Thursday, March 09, 2006

Here Come The Huskies

Needing two wins this weekend to keep the season alive, St. Cloud State figures to be a hungry team when they come to Colorado Springs tomorrow night. Just four weeks ago, Colorado College traveled to St. Cloud to take on a Husky team that was on a six game winning streak and flirting with an at large NCAA tournament bid. Since CC split that weekend, however, St. Cloud State's stock has plummeted - they now sit at 26th in the Pairwise Rankings and will likely miss the tournament unless they can win the WCHA autobid.

The Tigers sit comfortably at 6th in the Pairwise, and are a good bet to make the NCAA tournament regardless of the outcome this weekend. CC still has a slim shot at a number one seed if they can leapfrog Boston University and Michigan State, who are tied for 4th. However, the Tigers are more likely to end up a two or three seed come selection time.

The matchup this weekend should be a classic battle of a high flying offense (CC) vs. a very stingy defense (SCSU). Husky goaltender Bobby Goepfert has been one of the top goaltenders in the WCHA (and the NCAA) throughout the season. Goepfert enters this series with a .926 save percentage and 2.06 goals against average. While the play of Goepfert and the Huskies defense has been effective, the offense is a different story - last weekend against Wisconsin St. Cloud State tallied only one goal. In four games against CC this season, St. Cloud State has scored nine goals, for an average of slightly over two goals per game. They will likely need more production than that to win the series this weekend. CC's offense will need to be in high gear too, as St. Cloud State has lost only one game in which they scored at least three goals. That game? A 6-3 loss to the Tigers.

Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north prepare to welcome the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs to town tomorrow night for what should be a very easy series for Denver. I normally wouldn't consider any WCHA team to be an easy opponent, especially one like UMD that has been a thorn in CC's side the past few years, but the Bulldogs play over the second half of the seaon really has been shockingly horrible. They have one win in the last 14 games and enter this weekend with a nifty six game losing streak. The Bulldogs biggest problem has been their offense, which scores about as often as AC Green. Over their current six game losing streak, UMD has scored a whopping three goals. As much as everyone would love for UMD to take this series, if the Pioneers lose a game this weekend they should be embarrassed.

One of the more intriguing matchups this weekend will be North Dakota vs. Minnesota State-Mankato. The Fighting Sioux are likely to make the tournament at this point, but still need to close out the season well to solidify their position. With their strong play as of late, Minnesota State is now a TUC (team under consideration) - but barely. Their RPI, while good enough to be considered for consideration, is only .5041. A North Dakota sweep could knock the Mavericks out of consideration and have ramifications for other teams as Minnesota State loses TUC status. The Mavericks enter this series on a four game winning streak with impressive sweeps of St. Cloud State and Wisconsin, but nonetheless are 0-2 against the Fighting Sioux this season.

Another series that has potential to be interesting is Wisconsin hosting Michigan Tech. Wisconsin finished the regular season with a sweep of St. Cloud State, but looked to be in free fall mode prior to that. Before the series with the Huskies, Wisconsin had only three wins in eleven games, with those wins coming against Minnesota-Duluth, Ohio State, and Michigan Tech. This series with Michigan Tech will likely come down to the play of Brian Elliott. Elliott had a stellar weekend against St. Cloud State, allowing only one goal, but his play throughout the second half of the season has been questionable following an injury. I think there's a legitimate chance for an upset in this series if Michigan Tech can rattle Elliott. Don't forget that Michigan Tech handed Wisconsin its first WCHA loss of the season in a 4-2 shocker in Madison. Tech also a goalie with the ability to steal a game, which always makes an upset more likely. Wisconsin should win this series, but we'll have to wait and see which Elliott shows up.

The last series is top seed Minnesota taking on bottom seed Alaska-Anchorage. The Seawolves have had impressive wins this season over Denver and North Dakota, but will be hard pressed to take one from the Gophers on home ice. The Gophers have been playing phenomenal hockey to close out the season, whereas Anchorage's last win game on January 6th. They are winless in their last 13. The Gophers remain the top seed in the Pairwise Rankings and are a lock for a number one seed regardless of what happens from here on out.


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