Last weekend made a few things more clear in the WCHA — at least, at the top. But with two weeks to go on the regular season, here are three things from the past weekend’s slate of games:
1. MacNaughton Cup heading to Bemidji
In the each of the first three years of the newly-realigned WCHA, the race for the league championship trophy came down to the regular season’s final night.
Bemidji State bucked that trend on Friday night.
For the first time in the history of the “new” WCHA, the Beavers clinched the league title before Valentine’s Day, beating Alabama Huntsville 3-2 in Huntsville to clinch their first-ever MacNaughton Cup.
The Beavers got an assist from Ferris State on Friday, as the Bulldogs beat second-place Michigan Teach 3-2 on the road during the Huskies’ Winter Carnival.
Although Ferris’ win meant the Beavers technically didn’t need to beat UAH to clinch the title, it was icing on the cake for BSU. They were presented with the cup on the ice Friday night by WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson.
The Beavers, who are 10 points up on the Huskies with just two games left for each team, not only clinched the league title but get the added bonus of getting the opportunity to host all three rounds of the WCHA playoffs in Bemidji, should they keep winning.
Atte Tolvanen hasn’t had to bask in the red glow of that light behind him in 335 minutes and 39 seconds. That’s five-plus games without giving up a goal.
Just a week after posting two shutouts against Bowling Green, Northern Michigan’s sophomore netminder did it again Friday and Saturday against Alaska. The Wildcats beat the Nanooks by scores of 3-0 and 2-0.
Not only did those two games help Tolvanen tie the NCAA men’s Division I record for consecutive shutouts (he’s at five), but more importantly it moved the Wildcats all the way up to sixth place in the conference standings. They’re currently tied with UP rivals Lake Superior State (and currently hold the tiebreaker over the Lakers). Not bad, considering that before Tolvanen started his streak NMU was in the league cellar in 10th place.
The Wildcats travel to Minnesota State this weekend. If Tolvanen, who last gave up a goal in the second period of NMU’s 6-1 win over Alaska Anchorage on Jan. 20, can get to the final minute of the second period without allowing a Mavericks goal, he will set the all-time men’s Division I shutout streak. (FWIW, LSSU’s Blaine Lacher is the current record holder. He had a scoreless streak of 375:01 in 1994.)
3. Nonconference schedule finally ends
Bowling Green’s 3-0 win over Mercyhurst on Saturday (perhaps mercifully) ended the WCHA’s nonconference slate on a high note. League teams finished with a dismal 17-47-5 record against nonleague foes (a .282 winning percentage).
That’s the worst percentage in the four years since realignment, and much much worse than last season’s 28-36-9 record (.444).
For comparison’s sake, WCHA teams went 26-46-12 in nonconference play in 2013-14, the first year of realignment, and 30-31-9 (.493) in 2014-15 — which was the best of the four seasons.