-ever win over the Bulldogs and snapped the Mavericks’ 17-game losing streak against Minnesota Duluth.

Minnesota State’s win streak will be put to the test once again this weekend as the Mavericks take on Wisconsin.

“It’s all about the attitude by our kids; when they believe and they relax, goods things happen to us,” Minnesota State coach Jeff Vizenor said. “All year we’ve been playing with the idea of taking things one game at a time. We’re just going to go to Wisconsin and see what happens.”

Buckeyes’ Keys honored

Ohio State junior Erin Keys was honored last week when United States College Hockey Online named the forward the Division I Offensive Player of the Week.

The Cretin-Durham Hall graduate won the award after recording a goal and an assist in the Buckeyes’ 7-1 win over Minnesota and another assist the next day in a 3-1 Ohio State loss.

Last weekend against St. Cloud State, Keys scored a pair of goals and notched another assist as Ohio State tied the Huskies 3-3 on Friday before adding a 6-1 win Saturday. Keys leads the team with 15 goals and 34 points this season.

“(Erin’s) been having an outstanding season, generating some offense and playing solid (defense),” Ohio State coach Jackie Barto said. “She’s a significant player during five-on-five, as well as a key during power plays.”