The WCHA schedule has done nobody any favors this season.
Or maybe, the better way to put it: The COVID-19 pandemic has done the WCHA schedule absolutely no favors this season.
From games on Tuesdays (we now feel your pain, East Coast hockey fans!) to contests which count as “home games” for the away team, the philosophy across college hockey teams this season has been to play the games whenever you can, no matter where or when you play them.
No team has been immune. And coaches aren’t complaining. But it’s going to be a special challenge for Bemidji State in the final weeks of the season. The Beavers are scheduled to play six games in 11 days, a stretch run that will determine who gets home-ice advantage for this season’s WCHA tournament.
“I’ve never coached six games in (11) days before, ever. So it’s going to be trial by error a bit,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said of the situation his team finds itself in starting this Thursday.
The Beavers (9-6-3 overall) head to Mankato to play instate rivals Minnesota State on Thursday, the first of a two-game home-and-home series. They’ll return to Bemidji on Saturday to complete the series.
Then the Beavers are scheduled to host Lake Superior State on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 2-3, before closing out the season with a pair of games against Alabama Huntsville on March 6-7.
Bemidji State goaltender Zach Driscoll compared it to a Stanley Cup playoff-type schedule.
“It’s a little odd… Kind of like an NHL schedule here with a lot of games in not a lot of days,” Driscoll said.
Serratore said the goal will be to make sure his players don’t use up too much of their energy among the six games. That’s going to mean slightly less practiced time in an effort to conserve.
“We’re going to have minimal practice, but the biggest thing is you want to make sure the guys have as much gas in the tank as possible,” he said. “The one thing we can control is practice. We’re going to have to be on the ice, there’s certain things we want to do on the ice, but it’s that time of year where it’s not about what you’re doing in practice, it’s about what you’re doing in games.”
Not that the Beavers will complain.
“It’s awesome playing more games. We don’t want to practice, we want to play,” forward Brendan Harris joked. “The mentality is playoff mentality. It’s that time of year. But we also know we need to take it one day at a time.”
The Beavers, due to COVID-related postponements, have played two games less than every other team in the conference. The goal is to have each team in the league play 14 conference games, so the games need to be played.
As it stands, the Beavers have 13 points through 8 games. That’s currently good enough for fifth place and out of home ice contention. But if they can make a clean sweep of all six games these next two weeks, they’ll move all the way up to second place. That’s how volatile the WCHA currently is.
“We just have to get those games in, and with COVID, you already don’t know what’s going on, so everything down the stretch we’re treating like a playoff game,” Driscoll said. “All wins matter here at this point for sure.”
It certainly didn’t hurt to sweep Michigan Tech last weekend in Houghton. Driscoll stopped 80 of 82 Tech shots as the Beavers swept the Huskies in the U.P. for the first time. It was a nice confidence-booster for BSU, after they were themselves swept at home by Northern Michigan the week before.
“After that weekend against Northern, getting swept at home was not what we wanted to do, but we’re glad as a team with how we bounced back,” Driscoll said. “We took some lessons that we learned at Northern and brought them to Tech. You can’t change what happened two weeks ago or whatever, so just moving forward and sticking with the process and coming out with a few wins was huge for our group.”
First up is Minnesota State, a team that the Beavers know well. BSU is one of just two teams to defeat the Mavericks this season (but unfortunately for the Beavers, it didn’t count as a conference game).
Harris is expecting a fast-paced, heavy game, as is usual when the teams meet.
“It will probably be a bloodbath…. It’s going to be fast-paced, a lot of hitting. I mean, it’s a rivalry week. It’s going to be a lot of fun but it’s probably one of the hardest games down the stretch for us.”
Fox Motors beats Northern Michigan
As if this season couldn’t get strange enough, what happened last week in Marquette almost defies belief.
Alabama Huntsville had some games to make up in the Upper Peninsula last week. The plan was to make the drive from Alabama to Marquette, Mich., play their two-game series with the Wildcats on Tuesday and Wednesday, then drive from Marquette to Sault Ste. Marie to take on Lake Superior State on Friday and Saturday. They were then going to take on Bowling Green in Ohio on the drive back to Huntsville.
There was just one problem: They didn’t have their jerseys.
Due to the winter storms that were ravaging the south and Midwest last week, Alabama Huntsville’s jerseys did not arrive in Marquette on Tuesday like they were supposed to. So instead of playing in their normal white-and-blue sweaters, the Chargers had to borrow a set of jerseys.
According to Ryan Steig of the Daily Mining Journal, UAH had the choice between the black jerseys of Marquette High School and those of local car dealership Fox Motors, who sponsors youth hockey teams in the UP and Upper Michigan.
Apparently, Huntsville had the choice of wearing Fox Motors jerseys or the Marquette High School hockey team’s black jerseys last night. Interesting decision by the Chargers
— Ryan Stieg (@RyanStieg) February 18, 2021
The Chargers ended up going with the white and blue jerseys of Fox Motors — closer to their own uniform colors — and it turned out to be a good choice, as they beat Northern Michigan 3-1n thanks to goals from Tyrone Bronte, Adrian Danchenko and Bauer Neudecker.
The team’s real jerseys arrived in Marquette the next day, but maybe the Chargers should have kept playing as Fox Motors for as long as possible: NMU won 8-2 on Wednesday to split the series.