Commissioner Bill Robertson talked of getting more than two teams in the NCAA tournament, and the WCHA might do just that this season.
1. Exhibitions mean nothing
Minnesota State played Trinity Western on Sunday night and won 12-1. Nebraska Omaha played Northern Alberta on Monday and lost 4-0. What was learned from those preseason games? When the Mavericks played the Mavericks on Friday night in Omaha, the answer was revealed: Not much. Minnesota State was slow out of the gate and played without poise, while Omaha tic-tac-toed the puck around the rink and scored five times. The next night, Minnesota State turned the tables for the series split. Now we can officially stop talking about preseason exhibition games — until next year.
2. League scores important wins
The most stunning result of the weekend was Bemidji State’s 5-1 road victory over No. 2 North Dakota. It was the Beavers’ first win in Grand Forks since 1970. It was an important victory, to be certain, for Bemidji State, which won just 10 games last season. But it was also big for the WCHA, as its coaches talked about trying to improve its nonconference record. Alaska and Alaska Anchorage each went 2-0 at Anchorage’s Kendall Hockey Classic, beating Maine and Wisconsin, Bowling Green split with Miami and Minnesota State split at Omaha.
3. Freshmen fare well
I was in Omaha this weekend and saw Minnesota State freshman forward Brad McClure scored two goals, including Saturday’s game-winner. A quick glance at the league scoring shows a few other freshies who had solid sotarts to their career. Bowling Green defenseman Nolan Valleau had a four-assist series, and Anchorage forward Tad Kozun finished with two goals and an assist. Then there were the goalies. Bemidji State’s Michael Bitzer stopped 25 of 26 shots to win at North Dakota, and Anchorage’ Olivier Mantha won his first start, making 27 saves in a 4-2 win over Wisconsin.
The first full week of games is finally here! And seeing as how this is my first official blog post on USCHO I’m a bit nervous that Shane is going to humiliate me in this year’s pick ‘em standings.
I’m bad at predicting things, which is why I don’t gamble. Luckily for me, we’re not betting money in these pick ‘ems, just pride.
Seven of the 10 WCHA teams are in action this weekend, and many of them feature teams facing off against their former WCHA or CCHA foes.
Anyway, enough chit-chat. Here are our picks.
Kendall Hockey Classic at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage
No. 10 Wisconsin (0-0-0) vs. Alaska (0-0-0)
Jack: The Badgers are a Big Ten contender this year, while the Nanooks are hoping to build on a promising 2013-14. They have some scorers back, but the Badgers counter with Hobey Baker finalist Joel Rumpel. I’ll take Wisconsin in a close one. Wisconsin 4-3
Shane: Alaska is an interesting team to me. The Nanooks graduated a lot of talent but have a pretty solid roster remaining. This is a tough trip for anyone to start the season, even for what appears to be a good Wisconsin team. I think the extra practice time will favor Alaska, 3-2.
Maine (0-0-0) vs. Alaska-Anchorage (0-0-0)
Jack: The Seawolves are undefeated in their past 13 home openers. That’s hardly a surprise: The Seawolves almost always open at home for the Kendall Classic and it makes sense that their opponents are rusty and playing on travel legs for their season openers. I’ll go with the Seawolves here to keep their streak alive despite Maine’s possible rebound season this year. Alaska-Anchorage 3-1
Shane: A big key to the Seawolves’ turnaround last season was their play at home, and it all started right away with the Kendall. As the home team, they’ll be more comfortable to start off the season, especially against a team flying in from all the way across the continent. Anchorage 4-3
Maine vs. Alaska
Jack: This one seems like a wash, but I’ll take the Nanooks in their home state. Alaska 4-2
Shane: I’m with you on this one Jack. Nanooks win 3-2
No. 10 Wisconsin vs. Alaska-Anchorage
Jack: The former WCHA foes meet again in the final game of the Kendall Classic this weekend. The Seawolves actually stole two points from the Badgers in Madison in January, so they can skate with them. These openers are so unpredictable, but I’ll go with the Badgers this time around. Wisconsin 3-1
Shane: Wisconsin will bounce back from the Alaska loss and win a good game against the Seawolves, who do have things to figure out in goal to start the season. Badgers 5-4.
Bemidji State (0-0-0) vs.No. 2 North Dakota (0-0-0)
Jack: The Beavers travel just down the road to UND Friday to open up Ralph Engelstad before returning to Bemidji to host BSU’s home opener in the Sanford Center. The Beavers don’t historically have much success against UND no matter the venue (UND is 18-1-2 all time in Grand Forks and 8-1-1 all time in Bemidji). However, I think BSU can steal a low-scoring win Saturday night, given it will be their home opener. UND 4-1 Friday, BSU 2-1 Saturday
Shane: I’ll say this about Tom Serratore: He’s not afraid of the tough schedule. North Dakota, Minnesota, then Alaska and Minnesota State to kick off the conference schedule. I appreciate that these teams continue to play each other, but this is a tough task for the Beavers right out of the gate, even if one game is at home. North Dakota sweeps, 4-1, 3-2
Bowling Green (0-0-0) vs. No. 11 Miami (0-0-0)
Jack: Another home and home, this time between two former instate CCHA rivals. People are very high on Miami right now despite the fact that they weren’t able to live up to their lofty expectations a year ago. The Falcons, meanwhile, are something of a sleeper pick in the WCHA. I think BGSU can earn one at home in Bowling Green. It remains to be seen if they can do it in Oxford. I’ll go with the split. BGSU 4-2 Friday, Miami 3-2 Saturday
Shane: I’m with you on this one, Jack. Miami might have a “fool me once …” vibe this season, and I agree on Bowling Green. Not sure if there’s high-end talent there, but the Falcons have depth and experience. I think each team wins at home, too. BGSU 3-1, Miami 4-3
Alabama-Huntsville (0-0-0) at Colorado College (0-0-0)
Jack: Year two of Huntsville’s rebuilding project begins today in Colorado Springs. I don’t think the Chargers will struggle nearly as much as they did last season, but I’m not sure they will be able to beat the Tigers on the road in the season opener. The games won’t be as out of hand for UAH as they were last year but I still see a CC sweep. Tigers 3-1, 2-1
Shane: If the Chargers were at home this weekend, I might be courageous enough to pick a win, but they’re on the road. Coloado College is also in rebuilding mode, hiring a new coach in the offseason, but the cupboard isn’t and shouldn’t be bare in the Springs. It will be close, CC sweeps 3-2, 3-2
Lake Superior State (0-2-0) at Robert Morris (0-0-0)
Jack: The Lakers were swept at home against Upper Peninsula rivals Michigan Tech. It’s unclear if Damon Whitten has decided on a true No. 1 goaltender, but Gordon Defiel started both games for LSSU last weekend and gave up eight goals. I’ll pick the Colonials for the sweep simply due to the unknowns for the Lakers that remain. RMU 5-2, 3-1
Shane: Have you looked at the Lakers’ schedule to start the season? Yikes! Hardly seems fair for a new coach. After this, Whitten’s team goes to Notre Dame, host Northern Michigan, then travels to Anchorage and Huntsville. This might be as good a weekend as any to get an early season win. RMU 4-1, LSSU 4-3
No. 13 Minnesota State (0-0-0) at Omaha (0-0-0)
Jack: Normally I don’t put too much stock into exhibition games, but Omaha lost theirs this weekend against Alberta Institute of Technology and Dean Blais was mad. You can’t take too much from the loss but if the red Mavericks are not 100% against the purple Mavericks, it could get ugly. I’ll pick the purple sweep. MSU 4-1, 2-1
Shane: I agree, Jack, you can’t tell much from those exhibition games, whether a team loses 4-0 or wins 12-1 as Minnesota State did against Trinity Western. Minnesota State is bound and determined not to get off to a poor start as they did last year. After what happened opening weekend in Providence last year, a road split wouldn’t be bad for the purple Mavs. I think that’s what will happen. MSU 4-2, UNO 3-2
Last week: Shane 2-1-0, Jack 1-2-0. Overall: Shane 2-1-0, Jack 1-2-0
First things first: Welcome aboard Bemidji’s Jack Hittinger to our WCHA coverage this year, and we bid adieu to Matt Wellens, who did a great job last year and will be missed. I cannot confirm that Matt got out because he lost to me in the picks. We’ll see if Jack can overtake me.
But enough jibber-jabber … there’s hockey this weekend!
The season officially gets underway Saturday, and three league teams already are in action, playing games that count! It’s not necessarily ideal, especially for Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State, who are playing for conference points. How important are the points? At the end of last season, Tech missed home ice by a single point and got bounced out in the first round. Lake Superior lost the tiebreaker for the league’s final playoff spot, and its coach got fired.
On to the picks:
Michigan Tech at Lake Superior State
Shane: Given the situation, coach Mel Pearson’s veteran, experienced Huskies have the edge against the Lakers and new coach Damon Whitten, who is still just getting to know his team. In fact, he probably knows more about Tech, with whom he was an assistant coach the last four years. Lake Superior did get off to a hot start a year ago, and they split four games with the Huskies, so I’ll call a split. Michigan Tech 4-1, Lake Superior State 4-2
Jack: Just about the only known with Lake Superior State is they have a new coach and return Alex Globke. Everything else is a crapshoot, including their goaltending situation. None of the four goalies listed on Lake State’s roster have any collegiate playing time. That could spell trouble for the Lakers. I’d call it a sweep, but maybe the Lakers can steal a high-scoring tie at home. Michigan Tech 5-2, 4-4 tie
Michigan at Ferris State
Shane: These teams are ranked eighth and ninth in the nation, respectively, and, a year ago tied in Ann Arbor (with the Wolverines winning in a shootout). The rink should be rocking in Big Rapids Saturday night. The Bulldogs were 16-1-1 at home last season, and, with C.J. Motte back between the pipes, I like their chances to win a close, low-scoring game. Bulldogs 2, Wolverines 1
Jack: You basically said everything I was going to say about this game. Ferris is tough to beat at home and I think I read somewhere that the game sold out 10 days ago. Still, I’ll zag and call Michigan the winner just to make it fun — with CJ’s brother Tyler Motte scoring the game-winner in overtime for the team in blue. Michigan 2, Ferris State 1
Massachusetts-Lowell, Boston College and Johnny McInnis.
Who will have the biggest fan base at the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass.?
McInnis, Minnesota State’s captain and the only Boston-born player for the Mavericks, hopes his friends and family members are there cheering on his team from nearly 1,400 miles away.
“We’re going to make it a home game as much we can,” McInnis said.
Minnesota State will play Lowell in the first round of the national tournament next Saturday.
Lowell and BC are the local teams, each located an hour or so from Worcester’s DCU Center. But the McInnis faithful lives nearby, too.
“My phone’s been blowing up,” he said during a Selection Show viewing party at a downtown Mankato, Minn., Buffalo Wild Wings.
The viewing party took place only a few hours after the team returned from an overnight bus trip from Grand Rapids, Mich., where they won their first WCHA playoff championship on Saturday night.
They defeated Ferris State, which will be the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, 4-1 for the Broadmoor Trophy. Now they are seeded third and face the No. 2-seeded River Hawks.
“This time of year, it doesn’t matter who you get slotted up against,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”
The Mavericks are in the tournament for the second year in a row and the third time in their Division I history.
BIG RAPIDS, Mich. — Ferris State and Colgate began their 2013-14 seasons against each other back on the first Saturday in October. Now on the final Friday of March, one of them will close its season against the other.
The Bulldogs are back in the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years and for the third time in school history as a No. 5 overall seed facing No. 12 Colgate in a 4:30 p.m. Midwest Regional semifinal game on Friday at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati on ESPN3.com.
The Raiders and Bulldogs split a series at Colgate on the opening weekend of the season with FSU winning 7-4 on Oct. 5 and losing 1-0 on Oct. 6.
Colgate also beat Ferris on Jan. 4 in the Mariucci Classic Championship in Minneapolis, 3-0.
“We’re familiar with them and obviously they are very familiar with us,” Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said. “What’s interesting, we were talking about it, after that (NCAA) game, we’ll have played them more times than Minnesota State this year. We’ve got a healthy dose of respect for them.
“It didn’t come as any surprise to us they made the tournament. I thought they were one of the best teams we faced during the course of the year. Both them and Minnesota State and then Alaska-Fairbanks were in my opinion were three of the best teams we saw.”
Both teams earned at-large bids to the tourney after losing in their respective conference championship game on Saturday.
Colgate, which finished second during the regular season in the ECAC, fell to Union in the ECAC final.
Ferris won the WCHA regular season title by a point over Minnesota State, but fell to the Mavericks in the Final Five championship on Saturday in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“We came up short tonight,” Daniels said following the 4-1 loss Saturday to MSU. “The good news is that we’ll have an opportunity to move forward and kind of erase this one from our memory bank.”
The last time Ferris State was in the NCAA tournament in 2012 as the CCHA regular season champ, it won the Midwest Regional championship before falling to Boston College in the national championship game.
The Bulldogs first made the NCAA tournament after winning the CCHA regular season title in 2003. They fell in the regional final.
On the other half of the Midwest bracket, No. 4 Wisconsin plays No. 14 North Dakota.
North Dakota, which finished third at the first NCHC tournament, snuck into the tournament as the final at-large team while Wisconsin won the inaugural Big Ten tournament championship. During the regular season, North Dakota finished second in the NCHC and the Badgers took second in the Big Ten.
The WCHA Final Five is upon us with an entirely different look compared to year’s past. In essence, it’s become almost a cross between the CCHA’s old Super 6/championship weekend at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and the Final Five we all came to love and cherish at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
This year’s Final Five is being played at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. — home of the Detroit Red Wing’s AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins.
The teams: two from the old CCHA in Bowling Green and Ferris State and two holdovers from the old WCHA in Alaska-Anchorage and Minnesota State.
Who is going to come out on top? Here are our picks.
Bowling Green vs. Minnesota State
2 p.m. EDT Friday
Based on the comments of Falcons’ head coach Chris Bergeron on Tuesday, it appears the Falcons enter the Final Five with a huge chip on their shoulder after getting snubbed by the rest of the league at the end of the regular season. Despite finishing fourth, BGSU landed no one on the All-WCHA first, second, third or rookie teams. Not a single Falcon landed an award outside of all-academic team honors. In Bergeron’s own words: “We’re not trying to embrace the underdog role or under appreciated role, that’s just the one we’ve been painted with.” Falcons 4-3
Shane: Bergeron definitely talked the talk when it comes to the all-league snubs, but there’s no doubt the Falcons have some bulletin-board material. The Mavericks, meanwhile, had more all-league picks than anyone else in the conference. Is that why Minnesota State will win? I won’t say that, but I like that MSU has shown some resiliency over the course of their 11-game unbeaten streak. The Mavs were down four times last Saturday against Northern Michigan and came back to win in overtime. And they’ve trailed in four other games over the streak. Mavericks 4-3
Alaska-Anchorage vs. Ferris State
7 p.m. EDT Friday
Matt: Grand Rapids is just 60 miles south of the Bulldogs home in Big Rapids, and since Ferris finished off a double overtime win over Bemidji State late Saturday night, the university has been on a mission to get as many Bulldogs fans to Van Andel Arena as possible. Both @FerrisHockey and @ferrisathletics have taken over my timeline on Twitter with deals and packages even I felt may be too good to pass up. Those fans could prove to be the difference for a team that has been unbeatable at home in conference play this year. Bulldogs 3-1
Shane: The Seawolves are a great story, going from four wins a year ago to winning 18 and making the Final Five this year. They’re starting to play better away from Anchorage, too, which could be scary for the Bulldogs. They’re not to be taken lightly. Ferris State’s season won’t end with a loss, but I think the team will be motivated by being the de facto home team this weekend. Just how many fans will they put in the Van Andel? Enough to make the tournament look respectable on TV? Bulldogs 3-2
Broadmoor Trophy Championship
7 p.m. EDT Saturday
Matt (Bowling Green vs. Ferris State): No team this season has been more focused than Ferris State. The Bulldogs have their eye on the ultimate prize it seems: a national championship. It’s a lofty goal, but one the program believes it can shoot for after falling short in the NCAA title game two years ago. I don’t think it will matter who Ferris State plays in the WCHA title game, whether its Minnesota State or Bowling Green, I like the Bulldogs to win the Broadmoor Trophy this weekend. It’s not the program’s ultimate prize, but it is a key piece to their national championship puzzle. Bulldogs 3-2
Shane (Minnesota State vs. Ferris State): This will be the rematch everybody’s been waiting for since mid-January when the Mavericks swept the Bulldogs in Mankato and brewed up some bad blood as the weekend went on. It’s also the rivalry the WCHA needs as it tries to rebuild its brand. This could be a game MSU needs to get a berth into the NCAA tournament. Ferris State will have some revenge on its mind. Minnesota State, meanwhile, fell on point short of catching the Bulldogs for a share of the MacNaughton Cup but could have a chance to take the Broadmoor. Mavericks 3-2
Here are three things I think I learned from the first round of the WCHA playoffs, with the Final Five weekend on deck.
The scrapped Alaska Plan was actually really entertaining
There were a lot of unhappy people in the summer of 2012 when the WCHA announced Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage would play in the first round of the league playoffs every season. Had we known it was going to be as entertaining as this weekend’s battle was, we might not have belly-ached so much — even if it was and still is a horrible idea.
The Alaska Plan got scrapped early in 2013 after Alabama-Huntsville was admitted to the WCHA, but happened anyway this year naturally when the Nanooks clinched the third seed with a 7-2 rout of UAA on March 7, followed by a 3-1 UAA win on March 8 to slot the Seawolves in sixth.
Of the seven games between the Nanooks and Seawolves this year — they first met in Anchorage Dec. 6-7 — six were decided by a goal with UAA winning the final two meetings to reach the WCHA Final Five.
The rivalry between the Seawolves and Nanooks has always been a heated one, but you have to think the four-turned-seven game series this year magnified it to a whole new level.
That especially has to be true for Alaska, which now must spend the entire offseason looking at the Governor’s Cup it won on March 8 in a shootout, only to know it was UAA that got to move on to the WCHA Final Five in Grand Rapids.
While I wasn’t happy to see the league force these two teams against each other on a yearly basis, I won’t complain if they meet again in the 2015 postseason and beyond naturally.
Bowling Green’s Chris Bergeron is an underrated coach
Chris Bergeron’s Falcons have had some up and down regular seasons since he took over as head coach prior to the 2010-11 season. That hasn’t been true in the postseason, however.
The Falcons improved to 4-0 in best-of-three, first-round league playoffs series with a sweep of Michigan Tech this weekend in Bowling Green. It was BGSU’s fifth best-of-three win in seven series to improve their playoff record to 10-10 in four years under Bergeron.
The Falcons four previous series wins all came on the road and all four series went three games. BGSU won at Northern Michigan in the first round of the CCHA playoffs in 2011 and 2012 as the No. 11 seed (last place) and at Lake Superior State in the first round as the No. 9 seed in 2013. BGSU also won in the second round of the CCHA playoffs at top-seeded Ferris State in 2012 — the year the Bulldogs reached the national championship game.
Bergeron’s ability to get the most out of his players at this time of the year is impressive. His Falcons should not be overlooked in Grand Rapids. Don’t be surprised if this is they year they capture a postseason title. They seem to do their best work when no one expects them too.
WCHA TV was the best things that could have happened to the league
One of the greatest joys of covering the WCHA this season was being able to watch so much league action without driving hours on end through blizzards, sleeping in uncomfortable hotel rooms and eating awful fast food.
As much as I’d love to be in a hockey rink every Friday and Saturday night when WCHA teams are in action, my location in Marquette and full-time job as sports editor at The Mining Journal prevents it.
So instead, when NMU was on the road or when I couldn’t make it to a Michigan Tech home game because my Corolla isn’t U.P.-winter friendly, I sat on my couch and flipped between game after game from 7 p.m. EDT often up until the final horn sounded in the state of Alaska.
And I wasn’t the only one. If you logged on to Twitter any Friday or Saturday night, a slew of fans, family and beat writers were chatting away about this game and that. It was especially true the last two weeks during the final weekend of the regular season and first round of the playoffs.
It all left me laughing at those who said “the WCHA was dead” because all I could think of was how big of a rock they must be living under. It was tough to ignore the WCHA this season, because so many people had so much access to games without having to subscribe to some expensive, over-priced satellite or cable package.
The only black eye this year to WCHA TV was the misinformation put out during the first-round of the postseason. Despite the WCHA advertising and then confirming with me — twice — that single games would cost $9 and regular-season passes would not work, the regular season passes people bought did work. Oh, and you only had to pay $8 for a 24-hour pass, not $9 per game.
Maybe it was a bug on America One’s end. Maybe the league was given wrong information, or misunderstood. Maybe someone woke up and realized $9 per game was a terrible rip off, especially when the NCHC was airing its games online for free.
Either way, the league needs to figure out its postseason plans before the 2014-15 season begins. I suggest it includes the complete postseason — first round and Final Five — in the regular season package, then offer those who missed out on the regular season a chance to buy a postseason package for $25-$30.
A midseason special wouldn’t be a bad idea either. The more access for fans the better.
It’s playoff time, and there are some intriguing matchups to kick off the WCHA tournament. The fact that the first round pits former CCHA teams against leftover WCHA teams (following the league’s breakup) adds to the interest. But the tournament is bigger than bragging rights. A trip to the Final Five is on the line, and there are eight teams here who all think they can get to Grand Rapids.
Ferris State vs. Bemidji State
Shane: The Beavers won’t make things easy for the league champs; they beat Ferris about a month ago in Bemidji and took them to overtime in November in Big Rapids. But the Bulldogs are 14-1-1 at home with 11 wins in a row there, and there’s incentive to play and have their fans follow them down the road at the Van Andel next week. Bulldogs sweep.
Matt: We’re starting with a clean slate in the postseason, right Shane? That’s what they always say about the postseason. Everyone, including us, is 0-0 now, so no more picking games for me. The Bulldogs appear to be focused on the ultimate prize being two-years removed from a berth in the NCAA Championship game. A sweep of Bemidji would be a good start to getting back there. Bulldogs sweep
Minnesota State vs. Northern Michigan
Shane: For all the talk about Alaska being hot down the stretch, you can’t forget that the Mavericks are 8-0-1 in their last nine games. They’re stingy on defense, allowing just nine goals in that streak, something that gets overlooked by their big-name players up front. A tough Wildcats team that hung five on the Mavs one night in January won’t roll over, but I still say … Mavericks sweep.
Matt: In a one-game playoff on neutral ice, I like the Wildcats’ chances of pulling an upset after watching the most recent series between the two schools in Marquette. But in Mankato — where MSU has not lost since Nov. 8 — and against Cole Huggins — who has posted shutouts in three of his last five starts — it’s tough for me to pick against Minnesota State. Mavericks sweep
Alaska vs. Alaska Anchorage
Shane: Remember when the WCHA put forth its “Alaska Plan” in order to cut down travel costs in the playoffs? That was a pair of Bad Idea Jeans right there. Scrapping it must have been good karma for the league because it still got its wish. The Governor’s Cup was decided in a shootout last Saturday night. This will come down to the wire, too. Nanooks in three.
Matt: In the run up to the new-look WCHA, one of thing everyone was looking forward to was teams like Alaska and UAA being in the same conference, adding much more to their regular-season meetings. But a playoff series? This is going to be special. This is how a regional rivalry really heats up. It too bad they settled the Governor’s Cup with a shootout, because what good will that trophy mean to the Nanooks now if every time they look at it for the next year, it reminds them the Seawolves ended their season. I don’t think that will happen, but won’t be surprised if it does. Nanooks in three
Bowling Green vs. Michigan Tech
Shane: I think these might be the two toughest teams to figure out. Tech has gone from scoring big to giving up a ton of goals to scoring big again before playing two tight, low-scoring games in Mankato. Bowling Green has won three straight, following a five-game winless stretch. Flip a coin and … Huskies in three.
Matt: The Falcons and Huskies inconsistencies this season could be attributed to both programs’ inexperience dealing with a lack of success. In the five seasons prior to this year, the fourth-seeded Falcons highest finish is ninth. For the fifth-seeded Huskies during that time, they topped out at eighth. I really like the Huskies chances in Bowling Green, but the Falcons have proven to be a dangerous postseason team under head coach Chris Bergeron, going 8-10 in the postseason with four best-of-three series wins. Falcons in three
Last week: Shane 7-2-1, Matt 7-2-1. Final regular-season records: Shane 134-62-22, Matt 126-70-22.
We were disappointed to learn last week that the WCHA scrapped tradition and shut the media out of this year’s vote for league awards. All that research and number crunching down the tubes, right? Wrong! Matt and I put our lists together, shuffled some things around, played some rock-paper-scissors and finally came to a consensus. So here are our very controversial, certain-to-be-scrutinized, likely-to-be-criticized all-conference teams and awards:
Player of the year: Cody Kunyk, Alaska
Rookie of the year: Cole Huggins, Minnesota State
Coach of the year: Bob Daniels, Ferris State
Forwards: Cody Kunyk, Alaska; Jean-Paul LaFontaine, MSU; Johnny McInnis, MSU. Defensemen: Jason Binkley, FSU; Scott Czarnowczan, FSU. Goaltender: Cole Huggins, MSU.
Forwards: Matt Leitner, MSU; Matt Bailey, UAA; Colton Beck, UAF. Defensemen: Colton Parayko, UAF; Shane Hanna, MTU. Goaltender: C.J. Motte, FSU.
Forwards: Cory Ward, BSU; Tyler Morley, UAF; Garrett Thompson, FSU. Defensemen: Raif Freibergs, BGSU; Zach Palmquist, MSU. Goaltender: Kevin Kapalka, LSSU.
Forwards: Alex Globke, LSSU; John Siemer, NMU; Marcus Basara-UAF. Defensemen: Shane Hanna, MTU; Sean Flanagan, MSU. Goaltender: Cole Huggins, MSU.
A few thoughts …
Kunyk edged LaFontaine for MVP, and it really came down to the final weekend. Kunyk scored four goals on Friday to win the league scoring title and put the Nanooks into third place. He’s had a monster second half. … Huggins, like his teammate Stephon Williams a year ago, launched himself into rookie of the year and first-team goalie discussion with his recent play. That included getting his team-record fifth shutout on Friday night. Putting him ahead of Motte might not be a popular choice, but we went with the numbers. … Coach of the year was also tough. Matt Thomas has done a fantastic turnaround job in Anchorage and got close consideration. But we went with Daniels, who basically took Ferris State wire to wire to win the MacNaughton Cup. … Picking the final forward for the WCHA All-Rookie Team proved tough, but we went with Northern Michigan’s John Siemer because he accomplished in a half season what many did in a full season, averaging nearly a points per game. Siemer didn’t join the Wildcats until the final game before the holiday break.
The Minnesota State-Michigan Tech game on Saturday night came to an anticlimactic tie. The Mavericks failed to clinch the MacNaugton Cup, and the Huskies didn’t get home ice for the playoffs. Both teams needed to win to achieve those goals. Postgame, the Twitterverse and Blogosphere were filled with discussions about whether or not the teams should have pulled their goaltenders in order to get the W. Both coaches considered it, according to reports, but they thought the risk outweighed the reward. MSU’s staff feared giving up an empty-netter would have been a big blow to its Pairwise Ranking (they were right), while Tech’s feared such a result would have sent the team to Fairbanks for the first round (instead the Huskies will go to Bowling Green).
Season’s over (for some)
We’ve known for awhile that Alabama Huntsville was going to miss out on the postseason under the WCHA’s new playoff format (or should that be the new WCHA’s playoff format?). But on Saturday night there were four teams hoping to avoid an early spring break. The odd team out ended up being Lake Superior State. The Lakers dropped their final four games – to Minnesota State and Ferris State. Lake Superior State was once the surprise team in college hockey, starting the season 4-0-1. The Lakers actually tied for eighth place with Bemidji State but lost the tiebreaker.
With Alaska-Anchorage’s 3-1 victory over rival Alaska in Fairbanks this evening (or morning depending where you are), the first round of the WCHA playoffs has been set.
Ferris State won the WCHA outright via a sweep of Lake Superior State while Minnesota State only took three of four points from Michigan Tech. The Bulldogs and Mavericks will be the top two seeds.
Below are the best-of-three quarterfinal match ups. Winners advance to the WCHA Final Five March 21-22 at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich.
No. 8 Bemidji State (10-14-4 in WCHA, 24 points)
at No. 1 Ferris State (20-6-2, 42)
— Friday through Sunday in Big Rapids, Mich. Friday and Saturday’s puck drop are set for 7:07 p.m. EDT while Sunday’s game, if necessary, would begin at 5:07 p.m.
— FSU won the regular season series 3-1, winning 5-4 in OT and 5-3 in Big Rapids Nov. 8-9. The two sides split in Bemidji Feb. 14-15 with the Beavers winning 4-1 on Friday and losing 2-1 on Saturday.
No. 7 Northern Michigan (13-14-1, 27)
at No. 2 Minnesota State (20-7-1, 41)
— Friday through Sunday series in Mankato, Minn. All three games begin at 7:07 p.m. CDT each night.
— MSU won the season series 3-1 with a pair of 3-2 and 3-0 wins in Mankato Dec. 6-7. In Marquette Jan. 31-Feb. 1, the Wildcats won Friday 5-2 before the Mavericks won Saturday 5-1.
No. 6 Alaska-Anchorage (12-12-4, 28)
at No. 3 Alaska (14-12-2, 30)
— Thursday through Saturday series in Fairbanks, Alaska. All three games begin at 7:07 p.m. ADT (or 11:07 p.m. EDT). The Nanooks’ Carlson Center is hosting the opening ceremonies on Sunday for the 23rd Arctic Winter Games.
— The Nanooks and Seawolves split their season series 2-2, but Nanooks won the Governor’s Cup in a shootout Saturday. UAA snapped Alaska’s seven game win streak winning 3-1 on Saturday. The Nanooks routed the Seawolves on Friday 7-2. During their first meeting Dec. 6-7 in Anchorage, Alaska lost Friday 3-2, but won Saturday 5-4.
No. 5 Michigan Tech (12-22-5, 29)
at No. 4 Bowling Green (13-11-4, 30)
— Friday through Sunday in Bowling Green, Ohio. All three games start at 7:07 p.m. EDT each night.
— Michigan Tech won the season series 2-1-1 despite not beating the Falcons in Houghton. BGSU won 3-2 and rallied late for a 4-4 tie Dec. 13-14 at Tech. The Huskies swept the second regular season series in Ohio, 5-2 and 5-4 on Jan. 31-Feb. 1.
Note: Alaska wins the No. 3 seed over Bowling Green because the Nanooks won the B tiebreaker with BGSU, which is conference wins. Because the Falcons and Nanooks didn’t play each other four times, the A tiebreaker, head-to-head record, doesn’t apply.
The final WCHA standings with tie breaking procedures can be found here.