Three things

Three things I learned from this weekend in the WCHA …

 1. Mavericks make statement

Minnesota State has been an offensive-minded team for much of this season. But the Mavericks survived a tough, physical road series against No. 1 Michigan Tech and swept the Huskies with the help of its own brand of rock-solid defending along with the goaltending of junior Stephon Williams. The series could have tilted either way, with MSU winning two one-goal games and scoring twice in the third period of each game to get the sweep. Circle your calendar for Feb. 27-28 when the Mavericks and Huskies meet again in Mankato because it’s sure to be meaningful.

2. Don’t rest on Bowling Green

Sitting neck and neck with Minnesota State and two points behind Michigan Tech is Bowling Green, which, after sweeping Bemidji State (a team that probably deserves better than the 0-for in its last six games), has won six of its last seven games. The Falcons seem to know how to win the close games. Counting games that saw an empty-net goal at the end, Bowling Green is 4-2-1 in games decided by one goal or less. Six of those games have been decided by a 3-2 score.

3. Just got tougher

Alabama Huntsville and Lake Superior State scored big wins over the weekend, with the Chargers winning at Ferris State on Friday and the Lakers edging Alaska in overtime on Saturday, for series splits. That’s made for a clogged-up middle of the standings where teams will be battling for home ice in just a few months. Four points separate six teams sitting fourth to seventh. Huntsville is 3-2-1 in its last six games and 2-6-0 in conference games (a schedule that has already seen Minnesota State and Bowling Green). Meanwhile, the Lakers are 3-2-0 in their last five games and 3-7-0 in league play.

WCHA picks, Nov. 21-22

For the first time this season, all 10 WCHA teams are in action against one another. It should make for a more exiting weekend than we’ve seen before this season — all five series will have four league points on the line.

Which teams will separate themselves from the pack? Will Michigan Tech remain undefeated? Can Alaska pick up its first win?

Most importantly: Will either Shane or I be able to pull away from one another in the pick ‘em standings?


Anyway, I’m pretty excited about this weekend. I’ll be able to watch all 10 games from afar from my compound on the shores of Lake Bemidji (well, more like newsroom office building a couple miles from the actual shore of Lake Bemidji, but who’s counting?). Shane, meanwhile, will be in Houghton, Mich., for the best college hockey series of the week.

Let’s see who picks best.

Minnesota State (7-3-0, 5-1-0) at Michigan Tech (10-0-0, 8-0-0)

Jack: I’m a little jealous you get to be at series game, Shane. But raise your hand if you expected this to be a game between the top two teams in the Pairwise at any point this season (MSU perhaps… Tech no). That said: Michigan Tech is a really fun team to watch. I saw them play perhaps their worst two games of the season last week against Bemidji State and still find a way to win. And Tech goaltender Jamie Phillips might be a legitimate Hobey Baker candidate if he stays as hot as he has lately. Despite all that, I still don’t think Tech is going to go 44-0-0 this season. If anyone can beat this Huskies team right now, it’s the Mavericks. I’m picking a split. Huskies 3-2, Mavericks 3-2.

Shane: I’ll admit: I love the road trip to Houghton. This year, however, takes the cake with No. 1 vs. No. 9 (or No. 2, if you like early Pairwise chatter). This should be a fantastic WCHA — no, college hockey — series, and I just hope the lake-effect snow subsides for a bit so I can get there on time! I think these two teams split. Huskies 4-3, Mavericks 3-2

Bemidji State (3-7-0, 2-4-0) at Bowling Green (8-3-1, 5-1-0)

Jack: There’s not much more the Beavers can do other than hope for a some freak illnesses. After scoring 10 goals in a sweep of the Alaska Nanooks at the Sanford Center, Bemidji State has played four pretty outstanding games in a  row and lost each of them (special teams could use some work, but 5-on-5 the Beavers have been excellent). Granted, they played Minnesota State and Michigan Tech — two of the best teams in the country — but there wasn’t much separating the Beavers from either team. At some point the wins have to come if BSU is going to keep playing at this high level, but this week doesn’t get any easier against a sneaky good under-the-radar Bowling Green team. I’m going to call a split so long as the Beavers can finally get some bounces to go their way. Falcons 5-4, Beavers 4-2

Shane: Seems like Bemidji State deserved better than to go 0-4 with the way it played the last two weeks against Minnesota State and Michigan Tech. Now it gets no easier with a road series against a very good Bowling Green team. I think the Falcons are a legit MacNaughton Cup contender, but the Beavers are going to flex some muscle and force a split. Beavers 4-2, Falcons 4-2

Alabama Huntsville (2-8-2, 1-5-0) at Ferris State (6-5-0, 3-3-0)

Jack: Did the Bulldogs finally figure it out? They scored 14 goals last weekend after getting just 11 in their first nine games. It’s hard to tell if that was just an anomaly against a road-weary Anchorage team. The Chargers, meanwhile, aren’t the Chargers of the past three years. They have a legitimate goaltending duo and are learning how to play in the WCHA. I can see the Chargers scoring at least a point. Bulldogs 4-2, Chargers 2-1

Shane: If these two teams had played a week ago, I might have been poised to pick an upset, just because of the Chargers’ goaltending and the Bulldogs’ scoring woes. Then Ferris State went and hung 14 goals on Anchorage. Huntsville might keep things close with Carmine Guerriero trying to match C.J. Motte in net, but Ferris sweeps. Bulldogs 3-0, 4-1

Alaska (5-5-0, 0-4-0) at Lake Superior State (2-10-0, 2-6-0)

Jack: I have no idea what to make of this series. It’s weird that the Nanooks, with all that talent, are winless in the WCHA right now. It makes sense, however, considering their recent tribulations. Lake State, meanwhile, has just two wins overall and hasn’t looked super impressive in either. I’m not sure how this is going to play out but I’m going to pick an Alaska sweep simply because I don’t know if the Lakers can score enough to beat the Nanooks. Nanooks 6-4, 3-1

Shane: I wonder if the week off was good for the Nanooks, who have lost five in a row and had the bombshell of NCAA sanctions go off in the middle of it all. This weekend’s long trip to the Sault could be an interesting look at where their heads are at. Meanwhile, the Lakers appear to be playing better after their 0-9 start. Nanooks 5-2, Lakers 2-1

Northern Michigan (6-1-1, 3-1-0) at Alaska Anchorage (4-6-2, 1-5-0)

Jack: Much like Bowling Green, NMU is another sneaky good team . Mathias Dahlstrom is the best goaltender in the country, and leads the nation in goals against (0.74), save percentage (.970) and shutouts (3). Still, that Alaska trip is never easy. So I’m picking a split and can see Dahlstrom faltering a little bit in the first game and giving up TWO WHOLE GOALS in a loss before rebounding Saturday with a shutout. Seawolves 2-1, Wildcats 3-0.

Shane: A road-weary Seawolves team returns home after 11 days in Michigan in hopes of snapping a five-game losing streak. A rested Wildcats club begins a two-weekend Alaska trek and has the best goaltender in the country going for them. Still not ready to call for an Alaska school to get swept at home. Wildcats 3-1, Seawolves 2-1

Last week: Shane 4-4-0, Jack 4-4-0.

Overall: Shane 43-27-5, Jack 44-26-5.

What I think I learned about the WCHA last weekend

A couple things I may or may not have learned during a weird weekend in the WCHA:

Ferris finds its scoring touch

After scoring just 11 goals through nine games nearly matched that in their series opener against Alaska-Anchorage. Maybe it was just the odd (for the WCHA) Thursday night game catching the road-weary Seawolves off guard, but the Bulldogs pounded Anchorage 10-2. By the time the weekend was over Friday night, Ferris had scored four more goals and won 4-0.

It’s the kind of offensive explosion the Bulldogs, now 6-5-0 overall and 3-3-0 in the conference, needed if they want to get back on track and defend their MacNaughton Cup title. Goaltender CJ Motte started the season as a legitimate Hobey Baker frontrunner, but he can’t win games by himself — he definitely needs his teammates to start scoring if they’re going to make a Frozen Four run.

Huskies off to best start ever

Undefeated Michigan Tech is already  the talk of the college hockey world. Now, the 10-0-0 Huskies are in the midst of to the best start in the school’s 94-year hockey history. That’s a lot of hockey history, so to be this good for this long at the beginning of the season is pretty significant. With their 2-1 win over Bemidji State Friday night, the Huskies moved to 9-0, which got them the record. Any subsequent win is gravy.

One sign of Michigan Tech’s staying power: During Saturday night’s game — a 4-2 comeback victory — the Huskies trailed for the first time since their Oct. 4 opener at Lake Superior State. In both games, Tech was badly outshot and outplayed but still found a way to win.

That streak might be in danger this weekend, though — the marquee matchup in the WCHA, if not all off college hockey, finds the Huskies hosting Minnesota State. The Huskies and the Mavs are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively in the early-season USCHO Pairwise rankings.

Those rankings obviously need to be taken with a grain of salt (every team hasn’t played enough games for them to be 100%  accurate). But would anyone have guessed those two teams would be at the top of the heap more than a quarter into the season?

Splitsville for Chargers & Lakers, Falcons

Three other teams were active this past weekend, and all went 1-1.

Alabama-Huntsville hosted Lake Superior State in Huntsville, and the teams split with a pair of wildly entertaining games. The Lakers won 1-0 Friday night, while the Chargers won 5-2 Saturday night. Saturday’s game was Huntsville’s first win at home against a Division I team since Jan. 8, 2011.

It might be true that the Lakers are significantly worse this year than they were last season (they lost a lot of pieces from a decent team in 2013-14), but as I wrote last week, the Chargers are a much-improved team as well. They’re starting to look like a Division I team again, which was difficult in the years that they wandered in the Independent desert. Neither the Chargers and the Lakers are great teams, but both have a legitimate spot at a WCHA playoff spot since Alaska is ineligible this season. The Lakers have two WCHA wins and four points, tied with Bemidji State for sixth in the standings, while the Chargers have just one conference win and two points (their tie against Northern Michigan wasn’t a league game) and are tied for Anchorage for eighth in the league table.

Meanwhile, No. 19 Bowling Green split a home-and-home series with instate rivals Ohio State. Each team won 3-2 games in the other teams’ rinks. The Buckeyes won in Bowling Green Friday while the Falcons won in Columbus Saturday. The Falcons (8-3-1) also split their home-and-home series earlier this season against another instate rival (Miami), both by 3-2 scores.

Bowling Green, tied for second in the WCHA standings with Minnesota State with 10 points, returns to conference play this weekend hosting Bemidji State.

WCHA picks, Nov. 13-15

Getting things started a day earlier since there’s a game tonight …

It’s been a tough year making picks so far, but I finally had a good week and am closing in on you, Jack!

Looking back at last week, I saw we got ripped by Alaska assistant coach Lance West for expecting the Nanooks “to get just waxed” by Bowling Green. I know it was a tough week in Fairbanks with the NCAA sanctions coming down and the two losses to the Falcons, but for the record, I picked his team to win one of those games. Turns out that was my lone loss in the picks. Where’s the love, Lance?

As I always say, I’m just glad people are reading.

Well, let’s see who we can irritate (or motivate) this week:

Alaska Anchorage at Ferris State

Shane: It’s a rare Thursday-Friday series, but perhaps the shakeup can get these two teams to start scoring some goals. It sure hasn’t been easy, especially for the Bulldogs. First team to 1 has a big advantage. So with it coming down to goalies, I’m going to take senior C.J. Motte at home over freshman Olivier Mantha in a hostile environment (no knock on Mantha, who’s off to a fantastic start). Motte … er … Bulldogs 1-0, 2-1

Jack: It’s still awfully strange to see that both Alabama-Huntsville and Lake State have more goals in about as many games as the Bulldogs (10 to FSU’s 9). This should be a pretty fun series if you like closely contested goalie battles. Motte takes one and Mantha takes the other. Bulldogs 2-1, Seawolves 2-1 

Lake Superior State at Alabama Huntsville

Shane: Who would have guessed these two teams would be squaring off with the chance to extend unbeaten streaks? The Lakers won their last game, Nov. 1 at Alaska Anchorage (curious to see how they come off their much-needed bye), while the Chargers won and tied at Air Force last week and are unbeaten in three of four. I’m thinking a split is in the works, and I’m thinking both teams would be happy with that. Chargers 3-1, Lakers 2-1

Jack: This should be a fun series, I think. Huntsville’s goaltending tandem of Carmine Guerriero and Matt Larose is awfully good and has been able to keep them in games all year. I’d wager that life is a whole lot easier for them when they aren’t facing 40-plus shots every game, too. The Lakers have struggled a bit offensively so I can actually see the Chargers sweeping this one. Chargers 3-1, 2-1

Michigan Tech at Bemidji State

Shane: Should be a good series in Jack’s neck of the woods with the undefeated Huskies coming to town. I liked the Beavers’ resiliency last weekend despite dropping two games in Mankato, and they’ll give Tech all they can handle, especially being at home. Will it be enough to hand the Huskies their first loss? I’m sayin’ there’s a chance. Huskies 5-2. Beavers 3-2

Jack: I missed all the games last week due to a little vacation so I didn’t get a chance to see either team in action, but from what I hear the Beavers had the same look they’ve had all year against the top-ranked teams they’ve played — they’re just as skilled but playing catch-up doesn’t suit them well. On the other hand, the Huskies are the real deal. But I don’t think the Beavers are going to be intimidated (see: Bemidji State at North Dakota, Oct. 10, 2014). I can see then scoring a split. Beavers 4-2, Huskies 5-3

Bowling Green vs. Ohio State (home and home)

Shane: The stat of the week is the WCHA’s record against the Big Ten this season, which is 9-3-1. Does that mean the WCHA’s good and the Big Ten’s bad? I think we can agree on the former, for certain. The latter? Well, there’s Minnesota and … everyone else. Conference aside, I’m all in on the Falcons. They’re good, and I think they keep things rolling — for them and for the WCHA. Falcons 3-2, 4-1

Jack: Shane, the correct answer is the Big Ten is good and just gave away all those games. I mean, how can the WCHA be good? There aren’t any big-name programs in that league! How can they possibly recruit against those brand names? That 9-3-1 record doesn’t mean anything other than the Big Ten schools weren’t trying hard enough! (NOTE: FULL SARCASM DRIPPING FROM THOSE SENTENCES) But for real, Bowling Green is going to sweep this series. That’s what usually happens when a good team plays a team that isn’t as good. Falcons 5-3, 3-1

Last week: Shane 8-1-1, Jack 6-3-1. Overall: Shane 39-23-5, Jack 40-22-5

Tech goalie also serves his country

Michigan Tech senior goaltender Matt Messina served a three-month tour in Afghanistan with the Minnesota Air National Guard.

As part of an F-16 crew, the Duluth native worked avionics (communications, navigation, weapon delivery and flight controls). His unit served as air support for troops that were in a firefight or pinned down.

Three things

1. Separation Saturday

Some teams are nearing the quarter pole of the conference season, and we’re starting to see a little bit of daylight between the top teams and rest of the pack. Michigan Tech continued to roll as it remained undefeated and atop the standings with its sweep of Alaska Anchorage. The Huskies are 8-0-0 for the first time since 1972-73. I was 9 months old when that season began! Minnesota State and Bowling Green kept pace with their own impressive sweeps, remaining two points back and hoping not to let Tech get too far ahead, like Ferris State did a year ago.

2. Strong between the posts

This league has some very good goaltenders. I thought about this while sitting in the Verizon Wireless Center press box in Mankato and seeing one of last year’s best goalies, Minnesota State’s Cole Huggins, struggle and get replaced by Stephon Williams. Williams has seven wins and a .901 save percentage. Coaches love the 90-percent threshold, but that number ranks 11th in the league. Northern Michigan’s Mathias Dahlstrom is at .970, and Tech’s Jamie Phillips is at .957. Ferris State’s C.J. Motte, who is 4-5-0, is at .946. Motte and Dahlstrom had quite the battle this weekend, each shutting out the other’s team in a series split, while Phillips allowed one goal against Anchorage.

3. From the Great Lakes to the Bering Strait

It’s time for the WCHA to embrace its gigantic footprint, one that includes three time zones. If you’re a fan of the league, a Friday or Saturday night means you can watch more than six straight hours of hockey. The league may not be getting the ESPN treatment, but prior to the Minnesota State-Bemidji State games, I was able to watch parts of Northern Michigan-Ferris State and Michigan Tech-Alaska Anchorage on WCHA.tv, then covered the Mavericks-Beavers games. After writing, I returned home, grabbed a cold beverage and was able to watch the end of the Alaska-Bowling Green games. Pretty cool, even if there remain a few technical glitches to work out.

WCHA picks, Nov. 7-8

This post was all going to be fun and games until we learned late Wednesday night about the deep sanctions imposed on the Alaska athletic department by the NCAA.

Now, I don’t know what to think.

Said sanctions include a postseason ban on the Nanooks hockey team for this season, along with scholarship reductions and a $30,000 fine. (Other sports, like the men’s and women’s basketball and even the women’s ski team, are receiving similar punishments).

To be sure, the Nanooks certainly screwed up department-wide eligibility infractions, involving 40 athletes in nine of the school’s 10 sports between 2007 and 2011. But it seems like a harsh penalty for what amounts to, and I’m paraphrasing Chris Dilks of SB Nation College Hockey here, putting the wrong cover letter on their TPS reports. If you’d like some light reading, the entire 44-page NCAA report is here.

For the purposes of the WCHA, the NCAA’s decision is significant because it means the Nanooks will also miss out on the conference playoffs this year.

While this doesn’t alter the playoff format — there will still be eight teams in the tournament — it does mean that the conference’s ninth-place team is going to make the playoffs (provided that team is not Alaska).

That may rob the league of some of the drama was had a season ago, when nine teams were fighting for eight playoff spots in the last month of the season.

I’m sure Alaska will still give their conference foes some great games — they have a solid team and a, before the ban, had a legitimate shot at making a deep WCHA playoff run. But something is definitely going to be a bit weird for teams playing the Nanooks all season.

Anyway, I’m off my soapbox now (and it’s not anything others haven’t said elsewhere… and I’m sure Shane has more to add). On to the picks. They’re going up a little bit early this week because I’m going to a wedding in Michigan Friday and Saturday.

Maybe I should print out the NCAA report to bring with me on the plane?

Ferris State (3-4-0, 0-2-0) at Northern Michigan (5-0-1, 2-0-0)

Jack: Not sure I would have picked Ferris to be the one with a losing record and NMU to be the undefeated one at this point in the season, but here we are. The Bulldogs have faced a tougher schedule —  on the road against St. Lawrence and Michigan State and games against Michigan and Michigan Tech — but I’m not discounting the Wildcats. They’ve been one of the top defensive teams in the country through six games (small sample size, obviously, and against both LSSU and Huntsville, but still) so it will be interesting to see how they fare against a better offensive team. If it was in Big Rapids I would have called it a narrow FSU sweep, but I’ll call for the split in Marquette. Wildcats 4-2, Bulldogs 5-1.

Shane: Why does this feel like a must-win weekend for Ferris State? At the very least, it’s a must-score weekend for the Bulldogs, who have just three goals in their last five games. I don’t care how good C.J. Motte is, you’re not going to win many games with that rate. Northern Michigan is off to a great start, but I’m still in a bit of a prove-it mode when it comes to the Wildcats because of their schedule. I sense a low-scoring split. Bulldogs 1-0, Wildcats 1-0

Alaska Anchorage (4-2-2, 1-1-0) at Michigan Tech (6-0-0, 4-0-0)

Jack: After their hot start, the Seawolves have struggled a bit — including a loss to previously winless Lake Superior. Michigan Tech, meanwhile, looks legit. Even if Michigan might not be the team we thought they were, that offensive firepower the Huskies showed off is nothing to shake a stick at. I’m calling a big Huskies sweep. Huskies 4-1, 5-2

Shane: I’m not in prove-it mode when it comes to Tech. I think they’re legit, winning two games at Ferris State and sweeping Michigan at home on a weekend full of hype and potential distractions. I don’t know how long they’ll be able to keep it up, but they’ve certainly got a good thing going right now and still will after the weekend. Huskies 3-2, 4-2

Bemidji State (3-3-0, 2-0-0) at Minnesota State (5-3-0, 3-1-0)

Jack: This is the series of the weekend in the WCHA (it seems like we say that often about series that the Mavericks are in). But this one should be entertaining. The Beavers are coming off a sweep against the Nanooks in which they scored 10 goals. It’s the type of scoring depth I haven’t seen from a BSU team in a long time. Meanwhile, MSU keeps playing about as well as folks have been expecting, minus their troubles in goal. This could be a high-scoring series and I’m kind of mad I have to go to this wedding instead of Mankato (well, maybe not… open bar…). I’ll call a high scoring split. Mavericks 5-4, Beavers 6-3

Shane: Disappointed you won’t be down in Mankato for this series, Jack. Can’t offer you an open bar but would have been happy to buy you a tasty beverage. Perhaps next March in Bemidji. You have to be impressed with what the Beavers are doing right now. Seems like a veteran team doing veteran things. The Mavericks have a ton of talent up front, of course, and their own veteran experience. Since it’s in Mankato where the Mavericks have been so good under Mike Hastings, and not in Bemidji I’m calling an MSU sweep. Mavericks 4-3, 4-2

Bowling Green (5-2-1, 3-1-0) at Alaska (5-3-0, 0-2-0)

Jack: While the Bemidji/Mankato matchup may be the most promising from a competitive standpoint, this one will certainly be from a storyline standpoint. How do the Nanooks respond after news of those sanctions? Do they pack it in or do they get mad? I have no idea, but I know the Falcons can score. And after how the Alaska goaltenders played last week, I don’t have much faith in them stopping the Falcons. BGSU sweep. Falcons 5-1, 6-2.

Shane: The more I think about this Alaska situation, the more harsh it sounds. I’ve never liked the idea of punishing current student-athletes for violations that took place before their time. In this situation, it seems worse because the problem was Alaska’s own administrative oversight. What advantage is gained by punishing the kids? Unless the school isn’t doing what it should to rectify the situation (and all signs point to it doing so), I see no reason to be so harsh. How will the Nanooks respond? Long trip for a good Falcons team, too. Falcons 4-1, Nanooks 3-2

Alabama Huntsville (0-7-1) at Air Force (2-5-0)

Jack: I was going to say, “Poor Huntsville,” for them getting a tie but not earning a conference point due to a scheduling quirk. But also, “Poor Air Force!” The Falcons were beating North Dakota 2-0 in Grand Forks before UND came back to beat them 3-2 in overtime on a shorthanded goal with 7 seconds left. Ouch. (But at least UND fans can be empathetic, as they know how it feels to be on the other side of that, too). As far as this series go, UAH’s goalies are playing out of their minds right now. Maybe this is the weekend one of them can steal a low-scoring win? Chargers 2-1, Falcons 3-1.

Shane:  Huntsville continues to rotate its excellent goaltenders each night, and I can’t blame coach Mike Corbett for that, considering they’re the two best players on his team. But I think Carmine Guerrero has a little more of the magic touch and is more capable of stealing a game, just as he stole a tie last week in Marquette. I think he does that on Friday against his coach’s old employer. Chargers 1-0, Falcons 3-1

Last week: Jack 6-5-1, Shane 5-6-1. Overall: Jack 34-19-4, Shane 31-22-4

Three things about the WCHA last weekend: Huskies, Beavers and Lakers, oh my!

1. Michigan Tech might be for real.

The Huskies hosted Michigan for the first time since 1983 this past weekend. The end result was a sweep of epic proportions. Tech won 4-1 Friday (in front of the Stanley Cup!) and 6-2 Saturday, giving the Huskies a perfect 6-0-0 record.

Four different Huskies scored goals Friday, and six different players scored Saturday, while Jamie Phillips continued his hot streak and stopped 54 Wolverine shots on the weekend.

It’s exactly the kind of performance Tech head coach Mel Pearson was looking for in his team’s home opener — he said last week he was worried about the potential for a letdown for his team playing at home for such a big series.

Luckily, that didn’t happen, and the Huskies are now 6-0-0 after sweeping away two ranked teams.

Pearson said at the beginning of the season that, on paper, this was the deepest offensive team he’s ever had since taking over the head job in 2011. With weekends like this, he might have a point.

Houghton Daily Mining Gazette sports editor Brandon Veale put it best in a Tweet after game two: “If this is the #mtuhky team we’re getting all season, look the hell out college hockey world.”

2. Bemidji State shows off at home

After upsetting then No. 2 North Dakota in Grand Forks in their season opener (unrelated, but I have a feeling that result is going to be discussed all season, no matter how each teams’ seasons play out), the Beavers lost their next three (the next night at home against UND then at No. 1 Minnesota).

This weekend’s result against No. 16 Alaska showed that the Beavers aren’t just a one-hit wonder. BSU swept the Nanooks in Bemidji, routing Alaska 6-1 Friday before winning 4-3 in overtime Saturday.

Both wins showed BSU’s improved offensive depth and versatility compared to the last few seasons. The Beavers have already scored 21 goals in six games, with 10 players having at least a goal. Four are tied for the team-lead with three, and perhaps most surprising is that none of those are Cory Ward (who did, however, score Saturday’s overtime game-winner).

Ward has just two goals, but guys like fourth-liner Charlie O’Connor (who had two goals in all of last season) has three, as does Markus Gerbrandt, Nate Arentz and Brendan Harms (who happen to share the same line).

The Beavers have a difficult upcoming schedule, taking on Minnesota State, Michigan Tech and Bowling Green back-to-back-to-back. All three teams ahead of them in the standings so far. If they can keep up this kind of scoring, BSU might be a force in the WCHA.

3. Lakers breathe sigh of relief

Lake Superior State won’t start the season 0-10 after all.

The Lakers stole a 3-2 overtime win Saturday night in Anchorage, snapping their nine-game losing streak to start the season.

Bryce Schmitt, the team leader with three goals, scored Friday’s game-winner for the Lakers, who had lost 3-2 the previous night despite outshooting the Seawolves 29-24.

Under new head coach Damon Whitten, the Lakers have been playing nonstop since Oct. 4. Their schedule included trips to Robert Morris, Notre Dame and Anchorage, and they already have five WCHA losses.

So getting their first win before going into this bye week — the Lakers’ first break this season — couldn’t have come at a better time for Whitten, who now has a week to get his players ready for another grueling stretch in November and December that features trips to Huntsville, Grand Forks and Ferris State and home games against strong Alaska and Minnesota State teams.

WCHA picks, Oct. 31

I’ve never been a big fan of the slow, unbalanced rollout of the WCHA schedule. I’d love to see everybody begin league play together and then have the schedulers do their best to keep games in hand to a minimum as the season progresses. Yes, this comes from the it-was-my-understanding-there’d-be-no-math department, but I think everybody wants to know where teams actually stand in the standings.

This week, the three teams yet to play a conference series — Alaska, Alaska Anchorage and Bemidji State — finally get to play for points, and there are definitely some intriguing matchups in league play this weekend. Out of league play, too, actually.

All right, Jack, I’m off my soapbox now. Let’s pick:

Minnesota State at Bowling Green

Shane: On paper, this is the best series of the weekend. These are two very good teams who met five times last year, with each of their regular-season meetings being decided by one goal and three of those going into overtime. No one should be surprised if that happens again. I’m thinking split here. Falcons 2-1. Mavericks 3-2

Jack: The Falcons and the Mavs are the best scoring offenses in the WCHA right now, with 21 goals each in six games. I don’t have any reason to pick against a split. It may be a high-scoring weekend. Mavericks 5-4, Falcons 5-3

Alaska at Bemidji State

Shane: I’m intrigued by this series, too. The Nanooks are off to a hot start but are in the midst of a road trip now. The Beavers, meanwhile, held their own with that killer early-season schedule. Getting one win in four games against North Dakota and Minnesota is nothing to sneeze at. Should be a good series split for you to cover, Jack. Beavers 3-1. Nanooks 4-1

Jack: The Beavers played really well against the Gophers last weekend — especially Saturday – and I think Tom Serratore was disappointed his team couldn’t pick up at least one win. Regardless, they looked much better skating on the big ice than they have in years past, which is encouraging. As for the Nanooks, it will be interesting to see how they perform after this extended road trip — they’ve been in Michigan last Thursday and will be driving 750 miles to Minnesota. I have a hard time picking against a split. Beavers 4-1. Nanooks 3-2

Lake Superior at Alaska Anchorage

Shane: Damon Whitten, what have you walked into? This has been a brutal schedule for the new coach, and, yes, I’m going to keep saying that until the Lakers finally get a breather. Playing Tech on the first weekend of practice, trips to Robert Morris and Notre Dame, home against Northern, now a trip to Anchorage. Sounds like punishment. The Seawolves, meanwhile, return home where they play pretty good hockey. Seawolves 3-2, 3-0

Jack: Just about the only bright spot for the Lakers is that when they’ve scored, they’ve been able to spread it up and down the lineup, which is encouraging for a team that before the season was basically viewed as “Alex GHlobke and Co.” The question is if they can put more goals on the board and get some wins. I don’t think that happens this weekend. Seawolves 5-2, 3-2

Michigan at Michigan Tech

Shane: On to nonconference play, and everybody’s excited in Houghton and the return of the Wolverines after more than 30 years. Plus, the Stanley Cup, the MacNaughton Cup and other trophies are going to be in town. It’s a hockey smorgasbord! Dare we say that the Huskies should be favored in this series? Can Mel Pearson turn the tables on his old mentor, Red Berenson? He will one night, for sure. Huskies 4-2. Wolverines 5-3

Jack: It’s definitely going to be an insane atmosphere this weekend in the Keweenaw. But when I talked to Mel Pearson the other day he was a bit concerned simply because this is a heck of a lot of distractions for a home opener. Will the Huskies be able to overcome it and win? I think they may stumble Friday then rally for a big win Saturday. Wolverines 4-3 (OT), Huskies 6-3. 

Ferris State at Michigan State

Shane: Another series where the WCHA team should be favored over the Big Ten team. Ferris State has to be a little bitter after dropping those two games at home to Michigan Tech last weekend. Now, the Bulldogs will go down the road to face their old CCHA foe. They’ve beaten Sparty four times in a row. I see that streak going to six. Bulldogs 3-1, 2-1

Jack: Much like Minnesota, the Wolverines and Spartans should be given some credit for continuing to play their in-state rivals and not big-timing them after bolting for the Big Ten. The Bulldogs have won nine of the past 11 meetings against MSU and two straight at Munn. But Ferris has lost three straight (at St. Lawrence and home against Michigan Tech). I think that streak ends with a sweep. Bulldogs 4-2, 4-3

Alabama Huntsville at Northern Michigan (nonconference)

Shane: With scheduling in the new WCHA (At what point do we stop calling it new? Probably now.), the Chargers and the Wildcats opted to keep this nonconference series on the schedule this year. They play each other just one weekend in league play. The Chargers will be kicking themselves in January if they steal a win or two this weekend and get no points out of it. The rest of the league will be annoyed, too. Considering NMU’s start, I don’t see that happening, though.Wildcats 4-1, 4-1

Jack: This is an odd bit of scheduling for sure. The Chargers have been playing better and they might be in both of these games with their goaltenders but I also can’t see them stealing a win.Wildcats 2-1, 4-2


What I learned about the WCHA this weekend

Three things I think I learned after this weekend’s games.

1. Here come the Huskies

Michigan Tech pulled off an impressive sweep at Ferris State, handing the eighth-ranked Bulldogs their first home losses since Oct. 18, 2013 against St. Lawrence. The last time Ferris State was swept at home was Feb. 18-19, 2011 against Notre Dame. Tech goalie Jamie Phillips out-dueled C.J. Motte, stopping 67 of 68 shots on the weekend. That has to be very encouraging for the Huskies, who lost last season’s No. 1 goalie, Pheonix Copley, to the pros with two years of eligibility remaining. Phillips played in 13 games last year, although he played in all four games against Ferris State, going 1-3. “(Phillips) battled all weekend,” Tech coach Mel Pearson said. “It’s the hardest I’ve seen him battle, and you can really see how focused he is right now.

2. Beware the Chargers

Alabama Huntsville may be 0-6, but with goalies Carmine Guerriero and Matt Larose, it seems like only a matter of time before they steal some points away from their WCHA foes. On Friday, Guerriero stopped 54 of 57 points in a 3-1 loss at No. 13 Minnesota State and kept the high-octane Mavericks scoreless for more than two periods. The next night Larose had 37 saves in a 4-1 loss in which his team was in a 1-1 tie midway through the second periods. “Our goalies are good,” Chargers coach Mike Corbett told The Free Press of Mankato, Minn., on Friday. “I don’t know what (Larose) is going to do tomorrow night, but he’s good, too. They’re going to give us a chance to win.” Each has played three games, and Guerriero has stopped 127 of 137 (.927) shots and Larose has stopped 122 of 134 (.910).

3. Shall we keep talking about goalies?

Why not. There have been some impressive performances in net so far in this young season, including this past weekend. Alaska Anchorage lost and tied at Maine, but it wasn’t because of goaltending. Freshman Oliver Mantha stopped 46 of 49 shots in Saturday’s 3-3 tie and had 83 saves in the series, which also included a 3-1 loss on Friday. Phillips, Northern Michigan’s Mathias Dahlstrom and Minnesota State’s Stephon Williams each improved to 4-0-0 with their teams’ sweeps. Dahlstrom, who stopped 50 of 52 shots in the Wildcats’ two victories at Lake Superior State, leads the WCHA with a .968 save percentage and a 0.75 goals-against average. He has two shutouts, including a 23-save blanking of the Lakers on Saturday. Williams appears to be back to his good form of two years ago after losing his starting position to eventual league goaltending champion Cole Huggins last season.

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