The Mavericks — but not PucKato — are in Denver this weekend for the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association tournament. Minnesota State is trying to get to the Final Five for the firs time in eight years, an accomplishment that, as I opined earlier this week would provide the program a real spark.
While this is an 11 vs. 2 matchup in the seeding, the Mavericks have been close to Denver, despite not beating them in recent play. That, combined with their close-but-no-cigar efforts in the playoffs, have them thinking they need that "one bounce" to give them a lift. Of course, if they get that bounce they need someone to score, too. Check out The Free Press' a position-by-position breakdown of the series.
As for the Pioneers, they have arguably the best freshman class in the WCHA, led by superstar and league rookie of the year Jason Zucker.
PucKato won't be at Magness arena but will be monitoring the game on Denver's webcast and on MSU's radio broadcast. I'll be posting updates on Twitter all weekend and, possibly, be doing a Cover It Live chat tonight. Check back later for more.
Going around the rest of the WCHA first-round matchups ...
Alaska-Anchorage at Minnesota: The Gophers have enjoyed a late-season surge, paced by freshman Nick Bjugstad, who is finally living up to some high preseason expectations. ... Minnesota has more work cut out for itself than it may think as the Seawolves seem to have found a hot goalie for the playoffs in Chris Kamal — yeah, the kid who gave up just one goal last week against MSU.
St. Cloud State at Minnesota Duluth: The Bulldogs get to play their first postseason games at their new arena and hope to erase a lost weekend there against the Huskies from a couple of weeks ago when they lost 8-2 and had to come out of a 3-0 deficit salvage a tie the second night. ... For St. Cloud, it hopes that its strong late-season play can lead to an upset and, perhaps, a boost in the Pairwise rankings.
Wisconsin at Colorado College: The Tigers clinched home ice a week ago when David Civitarese scored the game-winning goal. The junior center is a smart student who said he needed to simplify his game in order to start coming into his own. ... The Badgers, meanwhile, have gotten wisdom from a pair of new-yet-veteran assistant coaches this season in Gary Shuchuk and Bill Butters.
(Interestingly, Wisconsin had the same travel concerns as MSU did trying to get to Colorado for this weekend. The high price of air travel, combined with spring breaks and many other NCAA charters in the air made last-minute reservations difficult. The Mavericks considered putting the team on multiple flights but eventually settled on taking a bus to Denver, leaving Wednesday at noon and staying that night in Kearney, Neb. They arrived in Denver Thursday afternoon. The Badgers ended up flying to Colorado Springs on charter and commercial flights and sending its equipment there by bus.)
Bemidji State at Nebraska-Omaha: There's an interesting matchup in Omaha where the red Mavericks have the WCHA coach of the year and the conference's third seed. But UNO is 0-3-1 against the Beavers this year. Either way, one of the league's two new teams will get to the Final Five. ... For the Beavers, six seniors are trying to extend their careers, which began with a lot of uncertainty in their new team's future.
Michigan Tech at North Dakota: There's a blizzard warning in Grand Forks this weekend, but that could mean a storm of goals by the Sioux, who hung 17 on the Huskies last weekend. North Dakota cleaned up on the postseason awards, getting the player of the year in Matt Frattin and an all-conference spot for Chay Genoway. Genoway is only the fifth player in WCHA history to make all-conference four times. ... As for the Huskies, they're trying to look at the playoffs as a new season despite the enormous challenge they face.
Here are weekend previews by USCHO, INCH and CHN.