North Dakota clinches share (at least) of WCHA title

Minnesota sits in position to claim one of the final two home-ice spots for the conference playoffs.

by Austin Cumblad

North Dakota clinched at least a share of its second MacNaughton Cup in three years with a sweep of Bemidji State and Michigan Tech has been a lock as the lowest seed in the WCHA playoffs for some time.

But the seeds in between are very much up for grabs entering the final weekend of the regular season.

ItâÄôs a numbers game now. Along with the Sioux, Denver, Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota-Duluth are guaranteed to host the first round. The fifth-place Gophers are in a four-way race âÄî separated by four points âÄî for the final two home-ice slots.

Minnesota, with 28 league points, needs only one win at Bemidji State this weekend to clinch home-ice. Otherwise, sixth-place Colorado College (26 points), seventh-place Wisconsin (25) and eighth-place St. Cloud State (24) are within striking distance.

The No. 19 Gophers (15-12-5 overall, 12-10-4 WCHA) should get their win. They are on a season-best five-game unbeaten streak and the Beavers are tied for 10th in the WCHA.

The more interesting battle will be between the Badgers and the Huskies. No. 18 Wisconsin is slumping, while No. 17 Colorado College just took three points from 11th-ranked Minnesota-Duluth.

As teams look forward to their final seriesâÄô of the regular season, hereâÄôs a look back at last weekendâÄôs action around the league.

Bemidji State (12-16-4, 8-14-4) at North Dakota (24-8-3, 19-6-1)

The nationâÄôs No. 1 team did not waste its chance to seize the MacNaughton Cup with a 5-2, 5-1 sweep of Bemidji State. The Sioux won the regular season title in 2009 as well.

North Dakota senior defenseman Jake Marto had a goal and an assist Saturday night and every senior who skated (Chay Genoway has missed the last seven games) scored a point in his final regular season home series.

Wisconsin (19-13-4, 11-12-3) at St. Cloud State (14-15-5, 10-12-4)

The BadgersâÄô slide continued with two losses to the Huskies. Wisconsin is winless in its last six since climbing as high as No. 7 in the polls.

St. Cloud State, meanwhile, is suddenly in the home-ice discussion, but must sweep at Denver and have the Badgers take three points from Colorado College to jump into the sixth and final spot.

Denver (20-9-5, 16-7-3) at Nebraska-Omaha (20-12-2, 16-8-2)

The Pioneers and Mavericks split to remain second and third, respectively, in the WCHA, separated by a single point.

Nebraska-Omaha has been an immediately competitive newcomer to the conference this season and is ranked No. 12 in the country. Denver, the reigning regular season champion, can earn a share of the MacNaughton Cup in the pragmatically impossible event that North Dakota is swept by last-place Michigan Tech.

Minnesota-Duluth (19-8-6, 14-7-5) at Colorado College (18-15-3, 12-12-2)

The No. 17 Tigers earned three points at home against a Bulldogs team now ranked 11th by Minnesota-Duluth spent three weeks earlier this season ranked No. 1 in the country; 11-1-2 at the time, the Bulldogs are barely over .500 since.

Colorado College, on the other hand, is exactly .500 in the WCHA and has hovered around that mark for most of the season. Its last sweep was against non-conference Alabama-Huntsville; its last WCHA sweep was in mid-December against St. Cloud State, part of a six-game winning streak, its longest of the season.