Boy what a first weekend(s) it was for WCHA teams. Well, unless your team happens to play in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
The reason for the (s) at the end of weekend is because for some reason, last weekend, when almost everyone else was playing exhibition games, Michigan Tech and Lake Superior played a weekend series against each other that actually counted.
I mean, Ferris State played Michigan, but that is kind of in exhibition in the sense that it has no bearing on the WCHA standings. I guess you can argue that for a team with NCAA Tournament aspirations, the game mattered. And you’d be right. But whatever. It wasn’t a WCHA series that counted toward the standings. That’s just dumb.
Well these past two weekends WCHA teams have held their own. Both Alaska teams went 2-0 against Wisconsin and Maine (more on why I don’t care about that later), Bemidji absolutely eviscerated the No. 2 North Dakota No Names (yes, that’s actually a real thing) on Friday, and held serve with them Saturday.
BG hung with, and split with, No. 10 Miami, a great start to the season, no doubt. Hell even Huntsville had a not bad weekend, losing a pair of one-goal games to Colorado College on the road. In fact, aside from Lake Superior continuing to be abysmal this year, Minnesota State had arguably the worst WCHA weekend, merely splitting with an OK Nebraska-Omaha team. Let’s get into it.
1. Ferris State (LW: 1): Nothing out of the usual here. Ferris skated to a 4-3 victory against preseason No. 8 Michigan (sidenote: what?) last weekend. C.J. Motte stopped 34 of 37 shots, and sophomore named Chad McDonald scored twice. McDonald scored nine times and had 11 assists in 42 games last year, so it appears as if he’s taking that next step forward this season. Yeah it’s really early, but we’re gonna roll with that.
2. Michigan Tech (LW: 3): This is my “Bold strategy, Cotton” move of the week. The Huskies were off this weekend, but opened last weekend against Lake and skated to 5-3 and 5-1 wins. Blake Pietila scored twice and Alex Petan had a goal and three assists, so the big guns are off to a good start. But they got secondary scoring too. In Saturday’s game they received two goals from, and this is not a joke, Blake Hietala. He wears No. 20, while Blake Pietila wears No. 19. When I saw their names next to each other in the box score I thought I was losing my mind, or there was some kind of cloning experiment going on. Also in the “what the?” department, Tech doesn’t play another regular-season game until Oct. 24, against Ferris. So if you’re scoring at home, that’s two off weeks between games for the Huskies. Bold strategy, Cotton indeed.
3. Minnesota State (LW: 2): Could there be (another) goalie controversy brewing in Mankato? Cole Huggins started both games. He stopped 17 of 21 shots in Friday’s 5-3 loss to Nebraska-Omaha. Saturday, he allowed two goals on three shots in 11:07 and was pulled in favor of Stephon Williams, who stopped all 10 shots he faced the rest of the game. The Mavericks are going to be more than fine offensively, and judging by allowing only 35 shots in two games, their defense is going to be more than fine, too. But if they spend the first six weeks trying to figure out their goaltending (again), that could be what prevents them from finishing as the top spot in the conference (again).
4. Bowling Green (LW: 4): Really strong first weekend for BG; splitting with the No. 10 team in the nation is nothing to scoff at. But in talking to coach Chris Bergeron after the game Sunday, he wasn’t pleased with how they played defensively in the second period. So that will be a focus this week. Another focus is when is Chris Nell going to get his first start? Bergeron said all three will start within the first two series, so that logic says he gets one this weekend. Tomas Sholl played great Friday, and Tommy Burke played well Sunday. That should be fun to keep track of this year. Another fun note: Nolan Valleau has four assists in two games. Which is three more points than another certain freshman defenseman on the roster. Raise your hand if you thought that would have happened.
5. Bemidji State (LW: 6): So I only move the Beavers up a spot, but to be fair I had them a lot higher to start than most people did, so I’m patting myself on the back for that one. I was following along with Friday’s game on Twitter. I was going to note, “hey, Bemidji is up on the No. 2 team in the nation,” when it was 3-0. I got sidetracked for like five minutes at work and when I looked back it was 5-0. I almost spit-taked. Michael Blitzer started in net Friday, stopping 25 of 26 shots. Andrew Walsh started Saturday and stopped 30 of 32. Brendan Harris scored twice. They should have great goaltending this year, if they can get improved offense they could challenge for a first-round home playoff series.
6. Alaska (LW: 5): It feels funny moving Alaska down a spot when it went 2-0 against a pair of pretty strong teams, but like I said let me explain. They two games came at the Kendall Hockey Classic, an annual preseason tournament played in Anchorage. Since 2009, Alaska is 5-4-1 in the tournament, which is actually worse than I thought it was. Tyler Morley, my preseason pick for WCHA Player of the Year, was out for both games, yet Alaska still outscored Wisconsin and Maine 6-2. Goaltending was a huge issue for the Nanooks last year, but Davis Jones was strong this weekend. He stopped 14 of 15 shots against Wisconsin, and 19 of 21 against Maine. If he can step up and be the No. 1 guy for Alaska this year, it could be dangerous.
7. Alaska-Anchorage (LW: 8): Same deal as above, the Seawolves swept through the Kendall Hockey Classic, as they do pretty much every year. They haven’t lost in it since Oct. 10, 2009, and are 6-1-3 in it since 2009. So yeah, it was an impressive weekend, no doubt. But they started the same way last year, and still finished sixth in the WCHA. Defenseman Chase Van Allen had three assists, and forward Tad Kozun had two goals and an assist, and goalies Olivier Mantha and Michael Matyas both played well. They’ll be an interesting team to watch this year, but I will remain skeptical until they show me something strong outside of Alaska. Also, there was this hit by UAA’s Brett Cameron, which was kind of vicious. I don’t have an opinion, just felt like sharing.
8. Northern Michigan (LW: 7): The Huskies have yet to play this season, even an exhibition game. They start against Wisconsin this weekend.
9. Lake Superior (LW: 9): I almost dropped Lake to 10 just because they’ve not been good this year. They’re already 0-4, including an 0-2 mark in WCHA games. Gordon Defiel has started each of their games this season and actually hasn’t been too bad, but he’s been left out to dry every night. He’s faced at least 35 shots in each of his four starts, including 37 in just two periods of play in Lake’s game-two loss to Michigan Tech. He has a 3.88 goals-against average and a .907 save percent, which is all kinds of backward. They could be in for a rough year.
10. Alabama-Huntsville (LW: 10): Their permanent run in the basement of these power rankings could be coming to an end soon, mostly because Lake has been comically bad through four games this year. But they really didn’t play too bad against Colorado College, even though they lost both games. Granted, CC was also fairly poor last year, finishing 7-24-6 overall and 6-13-5 in NCHC play, but I digress. Defenseman Brandon Carlson had two goals and an assist on the weekend, while Carmine Guerriero and Matt Larose were both strong in net. However, giving up 85 shots in two games is not the way to win games.