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Three things, March 20

1. Save Ferris

As in, everybody’s out, save Ferris State. The Bulldogs knocked off both MacNaughton Cup co-champions and stole the Broadmoor Trophy and the WCHA’s auto-bid from under everybody’s noses. Coach Bob Daniels said after both games that the Broadmoor, a trophy the Bulldogs had never won before, was the team’s sole focus — nothing beyond Saturday night — and his team shut down two pretty powerful offenses. Ferris State shut out Michigan Tech, which scored more than 5 ½ goals per game over its seven-game winning streak heading into the Final Five. And then it held Minnesota State to just 14 shots on goal. The Mavericks’ previous season-low was 21 shots on goal.

2. Goalies galore

Goal scoring has come at a premium all season in the WCHA, and the Final Five proved just how tough goals have been to come by. A grand total of seven goals were scored in the three games. The goalies stoles the show so much that it was determined that Ferris State freshman Darren Smith, who allowed one goal on 44 shots, would be the Most Valuable Player and Minnesota State’s Cole Huggins, who allowed three goals (one a Gerald Mayhew penalty shot) on 53 shots, would get the goalie spot on the All-Tournament Team. Tech’s Jamie Phillips (32 saves) played one of his best games in the 1-0 loss to Ferris State, coach Mel Pearson said, and Bowling Green’s Chris Nell made 21 saves in the 2-1 loss to MSU.

3. One-bid conference

Pearson lamented the WCHA getting just one team in the national tournament this season, especially with his nine-loss team out. The league’s nonconference record hurt its teams this year, just as it helped them last year when Michigan Tech and Minnesota State went and Bowling Green barely missed out. The Mavericks saw their three-year NCAA run snapped. “I think the quality of the teams you see here (at the Final Five) says a lot about the league,” Pearson said. “I’d invite any team to come play in this league. … It’s a healthy league with great coaches and outstanding players.”

One more thing

More thoughts to WCHA referee Butch Mousseaux after the awful fall Friday that hospitalized him and put him in critical condition. As Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said after his team’s loss Friday: “It hurts to lose a hockey game, but at the end of the day it’s just a game. … Butchy’s been a beacon for our guys. (Former Maverick) Matt Leitner sent out a tweet today that he loved it when Butchy worked his games. Thoughts and prayers to him and his family.”

Final Five picks, March 18-19

Shane here …

Greetings from Grand Rapids, Mich., the site of the WCHA Final Five, where there should be a few good games this weekend. Too bad Jack can’t be here to join me in this fine city. The top four teams in the conference are here, even if two of them needed to win Game 3s to get here. Really, it’s anyone’s tournament to win, based on everything we’ve seen throughout the league this season. Let’s get to the picks.

Minnesota State vs. Bowling Green

Shane: These two teams went 1-1-2 against each other this season with two ties at Bowling Green and a series split in Mankato. The Mavericks are the two-time defending Broadmoor Trophy champions, and they have a boatload of veterans who were part of both of those runs. Bowling Green might have the best goalie in the tournament in Chris Nell, but I think the champs win another tight one. Mavericks 3, Falcons 2

Jack: First thing, Shane: As nice as it would have been to return to my home state, Bowling Green’s Game 3 win over Bemidji State last week ended that possibility. Bummer for me. Ah, well. You should be seeing a great matchup this weekend. After both teams went to three games in their quarterfinal series, I think both teams are vulnerable. Can the Falcons figure out how to frustrate the MSU offense like Lake Superior and Bemidji did in shutouts recently? If that happens, I can see them moving on. Whatever happens, this game will probably go to overtime. Sorry Shane. Hope you’re ready for a couple extra periods than normal. Falcons 3, Mavericks 2

Michigan Tech vs. Ferris State

Shane: These two teams split a pair of series this season, although both of those took place way back in October. The Bulldogs had a strong second half of the season, but it was nothing like the one the Huskies had. Tech has lost just once since the beginning of 2016, and I think that trend continues on Friday. Huskies 5, Bulldogs 2

Jack: Crazy to think Tech’s only loss in 2016 was a 3-0 shutout at the hands of Bemidji State. The Bulldogs have, against the odds, emerged from the post-C.J. Motte era still in great shape, but Tech seems to be on a mission. I don’t think they’re going to lose here. Huskies 4, Bulldogs 2

Michigan Tech vs. Minnesota State

Shane: Well, I have the league’s regular-season co-champions in the final for the ultimate tiebreaker. If Minnesota State wins and things go right around the rest of the country both of these teams will be playing next week. That would be great for the WCHA. However, the Huskies have been able to score goals in a league where there hasn’t been much goal scoring, averaging 5 ½ goals per game over it’s last seven wins. MSU doesn’t give up much, but this seems like Tech’s year. Huskies 4, Mavericks 3

Michigan Tech vs. Bowling Green

Jack: I have Tech going up against Bowling Green, but honestly I don’t think it matters which team the Huskies are going to play. They’re playing as well as any team in the country now and no matter what, I think they win the Broadmoor Trophy for the first time ever.. Like you said, this seems like Tech’s year. Huskies 4, Falcons 2

Three things about four teams in the Final Five

It was all chalk in this weekend’s WCHA quarterfinals, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some exciting series.

Michigan Tech, Minnesota State, Bowling Green and Ferris State will be playing in Grand Rapids, Mich., in next weekend’s Final Five — the same group that played in St. Paul last season.

Here’s what happened (and let the record show: None of the WCHA games this weekend went to overtime! And there were only two shutouts!):

1. Mavericks, Falcons need three

Both Minnesota State and Bowling Green needed three games to fend of the pesky Lakers of Lake Superior State and Beavers of Bemidji State.

Let’s start with the third-seeded Falcons, who played the weirdest series of the playoffs. The Beavers won 3-1 Friday when they scored at even strength, on the power play and shorthanded to win the special teams battle. On Saturday, though, the Falcons turned the tables, as they scored four power play goals on the nation’s fourth-best penalty kill then added two empty netters to win 7-2.

On Sunday, BG’s Chris Nell stopped 35 shots and the Falcons benefited from a pair of goal reviews — won that upheld one of their goals and another that called back one of the Beavers — to win an entertaining 3-1 finale.

The Mavericks, the No. 2 seed, survived on Friday after scoring two goals in the third period to win 5-2. On Saturday, though, Gordon Defiel took over. The sophomore goaltender stopped a ridiculous 57 shots — a record for a WCHA goaltender in a regulation game — as LSSU stole a 2-0 win and forced game 3.

MSU only took 32 shots on Defiel on Sunday but scored three times as they punched their ticket to the Final Five for the fourth consecutive season.

2. Michigan Tech wins big, then scrapes by to advance

Right now, it looks like the top-seeded Huskies are the only league team that even has a chance at an at-large bid. This weekend, they took two steps forward with a sweep of Alaska but only one game was easy.

Tech had played the Nanooks two weeks ago and swept them, but 6-5 regulation and 3-2 overtime victory. On Friday, they eased to a 7-1 win behind four points from Cliff Watson (a goal and three assist) and two goals from Joel L’Esperance, but on Saturday the fans in Houghton might have been feeling some deja vu. The Huskies had a 4-1 lead before the Nanooks cut it to 4-3 with second-period power play goals by Tyler Morley and Marcus Basara. Tech didn’t seal the deal until Malcolm Gould’s empty-netter with 35 seconds to play.

3. Wildcats fumble their chance

Ferris State swept Northern Michigan 3-2 and 5-2 but the Wildcats will likely be kicking themselves for letting a few chances slip away.

NMU rallied from a 2-0 deficit on Friday with a pair of third-period goals from Dominik Shine and Shane Sooth, but the Bulldogs’ Kyle Schempp scored the game-winner with 7 minutes to play and held on.

On Saturday night, though, the Wildcats had a chance to extend it to three games but two game misconduct calls cost them the game. Shine (their leading goal-scorer) was sent off in the second period, but NMU took a 2-1 lead with 14 minutes to play.

They couldn’t hold it. Ryan Trenz was sent off for checking from behind with 6:13 to go and Gerard Mayhew scored two power play goals in a span of 30 seconds to give the Bulldogs the lead. They added two more empty netters to escape to Grand Rapids again.

4. The matchups

This isn’t exactly a fourth thing, but here are the matchups: No. 1 Michigan Tech will take on No. 4 Ferris State and No. 2 Minnesota State vs. No. 3 Bowling Green. The league will determine later this week which game will start at which time, but they’re scheduled to start at 4:07 and 7 :37 p.m. EDT at Van Andel Arena.

And in case you were wondering: Both Tech/Ferris and MSU/BG should be pretty fun. The Huskies and Bulldogs split their season series (with each team winning one at home and one on the road), but that was way back in October so it’s should be entertaining and unpredictable. The Falcons and Mavs tied twice in Ohio and split their series in Mankato.

One thing for certain: Because nobody is guaranteed an at-large bid, it should be three wide-open, back-and-forth hockey games between four desperate, hungry teams.

Quarterfinal picks, March 11-13

Shane here …

The playoffs are here, and, as I’ve thought throughout the year, it’s a wide-open race for the Broadmoor Trophy. Based on the way teams have defended and tended goal this season, as well as the vast number of low-scoring, one-goal games (not to mention the ties, dear God, the ties!), it would not shock me if any of these eight teams somehow get to Grand Rapids and keep things rolling from there. Having said that, yeah, I picked all the home teams to move on, but I also picked three of the series to go to a third game on Sunday. Honestly, there are few outcomes that would truly surprise me this weekend. On to the picks!

Alaska at Michigan Tech

Shane: Congratulations, Huskies, on your first MacNaughton Cup title in 40 years and the No. 1 seed for the league playoffs! Your reward? Only the team that mounted a furious comeback against you in one game and took you to overtime in your barn two weeks ago. Sure, you won those games, but now the Nanooks have their best player, Tyler Morely, back from injury. I can’t pick against Tech here, but something tells me these teams might be playing on Sunday. Huskies 4-1, Nanooks 3-2, Huskies 6-2

Jack: I agree that Tyler Morley’s return gives the Nanooks a huge advantage and a much better chance than they might have had. But I think Tech is going to take care of business this weekend. The Huskies want to get back to the NCAA Tournament and the best way to do that is to go 2-0 this weekend. I think this is going to be close, and maybe we’ll go to overtime first, but the Huskies win two. Huskies 5-6, 3-2 

Lake Superior State at Minnesota State

Shane: This is a rematch of last year’s first-round series, one in which the Mavericks rolled. They haven’t been quite as prolific scoring-wise this season, except when they played Lake. Superior State in January when the outscored the visitors 13-1 in the two games. This is a good matchup for the co-champs, not so much for the young-and-improved Lakers. Mavericks 5-1, 4-2

Jack: The Lakers are a much better team than they were last year when the Mavericks outscored LSSU 13-4 in a sweep. But like you said, Shane, this was probably the worst matchup the Lakers could have gotten for a first-round playoff matchup (I’m sure they would have much preferred potential series against Tech and BG, both of which they played very closely this season). Alas, this isn’t the case. The Mavs are going back to the Final Five with relative ease. Mavericks 6-1, 4-1

Bemidji State at Bowling Green

Shane: This is an interesting matchup, as the home team has been very good in its own rink this season (10-4-5), while the road team has been very good away from home (9-5-2). There’s no other series in which the first goal of the game carries more weight. If the Beavers can get an early lead, as they did last Saturday in Mankato, look out; they know how to defend. It may not be pretty, but it’s effective. I think the Falcons eke out the win in three very physical games. Falcons 4-3, Beavers 2-1, Falcons 3-2

Jack: Not sure which team has the advantage here. The Falcons play incredibly well in their own rink and the Beavers are excellent on the road. The game could be crowded and rowdy: Although BG is on spring break, Falcon great Rob Blake is going to be paying for free student tickets to the game. Bowling Green played well against the Beavers earlier this season, but BSU is playing much better hockey right now. I think this is going to go the distance and BSU will get the win. Beavers 2-1, Falcons 3-2, Beavers 5-3

Northern Michigan at Ferris State

Shane: Who smells overtime? And lots of it? These two teams each played in 11 overtime games this season, including one against each other. This series is going to go deep into the Big Rapids night at least once, if not two or three times! With the Final Five being played just down the road, I think the Bulldogs get the slight edge, but they won’t get it until late Sunday (maybe early Monday). Bulldogs 4-3, Wildcats 3-2, Bulldogs 2-1

Shane: WCHA detractors are going to hate this series, but in the defense of Ferris and NMU, the Bulldogs did score 13 goals against the Wildcats in four games this season. They split the series (including, yes, one OT game), but I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up going the other way in that bandbox of a rink in Big Rapids — a bunch of weird bounces and fluke goals in three high scoring (for the WCHA, anyway) games. Bulldogs 6-4, Wildcats 5-3, Bulldogs 3-2

Three things, March 6

1. MacNaughton going home

Michigan Tech clinched a share of the MacNaughton Cup as the WCHA’s regular-season champion on Saturday night after beating Northern Michigan 5-1 and after co-champion Minnesota State lost 1-0 to Bemidji State. While the Mavericks picked up their second-straight title, the Huskies are getting the cup for the first time in 40 years. Michigan Tech is the 103-year-old trophy’s trustee, so getting it back in Houghton, even for part of the next year, is undoubtedly special for the program. “I’m really proud of our players,” Tech coach Mel Pearson said. “We’ve had a great regular season, and I’m really, really proud of how we finished things off.” The Huskies, who have the No. 1 seed for the WCHA tournament, thanks to the tiebreaker over Minnesota State, have won five games in a row and have just one loss in 2016, a span of 14 games. They will host Alaska in next week’s best-of-three series. Minnesota State, the second seed, will host Lake Superior State.

2. Home ice for Ferris

Ferris State leapfrogged over Northern Michigan on Friday night with a win over Lake Superior State and held on to that fourth and final home-ice playoff spot on Saturday despite dropping the second game against the Lakers. Northern Michigan dropped both games to Michigan Tech to finish fifth. The Bulldogs will host the Wildcats for a chance to get back to the Final Five, which will be played in their backyard of Grand Rapids, Mich. In a cool moment on Friday, Ferris State honored retiring equipment manager Ben Mumah before the game. He had been on the bench with the Bulldogs for 33 years. The other team with home-ice advantage next weekend is Bowling Green, which will host Bemidji State. The third-place Falcons split their series at Alabama Huntsville, with Friday’s stunning 7-5 loss to the 10th-place chargers taking them out of contention for a regular-season championship.

3. Playoff in Alaska

The biggest series of the weekend took place in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the Alaska Nanooks not only won the Governor’s Cup over rival Alaska Anchorage but also jumped over the Seawolves to claim the WCHA’s final playoff spot. A four-point weekend from senior Tyler Morely, who had missed the team’s previous six games, had to help the Nanooks get out of the basement. He was one of the WCHA’s leading scorers before getting injured. Now he makes them a potentially dangerous team heading into the playoffs. “Extremely proud of this group,” Alaska coach Dallas Ferguson said. “We talked about it for the last few weeks here, just about pushing and pushing and sticking together and finding ways. Extremely proud of our team an dhow they kept it together and stayed on it.” Anchorage, meanwhile, will sit out the league playoffs for the second year in a row. It lost seven of its last eight games. Alabama Huntsville is the other odd team out, finishing last despite getting points in all but one of its final seven series.

 

Picking the WCHA, March 4-5

Woah, it’s March! The final weekend of the regular season. That came by quick.

You know what that means: It’s the WCHA, so literally* everything is still up for grabs (*OK, not exactly LITERALLY, but you get the idea).

Strap in, because these ones should be fun.

Bemidji State at Minnesota State

Shane: The Mavericks are back playing home for the first time in a month and have a chance to clinch a championship there, something they’ve never done. Last year, they got a split in Bemidji and took the MacNaughton Cup back to Mankato with them. The Beavers won’t make things easy, but I think MSU is motivated to not only win another title but win it outright. Mavericks 3-2, 4-2

Jack: The Beavers haven’t won in Mankato since 2011, but they haven’t played badly there (or against the Mavericks) as of late. I think that streak breaks this weekend, adding to some more chaos this weekend. Beavers 3-2, Mavericks 3-2

Northern Michigan at/vs. Michigan Tech

Shane: There’s much at state for both of these teams as the Huskies are trying to get the MacNaughton back in Houghton for the first time in 40 years. Tech is playing some good hockey, but this is a rivalry and one in which the Wildcats are desperate to get home ice. As they did earlier in the year, I see a split, with each team winning at home. Huskies 4-1, Wildcats 3-2

Jack: The teams split their home-and-home earlier in the season, and I think that seems likely this weekend. But I think this time each team wins on the road. Wildcats 4-2, Huskies 5-2

Bowling Green at Alabama Huntsville

Shane: Bowling Green has its eyes on a title, too, and will play the only team that knows where it will be this postseason, and that’s at home. How motivated will the Chargers be to play spoiler? I wouldn’t count them out and could see them stealing a tie or two. But we don’t pick ties, and I’m not picking against BG. Falcons 3-1, 4-1

Jack: Even if we could pick ties, I can’t see that happening to the Falcons losing this weekend. It might be a pair of close games, though. Falcons 3-2, 4-3

Lake Superior State at Ferris State

Shane: Ferris State followed a hot streak with a slump and needs points to get a home ice. The Lakers know they’ll be on the road for the playoffs so this will be a good test for them. They’ve been pesky all year. Lakers 2-1, Bulldogs 4-1

Jack: Depending on what happens to NMU, the Bulldogs are likely going to need at least three points to get home ice. But these teams split last time around so I can certainly see that happening again. Bulldogs 3-1, Lakers 2-1

Alaska Anchorage at Alaska

Shane: This is a true playoff series with the possibility of one team moving on and one team having its season end. The Seawolves hold the slight edge over their archrivals. I think Alaska wins the Governor’s Cup but Anchorage gets to play next week. Seawolves 4-2, Nanooks 3-1

Jack: This should be the best series of the weekend for sure. Even though both teams have had somewhat disappointing seasons, the intensity is going to be off the charts. Both teams know what they need to do: If the Nanooks get three points, they’re in the playoffs. The Seawolves get the nod if anything else happens. I think this one will go down to the wire with Alaska winning on Friday night to set up a frenetic Finish on Saturday. Get the coffee ready. Nanooks 4-2, Seawolves 5-4

Last week: Shane 6-2-2, Jack 6-2-2. Overall: Shane: 109-63-31, Jack 97-75-31

Three things: Sprinting to the finish

Once again, the MacNaughton Cup won’t be decided until the final weekend of the regular season.

It’s becoming the norm in the new-look WCHA: In 2013-14, Ferris State claimed the league title by just one point — the Bulldogs swept Lake Superior State then got help from Michigan Tech, who tied second-place Minnesota State in the final game of the regular season.

Last season, Minnesota State needed a 3-0 win over Bemidji State on the regular season’s final day to claim its first-ever conference title.

It looks like there’s the potential for that to happen once again this season.

Because all three of the league’s leaders (Minnesota State, Bowling Green and Michigan Tech) swept away their opponents (Alaska Anchorage, Ferris State and Alaska, respectively) last weekend, their results Friday and Saturday will decide the league title.

-Minnes0ta State won a pair of surprisingly low-scoring games in Anchorage

-Bowling Green handed Ferris State their first sweep of the , scoring 10 goals in the process

-Michigan Tech survived two separate scares from Alaska, including an overtime winner on Saturday to earn the two points and stay two points back of Minnesota State.

MSU has the edge, two points ahead of BG and Tech with 37 points. They host Bemidji State. Bowling Green and Tech are tied, but BG takes on struggling Alabama Huntsville on the road. Tech, meanwhile, has a home-and-home with resurgent UP rival Northern Michigan.

Stuck in the middle

Meanwhile last weekend, NMU took just one point from Lake Superior State but still managed to leapfrog Ferris for fourth place (and the final home ice slot). The Wildcats haven’t hosted a home playoff series since they were in the CCHA (2011).

Two other league teams also punched their playoff tickets over the weekend: The Lakers did so with their win and tie against NMU, as did Bemidji State, who did the same against Alabama Huntsville. The Beavers aren’t quite mathematically eliminated for a home ice slot, but it’s the longest of shots.

First one out

After making their first WCHA playoff appearance last season, Huntsville will be sitting out this time around. Although their entertaining 1-1 tie in Bemidji on Friday night (coupled with both UAA and UAF’s losses) kept their playoff hopes alive for one night longer, they couldn’t keep it going after losing to the Beavers 6-2.

That means the final playoff spot will be won in Fairbanks this weekend. Anchorage is currently in the eighth-place slot with 18 points while Alaska is two points back.

The Seawolves need two points to clinch the slot, and could do so with a win of any kind, but the Nanooks hold the tiebreaker and could actually get the slot instead with a win and a tie.

Even though both teams have had somewhat disappointing seasons, this edition of the Governor’s Cup should be a super-fun way to close out the 2016 regular season, no?

Weekend picks, Feb. 26-27

This is Shane …

No more bye weeks. No more nonconference games. It feels like a NASCAR race after a late caution. A restart before the final two laps. Four games remain, two weekends. Everything yet to be decided. How will things look with one lap to go?

Ferris State at Bowling Green

Shane: The Falcons are at home but have been a hard team to figure out down the stretch. Certainly, they’ve had tough schedule, and hosting the Bulldogs doesn’t ease things. Ferris State was red hot before losing two in a row, including a lone nonconference game at Michigan a week ago. The trends say this will be a split. Bulldogs 3-2, Falcons 4-1

Jack: Ferris still, against all odds, has yet to be swept. There are two weekends left int he regular season. I don’t think they will be this week, either — and it could be the difference for Bowling Green’s MacNaughton Cup hopes. Falcons 4-2, Bulldogs 3-2

Alaska at Michigan Tech

Shane: The Nanooks want desperately to find their way above the WCHA’s relegation line. No easy task against the Huskies, who have lost just once in their last 10 games. And they responded to that L at Bemidji State last weekend by racking up a season-high nine goals. Are they still mad? Huskies 4-1, 3-1

Jack: Tech looked like a team possessed last Saturday in Bemidji. Maybe they sense that one more screw-up on their part could cost them a McNaughton Cup. I don’t think they’ll lose this week. Huskies 4-2, 5-1

Northern Michigan at Lake Superior State

Shane: The Wildcats are playing some solid hockey right now, playing like an upper-division team by taking care of business against the lower-division ones. The Lakers are no pushover and have been tough at home lately though. Wildcats 3-0, Lakers 2-0

Jack: The Lakers are on the cusp of a playoff berth after things looked dire for following that long losing streak. Will they have what it takes to make sure they don’t miss out this time? NMU, meanwhile, just wants to keep pace with Ferris for the fourth and final home ice slot. I think they split the difference. Lakers 2-1, Wildcats 3-1

Alabama Huntsville at Bemidji State

Shane: This has been a tough week of travel for the Chargers, going up and back to Marquette and now doing the same to Bemidji. Not sure if trains have been involved by planes and automobiles have. The Beavers’ home record is still troubling, but I think they take care of business against their old rival. Beavers 2-1, 4-1

Jack: The Chargers have a history of coming to Bemidji and winning when they aren’t supposed to (two years ago one of their two wins on the season was against the Beavers at the Sanford Center), but I have a feeling that BSU is going to be pretty angry after getting embarrassed against Michigan Tech on Saturday. Beavers 4-1, 4-1

Minnesota State at Alaska Anchorage

Shane: If we could pick ties, I probably would because the Mavericks have seven of them on the road in league play this season. I’m curious to see how they come off the bye week that followed their two ties at Huntsville. The Seawolves have split their last three home series but none was against an upper-half team. Mavericks 2-1, 5-2

Jack: This is the first trip to Alaska this season for the Mavericks. The bye weekend they just have could be a very good thing to get them healed up for the long trip… or it could have let them stew about it a little more. I tend to think the Seawolves can salvage something from this and earn the split. Seawolves 3-2, Mavericks 5-2

Last week: Shane 4-5-0, Jack 4-5-0. Overall: Shane: 103-61-29, Jack 91-73-29

Three things, Feb. 21

This is my favorite time of the year. All of the WCHA teams are even on games played (finally!), there are two weeks to go and there are wide-open races throughout the standings. A few thoughts from the weekend …

1. MacNaughton chase is on

First-place Minnesota State was idle this weekend and stayed that way after all of the games were played. However, the Mavericks’ lead shrunk to two points, as second-place Michigan Tech and Bowling Green each split their series. The Huskies went to Bemidji State and was shut out on Friday. The next night must have brought out angry Tech, as it bombarded the Beavers 9-2. Meanwhile, in Fairbanks, the Falcons lost 2-1 Friday on a crushing, short-handed goal by Alaska’s Taylor Munson with 8.8 seconds remaining in regulation. But they, too, rebounded to win Saturday, 4-1. Which of these three teams wins the MacNaughton Cup is anyone’s guess.

2. Northern express

Northern Michigan is on a bit of a roll after sweeping Alabama Huntsville 3-0 and 3-1. The Wildcats have won three in a row and five of their last six and are now tied for fourth place with Ferris State (which lost a single nonconference game to Michigan on Friday). Northern is scoring more goals now, it appears, and that’s scary for any team it faces in the playoffs (in any round), especially with its fantastic goaltending. Here’s what’s crazy: Freshman Atte Tolvanen (.929 save percentage, 2.42 goals-against average in 22 games) hasn’t been the hot goalie. That title belongs to junior Mathias Dahlström, who is 7-0 with .922 and 1.98 since returning to the lineup. When healthy, Dahlström has been one of the top goalies in the WCHA.

3. Joy in Splitsville

Sure, both Lake Superior State and Alaska Anchorage would have liked a sweep against the other this weekend, but both should be pleased with how things turned out. For the Lakers, they got a 3-2 road win on Friday and created a little space between themselves and the basement teams. The Seawolves won 5-2 on Saturday, scoring four unanswered goals, including three in the third period. That, combined with Alaska’s split with Bowling Green, kept them alone in eighth place, two points ahead of the rival Nanooks. Remember: The Seawolves missed the league playoffs last year. “Massive. Massive,” UAA coach Matt Thomas ” told the Alaska Dispatch News. “I don’t know if it alleviates any of the pressure going into the next two weekends, but it keeps us from being on life support.”

Weekend picks: Dec. 19-20

Hey guys, Jack checking in.

Home stretch here, and there are some great series this weekend. However, one weird thing I’ve noticed that I don’t like: Too many teams have off weekends in the last month of the season.

This week, Minnesota State takes is idle and Ferris State plays a single nonconference game. Last weekend both Alaska schools, Michigan Tech and Bowling Green were all off in conference play.

Obviously teams need their off weekends, but it’s still strange to me that we have three weeks to go in the regular season and there are two teams (Ferris and MSU) that have played two more games than everybody else.

At least all 10 league teams will be in action for the league’s final two weeks. I just wish we had all league play for the entire month of February — it would make the league race that much more exciting.

Anyway, I’ll stop yelling at the kids to get off my lawn now and get on with the picks.

Alabama Huntsville at Northern Michigan

Shane: The Wildcats have a great opportunity to pull into a tie for fourth place this weekend as they get the chargers Chargers in Marquette where they’re 8-3-3 this season. Huntsville has found a way to get points out of the last four series, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see a tie or two this weekend. Going with wins and losses, though, I’m picking an NMU sweep. Wildcats 2-1, 1-0

Jack: This is Northern Michigan we’re talking about here, Shane, so I think at least one tie (or at least an OT game) is guaranteed. I’m actually going to pick a split here since I think we may actually see a pair of ties. Besides, Huntsville is looking much better right now so I expect a pair of closely-contested, low-scoring games. Wildcats 2-1, Chargers 2-1

Michigan Tech at Bemidji State

Shane: The Huskies should be well-rested after a week off, but will the bye break their momentum as they try to move into a first-place tie with idle Minnesota State? They go to Bemidji on an eight-game unbeaten streak and with just one loss in their last 12 games. The Beavers have struggled at home and need to find a way to turn that luck around. Beavers 3-2, Huskies 4-1

Jack: Weird tidbit: The Huskies are 7-0-3 against the Beavers in their last 10 meetings, and BSU hasn’t beaten Tech since 2011. It’s not like the Huskies have been a powerhouse that entire time, either. I think they’re just one of those teams that has BSU’s number (much like the Beavers have Duluth’s number in the past five years). Either way, I think this is a tough matchup for BSU: Tech is really good on the road and BSU hasn’t played very well at home at all. I think they’ll find a way to get it done this weekend, but it won’t be easy. Huskies 4-2, Beavers 3-1 

Lake Superior State at Alaska Anchorage

Shane: These two teams are separated by just two points in the standings. Both are trying to avoid being caught by the out-of-playoff-position teams. The Lakers got a much-needed win Saturday against Bemidji State, breaking a six-game losing streak, while the Seawolves had a week off. They split a month ago in the Soo. I think they will again. Seawolves 3-2, Lakers 2-1

Jack: Anchorage has won just twice since sweeping Michigan Tech on the road in early December, but one of those wins was against Lake State (the other was against Huntsville). The Lakers just snapped a seven-game losing streak by beating Bemidji. I think a split seems likely, too. Lakers 3-1, Seawolves 3-1

Bowling Green at Alaska

Shane: The Falcons, like Michigan Tech, are hoping to jump up into first place, and seem to have a good opportunity with the trip to ninth-place Alaska. It’s still perplexing to me that the Nanooks are in that spot, even more so that they haven’t won a home game since Nov. 6. That streak has to end, right? Falcons 4-2, Nanooks 2-1

Jack: The Nanooks have three conference wins and two were in their own tournament at the beginning of the season. The other was against Northern Michigan. I think that streak ends too, but not before the Falcons rally from their own poor weekend against Miami. Falcons 5-3, Nanooks 3-1

Ferris State at Michigan

Shane: This Friday-night-only game is the final nonconference game of the season for the WCHA, and it won’t be easy for the Bulldogs going to the sixth-ranked Wolverines. There’s a lot to like about the way Ferris is playing right now, despite Saturday’s home loss to Northern. They can score goals and have the goaltending to back them up. I smell an upset. Bulldogs 4-2

Jack: I love that Ferris and Michigan have continued to keep their rivalry alive despite the conference shakeup: They’ve met for single games in each of the two seasons since the demise of the CCHA. The Bulldogs beat Michigan last season in Big Rapids and the teams tied when they met in Ann Arbor in 2013. I’m not sure if the Bulldogs will be able to keep it up this season in Ann Arbor, but maybe I’ll be wrong. Wolverines4-2

Last week: Shane 1-4-2, Jack 4-1-2. Overall: Shane 99-56-29, Jack 87-68-29

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