WCHA Power Rankings: The “Morning Observations” Edition

By November 12, 2014Opinion

So I’m sort of combining these into one post this week because my time management has been super awesome this week. Obviously I need the sarcasm font for that.

In case you live under a rock, Bowling Green is now ranked No. 19 in the USCHO poll. In case you missed last week let me summarize for you my thoughts on this: I don’t care.

OK that’s not entirely accurate. I think it’s cool. It was fun writing “No. 19 Bowling Green” in my article for the Sentinel. I just don’t think it means squat. Call me in February and BG is still top 16 in Pairwise.

That being said, we did learn some stuff from BG’s weekend sweep. Most notably being that, at least for the time being, it appears Tommy Burke is the go-to guy in net. Him and Chris Nell were the two goalies who traveled to Alaska this weekend, but Burke started both games.

And you know, coach Chris Bergeron got his money’s worth with that. Burke stopped 36 of 38 shots in the second start Saturday, including all 17 in the third period. For the season, he now has a 1.97 goals-against average and a .933 save percent, both strong numbers. He’s certainly earned additional starts.

BG heads back into non-league play this weekend. In past years, that kinda sorta meant the games didn’t have as much meaning since the Falcons weren’t very good and had no at-large aspirations for an NCAA Tournament berth. If that were the case, I’d say we could expect to see both Nell and Tomas Sholl in net this weekend.

But times are changing. Obviously it’s still rather early, but if BG keeps playing the way it has been playing, an at-large bid isn’t entirely out of the question. Obviously, that means you need to win as much as possible, and these nonconference games carry some clout with them. So, that being said, would anyone really be surprised to see Burke in net both games? He’s the hot hand right now and it would probably be a good idea to ride that streak as long as it lasts.

Speaking of enjoying streaks, everyone should take the time to enjoy this run that the Falcons are on, too. I don’t know how long it’ll keep going for. There’s really no reason to believe it will end any time soon, but you never know with these things. This team is good and well coached, no doubt. But we’ve seen it go through peaks and valleys. Last year one of those valleys nearly cost BG a playoff berth.

I would think the Falcons don’t let that happen again. But sports are weird and dumb stuff happens sometimes. So enjoy the good while it’s good. There hasn’t been a ton of that with this program in the last 10-15 years. Nice to see that starting to change.

1. Michigan Tech (LW: 1): So Michigan Tech, eh? The Huskies, I believe, are the only undefeated team left in the nation (no losses or ties). They’re getting first place votes in the USCHO poll (see, I’m a hypocrite). I really don’t know how good they are or could end up being, but for the time being I would not want to play them if I was an opposing team. (By the way, BG only plays Tech once this year, in mid-January, and it’s on the road. Sad day.)

Jamie Phillips is putting up unreal numbers in net. Through eights starts, he has a 1.13 GAA and .957 save percent. The Winnipeg draft pick could probably start for the Jets tomorrow and be a better option than Ondrej Pavelec (that joke was funnier and truer before Pavelec decided to get good this year, but I digress). Obviously Phillips isn’t going to keep up a pace at this level. But how far will he fall off? A couple years ago, Ryan McKay for Miami posted a 1.39 GAA and .946 save percent over 23 starts.

So it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Phillips continues to ball so hard. I mean, he was pretty sub-par last year, so it would be quite a jump in performance. And of Tech’s four weekend sets this year, two were against teams they should have dominated (Lake, and at home against Anchorage), one was against a brutally offensively inept team in Ferris and the other was against Michigan, which is only 2-5-0 this year. So the Huskies haven’t exactly faced the cream of the crop. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when they face a so-so Bemidji squad this weekend.

2. Bowling Green (LW: 2):  Like last week, I’m still not ready to openly declare BG as the second best team in the league, but it took a huge step in the right direction this past weekend. Yeah OK, it’s fair to question the motivation of Alaska with it having to play a couple days after it was barred from the postseason this year. But as we’ve discussed before, a sweep in any WCHA series is a big deal. Getting a sweep against the team that finished third in the league last year is good. Getting a sweep on your trip to Alaska is even better.

We already discussed Burke’s performance, but let’s look on the other side of the ice. Eleven different Falcons had points this weekend. Mark Cooper had two goals and an assist. Ben Murphy had a goal and an assists. That’s huge to get those guys going. Another positive: BG is 7-2-1 while Dan DeSalvo, Adam Berkle and Brent Tate have combined for one goal and eight assists so far this year. You know those guys will get going at some point. They’re too talented to stay off the score sheet for long.

3. Minnesota State (LW: 3): So I’m pretty sure they’ve figured out their goaltending. Not because someone excelled, but because I’m pretty sure Cole Huggins played his way out of starting again.

Last year’s WCHA Goalie of the Year has been miserably bad this year. Coach Mike Hastings decided to give him the start Friday against Bemidji. The Mavs won, but Huggins was yanked after allowing three goals on 11 shots in two periods. He got bailed out because Bryce Gervais and Matt Leitner went all Spartacus in a four-goal third period. In four starts this year, he has a 4.65 GAA and .755 save percent. You could pull the club team goalie up to varsity and he’d put up better numbers than that. That even worse news is Stephon Williams hasn’t been a ton better, like Huggins was last year when Williams was having his meltdown. He stopped all four shots he faced in the third Friday, but then gave up three on 23 shots Saturday. His 1.95 GAA is great, but his .901 save percent is not.

But there is good news for the Mavs. Really good news. Their offense has been beyond stellar this year. It doesn’t matter if you’re giving up three goals a game when you’re scoring 3.8 per. Gervais has caught the Church of Dufour with nine goals, and four Mavs have double digit points already. They’re out-shooting opponents 347-198 in 10 games. Do that math, that’s about 15 shots per game more than their opponents. That’s nuts. At the rate their offense is going, the Mavs could have four of the five first-team All-WCHA selections at skater this year. Probably not, but right now they have four of the five leading scorers in the league. Throw in JP Lafontaine and his nine points and they have five of the top seven scorers in the WCHA. Bananas. B-a-n-a-n-a-s.

4. Northern Michigan (LW: 4): Northern finally lost a game this weekend, a 1-0 overtime tilt to Ferris. So not a bad loss. Well, it could be based on what your opinion of Ferris is at the moment.

We talked already about how insane Jamie Phillips has been for Tech. Well Mathis Dahlstrom sees his 1.13 GAA and is not impressed. Why? Because Dahlstrom has allowed six goals in eight games this year. Six. In eight games. That’s good for a 0.74 GAA and a .970 save percent. Those numbers are almost unfathomable to me. There’s no chance he sustains that over the course of the season but let’s ignore that for a second and just appreciate how dominating that is. To do that over the course of eight games is insane. And he has a chance to add on that next weekend (following a bye this week) against an Anchorage team that has only six goals in four conference games, although the game is in Alaska where they’ve been much better.

This sophomore (who, by the way, is older than I am) is going to need some help from an offense that only mustered two goals this weekend. That’s kind of been the problem for Northern the last few years: good goaltending and little scoring. Well now the Wildcats are getting great goaltending. It would really be a shame to waste that.

5. Ferris State (LW: 6): of these final six teams, would you believe the team who had the best weekend was Huntsville? Would you believe the team with the second best weekend was Lake, who didn’t even play? Yep, that’s the kind of weekend it was.

It almost feels like we’re starting to separate the contenders from the rest of the field. Tech, BG and Minnesota State all swept conference foes, while Northern and Ferris split. The thing is, I’m not sure where Ferris falls in this discussion yet.

Once again, C.J. Motte is the only reason this was a positive weekend for Ferris. He pitched a 24-save shutout in Friday’s 1-0 win. In Saturday’s 2-0 loss, he stopped 25 of 27 shots. Not cyborg-like, but strong nonetheless. His 1.79 GAA and .946 save percent would be career bests, but not by a huge margin. The problem is scoring. They have none. The Bulldogs have the worst offense in the WCHA. Yes, worse than Lake and Huntsville. Ferris is scoring only 1.22 goals per game. That’s BG circa-2009-10 bad.

Through nine games, I don’t know if the Bulldogs have played enough to really rule one way or the other one this. But the fact of the matter is Bob Daniels and staff have to be concerned about this in a very big way. The good news is they get a home weekend against Anchorage to try and get back on track.

6. Bemidji State (LW: 5): The Beavers were on the losing end of the Minnesota State offensive wrecking ball this weekend. It was a pretty big setback after a strong start to the season.

Both Michael Blitzer and Andrew Walsh got roughed up this weekend. Blitzer gave up five, while Walsh gave up four, and both now find their respective save percentages sitting at .897, which is tied for second to last in the league.

The good news? The Beavers are scoring four goals per game in league play (albeit through four games). But they’re also give up just under four as well. They have a terribly tough test against Michigan Tech this weekend, but get it at home. I believe we’ll learn a lot about which way Bemidji will trend this season based on its performance this weekend.

7. Alaska-Anchorage (LW: 8): Not often does a team get moved up for getting swept, but Anchorage got swept by a better team and was victimized on the road, not at home.

I mean, all things considered it really wasn’t a terrible weekend. Yeah offensively the Seawolves were shut down, but Jamie Phillips and company have done that to everyone they’ve played this year. Defensively, Olivier Mantha rebounded from last weekend to stop 44 of 46 shots Friday, while Michael Matyas stopped 24 of 26 Saturday. Neither of these would constitute as a bad day at the office.

But, the Seawolves have only scored six times in four WCHA games and are 1-3-0, with one of those losses coming to a pretty bad Lake squad. Tough road series against Ferris this weekend, but if there was ever a time to face the Bulldogs now would be it.

8. Alaska (LW: 7): You have to feel a little bit bad for the Nanooks players, who have been banned from postseason play for nothing of their own doing. It was clerical errors that were, basically, egregiously ignored that have them in the position they are in now. In all seriousness, that’s terrible for those players.

What do you even have to play for at this point? Pride? Competitive spirit? You’re out there essentially playing exhibition games for the remainder of the season. Try to stick it to those who wronged you? I dunno man. They’re a talented team who will no doubt play playoff spoiler down the stretch. But what it does to is create an interesting battle for….

9. Alabama-Huntsville (LW: 10): Mark it down: Nov. 12, 2014. The first time a team other than Huntsville will occupy last place in these rankings!!!!!!!!!!!!

But really, with Alaska being banned from the WCHA playoffs, it creates a wildly intriguing battle between Huntsville and Lake for that final playoff spot. Talk about some incentive.

The might be the best weekend Huntsville has had in years. It traveled to the former residential area of yours truly (Colorado Springs) and picked up a win and a tie against Air Force. Once again, unfortunately for them, with it coming in nonconference play, the Chargers get no points from it. But, you know, baby steps.

10. Lake Superior (LW: 9): So now what these two teams, basically, are competing for is for the right to get puckerslapped by Tech in the first round of the playoffs (at this moment at least). I bet some people in the league secretly hope it’s Lake because if it is that would be one large travel bill that gets avoided. Sault Ste. Marie to Houghton is only (only) 263 miles. Huntsville to Houghton? 1,001. Yeah that’s a lot of gas.

That’s all just me thinking out loud, though. Lake was off this weekend so no new material there. Speaking of these two teams, Lake travels to Huntsville this weekend for “Battle of the Basement: The Playoff Audition.” I might be the only person in the world excited for that.

Ryan Satkowiak

About Ryan Satkowiak

Ryan is a features and column writer for BGSUHockey.com. During the day, he works part time for the Sentinel-Tribune and the Findlay Courier, and is a part-time people seater at Buffalo Wild Wings. Ryan covered the BG hockey team for The BG News for two and a half years during his time at BG. You can chat him up on Twitter @Ryan_Satkowiak or by e-mail at Ryan@bgsuhockey.com.

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