Sunday, March 9, 2008

Remaining in the postseason picture

The term "March Madness" may be associated with college basketball, but the next two weeks that term could be applied to college hockey.

Sixteen teams qualify for the Division I NCAA Tournament, and with three small conferences earning a bid, it appears eight of the other 13 bids could go to the WCHA - with Minnesota grabbing the seventh bid right now.

That could change, though, if Minnesota is unable to advance to the Final Five. For the first time since 1999-2000, advancing to the Final Five will go through a road playoff series. With a split this weekend with Minnesota-Duluth, and two points earned by Mankato and St. Cloud State, the Gophers are seeded seventh for the playoffs.

The Mavericks and Huskies tied for fourth, but the Maves won the season series, 2-0.

Traveling to Mankato is a best-case scenario for Minnesota, who has a 19-2-4 record with the Mavericks. The Gophers only conference sweep this season came against the Mavericks in a home-and-home in November.

But, Mankato is playing some really good puck right now, including a split with WCHA regular season champion Colorado College two weekends ago. The Mavericks have a nice balance of offense and defense and a consistent goaltender for the first time in years.

It appears Minnesota must win at least one game next weekend to make the NCAA Tournament - two wins and they are a lock. Being swept likely will drop them out of contention since the Gophers would be below .500. A three-game series is defintely likely as the Gophers have shook off some of their offensive struggles and have put in some goals of late.

On Friday, Minnesota struck early behind two beautiful goals from Blake Wheeler and Ben Gordon off nice setup passes. Senior Evan Kauffman added a goal, while Wheeler added his second goal in a 4-1 win. In a meaningless game Saturday, Minnesota lost 3-2 to end the season series with the Dawgs 2-1-1.

* Freshman goaltender Alex Kangas continues to play strong a week after earning freshman of the week honors for his performance in Alaska. Kangas has started every game in the second half of the season, and really could be the difference maker next weekend.

* Jay Barriball sat out this weekend after reinjuring his ankle last weekend. It appears he will return next weekend for Mankato.

* Game time for Friday's game is at 7:37 p.m.


PJS said...

How has this team fallen so far so fast?

The Sports Guy said...

Johnson, Goligoski, Kessel, O'Brien and Chucko - what do they have in common? All players that should be on this year's roster.

This is what they call a "rebuilding" year. I think outside CC and UND, it's the same around the league. The NHL is stealing a lot of talent.

Next year's crop of Frosh look good, though.

The Scarlet Gopher said...

To be fair, the NHL has harvested their fair share of talent from across the league. One of Denver's kids took off and UND always has its fair share of draftees take off every year.

Seems to me like this year's Gopher squad has just hit the perfect storm...

The Sports Guy said...

Totall agree. UND is missing Toews, who is having a nice season in Chicago. I believe Moorhead's Brian Lee is gone as well.

How did I forget Okposo on that list?

The crummy part is most of these players are stuck in the minors...are they developing better in the AHL or in college? I'd say college.

The Sports Guy said...

Note: Friday start time is now 7:07 p.m.

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