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WCHA first-round playoff picks

It’s playoff time, and there are some intriguing matchups to kick off the WCHA tournament. The fact that the first round pits former CCHA teams against leftover WCHA teams (following the league’s breakup) adds to the interest. But the tournament is bigger than bragging rights. A trip to the Final Five is on the line, and there are eight teams here who all think they can get to Grand Rapids.

 Ferris State vs. Bemidji State

Shane: The Beavers won’t make things easy for the league champs; they beat Ferris about a month ago in Bemidji and took them to overtime in November in Big Rapids. But the Bulldogs are 14-1-1 at home with 11 wins in a row there, and there’s incentive to play and have their fans follow them down the road at the Van Andel next week. Bulldogs sweep.

Matt: We’re starting with a clean slate in the postseason, right Shane? That’s what they always say about the postseason. Everyone, including us, is 0-0 now, so no more picking games for me. The Bulldogs appear to be focused on the ultimate prize being two-years removed from a berth in the NCAA Championship game. A sweep of Bemidji would be a good start to getting back there. Bulldogs sweep

 Minnesota State vs. Northern Michigan

Shane: For all the talk about Alaska being hot down the stretch, you can’t forget that the Mavericks are 8-0-1 in their last nine games. They’re stingy on defense, allowing just nine goals in that streak, something that gets overlooked by their big-name players up front. A tough Wildcats team that hung five on the Mavs one night in January won’t roll over, but I still say … Mavericks sweep.

Matt: In a one-game playoff on neutral ice, I like the Wildcats’ chances of pulling an upset after watching the most recent series between the two schools in Marquette. But in Mankato — where MSU has not lost since Nov. 8 — and against Cole Huggins — who has posted shutouts in three of his last five starts —  it’s tough for me to pick against Minnesota State. Mavericks sweep

 Alaska vs. Alaska Anchorage

Shane: Remember when the WCHA put forth its “Alaska Plan” in order to cut down travel costs in the playoffs? That was a pair of Bad Idea Jeans right there. Scrapping it must have been good karma for the league because it still got its wish. The Governor’s Cup was decided in a shootout last Saturday night. This will come down to the wire, too. Nanooks in three.

Matt: In the run up to the new-look WCHA, one of thing everyone was looking forward to was teams like Alaska and UAA being in the same conference, adding much more to their regular-season meetings. But a playoff series? This is going to be special. This is how a regional rivalry really heats up. It too bad they settled the Governor’s Cup with a shootout, because what good will that trophy mean to the Nanooks now if every time they look at it for the next year, it reminds them the Seawolves ended their season. I don’t think that will happen, but won’t be surprised if it does. Nanooks in three

 Bowling Green vs. Michigan Tech

Shane: I think these might be the two toughest teams to figure out. Tech has gone from scoring big to giving up a ton of goals to scoring big again before playing two tight, low-scoring games in Mankato. Bowling Green has won three straight, following a five-game winless stretch. Flip a coin and … Huskies in three.

Matt: The Falcons and Huskies inconsistencies this season could be attributed to both programs’ inexperience dealing with a lack of success. In the five seasons prior to this year, the fourth-seeded Falcons highest finish is ninth. For the fifth-seeded Huskies during that time, they topped out at eighth. I really like the Huskies chances in Bowling Green, but the Falcons have proven to be a dangerous postseason team under head coach Chris Bergeron, going 8-10 in the postseason with four best-of-three series wins. Falcons in three

Last week: Shane 7-2-1, Matt 7-2-1. Final regular-season records: Shane 134-62-22, Matt 126-70-22.

Three thoughts on the end of the regular season

WCHA awards

We were disappointed to learn last week that the WCHA scrapped tradition and shut the media out of this year’s vote for league awards. All that research and number crunching down the tubes, right? Wrong! Matt and I put our lists together, shuffled some things around, played some rock-paper-scissors and finally came to a consensus. So here are our very controversial, certain-to-be-scrutinized, likely-to-be-criticized all-conference teams and awards:

Player of the year: Cody Kunyk, Alaska

Rookie of the year: Cole Huggins, Minnesota State

Coach of the year: Bob Daniels, Ferris State

First team

Forwards: Cody Kunyk, Alaska; Jean-Paul LaFontaine, MSU; Johnny McInnis, MSU. Defensemen: Jason Binkley, FSU; Scott Czarnowczan, FSU. Goaltender: Cole Huggins, MSU.

Second team

Forwards: Matt Leitner, MSU; Matt Bailey, UAA; Colton Beck, UAF. Defensemen: Colton Parayko, UAF; Shane Hanna, MTU. Goaltender: C.J. Motte, FSU.

Third team

Forwards: Cory Ward, BSU; Tyler Morley, UAF; Garrett Thompson, FSU. Defensemen: Raif Freibergs, BGSU; Zach Palmquist, MSU. Goaltender: Kevin Kapalka, LSSU.

Rookie team

Forwards: Alex Globke, LSSU; John Siemer, NMU; Marcus Basara-UAF. Defensemen: Shane Hanna, MTU; Sean Flanagan, MSU. Goaltender: Cole Huggins, MSU.

A few thoughts …

Kunyk edged LaFontaine for MVP, and it really came down to the final weekend. Kunyk scored four goals on Friday to win the league scoring title and put the Nanooks into third place. He’s had a monster second half. … Huggins, like his teammate Stephon Williams a year ago, launched himself into rookie of the year and first-team goalie discussion with his recent play. That included getting his team-record fifth shutout on Friday night. Putting him ahead of Motte might not be a popular choice, but we went with the numbers. … Coach of the year was also tough. Matt Thomas has done a fantastic turnaround job in Anchorage and got close consideration. But we went with Daniels, who basically took Ferris State wire to wire to win the MacNaughton Cup. … Picking the final forward for the WCHA All-Rookie Team proved tough, but we went with Northern Michigan’s John Siemer because he accomplished in a half season what many did in a full season, averaging nearly a points per game. Siemer didn’t join the Wildcats until the final game before the holiday break.

Goalie pull

The Minnesota State-Michigan Tech game on Saturday night came to an anticlimactic tie. The Mavericks failed to clinch the MacNaugton Cup, and the Huskies didn’t get home ice for the playoffs. Both teams needed to win to achieve those goals. Postgame, the Twitterverse and Blogosphere were filled with discussions about whether or not the teams should have pulled their goaltenders in order to get the W. Both coaches considered it, according to reports, but they thought the risk outweighed the reward. MSU’s staff feared giving up an empty-netter would have been a big blow to its Pairwise Ranking (they were right), while Tech’s feared such a result would have sent the team to Fairbanks for the first round (instead the Huskies will go to Bowling Green).

Season’s over (for some)

We’ve known for awhile that Alabama Huntsville was going to miss out on the postseason under the WCHA’s new playoff format (or should that be the new WCHA’s playoff format?). But on Saturday night there were four teams hoping to avoid an early spring break. The odd team out ended up being Lake Superior State. The Lakers dropped their final four games – to Minnesota State and Ferris State. Lake Superior State was once the surprise team in college hockey, starting the season 4-0-1. The Lakers actually tied for eighth place with Bemidji State but lost the tiebreaker.

The WCHA playoff picture is finally set

With Alaska-Anchorage’s 3-1 victory over rival Alaska in Fairbanks this evening (or morning depending where you are), the first round of the WCHA playoffs has been set.

Ferris State won the WCHA outright via a sweep of Lake Superior State while Minnesota State only took three of four points from Michigan Tech. The Bulldogs and Mavericks will be the top two seeds.

Below are the best-of-three quarterfinal match ups. Winners advance to the WCHA Final Five March 21-22 at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich.

No. 8 Bemidji State (10-14-4 in WCHA, 24 points)
at No. 1 Ferris State (20-6-2, 42)

— Friday through Sunday in Big Rapids, Mich. Friday and Saturday’s puck drop are set for 7:07 p.m. EDT while Sunday’s game, if necessary, would begin at 5:07 p.m.

— FSU won the regular season series 3-1, winning 5-4 in OT and 5-3 in Big Rapids Nov. 8-9. The two sides split in Bemidji Feb. 14-15 with the Beavers winning 4-1 on Friday and losing 2-1 on Saturday.

No. 7 Northern Michigan (13-14-1, 27)
at No. 2 Minnesota State (20-7-1, 41)

— Friday through Sunday series in Mankato, Minn. All three games begin at 7:07 p.m. CDT each night.

— MSU won the season series 3-1 with a pair of 3-2 and 3-0 wins in Mankato Dec. 6-7. In Marquette Jan. 31-Feb. 1, the Wildcats won Friday 5-2 before the Mavericks won Saturday 5-1.

No. 6 Alaska-Anchorage (12-12-4, 28)
at No. 3 Alaska (14-12-2, 30)

— Thursday through Saturday series in Fairbanks, Alaska. All three games begin at 7:07 p.m. ADT (or 11:07 p.m. EDT). The Nanooks’ Carlson Center is hosting the opening ceremonies on Sunday for the 23rd Arctic Winter Games.

— The Nanooks and Seawolves split their season series 2-2, but Nanooks won the Governor’s Cup in a shootout Saturday. UAA snapped Alaska’s seven game win streak winning 3-1 on Saturday. The Nanooks routed the Seawolves on Friday 7-2. During their first meeting Dec. 6-7 in Anchorage, Alaska lost Friday 3-2, but won Saturday 5-4.

No. 5 Michigan Tech (12-22-5, 29)
at No. 4 Bowling Green (13-11-4, 30)

— Friday through Sunday in Bowling Green, Ohio. All three games start at 7:07 p.m. EDT each night.

— Michigan Tech won the season series 2-1-1 despite not beating the Falcons in Houghton. BGSU won 3-2 and rallied late for a 4-4 tie Dec. 13-14 at Tech. The Huskies swept the second regular season series in Ohio, 5-2 and 5-4 on Jan. 31-Feb. 1.

Note: Alaska wins the No. 3 seed over Bowling Green because the Nanooks won the B tiebreaker with BGSU, which is conference wins. Because the Falcons and Nanooks didn’t play each other four times, the A tiebreaker, head-to-head record, doesn’t apply.

The final WCHA standings with tie breaking procedures can be found here.

Saturday’s WCHA playoff scenarios

Going into the final night of the regular season, Ferris State and Minnesota State are still tied at the top of the league standings.

Two teams — Michigan Tech and Bowling Green — are fighting for the No. 4 spot and a chance to host a first-round playoff series next weekend.

And finally, three teams — Northern Michigan, Bemidji State and Lake Superior State — are vying for two playoff spots.

Below are the best and worst case scenarios for nine of the league’s 10 teams. Numbers indicate a team’s seeding if the season ended today 

Thanks again to Geof Morris of UAHhockey.com for staying up late with me and double checking my work. If you notice any mistakes or discrepancies, email me at matt.wellens@uscho.com.

1. Minnesota State (40 points, 20-7-0 WCHA record)

For the Mavericks, it’s simple. A win clinches a least a share of the MacNaughton Cup, the WCHA regular season title. They’s also be the No. 1 seed.

Best case scenario: The Mavericks beat Michigan Tech on Senior Night and Ferris State loses at home to Lake Superior State. MSU then wins the MacNaughton Cup outright.

Worst case scenario: The Mavs lose tonight and Ferris beats LSSU. The Bulldogs then win the MacNaughton Cup outright and MSU is the No. 2 seed.

2. Ferris State (40, 19-6-2)

Same story for the Bulldogs. A win clinches a least a share of the MacNaughton Cup and the WCHA regular season title. If they remain tied with MSU, the Bulldogs get the No. 2 seed.

Best case scenario: The Bulldogs beat Lake Superior State on Senior Night and MSU loses at home to Tech. FSU then wins the MacNaughton Cup outright and is the No. 1 seed.

Worst case scenario: The Bulldogs lose tonight and MSU beats Tech. The Mavs then win the MacNaughton Cup outright and FSU is the No. 2 seed.

3. Alaska (30, 14-11-2)

The Nanooks have clinched a first-round, home-ice playoff series and the No. 3 seed in the WCHA playoffs with Friday night’s win over Alaska-Anchorage in Fairbanks. The Nanooks will host the No. 6 seed in a Thursday through Saturday best-of-three series next week. Like the Chargers, Alaska knows where it’s finishing.

Best case scenario: The Nanooks beat UAA to win the Governor’s Cup.

Worst case scenario: The Nanooks lose to UAA in regulation or overtime, forcing a shootout the Seawolves win. The Nanooks lose the Governor’s Cup, but they’re still in third.

4. Michigan Tech (28, 12-11-4)

The Huskies are currently tied with Bowling Green for the No. 4 seed in the WCHA, but own the head-to-head tiebreaker, having gone 2-1-1 against the Falcons.

Best case scenario: Tech can clinch a home-ice, first-round playoff series with a win over Minnesota State tonight.

Worst case scenario: If the Falcons gain one more point than Tech tonight, the Huskies are hitting the road for the WCHA playoffs. In the event of a three-way tie for fourth at 28 points between Tech, BGSU and UAA, the Huskies lose out, finishing sixth.

5. Bowling Green (28, 12-11-4)

The Falcons clinched a spot in the WCHA playoffs with a win at home over Bemidji State on Friday.

Best case scenario: As detailed above, if the Falcons get one more point than Michigan Tech tonight, they take the final home-ice spot. BGSU loses a two-way tie with Tech due to head-to-head, but beats the Huskies and UAA in a three-way tie that comes down to record vs. top seeded Minnesota State.

Worst case scenario: The lowest BGSU can finish at this point is fifth. In the event of a two-way tie with UAA for fifth, BGSU wins out due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.

6. Alaska-Anchorage (26, 11-12-4)

The Seawolves have clinched a playoff spot despite losing Friday in Fairbanks because of losses by Bemidji State and Lake Superior State.

Best case scenario: The highest UAA can finish is No. 6 because it doesn’t have the tiebreakers to beat either Tech or BGSU. A win locks up the No. 6 spot and another series in Fairbanks.

Worst case scenario: The Seawolves are swept by the Nanooks and LSSU beats Ferris State. The Lakers win the tiebreaker via conference wins and UAA finishes eighth. BSU can not catch UAA.

7. Northern Michigan (25, 12-14-1)

The scenario is still as simple as it was yesterday for Northern: win and you’re in.

Best case scenario: NMU wins and UAA loses or ties at Alaska. Then the Wildcats finish sixth and get to go to Alaska … that’s as good as it gets, unfortunately.

Worst case scenario: NMU loses at Alabama-Huntsville while the Beavers and Lakers win. Then the Wildcats’ season is over.

8. Bemidji State (24, 10-13-4)

A win does not get the Beavers in. They need help tonight to get into the playoffs because they would lose a four-way tiebreaker at 26 points with UAA, NMU and LSSU due to a lack of conference wins. BSU also loses a three-way tiebreaker with UAA and LSSU or NMU and LSSU. BSU wins a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Lakers, meaning if both lose, the Beavers get in.

Best case scenario: Beavers win while NMU and LSSU lose. That gets BSU to seventh.

Worst case scenario: Bemidji loses while the Lakers get either a tie or win. Then the Beavers are out.

9. Lake Superior State (24, 12-15-0)

Like Bemidji, a win doesn’t guarantee the Lakers a playoff spot. They need the most help.

Best case scenario: The Lakers can climb to sixth via a win and losses by NMU, UAA and BSU.

Worst case scenario: If the Lakers lose tonight at Ferris State, their season is over.

March 7-8 WCHA picks, plus predicting the final standings

Unlike the WCHA standings, there’s no question how this regular season pick ‘em battle will end.

First place: Shane Frederick. Last place: Matt Wellens.

Unlike the last place team in the WCHA standings, however, I still get to make the playoffs for redemption.

Here is how Shane and I predict the final weekend of the regular season will pan out. There’s not much of a difference between us this weekend.

Does that mean the weekend will be predictable? Don’t count on it.

Michigan Tech at Minnesota State

Shane: MSU is playing for the MacNaughton Cup, and Tech is playing for home ice. This should be a really good series in Mankato. The Mavericks aren’t just on a seven-game win streak but have won 11 in a row at home. I think they keep things rolling. Mavericks 3-2, 4-1

Matt: I feel like Michigan Tech matches up better with Minnesota State than anyone, but there’s just too much at stake for the Mavericks to drop their first game in Mankato. Mavericks 4-3, 5-3

Lake Superior at Ferris State

Shane: The Bulldogs might be a bit angry after getting swept in Alaska a week ago. How they bounce back from that and the travel will be interesting. The Lakers are hoping to keep their playoff spot, but it could be tough in Big Rapids, where Ferris has been so good. Bulldogs 3-1, 4-2

Matt: It tough to call last week a slip up for Ferris State based on how well the Nanooks are playing. Meanwhile, the Lakers really struggled against Minnesota State at home. There’s too much at stake for Ferris to lose one this weekend. They may say their more concerned with the big picture of winning a WCHA playoff title and returning to the NCAA tournament, but losing the MacNaughton Cup could be a big blow to their confidence. Bulldogs 4-1, 3-1

Alaska Anchorage at Alaska

Shane: As we mentioned in our column Thursday, all eyes will be on Fairbanks late Saturday night. The Nanooks look like the most dangerous team in the league right now, and they close things out with a rivalry series. The Seawolves have been much improved, but I like the home team here. Nanooks 4-2, 3-2

Matt: Late Saturday night? Try early Sunday morning. Even if there were no postseason implications riding on this series, I’d still fight my hardest to stay up to 1:30 a.m. or on Sunday, 2:30 a.m. because of blasted daylight savings time. The Nanooks are the hottest team in the league right now. Besides the No. 9 seed, the biggest loser at the end of the weekend may be the No. 6 seed, which could be headed to Fairbanks. Nanooks 4-3, 3-2

Bemidji State at Bowling Green

Shane: Are the Beavers still stinging after splitting at home with Huntsville? That came a week after a huge home split against Ferris State. So which team will show up against the Falcons, who snapped a five-game winless streak last Saturday. Two desperate teams here. Beavers 3-1, Falcons 3-2

Matt: Despite splitting at Northern Michigan a week ago, the Falcons really only played maybe one solid period all weekend — the first on Saturday — and they rode that effort to a win. Bemidji obviously isn’t playing its best either right now having lost to Huntsville. If BSU misses the playoffs, that loss will haunt them for a long time. Falcons 3-2, Beavers 2-1

Northern Michigan at Alabama Huntsville

Shane: No one wants to admit it, but teams all but put themselves down for four points when they play the Chargers. The Wildcats have a chance to get themselves out of ninth place and into the postseason with a sweep. They’ve been warned by UAH’s win at Bemidji State last week. Wildcats 4-1, 3-2

Matt: One of the Wildcats biggest faults during the second half of the season was playing really good one night, and just awful another. Sometimes that less-than-stellar night came on Friday. Sometimes on Saturday. Minus the first period on Saturday, NMU put together two solid games a week ago. That kind of effort should be enough to sweep UAH. Wildcats 3-0, 3-1

Last week: Shane 6-2-0, Matt 3-5-0. Overall: Shane 127-60-21, Matt 119-68-21.

BONUS

So if by chance either Shane or I nail our picks this week, how would the standings look?

Here is how they’d shake out, with BSU-BGSU being the only series Shane and I disagreeing about. We have both teams getting a win — just one different nights — so our standings look the same.

Predicted WCHA Standings

Seed, Team, Points

1, Minnesota State, 42

2, Ferris State, 42

3, Alaska, 32

4, Michigan Tech, 28

————————-

5, Bowling Green, 28

6, Northern Michigan, 27

7, Alaska Anchorage, 26

8, Bemidji State, 26

————————-

9, Lake Superior State, 24

10, Alabama Huntsville, 5

Predicted WCHA First Round

No. 8 Bemidji State at No. 1 Minnesota State

No. 7. Alaska Anchorage at No. 2 Ferris State

No. 6. Northern Michigan at No. 3 Alaska

No. 5 Bowling Green st No. 4 Michigan Tech

What I think I’ve learned leading up to a crazy final weekend in the WCHA

Heading into the last week of the regular season in the WCHA, here is what I think I learned from last weekend.

You couldn’t ask for a more exciting final weekend

From the MacNaughton Cup, to the pursuit of home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, to just making the league playoffs, everything is up for grabs this weekend in the final days of the regular season.

Minnesota State and Ferris State, who will finish either No. 1 or No. 2, are tied atop the league standings with 38 points each and should they remain tied, they will share the league’s regular season title. The Mavericks, who currently have one more league win than Ferris State, would be the No. 1 seed if the season ended today.

Six other teams — Alaska, Michigan Tech, Bowling Green, Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State and Lake Superior State — still have a chance to host a first-round, home-ice playoff series with the Huskies and Nanooks already having clinched a playoff spot.

As for the Falcons, Seawolves, Beavers and Lakers, all four could be caught by ninth-place Northern Michigan this weekend and miss the playoffs.

The only team who has nothing to play for when it comes to the postseason is Alabama-Huntsville but …

The Chargers aren’t rolling over for anyone

UAH picked up its second win of the season on Friday when it scored a 2-1 victory over arch-rival Bemidji State in Bemidji. The Beavers rebounded for a 4-1 victory on Saturday, but the damage had already been done.

Instead of sitting tied for fifth with UAA and BGSU at 26 points, the Beavers now find themselves tied for seventh with LSSU and just one point ahead of ninth-place NMU.

What might be even worse for Beavers fans now is they will have to put away their “Who Hates Huntsville?” T-shirts and dawn some Charger blue — underwear is fine, it doesn’t have to be visible — this weekend in hopes their hated rivals can pull another upset.

The Chargers host the Wildcats this weekend and the first home win of the year for UAH might be enough to get BSU into the WCHA playoffs and keep the ‘Cats out.

The Chargers have been close on numerous occasions to winning at the Von Braun Center, having lost to Bemidji State, Ferris State, St. Cloud State and Lake Superior State (twice) by just one goal.

Then there’s UAH’s best result at home this season, a 1-1 tie with Alaska-Anchorage.

Now with a little confidence in them, don’t be surprised if UAH goes out with a win this season.

Every league should leave a team or two out of the playoffs

I spent four seasons covering the CCHA here in Marquette from 2003-2007 as a student at NMU and returned to the U.P. in 2011 to cover the league’s final three campaigns. During that time, I can’t remember once seeing anything as crazy as I’ve seen in the new-look WCHA this year.

And in comparison to the WCHA, the rest of college hockey has seemed kind of boring.

The only league that comes close is the NCHC, where St. Cloud State and North Dakota are tied for first with 42 points going into the final weekend of the regular season, with Nebraska-Omaha sitting three points back in third.

But the battle for the regular season title is where the drama ends for the NCHC. Yes, Minnesota-Duluth and Western Michigan are tied for the fourth and the final first-round, home-ice playoff spot, with Denver just two points back, but big whoop if you falter and don’t get to stay home for the first round.

All eight teams are still in the playoffs, and redemption is easily attainable the following weekend. You’ll just have sleep in a hotel bed instead the night before instead of your own.

Some teams flourish on the road away from distractions. It can actually be a blessing in disguise.

Looking around the rest of the Division I standings, four of the six regular season league champions all won or will win titles by comfortable margins, and while races for byes and home ice may have been tight, none of those teams are facing the pressure five WCHA teams face this weekend in four different games — that of being left out of the league playoffs.

There could be no next week for those five teams, meaning they will have to wait a lot longer than six days for redemption.

Try six-plus months.

Feb. 28-March 1 WCHA picks

According to the WCHA (via collegehockeystats.net), there remain 387,420,489 scenarios for the league’s final finish and playoff seedings. And that’s with just two weekends and 18 games remaining in the regular season! Shane and Matt won’t go through all of them. We’ll just make our predictions for this weekend …

Bowling Green at Northern Michigan

Shane: These two teams have been fading, with both teams winning just one of their last seven games. Something’s got to give, right? While the standings remain tight, the host Wildcats are the team sitting in ninth place right now. Are they the more desperate team? Definitely … maybe. Wildcats 3-2, Falcons 5-1

Matt: I’ve found the more desperate team, the better chance they have to win. There’s no one more desperate than ninth-place Northern right now after it squandered not only a league-high games in hand, but a league-high of nine home games in the second half. The Wildcats need four points this weekend at home, but that might be asking too much of them right now. Falcons 3-1, Wildcats 4-2

Minnesota State at Lake Superior

Shane: Both of these teams seem to have overcome a bit of a January lull and are playing good hockey again. At second place, the Mavericks are in the more comfortable position in the standings, while the Lakers are mixed up in that gooey middle. MSU’s only road sweep this season was at Huntsville, but I think they claim another. Mavericks 2-1, 5-2

Matt: If this was in Mankato, I’m easily picking a sweep for the Mavericks. At 6-12-0 away from home, however, it’s tough to imagine the Mavs sweeping despite needing a win to stay in the hunt for the regular season title. LSSU needs a win more than MSU does right now as the Lakers are fighting for a playoff spot. The return of goaltender Kevin Kapalka will allow the hosts to steal a game. Lakers 2-1, Mavericks 5-2

Alabama-Huntsville at Bemidji State

Shane: Another long road trip for the Chargers. What’s their mentality like right now? Determined to play spoiler? Xing out the days on the calendar with season’s end in sight? The Beavers know there’s four points to lose in this series and a real chance to avoid the league’s Mendoza line. Beavers 3-1, 4-1

Matt: The WCHA should close every regular season with Alaska vs. Alaska-Anchorage, Michigan Tech vs. Northern Michigan and Alabama-Huntsville vs. Bemidji State. Beavers-Chargers might not be as competitive as Tech-Northern or Seawolves-Nanooks right now, but it’s darn entertaining. Who hates Huntsville? I don’t, but the phrase is darn catchy. Beavers 2-1, 3-1

Ferris State at Alaska

Shane: If things fall right, the Bulldogs can win the MacNaughton Cup this weekend. But this is not only Ferris’ first trip to Alaska this season but its first since November of 2011. The Nanooks are rolling, winning six of seven and getting their final four games at home. Nanooks 4-2. Bulldogs 3-2

Matt: I may have been one of the only media members to slot the Nanooks in the top four of the WCHA during the preseason polls, and for a long time, I regretted that prediction. Alaska has come on strong late in the season, winning on the road as of late. Alaska is .500 at home in league play and .500 on the road in the WCHA. Those stats say split in Fairbanks against the Bulldogs. Bulldogs 3-2, Nanooks 4-2

Last week: Shane 4-2-0, Matt 4-2-0. Overall: Shane 121-58-21, Matt 116-63-21.

Three things I think about the WCHA this week

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before

Lake Superior State coach Jim Roque called it a broken record last week, and it indeed that vinyl skipped again this week. The standings are tight! … The standings are tight! …  The standings are tight! (ad infinitum)

Here’s what we know: Ferris State and Minnesota State will finish 1-2 (likely, but not necessarily, in that order), and Alabama-Huntsville will finish 10th. Spots 3-9? Well, a lot can happen over the next two weeks, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the WCHA have to go deep into its tiebreaking rules to set the seedings for the conference tournament.

And speaking of Lake Superior, it helped its cause with a pair of close wins at Huntsville, propelling itself from ninth place to a tie for fifth.

Final Five teams will earn their way in

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The WCHA made things very interesting when it scrapped that silly “Alaska Plan” and instead, after adding Alabama-Huntsville to the league, decided to toss the bottom two teams from the postseason.

Not only is this making that race for eighth as interesting as the race for home ice (and every team that’s involved in one is involved in the other), but it will make for some tough first-round matchups in the tournament. If Ferris State wins the league, it won’t get a bye to the Final Five (as it would have under the Alaska Plan) but it won’t get to beat up on one-win Huntsville, either.

It might get Michigan Tech, a team that’s in third place right now. It might get Bemidji State, a team, like Tech, that has beaten the Bulldogs this season. That’s not an easy road — even at home.

Don’t blame the refs

Northern Michigan is now the team in that unenviable ninth-place spot after getting swept by rival Michigan Tech, including a 3-2 loss in Marquette on Saturday. In that game, the Wildcats had two close calls on goals that didn’t go their way. On one, the puck went in but an early whistle negated the score.

Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle, according to The Mining Journal, didn’t blame the officials for slipping up in such an important game. Right?

“You can’t fault an official who struggles to skate, when he doesn’t get in position to read the play,” he said. “He didn’t get down where he needs to be on the goal line and consequently, he didn’t see the puck was out of the goalie’s pad and behind the goalie. When you watch it on film, there should have never been a whistle, but he couldn’t get down there, and you can’t fault him for not being able to skate.”

Allrighty then.

Feb. 21-22 WCHA picks: Blizzard edition

Matt here, with a moment of honesty to start. Last week, you may have noticed I picked a lot of sweeps. That’s pretty crazy since splits seem to rule this year in the WCHA. I did it because I was trailing Shane and hoping to pick up a few wins. Since he picks splits so often, I was hoping he’d pick the wrong teams to win on the wrong night. Meanwhile, I could steal a win or two. It was a desperate more that flailed and put me further back. I’m back to picking straight and taking a few coaches’ advice and not worrying about the standings. Here we go.

Alaska Anchorage at Ferris State

Shane: Lots of intrigue here as Ferris State tries to increase its lead over idle Minnesota State atop the standings and Alaska-Anchorage tries to cling to a home-ice spot. The Seawolves have made their hay at home and haven’t been so good on the road. The Bulldogs have yet to lose in Big Rapids. Bulldogs 4-2, 3-1

Matt: The key point Shane made above is the Bulldogs have yet to lose in Big Rapids. I can’t see that streak ending now, not when Ferris can put some serious distance between itself and the Mavericks in the MacNaughton Cup chase. Bulldogs 3-1, 3-2

Northern Michigan at/vs. Michigan Tech

Shane: Amid the muck of the middle of the standings, each of these two rivals could end up in a home-ice spot after the weekend just as easily as they could barely above ninth place. They split a home-and-home series early in the season, winning at their own barns. I see no reason why that won’t happen again. Huskies 4-3, Wildcats 2-1

Matt: The weather is just beautiful in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for this home-and-home series. Currently, Marquette — the site of Saturday’s game — is a wet, sloppy mess after a warm day yesterday (42 degrees!) and a heavy, wet snow last night. Thankfully that slop will all freeze up as the temperature drops throughout the day to the teens. Meanwhile in Houghton, where tonight’s game is scheduled to be played, there is a blizzard warning until 8 a.m. on Saturday because of some minor 25-35 and 40-50 mph wind gusts in the forecast. These allegedly produce “white out conditions.” Sweet, eh? Good thing this series is being broadcast for fans locally on TV. I may have to join them tonight since my Corolla is not “blizzard friendly.” Huskies 3-2, Wildcats 3-2

Lake Superior at Alabama Huntsville

Shane: No team is happier to be home this weekend than the Chargers. Can they pull off a rare win? The Lakers are wallowing in that unenviable ninth-place spot after splitting their last three series. There’s a good opportunity to move up but they’ll have their own long road trip. Lakers 5-3, Chargers 2-1

Matt: The high in Huntsville today is supposed to be 57. Tomorrow, it’s going to be 64. Just out of spite, I want to pick LSSU to lose 57-0 tonight and 64-0 on Saturday to the Chargers, but I’m also a little angry at the UAH athletic department for tweeting about the start of baseball season recently. I’m punishing both schools with a loss this weekend. Chargers 1-0, Lakers 2-1.

Last week: Shane 7-2-1, Matt 5-4-1. Overall: Shane 117-56-21, Matt 112-61-21.

What I think I learned this Valentine’s Day weekend in the WCHA

Here are the three things I think I learned about the WCHA this Valentine’s Day weekend with three weekends now remaining in the regular season.

The road to the WCHA Final Five will go through Big Rapids and Mankato

Ok, so I don’t think this one, I can safely say I know it for a fact.

First-round, best-of-three WCHA playoff series March 14-15 in Big Rapids, Mich., and Mankato, Minn., are no longer just an assumption, they are indeed a fact after both Ferris State and Minnesota State clinched home ice over the weekend thanks to Lake Superior State splitting with Northern Michigan and Alaska sweeping Michigan Tech.

The Mavericks and Bulldogs are tied for first in the WCHA with 34 points, which is the maximum number of points third-place Alaska-Anchorage can accumulate after taking three of four points at home against Bowling Green. NMU, which sits in eighth, can max out at 33 points while four other teams — Alaska, Tech, BGSU and LSSU — can only total 32 points tops the rest of the season.

The lowest either FSU or MSU can finish is in a tie with UAA for second place, or potentially a three-way tie for first in the league, which would leave the Mavericks first, Bulldogs second and Seawolves third based on number of league wins.

Ferris State and Minnesota State have been two of the best teams in the country on their home ice this year. Just in league play, FSU is 9-0-1 while the Mavericks are 11-1-0.

Anchorage is the last place almost anyone in the WCHA wants to play in the first round

The Bulldogs and Mavericks may be nigh unbeatable at home, but a trip to Mankato doesn’t involve hopping on planes and hanging out in airport terminals like a trip to Anchorage does.

While not as dominant as Ferris or MSU, the third-place Seawolves haven’t been half bad themselves at home, going 9-3-2 in league play and 11-3-2 overall at Sullivan Arena. The only team in the league that may welcome a trip to Anchorage is the Alaska Nanooks, who along with NMU and LSSU are one of three teams to get a win at Sullivan Arena.

To clinch home ice and return to Anchorage for the playoffs, UAA will have to win at Ferris State and at Alaska over the next three weeks. UAA is 3-7-2 overall this season on the road and 2-6-2 in league play away from Anchorage.

Along with the Nanooks, the WCHA would also probably be pleased with a fifth, sixth and if necessary seventh game between the Seawolves and Nanooks. If you remember a ways back, the league originally planned to have Alaska and UAA meet in the postseason every year to cut down on travel costs. It could still get its wish.

The WCHA standings will only get tighter

Last week, LSSU head coach Jim Roque said he felt like a broken record talking about how tight the league standings are each and every week.

Well, Roque’s record player isn’t getting fixed anytime soon. It’s probably going to get worse.

Roque’s Lakers and Wildcats solved little by splitting this weekend in Marquette, Bemidji State kept pace with an upset Saturday of league-leading Ferris State, and Michigan Tech was reeled back into the middle of the pack by Alaska, which joined the logjam with 7-3 and 7-2 wins in Houghton.

Bemidji, LSSU and Northern all have series coming up against last-place Alabama-Huntsville, meaning they are a weekend away from jumping from the bottom half of the standings to the top half, assuming they don’t slip up against the Chargers.

The Lakers and Wildcats also have two games in hand on everyone in front of them battling for home ice and a playoff spot, so the ‘Cats and Lakers can both make up some ground with a split while teams take their last bye.

What this all means is, if things continue the way they have been, someone may be missing the WCHA playoffs not because they lost a first or second tiebreaker, but because a third or fourth tiebreaker didn’t go their way.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to a flip of the coin, which would be dumb to rule out at this point considering how tight and unpredictable these past few weeks have been.

For WCHA tie breaking procedures, visit the league’s standings page here and scroll to the bottom of the page.

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