While the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers try to avenge last year's first-round loss to Alaska-Anchorage this weekend, the other eight teams in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association will be squaring off in their own best-of-three first-round matchups in hopes to advance to next weekend's WCHA Final Five. For the Badgers to avoid having to play in the Final Five play-in game Thursday, they are going to need some help from of the road teams this weekend.
Michigan Tech at Denver
Denver tied for first with Colorado College as the conference's regular season champion, but won the tiebreaker to take the top seed in the tournament. The Pioneers will host 10th-seeded Michigan Tech. Denver won the season series 3-1 over the Huskies, but split the series in Denver. The Pioneers are 3-3-1 in their last seven games, following an eight-game winning streak.
The Huskies have proved themselves dangerous on the road this year, sweeping both Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth in away games, but they are winless in their last six games.
Nobody expects a 10 seed to beat the top seed, but if ever there was a team to do it, it would probably be this roller-coaster ride of a team, Michigan Tech.
St. Cloud State at Colorado College
As the second seed in the tournament, the Tigers will host the Huskies of St. Cloud State. The two teams faced each other exactly one month ago this weekend in Colorado Springs, splitting the weekend series. The Tigers are also 3-3-1 in their last seven games, including their series with St. Cloud. The Huskies, meanwhile, are just 1-5-1 in their last seven.
With the league's top two scorers and top goaltender in terms of goals against average, it is hard to pick against the Tigers in this one.
Minnesota State at Minnesota
Minnesota tied in the standings with Wisconsin, but won the tiebreaker to take the third seed. They will host the Mavericks of Minnesota State. The Gophers swept the season series with the Mavericks 4-0, twice scoring nine goals in a game.
Minnesota is also riding a four-game winning streak into the playoffs, while Minnesota State is 2-4-2 in its last eight games against WCHA opponents.
Giving up goals is nothing new to the Mavericks-they were last in the league, allowing nearly four per game. Look for Minnesota, which is second in the league in scoring, to exploit the weak Maverick defense.
Minnesota-Duluth at North Dakota
By far the most compelling of the first-round matchups, the Sioux wrapped up the fifth seed last weekend and will host Duluth, the preseason favorite to win the MacNaughton Cup. The two teams split their only series during the regular season which took place in Duluth.
North Dakota has had its ups and downs, and went 3-3-2 in its final four weeks of the season. The Bulldogs failed to live up to expectations and went 3-4-1 to finish the year.
Neither team seems to have a distinct advantage in any category. Expect this one to go three games for sure.