The WCHA Final Five shifts to Grand Rapids, Mich., after 15 years in the Twin Cities.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Shane here. Matt’s closing the gap on me in the overall standings. We’ve both been picking splits correctly; I’ve just been picking the wrong teams on the wrong days lately. With all 10 teams in action against each other (finally!), this weekend figures to have some a few intriguing matchups, as well as plenty of scoreboard watching. Here are the picks …
Alaska at Michigan Tech
Shane: Tech made the big move last week, leapfrogging its way to third place. The Huskies have won four in a row and five of six. That’s a trend, but the Nanooks seem to find ways to get points on the road. Nanooks 3-2, Huskies 5-2
Matt: You’re right, the Nanooks have been decent on the road this year (4-6-2), most recently salvaging what could be a very important split at Northern Michigan back in January. However, the Huskies have found their offensive touch and know they could potentially lock up home ice with a sweep. Huskies 4-2, 4-3
Lake Superior at Northern Michigan
Shane: I like this new WCHA format and the race to make the playoffs. A sweep by either one of these teams would be huge in trying to get out of the ninth-place spot (currently held by the Lakers), but I think they’ll come out looking quite the same. Lakers 5-3, Wildcats 3-1
Matt: LSSU senior goaltender Kevin Murdock has struggled since taking over for injured senior goalie Kevin Kapalka in mid-January, with the Lakers winning just two games. Murdock had a big weekend a year ago in Marquette, making 35 saves to shutout NMU and win the Father Cappo Cup for the Lakers. LSSU will need another night like that to get points in Marquette, but so far, Murdock has shown that ability. Wildcats 3-2, 4-3
Ferris State at Bemidji State
Shane: The Bulldogs got back on track last weekend. More importantly, C.J. Motte got back on track. The Beavers have proven they can hang with anybody, but it will be hard to hold down Ferris State, especially with that disturbing stat in which BSU is 1-15-7 when allowing more than one goal. Bulldogs 4-2, 3-2
Matt: I made a mistake last weekend thinking the Bulldogs and Motte would drop a game against NMU at home. I’m back on the pick-a-Bulldogs-sweep-until-someone-beats-them bandwagon. Bulldogs 3-1, 4-1
Alabama Huntsville at Minnesota State
Shane: The Mavericks are rolling at home and have motivation to try to catch first-place Ferris. Huntsville has had quite the travel week, going back and forth to Houghton last week and getting a late start to Mankato this week due to the South’s winter storm. Enjoy the warm breezes of Minnesota, Chargers! Mavericks 5-1, 8-2
Matt: It’s too bad the Chargers couldn’t have just stayed in the North and driven from Houghton to Mankato this week. Having to play two of the hottest teams offensively right now is a tough enough draw, but to have travel delays on top of it just adds insult to injury. Mavericks 5-1, 6-2
Bowling Green at Alaska Anchorage
Shane: Here’s another matchup with big playoff implications. These two teams are tied for fourth place in the WCHA, which is the last home-ice spot. This is the Seawolves’ final home series of the regular season, so they’d better make hay if they want to host a playoff series. The Falcons have lost three of four. Seawolves 3-2, 3-2
Matt: The Falcons have been a streaky team this season. They started the year 5-2-2, then went 2-6-1 over a nine game stretch. BGSU then won five of eight games with a pair of ties, but recently have lost three of four. To secure a home ice playoff spot, the Falcons will need to shake out of their funk or risk making a return trip to Anchorage in March. Seawolves 4-3, 3-2
Last week: Shane 5-3-0, 7-1-0. Overall: Shane 110-54-20, Matt 107-57-20.
1. Ferris ain’t goin’ anywhere
Rumors of Ferris State’s demise apparently have been premature. After dropping three games in a row, the Bulldogs have now won three straight, including this weekend’s sweep over Northern Michigan. Ferris State reminded the WCHA who was in first place with a 7-1 win on Friday and won 2-1 on Saturday. Goalie C.J. Motte was back to form, it appeared, with a rock-solid weekend, stopping 58 of 60 shots in the series. And the goal scoring was spread around with Garrett Thompson and Corey Kane each scoring twice. Ferris State holds a two-point lead over Minnesota State, which is making its own push, but has two games in hand as it tries to clinch the MacNaughton Cup.
2. Sweeps mean seismic shifts in the standings
The WCHA standings remain ever-so tight, so a sweep can be huge for any team that’s able to score one. Michigan Tech went from a tie for fifth place to third with its two wins over Alabama Huntsville. The Huskies are six points out of second but lead Alaska Anchorage and Bowling Green by just one point. Four points currently separate third place from seventh. Lake Superior State remained in ninth place — currently out of playoff position — with its split with Anchorage but is just one point behind Northern Michigan, which lost those two games to Ferris State. Those two teams will play each other in Marquette this weekend, while Bowling Green and Alaska Anchorage, which are tied for fourth, play each other in Anchorage.
3. A disturbing stat for Bemidji State
Bemidji State seems to be a very good team that certainly can give opponents fits. Both Friday and Saturday, the Beavers were tied with the Mavericks in the third period in Mankato, only to lose the games 5-2 and 3-2. ”I think they’re as committed as any team at what they do,” Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings told the Mankato Free Press. “They’re not going to give you out-numbered rushes; they’re not going to give you out-numbered situations at their net. They’re going to make you grind and go through. … I respect how they play from the standpoint that it’s hard to play against. So if you’re not willing to do the hard things, you’re not going to score against them.” Considering that, here is a key stat for the Beavers, who are three points out of home-ice spot but also two points out of that dreaded ninth-place position: When allowing more than one goal in a game, they are just 1-15-7 this season.
Eight of the WCHA’s 10 teams are in action this weekend while Alaska and Bowling Green take the weekend off so the rest of the league can catch up to them in games played.
After the weekend, everyone in the WCHA will be within two games played of each other. Ferris State, Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State and Alabama-Huntsville will have played 20 games while the rest of the league will have played 22.
Here are this week’s picks:
Alabama-Huntsville at Michigan Tech
Matt: It’s Winter Carnival weekend in Houghton, where winter is embraced, not mourned. The university has been done with classes since Wednesday, when engineering students stayed up all night into Thursday building some of the cooler snow and ice sculptures you ever see. I’m looking forward to checking those out, and some hockey on Saturday. It should be another good weekend for Tech. Huskies 4-1, 5-1
Shane: Nothing says welcome to the WCHA like that first trip to Houghton, and the Chargers get a double-shot, as they’re the opponent of choice for Winter Carnival weekend. I’ve never been there for the Carnival myself but was there the week before once when the sculptures were under construction. The students worked deep into the night after the Friday game but must have been at the bars on Saturday. A tradition like no other? Anyway, big chance for the Huskies to make a move in the standings. Huskies 4-1, 4-3
Northern Michigan at Ferris State
Matt: According to the NMU hockey Twitter account (http://twitter.com/NMUHockey), the Wildcats have not played in Big Rapids since the 2009-10 season. It was an old quirk of the CCHA scheduling rotation, which also seemed to keep Michigan from ever playing in Marquette as well. The Wildcats played the Bulldogs tough during their unbeaten streak, mustering a tie in Marquette. I say the NMU seniors get a win in their first ever games at Ferris. Wildcats 3-2, Bulldogs 4-2
Shane: The best thing the WCHA did a few years ago was go to a real scheduling rotation that Minnesota coach Don Lucia came up with to prevent scenarios such as the one Matt mentioned above. The plan guaranteed every team play in the other teams’ barns at least 3 of every 4 years. That worked until Bemidji State and Nebraska Omaha came aboard to make it a 12-team league. Back to 10 in the newlook league, I hope the Lucia Plan is back in place. Anyway, I liked some things I saw from NMU last weekend and think Ferris has cooled a bit. Wildcats 4-2, Bulldogs 4-1
Alaska-Anchorage at Lake Superior State
Matt: The Lakers desperately need points this weekend, though they still have some games in hand. The problem is they don’t have games in hand on the team right in front of them — Northern Michigan. UAA is 1-5-2 this year on the road in the WCHA, but LSSU is only 4-6-0 in Sault Ste. Marie, having lost three of its last four. Lakers 4-3, Seawolves 3-1
Shane: It’s hard to believe the Lakers, who started off so hot this year, are now in real danger of missing the WCHA’s postseason. They have a tough road the rest of the way, so if they’re going to get out of the hole, it better start now. They’re hosting an Anchorage team that is in position to be at home for the playoffs but one that hasn’t been all that good away from Alaska this season. A sweep by Lake Superior could really shake up these tight, tight standings. But I don’t see that happening. Seawolves 2-1, Lakers 3-1
Bemidji State at Minnesota State
Matt: The Beavers have been better on the road (5-3-2) than at home (3-5-2) this year, while only Ferris State (7-0-1) has been better on their home ice than the Mavericks (7-1-0). Bemidji split with MSU back in the first two days of November when the Mavericks were clearly struggling. That’s not the case, at least in Mankato, in February. Mavericks 3-1, 4-1
Shane: Other than the Mavericks themselves, no one’s happier to see that team play in Mankato this weekend than me (well, maybe my wife … well, maybe not). Anyway, MSU has played 10 of its last 12 games away from home. They’re 9-1-0 at home this season and have also won 5 of the last 6 games in which they’ve hosted the Beavers. The two teams split in Bemidji in November.Mavericks 3-2, 5-2
Last week: Matt 5-1-0, Shane 3-2-0. Overall: Shane 104-51-20, Matt 100-56-20.
With only three series in the WCHA this past weekend, here’s what I think I learned from around the league.
Minnesota State is possessed by Jekyll and Hyde
It was as if Northern Michigan hosted two different teams this weekend at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.
The Wildcats, who were just as two-faced, smoked Minnesota State on Friday 5-2 by holding the Mavericks to just 26 shots on goal. To Northern’s credit, it blocked 21 shots by the Mavs.
MSU went 1 for 6 on the power play Friday and despite scoring, it actually had better scoring chances on the penalty kill than on the man advantage. The only time MSU’s league-leading power play looked dangerous was when it had a two-man advantage.
On Saturday in a 5-1 butt kicking of Northern, Minnesota State was an entirely different team.
The Mavs outshot NMU 30-17, they were three seconds from going 3 for 7 on the power play and they scored two shorthanded goals in the third period.
This Mavericks weekend in Marquette seemed to mirror the team’s second half thus far in the WCHA, which has included a 4-2 loss and 6-4 win in Fairbanks against Alaska, two losses at Alaska-Anchorage and a sweep of league-leading Ferris State in Mankato.
The Mavericks posses the goaltending and offensive firepower to make a run to the Broadmoor Trophy, but they also are inconsistent enough to be bounced in the first round or semifinals of the WCHA playoffs.
One thing is for certain, if MSU can’t find some consistency, it won’t be catching Ferris State either.
Michigan Tech may have saved its season in Ohio
Whether fans of Michigan Tech wanted to believe it or not, the Huskies were once in legitimate danger of missing the WCHA playoffs, tied for seventh with Lake Superior State and Alaska.
While Tech is not a lock to make the postseason just quite yet, those who were in touch with reality can breathe a bit easier after the Huskies swept Bowling Green in Ohio over the weekend.
This was a weekend of redemption for the Huskies, who lost and tied to the Falcons in Houghton just before the holiday break. In the Dec. 14 tie, BGSU scored twice in the final two and a half minutes to tie the game and force overtime.
After winning once between Dec. 6-Jan. 11 — not counting the GLI shootout win — the Huskies have now won three of four over two of the top three teams in the WCHA.
The margin of error is very thin in the WCHA
Of course, everything the Huskies have done over their last four games could come crashing down this weekend if they lose at home to Alabama-Huntsville during its annual Winter Carnival because the margin for error in the race for a spot in the WCHA playoffs is that thin at the moment.
Take NMU for example. Despite splitting with second-place Minnesota State, the Wildcats fell from sixth to eighth in the league because the Huskies and Alaska both swept.
Five teams between fourth and eighth place are separated by just two points in the league standings, with ninth-place Lake Superior State three points back of eighth-place NMU.
Both the Lakers and Wildcats have 2-4 games in hand as well on the rest of the league.
Of the six teams between fourth and ninth in the league, four — Tech, LSSU, Bemidji State and NMU — all play UAH and may very well need all four points to secure a spot in the WCHA playoffs.
Coming off a pair of 6-1 losses at Alaska — which is tied for fifth — last weekend, the Chargers have only one win and one tie in league play.
If the Chargers get another victory, chances are it could spoil some team’s season.
For a mathematical prediction of how the league could play out, check out Geof Morris’ post on UAHhockey.com. When Geof first released his formula on Jan. 14, Tech was the on the outside looking in. Now, the math says Alaska is in danger of missing the postseason.
Kind of a quiet week in the WCHA with only three series going on. But each of the three could have a big impact on the standings.
Michigan Tech at Bowling Green
Shane: The biggest surprise in the standings right now might be that the Huskies are flirting with missing the postseason. While there’s a lot of hockey left to be played, this is a huge road series for Tech. The Falcons, meanwhile, have a chance to put — or keep — themselves in the MacNaughton mix. Huskies 3-2, Falcons 4-1
Matt: These were the two teams I was the most curious about during the preseason. It seemed both had the potential to finish in the top four of the WCHA, but they had yet to prove they could make that jump. So far, the Falcons are living up to their potential. The Huskies are not. Tech needs a win badly this weekend. Falcons 3-1, Huskies 2-1
Minnesota State at Northern Michigan
Shane: The Mavericks swept this series in Mankato two months ago, but they’ll face a very different-looking Wildcats team this time around in Marquette. I think MSU bounces back from last week’s losses in the North Star Cup and a sweep can put them into first place, but it hasn’t been dominant on the road. Mavericks 4-2, Wildcats 2-1
Matt: The sixth-place Wildcats have games in hand and then some on everyone in the league, but NMU’s next four games are against the top two teams in the WCHA. NMU should be overjoyed if it can walk away from its next four games 2-2. MSU’s road woes lead me to believe NMU can steal two points this weekend. Wildcats 4-3, Mavericks 5-4
Alabama-Huntsville at Alaska
Shane: Like Michigan Tech, Alaska’s trying to avoid the WCHA’s relegation. The Nanooks have too much talent to miss the playoffs, right? The Chargers are capable of stealing a point, maybe two, but I’m not sure I can take that leap. Nanooks 5-1, 3-2
Matt: If this series is in Huntsville, I think the Chargers get a win, but since it’s in Fairbanks, I think the Nanooks will take care of business. Nanooks 4-1, 3-1.
Last week: Shane 3-7-0, Matt 4-6-0. Overall: Shane 101-49-20, Matt 95-55-20
Three things I thought I learned about the WCHA this weekend …
Welcome to Splitsville
Series splits all around conference play this weekend, so the league’s three races (for first place, home ice and final playoff spot) remain bunched up. First-place Ferris State gave itself some cushion over Minnesota State by getting two points at Michigan Tech. The Bulldogs lead the Mavericks by four points, and both teams have played 18 games and have two games in hand on the next three teams—Bowling Green, Alaska Anchorage and Bemdiji State. Those three teams are in the hunt for a top-four spot, but Northern Michigan, currently sixth with 17 points, has four games in hand on them. With eight of the 10 teams making the playoffs, Lake Superior, Michigan Tech and Alaska are all tied for seventh, although the Nanooks have played two more games than the Lakers and Huskies.
Looking at the box scores from the weekend and seeing that Ferris State shut out Michigan Tech on Saturday, I figured C.J. Motte got back on track after losing three games in a row. But it wasn’t Motte in goal; it was Charles Williams getting the 25-save shutout for his first win of the season. As I mentioned above, that was a huge game for the Bulldogs in the race for the MacNaughton Cup. In Fairbanks, Alaska’s Sean Cahill and Bemidji State’s Andrew Walsh recorded back-to-back shutouts in that series split, while in Anchorage, the Seawolves’ Chris Kamal and Northern Michigan’s Mathias Dahlstrom split solid solid performances.
North Star goes south
Minnesota State went 0-2 at the inaugural North Star College Cup tournament featuring four of Minnesota’s five Division I teams at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Mavericks scored four goals each game, normally a recipe for their success. But they allowed 11 goals to Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State, hurting their chance to move up in the Pairwise Rankings. Two weeks ago at Anchorage, the Mavericks couldn’t buy a goal. This week, they couldn’t stop a puck. In between was that great weekend against Ferris State. Is it a home-away thing for MSU or just a lack of consistency?