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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Sunday, June 26, 2022
Matt Masterson

Column: ‘March Madness’ finding its way into college hockey

The term “March Madness” may be colloquially tied to college basketball, but heading into the last weekend of the regular season, it feels like that phrase was tailor made for college hockey, especially in the WCHA.

With two games remaining, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team—which currently sits in a tie for fourth place in the conference—has the ability to finish anywhere from first to seventh place when all is said and done.

A couple wins and they could be on top of the conference. A couple losses and it’s very possible they will start the conference playoffs on the road.

“Nothing like this,” head coach Mike Eaves said in a press conference Monday, when asked if he had ever seen a weekend with this much potential before. “It speaks to the parity in the league and it speaks to the parity in college hockey. Any given night a team can win, and now we’re down to one through seven up for grabs here.”

After a sweep of No. 16 Nebraska-Omaha, the Badgers moved up to No. 14 in the USCHO.com poll and No. 20 in the Pairwise, a ranking used to mimic that of the NCAA selection committee.

Wisconsin was the only top-eight team in the conference to record the max of four points last weekend, as No. 8 St. Cloud, No. 2 Minnesota and No. 10 Minnesota State all suffered losses.

What this sets up is a wild finish to the Badgers’ final season in the WCHA. Five teams—Wisconsin, St. Cloud, Minnesota, Minnesota State and No. 5 North Dakota—all have an opportunity to bring home at least a share of the MacNaughton Cup, the prize for the regular season conference champions.

The top six finishers in the conference also earn home ice advantage for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

Currently, St. Cloud leads the conference with 35 points, followed by Minnesota (33 points), North Dakota (33), Minnesota State (31) and Wisconsin (31). The Badgers’—who host St. Cloud this weekend—only hope for a conference title rests on them winning both games against the Huskies.

If that happens, UW and St. Cloud would be tied in the standings, and could share the WCHA title.

After that, they would also need Minnesota to lose at least one game on the road to Bemidji State and for North Dakota to lose one game to Minnesota State. However, if Minnesota State sweeps UND, they would end up with the same number of points as Wisconsin, and would enter into a three-way tie for first place.

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Wisconsin sits one point ahead of UNO, and two points ahead of Denver, the sixth and seventh place teams in the conference and the only other remaining teams with a chance at earning home ice advantage. If both those teams win out and the Badgers earn less than two points, UW would finish seventh and lose out on home ice.

However, Wisconsin does hold an advantage over Nebraska-Omaha and Denver in that, if the teams end up tied in points, the Badgers would win the tiebreaker with a superior head-to-head record with both teams, as they went 1-0-1 against Denver this season and 2-0-0 against UNO.

Ok, fasten your seatbelts because we’re about to go even deeper. If neither Wisconsin or Minnesota State record over one point, and UNO and Denver both sweep their series, then UW and MSU would be tied for sixth, and would head to a second tiebreaker, as they finished the season with identical 2-2-0 records against each other.

In the second tiebreaker—which is determined by total conference wins—Minnesota State holds a 15-to-12 edge over the Badgers, and would claim the sixth and final home ice position in the conference. If that were the case, the two teams would face off the following weekend in Mankato, Minn.

If I’ve lost you, I apologize, but I’ll try to sum it up here. If Wisconsin wins one game this weekend, they will clinch home-ice advantage. If they record a win and a tie, it’s the same story. If they win out, and the other three teams between them and St. Cloud lose at least one game, the Badgers will win a share of the regular season conference title.

However, losing both games could result in the loss of home ice and would put Wisconsin in a position where they would almost certainly have to win the conference tournament in order to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.

“It’s the best reality show out there,” Eaves said. “We have to play the No. 1 team in our conference, and we have a chance to do some things here.”

Five key series, seven top-16 teams, and endless possibilities for the final WCHA standings. Who said madness in March was reserved for basketball?

Do you think the Badgers have what it takes to bring home the MacNaughton Cup? Will they be on the outside looking in when it comes to home ice advantage? Let Matt know what you think by emailing him at sports@dailycardinal.com

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