The WCHA dropped the puck on conference play this weekend at Alabama-Huntsville and in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Alaska also hosted Mercyhurst in its final nonconference series of the weekend.
With Bowling Green still to play Tuesday at Ohio State, here’s what I think I learned this weekend in the WCHA.
1. Home is where the wins are
After starting the year 6-11-3 in nonconference play, WCHA teams have combined to go 12-7-3 since then to improve to 18-18-6 following the Nanooks win and tie at home against Mercyhurst.
That turnaround can be credited to WCHA teams playing nonconference opponents on home ice, where they are 12-4-3. On the road in nonconference play, the WCHA is 4-12-3 and on neutral ice, they’re 2-2-0.
In 2013-14, WCHA teams are scheduled to play a total of 26 nonconference games at home, 42 on the road and 13 on neutral ice.
Bemidji State leads the league with five nonconference home games, followed by Alaska (4) and Bowling Green (3). The rest of the league’s seven teams have two each.
If the trend continues — with seven nonconference home games, 23 road games and nine neutral ice games remaining — the WCHA will finish around 32-41-9, not taking into account quality of opponents.
No wonder commissioner Bruce McLeod and others in the WCHA would are pressuring league members to schedule more home games and not take easy payouts to play on the road with no return trip.
2. The WCHA schedule makers got it right last weekend
A new era in the WCHA kicked off with two old, heated rivalries in Northern Michigan/Michigan Tech and Alabama-Huntsville/Bemidji State.
The Wildcats and Huskies split the first two games of their four-game series with NMU winning 2-0 before a sellout crowd of 4,260 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette and Tech earning its first win of the season in its first home game of the season, 4-1, in front of a near-sellout crowd of 3,944 at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton.
The Chargers didn’t get as big of crowds in Huntsville or any wins, falling 6-1 and 1-0 to the Beavers, but a more stable and consistent home slate this season should help the program boost attendance. Ferris State heads south this week.
The only rivalry missing this weekend was Nanooks vs. Seawolves, but maybe the world just isn’t ready yet for that much chirping in a week.
3. Tech goalie Pheonix Copley is too hard on himself
Making back-to-back starts for the first time this season after splitting weekends with sophomore Jamie Phillips, Copley stopped 14 shots to earn his first win of the season on Saturday.
Despite getting the win Saturday, the sophomore from North Pole, Alaska, was hard on himself.
“Obviously the goal, it’s one you’d like back,” said Copley, who stopped 31 shots the night before in a 2-0 loss at NMU. “It was kind of off angle, not the best shot.”
The goal Copley gave up was a short-range rocket by NMU senior forward Stephan Vigier, who bounced the puck off the left post and past the Tech goalkeeper.
Vigier happens to also be tied with Alaska’s Cody Kunyk and Nolan Huysmans for the league-high in goals with five, so I think Copley can brush that goal off. Not many goalies in college hockey would have gotten that one, but it’s also nice to see the sophomore set the bar so high.