With home-ice on the line, WCHA teams prepare for stretch run

The conference is becoming increasingly stratified as it enters its final seven weeks of the regular season.

by John Hageman

Coming off a series split with No. 2 North Dakota on the road, the Minnesota menâÄôs hockey team has a weekend off to watch the rest of the conference jockeys for position in the standings and the all-important home-ice advantage in the WCHA playoffs.

And with just seven weeks left in the regular season, the standings are dividing into distinct tiers.

Four teams (North Dakota, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha) are log-jammed at the top, separated by four points. Minnesota sits in the middle of the pack with sixteen points, tied with Colorado College and Wisconsin.

The GophersâÄô position isnâÄôt necessarily an enviable one, but there will be opportunity to make up lost ground. Three of their next four opponents are currently ahead of or tied with them in the standings.

While the Gophers idle this weekend, hereâÄôs a look at whatâÄôs happening around the conference.

No. 5 Minnesota Duluth (15-5-3, 10-4-2) at Michigan Tech (3-16-3, 1-12-1)

Michigan Tech has been the conferenceâÄôs bottom-feeder for the last two seasons, and shows no signs of giving up that title. The Huskies snapped a 15-game losing streak with a tie against St. Lawrence last weekend, only to drop the Saturday rematch 6-0.

Minnesota-Duluth is looking to keep within striking distance of first-place North Dakota after a home split with Wisconsin last weekend. A sweep and a slip-up by Denver or the Sioux would vault the Bulldogs to the top of the heap.

Minnesota State (10-9-5, 4-9-3) at No. 9 Wisconsin (15-8-3, 7-7-2)

In a member of the middle-of-the-pack, three-team pileup with Colorado College and Minnesota, Wisconsin is looking to separate itself and earn home ice advantage with the lowly Mavericks visiting the Kohl Center. The Badgers own the conferenceâÄôs best home record at 11-4-1.

The Mavericks have been known to surprise opponents, however. Just ask the Gophers; they were swept by the Mavericks in early December.

Alaska Anchorage (7-10-3, 6-8-2) at No. 4 Denver (14-5-5, 10-3-3)

Alaska Anchorage has an uphill battle if it is to secure home ice for the WCHA playoffs, and a trip to the Rockies is not an ideal start to that climb.

Denver has lost just one game since mid-November, a stretch that included a win and a tie at Alaska Anchorage.

St. Cloud State (9-11-2, 5-8-1) at Bemidji State (9-11-2, 5-9-2)

Although Bemidji State has been in the bottom half of the conference for much of the year, they have proven to be a dangerous team on a roll.

After winning the Mariucci Classic by beating Union and Ferris State while the Gophers failed to beat either, the Beavers went undefeated against Nebraska-Omaha.

St. Cloud State has been a streaky squad, dropping four in a row before winning their last four.

Nebraska-Omaha (12-8-2, 9-5-2) at No. 2 North Dakota (17-6-2, 12-4-0)

Coming off a home split with the Gophers, the Sioux are hoping to defend their home ice once again when WCHA newcomer Nebraska-Omaha makes a visit.

Nebraska-Omaha is on a bit of a slide, winning only one of its last six games, but remains in fourth in the standings.

The two teams split earlier in the season, with both games decided by a goal.

Alabama-Huntsville (3-21-1) at Colorado College (12-11-1, 8-8-0)

Alabama-Huntsville visits their third WCHA team this season in the only non-conference matchup of the weekend.

Colorado College was on a six-game win streak before the holiday break, but has taken a step back, losing four of its last five.

Because they are playing outside the conference, Colorado College canâÄôt do anything to help its standing in the WCHA, guaranteeing that the Tigers and the Gophers will be tied going into next weekend.