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Minnesota Gophers Hockey: Split with UND A Good Start to Second Half

It could have been better, but it certainly could have been worse. Isn't that how it always feels after splitting a weekend series? Minnesota played one of their best games of the season Friday night by upsetting #2 North Dakota 2-1, and as Roman notes in Goal Gopher, a sweep with a win Saturday night could have put the Gophs into legitimate WCHA contention. As it went, Saturday night UND played like UND and Minnesota played like...well like they have far too often this season as the Fighting Sioux (which as commentor "the wild_vikings_twins" pointed out Friday, there's a chance the nickname may still be saved after all) cruised to a 4-1 win.

Sure the sweep would have been nice, but realistically had someone told you before the weekend the Gophers would get a split with the #2 in the country on the road? You'd take that every time. So looking at the standings today, it sets Minnesota up pretty well to host a first round playoff game as the sixth seed... as long as they take care of business, of course. They're currently tied for 5th with 16 points with Wisconsin and CC. That's four points back of Nebraska-Omaha for 4th, and two points clear of UAA (who shocked CC with a sweep up in Anchorage) and four points up on Bemidji State. With Denver, UMD and Wisconsin still on the slate, sure the Gophers COULD shock the college hockey world up move way up the standings into the top 3. They control their own destiny and that's always a good place to be, but as it stands with a tough remaining schedule, falling no farther than sixth looks to be a little more realistic.

More after the jump...

Looking at the the three-team log jam in fifth, the Badgers have the best chance to keep that spot, and even move up. They've already played the meat of their schedule, and they have to be thankful its finished, as they didn't fare well at all. In their 8 games against UND, Denver, and UMD (they played the Bulldogs four times) Sconnie was just 1-6-1, with their lone win coming last Saturday in Duluth. With that kind of record against the top 3, it'll be almost impossible for Wisconsin to catch or pass any of them, but catching Nebraska-Ohama for 4th (whom they play in 3 weeks) is certainly possible thanks to their remaining sched. They do have to play UNO on the road, but get Minnesota and CC at home, and their other three series are against three of the worst schools in the conference- Michigan Tech, St Cloud St, and Minnesota State.

CC is on the opposite end of things from UW. They're coming off the upset by UAA, and will get a weekend series against Alabama-Huntsville this weekend as a non-conny tuneup for what should be a brutal rest of the WCHA schedule: home to UND, a home-and-away with Denver, a reprieve with Minnesota State and Bemidji State (but wasn't UAA supposed to be an easy series? Hmmmmm), and then they close at home with UMD and on the road at Wisconsin. Yikes.

Even better for the Gophers is that they own the tie-breaker over CC by sweeping their series before Christmas. As mentioned last week, Minnesota has a tough schedule of their own to navigate, which is why splitting with UND was so important. They get a week off before UAA comes to town next weekend (the Seawolves have to play at Denver this weekend, so they're not likely to be in a good mood), and then begin their 3 week gauntlet: at Duluth, home Denver, at Sconnie. Yowsers. Getting points in those three weeks is obviously critical if they hope to keep pace with Wisconsin, and it's certainly possible as Minnesota has played decently against the best teams so far. In eight games against, UND, UNO, Duluth and Sconnie the Gophs are 2-4-2. Not great, but not a total trainwreck either. The problem is getting swept by Minnesota State. If they want to host a playoff round, and want to do any better than a six seed, taking care of business against UAA, Michigan Tech, and Bemidji State is so important, especially with four of those six games at home.

So all in all, the weekend split with the Fighting Sioux was a good start to the second half of the WCHA season, and with a week off until their next game, let's hope the practice time and rest does them well and keeps them heading in the right direction.