After wild regular season, no team safe in WCHA tourney

The top-seeded Gophers could have their hands full this weekend.

Mark Remme

The road to the 2007 Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five effectively begins this weekend, and if any of the top seeds think they’re a lock for a trip to the championship round, they haven’t paid attention to the way this season has progressed.

Head coaches around the league have scratched their heads all season at the parity surrounding conference play, begging the question of which top seeds will fall by Sunday night.

And nothing, at this point, would be surprising. Last year, ninth-seeded Minnesota Duluth knocked off two-time defending national champion Denver in the first round, ending the Pioneers’ title run.

The hunt for the Broadmoor Trophy – awarded to the WCHA playoff champion – is on, but it’s anyone’s guess which team will hoist it after the Final Five championship game on March 17.

(10) Alaska Anchorage at (1) Minnesota

Minnesota fired out of the gate, going 11-0-3 in its first 14 conference games. Since then, the Gophers are a mediocre 7-7-0 in their final seven WCHA series.

Two of those seven wins, however, came in Anchorage against the Seawolves.

Minnesota’s recent play prompted Coach Don Lucia to challenge key players to elevate their game after Saturday’s loss to Michigan Tech. They’ll need to do just that if they want a shot at the WCHA playoff title.

(9) Minnesota Duluth at (2) St. Cloud State

Arguably the most consistent team throughout the season, St. Cloud State, will rely heavily on a stout defense led by senior netminder Bobby Goepfert.

The Huskies, led by Goepfert’s play down the stretch last season, made it to the Final Five championship as the sixth seed in the tournament. This year, they’ve won home ice and are expected to make it just as far.

St. Cloud State’s first test is a Bulldogs squad it beat all four times the teams met this season. Two of those wins were shutouts for Goepfert.

(8) Minnesota State at (3) North Dakota

It’s no secret that North Dakota saves its best hockey for the postseason. The Sioux won the Broadmoor Trophy last year and have gone to two consecutive NCAA Frozen Fours under third-year coach Dave Hakstol.

Minnesota State must find a way to contain North Dakota’s first line: center Jonathon Toews and wingers T.J. Oshie and Ryan Duncan. Duncan led the WCHA by scoring 39 points in conference play and is expected to be a viable Hobey Baker candidate.

(7) Wisconsin at (4) Denver

Denver scored twice in the final minute to tie Colorado College last Saturday, edging the Tigers for the fourth seed in the tournament by one conference point.

Their reward: defending national champion Wisconsin.

But the Badgers are not the team that won it all a year ago. In fact, they must win the Final Five in order to have a shot at making the national tournament.

With such stakes on the line, Wisconsin might follow in Denver’s footsteps from a year ago, missing the chance to defend its title.

(6) Michigan Tech at (5) Colorado College

Michigan Tech made top-seeded Minnesota look sluggish in a 5-4 win last Saturday, a game in which the Huskies once harbored a 5-1 lead.

Their task this weekend comes against a formidable opponent in Colorado College, a team the Huskies went 1-2-1 against in the regular season.

This matchup will come down to a duel between Michigan Tech sophomore goalie Michael-Lee Teslak and Tigers senior netminder Matt Zaba, both of whom gained significant momentum during the second half of the season.