Preview, picks for the 2016 WCHA quarterfinals

Preview, picks for the 2016 WCHA quarterfinals
Al Daniel
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2016 WCHA quarterfinals Minnesota State goaltender Cole Huggins

After losing his starting position for the majority of 2014-15, Cole Huggins has seen through a rollercoaster junior campaign, and is ready to backstop the Mavericks in the playoffs again. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Along the Boards)

The Minnesota State Mavericks have a straightforward postseason agenda: Follow goaltender Cole Huggins’ self-redeeming path and defend the WCHA pennant.

MSU’s late spillage of first place was no fault of the prodigal junior. Starting the regular season’s last 11 games, Huggins held the opposition to a single goal in each of the final three.

But a lack of support at the other end brought on a 1-0 setback via Bemidji State this past Saturday. In tandem with Michigan Tech’s 5-1 steamrolling of Northern Michigan, this gave the Mavs a virtual tie for first place. The Huskies’ 1-0-1 finish in the season series meant Huggins and his mates settled for second in the tournament bracket.

Still, one could argue that Huggins’ second-half surge put the new-look WCHA’s standard-bearer of recent history in a position to defend its regular-season title to begin with. He finished a back-and-forth year with a 1.94 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.

Contrast that with the 2.80 GAA and .895 success rate he held after a Nov. 13 loss to Minnesota. He would not so much as suit up for the next night’s rematch with the Gophers, then endured a 10-week hiatus from game action.

He only got his chance to break that fast after the Mavericks failed to get the better of the Huskies last month. But with his performance since being reinstated (5-2-2 in league games, 6-3-2 overall), perhaps he should have supplanted freshman Jason Pawloski one or two periods sooner. Maybe then, that series would have had no bearing on the final standings.

Come what may, the league’s 2014 goaltending champion is set to bolster MSU in the 2016 WCHA quarterfinals, his hard-earned first postseason endeavor in two years.

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Al Daniel

Along the Boards' NCAA editor, Al is an alumnus of Shattuck-St. Mary's and Providence College. His work has previously appeared in the Faribault Daily News, Let's Play Hockey, Access North GA, Beyond the Dashers, the Pawtucket Times, USCHO, USA Hockey Magazine and Bleacher Report.

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