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WCHA picks, Feb. 27-28

Two weeks left. Four games to go in the regular season.

No team has clinched anything but home ice. No team has been eliminated from contention.

Welcome to the WCHA.

This weekend all 10 teams are in action with plenty on the line — the MacNaughton Cup, the final home ice slot, the final playoff spot.

You name it, it’s on the line.

Anyway, it’s 1 a.m. CST and I’m just not getting around to posting my picks so I won’t spend too much more time here. The point is: it’s going to be a fun weekend for WCHA teams. Here’s the picks.

Michigan Tech at Minnesota State

Shane: Looking forward to seeing this in person with two of the nation’s top three teams squaring off in front of a couple of big crowds in Mankato. The Mavericks, with a sweep, can win the MacNaughton Cup, something the Huskies denied them last year by forcing a tie on the last day of the season. Tech hasn’t been swept since MSU beat them twice in Houghton last November. Nothing will surprise me this weekend, but I’ll say (release the hounds) … Mavericks 4-2, 3-2

Shane: I think this will be really fun to watch, Shane. HOWEVER… I have a sinking feeling that this year’s MacNaughton Cup race is going to come down to the final weekend once again. I think Tech earns the split and keeps themselves alive for a while final weekend (because of course that’s going to happen). Huskies 3-1, Mavericks 4-2

Bemidji State at Ferris State

Shane: The second-best series of the weekend pits two teams fighting for a home-ice spot. I really like the way the Beavers have been playing, but this is a tough matchup, especially with superstar goaltender C.J. Motte possibly playing his final home game (unless the Bulldogs can move up) on Saturday night. Beavers 3-1, Bulldogs 1-0

Jack: I’d like to cede my time to Geof Morris of UAHHockey.com, who wrote a very helpful explainer for all of the possible scenarios that could happen if the Beavers, Bulldogs and Wildcats finish tied. It’s worth your time to read just because the three-way tiebreaker and all the scenarios can make one’s head spin if you’re an English major/liberal arts type like me (it’s nice having two engineering schools in the WCHA now to do all this “math” stuff for us). Anyway, long story short is the Beavers can eliminate Ferris from home ice with a sweep. I don’t think that will happen despite how well BSU has been playing. I’ll call the split as well Shane. Beavers 3-2, Bulldogs 2-1.

Lake Superior State at Northern Michigan

Shane: The Wildcats are making a strong push for home ice after their impressive sweep at Bowling Green a week ago, and with Michigan Tech on the docket on the final weekend of the season, this is the time to make some hay. The Lakers are trying to hold on to a playoff spot, too, but they’re on a five-game losing streak. Wildcats 4-2, 3-2

Jack: Just to get this out there: If Bemidji sweeps Ferris and Lake State sweeps NMU, the Beavers clinch home ice. I don’t know if that’s going to happen this weekend, however. The Wildcats look too strong. I’d call a sweep but the Lakers have been winning a lot when I don’t expect so I’ll call the split. Wildcats 4-2, Lakers 3-2

Alaska at Alabama Huntsville

Shane: The Chargers have a chance to clinch a league playoff spot at home this weekend, and what a story that would be in their second season in the league and after winning just two games a year ago. I’m curious to see the Nanooks’ motivation as a good team but one the road knowing they aren’t playing for anything more than their final standing. Chargers 3-1, Nanooks 4-1

Jack: If my calculations are correct (they may be wrong) the Chargers may need just two points to clinch said playoff spot. Anyway, I think they do it this time in their final home game. Nanooks 3-1, Chargers 2-1

Bowling Green at Alaska Anchorage

Shane: The Falcons suffered a bit of blow last weekend, getting swept at home by Northern Michigan. They’re still a virtual lock to finish in third place in the standings, so the losses were worse for their Pairwise Ranking. They can’t afford to have that happen again, but they’re playing a desperate Seawolves team on the verge of missing the playoffs. Falcons 4-2, 3-2

Jack: BG has had the chance to clinch third the past two weekends and haven’t been able to do so. I think they’ll do that and more this weekend and puck the sweep as well. Falcons 5-3, 3-1

 

Last week: Shane 3-3-0, Jack 3-3-0

Overall: Shane 105-67-16, Jack 90-82-16

Three things: Feb. 22 and it’s still bonkers in the WCHA

1. Still Crazy After All These Weeks

Down to two weeks (and four games) remaining in the regular season and nothing has yet been decided.

What else did you expect from the wild WCHA?

This week featured… nothing, really.

That is to say: No teams clinched anything and nobody was eliminated from anything,.

Both first-place Minnesota State and second-place Michigan Tech — separated by a point in the standings — were idle. Third place Bowling Green had a chance to clinch home ice but were swept by Northern Michigan.

Fourth place NMU swept BGSU but didn’t gain any ground on fellow-fourth-placer Bemidji State, who also swept (and holds the tiebreaker over NMU) last-place Alaska Anchorage.

Ferris State — two points behind both NMU and BSU — couldn’t gain any ground either despite sweeping a feisty Alabama-Huntsville squad.

Basically this is a long way of saying this past week was both incredibly significant but also insignificant at the same time, if that’s possible.

2. Big series next weekend

This sets up a couple epic showdowns next week.

Minnesota State and Michigan Tech will meet in Mankato in what will be a huge race for first. A Mavericks sweep would give them the league title. A split or a Huskies sweep means it all comes down to the final weekend.

Also next weekend, Bemidji State heads to Big Rapids, Mich., to take on Ferris in a showdown for that last home-ice slot. (The Dogs are two points behind the Beavers… a BSU sweep would all but eliminate FSU from getting home-ice.)

3. Tiebreak breakdown

With all that in mind, maybe it’s time to talk about tiebreakers. The league has a full list of tiebreakers on its standings page if you want to read here, as does Geof at UAH Hockey (he’s got his own useful explainer blog here, because he’s an engineer and he likes math). But here’s the main gist:

a) Head-to Head points: Pretty straightforward. If two or more teams tied have played four or more games, it’s whoever has the best record. This is why Bemidji State has the tiebreaker for the fourth and final home ice slot over Northern Michigan. Beavers had seven points vs. the Wildcats this season. If MSU and Tech tie for first, Tech will need a sweep this weekend to avoid getting second.

b) League wins: If the teams are still tied, it comes down to most league wins. Also, this happens if the teams involved haven’t all played four games against one another. This will come into play if Ferris ends up tied with BSU and NMU. Right now, Ferris holds the tiebreaker with 11 wins (to 10 each for BSU and NMU).

c) Winning percentage head-to-head: Not sure how this one will come into play, but it looks like we won’t have to get there (at least, not yet).

d) Winning percentage against teams down the standings table: Same thing, only against the rest of the league. To use an example: If BSU and NMU were to get here (they won’t, but just as an example), NMU would advance at the moment because they went 0-1-1 vs. Mankato and BSU went 0-2-0.

e) Winning margin (goals for minus goals against): Pretty simple here. BSU, for example, is plus-10 right now while NMU is minus-8.

f) Coin flip: Has this ever happened? Not sure, but it would be ridiculous.

Hopefully that made some sense. But we’ll likely have to use them to determine playoff seeding — or maybe even who makes the playoffs. Last season BSU took the eighth and final playoff spot over Lake Superior because of the head-to-head tiebreak.

How will it break down this year? Stay tuned….

WCHA Weekend Picks, Feb. 20-21

Three weeks left in the regular season and…. four teams are off this week.

Not sure why it worked out what way because it definitely would have been more exciting to have all 10 teams in action for ever game in the final month of the season.

Oh well… C’est la vie.

Six teams are in action and there’s still plenty on the line. (Maybe not for me; I’m not sure how Shane got so far ahead of me in the picks but it looks like I’ll be owing him at least a beverage or two when the Mavericks are in Bemidji in two weeks).

Enough nonsense. Here’s the picks.

Northern Michigan at Bowling Green

Shane: Everybody wants home ice for the playoffs, and the Falcons are within an eyelash of getting it. Bowling Green may not catch Minnesota State and Michigan Tech, but it’s been consistently good all year. The Wildcats, however, are in a dogfight to get the final spot, and things seem to be trending downward for them. Bowling Green took three of four points when these teams met in Marquette in early December. I think we’ll see something similar this weekend. Falcons 3-1, 3-2

Jack: The Wildcats are one of those teams who started hot and set itself up nicely with wins early in the season. It’s been a struggle for them of late. Meanwhile BG hasn’t had many stumbles. I think they’re going to get another sweep. Falcons 4-1, 4-2

Ferris State at Alabama Huntsville

Shane: Who made this schedule for the Bulldogs? Just brutal over the second half of the season. The Bulldogs return to the road this weekend, going to Huntsville to play a Chargers team that’s on the cusp of making the postseason. When Huntsville split at Ferris in November, everyone was surprised. They won’t be this weekend. Bulldogs 3-1, Chargers 3-1

Jack: I hadn’t even realized that Ferris had been on a seven-game skid until finally beating Bowling Green in the second game of their series last week. It’s going to be tough for them to get out of this rut this weekend – the Chargers are bouncing back after being worked over at Michigan Tech later in January. I’ll call a split. Chargers 3-2, Bulldogs 3-1 

Alaska Anchorage at Bemidji State

Shane: Here are two teams going in very different directions. The Beavers have played themselves into home-ice contention with a strong second half, going 7-4-1 since the calendar turned. The Seawolves are reeling and, after suffering their worst loss as a WCHA team last Saturday, are on the verge of sitting out this year’s playoffs. Beavers 5-1, 4-2

Jack: Hard to believe last weekend’s sweep of Northern Michigan was BSU’s first two road wins since the first game of the season, but they couldn’t have come at a better time for the Beavers. The wins pulled them even with NMU for the final home-ice slot. Plus, they have the tiebreaker over NMU. In short: BSU controls its own destiny. I think they’ll be able to keep pace against the Seawolves and get the sweep. Beavers 4-1, 6-2

Last week: Shane 4-5-1, Jack 5-4-1

Overall: Shane 102-64-16, Jack 87-79-16

Three thoughts, Feb. 15

1. Down goes No. 1

Minnesota State was bruised and battered at Alaska, not only tying and losing but playing without three injured forwards for Saturday and half of Friday (while two others were nursing their own ailments back in Mankato). It was first time this year that the Mavericks suffered significant injury issues. It was also the first time they didn’t win at least once in back-to-back games, which shows what kind of season they’ve been having. The Mavericks now hold a slim one-point lead over Michigan Tech, which destroyed Alaska Anchorage by a combined score of 15-1. Meanwhile, Alaska showed it could hang with the best team in the country and actually finished the season series 2-1-1 against MSU. The Nanooks look like a team that could go on a nice postseason run — if they weren’t banned from the postseason.

2. Playoff mashup

There’s not just a tight race at the top of the WCHA standings between Minnesota State and Michigan Tech. Bemidji State’s sweep at Northern Michigan put the Beavers into a tie with the Wildcats for fifth place in the standings, while holding the tiebreaker over NMU for last home-ice spot for the playoffs (ineligible Alaska is in fourth place). Meanwhile, Alabama Huntsville put itself into good playoff shape by taking three points at Lake Superior State. The Chargers are in eighth place now, three points ahead of the Lakers and with two games in hand. The Lakers did get one point to give itself a three-point lead over Alaska Anchorage, although the Seawolves have two games in hand.

3. Jedi Mind Trick

It was “Star Wars” night in Big Rapids, Mich., and the force was with Ferris State, which snapped a seven-game losing streak, thanks to Jared VanWromer’s goal at 3:48 of overtime on Saturday night. The Bulldogs defeated Bowling Green 3-2. During their losing streak, they scored a total of eight goals, so getting to three was significant (even two wasn’t safe, as the Falcons erased a 2-0 deficit). The defending MacNaughton Cup champions are in seventh place in the standings, two points out of a home-ice spot. Can they get back on track and make a stretch run? The Bulldogs close the season with series at Alabama Huntsville and Lake Superior State with a home set against Bemidji State in between.

WCHA weekend picks, Feb. 13-14

Jack here.

We’re at the month mark of the regular season, and six of the 10 WCHA teams have eight games to play in that time.

In other words: Get ready for a sprint to the finish line.

Minnesota State and Michigan Tech have already clinched home ice and Bowling Green can this weekend if things break right for them.

All that said, the importance of these last few series just makes these picks that much more difficult.

I’ll do my best here, but it will be tough. How will I do? Look below!

Bowling Green at Ferris State

Shane: No team’s happier to be home than the Bulldogs, who played 10 of their last 12 games on the road. Brutal schedule, one in which they’ve only mustered two wins, and playing back-to-back-to back-to-back series against Minnesota State and Bowling Green’s no fun either. The last of those four weekends comes now against the Falcons, who have been pretty good on the road this season (9-3-3). I think this will be a split. Bulldogs 2-1, Falcons 3-1

Jack: The Bulldogs might be glad to be home, but they might not be glad to be seeing the Falcons again. BGSU swept Ferris last week in Bowling Green. If they can do it in Big Rapids they’ll clinch home ice. If not, things get interesting. What will happen? Well, I prefer things to get interesting, so I’m going to go for a Bulldogs sweep. Bulldogs 3-2, 4-3.

Bemidji State at Northern Michigan

Shane: Jack, in his section of today’s column, pointed out the Beavers’ road woes this season, and I was shocked by that stat (1-10-2 in non-neutral-site road games). Talk about motivation to get home ice for the playoffs! The host Wildcats stand in their way right now, sitting in fourth place, four points ahead of them. I think that’s where things will stand at the end of the weekend, too. Beavers 4-2, Wildcats 3-2

Jack: Not only are the Beavers just 1-10-2 in true road games (that win in Grand Forks keeps looking more and more crazy, doesn’t it?), they’re also 0-4-0 in the Upper Peninsula so far. I’m sure the Beavers are tired of that place (especially after being stranded somewhere between Iron Mountain and Marquette while travelling to Northern on Wednesday night). It’s not likely, but I just said I prefer things to be interesting: If both the Beavers and the Bulldogs sweep we’ll have a three-way tie for the final home ice slot with six games to play. I want that to happen because it would make the rest of the season a whole lot of fun. And besides, the Beavers have been unpredictable all season so a sweep isn’t out of the question. BRING ON THE CHAOS! Beavers 4-2, 2-1

Alabama Huntsville at Lake Superior State

Shane: This is one of the more intriguing matchups of the weekend, surprisingly. If there’s a sweep in this series, the losing team will be in a real dogfight to make the league playoffs, while the winner would create some separation from the bottom. This is just the second home weekend for the Lakers since Thanksgiving. Lakers 3-2, Chargers 2-1

Jack: The Chargers got worked over by Tech two weeks ago in Houghton (5-0 and 11-1) and then had a week to think about it. Lake State has lost three straight. Both teams need some points, and I think that’s what will happen. Chargers 3-1, Lakers 4-2

Michigan Tech at Alaska Anchorage

Shane: The Seawolves are back home for the first time in more than a month, but more importantly, they’re back in the state of Alaska, the only state they’ve won in. No easing back into the comforts of the Sully, though, as they get Michigan Tech. The Huskies are on the road for the first time in 10 games. There will be an adjustment. Seawolves 3-2, Huskies 5-1

Jack: I hadn’t realized the Seawolves hadn’t won in the lower 48. But then again, they’ve only won seven games anywhere. Tech, meanwhile, has won 22 games. It’s going to take an exemplary effort from the Seawolves to beat the Huskies, but I’ll give them a split. Huskies 6-2, Seawolves 3-1

Minnesota State at Alaska

Shane: These two teams met in Mankato two months ago, and the Nanooks upset the Mavericks in overtime on the first night of a season split. Minnesota State has since risen to No. 1 and have held that spot for the last three weeks. These will be the final home games for Alaska, and I think both of those things will give them some extra oomph — on Saturday night, especially. Mavericks 4-2, Nanooks 2-1

Jack: MSU’s only loss since December was to Bemidji State in the North Star Cup. Before that, they lost to Alaska at home. I agree that the Nanooks will be a challenge but I think the Mavs keep it up and earn the sweep. Mavericks 4-2, 4-3

Last week: Shane 9-1-0, Jack 7-3-0

Overall: Shane 98-59-15, Jack 82-75-15

Three things: Top teams keep winning as WCHA winds down

A few things from the weekend that was in the WCHA:

1. Ho hum: Mavericks keep on rolling

It’s starting to get almost boring: Minensota State got another conference sweep this weekend, and once again they scored a ton of goals in the process. MSU beat Alaska Anchorage 5-2 and 4-0 for wins No. 22 and 23.

The lone blemish for the top-ranked Mavericks since the month of December was that 3-1 loss to instate rivals Bemidji State in their North Star College Cup final in St. Paul. Otherwise, it’s been smooth sailing for MSU, who is 10-1-1 since the holiday break.

Although MSU is in great shape (first place with six league games to play), it’s not a cakewalk from here. The Mavs still have to make a trip to Alaska next week (never easy) before hosting Michigan Tech and playing their regular season finale in Bemidji, the home of those pesky Beavers. Will the Mavs close out strong and win the MacNaughton Cup? The next month will be fun when we find out…

2. Huskies, Falcons still in the mix

Although the Mavs look as good as the No. 1 team in the Pairwise rankings should look, they haven’t been able to pull away; especially since both Michigan Tech and Bowling Green keep making a push.

Tech swept Bemidji State on Winter Carinival weekend in another pair of close games against the Beavers. The Huskies seem to get lucky against BSU: Of the four games they’ve played this season, all have been one-goal games (discounting empty-netters) and BSU outshot Tech in three of the four. Still, Tech, as they have the entire season, found a way to win behind their deep, talented senior class to get all four points this past weekend against BSU and keep pace with MSU. They remain just four points behind them in the standings (the Mavs are at 39 while Tech is at 35).

Bowling Green, meanwhile, rebounded from their rough series the previous week in Bemidji to sweep Ferris State 2-1 and 3-2.  The Falcons are 10 points back of the Mavericks but have two games-in-hand on both MSU and Michigan Tech, so could gain some ground with solid home stretch.

3. WCHA finishes with winning nonconference record

Northern Michigan was swept by Minnesota Duluth 3-1 and 6-3 last week. The sweep completed the nonconference schedule for the league, and although the Wildcats ended it on a down note, the final numbers look good. WCHA teams finished with a 30-29-9 record against the rest of the country, including 12-9-3 against the Big Ten and 3-3-1 against Hockey East, although they were a losing 8-14-1 against the NCHC. For comparison, the conference went 26-46-12 against the rest last season, including 5-13-3 against the Big Ten, 4-15-6 vs. the NCHC and 0-13-0 (!!!) against Hockey East.

Although the league was just one game above .500 in the nonconference this year, in 20 fewer games, it’s still a drastic improvement with some wins against good quality teams — wins that will help any league team that finds itself on the bubble at the end of the season.

At the very least, WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson’s wish to have three league teams in the NCAA tournament looks like it has a great chance of happening this year — thanks in part to so many quality nonconference wins.

WCHA picks, Feb. 6-7

Shane here …

It’s February, and you can almost feel the tension in the air. The final five weeks of the regular season will be a “bloodbath” as one player told me this week. Let’s hope it doesn’t get too messy in the stretch run. Perhaps we’ll start to see some separation in the standings after this weekend.

I’m letting Jack pick first, and I’ll rebut …

Alaska Anchorage at Minnesota State

Jack: The Mavericks are hot: With just two losses in their last 19 games, they’re still showing why they’re the No. 1 team in the country. The Seawolves, on the other hand, have struggled in the Lower 48, losing twice in Marquette with a series sweep. I can’t see the Wolves snapping out of their brief funk before they return to Alaska, so I’m calling a MSU sweep. Mavericks 4-2, 3-1

Shane: It’s hard to argue with you here, Jack, and it’s hard to pick against the Mavericks, who were nothing short of surgical against Ferris State last weekend. When Minnesota State dictates the way the game is played, there are few teams that can beat them. They’ll face a stiff test against a desperate Anchorage team, but they’ll sweep at home. Mavericks 5-2, 4-2

Bemidji State at Michigan Tech

Jack: This should be a fun one this weekend. The Beavers are arguably the hottest team in the country right now, having gone 3-0-1 in their last four games — all against top-10 teams. They took three points from Bowling Green last weekend after being swept in Ohio earlier in the season. Now, BSU heads to No. 5 Tech looking for more points against a top 10 team. Tech swept BSU in Bemidji back in November but the way the Beavers are playing now it’s hard to see that happening. But it’s also Winter Carnival, so the Huskies will be hard to sweep at home in front of an even-more-crazy-than-usual student crowd. I’m picking a split, but only because we aren’t allowed to pick ties (which is likely; BSU and Tech have tied four times in Houghton in the past five years). Beavers 4-2, Huskies 5-3

Shane: Jack, you can pick ties if you want. But it’s always a risky proposition when it comes to this very serious picking game. There’s, uh, what exactly on the line? Perhaps a tasty beverage when I go to Bemidji at the end of the season. Anyway, this should be a close series between two teams that seem to have things figured out. The Huskies can’t really afford a hiccup between now and the Minnesota State series if they want a shot at the MacNaughton Cup, but the Beavers have been doing nothing but causing hiccups for ranked teams. Beavers 3-2, Huskies 4-1

Ferris State at Bowling Green

Jack: A matchup of two teams looking to get back on track. Ferris suddenly finds itself in a fifth-place tie with Bemidji after a hot start had them in home ice position for most of the beginning of the season. BGSU, on the other hand, has lost three of its last six. Not sure who has the upper hand here, so I’m going to be lame and call a split. Bulldogs 4-2, Falcons 5-3

Shane: These are two teams that desperately want to win games this weekend. Bowling Green has taken a bit of a stumble after it’s great first half and needs to get momentum back on its side. Ferris State, meanwhile, is in the midst of a crazy-tough second-half schedule. While a split seems to be the safe pick, I think the Falcons roll at home. Falcons 4-2, 3-1

Lake Superior State at Alaska

Jack: Lake State is 4-3-1 in its last three games and are doing a great job rebounding after their terrible start. Alaska is winless in six games. The last time these teams met, it was wild: The Nanooks won the opener 7-5 in the opener before losing 3-2 in overtime in the finale. I think we’re on tap for another split. Lakers 5-4, Nanooks 3-2

Shane: Sometimes bye weeks come a good times and sometimes they come at bad times. I think the week off wasn’t great for the Lakers, who, like you said, Jack, have played pretty good hockey of late. Now they go to Alaska to face a Nanooks team that has been reeling a bit. Perhaps I need to believe more in that Lake State turnaround, but I’m thinking a split for the home team. Nanooks 3-2, 2-1

Northern Michigan at Minnesota Duluth

Jack: I was looking at these numbers and surprised how even the series is: 33-33-4. But both teams are much better against the other at home. I’m tempted to pick the split anyway just because I’m so consistent with those this week but I think the Bulldogs are going to sweep a pair of close games. Bulldogs 4-3, 4-2

Shane: That was a nice sweep last week for Northern Michigan following a rather tumultuous week off the ice. The Wildcats face a difficult nonconference test against a very good team. And if there’s no Mathias Dahlstrom in goal this weekend, I think it will be that much more difficult. Bulldogs 3-2, 4-2

Last week: Shane 5-2-1, Jack 5-2-1

Overall: Shane 89-58-15, Jack 85-62-15

Three thoughts, Feb. 1

Three thoughts fromt his weekend in the WCHA:

1. Look out for BSU

Bemidji State took three of four points from visiting Bowling Green, which makes them unbeaten in four consecutive games against top-10 teams. Last week, the Beavers beat No. 7 Minnesota Duluth and then-No. 1 Minnesota State in the North Star College Cup. The Falcons are ranked sixth. “It’s huge to get three out of four points,” Beavers defenseman Matt Prapavessis told The Bemidji Pioneer. “On home ice, getting conference points. It was a huge, huge game. Maybe the biggest game of the season. Last week would have meant nothing if we didn’t do some damage this week, so it was huge.” Bemidji State has two losses in its last 13 games. And, although those defeats seem somewhat perplexing coming at Lake Superior State, they did outshoot the Lakers 78-44 that weekend. The Falcons have just two wins in their last seven games.

2. Mavericks have Bulldogs’ number

Minnesota State swept Ferris State with a pair of 5-1 victories. They teams quickly became rivals when the new WCHA began last year with a slugfest a year ago in Mankato and another meeting in the Final Five championship game. The Mavericks won all three of those games, and, this season, tacked on four more wins for seven straight against the defending league champions. MSU outscored Ferris 15-4, with 11 different players scoring goals. Kyle Schempp scored all four of the Bulldogs’ goals. “I think of it as a rivalry game,” Mavericks captain Chase Grant told the Mankato Free Press. “The intensity and focus levels up a little bit. We have plenty of motivation.” The sweep was a big bounce-back from MSU’s loss in the finals of the North Star College Cup against Bemidji State a week earlier. Ferris State, meanwhile, has lost four in a row (all to MSU) and eight of its last 10.

3. Showdown looming

Minnesota State and Michigan Tech became the first teams in the country to reach 20 victories, with the Mavericks doing it on Friday and the Huskies hitting the mark on Saturday against Alabama Huntsville. It was the third 20-win season in a row for MSU but the first for Tech since the 1987-88 season. That was also the last time the Huskies scored 11 goals in a game, which it did Saturday night against the Chargers. First-place MSU and second-place Tech, which has won four straight and five of six, are separated by just four points in the standings, four points that the Mavericks grabbed in mid-November in Houghton. Mark your calendar: They will meet again Feb. 27-28 in Mankato. Between now and then their schedules are quite similar: home next weekend (Alaska Anchorage is at MSU, Bemidji State is at Tech), in Alaska the following week (MSU at Fairbanks, Tech at Anchorage) and on bye the week before they meet.

WCHA picks, Jan. 30-31

Shane here …

The WCHA race is heating up. I’m curious to see how much of it comes down to the wire like it did last season when the MacNaughton Cup, home ice and the final playoff spots all came down to the final weekend. It’s a six-week sprint, starting now – or at least with eight of 10 teams in action.

Time to pick …

Alabama Huntsville at Michigan Tech

Shane: The Chargers have proven to be much improved from a year ago and could very well make the league playoffs come March. This weekend, against a team that might just win the regular-season title, will show them just what that will be like. The Huskies, meanwhile are coming off an impressive home sweep against Alaska. I think they keep it rolling. Huskies 4-1, 4-2

Jack: UAH is coming off a rough “off” weekend in which they lost two last-minute exhibition games against the same USA U-18 team that beat Minnesota. They certainly won’t be rusty when they take on the Huskies, but like you, I think Tech is too strong right now. I expect a pair of close games but ultimately a Huskies sweep. Huskies 2-1, 3-2

Alaska Anchorage at Northern Michigan

Shane: A well-rested Seawolves team starts a four-game road swing in Marquette against a team that’s gone through a crazy couple of weeks. Walt Kyle is back behind the bench for the Wildcats after a week-long suspension by the school. They have just one win in their last 13 games (five ties in there), and they’ll get one this weekend. Seawolves 3-2, Wildcats 5-2

Jack: It seems as though Northern Michigan’s myriad issues really started to come to fruition when they went up to Alaska over the Thanksgiving break.  Mathias Dahlstrom is still a good goalie, but the rest of NMU’s defense seems to be a disaster area. I think they could end some of their woes here and get a split, but it won’t be easy. Wildcats 4-3, Seawolves 4-1

Bowling Green at Bemidji State

Shane: This will be no easy weekend for the Falcons, who seem to have tapered just a bit after that outstanding first half. Just one win in each of their last three weekends, including the surprising split at home against Lake Superior State last week. The Beavers have to be full of confidence after last week’s North Star Cup championship. A split would be good for both teams. Falcons 3-1, Beavers 3-2

Jack: The real question this weekend will be which Beavers team is for real: The one that got swept at Lake State two weeks ago, or the one that beat two top 10 teams and looked dominant doing so last weekend? I tend to lean towards the latter, since they’ve played very well since their seven-game losing skid in November. The Falcons are looking for a bit of a spark too, after splitting with LSSU. I think BSU gets a split, but I’ll say they win Friday night and BG wins Saturday. Beavers 4-1, Falcons 3-2

Ferris State at Minnesota State

Shane: These two teams played a close series two weeks ago in Big Rapids and now play in Mankato where their rivalry was sparked a year ago. Not sure if there’s any carryover from either series, but the Bulldogs might be desperate not only to stay in home-ice contention but to break an 0-5 skid against the Mavericks. After last week’s hiccup in the North Star finals, though, I think the No. 3 team in the country wins two at home. Mavericks 3-1, 4-3

Jack: Ferris and Northern are both tied for the final home ice playoff spot, but both are there by virtue, really, of good starts early in the season. I think the Bulldogs have a little more of what it takes to stay there, and I’d like to think they’ll figure something out with CJ Motte in net. But the Mavericks are strong, so while I’ll pick a split I won’t be shocked by a sweep, either. Mavericks 4-3, Bulldogs 2-1

Last week: Shane 4-5-1, Jack 6-3-1.

Overall: Shane 84-56-14, Jack 80-60-14

Three things from the WCHA, Jan. 26

1. State champions

Coming into this weekend’s North Star College Cup, Bemidji State were afterthoughts. As the lone unranked team in the competition, the Beavers didn’t get much chatter prior to their game Friday against No. 7 Minnesota Duluth. Beating the Bulldogs 4-0 changed that a little. Winning the whole damn thing on Saturday — handily beating No. 1 Minnesota State 3-1 — changed that a lot. Now the Beavers are the toast of Minnesota, and also the internet. (No, really. BSU‘s win actually broke the Bemidji State athletics webpage late Saturday night and early Sunday morning.) Not only do the Beavers get to take home a trophy (dubbed by some as “Paul Bunyan’s Pimp Chalice”) they also get some validation they were lacking. They’ve played a few different top-5 teams already this season and didn’t quite have enough to find a way to win. Now, BSU is unbeaten in nine of the last 11. A big win like this against some big-name instate rivals could be just the boost the Beavers need to get back into the home ice race in the WCHA playoffs. As we all saw this weekend, the Beavers have the talent to skate with just about anyone in the country. They just need to put it together more consistently.

2. WCHA shows muscle — again

Those of us who cover the league on a regular basis know how strong the WCHA actually is, as do players, coaches and fans around the league. But it still isn’t registering in some corners. Some still see it as a “cast-off” league. Minnesota State came in as the No. 1 team but weren’t necessarily favorites — in Minnesota circles, it seems, the Gophers are always a favorite no matter how much they are struggling. And Bemidji State wasn’t given much of a chance against No. 7 Minnesota Duluth, who has had an excellent season but hasn’t played well the past two weekends. Although WCHA teams have proven, time and again, that they weren’t just afterthoughts in a mid-major league, the North Star Cup should have put any doubts to rest. Maybe it took two WCHA teams playing for a title in one of the country’s biggest college hockey markets, but after Saturday’s game it seems like more folks have come around to the fact that the WCHA might not be the old league it once was but is just as competitive on a national level. Case-in-point: Despite losing their game to Bemidji State, Minnesota State is still No. 1 in the Pairwise.

3. Tech inches ahead

Outside of the state Minnesota last weekend, Michigan Tech and Bowling Green were also playing in key series to jockey for playoff positioning. And the Huskies, who earned a sweep over a strong Alaska team, took a slight lead over BGSU as the season comes into the back stretch. The Falcons split with a Lake Superior State team who is playing with lots of confidence right now; the Lakers won Friday’s game 3-1 in Ohio while the Falcons won by that same score Saturday. Tech is now three points (27) ahead of Bowling Green but four points behind idle-in-league-play MSU. The Falcons have two games-in-hand on the Huskies. Next weekend Tech hosts Alabama Huntsville — hardly a pushover these days — while Bowling Green heads to a surging and supremely confident Bemidji State team looking to keep rolling against top-10 teams.

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