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