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Minnesota Gopher Hockey vs Bemidji State Beavers Preview

The Gopher's last ever WCHA regular season series is in Bemidji, where the Gophers hope for a sweep and some help to retain the MacNaughton Cup, or at the very least hang onto a top 3 spot in the conference.

University of Minnesota Athletics

This Weekend's Opponent: Bemidji State Beavers

All-time record vs Gophers: 1-10-1

Division I program since: 2003-04, when the NCAA stopped sponsoring DII hockey due to lack of participation. Played in the now extinct CHA before joining the WCHA in 2010-11 along with UNO.

Head Coach: Tom Serratore, who is Gopher forward Tom Serratore's uncle, is a BSU alum and has coached the Beavers for 12 seasons with a 195–164–41 record.

2012-13 overall record: 6-18-8

WCHA: 11th; 5-14-7 for 17 points

Quality results: wins over UNO, Denver, two wins vs UMD, tied UND last weekend

Less-than-stellar results: 0-3-1 vs Michigan Tech, three of four games went to OT

Left Behind: BSU is one of four schools who will not be leaving the WCHA next season. The Beavers, along with Mankato, UAA and Michigan Tech, will remain in the conference that loses eight members after this season but thanks to it merging/eating the remaining members of the CCHA, will gain six more- Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska-Fairbanks, Bowling Green State, Ferris State, Lake Superior and Northern Michigan- for 10 members for next season.

So this it, the end of the regular season road in the WCHA for your Minnesota Golden Gophers. And with just two games to go for everybody, we know this much: Alaska-Anchorage will finish last, and St Cloud is guaranteed home-ice in the first round. Other than that, just about everything is up for grabs, and nothing is likely to be decided until Saturday night, or perhap even Sunday afternoon when UAA finishes their series at Denver. Here's the standings heading into the final weekend:

1. St Cloud- 35 points

2. Minnesota- 33 pts

2. North Dakota- 33

4. Mankato- 31

4. Wisconsin- 31

6. UNO- 30

7. Denver- 29

8. CC- 24

9. Duluth- 21

10. Tech- 18

11. Bemidji- 17

12. UAA- 10

And your matchups for this weekend are...

Minnesota & Bemidji, St Cloud @ Wisconsin, North Dakota @ Mankato, UNO @ Duluth, UAA @ Denver, and CC @ Tech.

There are a LOT of different scenarios that can happen for spots 1-11, and Chris Dilks of WCHB does a great job of laying them all out, but essentially it comes down to this: If first place St Cloud wins just one of two at Wisconsin this weekend, they'll win at least a share of the MacNaughton Cup and be the #1 seed regardless of what anyone else does (as GoAUpher points out in the comments section, Dilk's tie-breakers are only for seeding purposes for the WCHA playoffs. Anybody who finishes tied for 1st can stake a claim to the MacNaughton). That's because the Huskies, who are two points up in first place, hold the tie-breakers with the two teams tied for second in Minnesota and UND. So that means Gopher fans have to cheer for Wisconsin this weekend? Yes, yes it does, and Mankato too while we're at it, although we don't want them to win TOO much if it means tying Minnesota.

If I undertand Chris Dilk's breakdown correctly, the WCHA tie-breakers are as follows: 1) Head-to-head 2) League Wins 3) Fewest goals allowed if teams played four times 4) Goal Differential. Therefore against the other schools in the top 7, Minnesota does NOT hold the tie-breaker over St Cloud, Mankato, or UNO, but they DO hold it against North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Denver. If the Gophers want to win the Last MacNaughton Cup outright that means this has to happen: sweep Bemidji and have Sconnie take AT LEAST three points from St Cloud (it wouldn't matter what the Fighting Whioux do against Mankato). It's that simple, and if that happens, the Gophers keep the MacNaughton Cup. If SCSU splits or better, then Minnesota is gunning for second or third and to guarantee that they need to take at least three points from BSU. It's still possible to do it with just a split, but from there it depends upon a number of things and obviously they don't want to end up tied with St Cloud, Mankato or UNO.

Got it? Clear as mud? Basically, at least a win and a tie this weekend for the Gophers would avoid some bigger and tougher names in the first round of the WCHA tourney, and assuming a first round victory (always dangerous, I know) from there they'd likely just need to win one game in the Final Five to lock up a #1 seed in the NCAA tourney. Stop me if you've heard this before, but to do it, it's NOT going to be easy. Bemidji might be 11th in the conference right now, but they've been playing better hockey of late and will be all kinds of motivated to shock the Gophers. BSU was REALLY struggling at 0-8-2 from after Christmas through the first weekend in February, but since then have turned it around at 1-2-3 against Wisconsin, Duluth and North Dakota. Gopher fans know how good those three are, and to see Bemidji take points off of all of them, well, it shows what they're made of. Their goal differential in conference isn't great (-24) and their offense has been sluggish at 11th in the WCHA with 2.06 per game and have scored more than 3 goals in a game just four times this entire season. An offensive juggernaut they are not, but they've been surprisingly good in other areas as they're a respectable 6th in goals allowed at 3 per game, and have been very good on special teams ranking fourth on both the power play (20.3%) and penalty kill (83.2%).

Bemidji likes to slow it down, grind it out, and wait for their opportunities on the power play, a recipe that has worked against the Gophers this season. Combine that with what should be a rockin' home ice advantage, and Bemidji will be smelling upset this weekend. For Minnesota, which team shows up? The one that got shutout last Friday night against Denver, or the one that showed the next night with a 5-1 while peppering DU with 43 shots. We all WANT that second Gopher team to make the trip to Bemidji, but it seems they can never leave that first one, or remnants of it at least, at home. Don Lucia shook up his lines a bit after Friday's stinker, and the bet is we see much of the same up front to start the weekend. Defensively, does The Don put Brady Skjei back in the lineup, or does Jake Parenteau take his spot once again? Skjei remains insanely talented, but hasn't impressed much of late. It shows Minnesota's depth that they can take a player like that out of the lineup and not miss a beat.

Friday's game is a bit later start at 737 on FSN, Saturday at the usual 707 on FSN+.