Minnesota State and Michigan Tech could both be No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, while Bowling Green is on the tournament bubble. Ferris State needs to win the Broadmoor Trophy to get into the NCAAs.
We’re finally into December, and I’m still hanging tough three games behind Shane (Ferris State tying Wisconsin last Friday didn’t do me many favors, but it turned out Shane also picked the Badgers to win on the wrong day so it’s a wash).
This week just seven of the league’s teams are in action, with only three league series. It’ll be interesting to see how this week (and next) play out to see how the teams finish going into the holiday break.
Anyway, enough chit-chat: Onto the picks.
No. 14 Bowling Green (10-3-1, 7-1-0) at No. 19 Northern Michigan (8-3-1, 5-3-0)
Jack: Without question the series of the weekend. And it should be a good one: Can Bowling Green’s high-powered offense solve Northern’s stingy defense? Or will Mathaias Dahlstom steal the show? Because this game is in Marquette and not at the funhouse rink that is BGSU Ice Arena, I’ll say the Wildcats are favored defensively. But the Falcons still could score a (low-scoring) split. Wildcats 2-0, Falcons 2-1.
Shane: I agree that this should be a great series between two good teams. Northern Michigan had to be happy with a 2-2-0 showing during its long Alaska trip, although it seems that Dahlstrom has come back to Earth a bit. Bowling Green still seems to be under the radar a bit, despite its outstanding record and could make a big splash with a sweep. Still, I, too, think it will be a split. Wildcats 3-1, Falcons 3-2
Alaska (7-7-0, 2-6-0) at No. 2 Minnesota State (11-3-0, 9-1-0)
Jack: The Mavericks are rolling right now, and I would not want to be in the Nanooks’ shoes. MSU has won six straight games and have scored 26 goals in that span. The Nanooks managed a split against Northern Michigan but I just can’t see anyone stopping the Mavericks in Mankato right now. Mavericks 4-1, 5-2.
Shane: Minnesota State’s strength is its depth right now, getting scoring from all four lines, solid defense and — suddenly — very good goaltending. Different players have stepped up at different times, which bodes well for a team playing at home for the first time in nearly a month. Alaska won’t be a pushover, though. Mavericks 4-3, 3-2
Bemidji State (4-10-0, 2-6-0) at Alaska Anchorage (5-7-2, 2-6-0)
Jack: The Beavers finally snapped their long losing streak by beating instate rivals St. Cloud Saturday. While it’s nice to see BSU score some goals, the question is if they can keep it up — especially following a long roadtrip to Anchorage. However, Anchorage still hasn’t been swept at home since 2012-13. They’ve been playing better as of late. I’ll call a split. Seawolves 3-2, Beavers 4-1.
Shane: Both of these teams snapped long losing streaks their last time out with the Seawolves stopping a six-game skid with a shutout of Northern Michigan (then getting a week off) and the Beavers stopping a seven-game slide. Who will get a winning streak started? I say the Beavers, but in an eventual split. Beavers 3-1, Seawolves 4-2
Lake Superior State (3-13-0) at No. 1 North Dakota (10-3-2)
Jack: How crazy is it that these teams have played one series, and that was in the early 70s? You’d have figured they’d at least have met once or twice in the Lakers’ national title heyday (late 80s/early 90s) but it just never happened. Unfortunately for the Lakers, they’re going back to Grand Forks at perhaps the lowest point in the program’s history. North Dakota just has too many weapons to make this a fair fight. UND 5-1, 4-2.
Shane: The only thing going against North Dakota this weekend is November’s curse on the No. 1 team in the country, which has made for four different top teams in as many weeks (Minnesota, Michigan Tech, Boston University, North Dakota). UND 6-1, 4-1
Last week: Jack 6-3-1, Shane 6-3-1
Overall: Jack 53-36-6, Shane 56-33-6
After last weekend featured all 10 league teams in action against each other, this weekend found the action dialed back a little, with just three league series and two teams having byes. Three notable things, from my view:
1. Solid weekend for top teams
After their exciting series in Houghton (one that the Mavericks swept in a pair of close games), both Minnesota State and Michigan Tech continued to dominate their competition on the road. The Mavericks swept Lake Superior State while Michigan Tech swept Alabama Huntsville.
The Mavs had a little easier time of things in the Soo — winning the series with a 7-0 and 3-0 games. Stephon Williams stopped all 45 shots to slam the door on the Lakers.
Meanwhile in Huntsville, Tech had a little tougher time with the Chargers, as the teams played a pair of back-and-forth games before Tech won 4-2 and 5-2 in a battle of WCHA Engineering Schools.
Tech currently sits in first place in the league standings with 20 points in 12 games but the Mavs, who have 18 points in 10 games, host Alaska this weekend with a chance to pull ahead of the Huskies, who have the weekend off.
With just two weeks before the holiday break, there’s a chance these teams could be tied at the top of the standings going into the end of December.
2. Wildcats split in Alaska
No. 19 Northern Michigan returns from its two-weeklong Alaska trip with a 2-2 record. Neither Alaska team is easy to beat at home, much less sweep, so the Wildcats have to be pleased to return to the Lower 48 with two wins and four points.
After splitting with Alaska-Anchorage two weekends ago (winning 1-0 then losing 4-0), NMU managed a split with Alaska in Fairbanks this past weekend. The Nanooks won 3-0 Friday before the Wildcats rallied to win 4-1 Saturday.
Goaltender Mathias Dahlström, despite giving up eight goals on the weekend, still has the best goals against average (1.19) in the country.
However, NMU has scored just 25 goals in 12 games — in the bottom half of the WCHA in scoring offense. They’ll want to improve their scoring to bail out Dahlström and make it a little easier on themselves than the white-knuckle, close games they’ve found themselves in.
Also: circle next weekend on your calendar (in case you forget that next weekend is just five days away). The Wildcats host No. 15 Bowling Green in a battle of two surprising WCHA contenders.
3. Beavers finally find a reward
After losing seven straight — including three straight league series — Bemidji State finally snapped their “play well but can’t finish” streak Saturday, beating No. 16 St. Cloud State 4-1 in Bemidji. Not only did this game feature the much-anticipated “Triple Fitzg3rald” (aka, a Fitzgerald (Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald) goal) but also had senior goaltender Andrew Walsh in prime form. He stopped 34 shots for his second win of the season.
Although the Beavers’ 4-10-0 record doesn’t seem like much, they’ve shown what they have the potential to do against some top-quality competition. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win some more games if they can find the back of the net with more consistency.
Happy Thanksgiving, WCHA fans! I’m particularly thankful for my ability to guess correctly on the some splits last weekend, while Jack went the other way, and therefore pass my cohort for the overall lead. Sure, we could have stuck with picks straight sweeps or splits, but we’re going game by game for a high degree of difficulty.
It gets no easier this weekend with eight teams in action, including two in nonconference play.
All right, let’s make the picks before the tryptophan kicks in:
Minnesota State at Lake Superior State
Shane: The Mavericks return to the U.P. one week after sweeping Michigan Tech and will try to avoid a letdown after those two big victories. Minnesota State only moved to No. 7 in the rankings after that, which was probably just fine for coach Mike Hastings, who has done a good job managing MSU’s tough road schedule. I think that continues this weekend against the improving Lakers. Mavericks 5-2, 3-2
Jack: Not quite sure why the Mavericks failed to move ahead of the team they just swept on the road, but I will never understand how most people vote in polls (to each his or her own, I guess). The only thing that really matters at the moment: MSU is No. 1 in the pairwise. I foresee that continuing. The Lakers have been better in November (the return of forward Chris Ciotti from has helped immensely) but I don’t think they will matter against the Mavericks. A sweep seems likely. Mavericks 5-2, 6-3
Michigan Tech at Alabama Huntsville
Shane: Despite dropping their first two games of the season, I was impressed with what I saw from the Huskies last weekend. Minnesota State won those games; Tech didn’t lose them. Like MSU, Tech is taking a long road trip and playing a much-improved (and much more confident) team that struggled early on. But I think the Huskies are good and will rebound. Huskies 4-1, 4-2
Jack: I just want the record to show that although I did pick the wrong way on a few of those split, I DID pick an Alabama-Huntsville split in Ferris! (Unfortunately for me I picked it on the wrong day… C’est la vie). Anyway, I think the Huskies are too good to let this losing streak extend too long, so I think they rebound here. But don’t be surprised if it’s a pair of one-goal games once again. As we’ve seen, Carmine Guerriero can keep Huntsville in any game. Huskies 2-1, 1-0
Northern Michigan at Alaska
Shane: The Wildcats are in the midst of their long Alaska road trip, so it will be interesting to see how they come out in the second series. The Nanooks, meanwhile, are home after their own long trip to the Sault where they got their first league win of the season. I see a split. Wildcats 3-1, Nanooks 2-1
Jack: Mathias Dahlstrom gave up four goals last Saturday against Alaska-Anchorage. He’d given up just six total in nine previous games. It says a lot about him and his defense that said game bumped his goals-against all the way up to… 0.99. He’s gonna want to get that exorbitant rate back down this weekend, huh? Seriously though, I can see the Nanooks scoring the split but, I doubt the Wildcats are going to give up four goals again anytime soon. Nanooks 1-0, Wildcats 4-1
Ferris State at Wisconsin
Shane: The Bulldogs head to Madison to face the nation’s only winless team. Shocking, isn’t it that Wisconsin is 0 for the season so far. Ferris State, meanwhile, is still trying to figure out some things after that home split with Huntsville a week ago. While I’d like to pick a Bulldogs sweep, I think Wisco gets off the schneid and they split. Badgers 2-1, Bulldogs 3-0
Jack: I’m tempted to agree with Shane and say the Badgers will finally score a W but I’m already on Badgers’ fans naughty list for picking them to be swept by Northern Michigan earlier this season. I see no reason to turn face again, seeing as how I’m public enemy No. 1 in Madison (probably not, but I’d like to think they hate me). Bulldogs rally back from splitting with Huntsville and sweep. Bulldogs 4-1, 3-2
St. Cloud State at Bemidji State
Shane: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: This Bemidji State schedule is brutal. Every team the Beavers have played has been ranked at the time of the meeting. If they’re learning from the tough competition and not losing confidence, they could be scary in the second half. Perhaps their improvement starts this weekend with a split. Huskies 4-2, Beavers 3-2
Jack: It’s been a frustrating six games for Tom Serratore’s crew. They’ve played well enough to win in all six but are still 0-6 against the league’s top three teams (MSU, Tech and BGSU). They haven’t really gotten any bounces their way, either (watch Sean Walker’s empty-netter for Bowling Green in last Saturday’s game for proof of this). This week BSU steps out of the conference to take on another highly-ranked instate rival. I feel like at some point the bounces have to start going BSU’s way. I’ll pick the split. Beavers 4-2, Huskies 5-3
Three things I learned from this weekend in the WCHA …
1. Mavericks make statement
Minnesota State has been an offensive-minded team for much of this season. But the Mavericks survived a tough, physical road series against No. 1 Michigan Tech and swept the Huskies with the help of its own brand of rock-solid defending along with the goaltending of junior Stephon Williams. The series could have tilted either way, with MSU winning two one-goal games and scoring twice in the third period of each game to get the sweep. Circle your calendar for Feb. 27-28 when the Mavericks and Huskies meet again in Mankato because it’s sure to be meaningful.
2. Don’t rest on Bowling Green
Sitting neck and neck with Minnesota State and two points behind Michigan Tech is Bowling Green, which, after sweeping Bemidji State (a team that probably deserves better than the 0-for in its last six games), has won six of its last seven games. The Falcons seem to know how to win the close games. Counting games that saw an empty-net goal at the end, Bowling Green is 4-2-1 in games decided by one goal or less. Six of those games have been decided by a 3-2 score.
3. Just got tougher
Alabama Huntsville and Lake Superior State scored big wins over the weekend, with the Chargers winning at Ferris State on Friday and the Lakers edging Alaska in overtime on Saturday, for series splits. That’s made for a clogged-up middle of the standings where teams will be battling for home ice in just a few months. Four points separate six teams sitting fourth to seventh. Huntsville is 3-2-1 in its last six games and 2-6-0 in conference games (a schedule that has already seen Minnesota State and Bowling Green). Meanwhile, the Lakers are 3-2-0 in their last five games and 3-7-0 in league play.
For the first time this season, all 10 WCHA teams are in action against one another. It should make for a more exiting weekend than we’ve seen before this season — all five series will have four league points on the line.
Which teams will separate themselves from the pack? Will Michigan Tech remain undefeated? Can Alaska pick up its first win?
Most importantly: Will either Shane or I be able to pull away from one another in the pick ‘em standings?
SO MANY QUESTIONS!
Anyway, I’m pretty excited about this weekend. I’ll be able to watch all 10 games from afar from my compound on the shores of Lake Bemidji (well, more like newsroom office building a couple miles from the actual shore of Lake Bemidji, but who’s counting?). Shane, meanwhile, will be in Houghton, Mich., for the best college hockey series of the week.
Let’s see who picks best.
Minnesota State (7-3-0, 5-1-0) at Michigan Tech (10-0-0, 8-0-0)
Jack: I’m a little jealous you get to be at series game, Shane. But raise your hand if you expected this to be a game between the top two teams in the Pairwise at any point this season (MSU perhaps… Tech no). That said: Michigan Tech is a really fun team to watch. I saw them play perhaps their worst two games of the season last week against Bemidji State and still find a way to win. And Tech goaltender Jamie Phillips might be a legitimate Hobey Baker candidate if he stays as hot as he has lately. Despite all that, I still don’t think Tech is going to go 44-0-0 this season. If anyone can beat this Huskies team right now, it’s the Mavericks. I’m picking a split. Huskies 3-2, Mavericks 3-2.
Shane: I’ll admit: I love the road trip to Houghton. This year, however, takes the cake with No. 1 vs. No. 9 (or No. 2, if you like early Pairwise chatter). This should be a fantastic WCHA — no, college hockey — series, and I just hope the lake-effect snow subsides for a bit so I can get there on time! I think these two teams split. Huskies 4-3, Mavericks 3-2
Bemidji State (3-7-0, 2-4-0) at Bowling Green (8-3-1, 5-1-0)
Jack: There’s not much more the Beavers can do other than hope for a some freak illnesses. After scoring 10 goals in a sweep of the Alaska Nanooks at the Sanford Center, Bemidji State has played four pretty outstanding games in a row and lost each of them (special teams could use some work, but 5-on-5 the Beavers have been excellent). Granted, they played Minnesota State and Michigan Tech — two of the best teams in the country — but there wasn’t much separating the Beavers from either team. At some point the wins have to come if BSU is going to keep playing at this high level, but this week doesn’t get any easier against a sneaky good under-the-radar Bowling Green team. I’m going to call a split so long as the Beavers can finally get some bounces to go their way. Falcons 5-4, Beavers 4-2
Shane: Seems like Bemidji State deserved better than to go 0-4 with the way it played the last two weeks against Minnesota State and Michigan Tech. Now it gets no easier with a road series against a very good Bowling Green team. I think the Falcons are a legit MacNaughton Cup contender, but the Beavers are going to flex some muscle and force a split. Beavers 4-2, Falcons 4-2
Alabama Huntsville (2-8-2, 1-5-0) at Ferris State (6-5-0, 3-3-0)
Jack: Did the Bulldogs finally figure it out? They scored 14 goals last weekend after getting just 11 in their first nine games. It’s hard to tell if that was just an anomaly against a road-weary Anchorage team. The Chargers, meanwhile, aren’t the Chargers of the past three years. They have a legitimate goaltending duo and are learning how to play in the WCHA. I can see the Chargers scoring at least a point. Bulldogs 4-2, Chargers 2-1
Shane: If these two teams had played a week ago, I might have been poised to pick an upset, just because of the Chargers’ goaltending and the Bulldogs’ scoring woes. Then Ferris State went and hung 14 goals on Anchorage. Huntsville might keep things close with Carmine Guerriero trying to match C.J. Motte in net, but Ferris sweeps. Bulldogs 3-0, 4-1
Alaska (5-5-0, 0-4-0) at Lake Superior State (2-10-0, 2-6-0)
Jack: I have no idea what to make of this series. It’s weird that the Nanooks, with all that talent, are winless in the WCHA right now. It makes sense, however, considering their recent tribulations. Lake State, meanwhile, has just two wins overall and hasn’t looked super impressive in either. I’m not sure how this is going to play out but I’m going to pick an Alaska sweep simply because I don’t know if the Lakers can score enough to beat the Nanooks. Nanooks 6-4, 3-1
Shane: I wonder if the week off was good for the Nanooks, who have lost five in a row and had the bombshell of NCAA sanctions go off in the middle of it all. This weekend’s long trip to the Sault could be an interesting look at where their heads are at. Meanwhile, the Lakers appear to be playing better after their 0-9 start. Nanooks 5-2, Lakers 2-1
Northern Michigan (6-1-1, 3-1-0) at Alaska Anchorage (4-6-2, 1-5-0)
Jack: Much like Bowling Green, NMU is another sneaky good team . Mathias Dahlstrom is the best goaltender in the country, and leads the nation in goals against (0.74), save percentage (.970) and shutouts (3). Still, that Alaska trip is never easy. So I’m picking a split and can see Dahlstrom faltering a little bit in the first game and giving up TWO WHOLE GOALS in a loss before rebounding Saturday with a shutout. Seawolves 2-1, Wildcats 3-0.
Shane: A road-weary Seawolves team returns home after 11 days in Michigan in hopes of snapping a five-game losing streak. A rested Wildcats club begins a two-weekend Alaska trek and has the best goaltender in the country going for them. Still not ready to call for an Alaska school to get swept at home. Wildcats 3-1, Seawolves 2-1
Last week: Shane 4-4-0, Jack 4-4-0.
Overall: Shane 43-27-5, Jack 44-26-5.
A couple things I may or may not have learned during a weird weekend in the WCHA:
Ferris finds its scoring touch
After scoring just 11 goals through nine games nearly matched that in their series opener against Alaska-Anchorage. Maybe it was just the odd (for the WCHA) Thursday night game catching the road-weary Seawolves off guard, but the Bulldogs pounded Anchorage 10-2. By the time the weekend was over Friday night, Ferris had scored four more goals and won 4-0.
It’s the kind of offensive explosion the Bulldogs, now 6-5-0 overall and 3-3-0 in the conference, needed if they want to get back on track and defend their MacNaughton Cup title. Goaltender CJ Motte started the season as a legitimate Hobey Baker frontrunner, but he can’t win games by himself — he definitely needs his teammates to start scoring if they’re going to make a Frozen Four run.
Huskies off to best start ever
Undefeated Michigan Tech is already the talk of the college hockey world. Now, the 10-0-0 Huskies are in the midst of to the best start in the school’s 94-year hockey history. That’s a lot of hockey history, so to be this good for this long at the beginning of the season is pretty significant. With their 2-1 win over Bemidji State Friday night, the Huskies moved to 9-0, which got them the record. Any subsequent win is gravy.
One sign of Michigan Tech’s staying power: During Saturday night’s game — a 4-2 comeback victory — the Huskies trailed for the first time since their Oct. 4 opener at Lake Superior State. In both games, Tech was badly outshot and outplayed but still found a way to win.
That streak might be in danger this weekend, though — the marquee matchup in the WCHA, if not all off college hockey, finds the Huskies hosting Minnesota State. The Huskies and the Mavs are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively in the early-season USCHO Pairwise rankings.
Those rankings obviously need to be taken with a grain of salt (every team hasn’t played enough games for them to be 100% accurate). But would anyone have guessed those two teams would be at the top of the heap more than a quarter into the season?
Splitsville for Chargers & Lakers, Falcons
Three other teams were active this past weekend, and all went 1-1.
Alabama-Huntsville hosted Lake Superior State in Huntsville, and the teams split with a pair of wildly entertaining games. The Lakers won 1-0 Friday night, while the Chargers won 5-2 Saturday night. Saturday’s game was Huntsville’s first win at home against a Division I team since Jan. 8, 2011.
It might be true that the Lakers are significantly worse this year than they were last season (they lost a lot of pieces from a decent team in 2013-14), but as I wrote last week, the Chargers are a much-improved team as well. They’re starting to look like a Division I team again, which was difficult in the years that they wandered in the Independent desert. Neither the Chargers and the Lakers are great teams, but both have a legitimate spot at a WCHA playoff spot since Alaska is ineligible this season. The Lakers have two WCHA wins and four points, tied with Bemidji State for sixth in the standings, while the Chargers have just one conference win and two points (their tie against Northern Michigan wasn’t a league game) and are tied for Anchorage for eighth in the league table.
Meanwhile, No. 19 Bowling Green split a home-and-home series with instate rivals Ohio State. Each team won 3-2 games in the other teams’ rinks. The Buckeyes won in Bowling Green Friday while the Falcons won in Columbus Saturday. The Falcons (8-3-1) also split their home-and-home series earlier this season against another instate rival (Miami), both by 3-2 scores.
Bowling Green, tied for second in the WCHA standings with Minnesota State with 10 points, returns to conference play this weekend hosting Bemidji State.
Getting things started a day earlier since there’s a game tonight …
It’s been a tough year making picks so far, but I finally had a good week and am closing in on you, Jack!
Looking back at last week, I saw we got ripped by Alaska assistant coach Lance West for expecting the Nanooks “to get just waxed” by Bowling Green. I know it was a tough week in Fairbanks with the NCAA sanctions coming down and the two losses to the Falcons, but for the record, I picked his team to win one of those games. Turns out that was my lone loss in the picks. Where’s the love, Lance?
As I always say, I’m just glad people are reading.
Well, let’s see who we can irritate (or motivate) this week:
Alaska Anchorage at Ferris State
Shane: It’s a rare Thursday-Friday series, but perhaps the shakeup can get these two teams to start scoring some goals. It sure hasn’t been easy, especially for the Bulldogs. First team to 1 has a big advantage. So with it coming down to goalies, I’m going to take senior C.J. Motte at home over freshman Olivier Mantha in a hostile environment (no knock on Mantha, who’s off to a fantastic start). Motte … er … Bulldogs 1-0, 2-1
Jack: It’s still awfully strange to see that both Alabama-Huntsville and Lake State have more goals in about as many games as the Bulldogs (10 to FSU’s 9). This should be a pretty fun series if you like closely contested goalie battles. Motte takes one and Mantha takes the other. Bulldogs 2-1, Seawolves 2-1
Lake Superior State at Alabama Huntsville
Shane: Who would have guessed these two teams would be squaring off with the chance to extend unbeaten streaks? The Lakers won their last game, Nov. 1 at Alaska Anchorage (curious to see how they come off their much-needed bye), while the Chargers won and tied at Air Force last week and are unbeaten in three of four. I’m thinking a split is in the works, and I’m thinking both teams would be happy with that. Chargers 3-1, Lakers 2-1
Jack: This should be a fun series, I think. Huntsville’s goaltending tandem of Carmine Guerriero and Matt Larose is awfully good and has been able to keep them in games all year. I’d wager that life is a whole lot easier for them when they aren’t facing 40-plus shots every game, too. The Lakers have struggled a bit offensively so I can actually see the Chargers sweeping this one. Chargers 3-1, 2-1
Michigan Tech at Bemidji State
Shane: Should be a good series in Jack’s neck of the woods with the undefeated Huskies coming to town. I liked the Beavers’ resiliency last weekend despite dropping two games in Mankato, and they’ll give Tech all they can handle, especially being at home. Will it be enough to hand the Huskies their first loss? I’m sayin’ there’s a chance. Huskies 5-2. Beavers 3-2
Jack: I missed all the games last week due to a little vacation so I didn’t get a chance to see either team in action, but from what I hear the Beavers had the same look they’ve had all year against the top-ranked teams they’ve played — they’re just as skilled but playing catch-up doesn’t suit them well. On the other hand, the Huskies are the real deal. But I don’t think the Beavers are going to be intimidated (see: Bemidji State at North Dakota, Oct. 10, 2014). I can see then scoring a split. Beavers 4-2, Huskies 5-3
Bowling Green vs. Ohio State (home and home)
Shane: The stat of the week is the WCHA’s record against the Big Ten this season, which is 9-3-1. Does that mean the WCHA’s good and the Big Ten’s bad? I think we can agree on the former, for certain. The latter? Well, there’s Minnesota and … everyone else. Conference aside, I’m all in on the Falcons. They’re good, and I think they keep things rolling — for them and for the WCHA. Falcons 3-2, 4-1
Jack: Shane, the correct answer is the Big Ten is good and just gave away all those games. I mean, how can the WCHA be good? There aren’t any big-name programs in that league! How can they possibly recruit against those brand names? That 9-3-1 record doesn’t mean anything other than the Big Ten schools weren’t trying hard enough! (NOTE: FULL SARCASM DRIPPING FROM THOSE SENTENCES) But for real, Bowling Green is going to sweep this series. That’s what usually happens when a good team plays a team that isn’t as good. Falcons 5-3, 3-1
Last week: Shane 8-1-1, Jack 6-3-1. Overall: Shane 39-23-5, Jack 40-22-5
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