It’s always fun to say I told you so.
If you read along last week, you would’ve seen the predictions. Ferris over Bemidji, Minnesota State over Northern Michigan, Anchorage over Alaska, BG over Michigan Tech. It’s not often I go 4-for-4 in anything so when I do, I savor it. It almost makes up for me only getting three of 10 spots right in my preseason power rankings. Almost.
Well now we’re set. BG takes on Minnesota State on Friday at 2:07 p.m. EST, while Ferris and Anchorage will duel that night at 7:07. Both interesting games, no doubt. Let’s take a look back on how these four got here and what will lie ahead this weekend.
Ferris sweeps Bemidji
Ferris getting here is not a surprise. They have been one of the best teams in the nation throughout the course of the season, and aside from a few weeks, have been the class of the WCHA since the puck dropped in October.
Really the only surprising thing was it took them two overtimes to finish off Bemidji in game two. But pride is a powerful thing, and after the Bulldogs waxed the floor with them, 8-0, on Friday night, Bemidji fought tough until the end.
I can spare you the details of their 8-0 win. Ferris is deep offensively and it showed. Nine players registered multiple points, led by three each from Cory Kane and Scott White.
Saturday night, while Bemidji wasn’t necessarily in control, they got the best of Ferris in a run-and-gun second period. The Beavers scored twice in a second period that featured 27 combined shots. Ferris tied the game with 45 seconds left, and won on a short-handed goal in double overtime on a goal from defenseman Scott Czarnowczan. That doesn’t happen a lot.
They have eight players — two of them defensemen — who have now posted at least 20 points on the season. C.J. Motte, and All-WCHA first team selection at goalie, has a 2.19 goals-against average and a .928 save percent this season. They’re, obviously, the favorites.
Minnesota State handles Northern
While the score sheet will show a sweep, Northern Michigan gave Mankato all it could handle this weekend. They lost 3-2 on Friday, and 5-4 in overtime Saturday.
A poor first two periods Friday had the Wildcats trailing 3-1. They fought back in the third, getting a goal early and out-shooting the Mavericks 10-3 in the final frame. Cole Huggins, who has firmly supplanted All-WCHA preseason selection Stephon Williams in net for the Mavericks, held serve in the third period to keep the Mavericks on top.
Saturday had a little more flair. Mankato put 58 shots on Northern goalie Mathias Dahlstrom. A late-third-period goal tied the game for the Mavericks, and Zach Stepan ended the game in overtime.
After a slow start, Mankato’s offense is rolling on all cylinders. Matt Leitner had a big weekend, and now has 41 points in 36 games on the season. Joining him in the 30-point club are J.P. Lafontaine (39) and Johnny McInnis (36). Both Lafontaine and McInnis have exactly 20 goals this season.
Bowling Green blows past Michigan Tech
Really, I was kind of bummed that three out of the four sets were sweeps. Lame.
What was even lamer was Friday’s game. OK, that’s mean. But it was kind of a lull. All three goals in BG’s 2-1 win were scored in the first 12 minutes of the first period, and then there was only one penalty called in each the second and third period.
Saturday’s was a little more excited from a BG perspective. The Falcons held 3-0 and 4-1 leads, and finished with a 5-2 win. I can’t help but wonder if there was some “here we go again” on the bench after Tech made it 3-1 just 29 seconds in the third, but to the team’s credit it did not phase them.
Tommy Burke played well in both games, and Ryan Carpenter played his best game of the season Saturday, notching a goal and three assists. When he’s one his game, he makes everyone around him better, which obviously makes BG tough to beat. He’ll need to be on his game against a streaking Minnesota State team.
Anchorage outlasts Alaska
No doubt the most entertaining series of the weekend was probably one not too many people watched. Both Alaska teams faced off and boy what a series it was.
Alaska won game one in overtime, after both teams traded second- and third-period goals. Anchorage won game two by scoring twice in a span of a minute and a half in the second period. In game three, Anchorage entered the third with a 3-1 lead, gave it up, then went ahead three minutes later, gave it up just over a minute after that, and went ahead for good two minutes later.
It was bananas. If that game involved a team I was emotionally invested in, I probably would’ve had two heart attacks and a pulmonary embolism.
Anchorage was the only lower-ranked seed to advance, although I would hardly call it an upset.
We know the matchups and we know the stakes. Winners meet Saturday in the WCHA final. Losers potentially go home for the season (more on that in a minute). BG takes on Minnesota State in the early game Friday, while Ferris takes on Anchorage that night in what is essentially a home game.
BG and Minnesota State met four times this year and split both weekends. Three of those four games went to overtime. In three of those four games, BG held the lead in the third period; the fourth game was a scoreless tie until Mankato won in overtime.
The good news for Minnesota State is those games were played while they were in the midst of an early-season slump. The good news for BG is those games were played when Ryan Carpenter was on the shelf.
Right now, it’s hard to look at BG and say they’re playing anywhere less than “at the top of their games.” BG is on a five-game winning streak in which Tommy Burke has given up a combined 10 goals. Ryan Carpenter is already tied for eighth in the team in scoring, having posted 16 points in 14 games. BG is now 6-1-1 with secret weapon Jake Sloat in the lineup.
However, it’s also pretty much impossible to look at Minnesota State and say they’re playing at anything less than an elite level. They’re 10-0-1 their last 11 games. In that stretch, Leitner has posted 16 points; Lafontaine has nine; McInnis has 13. Their best players have stepped up in crunch time. It’s hard to say they won’t do the same this weekend.
I don’t think there is much to say about the Ferris vs. Anchorage game. Ferris and Anchorage met twice this year, in Big Rapids, Mich., and Ferris outscored them 9-5 in a weekend sweep. Not only that, but Anchorage has won only three WCHA road games this season. Not to mention, this game will be played in Grand Rapids, Mich., which is about an hour down the road from Ferris State’s campus. They’ll have shorter travel, and they’ll have the home crowd on their side.
If we’re looking at these games, I think everyone in the WCHA outside of BG and Anchorage wants to see a Ferris vs. Mankato final. Why wouldn’t they? They’ve been the two best teams in the WCHA for the majority of the season, and they’re both playing at an elite level right now.
Not to mention, Mankato has played so well the last few weeks, they’ve played themselves into not necessarily needing to win the WCHA to make the NCAA Tournament. As of this writing, they’re tied for 12th in Pairwise, meaning if the season ended today, they would make the NCAA Tournament. Now, the Big Ten hasn’t even started its postseason yet, and other leagues are still going, too, so that may not hold up. But a big win against BG and a close loss to Ferris could still be enough to get the Mavericks over the hump. As noted last week, Ferris is safe; they’re tied for third in Pairwise this week so regardless what happens, they’ll be a part of the NCAA Tournament. For BG or Anchorage to make it, they’ll need to win twice this weekend (BG and Anchorage are tied for 24th, firmly on the outside looking in at the moment).
But a lot can happen still. For example, an Atlantic Hockey team is going to make the tournament (despite all remaining schools ranking well outside the top-16 in Pairwise), New Hampshire, which is No. 17, is still alive in the Hockey East Tournament, and you have potential bubble schools Western Michigan, Denver and Miami still alive in the NCHC Tournament. So yeah, the safest way in for Mankato is to win out. But BG will try to ensure that is a lot easier said than done Friday afternoon.