Three things from the WCHA, Jan. 26

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.