The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

March 18, 2014

The name's the same, but the Final Five will be different

Four teams. Three games.

The Final Five?

Questions about the name of the WCHA championship weekend popped up all weekend once the semifinal field was completed Saturday night.

Minnesota State qualified with its thrilling overtime win Saturday and first-round series sweep over Northern Michigan and will play Bowling Green on Friday afternoon. Alaska Anchorage will play the league’s regular-season champ, Ferris State, in the evening.

There are a few things different about the tournament, once the crown jewel of the league. For one, it won’t be at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for the first time since 2000. It will take place in Grand Rapids, Mich., and return to Minnesota next year.

Then there’s that issue of the name.

For years there were five teams. When a second-playoff game was added, there were five games.

What’s the fifth thing this time around?

A Twitter follower suggested it’s the fans. Not bad. But the days of 18,000 people packing the stands are long gone, thanks to the breakup of the league.

Still, the WCHA is probably wise to hold on to the name.

The brand has been a good one going back to the days before Minnesota State was in the league, when it was played at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee and the St. Paul Civic Center. The Mavericks’ first experience in the tournament actually took place at the Target Center in Minneapolis, the year before the X was built.

Maintaining the name also keeps open the possibility of returning to a five-team format one day, perhaps when Van Andel Arena and the Xcel Energy Center are ready to give the revamped WCHA a three-day tournament and if the league decides to keep all 10 teams in the playoffs (although tossing out the bottom two teams made the regular season much more important — and intriguing).

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