I didn't get to be a sports editor by skipping class. In the dead of the downstate winter, I trundled off to my writing and editing and design classes at Central Michigan University to be formed into the journalist you see today.
I had two exceptions to this rule. Sorry, Mom and Dad.
One was Opening Day and the other was the first round of the NCAA Tournament, from now on to be referred to as "Awesome Days."
Traditionally, Thursday afternoons are fairly mundane. I might get home a little late for lunch if I'm trying to get going on the Outdoors page, or if it's football season, Gridiron, but otherwise I'm getting my usual afternoon nap in to recharge for the evening ahead, whether that means covering a game or watching TV.
But during Awesome Days, there is no napping. (OK, maybe a little.) Not even Victor Newman and the gang on the Young and the Restless can stop the irresistable power of Greg Gumbel, Bill Raftery and March Madness. Sorry, Mom. Y&R will be back on Monday, because when 12 straight hours of basketball ends Thursday night, they turn around and crank it all up again the following day. Of course, there's even more basketball to be had on Saturday and Sunday, but it takes a diehard to be able to sit in front of the TV for four straight days.
Another great thing about Awesome Days is that very rarely are any of those teams playing in the afternoon time slots ones I know or care about.
Of course, the WCHA Final Five bracket is a little different from the NCAA basketball tournament. There are no 1-vs.-16 gimmes. Michigan Tech, the lowest seed, is a combined 4-5-3 against the other five teams and has beaten all of them, except for North Dakota.
I had a good week last week, only getting one series wrong (North Dakota's good in the playoffs? Who knew?) and even getting the exact outcome right in four of six. The stakes get higher this weekend, which is to say that zero times two is still zero.
Michigan Tech vs. Denver
It's been a long time since the Huskies and Pioneers met - their one series this season was at the end of October. Denver went through its struggles after that trip to Houghton, including an infamous Jan. 6 home loss to Alabama-Huntsville, but has only lost consecutive games once since.
The big thing to watch out for is special teams. The Pioneers, at 23.3 percent, have the best power play in the league and have scored a power-play goal in 16 of the last 21 games while Tech is seventh on the kill with a 79.7 percent success rate. Conversely, DU is the most-penalized team in the WCHA (15.9 per game), but Tech's power-play success rate of 18.6 percent is 10th.
This one could come down to the wire, but I think the Huskies pull it out.
The Verdict: Tech 3-2 (OT)
St. Cloud State vs. North Dakota
North Dakota is in the Final Five for the 10th consecutive season in the night game tonight against St. Cloud. They split four games in the regular season.
The difference between the two teams in March has been rather pronounced. The Fighting Sioux are 51-12-4 since 2005 in the month, while St. Cloud has won the Final Five exactly once (2001) and have exactly one NCAA Tournament win (over Northern Michigan).
Playoff pedigree isn't supposed to mean anything, but when the differences are so obvious, it's pretty hard to ignore.
The Verdict: ND 4-1
Michigan Tech vs. Minnesota Duluth
The Bulldogs didn't exactly finish the season with a flourish, botching multiple chances to get to No. 1 in the league standings and needing double overtime to see off Minnesota State in Game 2 of the playoffs last weekend. Still, with a day off against a Michigan Tech team that's played a lot of hockey in a lot of places over the past few weeks, they'll have the physical edge. They also have the talent edge, and perhaps even the motivation edge after that 5-0 beatdown in Duluth last January. So, this is the end for the Huskies.
The Verdict: UMD 3-1
North Dakota vs. Minnesota
Minnesota led the WCHA by a large margin in scoring defense, but is in fourth in scoring offense at 3.14 per game (a stat offered in honor of Pi Day yesterday). Between the Gophers, who have won seven of eight, and the Sioux, always a tough playoff out, something's got to give. This one's a coin flip to me.
The Verdict: UND 3-2 (OT)
Minnesota Duluth vs. North Dakota
Three games in three days proves too much for North Dakota in its bid to win the Broadmoor Trophy for a third consecutive year, but it's OK, because North Dakota is securely in the NCAA field and lives to fight another day.
The Verdict: UMD 5-2
The best example of this was my junior year of high school, in which Kentucky drew St. Bonaventure in the first round.
I have never been to Olean, N.Y., where St. Bonaventure is located, nor does the Atlantic 10 particularly interest me, but for one afternoon, we were hard-core brown-and-white Bonnies fans. The game went to double overtime, so probably well into seventh hour. The Bonnies got bounced and sunk into oblivion, only to emerge as a 14 seed in this year's tournament, where they'll be playing ... Friday afternoon at 2:45 against Florida State. I'd totally be behind the Bonnies again, if I hadn't picked Florida St. as a dark horse Final Four team.
As for the teams you care about? They'll get around to playing.
DMG Sports Writer Michael Bleach is watching Wisconsin and Marquette, both playing this afternoon nearly simultaneously, but I have to wait for Michigan to play Friday night. Michigan St. and Detroit play even later on Friday night, which makes me a little nervous. Oh, the games will probably be over in time for deadline, but it always seem like the most upsets happen on Friday night and I picked Kansas and State in the Final Four, too.
Of course, this year's Awesome Days are even more awesome, because Michigan Tech is in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five for the first time in five years, and when do the Huskies play? This afternoon, 3 p.m.
I'm not too concerned about missing basketball, because I can always watch between periods and because I trust Bo Ryan to keep the score of today's Wisconsin-Montana game in the 40s.
It's good to see the Huskies on a big stage, and I'm happy to say that Stephen Anderson will have all sorts of coverage on today's game (and any succeeding games) in Friday's Daily Mining Gazette.
He's done a great job with the team this year. It's quite a sacrifice to be working during Awesome Days, which I missed in back-to-back years, including one in which I was covering Ontonagon in the Breslin Center while the Spartans were playing somewhere else.
My brackets are filed. You can see my NCAA basketball bracket on mininggazette.com, and my Red Line picks for the Final Five are here on page 2B.
Now excuse me. It's time for a beverage, my big chair and Murray State - as soon as I figure out where that's located.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.