The UAA Seawolves, sitting in fourth place in the 10-team WCHA, are idle this week, but they will no doubt eagerly await weekend results around the league, where just five points separate fourth place from a three-way tie for seventh place.
Two important numbers to remember are 4 and 9. The top four finishers in the regular season earn home ice for the first round of the league playoffs, and eight teams qualify for the first round, thus, the ninth-place finisher (there's your 9) is toast. No playoffs for them, as in, "You finished ninth, perhaps you should concentrate your energies on recruiting.'' (Also, Alabama-Huntsville, while not mathematically locked into 10th place, is 13 points below everyone, which makes the Chargers a mortal lock for 10th). Frankly, the Chargers finishing last was all but a foregone conclusion, so no one wants to finish the dreaded ninth on the circuit.
In any event, while UAA is sitting in a swell position at the moment, the Seawolves' situation has some caveats. They are one of just four league teams to have played as many as 20 conference games. Of the teams within five points of the Seawolves, who own 21 points, one team (sixth-place Northern Michigan, 17 points) has played just 16 league games and two others -- Lake Superior and Michigan Tech, each with 16 points -- have played just 18 league games.
Also, UAA has the most difficult split left in the league between home games and road games. Of its eight remaining games, six are on the road, including two at league leader Ferris State and two to end the season against rival UAF, which owns 16 points in 20 games and is tied for seventh.
Also, UAA faces one of the league's most difficult schedules down the home stretch.
If you rank the WCHA teams by winning percentage in league games and assign each team a number -- for instance, Ferris State gets a 1 because it is in first place and Huntsville merits a 10 because it sits last -- and then figure out the average rating of every opponent left on a team's schedule, UAA's opponents average 5.0. That's tied for the third-most difficult schedule left, behind fifth-place Bemidji State's 4.0 and Lake Superior's 4.4. Northern Michigan's remaining opponents, like UAA, average to 5.0. (The easiest stretch run appears to be second-place Minnesota State-Mankato's -- its remaining opponents average 6.8, and the Mavericks have six of their 10 games remaining on home ice).
All of which means the Seawolves have some tough sledding ahead. To finish fourth, and gain home ice in the first round, they are going to have to absolutely earn it.
UAA's remaining schedule has it playing at current seventh-place Lake Superior State, entertaining third-place Bowling Green, at league-leading Ferris State and at UAF to complete the four-game Governor's Cup (tied 1-1) and the regular season.
By DOYLE WOODY, adn.com