The teams play this weekend in Mankato, Minn., after the Mavericks swept the Huskies earlier this season in Houghton, Mich.
Michigan Tech senior goaltender Matt Messina served a three-month tour in Afghanistan with the Minnesota Air National Guard.
As part of an F-16 crew, the Duluth native worked avionics (communications, navigation, weapon delivery and flight controls). His unit served as air support for troops that were in a firefight or pinned down.
1. Separation Saturday
Some teams are nearing the quarter pole of the conference season, and we’re starting to see a little bit of daylight between the top teams and rest of the pack. Michigan Tech continued to roll as it remained undefeated and atop the standings with its sweep of Alaska Anchorage. The Huskies are 8-0-0 for the first time since 1972-73. I was 9 months old when that season began! Minnesota State and Bowling Green kept pace with their own impressive sweeps, remaining two points back and hoping not to let Tech get too far ahead, like Ferris State did a year ago.
2. Strong between the posts
This league has some very good goaltenders. I thought about this while sitting in the Verizon Wireless Center press box in Mankato and seeing one of last year’s best goalies, Minnesota State’s Cole Huggins, struggle and get replaced by Stephon Williams. Williams has seven wins and a .901 save percentage. Coaches love the 90-percent threshold, but that number ranks 11th in the league. Northern Michigan’s Mathias Dahlstrom is at .970, and Tech’s Jamie Phillips is at .957. Ferris State’s C.J. Motte, who is 4-5-0, is at .946. Motte and Dahlstrom had quite the battle this weekend, each shutting out the other’s team in a series split, while Phillips allowed one goal against Anchorage.
3. From the Great Lakes to the Bering Strait
It’s time for the WCHA to embrace its gigantic footprint, one that includes three time zones. If you’re a fan of the league, a Friday or Saturday night means you can watch more than six straight hours of hockey. The league may not be getting the ESPN treatment, but prior to the Minnesota State-Bemidji State games, I was able to watch parts of Northern Michigan-Ferris State and Michigan Tech-Alaska Anchorage on WCHA.tv, then covered the Mavericks-Beavers games. After writing, I returned home, grabbed a cold beverage and was able to watch the end of the Alaska-Bowling Green games. Pretty cool, even if there remain a few technical glitches to work out.
This post was all going to be fun and games until we learned late Wednesday night about the deep sanctions imposed on the Alaska athletic department by the NCAA.
Now, I don’t know what to think.
Said sanctions include a postseason ban on the Nanooks hockey team for this season, along with scholarship reductions and a $30,000 fine. (Other sports, like the men’s and women’s basketball and even the women’s ski team, are receiving similar punishments).
To be sure, the Nanooks certainly screwed up department-wide eligibility infractions, involving 40 athletes in nine of the school’s 10 sports between 2007 and 2011. But it seems like a harsh penalty for what amounts to, and I’m paraphrasing Chris Dilks of SB Nation College Hockey here, putting the wrong cover letter on their TPS reports. If you’d like some light reading, the entire 44-page NCAA report is here.
For the purposes of the WCHA, the NCAA’s decision is significant because it means the Nanooks will also miss out on the conference playoffs this year.
While this doesn’t alter the playoff format — there will still be eight teams in the tournament — it does mean that the conference’s ninth-place team is going to make the playoffs (provided that team is not Alaska).
That may rob the league of some of the drama was had a season ago, when nine teams were fighting for eight playoff spots in the last month of the season.
I’m sure Alaska will still give their conference foes some great games — they have a solid team and a, before the ban, had a legitimate shot at making a deep WCHA playoff run. But something is definitely going to be a bit weird for teams playing the Nanooks all season.
Anyway, I’m off my soapbox now (and it’s not anything others haven’t said elsewhere… and I’m sure Shane has more to add). On to the picks. They’re going up a little bit early this week because I’m going to a wedding in Michigan Friday and Saturday.
Maybe I should print out the NCAA report to bring with me on the plane?
Ferris State (3-4-0, 0-2-0) at Northern Michigan (5-0-1, 2-0-0)
Jack: Not sure I would have picked Ferris to be the one with a losing record and NMU to be the undefeated one at this point in the season, but here we are. The Bulldogs have faced a tougher schedule — on the road against St. Lawrence and Michigan State and games against Michigan and Michigan Tech — but I’m not discounting the Wildcats. They’ve been one of the top defensive teams in the country through six games (small sample size, obviously, and against both LSSU and Huntsville, but still) so it will be interesting to see how they fare against a better offensive team. If it was in Big Rapids I would have called it a narrow FSU sweep, but I’ll call for the split in Marquette. Wildcats 4-2, Bulldogs 5-1.
Shane: Why does this feel like a must-win weekend for Ferris State? At the very least, it’s a must-score weekend for the Bulldogs, who have just three goals in their last five games. I don’t care how good C.J. Motte is, you’re not going to win many games with that rate. Northern Michigan is off to a great start, but I’m still in a bit of a prove-it mode when it comes to the Wildcats because of their schedule. I sense a low-scoring split. Bulldogs 1-0, Wildcats 1-0
Alaska Anchorage (4-2-2, 1-1-0) at Michigan Tech (6-0-0, 4-0-0)
Jack: After their hot start, the Seawolves have struggled a bit — including a loss to previously winless Lake Superior. Michigan Tech, meanwhile, looks legit. Even if Michigan might not be the team we thought they were, that offensive firepower the Huskies showed off is nothing to shake a stick at. I’m calling a big Huskies sweep. Huskies 4-1, 5-2
Shane: I’m not in prove-it mode when it comes to Tech. I think they’re legit, winning two games at Ferris State and sweeping Michigan at home on a weekend full of hype and potential distractions. I don’t know how long they’ll be able to keep it up, but they’ve certainly got a good thing going right now and still will after the weekend. Huskies 3-2, 4-2
Bemidji State (3-3-0, 2-0-0) at Minnesota State (5-3-0, 3-1-0)
Jack: This is the series of the weekend in the WCHA (it seems like we say that often about series that the Mavericks are in). But this one should be entertaining. The Beavers are coming off a sweep against the Nanooks in which they scored 10 goals. It’s the type of scoring depth I haven’t seen from a BSU team in a long time. Meanwhile, MSU keeps playing about as well as folks have been expecting, minus their troubles in goal. This could be a high-scoring series and I’m kind of mad I have to go to this wedding instead of Mankato (well, maybe not… open bar…). I’ll call a high scoring split. Mavericks 5-4, Beavers 6-3
Shane: Disappointed you won’t be down in Mankato for this series, Jack. Can’t offer you an open bar but would have been happy to buy you a tasty beverage. Perhaps next March in Bemidji. You have to be impressed with what the Beavers are doing right now. Seems like a veteran team doing veteran things. The Mavericks have a ton of talent up front, of course, and their own veteran experience. Since it’s in Mankato where the Mavericks have been so good under Mike Hastings, and not in Bemidji I’m calling an MSU sweep. Mavericks 4-3, 4-2
Bowling Green (5-2-1, 3-1-0) at Alaska (5-3-0, 0-2-0)
Jack: While the Bemidji/Mankato matchup may be the most promising from a competitive standpoint, this one will certainly be from a storyline standpoint. How do the Nanooks respond after news of those sanctions? Do they pack it in or do they get mad? I have no idea, but I know the Falcons can score. And after how the Alaska goaltenders played last week, I don’t have much faith in them stopping the Falcons. BGSU sweep. Falcons 5-1, 6-2.
Shane: The more I think about this Alaska situation, the more harsh it sounds. I’ve never liked the idea of punishing current student-athletes for violations that took place before their time. In this situation, it seems worse because the problem was Alaska’s own administrative oversight. What advantage is gained by punishing the kids? Unless the school isn’t doing what it should to rectify the situation (and all signs point to it doing so), I see no reason to be so harsh. How will the Nanooks respond? Long trip for a good Falcons team, too. Falcons 4-1, Nanooks 3-2
Alabama Huntsville (0-7-1) at Air Force (2-5-0)
Jack: I was going to say, “Poor Huntsville,” for them getting a tie but not earning a conference point due to a scheduling quirk. But also, “Poor Air Force!” The Falcons were beating North Dakota 2-0 in Grand Forks before UND came back to beat them 3-2 in overtime on a shorthanded goal with 7 seconds left. Ouch. (But at least UND fans can be empathetic, as they know how it feels to be on the other side of that, too). As far as this series go, UAH’s goalies are playing out of their minds right now. Maybe this is the weekend one of them can steal a low-scoring win? Chargers 2-1, Falcons 3-1.
Shane: Huntsville continues to rotate its excellent goaltenders each night, and I can’t blame coach Mike Corbett for that, considering they’re the two best players on his team. But I think Carmine Guerrero has a little more of the magic touch and is more capable of stealing a game, just as he stole a tie last week in Marquette. I think he does that on Friday against his coach’s old employer. Chargers 1-0, Falcons 3-1
Last week: Jack 6-5-1, Shane 5-6-1. Overall: Jack 34-19-4, Shane 31-22-4
1. Michigan Tech might be for real.
The Huskies hosted Michigan for the first time since 1983 this past weekend. The end result was a sweep of epic proportions. Tech won 4-1 Friday (in front of the Stanley Cup!) and 6-2 Saturday, giving the Huskies a perfect 6-0-0 record.
Four different Huskies scored goals Friday, and six different players scored Saturday, while Jamie Phillips continued his hot streak and stopped 54 Wolverine shots on the weekend.
It’s exactly the kind of performance Tech head coach Mel Pearson was looking for in his team’s home opener — he said last week he was worried about the potential for a letdown for his team playing at home for such a big series.
Luckily, that didn’t happen, and the Huskies are now 6-0-0 after sweeping away two ranked teams.
Pearson said at the beginning of the season that, on paper, this was the deepest offensive team he’s ever had since taking over the head job in 2011. With weekends like this, he might have a point.
Houghton Daily Mining Gazette sports editor Brandon Veale put it best in a Tweet after game two: “If this is the #mtuhky team we’re getting all season, look the hell out college hockey world.”
2. Bemidji State shows off at home
After upsetting then No. 2 North Dakota in Grand Forks in their season opener (unrelated, but I have a feeling that result is going to be discussed all season, no matter how each teams’ seasons play out), the Beavers lost their next three (the next night at home against UND then at No. 1 Minnesota).
This weekend’s result against No. 16 Alaska showed that the Beavers aren’t just a one-hit wonder. BSU swept the Nanooks in Bemidji, routing Alaska 6-1 Friday before winning 4-3 in overtime Saturday.
Both wins showed BSU’s improved offensive depth and versatility compared to the last few seasons. The Beavers have already scored 21 goals in six games, with 10 players having at least a goal. Four are tied for the team-lead with three, and perhaps most surprising is that none of those are Cory Ward (who did, however, score Saturday’s overtime game-winner).
Ward has just two goals, but guys like fourth-liner Charlie O’Connor (who had two goals in all of last season) has three, as does Markus Gerbrandt, Nate Arentz and Brendan Harms (who happen to share the same line).
The Beavers have a difficult upcoming schedule, taking on Minnesota State, Michigan Tech and Bowling Green back-to-back-to-back. All three teams ahead of them in the standings so far. If they can keep up this kind of scoring, BSU might be a force in the WCHA.
3. Lakers breathe sigh of relief
Lake Superior State won’t start the season 0-10 after all.
The Lakers stole a 3-2 overtime win Saturday night in Anchorage, snapping their nine-game losing streak to start the season.
Bryce Schmitt, the team leader with three goals, scored Friday’s game-winner for the Lakers, who had lost 3-2 the previous night despite outshooting the Seawolves 29-24.
Under new head coach Damon Whitten, the Lakers have been playing nonstop since Oct. 4. Their schedule included trips to Robert Morris, Notre Dame and Anchorage, and they already have five WCHA losses.
So getting their first win before going into this bye week — the Lakers’ first break this season — couldn’t have come at a better time for Whitten, who now has a week to get his players ready for another grueling stretch in November and December that features trips to Huntsville, Grand Forks and Ferris State and home games against strong Alaska and Minnesota State teams.
I’ve never been a big fan of the slow, unbalanced rollout of the WCHA schedule. I’d love to see everybody begin league play together and then have the schedulers do their best to keep games in hand to a minimum as the season progresses. Yes, this comes from the it-was-my-understanding-there’
This week, the three teams yet to play a conference series — Alaska, Alaska Anchorage and Bemidji State — finally get to play for points, and there are definitely some intriguing matchups in league play this weekend. Out of league play, too, actually.
All right, Jack, I’m off my soapbox now. Let’s pick:
Minnesota State at Bowling Green
Shane: On paper, this is the best series of the weekend. These are two very good teams who met five times last year, with each of their regular-season meetings being decided by one goal and three of those going into overtime. No one should be surprised if that happens again. I’m thinking split here. Falcons 2-1. Mavericks 3-2
Jack: The Falcons and the Mavs are the best scoring offenses in the WCHA right now, with 21 goals each in six games. I don’t have any reason to pick against a split. It may be a high-scoring weekend. Mavericks 5-4, Falcons 5-3
Alaska at Bemidji State
Shane: I’m intrigued by this series, too. The Nanooks are off to a hot start but are in the midst of a road trip now. The Beavers, meanwhile, held their own with that killer early-season schedule. Getting one win in four games against North Dakota and Minnesota is nothing to sneeze at. Should be a good series split for you to cover, Jack. Beavers 3-1. Nanooks 4-1
Jack: The Beavers played really well against the Gophers last weekend — especially Saturday – and I think Tom Serratore was disappointed his team couldn’t pick up at least one win. Regardless, they looked much better skating on the big ice than they have in years past, which is encouraging. As for the Nanooks, it will be interesting to see how they perform after this extended road trip — they’ve been in Michigan last Thursday and will be driving 750 miles to Minnesota. I have a hard time picking against a split. Beavers 4-1. Nanooks 3-2
Lake Superior at Alaska Anchorage
Shane: Damon Whitten, what have you walked into? This has been a brutal schedule for the new coach, and, yes, I’m going to keep saying that until the Lakers finally get a breather. Playing Tech on the first weekend of practice, trips to Robert Morris and Notre Dame, home against Northern, now a trip to Anchorage. Sounds like punishment. The Seawolves, meanwhile, return home where they play pretty good hockey. Seawolves 3-2, 3-0
Jack: Just about the only bright spot for the Lakers is that when they’ve scored, they’ve been able to spread it up and down the lineup, which is encouraging for a team that before the season was basically viewed as “Alex GHlobke and Co.” The question is if they can put more goals on the board and get some wins. I don’t think that happens this weekend. Seawolves 5-2, 3-2
Michigan at Michigan Tech
Shane: On to nonconference play, and everybody’s excited in Houghton and the return of the Wolverines after more than 30 years. Plus, the Stanley Cup, the MacNaughton Cup and other trophies are going to be in town. It’s a hockey smorgasbord! Dare we say that the Huskies should be favored in this series? Can Mel Pearson turn the tables on his old mentor, Red Berenson? He will one night, for sure. Huskies 4-2. Wolverines 5-3
Jack: It’s definitely going to be an insane atmosphere this weekend in the Keweenaw. But when I talked to Mel Pearson the other day he was a bit concerned simply because this is a heck of a lot of distractions for a home opener. Will the Huskies be able to overcome it and win? I think they may stumble Friday then rally for a big win Saturday. Wolverines 4-3 (OT), Huskies 6-3.
Ferris State at Michigan State
Shane: Another series where the WCHA team should be favored over the Big Ten team. Ferris State has to be a little bitter after dropping those two games at home to Michigan Tech last weekend. Now, the Bulldogs will go down the road to face their old CCHA foe. They’ve beaten Sparty four times in a row. I see that streak going to six. Bulldogs 3-1, 2-1
Jack: Much like Minnesota, the Wolverines and Spartans should be given some credit for continuing to play their in-state rivals and not big-timing them after bolting for the Big Ten. The Bulldogs have won nine of the past 11 meetings against MSU and two straight at Munn. But Ferris has lost three straight (at St. Lawrence and home against Michigan Tech). I think that streak ends with a sweep. Bulldogs 4-2, 4-3
Alabama Huntsville at Northern Michigan (nonconference)
Shane: With scheduling in the new WCHA (At what point do we stop calling it new? Probably now.), the Chargers and the Wildcats opted to keep this nonconference series on the schedule this year. They play each other just one weekend in league play. The Chargers will be kicking themselves in January if they steal a win or two this weekend and get no points out of it. The rest of the league will be annoyed, too. Considering NMU’s start, I don’t see that happening, though.Wildcats 4-1, 4-1
Jack: This is an odd bit of scheduling for sure. The Chargers have been playing better and they might be in both of these games with their goaltenders but I also can’t see them stealing a win.Wildcats 2-1, 4-2
Three things I think I learned after this weekend’s games.
1. Here come the Huskies
Michigan Tech pulled off an impressive sweep at Ferris State, handing the eighth-ranked Bulldogs their first home losses since Oct. 18, 2013 against St. Lawrence. The last time Ferris State was swept at home was Feb. 18-19, 2011 against Notre Dame. Tech goalie Jamie Phillips out-dueled C.J. Motte, stopping 67 of 68 shots on the weekend. That has to be very encouraging for the Huskies, who lost last season’s No. 1 goalie, Pheonix Copley, to the pros with two years of eligibility remaining. Phillips played in 13 games last year, although he played in all four games against Ferris State, going 1-3. “(Phillips) battled all weekend,” Tech coach Mel Pearson said. “It’s the hardest I’ve seen him battle, and you can really see how focused he is right now.
2. Beware the Chargers
Alabama Huntsville may be 0-6, but with goalies Carmine Guerriero and Matt Larose, it seems like only a matter of time before they steal some points away from their WCHA foes. On Friday, Guerriero stopped 54 of 57 points in a 3-1 loss at No. 13 Minnesota State and kept the high-octane Mavericks scoreless for more than two periods. The next night Larose had 37 saves in a 4-1 loss in which his team was in a 1-1 tie midway through the second periods. “Our goalies are good,” Chargers coach Mike Corbett told The Free Press of Mankato, Minn., on Friday. “I don’t know what (Larose) is going to do tomorrow night, but he’s good, too. They’re going to give us a chance to win.” Each has played three games, and Guerriero has stopped 127 of 137 (.927) shots and Larose has stopped 122 of 134 (.910).
3. Shall we keep talking about goalies?
Why not. There have been some impressive performances in net so far in this young season, including this past weekend. Alaska Anchorage lost and tied at Maine, but it wasn’t because of goaltending. Freshman Oliver Mantha stopped 46 of 49 shots in Saturday’s 3-3 tie and had 83 saves in the series, which also included a 3-1 loss on Friday. Phillips, Northern Michigan’s Mathias Dahlstrom and Minnesota State’s Stephon Williams each improved to 4-0-0 with their teams’ sweeps. Dahlstrom, who stopped 50 of 52 shots in the Wildcats’ two victories at Lake Superior State, leads the WCHA with a .968 save percentage and a 0.75 goals-against average. He has two shutouts, including a 23-save blanking of the Lakers on Saturday. Williams appears to be back to his good form of two years ago after losing his starting position to eventual league goaltending champion Cole Huggins last season.
We’re into week four of the college hockey season and this is the first weekend that everybody in the WCHA is playing. No byes. Which means that although Shane and I currently have identical 19-11-1 overall records picking games, these ones will decide a lot.
Also, we have three conference series: All four Michigan schools are in action, against one another, as well as Alabama-Huntsville making the trip to Mankato.
The four other schools get tough nonconference tests against teams from four different conferences (Big Ten, Hockey East, ECAC and NCHC).
So it should be an action-packed weekend.
Now, onto the picks!
Alabama Huntsville ( 0-4-0) at No. 13 Minnesota State (2-2-0)
Jack: UAH has looked much better this season — we haven’t seen any double-digit losses this so far — but they’re still struggling. I’m not sure they have enough to beat the Mavericks in Mankato just yet. Mavericks, 5-2, 3-1.
Shane: I, too, believe Huntsville will be better this year, but this is a tough time for the Chargers to go to Mankato. Minnesota State wasn’t too happy with its home-opening performance against Minnesota Duluth last weekend and will look to get its WCHA season started on the right note. Mavericks 5-1, 4-0
Michigan Tech (2-0-0) at No. 8 Ferris State (2-1-0)
Jack: This should be a fun series. Tech has had two weeks off since beating Lake Superior State, and on paper the Huskies look like they’re going to score in bunches this season. Will they be able to find enough to beat CJ Motte and the Bulldogs? I’ll pick a split with Tech getting a Saturday upset. Bulldogs 4-1, Huskies 3-2.
Shane: I’d love to be at this series, easily one of the best early season matchups for the league. A split would be great for Tech (and for the league’s other contenders), but the Bulldogs just don’t seem to lose at home.Bulldogs 3-2, 4-2
Northern Michigan (2-0-0) at Lake Superior State (0-6-0)
Jack: NMU is another team with some optimism. The Wildcats were supposed to be strong defensively but they proved last weekend they could score, too, with six goals in a weekend sweep of Wisconsin. I think NMU will be too much for the Lakers, who have a very real chance of starting 0-8-0 on the season. Wildcats 4-1, 3-2.
Shane: Very impressed with what the Wildcats did last weekend against the Badgers, and like you said, defensively and offensively. What the Lakers and their new coach need right now is a bye week to settle down and see where they’re at. Wildcats 3-0, 5-2
No. 20 Alaska Anchorage (3-0-1) at Maine ( 0-4-0)
Jack: This will be a good litmus test for the Seawolves. On the one hand, they’ve already beaten Maine once, in the Kendall Hockey Classic. On the other hand, they’re facing the same kind of travel issues that Maine did going to Anchorage (Anchorage to Orono has gotta be the second-most-grueling trip in college hockey, second only to Fairbanks to Orono). I think it may be a struggle for UAA Friday night but they rally Saturday. Black Bears 4-1, Seawolves 4-2.
Shane: I like the fact that Anchorage is almost immediately doing Maine a favor by going to Orono shortly after Maine went to Anchorage. Word is the Seawolves left early, so they shouldn’t be jet lagged for this series. Matt Thomas really wants to be better on the road this season. Seawolves 3-2, Black Bears 2-1
No. 16 Alaska (4-0-0) at Western Michigan ( 1-3-0)
Jack: Another challenge for an Alaska team that’s undefeated in its home state. I think the Nanooks are going to Western Michigan then spend the rest of the week in the lower 48 before heading to Bemidji next week. I’m a little higher on the Nanooks than I am on the Seawolves so I’m going to call a sweep despite the travel. Nanooks 4-2, 5-3.
Shane: Another Alaska team going on the road after a good start. The time zone’s the same as the one Anchorage is going to, but not quite as far away. I think the Nanooks are pretty good, but I think they’ll split. Broncos 4-3, Nanooks 3-1
Bemidji State (1-1-0) at No. 1 Minnesota (2-0-0)
Jack: Call me a homer, but I think the Beavers steal one of these. I don’t think they just got lucky against North Dakota, they look like an improved team. That’s not to say it will be easy. I say they beat the Gophers in overtime in the opener before Minnesota rebounds for the big win. Beavers 3-2 (OT), Gophers 5-1
Shane: OK, you’re a homer. … I agree that they didn’t just get lucky against North Dakota, but I think this is going to be an even taller task. Minnesota will sweep. Gophers 3-1, 4-1
Bowling Green (3-1-0) at Clarkson ( 2-2-0)
Jack: I have a tough time calling this one. The Falcons have scored a ton in their first four — 14 goals, to be exact. I don’t know much about the Knights but they’ve beaten Niagara and RIT and were swept by Vermont. I’ll call a split. Knights 4-2, Falcons 5-3.
Shane: I have a suspicion that Bowling Green is a pretty darn good team, and this might be a great chance to improve to 5-1. I’ll say a sweep for the orange and brown. Falcons 3-2, 4-2
Overall: Jack 19-11-1, Shane 19-11-1
An interesting weekend in nonconference play for the WCHA (and a couple conference games, too). Here are three things I think I learned.
1. Alaska state Of mind
Both Alaska and Alaska Anchorage are undefeated following this weekend’s Brice Alaska GOAL Rush. Both teams beat Air Force while Alaska came back to beat Penn State (and win the GOAL Rush title in the process). Both teams also beat Wisconsin a week ago in Anchorage’s Kendall Hockey Classic. The big question for both the Nanooks and the Seawolves is if they can keep their hot streaks going outside of their home state. Both teams have, historically, been much better at home in the Last Frontier than on the road (UAA was 6-11-2 away from Alaska and UAF was 6-6-2). The Seawolves make a more-grueling cross country trip to Orono, Maine, to take a Black Bears team they beat 3-1 two weeks ago in the Kendall Classic. The Nanooks are away from home two straight weekends — first going to Western Michigan this weekend then opening up nonconference play at Bemidji State on Halloween. A decent record on the road is going to be key to how well both these teams fare in the WCHA this year.
2. Bowling Green buzzing
The Falcons swept Alabama-Huntsville in the lone league series played last weekend, and came home from Huntsville happy. Sophomore Kevin Dufour scored three times against the Chargers to bring his season total to six goals in four games — good enough to lead the league in goals and tie for the lead in points (6) with teammate Nolan Valleau (6 points, all assists) and Anchorage’s Chase Van Allen (1 goal, 5 assists). Overall the Falcons have scored 14 times in four games, including seven times on the power play. It’s hard to know just how good the Falcons are an d can be after just four games but early reviews seem to indicate they’re going to be a force in the league this season.
3. Lakers need a break
The rough start to the season got rougher for Lake Superior State this weekend. The Lakers went to South Bend, Ind., and were swept for a third-straight series, this time by Notre Dame, 5-3 and 5-1. That makes the Lakers 0-6-0 after starting the season at the earliest possible time. And from watching the games this weekend — they were on national television on NBC Sports — the Lakers look like they could use a break. They seemed tired and disorganized against a Notre Dame team that was also looking for its first win.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, they don’t get a bye week until Christmastime, and the schedule ain’t getting easier: they return to the Sault for a home series against UP rivals Northern Michigan before going to Anchorage followed by a trip to Huntsville the next weekend. Then they’ll host Alaska and Minnesaota State Mankato followed by a trip to North Dakota. All without a break. Yikes.
One bright spot for the Lakers — it seems that new head coach Damon Whitten has settled on a No. 1 starting goalie. Freshman Gordon Diefel has started five of six games for Lake State, which is at least reassuring considering coming into the season the Lakers had four goaltenders on the roster who hadn’t played a minute of college hockey.
It’s the second full week of the season, and Jack and I are wondering how to pick better. Each of us correctly called some splits last week but picked the wrong teams on the wrong nights. Based on the Frederick-Wellens rules of last year, those go down as losses on our records. So it goes. But as a result, we both went 9-5-0. As always, and just like the teams we cover, we’ll try to do better this week. Here goes …
Bowling Green at Alabama Huntsville
Shane: Let’s start with the lone league series. The Falcons are coming off a solid nonconference split against Miami, and the Chargers played two close games at Colorado College last week. One of UAH’s two wins last season came at Bowling Green, and no one in the league wants to leave points on the table against Huntsville. Still, I have a feeling the Chargers are improved and just might steal some from a good Falcons team during their home opener. Chargers 3-1, Falcons 5-1
Jack: I’m really tempted just to go ahead and call this a Chargers sweep. Huntsville’s scorelines from last weekend make me think maybe they’ve turned a corner, but the Chargers are still giving up way too many shots and don’t seem to be generating enough offense to win consistently (yet). I’ll agree with you and say they win their home opener but lost the finale. Chargers 5-3, Falcons 4-0.
Ferris State at St. Lawrence
Shane: The fourth-ranked Bulldogs scheduled smartly. No real chance of a hangover after the Michigan win, as they played an exhibition game last week. Now they go on a road trip to Canton, N.Y., and will face a team that put up 10 goals on 30 shots Saturday at Niagara. No way C.J. Motte lets that happen to his team. Bulldogs 3-2, 4-2
Jack: I still find it strange that St. Lawrence, of all teams, was the only squad to beat Ferris in Big Rapids last season. I have a feeling the Bulldogs will return the favor twice, with ease, this weekend in Canton. Bulldogs 5-2, 6-3
Lake Superior State at Notre Dame
Shane: Remember this time last year when the Lakers were red hot to start the year? Not the case this time around, as first-year coach Damon Whitten’s team is 0-4-0. I’ll bet he’d like a week off to get down to some fundamental work with his team. He’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for that. Meantime, the Lakers go to Notre Dame, which is also looking for its first win. The Irish will get two Irish 4-1, 3-2
Jack: The Lakers are going to be the first WCHA team to play on national television this weekend with their trip to South Bend. I don’t really think that’s significant, but the ND football team is playing Florida State in a huge game on Saturday so it would be just Lake State’s luck that they pull off an upset in the game nobody is going to be watching. Irish 4-1, Lakers 4-3
Northern Michigan vs. Wisconsin (in Green Bay, Wis.)
Shane: The Wildcats finally take the ice, meeting the Badgers halfway between Marquette and Madison. I like this arrangement and hope they can get a good crowd at the Resch Center. It will be interesting to see how the players’ legs are this weekend. NMU hasn’t even played an exhibition, and Wisconsin is coming off a trip to Anchorage. Badgers 3-2, Wildcats 2-1
Jack: I’m picking an NMU sweep here, mostly to make it interesting but also because I think they have a real opportunity to come out and pounce on the Badgers, who are already in sore shape after two losses and an Alaska trip. Wildcats 2-1, 3-2
Minnesota State vs. Minnesota Duluth (home and home)
Shane: The Mavericks and Bulldogs will play Friday in Duluth and Saturday in Mankato. Those towns aren’t exactly close together. Minnesota State, ranked 12th, had its ups and downs in its split at Nebraska Omaha last weekend, but most importantly, it finished strong. MSU will be raising its Broadmoor Trophy championship banner on Saturday, its home-opener, a ceremony that’s never taken place at the Verizon Wireless Center. Mavericks 3-2, 4-2
Jack: A four-hour trip is really stretching the limits of these home-and-homes, isn’t it? Anyway, I’ll go with a Mavericks sweep simply because I’m not convinced the Bulldogs are for real (although enough people were to rank them No. 20 this week despite a loss and a win). Mavericks 4-2, 5-2
Alaska Anchorage vs. Penn State, Air Force (Alaska Goal Rush)
Shane: Getting a little extra practice time for being an Alaska school and getting the first four games in Alaska is a nice advantage for the Seawolves (and the Nanooks, see below) to start the season. They’ll head up to Fairbanks with an air of confidence and expectation after last weekend and last season. There might be a hiccup, but it will still be a good start. Seawolves 5, Nittany Lions 2; Falcons 2, Seawolves 1
Jack: I had the same thoughts as Shane, although I’m going to reverse the order and say Penn State wins Friday. Nittany Lions 4, Seawolves 1; Seawolves 3, Falcons 2
Alaska vs. Air Force, Penn State (Alaska Goal Rush)
Shane: Same thoughts about the start of the season for the Nanooks, who will be at home this weekend following their two wins in Anchorage a week ago. Travel does get tough after this, as both Alaska teams hit the road next week. Alaska has to feel good about its start, especially when it had to see who could step up following some big offseason losses. Nanooks 3, Falcons 1; Nanooks 4, Nittany Lions 1
Jack: Both Alaska schools look like WCHA contenders this season, although I think most would agree that the Nanooks have the deeper team (having Tyler Morley and Colton Paryako ain’t nothin’). I think the Nanooks start out 4-0 in their home state but I’m going to be really interested to see how they do when they leave Alaska the next two weeks. Nanooks 4, Falcons 4; Nanooks 4, Nittany Lions 3
Overall: Shane 11-6-0, Jack 10-7-0
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.