As the shortest month of the year comes to an end it can only mean one thing. March Madness.
To many, March Madness is all about filling out brackets and always picking Duke to lose in the first round. But to hockey fans, March Madness is also about the college hockey playoffs.
This weekend kick starts the madness as WCHA first round playoffs begin to see who will be a part of the final face-off in March. The first round consists of a bracket with eight teams in a best of three series. The following series are 1. Wisconsin vs 8. Mankato, 2. Minnesota vs. 7. Bemidji, 3. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 6. St. Cloud State, and the 4. North Dakota Fighting Hawks vs. Ohio State.
As it’s well documented in all sports the seeding is just a number. It doesn’t matter if you were the best team all season, all that is out the door come playoff time. With that being said, I’m going to try my best to make my predictions on what will happen in these WCHA playoffs.
Let’s start with the quarterfinals. For Wisconsin versus Mankato there’s no way to look past Wisconsin in this matchup. The Badgers finished with a conference record of 22-2-4 to take the regular season title. In addition they scored 110 goals while only allowing 24. Compare that to the 4-21-3 Mavericks who scored 33 while allowing 98 makes it tough to go against the best team in the country and WCHA. Badgers in two games.
The same can be said for Minnesota and Bemidji. In a two seed versus a seven seed logic tends to lean towards the two seed. Statistics on these two back it up. The Gophers went 3-1 against the Beavers outscoring them 13-2 in the four games played this season. In the 13 games played in the New Year, they’ve lost only twice and tied three times (twice to Wisconsin). Gophers in two games as well.
Now is where things get more interesting. The one and two seeds where above and beyond the seven and eight seeds so it wasn’t an issue making picks there. The same can be said between UMD and SCSU with a point differential of 36. The second ranked team in the country took care of business sweeping the Huskies off their feet and they will do it again as the Bulldogs will keep this prediction trend going with a two game sweep.
Finally, we have the toughest one of all four matchups. Fighting Hawks versus Buckeyes. This one is the most interesting one as well. The Fighting Hawks had Ohio State as their guest last weekend which resulted in a split. They won in a shootout and lost the second game earlier this season at OSU.
The win for the Hawks last weekend snapped a six-game winless streak and capping off a 4-7-1 record in 2017. As for the Buckeyes they went slightly better at 5-5-3. It’s worth noting Ohio State played better on the road then at home going 8-8-2 as the guest.
It’s with all this considered that my only upset (if you can even call it that) is the Buckeyes knocking out the Hawks in three games this weekend. The Buckeyes were riding a five game unbeaten streak before the loss and UND was on a six game winless streak.
So you can etch these picks for the semifinals in the sand. The Badgers, Gophers, Bulldogs, and Buckeyes all advance. If the bracket advances to have the Badgers play the Buckeyes and Gophers play the Bulldogs there’s a lot to dissect there. The Badgers have nothing against them against the Buckeyes. They swept them this year in their four game series. They’ve been the number one team in the country all year. Not for the past few weeks, or month, but the whole year.
As for the Gophers versus Bulldogs, it’s safe to say the second ranked team should handle the fourth best team in the country. Well sometimes the right answer isn’t the best answer. The two split this year winning both games at home and losing both on the road. Minnesota and Duluth have been juggling spots all year so the whole two versus four is out the window. These two teams will produce a great hockey game at Ridder arena, which is home to the Gophers, who also went 13-0-3 all season at home. With that home cooking the Gophers will move to the finals.
Finally, we get to the WCHA finals. Gophers versus Badgers. Midwest College Hockey fans favorite matchup unless you’re a UND, UMD, SCSU, Bemidji, or Mankato fan. The two traded punches all season. The teams split the series going 1-1-2. The two ties came last weekend in Ridder Arena by the scores of 1-1 and 0-0. The gophers were able to take one from the Badgers 2-0 but then get beaten up by a score of 8-2 the following day in Madison.
The Badgers are obviously a good team but so are the Gophers. Before these two put up straight ties against each other, both were on big undefeated streaks with the Gophers at eight and the Badgers at 14. Wisconsin’s last loss? To the Gophers. So there you have it, the Badgers are statistically the best team in all facets of the game. But to quote the great Lee Corso, not so fast. I have the Gophers winning the WCHA Final Face-off in their own backyard.
Jack Harvey is a staff writer for Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]