First round, fresh start in CCHA playoffs

By Ryan Stieg 

The playoffs have arrived in the CCHA, which means I get a fresh start with my predictions.  

My quest to achieve a second perfect week during the regular season came to a disappointing end last weekend as I came up short for a final time. I came close as I went 3 for 5 with my picks. However, I didn’t think Northern Michigan and Bemidji State would both pick up sweeps and they handed me two defeats. Well, so it goes.  

Now, my predictions get even harder as anything can happen in the playoffs. That’s especially true for this conference as anybody can sweep anybody this year, which is fun to watch, but frustrating to predict. Still, that’s my job, so I’ve got to accept that and regroup for what should be an exciting postseason.  

So, here we go folks. Here’s my picks for what should be a wild and entertaining first round and we’ll start off with the MacNaughton Cup winners. 

No. 8 Ferris State at No. 1 Bemidji State 

I thought at the start of the season that the Beavers would be better than last year, but not in MacNaughton contention and nobody outside of Bemidji probably thought they would be either. However, BSU ended up playing its best hockey at the best time and swept Mankato last week to hoist the Cup. Now, the Beavers get cellar dweller Ferris in the first round, and it should be an easy matchup. The Bulldogs just couldn’t build on last season and generate any consistency this year. As a result, their season ends in the first round. The Beavers sweep, winning 4-1 Friday and 3-1 Saturday.  

No. 7 Lake Superior State at No. 2 St. Thomas 

This one is a tough one to pick. If the Tommies were healthy, I’d pick an easy sweep, but they’re not. UST hasn’t had a complete line chart for the past two weeks due to injuries, which puts them at a distinct disadvantage this weekend. Still, the Tommies managed to gut out a shutout win over Michigan Tech last Friday to clinch home ice, so they’ve shown they can step up and overcome adversity. Meanwhile, the Lakers must be frustrated as if they got two more regulation wins, they’d be hosting a first round series. But, they didn’t get the job down and now, they’re most likely playing on the road the rest of the way. LSSU is the healthier team, so the smart pick is probably to pick them to sweep. However, I think since UST is at home for the first time in the postseason that it fights on to the next round. The Tommies win Friday 3-1, the Lakers answer back 4-2 Saturday, but UST wins 3-2 Sunday.  

No. 6 Bowling Green at No. 3 Michigan Tech 

This series could’ve easily been reversed with the Huskies heading south, but the Falcons got tripped up in Marquette and Tech got a split with the Tommies. So now, BG heads back to the Upper Peninsula to face a semi-hot Huskies team that has won three of its last four games. The Falcons are on a slide as they were the hottest team in the league two weeks ago, but then they got swept at home by these same Huskies. So, the odds seem to favor Tech here. Everything about this series is screaming three games and I think it goes the distance with BG coming out on top. The Huskies win Friday 4-3, BG gets one back Saturday 3-2 and then the Falcons soar to a 2-1 win to get to the semifinals.

No. 5 Northern Michigan at No. 4 Minnesota State 

Here’s the toss-up series of the first round. The Mavericks are usually the team to beat come playoff time, but they’re not the same dominant team we’ve seen in the past. They’re still good and they got home ice yet again, so the Mavs have kept the tradition alive. Then there’s the Wildcats, who seem to turn their energy up a notch every time in the playoffs. They’re coming off a home sweep of BG and finished just two points behind Mankato and a regulation win away of earning home ice. I’ve gone back and forth on who is winning this series and after several coin flips, I’m going with NMU. The Wildcats win Friday 2-1, the Mavs even things up 3-2 Saturday, and Northern finishes off the series Sunday 4-3.  

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