BEMIDJI, Minn. – Follow the lead of Denver, and Colorado College could get back in the NCAA Tournament hunt. Don’t replicate the Pioneers, and this season is likely over.
Denver started the weekend in 17th place in the PairWise rankings used to determine the 16-team NCAA Tournament field, then it swept Minnesota, which was seventh, and the Pioneers now rest comfortably at eighth. So even though CC tumbled six spots to 22nd as a result of getting hammered in a sweep at Bemidji State, the Tigers retain optimism for a similar revival in a Feb. 24-25 series at Minnesota-Duluth, which has held steady at third.
No doubt, No. 10 CC (15-11-2, 12-9-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) needs to take care of business in two home series sandwiching the trip to Minnesota-Duluth – this weekend against Nebraska-Omaha, which sits 24th in the PairWise, and March 2-3 vs. Michigan Tech, which isn’t in the 33-team PairWise. Even sweeps in both series – it’s a long shot, considering CC last won back-to-back games in December – probably won’t net sizeable gains in the PairWise, a statistical rating computed by the strength of teams.
Perhaps a split at Minnesota-Duluth – better yet, a win and a tie – would be enough to put CC in contention going into the first round of the WCHA playoffs. The top six teams host first-round WCHA playoff series, and CC is tied for fourth, five points behind first-place Minnesota and owning a two-point edge for home ice. Then again, if CC beats a sub-.500 team in the first round, like Michigan Tech or St. Cloud State, the PairWise jump will be minor, and CC might have to win the WCHA Final Five to make the NCAA Tournament.
Imagine how low CC would be in the PairWise minus a 2-1-1 record against Denver. Or without a win against Union, which is 11th in the PairWise. Suddenly, CC’s pair of losses at North Dakota, which is 16th in the PairWise, doesn’t look that bad, and neither does a split at Minnesota, which is 13th, or a tie and a loss against Cornell, which is 17th. What hurts CC more than the sweep against Bemidji State, at 23rd in the PairWise, are losses to St. Cloud State, at 28th; Air Force, at 30th; and Alaska-Anchorage, not in the PairWise.
“The PairWise is something we’re not even thinking about,” said CC coach Scott Owens, whose team was outscored 8-3 against Bemidji State without seven injured players, most notably center Nick Dineen and goaltender Josh Thorimbert. “We’ve got to make sure we get home ice. We’ve got to make sure we get positioned with that. … I want to make sure we’re not coming down to that last Saturday game for home ice with Michigan Tech.”
David Civitarese noted last season, CC waited “until right around this time of the year to get hot,” then the Tigers upset defending national champion Boston College in the NCAA West Regional and nearly edged Michigan, the eventual national runner-up. He said, “We still have the opportunity to play some strong teams down the stretch,” with Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota and Denver lined up for the Final Five, an event CC never has won.
“We’ve got to be better – there’s no question,” Jaden Schwartz said, adding that with six games remaining, “we’ve got to make sure to make the best of them. We’ve got to start putting some wins together if we want to keep playing.” William Rapuzzi maintains CC possesses “all the pieces to do special things. We just need to figure it out again.”
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