Thursday, March 21, 2013

Final Five is Here and Here is a Preview

Last Time for the Current WCHA Format

Today marks the start of the final WCHA Final Five in the current configuration before the big shake up.

Of the six teams in the tournament, it is most likely that two of them need to win it all to make the NCAA tournament, Wisconsin and Colorado College.

Preview in order of their first game:

#6 Minnesota State Mankato (24-12-3 Overall, 16-11-1 WCHA)
How they got here:  MSUM held home court advantage although it took three games against visiting Omaha.

Why they win it all:  The Mavericks have the top goaltender in the league, freshman Stephon Williams.  Couple that with an offense that can put up numbers, the Mavericks have a good formula to move on.

Why they fall short:  First MSUM has to get past the trap defense of Wisconsin, then they have to win two more games in two nights on a short week after playing three games last weekend.  One of those two factors will down the Mavericks short of the championship.

#4 Wisconsin (19-12-7, 13-8-7)
How they got here:  Wisconsin swept UMD in the first round at home.  The Badgers are 20-5-5 since November 30 to get the #4 seed.

Why they win it all:  They have the defense to shut down most any team in the nation when it is 
clicking.  Defense is a key component to the post season and Wisconsin has it down.

Why they fall short:  if the defense fails, the offense is not there to back them up.  With only two skaters with ten or more goals, being in a high scoring game is not one Wisconsin is likely to win.

#3 North Dakota (21-11-7, 14-7-7)
How they got here:  North Dakota hosted Michigan Tech and needed three games to down the Huskies.  UND got to the third seed by winning many games, but like Wisconsin, they tied seven times.

Why they win it all:  It is March and UND seems to win in March at the Xcel.  They have plenty of scoring to win it all again even though it has been hit and miss at times during the season.

Why they fall short:  Goaltending has been an issue this season.  Gothberg and Saunders have been splitting time an neither has been the far and away number one.  Additionally, UND is also looking at three wins on a short week after three games last weekend if they win the championship.

#8 Colorado College (16-18-5, 11-13-4)
How they got here:  CC was one of three game three winners from the first round of the WCHA playoffs beating arch rival Denver two straight Saturday and Sunday.   The Tigers are the only road team to escape the first round.

Why they win it all:  The chances aren’t good for CC, but they are playing good hockey at the right time.  A good combo of goaltending and offense doing just enough to win two one goal games in Denver.

Why they fall short:  The Tigers have struggled mightily at time throughout the year losing to top teams and bottom teams.  Most recently loses against Michigan Tech and UMD highlight their struggles.

#2 Minnesota Twin Cities (26-7-5, 16-7-5)
How they got here:  The Gophers dispatched Bemidji State in two games at home in the first round.  Both games were one goals wins with Friday coming in OT and Saturday coming from behind.

Why they win it all:  The Gophers have many great players who are tops in the college game.  With a roster like that, it is not wonder they went 8-0-0 in non-conference.  UMTC scored the most goals and gave up the least in overall games of all WCHA teams.

Why they fall short:  This is a conference tournament and the Gophers have struggled throughout the season with WCHA teams.  UMTC has been making a habit of letting teams have hope by not extending leads.  The Gophers have been in 10 games with a goal differential of two or less in their last 12 games.

#1 Saint Cloud State (23-14-1, 18-9-1)
How they got here:  SCSU easily took care of Alaska – Anchorage at home in two games last weekend.  The Huskies just kept winning and stayed above all the ties in the conference to end up on top in the end.

Why they win it all:  They have shown that they are gritty and can play with any team in the WCHA.  In league games, SCSU tied with the most goals for and the third least goals against.

Why they fall short:  The Huskies can struggle at times for no apparent reason as shown in their 3-5-0 non-conference schedule and losses to Michigan Tech and Colorado College at the close of the WCHA schedule.

Picks by @afiskness.   This is the last Final Five under the current configuration and it sounds like it is going to be well attended.  Picking these games can sometimes be a complete guessing game.  One interesting note from last week is that 5 of the 6 teams that won last weekends series play on the olympic size ice, with North Dakota being the one that doesn't.  Will the ice size play into an advantage for one team over another? 

Wisconsin vs. Minnesota State:  There has been a lot of talk about the Badgers defense for this series, but I think the story is going to be the Mavericks offense.  I think the Mavericks can run enough lines that can score and will beat the Badgers who will always be looking to slow the game down. 

Colorado College vs North Dakota:  Both teams split their games earlier this year which means this should be a great game.  The tigers can score goals, their problem is letting in too many.  This game can go either way, but I will take North Dakota with the home crowd and playing on the ice size they like best to win.

If my above predictions hold here are the remaining games.  MSUM vs SCSU, I will pick SCSU to win and play UMTC who knocks off the UND.  SCSU wins the Final five.

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