By Andrew Persson
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It is the heart of college hockey season in Bemidji and the Beavers are finding themselves battling for a position in the standings as they head into the busy finishing half of the schedule.
As of the holiday break, all 10 teams in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) have played at least 10 games, with Lake Superior State having played the most at 14. A majority of the conference is sitting at 12 games played (including BSU) heading into January, which makes this the perfect time to analyze the Beaver’s playoff potential, and to see what the rest of the season could have in store for the hometown team.
As of December 31, the Beavers sit alone in seventh place in the WCHA with an overall record of 5-10-3, a conference record of 3-6-3, and a total of nine points. Those nine points land them one point shy of Alaska Fairbanks and just three points short of both Ferris State and Northern Michigan who are tied for fourth place.
The beginning of the season put the Beavers against an extremely difficult schedule as the two opening series against North Dakota and the University of Minnesota proved tough, with the Beavers pulling out one win in four games. After sweeping Alaska Fairbanks at home, the Beavers went on to face the toughest stretch of conference play they will have all season; three straight series against the three best teams in the WCHA, Minnesota State Mankato, Michigan Tech, and Bowling Green. With six straight losses they headed home to face nationally ranked St. Cloud State pulling out a big win on Saturday night to split the series with the Huskies. This win propelled them into a streak of impressive play where they have won twice and tied three times, making them unbeatable in the month of December.
Looking ahead, if the Beavers can carry their impressive play into the month of January, they could quickly move themselves up in the standings. Their first two series after break are against opponents who are ranked lower in the standings than they are, creating an excellent opportunity to put a winning streak together. Alabama Huntsville and Lake Superior State have two and three conference victories respectively and are rounding out the bottom part of the league along with Alaska Anchorage. With two straight sweeps against Huntsville and Superior (which is by no means a stretch of the imagination) the Beavers could slide into the fifth spot in the WCHA, ahead of Alaska Fairbanks and Northern Michigan.
What all of these regular season wins and losses boil down to is the playoffs; the part of the season that truly counts. The WCHA playoffs are simple- the top eight of ten teams make it in. Once the top eight seeds are established, seed number one plays number eight, number two plays seven, and so on. The top four teams get to host the best-of-three game series on their home ice, which is a huge advantage when it comes to college hockey, especially in a conference that is so geographically spread out like the WCHA, as it ranges from New York to Alaska.
Although it would be nice, the chances of the Beavers gaining home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs are slim. According to PlayoffStatus.com, BSU has roughly a 14 percent chance of clinching the fourth spot in the conference. The more likely option will have the Beavers as a sixth or seventh seed, a 48 percent chance, and be headed to the second or third seeded team to play a series on the road. Both of these series would be difficult to win, and most likely BSU would not move on to the second round of playoffs that take place in Saint Paul at the Xcel Energy Center the following weekend.
Looking at the way the season has played out thus far, don’t be surprised if the Beavers clinch the seventh spot in the WCHA and head to Mankato for a three game series against the Mavericks of Minnesota State. However, the great thing about hockey is that anything can happen, and hopefully Bemidji State fans will be piling into the Sanford Center on the night of March 13 to cheer the Beavers on in the playoffs.