MAC Hockey Round-Up: Three Schools Eyeing The NCAA Tournament With WCHA and NCHC Bids

Could we see an All-MAC/CCHA NCHC Title Game? - GS Photo/WMU Media File

After last weekend's conference quarterfinals, the original three MAC Hockey teams all made their respective conference finals. Who has a shot at the NCAAs and who will be left at home?

What a weekend we had in the college hockey world. We had some upsets, a ton of overtimes, and some high quality hockey. Let's ignore what happened out East (because that in itself is amazing) and focus in on the NCHC and WCHA playoffs, that had plenty of drama throughout the three-day weekend.

We'll start in the NCHC, where the quarter-final weekend kicked off on Thursday with an exciting back-and-forth affair between host Nebraska-Omaha and the visiting Denver Pioneers. That game ultimately was won by the Mavericks 4-3, with neither team leading by more than a goal.

The full schedule started the following night, and oddly enough, three of the four visiting teams all won, with Western Michigan holding off a very late Minnesota-Duluth surge to win 3-2, Denver dominating UNO 5-1, and Miami surprising the top seeded St. Cloud State Huskies in a 5-4 OT winner that saw the Huskies score the game-tying goal with 0.1 seconds left in the 3rd period. The other result saw Colorado College (the 7-seed) jump out to a 2-0 lead on North Dakota, but end up losing 4-2.

On Saturday, Western Michigan kicked things off by following the tough act of the basketball team winning the MAC Men's Basketball Championship with a 4-3 win. While it doesn't sound impressive, they won with only 11 shots on goal, and didn't get their 2nd until their 2nd goal early in the 2nd period. With the win, they became the first team to clinch a spot in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff this coming weekend.

Not to be outdone, Miami came from behind twice, down 2-0 and 3-2, to see Justin Greenberg net his 2nd goal of the season with 3 seconds left to send the RedHawks to Minnesota, upsetting the Penrose Cup winners in a straight sweep. Shortly after, Denver punched their ticket with a 2-0 win over UNO with a pair of 3rd period goals, the first coming with under 10 minutes left.

The final spot would have to wait until Sunday, with Colorado College again surrendering a 2-0 lead to North Dakota, but finding a game-winning goal 7 minutes into overtime on Saturday. However, the Tigers were unable to overcome a 2-goal deficit twice at 3-1 and 4-2, and fell to NoDak 4-3. With the win, the former Fighting Sioux became the only home team to win their series.

So how did I do predicting that round? Well, I got two teams right (WMU and North Dakota), and hit two series right on the game count total (Denver vs UNO and Miami vs SCSU, which was a sweep in the opposite way). So, yay? I got something right about each series. That counts, right?

Anyways, here are the Frozen Faceoff match-ups, with re-seeding:

First Semi-Final: No. 3 Denver vs No. 2 Western Michigan (5:00 pm EST puck drop)
Second Semi-Final: No. 4 Miami vs No. 1 North Dakota
*all games (outside the 3rd place game) are on CBS Sports Network

So yeah, that first semi-final has some intrigue. Denver won 3 of 4 games against the Broncos this year, but lost the last match-up as Chase Balisy netted a hat-trick. Also, Western Michigan is 4-0-1 this year on neutral ice, and has been stellar on the road this year outside of the state of Colorado (they're 0-3-1 there). Again, this is also a re-match of both teams' seniors' first NCAA Tournament game, a double-OT thriller that saw Sam Brittain hold the Broncos and the Pioneers coming back from two down to win 3-2.

Meanwhile, the Miami/NoDak match-up is the pre-season title game. Miami, the pre-season #2 team nationally and NCHC favorite, has finally found their stride and suddenly look invincible again (a la Michigan last season). Meanwhile, North Dakota is North Dakota and they are the heavyweight here. They also are the only team that'll be in Minnesota that could lose a game, or both games even, and still make the NCAA tournament. I'm giddy.

As for my predictions, why not stay with the homer bias.

WMU 3-2, Miami 5-4.
Third-Place Game: NoDak 3-1
NCHC Title Game: Miami 4-2

I really want WMU to make the NCAA Tournament, but Miami looks too unstoppable right now. Plus, it's insanely hard to beat a team FIVE times in a season without dropping a single game as well. Also, NoDak versus Denver. MY GOD BRING IT ALL NOW!!!!

WCHA Brings OTs And Lots Of Them

Back to the former powerhouse of the West.

They started their post-season tournament as well on Thursday night, but really late due to the impromptu "Alaska Plan" set-up. Joking aside, it was a solid series as Fairbanks took the first game 3-2 in OT on a Colton Beck goal just over three minutes into the extra session.

Friday night saw some less exciting action of sorts. While three of the match-ups finished one goal games, one (Michigan Tech vs BGSU) saw no goals in the final 48 minutes, one (Anchorage vs Fairbanks) saw no goals in the final 35 minutes, and one match-up saw Ferris State put an 8-spot on Bemidji State in an 8-0 win. However, Anchorage tied up their series, and all of the other home teams took 1-0 series leads with Minnesota State holding off a late Northern Michigan charge after taking an early 3-0 lead.

And then there was Saturday.

The least exciting game of the night was Bowling Green thumping Michigan Tech 5-2. It could've been worse too if Mike Sullivan didn't snipe his own net to make it a 4-2 game in the 3rd period. Oh well, no harm, no foul. BGSU led by at least two goals after Adam Berkle's 5-on-3 goal with a minute left in the 1st and never looked back. First ticket to Grand Rapids punched.

Then, we saw something odd happen. After getting that 8-spot on Friday, Ferris State had trouble putting Bemidji State away. In fact, they needed an extra attacker goal with 45 seconds left to force overtime. And then the fun began. 25 minutes of OT later, Scott Czarnowczan's short-handed goal sent the Bulldogs to the Final Five (pretty much a home game for them).

Meanwhile, Minnesota State kept falling behind Northern Michigan, and it looked like they were headed to a third game as well. But every Wildcat goal was met with a Maverick goal. Eventually, Zach Stepan had enough and scored the game-winner with 3:28 to go in the first OT period to punch MSU's ticket to Van Andel. So to recap, the top two seeds in the WCHA needed a total of about 44 minutes of overtime to clinch Final Five spots.

Finally, all eyes turned to Alaska to see how the match-ups would fall. If Fairbanks won at home, they'd face the Mavericks while Bowling Green would meet up with Ferris State in a rematch of the 2012 CCHA Quarter-Finals that saw the top ranked Bulldogs lose a series to the Falcons two games to one. If Anchorage won, we'd keep the CCHA vs WCHA match-ups alive with UAA vs Ferris St and BGSU vs Minnesota State.

After a scoreless first period, the two teams exploded for 4 goals in the 2nd to give the Seawolves a 3-1 lead heading into the final frame. But the Nanooks would not be denied, as they tied the game up at 3 midway through the period. A few minutes later, Austin Coldwell gave UAA a 4-3 lead, but that lasted all of 84 seconds before UAF answered. Eventually, Brad Duwe's game-winner with 2:45 to go was enough for the 5-4 win and the final spot to Grand Rapids.

So what do we have there?

First Semi-Final: Bowling Green vs Minnesota State (2:07 pm)
Second Semi-Final: Alaska-Anchorage vs Ferris State (7:07 pm)

The first thing that jumps out isn't the match-ups, but the odd start times. I get it takes about 3.5 hours between start times for two regulation games with game time, ice resurfacing, and warm-ups, but 5 hours? Holy cow. That's rough on the fans, but I guess that leaves time for dinner? You'd think they'd want to keep everything in Van Andel though (re: CCHA). Package that up and play both. You'd probably make more money that way, but that's just me I guess.

Anyways, BGSU and Minnesota State split their season series this year, but the Mavericks have been red hot. Still, this is CCHA Country and Bowling Green could have a solid fan contingent with a much shorter drive PLUS geographical fans from the former conference (WMU, Ferris State, Michigan State). Still, the Falcons haven't shown anything to convince me they will win.

As for the other semi-final? Nothing more needs to be said. Anchorage has to travel away from Alaska, and they aren't too good at winning in the good ole' continental USA. Meanwhile, Ferris State is very good at winning at home, and Grand Rapids is only an hour drive from Big Rapids. This is their house.

Ferris State 4-2, Minn State 3-2
WCHA Championship: Ferris State 3-1

This is the Bulldogs' title to lose. Their house, their red-hot streak, and that WCHA Title Game would be epic. Remember the last time these two teams met? Here's a reminder......

College Hockey Line Brawl Fight: Ferris State at Minnesota State 1/18/14 (via Dominic Hennig)

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