It’s a little difficult to write a preview for North Dakota’s first game when the opponent hasn’t been set yet. So rather than a full preview, I’ll give you my thoughts for each of the Thursday games and how I see the tournament shaking out:
Quarterfinal #1: #4 Minnesota-Duluth (22-9-6) vs. #10 Bemidji State (14-17-5)
These two teams haven’t played since late October in Bemidji, when the Bulldogs took three points from the homestanding Beavers. Bemidji is getting great goaltending and UMD is cooling off a bit (4-4-2 in their last ten games), but not that much. BSU doesn’t have an answer for the FCC line (Fontaine, Connolly, and Connolly), and Minnesota-Duluth will prevail, 4-2.
Quarterfinal #2: #6 Colorado College (21-17-3) vs. #8 Alaska-Anchorage (16-17-3)
The Seawolves took three of four games from the Tigers in the regular season, and UAA has won five straight coming in to the Final Five. CC has not swept a team since January 14th-15th (Alabama Huntsville). Colorado College has only won one game at the Final Five since 2003, and they’ll go home early again this year. Alaska-Anchorage in a mild upset, 3-2.
Semifinal #1: #4 Minnesota-Duluth (22-9-6) vs. #2 Denver (23-10-5)
These two teams are so close, but Duluth proved in 2009 that they can win multiple games on Final Five weekend and I have the sense that the Bulldogs will find the championship game yet again. Before the playoffs started, the Pioneers sputtered to the finish line, splitting their last five series in league play (including home losses against St. Cloud State and Michigan Tech). This one could go to overtime, with a Connolly netting the game winner. Minnesota-Duluth 5-4 (OT).
Semifinal #2: #1 North Dakota (28-8-3) vs. #8 Alaska-Anchorage (16-17-3)
We saw this matchup twice last month, and there’s no reason to believe Anchorage will muster more than one goal against the Fighting Sioux this time around. UND will need to wear white all weekend (rather than their “business suit” blacks), but it won’t matter here. North Dakota 4-1.
Championship Game: #1 North Dakota (28-8-3) vs. #4 Minnesota-Duluth (22-9-6)
I would pay to watch these two teams play a seven game series. It’s possible that Duluth would be playing for a #1 seed in the national tournament, and that extra motivation could put them over the top. No matter which way this game goes, I think the Fighting Sioux and Bulldogs will meet somewhere in the NCAAs. I’ll give this round to UMD. Minnesota-Duluth 4-3.
News and Notes:
With two victories this weekend, North Dakota would reach the 30 victory mark for the first time under head coach Dave Hakstol.
According to Jim Dahl’s excellent analysis (found here), North Dakota, Denver, and Duluth are all assured of a spot in the NCAA tournament. Colorado College, Alaska-Anchorage, and Bemidji State all need help outside their control, or can secure a bid in the NCAA’s by winning the Final Five this weekend.
On the outside looking in: Nebraska-Omaha is the only WCHA team sitting at home this weekend that can still make the NCAA tournament. The Mavericks can finish anywhere from 12th to 16th in the final Pairwise rankings. The other five teams in the conference (Minnesota, Wisconsin, St. Cloud State, MSU-Mankato, and Michigan Tech) have played their last game for 2010-11.
Thank you for reading. As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.