As Winter Break arrives – and with it, the type of weather we know and love in the Upper Midwest – there is no better time to take stock of the first half of the season and look ahead to second semester.
Across the WCCHA, a total of 124 games were played from the start of September through mid-December, with plenty of notable performances. However, perhaps none was more impressive than that of the University of St. Thomas Tommies. At the break, UST sits at #2 in the Central Region – currently an autobid spot direct to ACHA Nationals – and #5 in the National Rankings. While an 18-3 overall record is in and of itself impressive, it’s what makes up that record that should really catch the eye.
In mid-November, St. Thomas handed #1 University of Mary its first home loss against a D2 team since the 2019-2020 season, having come up just short the night before. Since then, the Tommies have been on a roll, finishing the 2022 calendar year on a 10-game win streak, averaging 7.6 goals scored in those wins. St. Thomas will look to carry their momentum into a shortened second semester run-in in hopes of claiming the direct path to Nationals.
Despite UST’s success overall, sitting ahead of them and atop the WCCHA KRACH Rankings and Southeast Division are last year’s league champions and first-ever WCCHA representative at Nationals, the University of Wisconsin Badgers. After a mixed start in non-conference play, the Badgers have rolled through their league schedule thus far at a perfect 10-0. Somewhat surprisingly, UW are only #10 in the Central Region Rankings – relatively comfortable for Regionals, but expecting to fight for a top seed in that event.
With two massive series ahead in the league, including the likely Southeast Division title decider against St. Thomas and an interdivisional against Northeast #1 Minnesota, the Badgers can pad their resume as the hone their focus on defending their league crown and taking the next step Nationally.
As eyes turn up and left on the map, a massive battle is playing out in the Northeast between sister state universities sharing similar on-ice success. Perennial WCCHA Contenders Minnesota – the Twin Cities version – jumped out early in the Rankings due to an impressive schedule and some well-earned results. The Gophers have backed up their reputation with another strong showing in the division, currently sitting atop the Northwest with a 9-1 record.
In the Central, the U of M are ranked #11 – still in a good spot for qualification, but with an opportunity to improve and potentially gain a first round bye position. The break should do this team some good, as a trip to (hopefully) sunny Florida after the New Year to take on Nationals-contender Florida Gulf Coast University provides another great chance to enhance the resume.
Nipping at their heels in the division, but well ahead in the Regionals picture, are the University of Minnesota-Crookston Golden Eagles. The Eagles continue to take steps forward each season, and are now well positioned for not only their first trip into the ACHA postseason, but potentially a deep run. UM-C features a high scoring line-up that brings it every single game; the team is undefeated in non-conference play with a 14-2 overall record.
The Eagles have an outside chance of earning their first division title, but are actually better positioned in the league-wide KRACH Rankings at #3, placing them in the top half of the bracket for the 2023 WCCHA Tournament. Currently holding the #5 spot in the Central, a strong-run in through mid-February will see the team holding a high seed come Regional Tournament time.
Elsewhere in the WCCHA, the race to qualify for the 2023 Carla Berg Cup Playoffs will likely come down to the final few games. As it stands, the Southeast Division looks to be in the accendancy, with interdivisional and independent game results heavily favoring the division. Because of that strong showing, the current KRACH Rankings would put 5 Southeast Division teams into the 2023 WCCHA Tournament, including both wild cards.
As of right now, the University of Minnesota-Duluth, perhaps the surprise package of the year, holds the #3 and final divisional qualification spot, with UW-Eau Claire and Minnesota State taking the final two open qualification spots.
Obviously, much could change, but the race for direct qualification in the Northwest is currently a dead heat between newcomers University of Jamestown Jimmies and the St. John’s University Johnnies. Interestingly, the teams have already met this season, splitting their series with an equal goal output of 7-7. Should the teams finish the season tied for the #3 spot, it would mean digging deep into the league tie-breakers to determine the advancing team.
With that said, Jamestown would appear to have the more advantageous run-in, but both squads should have every motivation to earn their way into the league tournament and a shot at the WCCHA title and ACHA Regionals Autobid. The Jimmies currently sit at #14 – technically in a Regionals position – but rather precarious as the first league autobid qualifier would knock them out. Those threats don’t come just from outside the conference, either. At #16, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire remains a clear threat, and if history is any indication, the Blugolds will bring everything they have 2nd semester as their veteran-laden roster looks for a repeat trip to Regionals.
The WCCHA will ring in the new year with 7 teams in the ACHA Central Region Top 20, including 5 in Regional and National qualifying positions. In addition, there is still time for the remaining league teams to make a run – if not at direct qualification for Regionals, at the WCCHA autobid. It starts with qualification for the Carla Berg Cup Playoffs, and would end with lifting the trophy and making plans for St. Louis in late February.
From there, who might be on a plane to Boston for the 2023 ACHA National Championships? Will it be one, two.. maybe even 3 WCCHA teams? The only thing that is certain is that the opportunity to earn it on the ice is there for all as we return to action in January.
Happy Holidays to all WCCHA players, coaches, team staff/administrators, family, friends and fans – we look forward to being back on the ice soon!