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Dec. 11 WCHA Pick: No. 3 Michigan hosts No. 4 Ferris State

We have a Wednesday night special this week not only for the WCHA and Big Ten, but for all of college hockey and especially the state of Michigan when No. 3 Michigan hosts No. 4 Ferris State in a battle of old CCHA rivals.
The Bulldogs bring the nation’s longest unbeaten streak at 13 games (11-0-2) into Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines have won their last four regular season games, but dropped an exhibition last week on Thursday 5-4 in overtime to their neighbors, the U.S. National Team Development Program U-18s.
Tonight’s game can be seen on Fox Sports Detroit Plus in Michigan and Fox College Sports Atlantic nationally.
Here are Shane and my pick for tonight, with the rest of the picks for this weekend’s action coming on Friday morning.

Ferris State at Michigan, 7 p.m. ET, Wednesday

Matt: Yost Ice Arena may be one of the most intimidating places to play, but the Bulldogs are very familiar with Yost having played there many times before in the CCHA. This game is also on a Wednesday — not a Friday or Saturday — with finals week coming up. I like Ferris to pull to upset in a possibly less-than-hostile Yost. Bulldogs 4-3.
Shane: Upset? This is No. 3 hosting No. 4. Should be a pick ‘em, right? Frankly, this should be a big, exciting game, and I should upgrade my DirecTV sports package just so I can watch it. I keep waiting for Ferris to take a bump, but the Bulldogs just keep rolling. I’m with you, Matt. Bulldogs 4-2 

What I learned this weekend in the WCHA about MSU, UAH and long delays

From the warmth and comfort of my couch this weekend, here’s what I think I learned channel surfing from game to game on WCHA TV while Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was buried in ice and snow.

Minnesota State is alive and well

After winning just four of their first 11 games of 2013-14, it appeared as if Minnesota State was going to crack under the pressure of being ranked nationally in the preseason and picked by almost everyone to win the new-look WCHA.

Since starting 4-7, however, the Mavericks have won five straight games with back-to-back home sweeps of Alaska-Anchorage and Northern Michigan to move into second place in the WCHA.

Freshman netminder Cole Huggins has been a big part of the run and appears to be the Mavs’ go-to-goaltender now after making back-to-back starts. He leads the league with a 1.80 goals against average and .923 save percentage.

Meanwhile, the return of senior forward Zach Lehrke continues to spark the MSU offense. He tallied another goal and assist against NMU to extend his point streak to six in six games.

The question now is whether or not MSU can catch red-hot Ferris State, which is unbeaten in its last 13 games with no signs of slowing down. This should be an interesting race between both teams in the second half.

If you’re not happy for Huntsville, you’re a Grinch

With NMU and MSU heading to intermission Saturday, I made a quick switch over to Alabama-Huntsville at Bowling Green to see the final minute of overtime.

I was glad I did.

After UAH withstood what I thought for sure was a game-winning attack by BGSU, the Chargers caught the Falcons in transition for one final rush that ended with sophomore defenseman Frank Misuraca scoring on BGSU goaltender Tomas Sholl with 3.4 seconds left in overtime.

The sports fan in me took over at that point, and I let out a quick joyous shout, scaring my dog.

While I found it entertaining when the Detroit Lions went winless in 2008, the start of UAH’s first season in the WCHA has been a bit heart wrenching.

The program went through so much just to get into the WCHA, but going winless in its first season in the league would have been seen as a major setback.

Instead, the program now has something to build on and a glimmer of hope heading into the holidays.

Based on the support I’ve seen on Twitter, it seems I wasn’t the only one to let out a little cheer for UAH on Saturday night.

Understandably, BGSU fans probably weren’t thrilled the win came at the expense of their team,  which has now lost four of its last five games. They get a pass for not feeling good about UAH’s win right now.

Two intermissions are enough in college hockey

I had the chance to sit next to WCHA Supervisor of Officials Greg Shepherd early this season in the press box when Northern Michigan hosted Michigan Tech, and it was a great experience.

While the fans voiced their frustration over the Wildcats not shooting the puck on the power play, Shepherd had a reaction for every missed call by his referees or linesmen.

At one point in the game, there was a long pause in the action while his crew had one long conversation with NMU coach Walt Kyle, and another with Tech’s Mel Pearson. At that moment in the game, Shepherd was right along with the fans, asking the guys in stripes to cut the conversation and drop the puck already.

That moment has come to mind the past two weekends while WCHA officials sorted out scrums involving NMU.

The first came during the second period on Nov. 30 in Marquette with the Wildcats hosting Ferris State. NMU’s Reed Seckel made a high open-ice hit that the Bulldogs’ Andy Huff took exception to. Huff hit Seckel from behind after the whistle and the two went at it, taking each other to the ground.

Seckel and Huff both received five minute majors for fighting while Seckel received two additional minors for roughing from WCHA referees. From the time Seckel and Ruff were put in the penalty box — they were later escorted off the ice — to the time the puck was dropped and play resumed, eight minutes had passed.

That was nothing compared to Saturday’s 11-minute delay while the WCHA’s Chris Perrault and Brad Shepherd sorted out 11 penalties by five players stemming from a third-period scrum in front of the Northern net.

For NMU, Stephan Vigier received a pair of minors for roughing and Wade Epp got a minor for roughing and major for facemasking. For MSU, Matt Leiter got two minors for instigating and one for roughing, while Zach Palmquist and Brett Stern each got double minors for roughing.

Later in the period, NMU was called for too many men on the ice when a player was let out of the penalty box early. After another delay to chat things over, the penalty was wiped out.

As a spectator and editor trying to sneak something in the Sunday paper before the presses rolled, I was pretty annoyed by the delays and I can’t imagine Greg Shepherd was too thrilled either.

The WCHA needs to do something to cut down on these delays. No one goes to hockey games to watch refs hold conferences by the glass and argue with coaches.

Eight and 11-minute delays are ridiculous, especially when an intermission lasts 15 minutes.

WCHA picks, Dec. 6-7

Shane continues to be the hot hand when it comes to picking games in the WCHA, while I barely finish above .500. We have all 10 teams in league play this weekend, which shouldn’t be an oddity, but it somehow is.

Here’s our best guesses. All games are Friday and Saturday.

Alabama-Huntsville at Bowling Green

Matt: The Falcons struggled in November, but most of those troubles came on the road. BSGU is 5-1-1 at home this year and 4-0-1 all time at home against the Chargers, who are still winless on the year. Falcons 2-0, 3-1

Shane: Talk about curing what ails you. Bowling Green’s playing at home and against Huntsville. The Chargers are going to steal a win sometime, but I’m not bold enough to predict when. Falcons 5-1, 2-1

Bemidji State at Michigan Tech

Matt: Shane likes to call Ferris State goaltender C.J. Motte, “my guy” and in a way, he has been early on. I picked him as my preseason All-WCHA goaltender and he’s making me look real good right now. However, if I had to fill out a midseason All-WCHA ballot (not a bad idea), it would be hard to keep Tech’s Pheonix Copley off the ballot. Last week I picked the Huskies to get swept in Alaska. This week I sat they sweep at home, hoping for a better result on my end. Huskies 2-1, 3-2.

Shane: These two teams have played the toughest schedules of anyone in the league – maybe even the country. All but one of their seven combined nonconference opponents are currently ranked. Bemidji’s also played Ferris and Lake Superior, while Tech played LSSU and went on that long Alaska trip. This will be a battle. Beavers 3-2, Huskies 2-1.

Ferris State at Lake Superior State

Matt: Alright Bulldogs fans, I guess I’ll hop on your so-called bandwagon, but don’t blame me for jinxing your team with this pick. The Bulldogs eventually will lose, but until they or Motte do, I’m picking sweeps. Bulldogs 4-1, 2-1

Shane: Even when we haven’t picked Ferris State we’ve been on their bandwagon. Ferris State is getting plenty of praise from the Wellens-Frederick Media Machine. But the question isn’t: Is FSU the best team in the league? It’s: Are these teams the best two teams in the league? Lakers 2-1, Bulldogs 4-2

Northern Michigan at Minnesota State

Matt: The loss of senior defenseman C.J. Ludwig is devastating for NMU. He was the team’s best defenseman, the quarterback of the penalty power play and a key member of the penalty kill. There is no replacing Ludwig. That said, I think his understudy Brock Maschmeyer is going to surprise people at the blue line. Wildcats 2-1, Mavericks 4-1

Shane: This is the beginning of a tough stretch of road games for Northern Michigan, and it could define its season. Losing Ludwig is indeed a killer. The Mavericks, meanwhile, are healthier, at home and playing closer to their potential than they were a month ago. Mavericks 3-2, 4-2.

Alaska at Alaska-Anchorage

Matt: The first weekend of WCHA play, the league pitted some of the fiercest rivals together with Bemidji State at Alabama-Huntsville and Northern Michigan playing Michigan Tech. Why wasn’t this series part of rivalry weekend? This may be the best of the three. Seawolves 4-3, Nanooks 4-2.

Shane: Both of these teams are desperate for wins right now, and, as if they need any more motivation, this is the first time these rivals are squaring off as WCHA opponents. Hopefully, there will be a good crowd at the Sully this weekend. Seawolves 3-1, Nanooks 4-3

What I think I learned: a missing piece, a road trip and some heartbreak

What I think I learned about the WCHA this weekend …

 Zach Lehrke, the missing cog?

Minnesota State senior forward Zach Lehrke has six points in four games since coming out of retirement to rejoin Minnesota State. His five assists all have come on power-play goals. Consider this: In 10 games without Lehrke around, the Mavericks’ power play had scored just four goals and was clicking at a feeble 9 percent. In the last four games, Minnesota State has nine power-play goals, including a 5-for-6 performance on Saturday against Alaska-Anchorage. The power play is now over 19 percent. And, oh by the way, the preseason favorite is heating up a bit, winning three WCHA games in a row and four of its last five conference games.

Road warriors

Michigan Tech came out of its 11-day Alaska trip in good shape, sweeping Alaska on Friday and Saturday. The wins were the first two road victories for the Huskies this season. They were 0-7-2 away from Houghton before that, including a loss and tie at Alaska-Anchorage the previous weekend. Taking five of eight points on that grind of a trip? Probably couldn’t ask for much more than that, considering the road record. And that’s been a tough road, with games at Minnesota-Duluth, Notre Dame and Michigan. Now Michigan Tech goes home for back-to-back conference series, hosting Bemidji State and Bowling Green. The Huskies are 4-1-0 at home. Look out for Tech.

Tough-luck Falcons

After getting swept at Lake Superior State, Bowling Green has just one win in its last seven games. Four of the Falcons’ five losses in that stretch have been one-goal games – all five if you consider the empty-net goal in Ferris State’s 4-2 victory over them. Bowling Green has played four overtime games in that stretch (six already for the season), going 1-2-1 in those games. Meanwhile, Lake Superior won two games in a row for the first time since Oct. 18-19 when it swept Union.

 

WCHA Picks: Can Northern Michigan cool off red-hot Ferris State?

Happy Thanksgiving weekend. The WCHA doesn’t slow down for the holiday, though, as there are four important series taking place in league play (in addition to some non-conference matchups), meaning eight teams trying to make moves. Will we see some separation in the standings? Or will there be more of a logjam? Here are the picks …

Ferris State at Northern Michigan

Shane: The Wildcats have the task of cooling off the hottest team in the county. This is the first big road test for the Bulldogs, who have had the benefit of a favorable early season schedule. As I’ve said before: You can’t control the schedule; just win baby! Bulldogs 4-1, Wildcats 3-2

Matt: Based on winning percentage, these are the two best teams right now in the WCHA, making this really and underrated series in my mind compared to some others we’ve hyped this season. I think this weekend will tell us a lot, like whether or not NMU is really the second best team in the WCHA, or if the Bulldogs are just benefiting from a heavy home slate early on. Wildcats 3-2, Bulldogs 4-2

Bowling Green at Lake Superior

Shane: The Falcons have won just once on the road and are 1-3-1 in their last five games, while the Lakers have slowed down a bit after their red-hot start. These teams have played a lot of close games so far, and that won’t change this weekend. Lakers 3-2, Falcons 2-1

Matt: The Lakers have the better goaltending in Kevin Kapalka while the Falcons have the more potent offense featuring Bryce Williamson and Dan DeSalvo. Each team’s strength wins out at least one night this weekend. Lakers 2-0, Falcons 4-1

Alaska Anchorage at Minnesota State

Shane: Despite their improved play overall, the road hasn’t been kind to the Seawolves so far. The Mavericks have yet to live up to expectations, but there are signs. Getting healthy and getting Zach Lehrke back are huge for Minnesota State. Mavericks 4-3, 3-1

Matt: Lehrke’s return may not just be an offensive boost for the Mavericks physically, but mentally as well. His comeback could be the spark the team needs to start living up to its preseason potential. Mavericks 4-2, 3-1

Michigan Tech at Alaska

Shane: These feel like must-win games for two teams that expect a higher standard than what they’ve shown so far this season. The Nanooks return home where they started the season strong, while the Huskies haven’t left Alaska since arriving for last week’s series against Anchorage. Nanooks 4-2, Huskies 2-1

Matt: The Huskies inability to hold a lead in Anchorage last weekend on Saturday has me doubting this team can win away from Houghton right now. There’s probably another tie in here somewhere, but I’ll play the odds and take an Alaska sweep. Nanooks 2-1, 3-2

Miami at Bemidji State

Shane: Miami is supposed to be one of the country’s elite teams but is 1-4 in its last five games with a three-game losing streak. I’ll bet the RedHawks won’t be happy campers. The Beavers won’t make it easy, but I have a feeling Miami gets back on track this weekend. RedHawks 2-1, 4-2

Matt: Don’t let the RedHawks record fool you. Enrico Blasi has a darn good team at Miami again this season. I’m not sure Northern Michigan misses seeing Miami in Marquette, but I do. It’s a fun team to watch. RedHawks 3-1, 5-2

Alabama Huntsville at Notre Dame tournament (Notre Dame, Western Michigan/Northeastern)

Shane: I think I speak for a lot of observers in that I’d like to see the Chargers get that first win of the season. They’ve had some close losses along the way, so there’s some hope. Not sure it happens this weekend, though. Since I don’t know their second opponent, I’ll say: Two losses for UAH.

Matt: The Chargers may be struggling, but they’re not shying away from tough competition this season. This schedule should pay dividends in years to come for the program’s younger players, even if it doesn’t show in the win column. Two losses for UAH

Last week: Shane 8-1-1; Matt 3-6-1. Overall: Shane 52-26-10, Matt 50-28-10

Happy Thanksgiving weekend.

What I think I learned last week in the WCHA about the standings

After a weekend that included all 10 WCHA teams in league action, here’s what I think I learned in the WCHA last week.

It’s still too early to take league standings too seriously

Bridget Berube Carter, Northern Michigan University’s associate athletic director of compliance and interim sports information director, told me this weekend she isn’t bothering to feature the WCHA standings front and center in her game notes for the time being because of how little they actually tell us at this point.

The WCHA is a month into its season, but there is such a disparity in league games played among teams, it’s impossible to truly gauge who is where.

Half of the league has only played six games so far, and all five of those teams sit between a tie for fourth and ninth in the standings. Meanwhile, of the five teams to play eight or more games — Bemidji State leads the league with 10 — four sit in the top four spots with winless Alabama-Huntsville the exception last at 0-8-0.

It’s almost as if you have two separate divisions with Northern leading the six-game teams and Ferris State leading the eight-or-more-game teams.

The best way to rank the league at this point may be by winning percentage, which puts a team like NMU in second place, but six games is just too few for me to say NMU ranks in the top third of the league, especially when the three teams it’s played thus far sit eighth, ninth and 10th in the standings — not that those seeds mean anything at this point.

That being said, Ferris State is the team to beat right now

When it comes to the Bulldogs, throw the first third of this blog post out the window, because most of it doesn’t apply to them.

Ferris State is the undisputed No. 1 team in the WCHA right now, and should be ranked much higher than No. 10 in the country when this week’s USCHO poll is released later today.

The Bulldogs have not only started WCHA play 7-0-1, but have beaten three teams that I consider to be quality opponents right now in Alaska, Bowling Green and Bemidji State.

Take away FSU’s sweep of UAH to drop them into my “six-game division” and the Bulldogs would still be atop the league standings, tied at 11 points with the Beavers, who have played 10 games.

I can understand why some people may still not be sold on Ferris State since it’s only road test this season in league play was down in Huntsville, but even with splits the next two weeks on the road in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula against Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State, Ferris will be the WCHA leaders when league play resumes after Christmas.

And like the Bulldogs, the Chargers are where they should be too

I really hope the fans and administration at the University of Alabama-Huntsville have a lot of patience, because I think the Chargers program could become something special in the future as long as it has a conference to play in.

But, it’s not happening this season, and maybe not next year either.

The odds told me to pick an NMU sweep in Marquette over the weekend, but my gut honestly thought the Chargers could steal a win over Northern on Saturday night.

I’m not sure if it was because the Chargers have had some success on Saturdays, or if I wasn’t as confident as NMU head coach Walt Kyle in his team’s ability to stay focused against a lesser foe.

Either way, I knew I had picked correctly after the first period Friday without even looking at the Wildcats’ 22-5 advantage in shots. It was like watching a college game one night at Marquette’s Berry Events Center and then catching a high school game next door at Lakeview Arena the following night. The overall difference in skill was evident.

What the Chargers need at this point is a young go-to goal scorer like Lake Superior State freshman Alex Globke or Bemidji State sophomore Markus Gerbrandt.

It would also help if the university could keep head coach Mike Corbett around for the forceable future. A league home is a nice step, but consistency at the head coaching position — like Bob Daniels at Ferris State — is the key to long-term success and I think  Corbett can get the Chargers there.

11/22/13 WCHA Picks: Rare to see all 10 teams in league play at once

For the first time this season, all 10 WCHA teams are in action in WCHA series, and it only took until the second-to-last week in November for this to happen.

This strange phenomenon will only happen again Dec. 6-7 and then not again until Jan. 10-11.

I’m with Shane that the league needs to find some stability with its scheduling. It’s tough to get psyched up for league play when you go two weeks in between seeing WCHA opponents like Northern Michigan just did.

Here’s how we think the league shakes out this week, with all games taking place Friday and Saturday.

Minnesota State at Bowling Green

Matt: Speaking of scheduling quirks, why are the Falcons and Mavericks meeting again just two weeks after their first conference series? Couldn’t the league spread this out a little more with one series before New Years Day and the other after? If there’s any bad blood lingering from the last meeting, it still has to be boiling. Mavericks 2-1; Falcons 4-3

Shane: If there’s any bad blood, it’s from the fact that each of these teams has won just one of its last four games, not necessarily with each other. Bowling Green’s been good at home, and Minnesota State has gotten a boost with the return of Zach Lehrke. I, too, see a split, but the Mavs have been better on Saturdays. Falcons 3-2, Mavericks 3-1

Alaska at Ferris State

Matt: The Bulldogs have won five of their first six WCHA games with the Nov. 15 tie against BGSU being the lone blemish. Someone needs to slow down the Bulldogs before they begin to run away with things, and the Nanooks win at Lake Superior State Nov. 8 gives me confidence Ferris’ unbeaten streak will be snapped. Bulldogs 4-2, Nanooks 3-2

Shane: Everyone in the WCHA outside of Big Rapids is rooting for Alaska this weekend in hopes of tightening up the standings. The Bulldogs had to score some late goals against Bowling Green last weekend to tie and win, so there might be some vulnerability there. I’m with Matt here. Bulldogs 5-1, Nanooks 4-2

Alabama-Huntsville at Northern Michigan

Matt: Four of the Chargers six losses have come by one goal and all four of those have come in the second game of the series. Eventually UAH will break through, but I don’t see it happening on the road. Wildcats 5-1, 2-1

Shane: Reading the tweets from the UAH crew, this is one heck of a bus trip. In fact all of the road teams are logging lots of miles this weekend. The Wildcats might have some rust after having a week off, but I can’t pick a Chargers win until I see one. Wildcats 4-0, 4-3

Lake Superior State at Bemidji State

Matt: The Beavers appear to be the only school to get into a conference groove early having played the previous four weekends all against WCHA foes. They get another this week in LSSU, which struggled offensively Saturday at Michigan Tech. The Lakers will need its top line of Dan Radke, Colin Campbell and Alex Globke to be at its best to beat BSU. Beavers 4-1, Lakers 3-1.

Shane: This is a matchup of the WCHA’s surprise teams. Neither one wants to start slipping now. Both will get points this weekend. Lakers 3-1, Beavers 4-1

Michigan Tech at Alaska-Anchorage

Matt: The Huskies have yet to win a game away from Houghton and I can’t think of a tougher way place to get your first road win than in Alaska. Getting that first win on Friday would go a long way to making this trip more enjoyable, even if Tech can’t sweep. Huskies 3-2, Seawolves 2-1.

Shane: This seems to be a huge series for both of these teams. As you said, Matt, the Huskies are wondering if they can win on the road, while the Seawolves are trying to change that losing culture. I’ll go the other way on the split. Seawolves 4-2, Huskies 2-1

Last week: Shane 6-2-2; Matt 5-3-2. Overall: Matt 47-22-9; Shane 44-25-9.

What I think I learned about what I didn’t know about

Ferris is for real

One of the toughest things for this sport’s observers this season has been learning about the new teams to the league. There was an assumption that Ferris State would be one of the WCHA’s better teams, but I’m not sure if I saw this start coming.

Then again, other than reading some clips, what did I know about Garrett Thompson or Justin Buzzeo, who lead the league in scoring with 14 points apiece, or goalie C.J. Motte, who is 8-0-1.

“[Motte is] a big-time goalie,” Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron told USCHO. “I’m not sure the WCHA knew what kind of goalie he is. He’s an all-WCHA, All-American goalie.”

Good to know.

With a tie and a win over Bowling Green, the Bulldogs extended their unbeaten streak to seven games and got a bit of cushion in the WCHA standings.

Uniform schedule, please

Midway through the month of November, the WCHA standings are beginning to take shape – sorta.

It continues to baffle me that the league (and other college hockey leagues) doesn’t have a more uniform schedule that keeps teams as close together as possible in conference games played.

Bemidji State has played eight conference games already. Four teams have played six games, and five teams have played just four games. How can we gauge where teams are at?

Besides knowing that Ferris State is good and Alabama Huntsville is not, the other eight teams are bunched up.

While it will take awhile to even out more, the good news is that all 10 teams will be in action against each other this weekend.

No offense, but …

One of the most baffling stats of the season so far is Minnesota State’s lack of scoring prowess. With the WCHA preseason player of the year (Matt Leitner) and what, on paper, seemed to be the deepest collection of forwards in the league, the Mavericks are averaging just 1.9 goals per game, which ranks 54th in the country.

After getting swept 4-1 and 3-0 against No. 1 Minnesota over the weekend, captain Johnny McInnis told The (Mankato) Free Press: ”I don’t want to say it’s embarrassing because we played the best team in the country. But it’s pretty unacceptable as a team to score one goal on the weekend. I don’t care who we’re playing.”

Meanwhile, Michigan Tech isn’t doing much better, averaging just 2.08 goals per game (51st in the nation), although that number has risen over the last four games, as the Huskies won three of their last four games and split a home series against Lake Superior State this weekend.

Ferris State, meanwhile, ranks third in the nation in scoring at 3.82 goals per game.

WCHA picks: Big weekend in Big Rapids

Looking at the WCHA standings, you’d think that this has been an unpredictable start to season. Yet, Matt went 10-1-1 in his picks for the second week in a row last week! Looks predictable to me. My 8-3-1 mark wasn’t bad, but Matt’s starting to pull a way a bit.

Bowling Green at Ferris State

Shane: This is the WCHA’s big matchup of the week with the first- and second-place teams going against each other. Tough break for the Falcons’ Ryan Carpenter, who looked ready to return from one injury and now has another. But they’ve survived so far without him. I sure was impressed with them last week. Ferris State has won five straight, grinding out a pair of wins against Bemidji State last weekend. I say one more win, then the streak ends. Bulldogs 3-2, Falcons 4-3

Matt: In the CCHA, this used to be a series you easily overlooked during the regular season with the Bulldogs near the top of the league in its final years while BGSU was at the bottom. Now with both contending for a league-title in the WCHA, it’s a must watch. These two schools played an epic CCHA second-round playoff series in 2011-12 where the last-place Falcons won both games in the best-of-three series in overtime to upset the No. 1-seeded Bulldogs. I expect this weekend to be just as tight and intense. Bulldogs 5-4, Falcons 4-3.

Lake Superior at Michigan Tech

Shane: I liked how the Lakers bounced back from that tough weekend at Wisconsin. Now, one of the nation’s most surprising teams is making Tech’s brutal schedule look even tougher. The Huskies have won all three of their home games, but I think Lake State steals one. Lakers 3-2, Huskies 4-1

Matt: There’s something about John MacInnes Student Ice Arena that makes it such a tough place to play, as Northern Michigan and Michigan State have learned thus far, and I’m not talking about the travel. The boards have a bit of an extra bounce to them not seen elsewhere, and the Huskies have really been strong at home as well thanks in part to solid crowds. A Tech sweep wouldn’t surprise me, and neither would a Lakers sweep in the Sault come January. For now, I’ll chicken out and call a split. Huskies 3-1, Lakers 4-2.

Alaska Anchorage at Bemidji State

Shane: These are two teams that have shown great improvement from last year but now have to figure out if they can sustain it. Both likely are looking at this series as a chance to get points and keep the standings crowded, and I think that’s what happens. Beavers 5-1, Seawolves 2-1

Matt: Neither of these teams look like squads who were picked in the preseason to battle for the eighth and final playoff spot, especially the Beavers. In Alaska, I like the Seawolves to split, but in Bemidji, I think this weekend BSU is able to put some distance between itself and UAA, while also staying in the hunt for first in the WCHA. Beavers 3-1, 2-1.

St. Cloud State at Alabama Huntsville

Shane: After a season in which they played just one Division I opponent at home, the Chargers’ fans have to love this year’s schedule already. The winless Chargers on the other hand, well, would probably like more of a nonconference cupcake right now than the 6-1-1 Huskies. Huskies 4-0, 6-1

Matt: The Chargers have gone all out when it comes to scheduling tough opponents this year and there isn’t a cupcake to be found among its nonconference games against Hockey East, the NCHC and Big Ten. This probably means the Chargers will have to find their first win in WCHA play. Huskies 5-0, 6-2.

Minnesota State at Minnesota

Shane: Something still isn’t quite right with the Mavericks, and adding insult to a rash of injuries is a nonconference series against the No. 1 Gophers. Everything about this series says a Minnesota sweep, except that Minnesota State has played well in this series of late. I think the Mavs keep things close and steal one on Saturday. Gophers 4-2, Mavericks 3-2

Matt: The Mavericks seem to need a nonconference weekend to get its house in order, but it will be tough to tinker and experiment against a rival like the Gophers, who also happen to be the No. 1 team in the country. If this was in Mankato, I’d like the Mavs to steal a win. Since it’s in Minneapolis, I think the Gophers defend their home ice. Gophers 3-0, 2-1.

Last week: Matt 10-1-1, Shane: 8-3-1. Overall: Matt 42-19-7, Shane 38-23-7.

What I think I learned this weekend in the WCHA about early must-win games

With all but Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan involved in WCHA play this weekend, here are the three things I think I learned from around the league.

Saturday was a must win for Minnesota State, no matter what the Mavericks say

No goal this season may have been more important for the Mavericks up until this point than the one scored by senior captain Johnny McInnis in overtime on Saturday to give the Mavs a 1-0 overtime victory over Bowling Green in Mankato.

MSU currently sits two points back of second-place BGSU and four points back of first-place Ferris State with the Bulldogs hosting the Falcons this weekend in Big Rapids, Mich.

“I can’t say it was a must win at this time of the year,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said to Shane Frederick of the Mankato Free Press after Saturday’s OT win, “but it was an incredibly important win.”

Even a tie for the Mavericks with BGSU on Saturday would have left the WCHA’s preseason favorites in a giant hole — anywhere from seven to nine points back of first place — once they return to league play Nov. 22-23 at Bowling Green.

If anything, Saturday’s win was a huge moral boost for MSU, which would have had just one win in four home games to start league play if not for McInnis’ goal.

“We needed something to go right for us,” McInnis said to Free Press. “We needed to get some of our swagger back, maybe.”

The Mavs are at the University of Minnesota this weekend.

To beat Ferris State or Bemidji State, you’ll have to light the lamp … a lot

The only offense that has been hotter than Bemidji State up to this point in WCHA play has been Ferris State and the Bulldogs unloaded on the Beavers this weekend, scoring 10 goals to take over first place in the league with a sweep.

Bemidji was held to just a modest seven.

The Bulldogs are averaging 3.89 goals per game this season and 4.50 goals per league game. The Beavers average 2.90 goals per game overall, but have scored an average of 3.50 in their six WCHA contests.

Both teams meet potent offenses again this weekend with Ferris hosting BGSU (third in the league, averaging 3.10 goals per game overall) and Bemidji hosting Alaska-Anchorage (sixth in the league, averaging 2.75 goals per game overall).

Northern Michigan has its go-to goal scorer

Northern Michigan University lacked a go-to goal scorer last season and there was a big question mark whether or not the Wildcats had one on the roster this season.

That question mark has been erased by senior forward Stephan Vigier in the first 10 games, who now leads the WCHA in not just goals, but points with 10 goals and two assists.

Vigier scored twice on Saturday in NMU’s come-from-behind win at Western Michigan and he notched the game-tying goal with 2:47 to play at WMU on Sunday.

He’s scored goals in nine of the Wildcats’ 10 games thus far, including the last eight in a row.