Denver did it twice. Ditto for Minnesota. And North Dakota. Can Colorado College become the next Western Collegiate Hockey Association team to capture a national championship without winning the MacNaughton Cup outright? For No. 7 CC, the MacNaughton Cup, which is awarded to the WCHA regular-season champion, might as well be the Gold Pan. It’s gone, and it won’t be returning to World Arena — at least not this season. But if the Tigers make the NCAA Tournament — CC is projected as a No. 2 seed in USCHO.com’s latest PairWise rankings — it takes only two wins to advance to the Frozen Four, then two more wins for a national title. The Tigers host No. 13 North Dakota at 7:37 tonight and 7:07 p.m. Saturday in what seventh-year coach Scott Owens calls the “gateway to the postseason.” CC is 17-10-1, 9-8-1 in the WCHA. North Dakota is 17-12-1, 10-10. The WCHA has become a three-team race among No. 2 Minnesota, No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 12 Denver, which are tied for first place. North Dakota is fourth, eight points off the pace. CC and St. Cloud State are tied for fifth, nine points back. Winning the WCHA hardly ensures postseason success. In 2003-04, Denver finished tied for fourth in the WCHA, 12 points behind league champ North Dakota. The Pioneers upended Miami (Ohio) and North Dakota in the West Regional at World Arena and knocked off Minnesota Duluth and Maine in the Frozen Four. In 2002-03, CC won the WCHA by six points and lost to Michigan in the NCAA quarterfinals. The national championship went to Minnesota, which beat Mercyhurst and Ferris State to make the Frozen Four. In 1999-2000, Wisconsin won the WCHA by seven points but fell to Boston College in the West Regional. North Dakota later beat Boston College in the national championship game. “You’ve got to win two games to get to the Frozen Four, and then anything can happen,” said Owens, whose team shared the MacNaughton Cup with national champion Denver when it made the Frozen Four last season. “It’s not like it’s a best-of-seven series. It’s a one-game deal, and you lay it on the line and hope that you get the right break.” Despite a four-game losing streak, CC is in as good of shape for the postseason as Minnesota or Wisconsin. The Tigers are positioned better than Denver, which is in danger of not making the NCAA Tournament. The WCHA’s automatic berth goes to the WCHA Final Five champion, not the regular-season champ, and Denver is 20th in the PairWise rankings. “We have the same goals as we did at the start of the year. Nothing has changed,” CC left wing Aaron Slattengren said. “We’ve got enough older guys. We’re not panicking or anything. We know we’ll be fine.” Added defenseman Brian Salcido: “All the guys in the room have been there before. We were down in the valley. We know what it takes to get back up and be a winning team again.” This week, Owens made practices upbeat and added an extra film day and more one-onone meetings to “redefine roles” for players. He maintains he’s not in panic mode, either. “We’ve just got to get ourselves in good position,” Owens said. “We have to play better. But we’ve got six or seven weeks to get there.” Ticket count As of 2 p.m. Thursday, about 600 tickets remained for tonight’s game and about 200 tickets remained for Saturday’s game, CC assistant athletic director Scott Lowenberg said. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0256 or email@example.com
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