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College women's hockey: Bulldogs battle for home ice in Mankato this weekend

Minnesota Duluth enters the final weekend of the regular season on the outside looking in on a home WCHA playoff series next weekend at Amsoil Arena.

Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com Minnesota Duluth junior wing Ryleigh Houston (28) battles Wisconsin's Brette Pettet (20) for the puck last Saturday at Amsoil Arena. The Bulldogs close the regular season this weekend at Minnesota State-Mankato. Two UMD wins and two wins by the Badgers against Ohio State could propel UMD from fifth to third in the WCHA.
Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com Minnesota Duluth junior wing Ryleigh Houston (28) battles Wisconsin's Brette Pettet (20) for the puck last Saturday at Amsoil Arena. The Bulldogs close the regular season this weekend at Minnesota State-Mankato. Two UMD wins and two wins by the Badgers against Ohio State could propel UMD from fifth to third in the WCHA.

Minnesota Duluth enters the final weekend of the regular season on the outside looking in on a home WCHA playoff series next weekend at Amsoil Arena.

The Bulldogs no longer control their own fate either after three straight home losses. They'll need help from two big rivals, but the odds do seem to be in the Bulldogs' favor that a week from now, they'll host a best-of-three series in Duluth.

Fifth-place UMD (13-15-2 overall, 9-11-2 WCHA) closes the regular season at last-place Minnesota State-Mankato (9-17-5, 3-16-3) at 7:07 p.m. Friday and 3:07 p.m. Saturday. Meanwhile, the other two teams who are battling for home ice will square off against a pair of league title contenders.

Fourth-place Bemidji State leads the Bulldogs by one point and are home against second-place Minnesota this weekend. The Beavers were swept at Minnesota in November.

Third-place Ohio State is four points ahead of Bemidji State and five up on UMD, but travels to first-place Wisconsin. The Buckeyes split with the Badgers in Columbus, Ohio, in January.

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The Badgers hold a slim two-point lead on the Gophers in the chase for the newly named league regular-season championship trophy - the Julianne Bye Cup - and automatic bye into the WCHA Final Faceoff.

"With a young team, you want to get them as much playoff-type hockey as you can going into the playoffs. I love that it's a tight battle," Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell said. "It's going to be an awesome weekend across the board in the WCHA. Every team is playing for something and that ramps up the intensity. It makes it that much more special. It gets us ready for the playoffs against wherever, whoever and whenever those will be."

With two wins in Mankato, the Bulldogs may not only be home March 1-3 at Amsoil Arena, they could be third in the league should the Buckeyes get swept and the Beavers not secure two regulation wins against the Gophers.

In the event of any ties, UMD holds the head-to-head tiebreaker against Bemidji State, and would win a three-way tiebreaker with the Buckeyes and Beavers. The Buckeyes hold a head-to-head tiebreaker against UMD.

The Mavericks, who are battling St. Cloud State this weekend for sixth in the league, are winless in their last 13 league games (0-11-2) and have lost five straight, though the most recent defeat was in overtime last Saturday against the Gophers in Minneapolis.

One of the Mavs' two ties during their 13-game league skid came against the Bulldogs, who could only muster a 2-2 shootout win and 2-1 win during the series Dec. 7-8 in Duluth to close out the first half of the season.

The Bulldogs also met the Mavericks in a non-league game Jan. 6 in the third-place game of the Minnesota Cup in Minneapolis. UMD scored four goals, including an empty-netter - in the third period that afternoon to rally from a two-goal deficit and win 5-3.

"Don't get caught up in the standings because Mankato is really good. They took Minnesota to overtime last weekend," Crowell said. "The bottom place team in our league is pretty good in a strong league."

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UMD tie-breaking scenarios

UMD vs. Ohio State: OSU wins via second tiebreaker, league wins

UMD vs. Bemidji State: UMD wins via first tiebreaker, head-to-head in league games

UMD vs. OSU vs. BSU: Only happens if all three have 36 or 37 points. UMD wins both scenarios based on combined 5-3 record vs Bemidji State (4-4) and Ohio State (3-5).

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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