The entire WCHA returned to action this week with eight of the 10 teams in league play. Here is what I think I learned after the first weekend of WCHA games in 2014.
Ferris State and C.J. Motte are beatable
In the first half of the season, a tie against the Ferris State Bulldogs and their goaltender C.J. Motte was something to brag about. Not anymore.
Colgate, which entered 2014 at 7-9-2 overall and 5-3-1 in the ECAC, beat No. 1 Minnesota on Friday in a shootout and then halted the No. 2 Bulldogs 16-game unbeaten streak (13-0-3) with a 3-0 win on Saturday to capture the Mariucci Classic championship in Minneapolis.
It was only the third loss of the season for Ferris State, with all three defeats coming against the ECAC. Prior to this weekend, Ferris lost at Colgate on Oct. 6 and at home on Oct. 18 against St. Lawrence.
Both of those early season losses came with sophomore Charles Williams in goal for the Bulldogs. Saturday was the first loss in 19 games for Motte, who fell to 15-1-3 on the year.
FSU is still undefeated in WCHA play at 10-0-2, but Minnesota State has cut the Bulldogs lead to two points. Ferris has two more games in hand than MSU. The Bulldogs and Mavericks meet in Mankato Jan. 17-18.
Northern Michigan can survive without C.J. Ludwig
The Wildcats picked up their second sweep of the season and first on the road in convincing fashion at Bemidji State via 4-1 and 3-1 victories.
And they did it without senior defenseman and captain C.J. Ludwig.
The last time NMU played in the state of Minnesota, it had just learned Ludwig was lost for the season, and struggled mightily in 3-2 and 3-0 losses to Minnesota State in Mankato.
This was a much different trip to Minnesota, though, with the seven goals scored by seven different players. Another six Wildcats got on the scoresheet via assists.
NMU finished 2 for 8 on the power play, but more importantly, killed all nine Beavers penalties.
The Wildcats, who are on the bye again next week, still sit seventh in the WCHA standings, but are only five points back of third place having played a league-low 12 conference games.
Bemidji State has the best WCHA TV broadcast
As much as I’d love to be at a hockey rink each weekend a WCHA team is in action, my location in Marquette makes it tough to get anywhere but the Berry Events Center in Marquette on a consistent basis.
The geography of the league is of course a problem, but the U.P.’s cold and snow alone makes even a 100-mile drive from Marquette to Houghton a challenge in my two-wheel drive, four-cylinder, compact sedan that may have gotten me to Sault Ste. Marie this weekend, but not back.
The result is I get to take in plenty of WCHA TV on weekends I’m either working the desk of The Mining Journal or snowed in on my couch. From either location, I’ve now had a chance to take in nine of the 10 WCHA broadcasts multiple times for multiple periods, with NMU being the only broadcast I haven’t watched because I’m at every home game for the MJ.
Some efforts to broadcast games are obviously farther along than others, and I’m not here to call out the amateurs — and there are some. But when it comes to declaring an example for the rest of the league to follow, hands down it’s Bemidji State and Lakeland Public Television.
Everything from the production to the on-air broadcast team is top-notch, with the team of Scott Williams and Eric Monsrud clinching the win for me.
One of the gripes I’ve heard from fans this season is homer announces catering just to the home team’s fan base. Typically there’s nothing wrong with that since the broadcasters or their station is hired by the school.
However, WCHA TV has brought in a number of opposing fans to those one-sided broadcasts. Williams and Monsrud do a great job catering to both sides and calling it as they see it, even if that means not always siding with Bemidji.
As the league moves forward with separate broadcasters for the video streams, Williams and Monsrud’s style should be the blueprint to follow.