At the beginning of the season, I gave you my predicted order of finish in the WCHA:
2. North Dakota
5. St. Cloud State
8. Colorado College
10. Michigan Tech
And here’s how the race stacks up heading into this weekend’s action:
WCHA 2009-10 Current Standings
It is worth noting that while the majority of teams have twelve games remaining, Wisconsin and Minnesota have fourteen games left to play. Amazingly, only five points separate the top six teams in the standings. More impressively, the top nine teams can still finish with a winning record in league play.
So far, the biggest surprises to me have been Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota. In my season preview, I said this about the Bulldogs:
How will goaltender Brady Hjelle (two games of collegiate experience) handle the load for the Bulldogs after Stalock bolted for the pros? Duluth will score in bunches this season, but their opponents will, too. The WCHA is not kind to freshman defensemen, but Dylan Olsen and Dan DeLisle will have to hold their own for UMD to secure home ice.
The combination of Hjelle (8-4-1, 2.94 GAA, .902 SV%) and junior Kenny Reiter (6-3-0, 2.14 GAA, .914 SV%, 1 SO) has worked well for Scott Sandelin’s club. But the story has been the offense: UMD is scoring 3.62 goals per game in conference play, and the power play is clicking at almost 25 percent. But a tough second half on the road and a suspect penalty kill have me wondering if Duluth will end up in the top five.
Minnesota, on the other hand, has struggled to find consistency in net and up front. The Gophers have a tough second half ahead of them and will need to get things going this weekend against North Dakota if they hope to be playing at Mariucci in March.
We will have a very interesting race for the league title. Take a look at the remaining opponents for the top six teams:
Denver: @ UW (2), @UND (2), vs. UMN (2), vs.MTU (2), @ MSUM (2), vs. CC (1), @ CC (1)
Minnesota-Duluth: @ MSUM (2), vs. UW (2), @ MTU (2), @ UND (2), vs. UMN (2), @ UAA (2)
St. Cloud State: vs. UMN (1), @ UMN (1), @ CC (2), vs. UAA (2), vs. UND (2), @ UW (2), @ MSUM (1), vs. MSUM (1)
Colorado College: vs. UW (2), @ UAA (2), vs. SCSU (2), @ UMN (2), vs. UND (2), @ DU (1), vs. DU (1)
Wisconsin: @ CC (2), vs. DU (2), @ UMD (2), vs. MSUM (2), vs. SCSU (2), @ MTU (2), @ UMN (2)
North Dakota: @UMN (2), vs. DU (2), @ SCSU (2), vs. UMD (2), @ CC (2), vs. MTU (2)
North Dakota plays eight of its final twelve games against the top four teams in the league. A tough test, to be sure, but also a great opportunity to move up in the standings.
Wisconsin is the only team in the mix with an extra pair of games to play, and they’re also playing two each against the four teams above them.
Colorado College ends the year with a home-and-home against Denver in a series that may well determine whether CC hangs on for a home playoff series.
St. Cloud State has to finish up with three of their last four on the road, but will be in the mix for home ice.
Minnesota-Duluth plays eight of their final twelve conference games on the road, away from the pinball action of the DECC.
Denver has been the league’s most consistent team throughout the first half. If DU can make it out of a tough January (at Wisconsin, at North Dakota) in first place, the Pioneers will win the MacNaughton Cup.
If I had to predict how the race would play out, I would put them in this order:
4. North Dakota
5. St. Cloud State
6. Colorado College
Thank you for reading. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.