Saturday, February 23, 2008

Badger Hockey is playing itself out of contention

With two full weekends to play before the conference tournament, the Badgers had one task in front of them: get a couple points from the faltering Gophers in order to improve upon or maintain their twelfth-place ranking in the PairWise Rankings.

Sadly, the Gophers found their offense again this weekend and blasted home four goals on Friday and on Saturday. The Badgers only managed a pair of goals on Friday (WWWWWW and $nake of Down With Goldy were at the game), but didn't walk away completely empty-handed, coming back from a one-goal deficit four times on Saturday night to force a 4-4 tie. In the end, the Gophers gained three prized points and the Badgers only picked up one.

This is bad not just because it's the Gophers but because, as of this very moment, the Badgers are in a tie for 14th place in the PairWise Rankings with Notre Dame and the Gophers. By scoring that final, game-tying goal, Patrick Johnson kept Wisconsin's PWR advantage over Minnesota alive; had the Gophers won the game, the 2-2 tie in the PairWise would've been broken by RPI, which might've swung things in Minnesota's favor. Incidentally, the RPI tiebreaker is keeping Notre Dame ahead of the Badgers as we speak.

The upshot is that when you're in a tie for 14th place, if you're not the primus inter pares you're out of the NCAA field. The fifteenth and sixteenth slots are currently occupied by the conference leaders from Atlantic Hockey and the CHA (currently Army and Bemidji State, respectively), which means that if the season was over with right now, Wisconsin would be the best team in the nation to watch the NCAA tournament from their couch. (You know, on their laptop via GameTracker. Not on TV, don't be silly; this is college hockey after all.)

The good and bad news is that next weekend's series is at St. Cloud State. The good news is that the Badgers are 2-0-0 against St. Cloud State this year, and since Wisconsin is well behind St. Cloud in the PairWise, a victory or two would go a long way to shuffling the Badgers back into the tournament field, especially with some help. The bad news is that although Wisconsin owns the head-to-head portion of the PWR, St. Cloud tops them in RPI, TUC, and record against common opponents, and all three of those numbers are out of reach for UW, so in order to wrest the PairWise comparison with St. Cloud State, a sweep will be necessary.

The end of the season is a crazy time with the odd mechanism the NCAA uses to include and exclude teams. The Badgers aren't in control of their own destiny, but every win will get them closer to a tournament berth and every loss will hurt more than the one that preceded it. And you can take consolation in the fact that even though this weekend was pretty miserable, the Badgers did just enough to keep Minnesota out of the postseason -- for the time being.