Seven of the Lakers’ last eight games have been decided by one goal (or ended in ties).
Shane here …
It’s February, and you can almost feel the tension in the air. The final five weeks of the regular season will be a “bloodbath” as one player told me this week. Let’s hope it doesn’t get too messy in the stretch run. Perhaps we’ll start to see some separation in the standings after this weekend.
I’m letting Jack pick first, and I’ll rebut …
Alaska Anchorage at Minnesota State
Jack: The Mavericks are hot: With just two losses in their last 19 games, they’re still showing why they’re the No. 1 team in the country. The Seawolves, on the other hand, have struggled in the Lower 48, losing twice in Marquette with a series sweep. I can’t see the Wolves snapping out of their brief funk before they return to Alaska, so I’m calling a MSU sweep. Mavericks 4-2, 3-1
Shane: It’s hard to argue with you here, Jack, and it’s hard to pick against the Mavericks, who were nothing short of surgical against Ferris State last weekend. When Minnesota State dictates the way the game is played, there are few teams that can beat them. They’ll face a stiff test against a desperate Anchorage team, but they’ll sweep at home. Mavericks 5-2, 4-2
Bemidji State at Michigan Tech
Jack: This should be a fun one this weekend. The Beavers are arguably the hottest team in the country right now, having gone 3-0-1 in their last four games — all against top-10 teams. They took three points from Bowling Green last weekend after being swept in Ohio earlier in the season. Now, BSU heads to No. 5 Tech looking for more points against a top 10 team. Tech swept BSU in Bemidji back in November but the way the Beavers are playing now it’s hard to see that happening. But it’s also Winter Carnival, so the Huskies will be hard to sweep at home in front of an even-more-crazy-than-usual student crowd. I’m picking a split, but only because we aren’t allowed to pick ties (which is likely; BSU and Tech have tied four times in Houghton in the past five years). Beavers 4-2, Huskies 5-3
Shane: Jack, you can pick ties if you want. But it’s always a risky proposition when it comes to this very serious picking game. There’s, uh, what exactly on the line? Perhaps a tasty beverage when I go to Bemidji at the end of the season. Anyway, this should be a close series between two teams that seem to have things figured out. The Huskies can’t really afford a hiccup between now and the Minnesota State series if they want a shot at the MacNaughton Cup, but the Beavers have been doing nothing but causing hiccups for ranked teams. Beavers 3-2, Huskies 4-1
Ferris State at Bowling Green
Jack: A matchup of two teams looking to get back on track. Ferris suddenly finds itself in a fifth-place tie with Bemidji after a hot start had them in home ice position for most of the beginning of the season. BGSU, on the other hand, has lost three of its last six. Not sure who has the upper hand here, so I’m going to be lame and call a split. Bulldogs 4-2, Falcons 5-3
Shane: These are two teams that desperately want to win games this weekend. Bowling Green has taken a bit of a stumble after it’s great first half and needs to get momentum back on its side. Ferris State, meanwhile, is in the midst of a crazy-tough second-half schedule. While a split seems to be the safe pick, I think the Falcons roll at home. Falcons 4-2, 3-1
Lake Superior State at Alaska
Jack: Lake State is 4-3-1 in its last three games and are doing a great job rebounding after their terrible start. Alaska is winless in six games. The last time these teams met, it was wild: The Nanooks won the opener 7-5 in the opener before losing 3-2 in overtime in the finale. I think we’re on tap for another split. Lakers 5-4, Nanooks 3-2
Shane: Sometimes bye weeks come a good times and sometimes they come at bad times. I think the week off wasn’t great for the Lakers, who, like you said, Jack, have played pretty good hockey of late. Now they go to Alaska to face a Nanooks team that has been reeling a bit. Perhaps I need to believe more in that Lake State turnaround, but I’m thinking a split for the home team. Nanooks 3-2, 2-1
Northern Michigan at Minnesota Duluth
Jack: I was looking at these numbers and surprised how even the series is: 33-33-4. But both teams are much better against the other at home. I’m tempted to pick the split anyway just because I’m so consistent with those this week but I think the Bulldogs are going to sweep a pair of close games. Bulldogs 4-3, 4-2
Shane: That was a nice sweep last week for Northern Michigan following a rather tumultuous week off the ice. The Wildcats face a difficult nonconference test against a very good team. And if there’s no Mathias Dahlstrom in goal this weekend, I think it will be that much more difficult. Bulldogs 3-2, 4-2
Last week: Shane 5-2-1, Jack 5-2-1
Overall: Shane 89-58-15, Jack 85-62-15
Three thoughts fromt his weekend in the WCHA:
1. Look out for BSU
Bemidji State took three of four points from visiting Bowling Green, which makes them unbeaten in four consecutive games against top-10 teams. Last week, the Beavers beat No. 7 Minnesota Duluth and then-No. 1 Minnesota State in the North Star College Cup. The Falcons are ranked sixth. “It’s huge to get three out of four points,” Beavers defenseman Matt Prapavessis told The Bemidji Pioneer. “On home ice, getting conference points. It was a huge, huge game. Maybe the biggest game of the season. Last week would have meant nothing if we didn’t do some damage this week, so it was huge.” Bemidji State has two losses in its last 13 games. And, although those defeats seem somewhat perplexing coming at Lake Superior State, they did outshoot the Lakers 78-44 that weekend. The Falcons have just two wins in their last seven games.
2. Mavericks have Bulldogs’ number
Minnesota State swept Ferris State with a pair of 5-1 victories. They teams quickly became rivals when the new WCHA began last year with a slugfest a year ago in Mankato and another meeting in the Final Five championship game. The Mavericks won all three of those games, and, this season, tacked on four more wins for seven straight against the defending league champions. MSU outscored Ferris 15-4, with 11 different players scoring goals. Kyle Schempp scored all four of the Bulldogs’ goals. “I think of it as a rivalry game,” Mavericks captain Chase Grant told the Mankato Free Press. “The intensity and focus levels up a little bit. We have plenty of motivation.” The sweep was a big bounce-back from MSU’s loss in the finals of the North Star College Cup against Bemidji State a week earlier. Ferris State, meanwhile, has lost four in a row (all to MSU) and eight of its last 10.
3. Showdown looming
Minnesota State and Michigan Tech became the first teams in the country to reach 20 victories, with the Mavericks doing it on Friday and the Huskies hitting the mark on Saturday against Alabama Huntsville. It was the third 20-win season in a row for MSU but the first for Tech since the 1987-88 season. That was also the last time the Huskies scored 11 goals in a game, which it did Saturday night against the Chargers. First-place MSU and second-place Tech, which has won four straight and five of six, are separated by just four points in the standings, four points that the Mavericks grabbed in mid-November in Houghton. Mark your calendar: They will meet again Feb. 27-28 in Mankato. Between now and then their schedules are quite similar: home next weekend (Alaska Anchorage is at MSU, Bemidji State is at Tech), in Alaska the following week (MSU at Fairbanks, Tech at Anchorage) and on bye the week before they meet.
Shane here …
The WCHA race is heating up. I’m curious to see how much of it comes down to the wire like it did last season when the MacNaughton Cup, home ice and the final playoff spots all came down to the final weekend. It’s a six-week sprint, starting now – or at least with eight of 10 teams in action.
Time to pick …
Alabama Huntsville at Michigan Tech
Shane: The Chargers have proven to be much improved from a year ago and could very well make the league playoffs come March. This weekend, against a team that might just win the regular-season title, will show them just what that will be like. The Huskies, meanwhile are coming off an impressive home sweep against Alaska. I think they keep it rolling. Huskies 4-1, 4-2
Jack: UAH is coming off a rough “off” weekend in which they lost two last-minute exhibition games against the same USA U-18 team that beat Minnesota. They certainly won’t be rusty when they take on the Huskies, but like you, I think Tech is too strong right now. I expect a pair of close games but ultimately a Huskies sweep. Huskies 2-1, 3-2
Alaska Anchorage at Northern Michigan
Shane: A well-rested Seawolves team starts a four-game road swing in Marquette against a team that’s gone through a crazy couple of weeks. Walt Kyle is back behind the bench for the Wildcats after a week-long suspension by the school. They have just one win in their last 13 games (five ties in there), and they’ll get one this weekend. Seawolves 3-2, Wildcats 5-2
Jack: It seems as though Northern Michigan’s myriad issues really started to come to fruition when they went up to Alaska over the Thanksgiving break. Mathias Dahlstrom is still a good goalie, but the rest of NMU’s defense seems to be a disaster area. I think they could end some of their woes here and get a split, but it won’t be easy. Wildcats 4-3, Seawolves 4-1
Bowling Green at Bemidji State
Shane: This will be no easy weekend for the Falcons, who seem to have tapered just a bit after that outstanding first half. Just one win in each of their last three weekends, including the surprising split at home against Lake Superior State last week. The Beavers have to be full of confidence after last week’s North Star Cup championship. A split would be good for both teams. Falcons 3-1, Beavers 3-2
Jack: The real question this weekend will be which Beavers team is for real: The one that got swept at Lake State two weeks ago, or the one that beat two top 10 teams and looked dominant doing so last weekend? I tend to lean towards the latter, since they’ve played very well since their seven-game losing skid in November. The Falcons are looking for a bit of a spark too, after splitting with LSSU. I think BSU gets a split, but I’ll say they win Friday night and BG wins Saturday. Beavers 4-1, Falcons 3-2
Ferris State at Minnesota State
Shane: These two teams played a close series two weeks ago in Big Rapids and now play in Mankato where their rivalry was sparked a year ago. Not sure if there’s any carryover from either series, but the Bulldogs might be desperate not only to stay in home-ice contention but to break an 0-5 skid against the Mavericks. After last week’s hiccup in the North Star finals, though, I think the No. 3 team in the country wins two at home. Mavericks 3-1, 4-3
Jack: Ferris and Northern are both tied for the final home ice playoff spot, but both are there by virtue, really, of good starts early in the season. I think the Bulldogs have a little more of what it takes to stay there, and I’d like to think they’ll figure something out with CJ Motte in net. But the Mavericks are strong, so while I’ll pick a split I won’t be shocked by a sweep, either. Mavericks 4-3, Bulldogs 2-1
Last week: Shane 4-5-1, Jack 6-3-1.
Overall: Shane 84-56-14, Jack 80-60-14
1. State champions
Coming into this weekend’s North Star College Cup, Bemidji State were afterthoughts. As the lone unranked team in the competition, the Beavers didn’t get much chatter prior to their game Friday against No. 7 Minnesota Duluth. Beating the Bulldogs 4-0 changed that a little. Winning the whole damn thing on Saturday — handily beating No. 1 Minnesota State 3-1 — changed that a lot. Now the Beavers are the toast of Minnesota, and also the internet. (No, really. BSU‘s win actually broke the Bemidji State athletics webpage late Saturday night and early Sunday morning.) Not only do the Beavers get to take home a trophy (dubbed by some as “Paul Bunyan’s Pimp Chalice”) they also get some validation they were lacking. They’ve played a few different top-5 teams already this season and didn’t quite have enough to find a way to win. Now, BSU is unbeaten in nine of the last 11. A big win like this against some big-name instate rivals could be just the boost the Beavers need to get back into the home ice race in the WCHA playoffs. As we all saw this weekend, the Beavers have the talent to skate with just about anyone in the country. They just need to put it together more consistently.
2. WCHA shows muscle — again
Those of us who cover the league on a regular basis know how strong the WCHA actually is, as do players, coaches and fans around the league. But it still isn’t registering in some corners. Some still see it as a “cast-off” league. Minnesota State came in as the No. 1 team but weren’t necessarily favorites — in Minnesota circles, it seems, the Gophers are always a favorite no matter how much they are struggling. And Bemidji State wasn’t given much of a chance against No. 7 Minnesota Duluth, who has had an excellent season but hasn’t played well the past two weekends. Although WCHA teams have proven, time and again, that they weren’t just afterthoughts in a mid-major league, the North Star Cup should have put any doubts to rest. Maybe it took two WCHA teams playing for a title in one of the country’s biggest college hockey markets, but after Saturday’s game it seems like more folks have come around to the fact that the WCHA might not be the old league it once was but is just as competitive on a national level. Case-in-point: Despite losing their game to Bemidji State, Minnesota State is still No. 1 in the Pairwise.
3. Tech inches ahead
Outside of the state Minnesota last weekend, Michigan Tech and Bowling Green were also playing in key series to jockey for playoff positioning. And the Huskies, who earned a sweep over a strong Alaska team, took a slight lead over BGSU as the season comes into the back stretch. The Falcons split with a Lake Superior State team who is playing with lots of confidence right now; the Lakers won Friday’s game 3-1 in Ohio while the Falcons won by that same score Saturday. Tech is now three points (27) ahead of Bowling Green but four points behind idle-in-league-play MSU. The Falcons have two games-in-hand on the Huskies. Next weekend Tech hosts Alabama Huntsville — hardly a pushover these days — while Bowling Green heads to a surging and supremely confident Bemidji State team looking to keep rolling against top-10 teams.
We’re almost 2/3rds of the way through the college hockey season. In the WCHA, that means… well, it means we’re probably nowhere near close to figuring out which team is going to win the MacNaughton Cup, but we maybe have a decent idea.
Right now Minnesota State holds an eight-point first-place lead and looks to be the favorites, but Michigan Tech and Bowling Green both have games-in-hand. Last week saw the Mavs earn a sweep, which put some distance between them and Tech and BGSU, who split their series.
How will the top-ranked Mavericks perform down the stretch? If you’ll excuse the Haim reference, will they fumble when it comes down to the wire?
This weekend features just two conference series (LSSU at BGSU and Alaska at Tech), but for those old-school WCHA fans who hate change — or modern-day WCHA fan Rip Van Winkle, who fell asleep in 2010 and is just now waking up – this weekend’s North Star College Cup will feel like the Final Five came a little early.
Although this tournament doesn’t count for conference points (anymore), the game results will be huge for all the teams involved in terms of the Pairwise and conference positioning at the end of the season.
I’ll be interested to see what happens in St. Paul — at the very least it should be a great atmosphere. Now, onto the picks.
Northern Michigan at Penn State
Shane: With coach Walt Kyle placed on administrative leave for mysterious reasons, I have a hard time thinking that the Wildcats are going to be focused for this nonconference series against a good Nittany Lions team. Coming off two losses at Alabama Huntsville, NMU is reeling in more ways than one right now. Nittany Lions 3-1, 4-2
Jack: I still don’t know what to make of this whole Walt Kyle situation, but I agree with you, Shane. This almost feels like an “Alaska on probation” situation. The Wildcats might be OK down the stretch without their head coach, but I can’t imagine losing your coach just three days before a nonconference series is going to do much good for the players’ psyches. Nittany Lions 4-2, 2-1
Lake Superior State at Bowling Green
Shane: Both of these teams are coming off solid weekends, with the Lakers sweeping at home and the Falcons splitting at Michigan Tech. Bowling Green moved up in the rankings despite the split, which shows people are finally listening to what I’ve been saying for awhile now: The Falcons are good. Falcons 4-1, 3-2
Jack: I certainly didn’t see the Lakers winning a game against Bemidji State last week, much less sweeping the series. Hockey is weird, though: After that 1-0 buzzerbeater on Friday, the Lakers looked very good Saturday and rolled to the win. I think they’ve improved a lot from earlier this season. That said: Bowling Green is a much better team that Bemidji State. I can’t see the Lakers beating the Falcons in Ohio. Falcons 5-3, 3-1
Alaska at Michigan Tech
Shane: This could be a very entertaining series in Houghton. Very important weekend for the Huskies who are trying to stay ahead of Bowling Green (which has two games in hand on them) and make up some ground with Minnesota State. But the Nanooks, who have been swept on the road just once this season, are a pesky team. Huskies 4-3, Nanooks 3-1
Jack: I have no idea what to make of the Nanooks. They’ve had some very good wins, including beating MSU in Mankato, and also against Western Michigan on the road — a victory which looks continually more impressive as the Broncos look much better now than they did at the start of the season. On the other hand, the Nanooks have also had some head-scratchers — like being swept at home against rivals (and current league cellar-dweller) Alaska Anchorage. So which team shows up this weekend? I’ll put my money on a good Nanooks team and call a split. Nanooks 4-2, Huskies 3-1.
North Star College Cup
Bemidji State vs. Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State vs. Minnesota
Shane: This should be a fun weekend in St. Paul, and I expect good games all around. I was asked by a Mankato radio personality this week if I would be surprised by two Maverick wins. “Hey, they’re the No. 1 team in the country,” I said. “They’re the favorites.” So while I wouldn’t be surprised by two, one or zero wins with this tough field, I’m picking an MSU Cup win. As for the Beavers, they’ll keep things close but I wasn’t encouraged by what happened in Sault Ste. Marie last weekend. Friday: Bulldogs 3-2, Mavericks 5-3. Saturday: Gophers 4-2, Mavericks 3-2
Jack: I really wish I could be down there this weekend, since the Beavers sat out last season’s cup. But other obligations will keep me in Bemidji watching on television. No matter — I think it should be four entertaining games. Obviously Bemidji State is the massive underdog no matter who they play, and sort of the odd team out — they don’t have the resume or record that either of the other teams have. But the Beavers have played some good hockey against some good teams. They’ve also had some head-scratchers against some bad teams. They’re also 0-4 against MSU and Minnesota this season. That said: They’ve played very well against Minnesota Duluth in the recent past. Like, they’re 9-7-1 in their past 17 meetings. I think BSU is going to continue to frustrate Bulldogs fans (I’m sure both fanbases remember this game in 2011) and beat UMD before falling to MSU in the title game. Friday: Beavers 4, Bulldogs 2; Mavericks 5, Gophers 3. Saturday: Bulldogs 4, Gophers 3; Mavericks 5, Beavers 3.
Last week: Shane 4-6-0, Jack 3-7-0
Overall: Shane 80-51-13, Jack 74-57-13
1. Still the 1
Minnesota State will do something a few others haven’t been able to do this season: Stay No. 1 for a second week after rising to the top spot for the first time last Monday. The Mavericks faced one of their toughest road tests of the season — or at least since going to Michigan Tech in November — and swept Ferris State, a team that rarely loses at home. On Saturday, the Mavericks won in come-from-behind fashion, scoring three unanswered goals in the third period to erase a 1-0 deficit. The wins also gave MSU a firm grip on first place in the league standings, although Michigan Tech (eight points back) and Bowling Green (nine) have two and for games in hand, respectively.
2. Surprising sweeps
Things didn’t exactly go according to Hoyle, standings-wise this weekend, with the league’s bottom teams — Alabama Huntsville, Alaska Anchorage and Lake Superior State — all sweeping series. The Chargers took two games from Northern Michigan for its second home sweep in a row. The Seawolves went on the road to rival Alaska and took a two-game lead in this year’s Governor’s Cup, thanks, in part to Blake Tatchell’s overtime goal on Saturday night. And the Lakers swept visiting Bemidji State, starting with Friday’s dramatic finish — Alex Globke scoring the game’s only goal with 0.6 seconds left in regulation — and with Gordon Defiel’s 76 saves in the series.
3. Just one split
The only split of the weekend was not a surprising one, as it came between the second- and third-best teams in the conference. And it sure seemed to be a classic series between Michigan Tech and Bowling Green in Houghton. On Friday, Tech came from behind to hand the Falcons their first conference loss since Halloween, erasing a 2-0 second-period deficit and a 3-2 third-period disadvantage. Tanner Kero, who is making a play for league player of the year scored the game-winner midway through the third. The next night, Bowling Green bounced back with a 3-2 win. All five goals were scored in the second period, including the first three by the Falcons.
Dare we say this is rivalry week in the WCHA?
Lots of good matchups this weekend, with, once again, all 10 team in action against each other. And there’s some history between a lot of these teams, even if that history only goes back to last season.
So without further ado, let’s pick …
Minnesota State at Ferris State
Shane: This series was a heated one in Mankato last year when the roles were reversed. Ferris State was ranked No. 2 and Minnesota State was trying to play its way out of the middle. The Mavericks swept and then beat the Bulldogs again for the Final Five title. This year, MSU is No. 1, and FSU is sitting at .500. I think that’s where the similarities end, and we’ll see a split. Mavericks 3-2, Bulldogs 2-1
Jack: I guess the only concern for the Mavs would be the seeming “curse of No. 1″ that’s been plaguing college hockey tonight. A ton of teams have lost a game (or two) and dropped out of the rankings after going to No. 1 in the poll. Of course, the polls don’t “matter” but they can mean a lot for the confidence of a team. Ferris is tough to beat at home. They’ve struggled lately but I agree with you that it’s a likely split. Bulldogs 3-2, Mavericks 4-1.
Bowling Green at Michigan Tech
Shane: Another rivalry that was born last year when these teams squared off six times, including in the WCHA playoffs. These two teams sit a point apart at second and third in the standings, so I expect another barn-burner. The Falcons are red hot, having lost just once in their last 13 games, while the Huskies are on a small slide. They’ll split. Huskies 4-2, Falcons 3-2
Jack: I’m tempted to think Bowling Green will sweep this series, just the way they’ve been playing so well and the fact tat Tech has fallen to earth a bit after their hot start. But I’m not so sure. So I guess I’ll just call a split here too and see what happens. Huskies 3-2, Falcons 3-2
Bemidji State at Lake Superior State
Shane: The Beavers are quietly moving their way up in the standings, thanks to a seven-game unbeaten streak. With the schedule they have coming up after this weekend (Bowling Green at home, road series at Tech, Northern and Ferris, just to name a few), these might be must-wins. Same could be said for the Lakers, who are at home for the only time in a 14-game stretch. Beavers 5-2, 4-3
Jack: This might not seem like it, Shane, but this is actually another old-school rivalry, dating back to the 1960s when both teams played in the NAIA and the NCAA simultaneously (or something… college sports was way less regimented back then). Anyway, these have actually been close games when the teams have played recently, but the Lakers are struggling so much I’m not very confident picking them to win anything. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong, but I like the Beavers (and their goaltending and defense) right now. That seven-game unbeaten streak turns to nine games this weekend. Beavers 4-0, 4-2
Northern Michigan at Alabama Huntsville
Shane: The Wildcats are another team that seems to be playing better hockey again. They also have found a way to get at least one point in every league series so far, including four the last two weekends against Michigan Tech and Minnesota State. There might be a couple of goalie battles this weekend against the Chargers, but I see an NMU sweep. Wildcats 3-1, 2-1
Jack: I was surprised at how poorly the Chargers played last weekend, since it seemed like they had turned a corner. Meanwhile, it does seem like maybe the Wildcats are back on track. The Chargers were able to steal a point from NMU in the nonconference series that didn’t count, but Wildcats’ goalie Mathaias Dahlstrom is also 5-0-1 against UAH in the past two years with an 0.81 GAA. I’m going to call a close NMU sweep as well. Wildcats 1-0, 2-1.
Alaska Anchorage at Alaska
Shane: The Governor’s Cup has been a longtime rivalry between the two Alaska schools, and it got ramped up last year when they played in the same conference for the first time. Then there was the three-game playoff series at the end of the year that the Seawolves won in upset fashion. Anchorage is desperate for some of that road magic after winning just one of its last 13 games. The Nanooks have lost one of its last six, meanwhile. Still I see a split. Seawolves 3-2, Nanooks 4-1
Jack: I’m going to call a Nanooks sweep here. The Seawolves’ last win was in the month of November, which seems crazy. Alaska is playing very well. Maybe if it was in Anchorage I could see the Wolves rallying, but I’ll call a sweep in Fairbanks. Nanooks 5-3, 3-2.
Last week: Shane 5-3-2, Jack 5-3-2
Overall: Shane 76-45-13, Jack 71-50-13
1. Mavericks pulling away?
Michigan Tech has led the WCHA standings for what seems like the entire season. But after the past two weekends, the paradigm is starting to shift. Minnesota State has surged to a six-point lead after taking seven points in the last two weeks. The Mavs swept Lake Sueprior State this weekend then got three points from Northern Michigan the week before.
Meanwhile, Michigan Tech returned to WCHA play this past weekend and managed just one point against UP rivals Northern Michigan. The Huskies played six straight nonconference weekends, which allowed the Mavericks to sneak in behind them and take the lead.
MSU still has to play Ferris State twice and make another Alaska trip, while Michigan Tech still has to play another series against both MSU and third-place Bowling Green, which is a point behind Tech for third place with 20 points.
2. Bowling Green streaking
Meanwhile, the Falcons are unbeaten in their last nine games and haven’t lost since Nov. 14 against Ohio State. BG rallied from a 4-1 hole against Alaska on Saturday to keep the unbeaten streak alive.
The Falcons own the nation’s top penalty kill — they’ve only given up five power play goals — and BG’s three-goalie rotation has impressed lately. Freshman Chris Nell is unbeaten in seven games in net.
The Falcons travel to Houghton this weekend for a huge series against Tech. BG has two games in hand on Tech and four on Minnesota State, so four points against Tech could give the Falcons a fast track to overtaking second — and possibly first — in the standings soon down the road.
3. Separation on the bottom
On the other side of the standings, it looks like last weekend has given us a more clear picture of the three teams who will be fighting for the final few playoff spots.
The bottom three teams in the conference — Alabama Huntsville, Alaska Anchorage and Lake Superior State — were all swept over the weekend.
Bemidji State, which came into the weekend just a point ahead of Huntsville for seventh place with nine points, took all four from the Chargers to put some separation between them and the bottom of the league. The Beavers in seventh now with 13 points and are just three points out of home ice position.
Now, Huntsville still has a hold on the No. 8 spot in the standings (eight points) while Anchorage and Lake State are tied for No. 9 with six points.
These three teams are surely glad that Alaska’s indiscretions led to their playoff suspension, as it will give them an extra chance to make the postseason. Still, one team in the conference is going to be on the outside looking in at the end of the season, and unless something crazy happens down the stretch it will almost certainly be one of these three teams.
I love these weeks, and there needs to be more of them. It’s good for the WCHA when all 10 WCHA teams are in action, especially when they’re all playing against each other, which is the case this weekend. It’s just the second time this season that it has happened, but it gets everyone paying attention to the races taking place up and down the standings.
So what’s going to happen?
Ferris State at Alaska-Anchorage
Shane: The Bulldogs get a to leave Alaska a bit early, thanks to this Thursday-Friday series. Both of these teams are trying to break winless streaks, with Ferris State hoping to stay in the hunt for home ice and Anchorage hoping to do the same but also get out of the conference basement. The Bulldogs dominated the Seawolves two months ago in Big Rapids, but Anchorage has been better at home than on the road. Bulldogs 3-1. Seawolves 2-1
Jack: For some reason both Ferris/Anchorage series this year have been Thursday/Friday instead of Friday/Saturday. Maybe the coaching staffs just don’t like playing on Saturdays? Regardless, Ferris has lost their last four games and will be looking to get out of their rut. I think they’ll score one from the Seawolves on the road, if only yo snap the streak. Seawolves 3-2, Bulldogs 2-1.
Alaska at Bowling Green
Shane: The only thing that would make this a more intriguing series would be if Alaska was eligible for the postseason. These are two of the hottest teams in the league, if not the country with just three non-wins (one loss, two ties) combined in their last 13 games. The Falcons swept the Nanooks in Fairbanks in early November, right after Alaska got the news about its NCAA sanctions. I’ve been on the BG bandwagon all year, but I think this will be a split. Nanooks 4-3, Falcons 4-2
Jack: Seems like the BG bandwagon is getting bigger every week. And with good reason: The Falcons keep proving to everyone in the country just how good they are. The Nanooks struggled early in the season — they were swept by Bemidji State the week before the sanctions were announced then were swept by the Falcons the week after — but they seem to have rallied from that initial shock and are playing some great hockey. I agree with you that this looks like a split. Falcons 5-3, Nanooks 2-1.
Michigan Tech at Northern Michigan
Shane: This should be a good series between U.P. rivals, starting Friday in Marquette before moving to Houghton on Saturday. The Wildcats are on a six-game winless streak but one with three ties, including last Saturday against Minnesota State. The Huskies have been impressive, and it took a couple of great goaltending performances to beat them recently. Mathias Dahlstrom missed the MSU series last week. If that’s still the case, I say … Huskies 4-2, 4-3
Jack: That Phillips/Dahlstrom matchup would have me (or anyone who loves good goalie battles) salivating, but if Dahlstrom is still out, as you say, I don’t know if I can see Michael Doan or Derrick Dun being able to stop Tech’s powerful forward group. I’ll agree with the sweep. Huskies 3-1, 5-3
Lake Superior State at Minnesota State
Shane: The Mavericks swept the Lakers by a combined 10-0 score over Thanksgiving weekend in Sault Ste. Marie, but coach Mike Hastings insists that a very different Lake Superior State team is coming to Mankato this weekend, one that won a tournament championship its last time out. Still, the Lakers have been shut out six times this season, including in a shootout win in that Florida tournament. Minnesota State just scores too many goals to lose. Mavericks 4-1, 4-1
Jack: You basically made all the relevant points to this series. The Lakers do seem to be a slightly better team than before — freshman Gordan Diefel has improved, at least — but I can’t see him shutting down the Mavericks’ offense. Mavericks 5-2, 4-2
Alabama-Huntsville at Bemidji State
Shane: The Chargers and the Beavers are a combined 4-0-4 in their last eight games, so something has to give, right? Alabama Huntsville has some swagger right now after scoring its first-ever WCHA sweep, but it has to go on the road to face a Bemidji State team that’s tough at home. An improved Huntsville team is good for the conference, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a tie (or two) this weekend. But I’m going with … Beavers 4-2, 3-1
Jack: This may put me in hot water in Bemidji, but the Chargers have already won one game at the Sanford Center in the past year and I see no reason to think they won’t be able to do it again. I think these games are going to be really fun to watch and cover, especially if the BSU student section returns from break a few days early for some “We Hate Huntsville” chants. I think the Beavers and Chargers split. Beavers 4-2, Chargers 3-2
Last week: Shane 5-3-2, Jack 4-4-2
Overall: Shane 71-42-11, Jack 66-47-11
1. Positive Charge(rs)
Alabama-Huntsville made a big stride over the weekend, scoring its first-ever WCHA sweep, beating Alaska-Anchorage at home 3-2 and 2-1. It was also the Chargers’ first series sweep of a Division I opponent since Jan. 29-30, 2010, when they swept Niagara. “We were trying to figure out when was the last time we had a Division I sweep here, and nobody knew,” coach Mike Corbett said in a UAH video posted after the game. “[Assistant] coach [Gavin] Morgan, it’s his fifth year, and he hasn’t seen one since he’s been here. It’s been a long time and a long time coming and our guys did a great job tonight.” Max McHugh and Cody Marooney each scored two goals in the series, and goalie Carmine Guerriero stopped 58 of 61 shots. The Chargers are on a three-game unbeaten streak and are sitting in eighth place in the WCHA, one point behind next week’s opponent, Bemidji State.
2. Bulldogs stumbling
Ferris State began its long trip to Alaska and a tough second-half schedule on a flat note, getting swept in Fairbanks. Perhaps most surprising about the weekend was seeing star goalie CJ Motte allow six goals in a 6-0 loss on Saturday night. The Bulldogs have lost four games in a row and have set themselves up to be in a real battle for a home-ice playoff spot over the rest of the season. They’ll stay in Alaska to face Alaska-Anchorage Thursday and Friday and then face each of the conference’s top two teams — Minnesota State and Bowling Green — back to back over the following five weeks. Meanwhile, second-half spoiler Alaska has won five of its last six games.
3. No brooms at the top
The WCHA’s top three teams had solid weekends but not perfect ones. Minnesota State was the only team in league action and took three of four points at Northern Michigan. The Mavericks had to kill off a five-minute major for the majority of overtime on Saturday to preserve a tie with the Wildcats. Michigan Tech split a nonconference series at Wisconsin despite dominating the weekend. The Huskies won 8-1 on Friday but lost 2-0 on Saturday despite a 47-19 shot advantage. Shot stats don’t show up on the PairWise comparisons, however, and losing to the now-two-win Badgers was a bit of a blow. Finally, Bowling Green got a boost from a tie and win against Robert Morris. The tie took place outdoors in Toledo, Ohio, and the win took place Sunday in Pittsburgh. After the weekend, MSU dropped from first to second in the PairWise, BGSU moved up to fifth and Tech dropped to 13th.