The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

March 20, 2014

Coaches expect Final Five to mirror season

MSU, Bowling Green rivalry started in November

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. — Looking for some advice on which team to pick in the WCHA Final Five this weekend? Don’t ask the four coaches involved.

“There’s no way to handicap this tournament,” Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said.

The tournament begins Friday at Van Andel Arena with Minnesota State playing Bowling Green at 1 p.m. Ferris State and Alaska Anchorage will play at 6 p.m. Both games, as well as Saturday’s championship, will be televised on Fox Sports North.

“Everyone’s had something to fight for each and every night,” said Daniels, whose team edged MSU by one point for the WCHA’s regular-season championship. “It’s been a playoff atmosphere over the second half of the season. The teams are sharp.”

The four coaches — Daniels, MSU’s Mike Hastings, Bowling Green’s Chris Bergeron and Anchorage’s Matt Thomas — echoed each other during a conference call on Tuesday.

“The grind of this season was no different than any other time,” Hastings said, comparing the first year of the revamped conference to previous ones.

Even those who hadn’t experienced the old WCHA agreed.

Thomas, the Seawolves’ first-year coach who came out of the ECHL minor pro level, said he quickly learned that “every single weekend matters,” in college hockey.

“Every single team has looked back and said, ‘Oh, man, did we ever blow it that weekend or that game,”” he said. “But that’s what makes our league great.”

Daniels’ Bulldogs, who came over from the now-defunct CCHA, looked like they were going to run away with the MacNaughton Cup after the first half of the season. But they found themselves in a race with the Mavericks that came down to the final night of the regular season when Ferris State edged Lake Superior State 2-1 and MSU tied Michigan Tech 1-1.

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