The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

February 28, 2014

WCHA standings crowded for stretch run

Mavericks can finish no lower than second

With two weekends remaining in the regular season, the Minnesota State men’s hockey team remains in the hunt for the MacNaughton Cup as the WCHA’s regular-season champion.

However, the league’s preseason favorite sits four points behind first-place Ferris State.

“We’re trying to stay focused on preparing for the playoffs. That’s it,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said before his team left Mankato for Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., where they will play a two game series against Lake Superior State starting tonight. “And that means we have to get ourselves playing as good of hockey as we can.”

The good news for Minnesota State is that it can finish no lower than second place in the WCHA, a spot it hasn’t finished in since the 2002-03 season. The Mavericks have 17 conference wins, a team record.

It’s a comfortable spot for the Mavericks, as the next seven teams in the standings are all jockeying not only for home ice but to avoid missing the playoffs altogether.

According to the WCHA, via Tim Danehy of the website collegehockeystats.net, there remain 387,420,489 playoff scenarios, so it’s safe to say no one’s made any travel plans for two weeks from now.

In the WCHA’s new playoff format, the ninth- and 10th-place teams are eliminated from postseason contention.

Alabama Huntsville, which has just three points, is locked into 10th place, but just seven points separate third place from ninth. Third-place Michigan Tech and fourth-place Alaska Anchorage are idle this weekend, having played two more games than everyone else in the conference.

Michigan Tech will play Minnesota State at Mankato next weekend.

This weekend’s MSU opponent, Lake Superior State, is in a three-way tie for fifth place, two points out of the top four (and home ice for the first round of the league playoffs) and three points out of ninth.

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