Friday, March 4, 2011

Tech and McNaughton; Final Weekend of Conference Play

#11 Bulldogs host #8 Mavericks of Omaha

A turning point in college hockey is on the horizon.  Big Ten is coming (Bi6 Ten?) reportedly for 2014-15 season thus changing the landscape of the WCHA and CCHA. 
Without the “money makers” of Michigan, Michigan State, MinnesotaTwin Cities and Wisconsin not traveling to the smaller schools in the conference, teams are looking at dropping programs.  One of those teams hinting at the possibility in the near future is Michigan Technological University.
Michigan Tech has been in the bottom of the WCHA for years.  It is easy to wonder why they even ever had a team, a school way out in the hinterlands.  Who would want to go there?
For those newer to college hockey, you need to know that Michigan Tech has a storied past.  The Huskies won the NCAA National Championship on three occasions, 1962, 1965 and 1975.  The 1975 win was sandwiched between two second place finishes, both at the hands of the UMTC Gophers.
Michigan Tech will be hosting a current hockey power this weekend in North Dakota.  It will be the weekend that UND receives the McNaughton Cup for the WCHA Championship.  The cup is one of the most storied in college sports and Michigan Technological University is the trustee of the cup.  Michigan Tech has not had it in their possession for years, not since 1975-76 season.  But the cup should be making an appearance in Houghton this weekend, another sobering reminder of hockey traditions lost and the current teams the Division I ranks may be losing.
In Duluth.  This weekend Omaha is making its only trip to Duluth this season.  There is a lot riding on the two game series.  Foremost, the winner of the series will better the other in playoff seedings.  It is also the last chance to get “on track” for a playoff run, and what better team to play than one just higher than UMD on the PWR.
New Digs Neutralized.  AMSOIL Arena is beautiful.  The players, coaches and fans love it.  But it isn’t the DECC.  The Bulldogs are 9-4-2 at home this season, but just 2-3-2 at the new arena.  The Mavericks of UNO are 7-8-1 on the road this season.
Its Been Rough, But…  The Bulldogs have the least number of overall losses (8) out of all the WCHA teams.  Unfortunately, seven of them have come in league play and that is why UMD is fourth in the WCHA.  The last time a Bulldog team finished with less than 10 losses was the 1992-93 team.
Things to Watch for this Weekend:
  1. Will the goalie rotation continue?  We still look for Reiter to become the number one.
  2. Will the team play defense?  It is more than just the goalie and defensemen; it has to be everybody doing what they can.
  3. End the Friday hex, and heck, even get sweep.  A sweep and a Denver stumble can still get the Bulldogs into the coveted second spot.  But it all starts with two well played games which UMD wins.
Outcome.  This will be a good test for the Bulldogs, or maybe a bad one if they fail.  Regardless of the outcome, UMD will get a taste of the playoffs this weekend.  And with nothing to lose, fans shouldn’t get worried, right? 
We do see more of the same happening this weekend, thus a series split.  The change we do predict is that the Bulldogs will come to play Friday and win relenting to the Mavs Saturday night.
Around the WCHA.  It is the last regular season weekend and all teams are playing conference foes.
#2 North Dakota at Michigan Technological University:  In a preview of next weekend’s first round playoff series, North Dakota sweeps here…along with next weekend too.
#19 Saint Cloud State at #5 Denver:  I never thought that a ranking would be put in front of SCSU after the start they had, but here they are at #19 in the PWR with a chance, albeit an outside chance, of having home ice.  SCSU is playing well and Denver plays well at home.  These teams split the series.
#14 Colorado College at Wisconsin:  This series is not a guaranteed repeat in the playoffs next weekend, but it is a likely rematch in Colorado Springs.  Can the Badgers really go eight games without a win?  No, so this will be a split and they will play again next weekend at CC.
#19 University of Minnesota – Twin Cities at Bemidji State:  BSU has a good defense so the Gophers will have struggles at least one of the nights to score, thus a split in Bemidji.
AlaskaAnchorage at Minnesota StateMankato:  A difficult one to call with UAA coming off of their weekend against archrival Alaska.  The staff is split here; in discussions it was said go with a split, it is the safe pick.  I go against the more sound advice and see a MSUM sweep. 
With all the splits we predict, the standings would stay the same.  The only change would be if MSUM does come through with a sweep.  That would move them past UAA. 
It has been a good regular season, but it will also be good to look at the playoff scene next week.

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