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WCHA picks: Jan. 23-24

Jack here.

We’re almost 2/3rds of the way through the college hockey season. In the WCHA, that means… well, it means we’re probably nowhere near close to figuring out which team is going to win the MacNaughton Cup, but we maybe have a decent idea.

Right now Minnesota State holds an eight-point first-place lead and looks to be the favorites, but Michigan Tech and Bowling Green both have games-in-hand. Last week saw the Mavs earn a sweep, which put some distance between them and Tech and BGSU, who split their series.

How will the top-ranked Mavericks perform down the stretch? If you’ll excuse the Haim reference, will they fumble when it comes down to the wire?

This weekend features just two conference series (LSSU at BGSU and Alaska at Tech), but for those old-school WCHA fans who hate change — or modern-day WCHA fan Rip Van Winkle, who fell asleep in 2010 and is just now waking up – this weekend’s North Star College Cup will feel like the Final Five came a little early.

Although this tournament doesn’t count for conference points (anymore), the game results will be huge for all the teams involved in terms of the Pairwise and conference positioning at the end of the season.

I’ll be interested to see what happens in St. Paul — at the very least it should be a great atmosphere. Now, onto the picks.

Northern Michigan at Penn State

Shane: With coach Walt Kyle placed on administrative leave for mysterious reasons, I have a hard time thinking that the Wildcats are going to be focused for this nonconference series against a good Nittany Lions team. Coming off two losses at Alabama Huntsville, NMU is reeling in more ways than one right now. Nittany Lions 3-1, 4-2

Jack: I still don’t know what to make of this whole Walt Kyle situation, but I agree with you, Shane. This almost feels like an “Alaska on probation” situation. The Wildcats might be OK down the stretch without their head coach, but I can’t imagine losing your coach just three days before a nonconference series is going to do much good for the players’ psyches. Nittany Lions 4-2, 2-1

Lake Superior State at Bowling Green

Shane: Both of these teams are coming off solid weekends, with the Lakers sweeping at home and the Falcons splitting at Michigan Tech. Bowling Green moved up in the rankings despite the split, which shows people are finally listening to what I’ve been saying for awhile now: The Falcons are good. Falcons 4-1, 3-2

Jack: I certainly didn’t see the Lakers winning a game against Bemidji State last week, much less sweeping the series. Hockey is weird, though: After that 1-0 buzzerbeater on Friday, the Lakers looked very good Saturday and rolled to the win. I think they’ve improved a lot from earlier this season. That said: Bowling Green is a much better team that Bemidji State. I can’t see the Lakers beating the Falcons in Ohio. Falcons 5-3, 3-1

Alaska at Michigan Tech

Shane: This could be a very entertaining series in Houghton. Very important weekend for the Huskies who are trying to stay ahead of Bowling Green (which has two games in hand on them) and make up some ground with Minnesota State. But the Nanooks, who have been swept on the road just once this season, are a pesky team. Huskies 4-3, Nanooks 3-1

Jack: I have no idea what to make of the Nanooks. They’ve had some very good wins, including beating MSU in Mankato, and also against Western Michigan on the road — a victory which looks continually more impressive as the Broncos look much better now than they did at the start of the season. On the other hand, the Nanooks have also had some head-scratchers — like being swept at home against rivals (and current league cellar-dweller) Alaska Anchorage. So which team shows up this weekend? I’ll put my money on a good Nanooks team and call a split. Nanooks 4-2, Huskies 3-1.

North Star College Cup

Bemidji State vs. Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State vs. Minnesota

Shane: This should be a fun weekend in St. Paul, and I expect good games all around. I was asked by a Mankato radio personality this week if I would be surprised by two Maverick wins. “Hey, they’re the No. 1 team in the country,” I said. “They’re the favorites.” So while I wouldn’t be surprised by two, one or zero wins with this tough field, I’m picking an MSU Cup win. As for the Beavers, they’ll keep things close but I wasn’t encouraged by what happened in Sault Ste. Marie last weekend. Friday: Bulldogs 3-2, Mavericks 5-3. Saturday: Gophers 4-2, Mavericks 3-2

Jack: I really wish I could be down there this weekend, since the Beavers sat out last season’s cup. But other obligations will keep me in Bemidji watching on television. No matter — I think it should be four entertaining games. Obviously Bemidji State is the massive underdog no matter who they play, and sort of the odd team out — they don’t have the resume or record that either of the other teams have. But the Beavers have played some good hockey against some good teams. They’ve also had some head-scratchers against some bad teams. They’re also 0-4 against MSU and Minnesota this season. That said: They’ve played very well against Minnesota Duluth in the recent past. Like, they’re 9-7-1 in their past 17 meetings. I think BSU is going to continue to frustrate Bulldogs fans (I’m sure both fanbases remember this game in 2011) and beat UMD before falling to MSU in the title game. Friday: Beavers 4, Bulldogs 2; Mavericks 5, Gophers 3. Saturday: Bulldogs 4, Gophers 3; Mavericks 5, Beavers 3.

Last week: Shane 4-6-0, Jack 3-7-0

Overall: Shane 80-51-13, Jack 74-57-13

Three thoughts, Jan. 18

1. Still the 1

Minnesota State will do something a few others haven’t been able to do this season: Stay No. 1 for a second week after rising to the top spot for the first time last Monday. The Mavericks faced one of their toughest road tests of the season — or at least since going to Michigan Tech in November — and swept Ferris State, a team that rarely loses at home. On Saturday, the Mavericks won in come-from-behind fashion, scoring three unanswered goals in the third period to erase a 1-0 deficit. The wins also gave MSU a firm grip on first place in the league standings, although Michigan Tech (eight points back) and Bowling Green (nine) have two and for games in hand, respectively.

2. Surprising sweeps

Things didn’t exactly go according to Hoyle, standings-wise this weekend, with the league’s bottom teams — Alabama Huntsville, Alaska Anchorage and Lake Superior State — all sweeping series. The Chargers took two games from Northern Michigan for its second home sweep in a row. The Seawolves went on the road to rival Alaska and took a two-game lead in this year’s Governor’s Cup, thanks, in part to Blake Tatchell’s overtime goal on Saturday night. And the Lakers swept visiting Bemidji State, starting with Friday’s dramatic finish — Alex Globke scoring the game’s only goal with 0.6 seconds left in regulation — and with Gordon Defiel’s 76 saves in the series.

3. Just one split

The only split of the weekend was not a surprising one, as it came between the second- and third-best teams in the conference. And it sure seemed to be a classic series between Michigan Tech and Bowling Green in Houghton. On Friday, Tech came from behind to hand the Falcons their first conference loss since Halloween, erasing a 2-0 second-period deficit and a 3-2 third-period disadvantage. Tanner Kero, who is making a play for league player of the year scored the game-winner midway through the third. The next night, Bowling Green bounced back with a 3-2 win. All five goals were scored in the second period, including the first three by the Falcons.

WCHA Picks, Jan. 16-17

Dare we say this is rivalry week in the WCHA?

Lots of good matchups this weekend, with, once again, all 10 team in action against each other. And there’s some history between a lot of these teams, even if that history only goes back to last season.

So without further ado, let’s pick …

Minnesota State at Ferris State

Shane: This series was a heated one in Mankato last year when the roles were reversed. Ferris State was ranked No. 2 and Minnesota State was trying to play its way out of the middle. The Mavericks swept and then beat the Bulldogs again for the Final Five title. This year, MSU is No. 1, and FSU is sitting at .500. I think that’s where the similarities end, and we’ll see a split. Mavericks 3-2, Bulldogs 2-1

Jack: I guess the only concern for the Mavs would be the seeming “curse of No. 1″ that’s been plaguing college hockey tonight. A ton of teams have lost a game (or two) and dropped out of the rankings after going to No. 1 in the poll. Of course, the polls don’t “matter” but they can mean a lot for the confidence of a team. Ferris is tough to beat at home. They’ve struggled lately but I agree with you that it’s a likely split. Bulldogs 3-2, Mavericks 4-1.

Bowling Green at Michigan Tech

Shane: Another rivalry that was born last year when these teams squared off six times, including in the WCHA playoffs. These two teams sit a point apart at second and third in the standings, so I expect another barn-burner. The Falcons are red hot, having lost just once in their last 13 games, while the Huskies are on a small slide. They’ll split. Huskies 4-2, Falcons 3-2

Jack: I’m tempted to think Bowling Green will sweep this series, just the way they’ve been playing so well and the fact tat Tech has fallen to earth a bit after their hot start. But I’m not so sure. So I guess I’ll just call a split here too and see what happens. Huskies 3-2, Falcons 3-2

Bemidji State at Lake Superior State

Shane: The Beavers are quietly moving their way up in the standings, thanks to a seven-game unbeaten streak. With the schedule they have coming up after this weekend (Bowling Green at home, road series at Tech, Northern and Ferris, just to name a few), these might be must-wins. Same could be said for the Lakers, who are at home for the only time in a 14-game stretch. Beavers 5-2, 4-3

Jack: This might not seem like it, Shane, but this is actually another old-school rivalry, dating back to the 1960s when both teams played in the NAIA and the NCAA simultaneously (or something… college sports was way less regimented back then). Anyway, these have actually been close games when the teams have played recently, but the Lakers are struggling so much I’m not very confident picking them to win anything. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong, but I like the Beavers (and their goaltending and defense) right now. That seven-game unbeaten streak turns to nine games this weekend. Beavers 4-0, 4-2

Northern Michigan at Alabama Huntsville

Shane: The Wildcats are another team that seems to be playing better hockey again. They also have found a way to get at least one point in every league series so far, including four the last two weekends against Michigan Tech and Minnesota State. There might be a couple of goalie battles this weekend against the Chargers, but I see an NMU sweep. Wildcats 3-1, 2-1

Jack: I was surprised at how poorly the Chargers played last weekend, since it seemed like they had turned a corner. Meanwhile, it does seem like maybe the Wildcats are back on track. The Chargers were able to steal a point from NMU in the nonconference series that didn’t count, but Wildcats’ goalie Mathaias Dahlstrom is also 5-0-1 against UAH in the past two years with an 0.81 GAA. I’m going to call a close NMU sweep as well. Wildcats 1-0, 2-1.

Alaska Anchorage at Alaska

Shane: The Governor’s Cup has been a longtime rivalry between the two Alaska schools, and it got ramped up last year when they played in the same conference for the first time. Then there was the three-game playoff series at the end of the year that the Seawolves won in upset fashion. Anchorage is desperate for some of that road magic after winning just one of its last 13 games. The Nanooks have lost one of its last six, meanwhile. Still I see a split. Seawolves 3-2, Nanooks 4-1

Jack: I’m going to call a Nanooks sweep here. The Seawolves’ last win was in the month of November, which seems crazy.  Alaska is playing very well. Maybe if it was in Anchorage I could see the Wolves rallying, but I’ll call a sweep in Fairbanks. Nanooks 5-3, 3-2.

Last week: Shane 5-3-2, Jack 5-3-2

Overall: Shane 76-45-13, Jack 71-50-13

Three things: Jan. 11

1. Mavericks pulling away?

Michigan Tech has led the WCHA standings for what seems like the entire season. But after the past two weekends, the paradigm is starting to shift. Minnesota State has surged to a six-point lead after taking seven points in the last two weeks. The Mavs swept Lake Sueprior State this weekend then got three points from Northern Michigan the week before.

Meanwhile, Michigan Tech returned to WCHA play this past weekend and managed just one point against UP rivals Northern Michigan. The Huskies played six straight nonconference weekends, which allowed the Mavericks to sneak in behind them and take the lead.

MSU still has to play Ferris State twice and make another Alaska trip, while Michigan Tech still has to play another series against both MSU and third-place Bowling Green, which is a point behind Tech for third place with 20 points.

2. Bowling Green streaking

Meanwhile, the Falcons are unbeaten in their last nine games and haven’t lost since Nov. 14 against Ohio State. BG rallied from a 4-1 hole against Alaska on Saturday to keep the unbeaten streak alive.

The Falcons own the nation’s top penalty kill — they’ve only given up five power play goals — and BG’s three-goalie rotation has impressed lately. Freshman Chris Nell is unbeaten in seven games in net.

The Falcons travel to Houghton this weekend for a huge series against Tech. BG has two games in hand on Tech and four on Minnesota State, so four points against Tech could give the Falcons a fast track to overtaking second — and possibly first — in the standings soon down the road.

3. Separation on the bottom

On the other side of the standings, it looks like last weekend has given us a more clear picture of the three teams who will be fighting for the final few playoff spots.

The bottom three teams in the conference — Alabama Huntsville, Alaska Anchorage and Lake Superior State — were all swept over the weekend.

Bemidji State, which came into the weekend just a point ahead of Huntsville for seventh place with nine points, took all four from the Chargers to put some separation between them and the bottom of the league. The Beavers in seventh now with 13 points and are just three points out of home ice position.

Now, Huntsville still has a hold on the No. 8 spot in the standings (eight points) while Anchorage and Lake State are tied for No. 9 with six points.

These three teams are surely glad that Alaska’s indiscretions led to their playoff suspension, as it will give them an extra chance to make the postseason. Still, one team in the conference is going to be on the outside looking in at the end of the season, and unless something crazy happens down the stretch it will almost certainly be one of these three teams.

WCHA picks: Jan. 8-10

I love these weeks, and there needs to be more of them. It’s good for the WCHA when all 10 WCHA teams are in action, especially when they’re all playing against each other, which is the case this weekend. It’s just the second time this season that it has happened, but it gets everyone paying attention to the races taking place up and down the standings.

So what’s going to happen?

Ferris State at Alaska-Anchorage

Shane: The Bulldogs get a to leave Alaska a bit early, thanks to this Thursday-Friday series. Both of these teams are trying to break winless streaks, with Ferris State hoping to stay in the hunt for home ice and Anchorage hoping to do the same but also get out of the conference basement. The Bulldogs dominated the Seawolves two months ago in Big Rapids, but Anchorage has been better at home than on the road. Bulldogs 3-1. Seawolves 2-1

Jack: For some reason both Ferris/Anchorage series this year have been Thursday/Friday instead of Friday/Saturday. Maybe the coaching staffs just don’t like playing on Saturdays? Regardless, Ferris has lost their last four games and will be looking to get out of their rut. I think they’ll score one from the Seawolves on the road, if only yo snap the streak. Seawolves 3-2, Bulldogs 2-1.

Alaska at Bowling Green

Shane: The only thing that would make this a more intriguing series would be if Alaska was eligible for the postseason. These are two of the hottest teams in the league, if not the country with just three non-wins (one loss, two ties) combined in their last 13 games. The Falcons swept the Nanooks in Fairbanks in early November, right after Alaska got the news about its NCAA sanctions. I’ve been on the BG bandwagon all year, but I think this will be a split. Nanooks 4-3, Falcons 4-2

Jack: Seems like the BG bandwagon is getting bigger every week. And with good reason: The Falcons keep proving to everyone in the country just how good they are. The Nanooks struggled early in the season — they were swept by Bemidji State the week before the sanctions were announced then were swept by the Falcons the week after — but they seem to have rallied from that initial shock and are playing some great hockey. I agree with you that this looks like a split. Falcons 5-3, Nanooks 2-1.

Michigan Tech at Northern Michigan

Shane: This should be a good series between U.P. rivals, starting Friday in Marquette before moving to Houghton on Saturday. The Wildcats are on a six-game winless streak but one with three ties, including last Saturday against Minnesota State. The Huskies have been impressive, and it took a couple of great goaltending performances to beat them recently. Mathias Dahlstrom missed the MSU series last week. If that’s still the case, I say … Huskies 4-2, 4-3

Jack: That Phillips/Dahlstrom matchup would have me (or anyone who loves good goalie battles) salivating, but if Dahlstrom is still out, as you say, I don’t know if I can see Michael Doan or Derrick Dun being able to stop Tech’s powerful forward group. I’ll agree with the sweep. Huskies 3-1, 5-3

Lake Superior State at Minnesota State

Shane: The Mavericks swept the Lakers by a combined 10-0 score over Thanksgiving weekend in Sault Ste. Marie, but coach Mike Hastings insists that a very different Lake Superior State team is coming to Mankato this weekend, one that won a tournament championship its last time out. Still, the Lakers have been shut out six times this season, including in a shootout win in that Florida tournament. Minnesota State just scores too many goals to lose. Mavericks 4-1, 4-1

Jack: You basically made all the relevant points to this series. The Lakers do seem to be a slightly better team than before — freshman Gordan Diefel has improved, at least — but I can’t see him shutting down the Mavericks’ offense. Mavericks 5-2, 4-2

Alabama-Huntsville at Bemidji State

Shane: The Chargers and the Beavers are a combined 4-0-4 in their last eight games, so something has to give, right? Alabama Huntsville has some swagger right now after scoring its first-ever WCHA sweep, but it has to go on the road to face a Bemidji State team that’s tough at home. An improved Huntsville team is good for the conference, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a tie (or two) this weekend. But I’m going with … Beavers 4-2, 3-1

Jack: This may put me in hot water in Bemidji, but the Chargers have already won one game at the Sanford Center in the past year and I see no reason to think they won’t be able to do it again. I think these games are going to be really fun to watch and cover, especially if the BSU student section returns from break a few days early for some “We Hate Huntsville” chants. I think the Beavers and Chargers split. Beavers 4-2, Chargers 3-2

Last week: Shane 5-3-2, Jack 4-4-2

Overall: Shane 71-42-11, Jack 66-47-11

Three things, Jan. 4

1. Positive Charge(rs)

Alabama-Huntsville made a big stride over the weekend, scoring its first-ever WCHA sweep, beating Alaska-Anchorage at home 3-2 and 2-1. It was also the Chargers’ first series sweep of a Division I opponent since Jan. 29-30, 2010, when they swept Niagara. “We were trying to figure out when was the last time we had a Division I sweep here, and nobody knew,” coach Mike Corbett said in a UAH video posted after the game. “[Assistant] coach [Gavin] Morgan, it’s his fifth year, and he hasn’t seen one since he’s been here. It’s been a long time and a long time coming and our guys did a great job tonight.” Max McHugh and Cody Marooney each scored two goals in the series, and goalie Carmine Guerriero stopped 58 of 61 shots. The Chargers are on a three-game unbeaten streak and are sitting in eighth place in the WCHA, one point behind next week’s opponent, Bemidji State.

2. Bulldogs stumbling

Ferris State began its long trip to Alaska and a tough second-half schedule on a flat note, getting swept in Fairbanks. Perhaps most surprising about the weekend was seeing star goalie CJ Motte allow six goals in a 6-0 loss on Saturday night. The Bulldogs have lost four games in a row and have set themselves up to be in a real battle for a home-ice playoff spot over the rest of the season. They’ll stay in Alaska to face Alaska-Anchorage Thursday and Friday and then face each of the conference’s top two teams — Minnesota State and Bowling Green — back to back over the following five weeks. Meanwhile, second-half spoiler Alaska has won five of its last six games.

3. No brooms at the top

The WCHA’s top three teams had solid weekends but not perfect ones. Minnesota State was the only team in league action and took three of four points at Northern Michigan. The Mavericks had to kill off a five-minute major for the majority of overtime on Saturday to preserve a tie with the Wildcats. Michigan Tech split a nonconference series at Wisconsin despite dominating the weekend. The Huskies won 8-1 on Friday but lost 2-0 on Saturday despite a 47-19 shot advantage. Shot stats don’t show up on the PairWise comparisons, however, and losing to the now-two-win Badgers was a bit of a blow. Finally, Bowling Green got a boost from a tie and win against Robert Morris. The tie took place outdoors in Toledo, Ohio, and the win took place Sunday in Pittsburgh. After the weekend, MSU dropped from first to second in the PairWise, BGSU moved up to fifth and Tech dropped to 13th.

WCHA picks: Jan. 2-4

Shane here … Happy new year, everybody! Jack and I weren’t so hot with our WCHA picks last week. Didn’t see that Lake Superior State tournament championship in Florida coming (Congratulations, Lakers!). Didn’t see Michigan Tech and Ferris State losing in the first round of the Great Lakes Invitational. The picks get no easier this week as a few teams return to conference play and others continuing some intriguing nonconference series.

On to the picks …

Minnesota State at Northern Michigan

Shane: The third-ranked Mavericks kick off a tough second-half schedule with a trip to Marquette to face a Wildcats team that has cooled off since its red-hot start to the season. When we last left MSU, it had to cancel a game due to an illness that had spread through the team. The midseason break couldn’t have come at a better time. Same might be said for NMU, which has won one of its last seven games. I like the Mavericks’ offense more than the Wildcats’ defense right now. Mavericks 3-2, 4-2

Jack: The health of Mathaias Dahlstrom might be the key to this series. The NMU goalie missed their series at Bemidji State before the break and the Wildcats went 0-1-1 in Bemidji. If the Wildcazts have Dahlstrom back, they might be able to earn the split. If not, it could be rough on them. I don’t think Dahlstrom’s injury was serious so I’ll call a split assuming he returns healthy. Either way, they need him back healthy soon to try and get back on track. Wildcats 3-2, Mavericks 4-2

Alaska Anchorage at Alabama Huntsville

Shane: The Seawolves struggled in November and December, winning just one of eight games, although they have a win and two ties in their last three. If Anchorage has hopes of getting home ice for the playoffs, it needs to start getting points. There was a time, not all that long ago, when playing the Chargers seemed like an automatic four points. Not so anymore. Although, UAH is on a seven-game winless streak, it did score a tie at Nebraska Omaha on Sunday. Chargers 3-2, Seawolves 4-1

Jack: This could be an underrated fun series to watch. The Seawolves have some firepower but can’t seem to figure out how to close out games, while the Chargers have some good goalies but haven’t figured out how to score consistently. Maybe both teams will bring out the best in each other this weekend and we’ll see a split. Seawolves 3-1, Chargers 4-2

Ferris State at Alaska

Shane: Ferris State last week began a brutal stretch of games in which it will play just two home games in a span of six weekends. The Bulldogs are also the latest team to do the two-week stay in Alaska, which they begin this week against the Nanooks. I really think Alaska is a team that would get home ice (again) if it was eligible, and it will spend the rest of the season reminding people of that. Nanooks 3-1, 2-1

Jack: The fact that Alaska has to miss the playoffs is a real bummer. They’re an exciting team, and Tyler Morley and Colton Parayko probably aren’t getting the accolades they deserve due to the Nanooks’ punishment. Ferris might have a tough time up north so I’ll agree with you, Shane, and go with the sweep. Nanooks 4-3, 2-1

Michigan Tech at Wisconsin

Shane: The fifth-ranked team in the nation plays a one-win team. I’m sure that’s been a scenario in the past between these two teams, only with the roles reversed. I wonder when the last time Tech went to Madison as the favorite against the Badgers. Sometime in the 1970s, I suppose. The Huskies looked really good in the GLI last week, even in the 2-1 loss to Michigan in the first round. Huskies 4-2, 4-1

Jack: The only concern for the Huskies might be that they had a few less days of rest coming off the Sunday-Monday GLI games. I don’t really think that will affect them, though, since as you said, they looked very good in both games despite losing one. Wisconsin, meanwhile, has… not looked good this season. I can’t see anything other than a Tech sweep. Huskies 4-1, 4-1

Bowling Green vs. Robert Morris (Saturday-Sunday)

Shane: This series should be a good one between the 13th- and 19th-ranked teams in the country and will begin with an outdoor game at Fifth Third Field in Toledo (home of the Mud Hens!) before moving to Pittsburgh. The Falcons have lost just one of their last nine games and will be a force in the WCHA over the second half. It looks like the Colonials are pretty solid, too. Falcons 4-2, Colonials 3-2

Jack: The real question is if Bowling Green and Robert Morris will make like the host Toledo Walleye and wear some Star Wars-themed jerseys for the occasion. After all, playing a hockey game outdoors does remind one an awful lot of Hoth, doesn’t it? Anyway, I’m expecting a really entertaining series like you. I see a split as well. Falcons 5-3, Colonials 3-2

Last week: Shane 4-4-0, Jack 3-5-0

Overall: Shane 66-39-9, Jack 62-43-9

WCHA picks, Dec. 28-29: GLI and Florida Classic

And we’re back! Kinda. The WCHA eases back into action this week with three teams participating in holiday tournaments.

Michigan Tech and Ferris State are making this season’s Great Lakes Invitational an ostensible all-Michigan version of a WCHA/B1G challenge Sunday and Monday in Detroit, while Lake Superior State is making its first trip to the Florida College Hockey Classic.
These should be a pretty good appetizer for the New Years’ Day bowls, the college football playoff and the Winter Classic. Let’s go ahead and make some picks!
Great Lakes Invitational (at Joe Louis Arena, Detroit)
Sunday’s Semifinals: Michigan Tech vs. Michigan; Ferris State vs. Michigan State
Jack: I don’t know about you, Shane, but out of all of these tournaments involving WCHA teams, I’ll be most interested in the GLI. For the first time in at least 30 years (and maybe ever), Tech is the heavy favorite. Of course, the heavy favorite doesn’t always win these holiday tournaments — see two years ago, when the Huskies went to Detroit at 5-10-2 before shocking everybody and winning the whole thing. That said, Tech has already swept both Michigan and Ferris in the regular season. I’d be kind of crazy not to pick them to win it all this year. Right? RIGHT? Semis: Huskies 4, Wolverines 2; Bulldogs 3, Spartans 1. Third Place: Sparty 2, Wolverines 1. Championship: Huskies 3, Bulldogs 2 (OT). 
Shane: You and I have talked a lot about the WCHA vs. the Big Ten this season, and here’s a great head-to-head matchup between the conferences. I just found out that the games are on Fox Sports North here in Minnesota, so I just might have to take in some GLI action. I’m with you, I think the WCHA teams are the favorites, and, of those two, Tech is the best team. We’re going to look a lot alike here, except for the third-place pick (should that even count for our records?). Semis: Huskies 4, Wolverines 1; Bulldogs 2, Spartans 1. Third place: Wolverines 4, Spartans 2. Championship: Huskies 4, Bulldogs 2
Florida College Hockey Classic (at Estero, Fla.)
Sunday’s Semifinals: Lake Superior State vs. Cornell; Notre Dame vs. Miami
Jack: Lake Superior State is making its debut at the Florida College Hockey Classic (or FCHC for short), subbing in for former tournament regular Maine. The Lakers’ presence gives the tourney a distinct CCHA flavor, but the Lake State/Cornell game is definitely the undercard for what should be a pretty entertaining ND/Miami battle earlier in the day. I don’t know anything about Cornell other than they’ve beaten a pair of good teams in Denver and Penn State but lost to a weak Princeton squad. Not sure how the Lakers will make it out of this one with a win. Semis: Big Red 5, Lakers 4; RedHawks 3, Irish 1. Third Place: Irish 5, Lakers 3. Championship: RedHawks 4, Big Red 2.
Shane: It’s been a tough first half for the Lakers, but there are worse things than getting a mid-season trip to Florida. You’re right, though, it’s a difficult tournament field with three teams that certainly have goals of getting to the NCAA tournament this season. None of them want to lose to Lake State, and I just don’t see an upset at this time. Semis: Big Red 2, Lakers 1; Irish 4, RedHawks 2. Third place: RedHawks 5, Lakers 2. Championship: Irish 3, Big Red 2

WCHA Picks, Dec. 20-21

Slim pickings as far as college hockey goes this week. In fact, aside from a Bemidji State/Ohio State women’s series also happening this weekend, this is the only non-exhibition Division I action this week.

Shane still has a slim lead over me in the overall picks but I gained on him thanks to picking the correct Michigan Tech win on the correct day last weekend against Minnesota Duluth.

Anyway, onto the pick. I need to go watch my favorite Christmas movie ever (Die Hard, obviously) so luckily there’s only one series this weekend!

Alabama Huntsville (3-13-2) at Nebraska Omaha (10-4-2)

Shane: Omaha has proven to be one of the better teams in the country, so I’d have a hard time predicting an upset this weekend. Certainly, the Chargers goaltenders could give the Mavericks fits, especially Carmine Guerriero, their usual series-opener starter. He’ll keep it close, but that’s about it. Mavericks 2-1, 5-2

Jack: I, like you, also think Omaha is one of the best teams in the country. UAH will have a hard time, but in the spirit of Christmas I’m going to pick a split. The Chargers could use a win like this and maybe they will catch the Mavericks off-guard. Guerriero is going to steal them a win on Saturday night. Yippee-ki-yay. Chargers 2-1, Mavericks 4-2.

Last week: Jack 6-1-2, Shane 5-2-2

Overall: Jack 59-37-8, Shane 61-35-8

Three things I learned about the WCHA at the break

1. Tech, Minnesota State tied at the top

No matter what happened this weekend, the WCHA’s top three teams would have been set going into intermission anyway. Michigan Tech and Minnesota State — both of whom played nonconference contests this weekend — are tied at the top of the league table with 20 points, while idle Bowling Green sits in third with 17 points.

Not a huge surprise that these three teams are on top, considering they’re the top three scoring offenses in the league and have had a big leg up on the rest of the league.

League play re-starts in January, and special attention will be paid to which of these three teams pulls away (Bowling Green plays at Tech Jan. 16-17 — what should be a huge series to determine who wins the McNaughton Cup).

2. Beavers trending upwards, Wildcats downwards

Bemidji State took three of four points from Northern Michigan at home last weekend, winning 4-2 Friday and tying 1-1 Saturday. It’s part of a five-game unbeaten streak for the Beavers, who go into the break on a high after losing seven straight games in the month of November. They go into the break in seventh place in the league standings (nine points) but are just thee points behind NMU and Ferris State, who are tied for fourth with 12 points.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, have only won two times in their last eight games and have given up more goals in the past two weeks (15) than they did the entire rest of the season before that. (They have given up 29 total goals this season). On top of that, Mathais Dahlstrom missed his first two games of the season last weekend in Bemidji with an injury. Luckily for NMU, he has the break to heal up but they’ll want to make sure he’s back to his normal self soon.

3. WCHA already better out of conference

At the break, WCHA teams are 25-22-5 in nonconference play this year. That’s already just one game behind last year’s win total of 26. (The league went 26-46-12 overall in nonconference last season.)

A few notable wins this season — both Minnesota State and Michigan Tech have split with Minnesota Duluth, and Bemidji State beat North Dakota — have contributed to that cause, but so have a few lower-profile series (like Alabama Huntsville taking three points from Air Force).

Later in December, league teams will play in some big nonconference tournaments like the Great Lakes Invitational which should surely boost the numbers.

All of these wins aren’t just good for the league’s reputation — which they are — but also the league’s Pairwise. If WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson wants to achieve his goal of having three teams in this year’s tournament, they league is off to a great start against its peers.

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