College Hockey: North Dakota Dominates Minnesota, Making Harder Road to NCAA's

Chris EckesContributor IJanuary 28, 2011

After an emotional win Friday night against North Dakota, the Fighting Sioux came back strong Saturday, and thoroughly dominated the Minnesota Gophers in all facets of the game to win by a 4-1 margin.

Despite the fact the Gophers scored the first goal of the game on a Mark Alt shot from the point, the team may have spent all its energy in Friday night's fisticuffs.

The Sioux limited Gopher chances by rarely, if ever, allowing Minnesota quality scoring opportunities. North Dakota, on the other hand, capitalized on their chances, getting two powerplay goals on the night to power their side to victory.

The Gophers' player of the game was clearly Kent Patterson, who turned back a ton of great Sioux chances and kept the Gophers in the game for his part.

More important than this single game though, is the implications the loss had on Minnesota's chances of making the NCAA tournament.

From everything I've seen, the Gophers need to get somewhere around 10 more wins on the season to make the big dance. Obviously, the tournament committee uses the Pairwise rankings, but 10 more wins the rest of the season should vault the Gophers into the top 14 of the Pairwise.

The problem is the Gophers only have 14 more guaranteed games left on the schedule (six regular season series, at least two playoff games), and those games aren't cakewalks.

Minnesota has three series that, according to the records of the teams they're playing, should be "sweepable"—at home against UAA this weekend, at home against Michigan Tech and away at Bemidji State.

The three "tough" series for Minnesota have the Gophers at UMD, home against Denver and at Wisconsin. The way I see it, Minnesota needs nine points out of the "sweepable" series (that's something like 4-1-1 over those six games), which means they would need to get around seven points in their other six tough games (somewhere around 3-2-1).

Of course, this all assumes the Gophers win their first round WCHA series and make it to the Final Five, where they have a chance to pick up some more victories.

Even those results sound like a tall task for the Gophers to accomplish. Any point the Gophers give up in the three series against the beatable teams is a point they'll need to make up against the tough teams, so they cannot afford to give up more than the three points projected above.

The Gophers are in action this Friday and Saturday against Alaska-Anchorage. If they can weather the Seawolf onslaught and come out of this weekend with four valuable points, it will be a good start toward making their way into the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years.

Go Gophers!