This is it.
The final regular season weekend of the WCHA as we know it. And there's still so much at stake. The MacNaughton Cup. Home ice. NCAA implications.
The matchup between Minnesota State and North Dakota should be a good one. Two good teams playing in front of what are expected to be two big crowds at the Verizon Wireless Center. Sitting in a tie for fourth place, the Mavericks control their own destiny for home ice. Less than three points could mean some serious scoreboard watching.
The Mavericks haven't beaten UND in the series' last nine games. But this is a different MSU team, led by a couple of seniors — Tyler Elbrecht and Eriah Hayes — who have come a long way since their freshman year when they were crammed into a Gage Center dorm together.
(The Gage towers, by the way, are now closed and going through preparation for eventual demolition.)
Both players are enjoying their best seasons of college hockey, with Hayes getting MSU's nomination for WCHA Player of the Year (career-best 18 goals) and Elbrecht becoming a invaluable shut-down D (career-best +11)
Besides those two, there are three other seniors on the MSU roster: Evan Mosey, Eli Zuck and Phil Cook. Zuck is injured, and Cook is now backing up Stephon Williams in goal. Looking back to before their freshman year, the two biggest names from that class — Tyler Pitlick and Kevin Murdock — left MSU after one season.
As for North Dakota, it has two of the top-scoring forwards in the country, including the team's Mr. Nice Guy, Corban Knight. The Grand Forks Herald also takes a look at the the jam-packed WCHA race.
More coverage on Brad Schlossman's hockey blog here.
Going around the rest of the WCHA ...
Minnesota at Bemidji State: The Gophers hope to close out their final season in the WCHA with the MacNaughton Cup. The Beavers, meanwhile, have won just one game since Christmas but hope to turn things around going into the postseason. The Star Tribune's Rachel Blount opines about the impending breakup of the WCHA.
St. Cloud State at Wisconsin: The Huskies have been in the driver's seat to win the MacNaughton Cup and the No. 1 seed for the conference playoffs but will have to go on the road to do it after falling at home to Michigan Tech last Saturday. As for the Badgers, they are shooting for home ice and hope their big goal scorer, Michael Mersch can lead them there. It will have to be done, however, at their old home, the Dane County Coliseum, due to the state boys basketball tournament taking place at the Kohl Center. Probably an appropriate place for Wisconsin to play its last WCHA games.
Nebraska Omaha at Minnesota Duluth: This is the weekend's only matchup between teams that will be in the same conference next year. The red Mavericks may have one of the favorites for WCHA player of the year (Ryan Walters) but are another one of those teams hoping to avoid that seventh spot in the standings. For the Bulldogs, senior defenseman Wade Bergman is closing out a stellar, if somewhat unsung, career.
Colorado College at Michigan Tech: This is the most nostalgic matchup of the weekend, as two charter members of the WCHA will play each other for the last time as league foes (sigh). Both teams will be on the road for the first round of the playoffs.
Alaska Anchorage at Denver: This Friday-Sunday series could cause a sleepless Saturday night around the rest of the league as teams wait to find out their fate for the first round of the playoffs. The Pioneers are one of the teams in the mix for home ice, but currently seventh, they're in danger of having their 10-year upper-half-finish streak come to an end. The Seawolves are the only team that knows where it will finish. They're locked into 12 (but where will they go?).
Should be a fun weekend, folks. Check back on the blog for updates from this weekend's games.