There are few phrases in the English language as appealing as “playoff hockey.” (“Free food,” “good beer” and “live music” may be the only ones that surpass said phrase.)
Luckily, the WCHA begins its playoffs this weekend with four best-0f three series. The Final Five is back at the Xcel Center next weekend (just like old times!) but first the teams have to get there.
All four series are quite compelling, even if a few of them look like mismatches on paper.
Anyway, Shane and I are changing up the picks this week: Instead of picking individual games we’ll pick the winner of the series and how many games we think it goes.
Shane somehow pulled away to kick my butt during the regular season so there’s no need to shame me even more with some wrong picks. You’ll notice our first-round picks are exactly the same. No reason for that but I guess if that happens we’ll both be in the wrong.
The road to St. Paul begins tomorrow so on with the picks!
No. 1 Minnesota State vs. No. 8 Lake Superior State
Shane: I’ve heard Mavericks coach Mike Hastings say more than once this week that beating a team six times in one season is difficult to do. In other words, no one’s going to be looking past the upset-minded Lakers. LSSU has a goaltender, Gordon Defiel, who’s capable of stealing games. But the Mavericks simply have too much firepower up front, and they don’t give up enough on the other end to make up for that. Hastings will have MSU focused at home. Mavericks in two
Jack: I know it’s hard to beat someone six times in a season. Even so, it’s hard to look past previous results for this one. MSU swept the series in Sault Ste. Marie 10-0 (7-0 and 3-0 games) and won 5-2 and 3-1 in Mankato. That’s just one goal allowed by MSU’s Stephon Williams (and two by backup Cole Huggins). The Lakers missed the playoffs a year ago, and as underdogs they’re going to come into this series playing loose with no pressure and nothing to lose. But I also can’t see them winning in Mankato. Mavericks in two
No. 2 Michigan Tech vs. No. 7 Alabama Huntsville
Shane: I was impressed by the way the Huskies bounced back from their one-point weekend in Mankato and really took care of business against rival Northern Michigan last week. Not only did that give them a shot at the MacNaughton (which they missed by one point) but proved that they’re set for a postseason run. Tech fans are tired of me picking splits for their team every weekend, so this one’s for those folks: Huskies in two
Jack: Shane, as angry as Tech fans are at you for continuing to pick splits, I think Huntsville fans are mad at me that I picked the Chargers as a sleeper for the Final Five. (I mean, I cover Bemidji State so they generally don’t like me anyway.) But year, I did pick the Chargers to make the Final Five at midseason. But I think I may have to renege on that one. UAH has struggled a bit down the stretch and Tech seems to have their number this season, sweeping the season series (including wins of 5-0 and 11-1 in Houghton in January). I don’t think the games will be quite that lopsided this weekend and obviously we know that Carmine Guerriero can steal a game, but I don’t think Mike Corbett’s squad is quite ready to move on this year (give them another year or two and they’ll be the team). Sorry Charger fans: Huskies in two
No. 3 Bowling Green vs. No. 6 Northern Michigan
Shane: Interesting thing about the Falcons: By the time they started to get some overdue national recognition, they were slipping a bit. After a 10-game unbeaten streak, they had just one three-plus-point weekend until they swept Huntsville at home to close out the year. The Wildcats, meanwhile, have been streaky all season. Nothing about this series says sweep, but I’ll give the home team the slight edge. Falcons in three
Jack: Both of these teams have been tough to figure out lately. BGSU is a good team but started to falter a bit after the new year. Northern Michigan, meanwhile, started off very well behind some solid goaltending but faded after an injury to Mathias Dahlstrom. I still think the Falcons will make the NCAA tournament but NMU won the season series 2-1-1. They’re going to make it tough on them. Falcons in three
No. 4 Bemidji State vs. No. 5 Ferris State
Shane: If there’s one goaltender I’d want on the road this weekend it’s the Bulldogs’ C.J. Motte, who has to be begging his teammates for a little run support, especially early in these games. Unlike Ferris State, Bemidji State, with certain all-rookie goalie Michael Bitzer, has found ways to win the close, low-scoring games, including one at Big Rapids. First team to 2 wins? Beavers in three
Jack: This is the first home playoff series for Bemidji State since joining the WCHA. They’ve been pretty excellent at home this season, too: Just five losses and four of them to top-five teams (Tech twice and one apiece to North Dakota and Minnesota State). Ferris never makes it easy, though, especially with Motte in goal. I think he can steal one but I’ll give the home team the edge behind a fanbase excited to play a home playoff series. Beavers in three
Last week: Shane 6-4-0, Jack 8-2-0
Final regular-season records: Shane 116-74-18, Jack 104-86-18