One of the two expansion teams in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association will make the Final Five tournament in St. Paul.
Will it be Bemidji State or Nebraska-Omaha?
The Beavers and nationally No. 12-ranked Mavericks will meet in a WCHA first-round playoff this weekend in Omaha. The playoff is a best-of-three series and the winner advances to the tournament at Xcel Energy Center the weekend of March 17-19.
The series will be played at Omaha’s Qwest Center Friday at 7:37 p.m., Saturday at 7:07 p.m. and Sunday (if necessary) at 7:07 p.m. Fans interested in attending the games can buy tickets through Ticketmaster or by calling (402) 554-Mavs.
The games are not scheduled to be televised according to Brian Bissonette of Paul Bunyan Communications. A video broadcast can be seen on at www.b2livetv.com for a fee. The games can be heard on local radio station The Mix 103.7 and www.beaverradionetwork.com.
Bemidji State lost in the regular season finale to No. 19 Minnesota 3-2 in overtime Saturday night, but earned a point in the weekend with a 3-3 tie with the Gophers Friday.
The point proved crucial as it allowed the Beavers to finish 10th place out of 12 teams in its inaugural season in the league. BSU finished the season 12-17-5 overall and 8-15-5 in WCHA play.
The Beavers were also helped by Alaska-Anchorage’s weekend sweep of Minnesota State University, Mankato, which finished in 11th place just one point behind the Beavers.
Had the Mankato Mavericks defeated the Seawolves Saturday night, the Beavers would be scheduled for a first-round playoff with second-place Denver. The Beavers were 0-2 against the Pioneers this season.
Instead, the Beavers will face the Omaha Mavericks. UNO earned a weekend split at No. 11 Minnesota-Duluth Saturday night with a 5-2 victory to finish the season 21-13-2 and third place in the WCHA with a 17-9-2 league record.
While Omaha will be picked as the favorite to win the series, BSU and UNO met four times this season and the Beavers did not lose a game to the Mavericks.
The Beavers finished 3-0-1 against UNO this season.
The two expansion teams first met the weekend of Dec. 4-5 at the Sanford Center when the Mavericks were coming off a home split against North Dakota and rated the No. 4 team in the country. The Beavers won the first game 3-0 and the second game 3-1.
BSU goalie Dan Bakala stopped 23 shots in the shutout and had 39 saves in the second game to cap the sweep.
BSU and Omaha met again the weekend of Jan. 14-15 in Omaha. The teams skated to a 2-2 tie Friday and the Beavers won 3-2 in overtime Saturday night on captain Matt Read’s goal.
Omaha was tough at home in the regular season and finished with a 10-3-1 home record in league play. The only teams other than the Beavers in the WCHA to beat the Mavericks at home were North Dakota and Alaska-Anchorage.
Other first-round pairings next week pit No. 12 Michigan Tech at No. 1 league champion North Dakota, No. 11 Mankato at No. 2 Denver, No. 9 St. Cloud State at No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth, No. 8 Alaska-Anchorage at No. 5 Minnesota and No. 7 Wisconsin at No. 6 Colorado College.
Series winners play at the single-game elimination Final Five, which features five games over three days. The top two seeds advancing from next week’s playoffs will receive byes and not have to play until Friday of the Final Five.
The four lowest-seeded teams are paired for two Thursday quarterfinal games at the Final Five and the winners advance to face the top-ranked teams in Friday’s semifinals.
The semifinal winners meet in the championship game Saturday night, which will be preceded by a Minnesota Wild-Columbus Blue Jackets game in the afternoon.
The Final Five champion earns the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.