One team had a chance to win the WCHA regular-season title outright on Saturday night, the opportunity to hoist the MacNaughton Cup in celebration.
That team was St. Cloud State. The Huskies were denied sole possession of the league crown, losing to Wisconsin in Madison and sharing the honor with Minnesota. Of course, had the Huskies tied or won they wouldn’t have been able to claim the prize, because the MacNaughton Cup was 500 miles away in Bemidji, inexplicably, with the Gophers.
Ultimately, the trophy’s whereabouts was rendered moot. But how embarrassing would it have been for the WCHA had St. Cloud State claimed at least one point against the Badgers Saturday and as a reward for its accomplishment receive … well, nothing?
The answer, unfortunately, is the league probably wouldn’t have been embarrassed at all. As I tweeted earlier this year, the WCHA is a multi-national corporation run like a mom-and-pop corner store. And if there’s one thing the league brass has proven via decisions made in the past (failing to properly address the legitimate concerns of a few member schools, which ultimately led to the formation of the National College Hockey Conference) or for its future (the boneheaded plan to force Alaska and Alaska Anchorage to meet in the first round of the playoffs regardless of regular-season finish, which has since been scrapped), it’s that they’re completely tone deaf.
Listen, I don’t fault Minnesota for having the MacNaughton Cup. It’s not the Gophers’ job to make sure it gets to the right place. And of course, St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said all the right things after Saturday’s game. “I’ve got a whole lot of other things to worry about besides that,” the Huskies’ bench boss told USCHO’s Todd Milewski, among others. “On a scale of one to ten, that’s a negative-8.” My finger is pointed directly at the WCHA.
Naturally, this incident sparked a bit of vitriol between fans of both programs on the interwebs; Minnesota fans asserted the furor was a product of St. Cloud State’s jealousy of the Gophers*, while Huskies fans felt it was a nod to Minnesota’s favored-nation status within the league. I can guarantee, however, that Minnesota being the league darlings is not true. That would require foresight, an agenda, a plan, and we know the WCHA’s track record in those areas.
* SCSU fans might envy the Gophers’ success—I doubt it, but I can’t say for certain. Seems to me like that kind of thing is projected by the fans who feel their program is superior onto others.
And maybe I’m nitpicking. Gopher fans told me as much via Twitter Saturday night. I think they felt I was taking a side (I wasn’t) and that no one will care about this ordeal by Friday (they won’t.) My point is, if you’re in a league that doesn’t do the little things right, how do you expect them to handle the big things?
Based on the WCHA’s track record, I think we all know the answer to that question.