This last weekend was a pretty light one in the WCHA in terms of league games played; there were only two conference series’ scheduled. However, both ended up having some decent ramifications on the league standings. And by decent ramifications, I mean on the top three.
As we all know, BG split with Lake this weekend. It wasn’t as egregious as I would have imagined, because the Falcons still check in at No. 6 in both Pairwise and the polls (though another setback of the sort would be tempting fate), and Lake has been playing much better hockey the last month or so.
On the other side, Michigan Tech swept Alaska. There’s no issue there for Alaska because, well, you know. But it allowed Tech to pick up two more points on BG. Theoretically, BG could still jump Tech by playing catch up; the Huskies have 27 points in 18 league games, while BG has 24 in 16 games. But those extra points obviously help.
Also, this helps Minnesota State, too. While the Mavs played, and lost to, Bemidji this weekend, it counted as a non-league game because it was a part of the North Star Cup tournament in Minnesota. So now, the Mavs have as many league games played as Tech, and two more than BG. They are four points clear on Tech, and seven on BG.
That means with five, or six in BG’s case, weekends to go, Minnesota State is in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the WCHA tournament. To be, at least, four points better over 10 games on a team that is 15-2-1 in conference play is a tall order. It’s not impossible. This time a year ago I thought Ferris had the No. 1 seed all but locked up, but it stumbled down the stretch and Minnesota State got hot. Plus, the Mavs still have one weekend left with Tech, and finish the season against the same Bemidji team that just beat them. I wouldn’t bet on them not being the top seed, but you never know. Stranger things have happened.
1. Minnesota State (LW: 1): After the Mavs’ 4-2 win against Minnesota on Friday, it felt like the narrative on Twitter was something along the lines of Minnesota State officially claiming the throne as the top team in the “State of Hockey.” Funny how long that lasted.
Don’t know what happened Friday, but it probably served as a bit of a wake-up call to the Mavs, who saw their nine-game unbeaten streak vanish against a team they outscored 11-6 in a weekend earlier this year. Fortunately for them, it came in a game that doesn’t cost them in the league standings.
2. Michigan Tech (LW: 3): This weekend was a nice follow-up to the BG split for Tech, which actually trailed both nights. The Huskies were down 3-1 in the third Friday, and 2-1 in the second Saturday.
Blake Pietila, Tanner Kero and Alex Petan each had points in both games this weekend. Kero and Petan have a WCHA-high 30 points each, while Pietila is up to 19, with six coming the last two weekends. They’ve surpassed BG as the second-best scoring offense in the league, and have the top scoring defense, by a hair. Make no mistake, these guys will be a tough out in March.
3. Bowling Green (LW: 2): Friday’s BG team looked like a team that expected to win, but not in a good way. Yes, there’s two ways.
You know when a team plays fast, efficient, confident in every move? That’s the good kind. The way BG played Friday, it looked like it expected Lake to just go through the motions and put up little resistance. That wasn’t the case, BG went down 2-0 before it knew what hit it and, to the team’s credit, played much better Saturday.
That’s going to be the key the rest of this season for BG. This team is good, and they know that. But this team also doesn’t face a team with an above-.500 record for the rest of the year. But you look at the teams, Bemidji just beat two top-10 teams in a row, Ferris consistently gives BG tough games and C.J. Motte can steal a game, Northern played BG tough this year, Huntsville has played BG tough and Carmine Guerriero can steal games, and you have to travel to Alaska.
Yeah, realistically BG can and should not lose a game the rest of the regular season. That’s the reality of being the No. 6 team in the nation. But winning out is not a given if the Falcons don’t work for it. Coach Chris Bergeron has told that to us multiple times this year when we meet with him. So we’ll see if Friday woke them up a little bit.
4. Ferris State (LW: 4): Ferris was off this weekend and continues its hellacious quest through the top of the league at Minnesota State this weekend. The Bulldogs can help both BG and Tech out this weekend by taking some points away from the Mavs; at eight points back of BG and 11 back of Tech, Ferris isn’t really too much of a threat to jump either. Well, you’d think. But after this weekend, Ferris plays four straight against BG. That’s two bad weekends from BG away from being….well, I don’t even want to think about that.
5. Bemidji State (LW: 9): Funny how one weekend changes things, right? After this weekend, the Beavers’ two losses to Lake don’t look as bad. Plus, well, they did themselves some favors.
Maybe they were angry this weekend. Angry at last weekend. Angry at being treated as an afterthought in a tournament that featured the then Nos. 1, 7 and 17 teams in the nation. Well, the Beavers dominated No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth and had a solid performance in beating the No. 1 Mavericks. As of this writing, they’d be the six seed in the WCHA playoffs (against BG, that would be fun). But only being three points behind Ferris and Northern, and only being one clear of both Huntsville and Lake, a lot can change. They host BG this weekend in what will be a big weekend for both squads.
6. Alabama Huntsville (LW: 5): The Chargers didn’t “officially” play any games this weekend, but took the ice for a pair of exhibitions against the U.S. U-18 team. The Chargers lost 2-1 in OT and 4-2.
They aren’t bad losses. As BG fans might remember, this same U-18 team went into BG last year and pasted the Falcons 6-1. OK, it’s not the same team. That team had Jack Eichel, a name you should know, as well as 2014 1st round picks Sonny Milano, Dylan Larkin and Alex Tuch. But this U-18 team is also quite good. Jeremy Bracco broke Patrick Kane’s NTDP assist record. Colin White is going to be a 1st round pick this year. Auston Matthews might be the No. 1 pick in 2016. So yeah, they’re really good. This whole paragraph was also just me reminiscing on my USA Hockey days. Let’s move on.
7. Lake Superior (LW: 8): Another weekend moving up for the Lakers, following their big win against BG. They played tough both nights. Even on Saturday, there were points in the second and third periods where they controlled the game. They’re getting better as the year goes along, which is nice to see.
It’s not really hard to see why they’re improving: Gordon Defiel is playing with confidence. If not for him Saturday, that game could’ve easily been 4-0 after the first period. He stopped 37 of 40 shots in the game. Unfortunately for the Lakers, with 12 points in 20 league games, they could end up getting the short stick when it comes to the playoffs, especially if Anchorage gets hot.
8: Alaska Anchorage (LW: 6): The Seawolves were off this weekend, but get jumped by two more than deserving teams. The bad news for them: they’re last in the WCHA with 10 points. The good news: they’ve played 16 WCHA games. The two teams in front of them with 12 points, Huntsville and Lake, have played 18 and 20, respectively.
Also in the bad news department, their next five weekends feature a long trip to Northern Michigan, a long trip to Minnesota State, hosting Tech, a long trip to Bemidji and hosting BG. That’s not exactly a schedule I’d want to play if I was fighting for my playoff life.
9. Northern Michigan (LW: 7): The Wildcats played Penn State pretty tough on the scoreboard this weekend, losing 5-4 and tying 5-5. But Northern was pretty badly outshot both nights, including by a 64-29 margin Saturday. When you put up 29 shots, and you’re still getting outshot by 35, that’s not good.
Penn State is a decent team. This week they’re right on the cusp of the top-20, and they’re 24th in Pairwise. But this is not a team that should be outshooting you by 35 in game (Penn State held a 53-30 shot edge Friday). I don’t know the last time a team faced 117 shots in a two-game series, but I bet it hasn’t happened too often.
10 Alaska (LW: 10): Alaska gave Tech a tough fight both nights, but ultimately could not pick up a win either night. They aren’t a bad team, and if they were eligible for the postseason this year I’d be willing to wager they would fare pretty decently. They actually might have more impact than any other team on who actually makes the playoffs, though. Over the last four weeks, they play each of the bottom three teams in the WCHA, including Anchorage on the final weekend of the regular season. How sweet would it be for them to play a part in keeping their rivals out of the playoffs?