March 13, 2008
Simple Math: Five Is Greater Than Seven

By Jess Myers

If a supercomputer in an undisclosed location says that seven WCHA teams are worthy of invites to the NCAA tournament, then what's the point of having a postseason playoff called the Final Five?


Colorado College nay-sayers were curious who would play goal for the Tigers and how that unproven commodity would hold up in the toughest league in the nation. Richard Bachmann answered all questions.

National TV Schedule

Perhaps it's to determine whether it's more impressive to play well for four games, as opposed to playing well for 28 games. That topic has been a source of some debate at INCH and elsewhere, as the importance of winning a regular season league title has been questioned. By contrast, the more immediate confidence and momentum gained by winning the league's playoff title are widely coveted.

In a world of baseball-style split seasons, where there are first-half and second-half champions crowned, we'd be having a playoff to decide whether Denver or North Dakota is the true league champs. The Pioneers were 16-4-0 before Jan. 1, and have been mediocre since. As a kind of photo negative, the Fighting Sioux compiled an impressive array of splits early on and were 9-8-1 on Jan. 4. They haven't lost a game since then, although a trio of ties kept them from sharing the league title.

And then there is the WCHA's version of slow and steady that won the race, although one glance at Colorado College and you'll find nothing slow about the Tigers. Championship seasons are often borne of a unifying road trip, and for coach Scott Owens and company, this campaign was no exception. The Tigers were swept at New Hampshire in late October, letting a pair of games slip away in the final 20 minutes. The following Friday, when they were humbled 6-2 at North Dakota, the Tigers were under .500 for the first and only time all season.

They won the next night in Grand Forks, and proceeded to win 13 of their next 15 league games, along with the WCHA crown on the final weekend of the season, scoring an impressive sweep of their rivals from Denver, and signaling that they'll be playing a lot more hockey in Colorado yet this season.

Of course, there is that tricky matter of the WCHA playoffs to get through first, and that's been an unkind road for teams from the Front Range lately. Both Denver and Colorado College were home teams in the 2006 and 2007 playoffs, but neither has been to the Xcel Energy Center since they met for the league's playoff title (a 1-0 Pioneers win) in 2005. The Tigers were upset by St. Cloud State in 2006 and Michigan Tech in 2007, while the Pioneers lost home series to Minnesota Duluth and Wisconsin in those same seasons.

With both Colorado-based WCHA teams looking like solid locks for the NCAA tournament, what happens this weekend is much more important for the likes of Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth. Those teams, according to that spooky-sounding computer program, are on the bubble and probably have to win this weekend in order to get a NCAA invitation.

So this Final Five thing serves a purpose other than giving hockey fans a great weekend in a great venue. What better way than to gather the five surviving WCHA teams, play five games, sell nearly 100,000 tickets, and determine who belongs among the nation's final 16?


Here's what we wrote one year ago: Picked by many to win the league title in the preseason, North Dakota struggled through injuries and inconsistency and was a humble crew when the Fighting Sioux headed east for a holiday tournament. Since that sojourn to New Hampshire in late December, the Sioux are 12-2-4…

Here's the 2008 update: Picked by many to win the league title in the preseason, North Dakota struggled through injuries and inconsistency and was a humble crew when the Fighting Sioux headed southeast for a series with St. Cloud State. Since a Friday night loss versus the Huskies on Jan. 4, the Sioux are 14-0-3, and head into the playoffs with things to prove both in St. Paul and in Denver if they can make a fourth straight trip to the Frozen Four. In contrast to Herb Brooks' harsh assessment of his 1980 Olympic team, the Sioux do have enough talent to win on talent alone.


It's a tiny bit strange to pick the league's regular season champions as potential gate-crashers, but there is clearly lots of catching up to do for Colorado College when the postseason begins. For all of their recent regular season glory, the Tigers are a different animal between St. Patrick's Day and Easter, having last won an outright WCHA playoff crown, well, never (they shared the league's playoff title with Wisconsin in 1978). It's been more than 50 years since the Tigers last won the national title (in 1957) – a season when the Frozen Four was contested in Colorado. With the West Regional and the Frozen being played within an easy drive of their campus, the Tigers are aiming to make a strong showing in St. Paul a step on the road to a more recent crown.

WCHA First Round Matchups
No. 10 Alaska Anchorage at
No. 1 Colorado College

CC: 26-9-1 (21-6-1 WCHA)
UAA: 9-19-8 (3-19-6 WCHA)
Season Series: CC leads 4-0-0
Seawolf Fact: This is the third consecutive 10th-place finish for Alaska Anchorage. The last club to finish in sole possession of last place three seasons in a row was CC, finishing in the cellar of the WCHA (then a six-team league) in 1982, '83 and '84.
Tiger Fact: CC has won nine WCHA regular season titles in its 70 years of hockey, and six of them have come in the past 15 seasons.
How UAA Wins: Facing the league champs, the Seawolves have a talent deficiency at every position. So play physical hockey and keep your opponents off the board as long as possible.
How CC Wins: The key for the Tigers is not to get rattled. The visitors will come out intent on hitting and slowing the game down. If the home club can take an early lead, and score a decisive win in game one, it sends a strong message.
No. 9 Michigan Tech at
No. 2 North Dakota

UND: 23-8-4 (18-7-3 WCHA)
MTU: 13-18-5 (9-15-4 WCHA)
Season Series: UND leads 3-1-0
Husky Fact: Michigan Tech has faced North Dakota in the WCHA playoffs more often than any other team. They've played 20 times in the postseason heading into this series.
Fighting Sioux Fact: This is the 12th time in the last 13 seasons that North Dakota has hosted a WCHA playoff series. In their only playoff road trip in that stretch, in 2002, they lost twice at Minnesota.
How MTU Wins: The wins the Huskies have had this season have come via outstanding goaltending and stingy defense. Versus a high-powered offense (that may have a few parts missing) this is no time to change the blueprint.
How UND Wins: Shoot the puck every time you get a chance, and don't get frustrated if the early shots don't go in. This is a team that hasn't lost in more than two months, so if there's early trouble, relax and keep shooting.
No. 8 Minnesota Duluth at
No. 3 Denver

DU: 22-13-1 (16-11-1 WCHA)
UMD: 13-15-6 (9-14-5 WCHA)
Season Series: Tied 1-1-0
Bulldog Fact: The Bulldogs are 7-4-0 in their last 11 games at Magness Arena, including an upset of the Pioneers there in the 2006 playoffs.
Pioneer Fact: This is the fifth consecutive season in which the Pioneers have hosted a first round playoff series, although they were upset in 2004, 2006 and 2007.
How UMD Wins: Out-scoring opponents is tough when you're as offensively challenged as the Bulldogs, so sit back and do what you do best – play defense. Oh, and despite his puck-handling leanings, Alex Stalock does his best work inside the crease.
How DU Wins: Get the swagger back, and play like that October-thru-December team that was 17-4-0, not like the shaky one that's gone 5-9-1 since then. Oh, and some clutch play from Peter Mannino between the pipes would help too.
No. 7 Minnesota at
No. 4 Minnesota State

MSU: 18-14-4 (12-12-4 WCHA)
UM: 15-14-9 (9-12-7 WCHA)
Season Series: Minnesota leads 2-0
Golden Gopher Fact: This is Minnesota's second playoff road trip in the nine seasons that Don Lucia has been the coach. Lucia is 2-0 on the road in WCHA first round games with the Gophers, having won a pair at Colorado College in 2000.
Maverick Fact: With this weekend's games sure to be sellouts at the Alltel Center, Minnesota State will eclipse its per-game home attendance record by a wide margin. The Mavs' average home crowds have numbered 4,231 this season. The previous season mark was 3,860 set in 2003-004.
How UM wins: The Gophers have owned their Southern Minnesota rivals, so get on the bus and heed the advice that Crash Davis gave Nuke LaLoosh in "Bull Durham" — play with fear and arrogance.
How MSU Wins: Minnesota's coach said his team likes the large contingent of Gopher fans that always show up in Mankato. The Mavericks need to get the first goal and firmly establish the home-ice and home-crowd advantage.
No. 6 Wisconsin at
No. 5 St. Cloud State

SCSU: 17-14-5 (12-12-4 WCHA)
UW: 15-14-7 (11-12-5 WCHA)
Season Series: Wisconsin leads 2-1-1
Badger Fact: In 37 trips to the WCHA playoffs, this is just the sixth time that the Badgers have gone on the road for the first round, but the second year in a row that they've been playoff visitors.
Husky Fact: Ryan Lasch's 17 goals and 17 assists in WCHA play make him the first Husky to claim the league's scoring title since Mark Hartigan did it in 2002.
How UW Wins: The Badgers have a great combination of guys who can shoot from the point, so the key versus their opponent's huge goaltenders is to get traffic in front, take away their eyes, and fire away.
How SCSU Wins: When there's a red sweater or two in the penalty box, it's time for the Huskies to make hay. The power play scheme Bob Motzko has devised is amazing to watch, with Nodl, Lasch and Roe moving the puck at blazing speeds.


G – Richard Bachman, Colorado College
How do you win the MacNaughton Cup with a rookie between the pipes? It's easier if said rookie wins a league-best 78% of his games, stops a league-best 93% of the shots he faces, and has four shutouts. We'd like to think that researchers at CC are working hard to find a vaccine that prevents the sophomore jinx.

D – Jamie McBain, Wisconsin
On one of the top-scoring defensive units in the nation, McBain's puck-moving skills and shot have made him the key to the Badgers' outside game. The sophomore USNTDP product is doing some of his best work heading into the playoffs, with a pair of multi-assist outings in his last four games played.

D – Robbie Bina, North Dakota
After a scary injury in the 2005 playoffs that might have ended his hockey career, the townie from Grand Forks sat out the next season, and has come back with a vengeance. His senior season has been a powerful farewell tour, finishing among the top four scorers on a team known for offense.

F – Chad Rau, Colorado College
The latest member of the Tigers' exclusive Century Club (with 100 or more career points), Rau did his best work with pride on the line, recording 19 of his career points in a dozen games versus Denver. His nation-leading six shorties are just a bonus.

F – T.J. Oshie, North Dakota
Save for a few off-ice troubles and the Hobey might be taking up residence in Grand Forks for a second consecutive summer. Instead he was content to lead the Sioux in points and use his highlight-reel stick work to play a big role in their push for a fourth straight trip to the Frozen.

F – Ryan Lasch, St. Cloud State
There's nothing that makes the Huskies' alpha dog happier than seeing an opponent headed for the penalty box, as evidenced by the fact that 13 of Lasch's 23 goals this season came on the power play.


Troy Jutting, Minnesota State. The Mavericks' skipper cruised the back row of the Xcel Energy Center pressbox during the WCHA Final Five as a spectator last season, having just signed a contract extension that many called unlikely, and speaking like a man grateful that his bosses believed in what he was doing in Mankato. After a slow start this season (an unfortunate hallmark of Jutting's tenure coaching his alma mater), he's put aside notions that his sophomore-laden team is “one year away” and led the Mavs on a 15-8-3 run that has them wearing the those sharp white sweaters in the playoffs. Perhaps as important as all of that is recent commitments to Minnesota State by some of the region's best high school talent have given the growing base of college hockey fans in Southern Minnesota hope that there may be more home playoff games to come.


Richard Bachman, Colorado College freshman goaltender. There were preseason raves about the Tigers' returning experience on offense and defense, but those predications of glory were haunted by a recurring refrain: "what about goaltending?" Then this freshman from the south suburbs of Denver showed up in C-Springs with a knack for stopping pucks and winning games. We spent the season waiting for Bachman — and in turn, his team — to hit a wall and run out of gas, like many rookie goalies have done before. Instead he seemed to get better and better, winning national rookie of the month honors twice and allowing one goal or fewer in more than half of his starts. Bachman reminds us a little of the last freshman to be named the league's best player – a goalie from Wisconsin who went by the nickname "CuJo."


Garrett Roe, St. Cloud State forward. The newcomer from suburban D.C. won the league's rookie scoring title with 28 points, and led the nation in freshman scoring with 41 points, but numbers tell only part of the story. What you can't see on in a boxscore is an undersized forward who seems to play angry on every shift, unafraid to run an opponent hard into the boards even if the other guy is a foot taller. And as a member of the team's top power play unit, Roe has teamed with Ryan Lasch and Andreas Nodl to make taking penalties verusus the Huskies a bad, bad idea. With at least two more games left on the Huskies' schedule, Roe now needs just six points to become the school's all-time leader in points by a freshman – a mark that Nodl set just one season ago. For those of us missing the Ken Linseman-style player, Roe is a reminder that 2008 is the Year of the Rat.


Jack Hillen, Colorado College senior defenseman. If it's true that valuable players do their best work in the biggest games of the season, the final months of his final campaign have been a revelation for Hillen, who had 18 points in the Tigers' final 14 games as they scratched and clawed their way to the WCHA's regular season title. Perhaps most importantly for his team has been Hillen's consistency, in more than tripling his assist output from last season while leading the league in assists, and leading the nation in helpers by a blueliner. He sent a loud message to the arch-rivals, and the rest of the league last Friday at Denver, scoring just 20 seconds into the series opener, as if to say they were there to win, and are aiming toward playing one or two more games in the Mile High city later this season.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. Jess Myers can be reached at