This is my favorite time of the year. All of the WCHA teams are even on games played (finally!), there are two weeks to go and there are wide-open races throughout the standings. A few thoughts from the weekend …
1. MacNaughton chase is on
First-place Minnesota State was idle this weekend and stayed that way after all of the games were played. However, the Mavericks’ lead shrunk to two points, as second-place Michigan Tech and Bowling Green each split their series. The Huskies went to Bemidji State and was shut out on Friday. The next night must have brought out angry Tech, as it bombarded the Beavers 9-2. Meanwhile, in Fairbanks, the Falcons lost 2-1 Friday on a crushing, short-handed goal by Alaska’s Taylor Munson with 8.8 seconds remaining in regulation. But they, too, rebounded to win Saturday, 4-1. Which of these three teams wins the MacNaughton Cup is anyone’s guess.
2. Northern express
Northern Michigan is on a bit of a roll after sweeping Alabama Huntsville 3-0 and 3-1. The Wildcats have won three in a row and five of their last six and are now tied for fourth place with Ferris State (which lost a single nonconference game to Michigan on Friday). Northern is scoring more goals now, it appears, and that’s scary for any team it faces in the playoffs (in any round), especially with its fantastic goaltending. Here’s what’s crazy: Freshman Atte Tolvanen (.929 save percentage, 2.42 goals-against average in 22 games) hasn’t been the hot goalie. That title belongs to junior Mathias Dahlström, who is 7-0 with .922 and 1.98 since returning to the lineup. When healthy, Dahlström has been one of the top goalies in the WCHA.
3. Joy in Splitsville
Sure, both Lake Superior State and Alaska Anchorage would have liked a sweep against the other this weekend, but both should be pleased with how things turned out. For the Lakers, they got a 3-2 road win on Friday and created a little space between themselves and the basement teams. The Seawolves won 5-2 on Saturday, scoring four unanswered goals, including three in the third period. That, combined with Alaska’s split with Bowling Green, kept them alone in eighth place, two points ahead of the rival Nanooks. Remember: The Seawolves missed the league playoffs last year. “Massive. Massive,” UAA coach Matt Thomas ” told the Alaska Dispatch News. “I don’t know if it alleviates any of the pressure going into the next two weekends, but it keeps us from being on life support.”