Let me be perfectly clear about this at the outset: I do think the WCHA is the best conference.
Where I disagree, however, is with the people who think that the mediocre teams in the WCHA are better than they are, solely because they're in the WCHA. I also disagree that the CCHA is a joke and that outside of the top 4, it's a horrible conference.
One of my favorite things to do is to take a look at numbers, with almost no idea about where they're going to lead me. I did it with the CCHA officials and I think that piece ended up being fairly interesting. The majority of this article was written over at USCHO in the "Minnesota State is over-rated" thread, which was basically making fun of the WCHA fans.
I find it amusing that when Miami loses to Ferris or Alaska, it's evidence that they're overrated and supports the idea that the CCHA sucks. But when CC loses to Michigan Tech, it's evidence of how deep that conference is...how even the bad teams are still really good.
The strength of schedule of the WCHA is part of the reason that everyone thinks they're so good, and why there are so many teams in position to make the tournament. I decided to take a closer look at things to see what I found. It was pretty interesting. At least to me.
One of the best ways to compare teams between the conferences is to look at how they did out of conference.
CC beat Clarkson twice, RPI, Air Force, and Bemidji. Lost twice to UNH and lost to UMass.
NoDak killed MSU, beat Northeastern, split with UNH, swept Bemidji and tied BC.
Denver swept Maine, split with Notre Dame, beat Sacred Heart, Bemidji and Dartmouth. And lost to Air Force by 3.
Wiscy beat Notre Dame, swept Robert Morris, beat BGSU, tied MSU and Colgate, lost to OSU and Michigan.
St. Cloud swept Bemidji, beat Harvard, took 3 of 4 points from Canisius, split with Clarkson and lost to Miami.
Those are the top five teams in the WCHA and they have a stellar 25-10-4 record out of conference. But what do you notice? Lots of games against Bemidji, lots of games against the smaller conferences and the EZAC. What happens when they play the other "power" conferences, the CCHA and Hockey East? Well, they're a combined 8-8-2 (3-3-1 against the "Big Four" in the CCHA). That's hardly dominance.
To keep going, MSU-Mankato is 6-2 out of conference. Really good right? But. The wins came against UAH (2), Bemidji (2), Princeton and Yale. Whoa daddy stand back. They are 0-2 against Hockey East and the CCHA, both losses to 8th-place-in-the-CCHA Nebraska-Omaha (they're tied for 5th at the moment but are locked into the 8th seed).
These next two hurt my argument but I'll include them in the interest of being fair since they're in the tournament hunt as well. Minnesota-Duluth is 4-1-1 and 3-0-1 against Hockey East and the CCHA. The Gophers are 6-2-2 and 3-1-1 against the other two major conferences--though they lost to fricken RIT.
Still, the top eight are 14-11-4 against the CCHA and Hockey East (and the top 4 are 8-7-2). That doesn't paint the picture of WCHA dominance that people would have you otherwise believe.
To compare, here are the top 8 in the CCHA against the other 2 conferences:
Michigan: 7-1-0 overall, 7-1-0 against the WCHA/HE
Miami: 8-0-0, 3-0-0 (4-0-0 if you count a non-conference against OSU as a win over a "power" conference team)
MSU: 4-3-2, 0-3-2 (thanks for helping the cause, Sparty)
Notre Dame: 7-3-0, 1-3-0
BGSU: 3-3-0, 0-2-0
NMU: 3-4-1, 2-1-1
Ferris: 3-2-1, 0-0-0 (awesome schedule)
UNO: 4-3-0, 2-0-0
That's 15-10-3 against the power conferences (11-7-2 for the top 4), if you don't count Miami's win over OSU as a "good" win.
.552 winning % for the OMG TOURNAMENT BOUND WCHA teams.
.589 for the scum-sucking CCHA teams.
What's especially interesting is that while the CCHA and WCHA teams are both playing Hockey East, the CCHA teams have to go up against the theoretically tougher WCHA teams in this comparison, whereas the WCHA teams get to take on teams from the CupCake Hockey Association.
And even if you take out Michigan, who has clearly carried the banner (and whom, I assume, most WCHA fans would have no problem admitting is a legit team), they're still at a .475 against the WCHA and Hockey East (or 3 points out of 40 from having the same winning % as the WCHA teams...and that's without Michigan).
Take out Michigan and the WCHA's best team against good conferences (Duluth at 3-0-1) and it's:
.475 for the remaining 7 in the CCHA (.500 if Miami's win counts)
.500 for the remaining 7 in the WCHA
Straight up WCHA dominance.
I would also like to point out that the four teams tied for fifth in the CCHA right now are a combined 4-2-1 against WCHA squads, including UNO's two wins over Minnesota State.
In my view, a mediocre team is a mediocre team no matter what conference they play in. Just because NoDak, CC, and Denver are tough doesn't mean MSU-M and St. Cloud are better than their record appears.
It looks great that the top 8 in the WCHA are 41-15-7 out of conference. But when you break it down, maybe it's not as impressive as you'd think. I'd also point out that almost a quarter of those out of conference wins are against Bemidji State (9).
The WCHA is better top to bottom than the CCHA, but they're really not as different as people want you to believe. The WCHA will get more teams in, but of the true contenders, you've got one really scary team from each conference (Michigan and North Dakota), one team from each that looks good but has a question mark due to their play out of conference (CC and Michigan State), and one team from each that is highly ranked but a question mark due to recent play (Denver and Miami).
I'm sure I've opened a can of worms, but the numbers just don't show this WCHA dominance that the Westerners love to throw out there. The conference is the best top to bottom, and it deserves respect having won five of the last six and six of the last eight titles (by four different teams to boot). But I think it's a tired argument that the middle of the CCHA is crap and the middle of the WCHA is phenomenal. Some years, they're right. But an average team is an average team and this year I think we've got a little SEC syndrome going on in the Dub. The top couple teams are really good. The next couple could get a little rowdy. After that, you've got some average teams that everyone elevates far too much just because of what conference they're in.