While ambling around the All-Nighter Wednesday, a colleague asked me that, given the low amount of snow, does it really feel like Winter Carnival?
It's certainly different, but I'd say there's enough snow for me. It's different because this weekend's series against Nebraska Omaha matters. It's not just an opportunity for a pick-me-up like last year's series against fellow backmarker Bemidji State was. It's not about being a banana peel and messing up someone's seed, like two years ago against Minnesota Duluth.
The Huskies have a chance to seize hold of a spot in the top half of the WCHA and it starts Friday. Right now, an evaluation of statistical permutations makes this a 50/50 proposition. Take four points home and the odds get drastically better, mostly because eighth-place St. Cloud State is idle this weekend and UNO's last three series are against three of the league's top four teams (at Colorado College, Minnesota, Denver).
There's a real chance that one or both of this weekend's games will sell out, and they should. The chips are down here. Winter Carnival, and all of the wonderful things about it are at the core of what makes the Copper Country special, and hockey is at the core of what makes Winter Carnival special.
Since we're getting serious about hockey, lets take a look at where things stand with a month to go in the WCHA.
The Mavericks are new to this Carnival thing. Tuesday's Omaha World-Herald article on the subject mentioned that UNO had some trouble getting hotel rooms for the series. In the interest of preserving their sleep, I'll avoid giving up their location, but let's just say it's not in Houghton County. It's been a challenging last few weeks. Senior forward Alex Hudson, who started the year as captain, was kicked off the team for violation of team rules in December. Andrej Sustr, a 6-foot-8 defenseman from the Czech Republic, was hurt for much of the last month before coming back in last weekend's series against Bemidji. The Mavs have beaten Minnesota Duluth and won at Engelstad Arena and have lost road games to Alabama-Huntsville and Minnesota State. They lost three of four points to Bemidji. They need the points as badly as Tech does, but the Mavs are going to have to be on top of their game, and they aren't right now.
The Verdict: Tech sweeps 5-4, 4-1
Colorado College at
CC's got a lot to be proud of lately. Wins at Minnesota and Denver have established something of a floor for the Tigers. Their schedule down the stretch is certainly challenging (UNO, at UMD, Tech rounds it out), but it's hard to imagine them falling out of the top half. This week, it's a trip to Bemidji. The Beavers are basically playing out the string in ninth place, but appear to be finishing strong, if taking three points at Omaha is any indication. Then again, BSU has owned UNO for the better part of two seasons. Against CC? They already got swept in the Springs in October. Not a good sign.
The Verdict: CC sweeps 3-1, 4-2
Minnesota at Denver
Minnesota, being idle, may have had a better weekend than the Pioneers, who played. The Gophers stood idly by and saw UMD screw up in Anchorage (more on this in a minute), while Denver lost three points, the Gold Pan Trophy, and most of its remaining chances at the MacNaughton Cup (DU now trails the Gophers by six points). They've got the home-ice advantage this weekend in hopes of regaining its edge (and home crowd - Friday's CC game was hampered by a major snowstorm). Minnesota's got the the title race in its sights but will suffer at least one setback.
The Verdict: UMn 3-2 Friday, DU 6-4 Saturday
Minnesota State at Alaska-Anchorage
Minnesota State proved last weekend against the Huskies that it's not completely moribund, though it's going to need three points this weeked in the Last Frontier to get out of 11th place (which might actually be a double-edged sword: Duluth is a lot closer to Mankato than Colorado). As for UAA, now 4-17-1 in the league, just when you thought all hope was gone, the Seawolves go out and beat No. 1 UMD to end an eight-game losing streak. Makes this one challenging to pick if ultimately meaningless.
The Verdict: UAA 3-1 Friday, MSU 2-1 Saturday
North Dakota at Minnesota Duluth
Last year, a loss to Michigan Tech at Magness Arena did as much as any one night to cost Denver the MacNaughton Cup. If the Gophers skate with the trophy in a month, it'll be attributable to Saturday night in Anchorage. The Bulldogs, down three points, aren't out of it, but have the tougher road and can afford no accidents, starting with this weekend against the Fighting Sioux. Yes, they are (or could be) the Fighting Sioux again, thanks to a statewide petition drive to Favreify the school's decision to retire the nickname. Tough call, but I'm going to pick the Bulldogs to get back on track.
The Verdict: UMD sweeps 5-4, 4-3.
Last week: 2-6-2
For the Season: 94-65-17 (58.2 percent)
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.