Seven of the Lakers’ last eight games have been decided by one goal (or ended in ties).
There are few phrases in the English language as appealing as “playoff hockey.” (“Free food,” “good beer” and “live music” may be the only ones that surpass said phrase.)
Luckily, the WCHA begins its playoffs this weekend with four best-0f three series. The Final Five is back at the Xcel Center next weekend (just like old times!) but first the teams have to get there.
All four series are quite compelling, even if a few of them look like mismatches on paper.
Anyway, Shane and I are changing up the picks this week: Instead of picking individual games we’ll pick the winner of the series and how many games we think it goes.
Shane somehow pulled away to kick my butt during the regular season so there’s no need to shame me even more with some wrong picks. You’ll notice our first-round picks are exactly the same. No reason for that but I guess if that happens we’ll both be in the wrong.
The road to St. Paul begins tomorrow so on with the picks!
No. 1 Minnesota State vs. No. 8 Lake Superior State
Shane: I’ve heard Mavericks coach Mike Hastings say more than once this week that beating a team six times in one season is difficult to do. In other words, no one’s going to be looking past the upset-minded Lakers. LSSU has a goaltender, Gordon Defiel, who’s capable of stealing games. But the Mavericks simply have too much firepower up front, and they don’t give up enough on the other end to make up for that. Hastings will have MSU focused at home. Mavericks in two
Jack: I know it’s hard to beat someone six times in a season. Even so, it’s hard to look past previous results for this one. MSU swept the series in Sault Ste. Marie 10-0 (7-0 and 3-0 games) and won 5-2 and 3-1 in Mankato. That’s just one goal allowed by MSU’s Stephon Williams (and two by backup Cole Huggins). The Lakers missed the playoffs a year ago, and as underdogs they’re going to come into this series playing loose with no pressure and nothing to lose. But I also can’t see them winning in Mankato. Mavericks in two
No. 2 Michigan Tech vs. No. 7 Alabama Huntsville
Shane: I was impressed by the way the Huskies bounced back from their one-point weekend in Mankato and really took care of business against rival Northern Michigan last week. Not only did that give them a shot at the MacNaughton (which they missed by one point) but proved that they’re set for a postseason run. Tech fans are tired of me picking splits for their team every weekend, so this one’s for those folks: Huskies in two
Jack: Shane, as angry as Tech fans are at you for continuing to pick splits, I think Huntsville fans are mad at me that I picked the Chargers as a sleeper for the Final Five. (I mean, I cover Bemidji State so they generally don’t like me anyway.) But year, I did pick the Chargers to make the Final Five at midseason. But I think I may have to renege on that one. UAH has struggled a bit down the stretch and Tech seems to have their number this season, sweeping the season series (including wins of 5-0 and 11-1 in Houghton in January). I don’t think the games will be quite that lopsided this weekend and obviously we know that Carmine Guerriero can steal a game, but I don’t think Mike Corbett’s squad is quite ready to move on this year (give them another year or two and they’ll be the team). Sorry Charger fans: Huskies in two
No. 3 Bowling Green vs. No. 6 Northern Michigan
Shane: Interesting thing about the Falcons: By the time they started to get some overdue national recognition, they were slipping a bit. After a 10-game unbeaten streak, they had just one three-plus-point weekend until they swept Huntsville at home to close out the year. The Wildcats, meanwhile, have been streaky all season. Nothing about this series says sweep, but I’ll give the home team the slight edge. Falcons in three
Jack: Both of these teams have been tough to figure out lately. BGSU is a good team but started to falter a bit after the new year. Northern Michigan, meanwhile, started off very well behind some solid goaltending but faded after an injury to Mathias Dahlstrom. I still think the Falcons will make the NCAA tournament but NMU won the season series 2-1-1. They’re going to make it tough on them. Falcons in three
No. 4 Bemidji State vs. No. 5 Ferris State
Shane: If there’s one goaltender I’d want on the road this weekend it’s the Bulldogs’ C.J. Motte, who has to be begging his teammates for a little run support, especially early in these games. Unlike Ferris State, Bemidji State, with certain all-rookie goalie Michael Bitzer, has found ways to win the close, low-scoring games, including one at Big Rapids. First team to 2 wins? Beavers in three
Jack: This is the first home playoff series for Bemidji State since joining the WCHA. They’ve been pretty excellent at home this season, too: Just five losses and four of them to top-five teams (Tech twice and one apiece to North Dakota and Minnesota State). Ferris never makes it easy, though, especially with Motte in goal. I think he can steal one but I’ll give the home team the edge behind a fanbase excited to play a home playoff series. Beavers in three
Last week: Shane 6-4-0, Jack 8-2-0
Final regular-season records: Shane 116-74-18, Jack 104-86-18
1. At the 11th hour
Minnesota State, at long last, won the MacNaughton Cup. But in true WCHA fashion, it took a win on the final day of the regular season to wrest the trophy away from Michigan Tech. The Huskies entered the weekend three points behind the Mavericks in the standings. Tech did its part, sweeping a home and home with rival Northern Michigan. The Mavs, though, lost Friday night in Bemidji and cut their lead in the standings to just one point. It also meant they needed a win over the Beavers on Saturday. Friday’s result — a 5-2 Beavers win that didn’t seem that close — made a Saturday win seem like less than a given. But MSU proved why they’re one of the top teams and beat the Beavers 3-0, with Stephon Williams earning the shutout just a night after he gave up three goals in the first period and was pulled in favor of Cole Huggins. MSU is going to make the NCAA tournament no matter what and would have had home ice regardless, but winning the MacNaughton Cup for the first time in school history makes this season even sweeter.
2. Beavers dam good at home
Pardon the pun in that subhead, but despite losing their regular season finale on Saturday, Bemidji State got to celebrate a day earlier. The Beavers clinched home ice advantage in the WCHA playoffs for the first time in school history with that emphatic 5-2 win over MSU on Friday. It’s quite the accomplishment for BSU, who had lost seven straight games in the month of December and looked questionable for a playoff berth at that time, much less a home playoff series. But BSU played well down the stretch in the month of January and February and rallied to pass Northern Michigan and Ferris State. (They didn’t quite pass Alaska but the Nanooks are ineligible for the playoffs.) BSU is 10-5-2 in the Sanford Center this season, and 9-3-2 at home in league play. Their only two losses in Bemidji were against Minnesota State and Michigan Tech. The Beavers host fifth-seeded Ferris State in this week’s playoffs.
3. Some playoff redemption for Huntsville, Lake State
Last season both Alabama Huntsville and Lake Superior State missed the playoffs — UAH by a lot and LSSU on a tiebreaker. Not this year. Sure, both the Chargers and the Lakers benefited from Alaska’s playoff ineligibility (and Anchorage’s poor play down the stretch — UAA lose 11 of its last 12). And both also backed into the playoffs — they were swept on the last weekend by Bowling Green and Ferris State, respectively. But just making the playoffs could be a big step toward rebuilding for each team. As the eighth seed, the Lakers head to Mankato this weekend while the Chargers, the seventh seed, head to Houghton.
Well, here we are. The final week of the regular season. And, like last year, there remains much to be decided, including the regular-season championship, the final home-ice spot for the league tournament as well as the final playoff spot. The theme of the weekend from the league coaches seems to be, “Everybody’s playing for something.” And, indeed, everybody is!
Alabama Huntsville at Bowling Green
Shane: The host Falcons are locked into third place, but these games may be more important for them than they are for the Chargers, who have not yet locked up a playoff spot. Huntsville will be eliminated from the tournament with two losses, one point or more from Lake Superior State and three points or less from Alaska Anchorage. Given the circumstances, I think the Chargers get in. Bowling Green, on the other hand, has dropped to No. 14 in the Pairwise Rankings and can’t afford to drop down any further. In fact, it needs to find a way to inch back up. Must wins for the Falcons. Falcons 3-1, 4-2
Jack: I guess as a Bemidji State writer I’m supposed to pretend to hate the Chargers but in all honestly I’d like to see the Chargers make the playoffs just to see what they can do. That said, they’re going to have a tough time against Bowling Green, who desperately wants to make the NCAA tournament after once being thought of as a virtual lock. I think the Falcons will sweep but I don’t think UAH will miss the playoffs. Falcons 3-2, 5-3
Northern Michigan at/vs. Michigan Tech
Shane: These U.P. rivals close out the season with what should be an intense home-and-home series. Tech coach hinted as much on his way out of Mankato last weekend. His fourth-ranked Huskies still have an outside shot at winning the MacNaughton Cup, while the Wildcats remain in the hunt for the final home-ice spot. A sweep by either team doesn’t guarantee it reaches its goal either. Northern Michigan took three of four points from Tech in a pair of overtime games in early January. I suspect these will be just as close with each team winning a one-goal game at home. Huskies 3-2, Wildcats 3-2
Jack: This is going to be an intense series — maybe even more than it normally is. The home-and-home element is throwing me for a loop, too. I think each team wins on the others’ home ice. The Wildcats are closer to their home-ice goal than the Huskies are to theirs of the MacNaughton Cup so I think they’ll be hungry to win Friday to keep their home-ice race with Bemidji interesting until the final day. Then the Huskies win the return trip. Wildcats 4-2, Huskies 4-2
Ferris State at Lake Superior State
Shane: The Bulldogs still have an outside shot at home ice and need to sweep and get some help in order to get there, while the Lakers can stave off elimination with a win (or one or no points along with some assistance). Lake Superior State, whose missing the playoffs a year ago led to an offseason coaching change, has half as many wins as it recorded a year ago, and there’s a lot of history between these two teams that says the defending MacNaughton Cup champs should sweep this series. But I simply don’t trust Ferris State to score enough goals to do that. Bulldogs 2-1, Lakers 1-0
Jack: The Lakers were in a similar position last year — clinging to the final playoff spot in the final weekend but losing both games in their final series against Ferris State. They lost both games, lost a tiebreaker to Bemidji, and Jim Roque lost his job. I don’t think that will happen this season. Lake State should make the playoffs — just barely. Bulldogs 3-1, Lakers 2-0
Minnesota State at Bemidji State
Shane: These in-state rivals are seem to be in the best position to reach their goals — the first MacNaughton Cup championship for the No. 2-ranked Mavericks and a fourth-place/home-ice finish for the Beavers. One thing’s for certain: This ought to be a very competitive series considering how the two teams have played against each other this season and how they’re playing currently. The Mavericks swept 6-3 and 5-3 in Mankato in early November, and the Beavers won the North Star College Cup with a 3-1 win over MSU six weeks ago. I think each team gets what it want this weekend. Mavericks 4-2, Beavers 3-2
Jack: Bemidji State, as strange as it might seem, has never hosted a playoff series as a WCHA member (and never at their current Sanford Center home). The Mavs have never won the MacNaughton Cup title. So both teams have a significant milestone on the line. And as Shane said, they’ve played some very good games this season so I think they’ll split, but the question is which game which team wins. For the sake of my competition with Shane (which I’ve already lost) I’ll hedge my bets and pick the opposite games. Ultimately both teams should get what the want (if my other picks are correct) but of course, because this is the WCHA, it’s going to come down to the last game of the season. Beavers 4-2, Mavericks 4-3
Alaska at Alaska Anchorage
Shane: There’s a chance that this series will begin with the Seawolves already knowing they’ve been eliminated from the WCHA tournament. (That will be the case if Alabama Huntsville and Lake Superior State each nab a point four time zones away on Friday night). With the Nanooks already out of contention due to NCAA violations, that could make this Governor’s Cup rivalry an all-out war. Better get your popcorn and your WCHA.tv ready. Anchorage could sneak into the playoffs with two wins and a lot of help, but that won’t happen, even if we won’t figure that out until Saturday. Seawolves 5-4, Nanooks 4-3
Jack: Ladies and gentlemen, let’s goon it up in Alaska! Not that I would ever advocate such a thing, but if it’s going to happen it should be some brutal (and entertaining) old-time hockey in Anchorage. When you have two teams with nothing to play for in the last series of the season, this is what happens. I’ll predict two high-scoring slugfests to cap the WCHA regular season. Nanooks 5-3, Seawolves 6-5
Last week: Shane 5-3-2, Jack 6-2-2
Overall: Shane 110-70-18, Jack 96-84-18
1. Cup cometh later?
Minnesota State went into the weekend with hopes of clinching the MacNaughton Cup for the first time. That didn’t happen, thanks to Michigan Tech goalie Jamie Phillips’ 43-save performance in a 1-1 tie on Friday. But the Mavericks sure looked the inevitable league champion, winning 4-2 on Saturday to take a three-point lead into the final weekend. They need to gain just one point next weekend to earn at least a share of the title. The most impressive thing about the weekend, though, were the crowds. A team record 5,446 were on hand Saturday, and the two-game total of 10,618 was also an MSU record. “I can’t say enough about the support from the students and the community for the crowds we’ve had this year,” coach Mike Hastings told The Free Press of Mankato. “You hope that you can entertain people that come into your building.”
2. Stinging split
Bowling Green’s 4-3 win over Alaska Anchorage on Friday secured third place in the league, so the Falcons will be home for the playoffs in two weeks. While the next night’s 6-1 loss to the Seawolves didn’t affect Bowling Green’s spot in the conference standings, it did prove quite costly when it comes to its shot at the national tournament. The Falcons fell from No. 11 to No. 14 in the Pairwise Rankings. That’s bubble territory, folks. If the WCHA is to get three teams in the national tournament, as it hopes, the Falcons need to find a way to move up. Meanwhile, Anchorage snapped a nine-game losing streak to keep its slim playoff hopes alive for another week. “As bad as this may sound, we finally drew the line in the sand: It stops here.” Seawovles freshman Austin Azurdia said to the Alaska Distpatch News.
3. Eager Beavers
I put Bemidji State on my top 20 ballot this week because it’s simply one of the hottest teams in the country. Starting with their North Star College Cup wins Jan. 23-24 in St. Paul, the Beavers are 8-2-2 in their last 12 games, including a 2-1 win and a 1-1 tie at Ferris State over the weekend to get a one-point edge for the final home-ice spot. A huge reason for their success is the play of fantastic freshman goaltender Michael Bitzer. Over that stretch he has a .955 save percentage and a 1.24 goals-against average. Against the Bulldogs, he stopped 76 of 78 shots to get his team three points. In their last six games, the Beavers have allowed just six goals. Besides Ferris State, Bemidji State is being chased by Northern Michigan, which had a three-game winning streak snapped on Saturday at Lake Superior State.
Two weeks left. Four games to go in the regular season.
No team has clinched anything but home ice. No team has been eliminated from contention.
Welcome to the WCHA.
This weekend all 10 teams are in action with plenty on the line — the MacNaughton Cup, the final home ice slot, the final playoff spot.
You name it, it’s on the line.
Anyway, it’s 1 a.m. CST and I’m just not getting around to posting my picks so I won’t spend too much more time here. The point is: it’s going to be a fun weekend for WCHA teams. Here’s the picks.
Michigan Tech at Minnesota State
Shane: Looking forward to seeing this in person with two of the nation’s top three teams squaring off in front of a couple of big crowds in Mankato. The Mavericks, with a sweep, can win the MacNaughton Cup, something the Huskies denied them last year by forcing a tie on the last day of the season. Tech hasn’t been swept since MSU beat them twice in Houghton last November. Nothing will surprise me this weekend, but I’ll say (release the hounds) … Mavericks 4-2, 3-2
Shane: I think this will be really fun to watch, Shane. HOWEVER… I have a sinking feeling that this year’s MacNaughton Cup race is going to come down to the final weekend once again. I think Tech earns the split and keeps themselves alive for a while final weekend (because of course that’s going to happen). Huskies 3-1, Mavericks 4-2
Bemidji State at Ferris State
Shane: The second-best series of the weekend pits two teams fighting for a home-ice spot. I really like the way the Beavers have been playing, but this is a tough matchup, especially with superstar goaltender C.J. Motte possibly playing his final home game (unless the Bulldogs can move up) on Saturday night. Beavers 3-1, Bulldogs 1-0
Jack: I’d like to cede my time to Geof Morris of UAHHockey.com, who wrote a very helpful explainer for all of the possible scenarios that could happen if the Beavers, Bulldogs and Wildcats finish tied. It’s worth your time to read just because the three-way tiebreaker and all the scenarios can make one’s head spin if you’re an English major/liberal arts type like me (it’s nice having two engineering schools in the WCHA now to do all this “math” stuff for us). Anyway, long story short is the Beavers can eliminate Ferris from home ice with a sweep. I don’t think that will happen despite how well BSU has been playing. I’ll call the split as well Shane. Beavers 3-2, Bulldogs 2-1.
Lake Superior State at Northern Michigan
Shane: The Wildcats are making a strong push for home ice after their impressive sweep at Bowling Green a week ago, and with Michigan Tech on the docket on the final weekend of the season, this is the time to make some hay. The Lakers are trying to hold on to a playoff spot, too, but they’re on a five-game losing streak. Wildcats 4-2, 3-2
Jack: Just to get this out there: If Bemidji sweeps Ferris and Lake State sweeps NMU, the Beavers clinch home ice. I don’t know if that’s going to happen this weekend, however. The Wildcats look too strong. I’d call a sweep but the Lakers have been winning a lot when I don’t expect so I’ll call the split. Wildcats 4-2, Lakers 3-2
Alaska at Alabama Huntsville
Shane: The Chargers have a chance to clinch a league playoff spot at home this weekend, and what a story that would be in their second season in the league and after winning just two games a year ago. I’m curious to see the Nanooks’ motivation as a good team but one the road knowing they aren’t playing for anything more than their final standing. Chargers 3-1, Nanooks 4-1
Jack: If my calculations are correct (they may be wrong) the Chargers may need just two points to clinch said playoff spot. Anyway, I think they do it this time in their final home game. Nanooks 3-1, Chargers 2-1
Bowling Green at Alaska Anchorage
Shane: The Falcons suffered a bit of blow last weekend, getting swept at home by Northern Michigan. They’re still a virtual lock to finish in third place in the standings, so the losses were worse for their Pairwise Ranking. They can’t afford to have that happen again, but they’re playing a desperate Seawolves team on the verge of missing the playoffs. Falcons 4-2, 3-2
Jack: BG has had the chance to clinch third the past two weekends and haven’t been able to do so. I think they’ll do that and more this weekend and puck the sweep as well. Falcons 5-3, 3-1
Last week: Shane 3-3-0, Jack 3-3-0
Overall: Shane 105-67-16, Jack 90-82-16
1. Still Crazy After All These Weeks
Down to two weeks (and four games) remaining in the regular season and nothing has yet been decided.
What else did you expect from the wild WCHA?
This week featured… nothing, really.
That is to say: No teams clinched anything and nobody was eliminated from anything,.
Both first-place Minnesota State and second-place Michigan Tech — separated by a point in the standings — were idle. Third place Bowling Green had a chance to clinch home ice but were swept by Northern Michigan.
Fourth place NMU swept BGSU but didn’t gain any ground on fellow-fourth-placer Bemidji State, who also swept (and holds the tiebreaker over NMU) last-place Alaska Anchorage.
Ferris State — two points behind both NMU and BSU — couldn’t gain any ground either despite sweeping a feisty Alabama-Huntsville squad.
Basically this is a long way of saying this past week was both incredibly significant but also insignificant at the same time, if that’s possible.
2. Big series next weekend
This sets up a couple epic showdowns next week.
Minnesota State and Michigan Tech will meet in Mankato in what will be a huge race for first. A Mavericks sweep would give them the league title. A split or a Huskies sweep means it all comes down to the final weekend.
Also next weekend, Bemidji State heads to Big Rapids, Mich., to take on Ferris in a showdown for that last home-ice slot. (The Dogs are two points behind the Beavers… a BSU sweep would all but eliminate FSU from getting home-ice.)
3. Tiebreak breakdown
With all that in mind, maybe it’s time to talk about tiebreakers. The league has a full list of tiebreakers on its standings page if you want to read here, as does Geof at UAH Hockey (he’s got his own useful explainer blog here, because he’s an engineer and he likes math). But here’s the main gist:
a) Head-to Head points: Pretty straightforward. If two or more teams tied have played four or more games, it’s whoever has the best record. This is why Bemidji State has the tiebreaker for the fourth and final home ice slot over Northern Michigan. Beavers had seven points vs. the Wildcats this season. If MSU and Tech tie for first, Tech will need a sweep this weekend to avoid getting second.
b) League wins: If the teams are still tied, it comes down to most league wins. Also, this happens if the teams involved haven’t all played four games against one another. This will come into play if Ferris ends up tied with BSU and NMU. Right now, Ferris holds the tiebreaker with 11 wins (to 10 each for BSU and NMU).
c) Winning percentage head-to-head: Not sure how this one will come into play, but it looks like we won’t have to get there (at least, not yet).
d) Winning percentage against teams down the standings table: Same thing, only against the rest of the league. To use an example: If BSU and NMU were to get here (they won’t, but just as an example), NMU would advance at the moment because they went 0-1-1 vs. Mankato and BSU went 0-2-0.
e) Winning margin (goals for minus goals against): Pretty simple here. BSU, for example, is plus-10 right now while NMU is minus-8.
f) Coin flip: Has this ever happened? Not sure, but it would be ridiculous.
Hopefully that made some sense. But we’ll likely have to use them to determine playoff seeding — or maybe even who makes the playoffs. Last season BSU took the eighth and final playoff spot over Lake Superior because of the head-to-head tiebreak.
How will it break down this year? Stay tuned….
Three weeks left in the regular season and…. four teams are off this week.
Not sure why it worked out what way because it definitely would have been more exciting to have all 10 teams in action for ever game in the final month of the season.
Oh well… C’est la vie.
Six teams are in action and there’s still plenty on the line. (Maybe not for me; I’m not sure how Shane got so far ahead of me in the picks but it looks like I’ll be owing him at least a beverage or two when the Mavericks are in Bemidji in two weeks).
Enough nonsense. Here’s the picks.
Northern Michigan at Bowling Green
Shane: Everybody wants home ice for the playoffs, and the Falcons are within an eyelash of getting it. Bowling Green may not catch Minnesota State and Michigan Tech, but it’s been consistently good all year. The Wildcats, however, are in a dogfight to get the final spot, and things seem to be trending downward for them. Bowling Green took three of four points when these teams met in Marquette in early December. I think we’ll see something similar this weekend. Falcons 3-1, 3-2
Jack: The Wildcats are one of those teams who started hot and set itself up nicely with wins early in the season. It’s been a struggle for them of late. Meanwhile BG hasn’t had many stumbles. I think they’re going to get another sweep. Falcons 4-1, 4-2
Ferris State at Alabama Huntsville
Shane: Who made this schedule for the Bulldogs? Just brutal over the second half of the season. The Bulldogs return to the road this weekend, going to Huntsville to play a Chargers team that’s on the cusp of making the postseason. When Huntsville split at Ferris in November, everyone was surprised. They won’t be this weekend. Bulldogs 3-1, Chargers 3-1
Jack: I hadn’t even realized that Ferris had been on a seven-game skid until finally beating Bowling Green in the second game of their series last week. It’s going to be tough for them to get out of this rut this weekend – the Chargers are bouncing back after being worked over at Michigan Tech later in January. I’ll call a split. Chargers 3-2, Bulldogs 3-1
Alaska Anchorage at Bemidji State
Shane: Here are two teams going in very different directions. The Beavers have played themselves into home-ice contention with a strong second half, going 7-4-1 since the calendar turned. The Seawolves are reeling and, after suffering their worst loss as a WCHA team last Saturday, are on the verge of sitting out this year’s playoffs. Beavers 5-1, 4-2
Jack: Hard to believe last weekend’s sweep of Northern Michigan was BSU’s first two road wins since the first game of the season, but they couldn’t have come at a better time for the Beavers. The wins pulled them even with NMU for the final home-ice slot. Plus, they have the tiebreaker over NMU. In short: BSU controls its own destiny. I think they’ll be able to keep pace against the Seawolves and get the sweep. Beavers 4-1, 6-2
Last week: Shane 4-5-1, Jack 5-4-1
Overall: Shane 102-64-16, Jack 87-79-16
1. Down goes No. 1
Minnesota State was bruised and battered at Alaska, not only tying and losing but playing without three injured forwards for Saturday and half of Friday (while two others were nursing their own ailments back in Mankato). It was first time this year that the Mavericks suffered significant injury issues. It was also the first time they didn’t win at least once in back-to-back games, which shows what kind of season they’ve been having. The Mavericks now hold a slim one-point lead over Michigan Tech, which destroyed Alaska Anchorage by a combined score of 15-1. Meanwhile, Alaska showed it could hang with the best team in the country and actually finished the season series 2-1-1 against MSU. The Nanooks look like a team that could go on a nice postseason run — if they weren’t banned from the postseason.
2. Playoff mashup
There’s not just a tight race at the top of the WCHA standings between Minnesota State and Michigan Tech. Bemidji State’s sweep at Northern Michigan put the Beavers into a tie with the Wildcats for fifth place in the standings, while holding the tiebreaker over NMU for last home-ice spot for the playoffs (ineligible Alaska is in fourth place). Meanwhile, Alabama Huntsville put itself into good playoff shape by taking three points at Lake Superior State. The Chargers are in eighth place now, three points ahead of the Lakers and with two games in hand. The Lakers did get one point to give itself a three-point lead over Alaska Anchorage, although the Seawolves have two games in hand.
3. Jedi Mind Trick
It was “Star Wars” night in Big Rapids, Mich., and the force was with Ferris State, which snapped a seven-game losing streak, thanks to Jared VanWromer’s goal at 3:48 of overtime on Saturday night. The Bulldogs defeated Bowling Green 3-2. During their losing streak, they scored a total of eight goals, so getting to three was significant (even two wasn’t safe, as the Falcons erased a 2-0 deficit). The defending MacNaughton Cup champions are in seventh place in the standings, two points out of a home-ice spot. Can they get back on track and make a stretch run? The Bulldogs close the season with series at Alabama Huntsville and Lake Superior State with a home set against Bemidji State in between.
We’re at the month mark of the regular season, and six of the 10 WCHA teams have eight games to play in that time.
In other words: Get ready for a sprint to the finish line.
Minnesota State and Michigan Tech have already clinched home ice and Bowling Green can this weekend if things break right for them.
All that said, the importance of these last few series just makes these picks that much more difficult.
I’ll do my best here, but it will be tough. How will I do? Look below!
Bowling Green at Ferris State
Shane: No team’s happier to be home than the Bulldogs, who played 10 of their last 12 games on the road. Brutal schedule, one in which they’ve only mustered two wins, and playing back-to-back-to back-to-back series against Minnesota State and Bowling Green’s no fun either. The last of those four weekends comes now against the Falcons, who have been pretty good on the road this season (9-3-3). I think this will be a split. Bulldogs 2-1, Falcons 3-1
Jack: The Bulldogs might be glad to be home, but they might not be glad to be seeing the Falcons again. BGSU swept Ferris last week in Bowling Green. If they can do it in Big Rapids they’ll clinch home ice. If not, things get interesting. What will happen? Well, I prefer things to get interesting, so I’m going to go for a Bulldogs sweep. Bulldogs 3-2, 4-3.
Bemidji State at Northern Michigan
Shane: Jack, in his section of today’s column, pointed out the Beavers’ road woes this season, and I was shocked by that stat (1-10-2 in non-neutral-site road games). Talk about motivation to get home ice for the playoffs! The host Wildcats stand in their way right now, sitting in fourth place, four points ahead of them. I think that’s where things will stand at the end of the weekend, too. Beavers 4-2, Wildcats 3-2
Jack: Not only are the Beavers just 1-10-2 in true road games (that win in Grand Forks keeps looking more and more crazy, doesn’t it?), they’re also 0-4-0 in the Upper Peninsula so far. I’m sure the Beavers are tired of that place (especially after being stranded somewhere between Iron Mountain and Marquette while travelling to Northern on Wednesday night). It’s not likely, but I just said I prefer things to be interesting: If both the Beavers and the Bulldogs sweep we’ll have a three-way tie for the final home ice slot with six games to play. I want that to happen because it would make the rest of the season a whole lot of fun. And besides, the Beavers have been unpredictable all season so a sweep isn’t out of the question. BRING ON THE CHAOS! Beavers 4-2, 2-1
Alabama Huntsville at Lake Superior State
Shane: This is one of the more intriguing matchups of the weekend, surprisingly. If there’s a sweep in this series, the losing team will be in a real dogfight to make the league playoffs, while the winner would create some separation from the bottom. This is just the second home weekend for the Lakers since Thanksgiving. Lakers 3-2, Chargers 2-1
Jack: The Chargers got worked over by Tech two weeks ago in Houghton (5-0 and 11-1) and then had a week to think about it. Lake State has lost three straight. Both teams need some points, and I think that’s what will happen. Chargers 3-1, Lakers 4-2
Michigan Tech at Alaska Anchorage
Shane: The Seawolves are back home for the first time in more than a month, but more importantly, they’re back in the state of Alaska, the only state they’ve won in. No easing back into the comforts of the Sully, though, as they get Michigan Tech. The Huskies are on the road for the first time in 10 games. There will be an adjustment. Seawolves 3-2, Huskies 5-1
Jack: I hadn’t realized the Seawolves hadn’t won in the lower 48. But then again, they’ve only won seven games anywhere. Tech, meanwhile, has won 22 games. It’s going to take an exemplary effort from the Seawolves to beat the Huskies, but I’ll give them a split. Huskies 6-2, Seawolves 3-1
Minnesota State at Alaska
Shane: These two teams met in Mankato two months ago, and the Nanooks upset the Mavericks in overtime on the first night of a season split. Minnesota State has since risen to No. 1 and have held that spot for the last three weeks. These will be the final home games for Alaska, and I think both of those things will give them some extra oomph — on Saturday night, especially. Mavericks 4-2, Nanooks 2-1
Jack: MSU’s only loss since December was to Bemidji State in the North Star Cup. Before that, they lost to Alaska at home. I agree that the Nanooks will be a challenge but I think the Mavs keep it up and earn the sweep. Mavericks 4-2, 4-3
Last week: Shane 9-1-0, Jack 7-3-0
Overall: Shane 98-59-15, Jack 82-75-15
A few things from the weekend that was in the WCHA:
1. Ho hum: Mavericks keep on rolling
It’s starting to get almost boring: Minensota State got another conference sweep this weekend, and once again they scored a ton of goals in the process. MSU beat Alaska Anchorage 5-2 and 4-0 for wins No. 22 and 23.
The lone blemish for the top-ranked Mavericks since the month of December was that 3-1 loss to instate rivals Bemidji State in their North Star College Cup final in St. Paul. Otherwise, it’s been smooth sailing for MSU, who is 10-1-1 since the holiday break.
Although MSU is in great shape (first place with six league games to play), it’s not a cakewalk from here. The Mavs still have to make a trip to Alaska next week (never easy) before hosting Michigan Tech and playing their regular season finale in Bemidji, the home of those pesky Beavers. Will the Mavs close out strong and win the MacNaughton Cup? The next month will be fun when we find out…
2. Huskies, Falcons still in the mix
Although the Mavs look as good as the No. 1 team in the Pairwise rankings should look, they haven’t been able to pull away; especially since both Michigan Tech and Bowling Green keep making a push.
Tech swept Bemidji State on Winter Carinival weekend in another pair of close games against the Beavers. The Huskies seem to get lucky against BSU: Of the four games they’ve played this season, all have been one-goal games (discounting empty-netters) and BSU outshot Tech in three of the four. Still, Tech, as they have the entire season, found a way to win behind their deep, talented senior class to get all four points this past weekend against BSU and keep pace with MSU. They remain just four points behind them in the standings (the Mavs are at 39 while Tech is at 35).
Bowling Green, meanwhile, rebounded from their rough series the previous week in Bemidji to sweep Ferris State 2-1 and 3-2. The Falcons are 10 points back of the Mavericks but have two games-in-hand on both MSU and Michigan Tech, so could gain some ground with solid home stretch.
3. WCHA finishes with winning nonconference record
Northern Michigan was swept by Minnesota Duluth 3-1 and 6-3 last week. The sweep completed the nonconference schedule for the league, and although the Wildcats ended it on a down note, the final numbers look good. WCHA teams finished with a 30-29-9 record against the rest of the country, including 12-9-3 against the Big Ten and 3-3-1 against Hockey East, although they were a losing 8-14-1 against the NCHC. For comparison, the conference went 26-46-12 against the rest last season, including 5-13-3 against the Big Ten, 4-15-6 vs. the NCHC and 0-13-0 (!!!) against Hockey East.
Although the league was just one game above .500 in the nonconference this year, in 20 fewer games, it’s still a drastic improvement with some wins against good quality teams — wins that will help any league team that finds itself on the bubble at the end of the season.
At the very least, WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson’s wish to have three league teams in the NCAA tournament looks like it has a great chance of happening this year — thanks in part to so many quality nonconference wins.