Three things: 2016 brings entertaining games early

1. Beavers steal three points

Bemidji State and Alaska played the lone conference series this weekend. Both teams were  too close to the WCHA cellar for comfort, and both teams needed the points this weekend to lift themselves out of it — BSU came into the weekend in eighth place (10 points) while Alaska was just a point behind in ninth (and out of playoff position).

The Beavers ended up getting the upper hand, earning three points and putting some separation  themselves and the Nanooks in two entertaining games. And because it’s the WCHA, both games went to overtime. Myles Fitzgerald scored two goals on Saturday, including the game-winner with 7.1 seconds left in OT, as BSU won 6-5. On Sunday, Leo Fitzgerald scored BSU’s lone goal in the third period to get the tie.

The three points pulled BSU up to sixth place with 13 league points; they will stay in Alaska this week for a series against Alaska Anchorage. The Nanooks, meanwhile, are still in ninth place and have three straight road series — at Huntsville, at Northern Michigan and at Wisconsin.

2. The streak ends

Bowling Green went 1-2-0 this week, losing to 1-0 Western Michigan on Wednesday in Toledo before splitting with Clarkson on their home rink Saturday and Sunday. The Falcons outscored the Knights 6-3 on Saturday, but Sunday’s 3-2 loss snapped the Falcons’ 14-game unbeaten streak at BGSU Ice Arena. That was an impressive feat. Now the Falcons have seven more home games in the regular season, if they can keep up their strong play at home it should give them a big push, both in the Pairwise and the WCHA standings.

3. WCHA decent in holiday tournaments

WCHA teams participated in three different holiday tournaments, with various results.

Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan both played in the Great Lakes Invitational. The Huskies took second and the Wildcats took third. The Huskies beat Michigan State in overtime in the semifinals but lost to Michigan 4-2 in the finals. The Wolverines scored four unanswered goals to top the Huskies. The Wildcats also lost to Michigan and beat Michigan State in overtime. In all, the GLI was something of a wash for the conference’s overall record vs. the Big Ten — the league is now 8-6-3 against B1G teams — but it showed that both teams were capable of skating with a strong team like Michigan.

Ferris State participated in Minnesota’s Mariucci Classic, also taking third place. The Bulldogs lost to Harvard 7-3 in the first game but topped UConn 5-2 in the consolation championship. It was a typically decent performance for the Bulldogs, who are 9-9-4 overall and still have yet to lose two games in a weekend.

Finally, Lake Superior State went 1-1 in ThatVermont’s Catamount Cup. LSSU lost to the hosts 1-0 but turned around and blanked Brown 3-0 in the second game.  gave them second place in the tournament. The Lakers, who are 4-3-1 in their last eight games, host Bowling Green this weekend.

WCHA picks, 12/29-1/3

Happy holidays, everybody. Welcome to that odd time in the college hockey season full of traditional tournaments, nonconfernece showdowns and, for some, the continuation of a long winter’s nap. It all makes for tough pickin’. The action starts tonight (Tuesday) with the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit, which has turned into a fun all-Michigan matchup.

Great Lakes Invitational

Tuesday, Dec. 29

Michigan Tech vs. Michigan State

Jack: The Huskies closed out November with a 6-1-1 record and, aside from a puzzling home sweep at the hands of Alaska Anchorage after that, look to be back to where they were last season. They’ve already come back against the Spartans twice, winning once in overtime and tying in the other game, and I see no reason to think that the Huskies won’t win a third time (probably in OT). Huskies 4, Spartans 3

Shane: The beginning of December was a perplexing stretch for the Huskies, with the two home losses to the Seawolves and the tie at Lake Superior State that put them on a three-game winless skid. But I agree with you, Jack, that this is a pretty good team, one that should get into the title game of the GLI. Huskies 4, Spartans 2

Northern Michigan vs. Michigan

Jack: The Wildcats are about the most average team in college hockey, if one looks at their record: 6-6-6 overall. As head coach Walt Kyle likes to say, not a lot of high high or low lows. They’ve been pretty even. However, they’re making their first GLI appearance since 1998 against a former CCHA rival that is playing very solid hockey. I think Michigan has too much firepower and will win their first matchup since the dissolution of the CCHA in 2013. Wolverines 4, Wildcats 2

Shane: It’s a pretty safe bet that this game will take more than 60 minutes to be decided, considering NMU’s eight overtime games thus far. While average is a good word to describe a 6-6-6 team (or evil!), I think there’s above-average talent on the Wildcats roster. Whether it’s enough to topple the 10th-ranked Wolverines, I’m not so sure. Wolverines 2, Wildcats 1 (likely decided in some sort of official GLI tie-breaking procedure)

Wednesday, Dec. 30
Third-Place Game

Jack: NMU and MSU also haven’t played since their CCHA days, but this is always a fun rivalry with some shared history. I think NMU will rally for third place. Wildcats 3, Spartans 1

Shane: I’m going with what I said above, only this time giving NMU the nod in tiebreaking fashion. Wildcats 2, Spartans 1

Championship Game
Jack: The matchup most are probably expecting, the Huskies and Wolverines met in the first round of last year’s GLI, with Michigan winning 2-1. U-M is probably the favorite but I’ll take Tech just because. Huskies 4, Wolverines 3

Shane: This should be a great game, and I agree, Jack, that Michigan is the favorite. Although the WCHA could use the boost in nonconference play, I’m going to have to go the other way. Wolverines 3, Huskies 2

Catamount Cup

Tuesday, Dec. 29

Lake Superior State at Vermont

Jack: I’ll admit it: I don’t follow Hockey East or the ECAC closely enough to know how Lake State will match up to either of their opponents this week. That said, I know all four teams participating are below the .500 mark, which means the Lakers have a good a shot to win as any team. Vermont is 5-12-2 and LSSU is 6-10-4. If the Lakers have another top-notch performance by Gordon Defiel, they could steal a win here. Lakers 2, Catamounts 1

Shane: Last year at this time was Lake Superior State’s highlight of the season when it won the Florida College Classic. Can the Lakers make midseason magic again? I say, Why not? Lakers 3, Catamounts 2

Wednesday, Dec. 30

Lake Superior State vs. Brown

Jack: Brown is just 2-7-3, overall, with one win coming against Colgate at the Friendship Four tournament in Belfast. They’ve scored 2.5 goals-per-game — which is slightly better than LSSU’s scoring rate of 2.0 goals-per game. So I expect a low-scoring one here. Brown 2, Lakers 1

Shane: There probably won’t be many goals scored in that whole event, one of the plagues on the WCHA and college hockey, in general this season. I’ll stand by my statement above: Midseason Magic for Lake State. Lakers 1, Bears 0

Western Michigan at Bowling Green

Jack: The single game on Wednesday, Dec. 30, is the back-end of a home-and-home that started Oct. 13 with a 4-1 WMU win. Since then, the teams have gone in opposite directions: BGSU is still unbeaten at home and is No. 12 in the country while WMU is 6-10-1 and has struggled against the NCHC’s top teams. And although this isn’t technically a home game for Bowling Green, it’s at the Huntington Center in nearby Toledo, Ohio. I expect the Falcons to keep rolling. Falcons 5, Broncos 2

Shane: I attended an NCAA regional at the Huntington Center a couple of years ago. Nice arena. Hopefully there will be more people at this game than there were to see Minnesota State, Miami, St. Cloud State and Notre Dame in 2013. Anyway, the Falcons have gone nine games in a row without a loss. Make it 10 after this one. Falcons 4, Broncos 1

Alabama Huntsville at North Dakota

Jack: Talk about a rude awakening for the New Year. UAH greets 2016 with a nonconference series at Ralph Engelstad Arena on Jan. 1-2.  This won’t be easy for the Chargers. However, while I don’t think they’ll win, don’t be surprised if a performances by Carmine Guerriero or Matt Larose keeps them in one or both games far longer than F’n Hawks fans will expect. Fighting Hawks 4-1, 5-2

Shane: I watched the Chargers play in Mankato a few weeks ago, and they play hard. Good goaltending and no quit can cause fits for any opponent. But they’re going into a hornet’s nest (hey, Hornets, that would have been a better name than Fighting Hawks, am I right?) this week against the country’s second-ranked team and one that’s been rolling most of the season. Fighting Hawks 5-0, 4-1

Mariucci Classic

Friday Jan. 1
Ferris State vs. Harvard

Jack: Ferris State has lost consecutive games this season just once. That might be in jeopardy. Harvard has given up just 1.5 goals a game and can score some goals, too, with Jimmy Veasy and Alexander Kerfoot both in the top 10 nationally for scoring. Crimson 3, Bulldogs 1

Shane: As a USCHO rankings voter, I’ve liked Harvard since the beginning of the season, and expect the Crimson to win this one, especially with all of that skill on Mariucci Arena’s giant sheet of ice. However, Ferris State will give them a fight to the finish. Crimson 4, Bulldogs 3

Saturday, Jan. 2
Third-Place Game

Jack: I think Minnesota beats UConn (the Gophers aren’t great, but they’re at home for this one), but the Bulldogs will once again avoid being swept this season by beating UConn for third place. Bulldogs 2, Huskies 0

Shane: I’m with you on Minnesota beating UConn in the first game. However, I’m not sure what the rules are for our own wins and losses when it comes to counting the result if Ferris State does play the Gophers. I guess we just have to go with a W or an L, no matter what. Bulldogs 3, Huskies 2

Bemidji State at Alaska

Jack: The lone WCHA series this weekend finds the Beavers doing their first-ever extended Alaska swing. I assume the Saturday-Sunday (Jan. 2-3) series makes things easier on BSU’s holiday traveling, but either way it may take them some time to adjust. I think this can be a split, considering the two teams split in Bemidji in November. Nanooks 3-2, Beavers 5-3

Shane: This will be the first weekend of dark jerseys at home, the WCHA’s new mandate to — what? — boost fan interest? I’m not sure I’m a fan of this, but it doesn’t really change things for me. The Beavers are beginning their long Alaska trip to play both teams there, while the Nanooks are at home for one weekend before a long road swing that won’t bring them back to their own rink for games until February. I think both teams would be pleased with a split here. Beavers 3-2, Nanooks 3-2

Clarkson at Bowling Green

Jack: There are so many games this weekend we almost forgot about this series! This is a rematch of last year’s series in New York, when Bowling Green tied and beat the Golden Knights. Clarkson seems to be an improved team this year but I can’t see BG losing this weekend. Their home streak continues. Falcons 4-2, 3-2

Shane: The Falcons have an interesting schedule from the holidays into January with the Wednesday game against Western Michigan, this series and then another nonconference game against Miami (after first traveling to Lake Superior State). Bowling Green simply doesn’t lose at home, it seems, and I’m not ready to predict that they’re about to now. Falcons 4-3, 4-1

Last Week: Shane 1-1-0, Jack 1-1-0;. Overall: Shane 55-37-22, Jack 51-41-22.

Weekend picks, Dec. 18-19

Happy holidays everyone. Just one series to worry about this week, so let’s get right to it …

Colorado College at Alabama Huntsville

Shane: It’s a matchup between the bottom two teams in the NCHC and WCHA. Each has just three wins. The Chargers are on a 10-game winless streak, but I thought they showed some promise at times last weekend in Mankato against Minnesota State. The have good goaltending, a legit first line and coach Mike Corbett has them playing hard. They’ve probably deserved better on this tough stretch. The Tigers started the season with 13 losses in a row, and they give up a lot of goals. I think Huntsville does its conference proud this weekend. Chargers 3-1, 4-2

Jack: Today Brad Schlossman Tweeted out a fun fact: CC is 3-38-2 on the road since 2013-14. That’s bad. Heck, even Huntsville has a better record since then. The Chargers are 7-40-4 in that same span. (They’ve been 6-25-3 at home since then, too). UAH has just one win at home this season and is winless since Halloween, but they’ve been playing pretty good hockey despite not getting the victories. I agree that Huntsville gets the sweep here and gives the WCHA a boost against the NCHC. (And if they needed any more motivation: rival Bemidji State is the only other WCHA team to beat an NCHC team this season. I’m sure the Chargers don’t want the Beavers to have any good things to themselves.) Chargers 3-2, 4-3

Last Week: Shane 7-1-2, Jack 6-2-2;. Overall: Shane 54-36-22, Jack 50-40-22.

Three things, Dec. 13

Three things I think I learned this weekend:

1. Maverick, Falcons keep rolling

Minnesota State and Bowling Green sit 1-2 atop the WCHA standings, separated by just two points. Both teams scored sweeps over the weekend with the Mavericks beating Alabama Huntsville twice at home, and Bowling Green getting two at Bemidji State. Each team extended its unbeaten streak to nine games. Minnesota State is 5-0-4 in that stretch, and Bowling Green is 7-0-2 at the same time. Impressive that the Falcons were able to keep things going after doing most of their damage during a six-game homestand.

2. Tech back on track

After getting swept at home by Alaska Anchorage a week ago and tying at Lake Superior State on Friday night, Michigan Tech exploded for four goals in the first period on Saturday against the Lakers, winning 6-2. That result came despite the Huskies getting outshot 37-20. Alex Petan had two goals and an assist in the game and a four-point series. Michigan Tech is three points behind Minnesota State but has played two more games. The Huskies will play in the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit and then the Desert Hockey Classic in Glendale, Arizona, before getting back into league play Jan. 15-16 with a showdown against the Mavericks.

3. Wildcats win in OT

Northern Michigan played its seventh overtime game of the season on Saturday night and got an extra-period victory for the first time, beating Ferris State 3-2 in Marquette. Dominik Shine scored the game-winner to get the series split. The Bulldogs won 4-2 on Friday. The Wildcats, who have six ties, including four in conference play, put themselves in a good spot to compete for home ice over the second half of the season. They are two points behind fourth-place Ferris, although the Bulldogs have played two more league games. They’re also two points ahead of Alaska Anchorage and Lake Superior State, both of which have played two fewer conference games than Northern.

Weekend picks, Dec. 11-12

Jack here …

The semester is winding down for most of the schools in the WCHA. As such, just about every team will play a couple games this weekend before shutting down until after Christmas (save Alabama Huntsville, which plays a nonconference series next weekend).

All that means is one final week of league action which, once again, promises to be a doozy. We have two instate rivalry series (Alaska’s Governor’s Cup, plus Tech heading to Lake Superior State), one former CCHA grudge match (Ferris and Northern Michigan) and two series in Minnesota (Bowling Green visiting Bemidji and Alabama Huntsville visiting Minnesota State).

Neither Shane nor I did a great job making picks last week — I got three games right and Shane just two — but maybe we’ll do better this week. I’m gaining on him in the overall picks race (the winner buying the other a beverage of some sort … or something). So let’s see what happens this week.

Ferris State at Northern Michigan

Jack: Neither the Bulldogs nor the Wildcats have been able to put together a consistent win streak. They also haven’t lost very much. With a pair of .500 teams facing off in Marquette, there’s no way this series isn’t a split (or at the very least, two ties). Bulldogs 4-3; Wildcats 4-3

Shane: Between Ferris State’s splits and Northern Michigan’s overtime games, there’s no way these two teams don’t win one game apiece with at least one game being decided in OT. I’m copying Jack’s picks here, but there’s no way those teams will combine for 14 goals this weekend. Bulldogs 3-1, Wildcats 2-1

Michigan Tech at Lake Superior State

Jack: The Huskies  losing both games against Alaska Anchorage at home was the shocker of the month. Tech will be angry headed to Sault Ste. Marie, where Lake Superior State hasn’t played well. I think LSSU will keep it close but I’m picking a Tech sweep.  Huskies 3-1, 2-1

Shane: I’m still stunned that Tech was swept at home last weekend, and there’s no doubt they’ll be spittin’ nails by the time they make their way across the U.P. The Lakers have been on a nice little roll here but might be a little road weary after coming home from Alaska (as, perhaps, the Huskies were last week). Huskies 4-2, 3-2

Alabama Huntsville at Minnesota State

Jack: The Chargers can’t seem to catch a break — they were seven seconds away from going to overtime against Northern Michigan but gave up a penalty shot and lost 4-3. They would eventually tie on Saturday night, but they seem to be looking for a bounce or two. Not sure the Mavericks will surrender one this weekend. Mavericks 4-2, 5-3

Shane: Alabama Huntsville has played everybody pretty closely, and I know the Mavericks are aware of that as they get ready to close out 2015. The Chargers haven’t beaten MSU since 2001-02, a 16-game winless streak. I don’t see that changing this weekend. Mavericks 5-1, 3-1

Bowling Green at Bemidji State

Jack: Bowling Green has never played well in Bemidji. The Beavers are 3-0-1 against the Falcons all-time at the Sanford Center (the teams only recently started playing one another, when BG joined the WCHA). But BG has lost just once in its last 10 games. The Beavers are playing well lately, so I think this is a split. Beavers 4-3, Falcons 3-2

Shane: The Falcons are on a seven-game unbeaten streak with the last six of those games taking place at home. Now they go on the road to play a much-improved Beavers team in what should be a very entertaining series for you to watch, Jack. I, too, will call a split. Beavers 3-2, Falcons 2-1

Alaska at Alaska Anchorage

Jack: Round one of the Governor’s Cup definitely sees the Seawolves looking like the stronger team right now. Aside from a lost weekend in Mankato — MSU outscored UAA 8-2 — the Seawolves have been pretty consistent. I think they’ll sweep this weekend. Seawolves 6-4, 3-1

Shane: The Seawolves have to be feeling good after those two wins in Houghton, while the Nanooks really seem to be struggling right now. You know what they say about rivalries, though: Throw out the records. That includes records over the last few weeks. Split. Nanooks 4-3, Seawolves 3-2

Last Week: Jack 3-4-3; Shane 2-5-3. Overall: Jack 44-38-20; Shane 47-35-20.

Three things: And Out Come The Seawolves

…And Out Come The Seawolves

Alaska Anchorage limped into Houghton, Mich., last weekend.

The Seawolves, losers of three of their past four coming into the series with Michigan Tech, were outscored 8-2 by Minnesota State the previous weekend in Mankato, Minn.

And instead of returning to Anchorage, UAA remained in the Midwest, giving them some extra time to think about it as a team.

As it turns out, that extra time in the Lower 48 did the Seawolves some good.

Alaska Anchorage waltzed into MacInnes Student Ice Arena and took two games from No. 17 Michigan Tech. Both games were 3-2 wins and in both games, UAA trailed at the second intermission and scored two goals in the third period.

Sean McTavish scored two goals and Tad Kozun had the game-winner Friday, while Jarrett Brown, Chase Van Allen and Brad Duwe all scored Saturday. Goaltender Olivier Mantha, who has made 12 straight starts, stopped 62 of 66 shots.

The road sweep was UAA’s first outside of the state of Alaska since 2011, and the wins should rejuvinate the Seawolves, now 8-6-2 overall and 5-4-1 in the league, as they return to Anchorage this weekend for their instate Governor’s Cup grudge match with Alaska.

Try, Try, Tie

That anticipated matchup between conference frontrunners Bowling Green and Minnesota State didn’t decide much.

In fact, as is becoming somewhat of a routine for the WCHA this season, the teams skated to a pair of 2-2 draws both Friday and Saturday.

That’s not to say each game wasn’t without drama. In Friday night’s game, the Falcons scored twice in the final five minutes — including Ben Murphy’s wrist-shot with seven seconds remaining.

On Saturday, it was Minnesota State who tied it in the third period, on Zeb Knutson’s power-play goal.

So where does that leave us? Well, Minnesota State began last week tied with Michigan Tech for first in the league. But by the end of the weekend, the Mavericks leapfrogged the Huskies with the two points earned to go into first place, while the Falcons pulled into a tie for second place.

If last weekend was any indication, the rematch series in February is going to go a long way towards who ultimately wins the MacNaughton Cup.

Superior in Alaska

Don’t look now, but Lake Superior State has itself a three-game win streak.

The Lakers, who split with Ferris State the weekend previous, traveled to Alaska last weekend and gutted out a pair of 4-2, 2-0 wins against the host Nanooks. The sweep has the Lakers within striking distance of fourth place in the conference — they’re currently tied for sixth place with a 4-3-3 overall league record and 11 points.

But perhaps the biggest surprise is how they’re achieving their modest success so far. The Lakers are unbeaten on the road in league play (3-0-3) but have just one league win in Sault Ste. Marie.

They host UP rivals Michigan Tech this weekend  – will they finally be able to earn some more wins at home?

WCHA picks, Dec. 4-5

Shane here … We’re into December. Hard to believe the season is two months old already. So what do we know? Not much more than we did before the season started. Minnesota State, Michigan Tech and Bowling Green are still the league favorites. Travel to Alabama, Alaska and the Upper Peninsula is still a grind for visiting teams. And picking weekend winners still ain’t easy. But we try anyway. As David Letterman used to say, “This is an exhibition, not a competition. Please, please … no wagering.”

Minnesota State at Bowling Green

Shane: This is the series of the week, even if Mike Hastings and Chris Bergeron are trying to keep any hype to a minimum. I’m disappointed I can’t be there to see what should be an excellent series between two of the league’s three best teams. These teams have split each of their three series as league foes with three games going to overtime. There will be at least one OT this weekend — and another split. Falcons 2-1, Mavericks 3-2

Jack: I don’t really have anything else to add to your assessment of this series other than this looks like a split. I wouldn’t be surprised to see two overtime games, either. Mavericks 4-2, Falcons 3-2

Bemidji State at Ferris State

Shane: These two teams are developing a nice little rivalry, having played each other in the first round of the last two WCHA tournaments. Interesting thing about Ferris State: It hasn’t been swept this season but it hasn’t swept anyone either. Bemidji State, meanwhile, are coming off their first sweep of the season, at Alabama Huntsville. This is another long road trip, but history says the travel-weary Beavers get one. Bulldogs 4-1, Beavers 3-1

Jack: The Beavers actually have a pretty decent track record in Big Rapids of late — they’re 3-6-1 overall, but they took three points there last season. Of course, the Bulldogs ended up getting the Beavers back during last year’s WCHA playoffs, which included an epic triple-overtime Ferris State win. Anyway, I agree with you that this feels like a split to me. Beavers 4-2, Bulldogs 4-2

Alaska Anchorage at Michigan Tech

Shane: Interesting travel schedule comparison here. Michigan Tech is at home had to make the long trek from Alaska where it swept a series last weekend. Anchorage, meanwhile, remained in the Midwest after getting swept at Minnesota State a week ago. After considering all of that, I’ll say this: The Huskies are the better team, and they’ll sweep. Huskies 3-1, 5-2

Jack: The Seawolves have struggled after their solid start. They had a six-game homestand in which they won just two games. Now they’re in the midst of a long Midwestern swing in which they have to play two of the league’s best teams. I can’t see the Seawolves getting out of this one with a win. Huskies 4-1, 5-3

Northern Michigan at Alabama Huntsville

Shane: Has any team played more extra minutes than Northern Michigan this season? Six overtime games with five finishing in ties. The Wildcats like to keep things close, that’s for sure. Huntsville, meanwhile, is on a somewhat surprising six-game losing streak, although four of those games were against Tech and Bowling Green. I’m guessing there will be some OT this weekend. Wildcats 2-1, Chargers 2-1

Jack: Huntsville actually played better against Tech and BGSU than they did against a struggling Bemidji State team, which is a bit odd to me. Regardless, the Chargers played well against the Wildcats last year — going 2-1-1 with a sweep in Huntsville. I think they’ll get back on track and at least get a split (although I agree that overtime is most likely). Chargers 2-1, Wildcats 2-1

Lake Superior State at Alaska

Shane: The Lakers, too, have played a lot of extra periods, with three ties in five overtime games. They’re a tough team to figure out, but they’ve scored points in each of their last three conference series. The Nanooks haven’t made their home ice too tough on visitors, losing their last three there. They need to get that back on track if they want to get out a bottom-two spot. Nanooks 3-2, Lakers 2-1

Jack: I have a tough time figuring out both of these teams, but I have a feeling we’re going to be in splitsville again. Such is the nature of the WCHA this season, I guess. Lakers 3-2, Nanooks 3-2

Last week: Shane 8-2-0, Jack 5-5-0. Overall: Shane 45-30-17, Jack 41-34-17

Three things from the weekend that was

Three things I think I learned about the WCHA this weekend …

1. Blue(ger) period

Minnesota State senior forward Teddy Blueger put on quite a performance in the first period of the Mavericks’ 6-2 victory over Alaska Anchorage. Blueger had a hand in all five goals MSU scored in the first 20 (actually 15) minutes of the game, scoring once and assisting on the others. Good work by Matt Hodson of the WCHA to research the feat. According to league tweets, Blueger tied a WCHA record with four assists in a single period, becoming the ninth player in league history to do it and the first since Wisconsin’s Joe Pavelski on Jan. 14, 2006. Blueger’s five points in a period since Colorado College’s Scott Schneider had a record six on Feb. 21, 1987. Blueger, MSU’s top center had seven points going into the game and now leads the team with 12.

2. Top of the heap

As we near the halfway point of the season, there’s starting to be some separation in the league standings. And at the top, it’s really no surprise, as the favorites are right there. Minnesota State swept visiting Alaska Anchorage, and Michigan Tech swept at Alaska to sit atop the standings with 16 points each (although MSU has two games in hand). Bowling Green, which swept Northern Michigan (and also has two games in hand on Tech), is just two points back and will host Minnesota State next weekend in a marquee matchup. Ferris State isn’t far behind, four points in back of the Mavericks and Huskies and two behind the Falcons after getting a tough road split at Lake Superior State.

3. Righting the ship

Bemidji State was quite the closer at Alabama Huntsville, scoring three third-period goals in each game of the Wednesday-Friday series and winning 4-1 each night. Each game was tied 1-1 in the third period. Graeme McCormack had a goal in each game, and junior goalie Reid Mimmack improved to 3-0-1 since getting his first chance to play on Nov. 14 when he helped the Beavers snap a seven-game winless streak. Bemidji State is 3-1-1 since then, climbing out of the league basement and into sixth place, one point behind fifth-place Northern

Thanksgiving weekend picks, Nov. 25-29

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

What are we thankful for? Overtime games and ties, apparently. There were plenty of those last week in a league that seems to filled with parity but not necessarily a lot of goals. Perhaps that will change this weekend. Perhaps we should pick all ties and see if we come out any better. Since Bemidji State and Alabama Huntsville are playing a Wednesday-Friday series, we have to go to the picks a bit early.

Here we go …

Bemidji State at Alabama Huntsville

Shane: These are two teams looking hard for wins. The two teams have combined for just one win in the month of November, and it will be interesting to see how a week somewhat disruptive to the normal schedule affects them. Chargers 3-1, Beavers 2-1

Jack: The league already hates our deadlines, it seems, and now they continue that trend with this weird Wednesday/Friday series. (Long story short but we print early today.) But because the internet has no deadlines, we get a chance to analyze said series right here. The Beavers have struggled at home so maybe this road trip will be good for them. I think the Chargers may be more used to the weird schedule, but what do I know? I think this is a split. Chargers 2-1, Beavers 3-2

Northern Michigan at Bowling Green

Shane: The Falcons got their six-game homestand off to a good start with a sweep over Huntsville last week, while the Wildcats tied Minnesota State twice at home where they have yet to be beaten. Now Northern goes on the road. I like the home team here. Falcons 3-2, 3-1

Jack: The Falcons are also unbeaten at home, where they have only played five games prior to this weekend. I think that trend continues, but because they’re playing NMU, one or both of these games will likely go to overtime. Falcons 3-2, 3-2

Ferris State at Lake Superior State

Shane: We’re starting to learn not to take this year’s Lakers team lightly, and I won’t even against this improved Bulldogs team. I do worry about Lake State’s record at home, where it has won just once, but they’ll get one this weekend. Bulldogs 4-2, Lakers 3-2

Jack: The Lakers do seem to be better way from the Soo than they are there, but I think that 3-point weekend against the Beavers in Bemidji gave them some momentum. I think they’ll get one here too. Lakers 4-2, Bulldogs 4-3

Alaska Anchorage at Minnesota State

Shane: After a strong start, the Seawolves have slipped a bit and now begin a tough stretch in the Lower 48, where wins have been rare. The Mavericks have not been as dominant at home as they have been the last two years and want that to change. It will this weekend. Mavericks 4-2, 3-1

Jack: The Seawolves didn’t play as well last weekend against Penn State as I was thinking they would. Meanwhile, MSU has also had three consecutive two-point weekends (two ties last weekend followed two splits). I think the Seawolves can steal one here. Mavericks 4-2, Seawolves 3-2 

Michigan Tech at Alaska

Shane: The Huskies head to Alaska for a one-weekend trip, while the Nanooks are thrilled to be playing just their fifth and sixth home games of the year. Sounds like a split to me. Nanooks 4-3, Huskies 5-2

Jack: I’m agreed on the idea of a split. I’d agree to just about anything after last weekend’s tie-stravaganza. Nanooks 2-1, Huskies 4-2

Last week: Shane 4-1-7, Jack 3-2-7. Overall: Shane 37-28-17, Jack 36-29-17

Three things: Overtime overload

There were 12 games involving WCHA teams this past weekend. Nine of them went to overtime. And seven ended in ties. By this reporter’s count there’s been 26 total overtime games involving WCHA teams (13 were in conference games, and nine of those ended in ties… I think…. math is hard).

Aside from causing just about every beat reporter in the WCHA to want to toss their computers to the ice in frustration at least once over the weekend, the ties also further muddled up the standings. There hasn’t been one dominant team this season, but now we have two teams (Michigan Tech and Minnesota State) tied for first with 12 points, and two other teams (Bowling Green and Ferris State) tied for third with 10.

It raised the question: Does the WCHA (or even the NCAA?) need to go to 3-on-3 overtime? The NCHC started that this season. As my colleague Shane Frederick suggested, maybe the WCHA can award a point for getting to overtime and an extra point to whomever wins the 3-on-3. (Then a shootout, if necessary.)

Look, we all hate shootouts, but making games worth an extra point would give teams an extra incentive to get that extra goal. And it could also create more separation in the standings, which have always been extremely close during the three years of the newly-reformatted league.

Not sure it will ever happen, but it’s worth discussing after a weekend like this.

Going Bowling (Green)

The only WCHA series that didn’t have at least one tie still went to overtime (and both games were decided by just one goal). Bowling Green beat Alabama Huntsville 3-2 in overtime on Friday night before surviving a pair of UAH comeback attempts Saturday for a 4-3 victory.

It was the first conference sweep for the Falcons this season, and it extended their three-game win streak to move them into a tie for third place with Ferris State.

It also further cemented BG’s reputation as a solid defensive team. Goaltender Chris Nell leads the league with a 1.48 goals against and a .949 save percentage (both of which put him in the top 10 nationally). And the Falcons’ team defense has given up just 26 goals in 13 games (which is also top-10 quality).

Tech’s cardiac kids

Michigan Tech, visiting Michigan State for the first time since 1986, made their trip downstate worth it. On both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, Tech rallied to score the game-tying goal with less than two minutes to play.

On Saturday, Mark Auk’s first goal of the season sent the game to overtime while Tyler Heinonen’s game winner with 41 seconds to play gave the Huskies their first win over the Spartans  in East Lansing since 1981.

On Sunday afternoon, the Huskies trailed 4-2 with less than four minutes to go in regulation. Heinonen scored again to cut the lead to one before Malcolm Gould scored with the extra attacker to tie the game.

It was the first nonconference test for the Huskies, and although it was against an MSU program that’s been down in the 2010s, Tech is proving they’re a force to be reckoned with, from a competition standpoint as well as a recruiting standpoint, in their home state.

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