The Wayne State hockey team will be traveling the least out of the three visiting teams going to Yost Ice Arena this weekend. But its journey means so much more.

For the first time ever, College Hockey America will be represented in the NCAA Tournament, and the Warriors are now carrying the burden of proving that the CHA belongs. With the expansion of the tournament to 16 teams this year, the CHA Tournament winner is now given an automatic bid. In the past, CHA teams have not been ranked high enough in the Pairwise Rankings to ever be considered for a NCAA bid.

“This is the first time their conference has been represented in the tournament – there’s a lot of pride on the line,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said.

And though the fight for that lone bid was very competitive, now that the tournament spot has been given to Wayne State, other CHA coaches are rooting for the Midwest’s No. 4 seed when it goes up against possibly the best team in the nation in Colorado College.

“I will be cheering for the Warriors,” Findlay coach Craig Barnett said.

Along with rooting for them, Barnett knows that Wayne State can give Colorado College problems as a lower seed. The Warriors were the No. 3 seed in the CHA Tournament before upsetting No. 1 Alabama-Huntsville in the CHA semifinals and beating Bemidji State to earn the bid.

“Wayne State has a few things which could help them advance,” Barnett said. “One, the experience of head coach Bill Wilkinson. A veteran coach – (he spent) 17 years at Western Michigan – does a great job with adjustments when needed, and has his team playing a simple but effective system. Two, the players. This is a veteran group – 12 seniors – of players that know each others’ tendencies and have won some big games in their four years together. And three, goaltending. Dave Guerrera is a very solid goalie. He is not flashy and keeps things and movements to a minimum, but if he’s on early, he can win a game by himself. In these single elimination games, that is dangerous.”

Barnett also said that if the Warriors’ powerplay – led by seniors Jason Durbin and Dustin Kingston and freshman Derek MacKay – can get on the scoreboard, things will be going in Wayne State’s favor.

But as much as Wayne State may be able to play spoiler, Colorado College is still Colorado College.

“(The Warriors) lack the depth that a Colorado College team has,” Barnett said. “Wayne State’s top two lines can play, but their third and fourth lines aren’t as skilled as Colorado College’s.”

Also, if Wayne State is on the penalty kill a lot, don’t expect the Warriors to be walking out of Yost as winners. Wayne State gave up 20 powerplay goals in 111 attempts this year (just fourth-best in the CHA).

Despite the unlikeliness of its victory this weekend, Wayne State is still making steps for a pretty much unknown conference, and that, in itself, is a victory.

“They won when they had to, so they deserve to be there representing the CHA,” Barnett said.

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