If you’ve recently looked at the BG hockey schedule you probably noticed something: the Falcons don’t have back-to-back road weekends for the remainder of the season.
That’s good for a number of reasons. Namely, especially for the long road trips of the WCHA, you don’t have to pack up on a Wednesday night and drive eight hours just a couple days after getting home from an eight hour trip. That might not quite be the same thing as jet lag, but that much travel and time cooped up in a bus is not a good thing.
But, conversely, you’ll notice the Falcons don’t play back-to-back home weekends, either. Well, assuming they get a first-round series at home (safe assumpition), that will change, but you get the point. That much traveling can’t be fun, but at least everyone gets more than a week at a time in their own beds.
Last weekend in the WCHA was a little wacky, with four of the series’ ending in sweeps. Three of them I would probably classify as “suprises.” Anyway, let’s revisit:
Minnesota State sweeps Ferris State, 2-1 and 3-1.
No, this isn’t one of those surprises. Well, depending on your opinion of Ferris, I guess you could say that you were surprised that Minnesota State went on the road and took both games. But the Mavs are No. 1 and Ferris is kind of “who knows” so I’m not really surprised. If we’re sitting here next week and the Mavs have taken four of four from Ferris, then maybe we can revise that.
Alaska Anchorage sweeps Alaska, 2-1 and 3-2 (OT)
OK now we’re kind of diving into wacky waters. Anchorage has been pretty sub-par this year and as we touched on last week, they’ve been pretty putrid the last two months or so. But still, it was part of the Governor’s Cup battles and in rivalry games you can throw all that stuff out the window. Plus, it’s not like it was a long road trip for the Seawolves and goalie Olivier Mantha has shown this year he’s capable of stealing a game, which he did twice this weekend.
Alabama Huntsville sweeps Northern Michigan, 2-1 and 3-2
Wait what? Yep you read that right. Two weekends after its first WCHA sweep ever, and a week after getting pasted at Bemidji, Huntsville delivered a swift and powerful left hook to Northern. Speaking of stealing games, goalie Carmine Guerriero was great both nights and has been a huge reason for Huntsville’s improvement. It’s going to fun to see what happens to his numbers as the team around him continues to get better.
Lake Superior sweeps Bemidji State, 1-0 and 4-2
OK surely this one has to be a joke, right? Right? Negative on that one. The bottom-dwelling Lakers hosted a Bemidji team that was undoubtedly looking forward to improve on its seven-game unbeaten streak and continue climbing the WCHA standings (a sweep of Lake would’ve landed them in fourth place). No dice, as Lake served up a valuable lesson for BG, particularly with its upcoming slate of games: you can’t overlook anyone in this league or you will get burnt. Let’s dig in:
1. Minnesota State (LW: 1): Once again more ho-hum in Mankato, and the Mavs continue rolling and now own an eight-game unbeaten streak. They did it with defense this weekend, as Ferris held the Mavericks under their season average for goals both nights. Goalie Stephon Williams leads the WCHA with a 1.71, though his .922 save percent ranks only seventh which points to 1), the number of really good goalies in this league and 2), the relatively low number of shots he faces each night. In 16 starts, he’s faced only 373 shots, an average of 23.3 per start. That’s not really a ton of rubber he’s had to face.
2. Bowling Green (LW: 2): This weekend could’ve gone better for BG, but it also certainly could’ve gone worse. Blowing leads of 2-0 and 3-2 Friday obviously isn’t what you want from your team, but being able to shut the door after two quick Tech goals Saturday was a good thing to see. Tommy Burke played one of the best games of his career Saturday, stopping 38 of 40 shots. Connor Kucera had his first three points of the season this weekend. It seems like it’s someone new stepping up each week for the Falcons.
3. Michigan Tech (LW: 3): In case you had any doubts coming into this weekend: Tech is really good. Jamie Phillips coming back to earth a little bit might be worrisome, but that’s a fast, remakably skilled team. The race for WCHA Player of the Year might end up coming down to Alex Petan and Tanner Kero, both of whom are having remarkable years. They’re a much different team than the one BG swept in the playoffs 10 months ago.
4. Ferris State (LW: 6): I really didn’t know what to do here, seeing as the teams I had ranked fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh last week all got swept. Ferris at least didn’t look terrible and I wasn’t really comfortable having a team with a sub-.350 conference winning percent sit in the top four.
Obviously it wasn’t the best way to start this eight-game stretch against two top-1o teams, especially when you give up three goals in the third period to lose on Wednesday. But it probably could’ve been worse. I mean, you could probably argue that C.J. Motte is the only reason either of these games were close, and I’d listen to you. But as we said last week, this stretch with heavily impact the course of the season for Ferris. There’s four teams within four points of the Bulldogs right now, with Lake and Anchorage not far behind. You have to figure Ferris needs at least two or three wins from theses next three weekends to hold off the dogs, right?
5. Alabama Huntsville (LW: 8): Yep, you’re reading this right. No, I don’t think Huntsville is the fifth best team in this league, but these rankings are all about the present. And the fact of that present is Huntsville just had a very impressive sweep, and teams 4-7 here last week all got swept, and three of those teams didn’t play pretty decently against the top team in the nation.
Even with that sweep, though, Huntsville still sits on that proverbial playoff bubble. The Chargers are two points ahead of both Lake and Anchorage. Anchorage has played 16 games, while Lake and Huntsville have played 18. So there’s still not a ton of margin for error down there. BG actually hosts Huntsville on the final weekend of the regular season, which could end up having serious implications for everyone.
6. Alaska-Anchorage (LW: 9): I’ve already accepted that half the people who read these rankings are gonna be like, “is he high?” And then the other half are gonna say, “is he still high?” next week when all this is jumbled up again. But man, last week was a strange one.
Whenever Anchorage secures a sweep against Alaska I always kind of take it with a grain of salt for the reasons we talked about above. Rivalry games feature a lot of emotion (duh, captain obvious), and staying in Alaska to play is obviously a big help. So we’ll see what happens next week (the Seawolves are off this weekend) when they travel to Northern to play.
7. Northern Michigan (LW: 5): Did you know that the road trip from Marquette, Mich. to Huntsville, Ala. is so long that when I typed it into Google Maps, the first suggested route was flying? Yeah, nearly 15 and a half hours doesn’t sound fun.
Regardless of the distance, last weekend was not a good one for Northern in regards to the standings. A sweep would’ve given the Wildcats some much-needed space from Ferris. But the two remain tied, with Ferris holding two games in hand, in the race for the final first-round host. Additionally, now Huntsville is only four points behind, albeit with two more games played. We’ve talked how Mathians Dalhstrom doesn’t have a huge margin for error with Northern’s offense. Well, he had sub-.900 save percents both nights agaisnt a team that, regardless of its improved play, still only scores 1.77 goals per game.
8. Lake Superior (LW: 10): The Lakers have finally climbed from the basement! I don’t think there’s any understating how big of a sweep that was for Lake’s playoff hopes, particularly with both Anchorage and Huntsville also sweeping.
In case you missed it, goalie Gordon Diefel stopped all 44 shots he faced Friday, including 24 (!!!!!!) in the first period. I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that he got fitted for new contacts before Lake’s holiday tournament. In the five games since then, he has a .950 save percent. He’s faced at least 29 shots in each of those games.
Maybe this will be the way it goes for the rest of the season. You’ll have those three teams get swept, then they’ll each get a split or a tie or whatever. Maybe none of Huntsville, Lake and Anchorage end up separating themselves. That would make for an interesting last two months.
9. Bemidji State (LW: 4): For someone who has been fairly high on the Beavers all season, last weekend was rather disappointing. Granted, they ran into a scorching hot goalie. But that’s no excuse for losing two times to the 10th-place team.
Did you see how Friday night ended, losing in literally the last second? That seemed to play a bit of an impact Saturday, as Lake jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Speaking of those standings, a reversal of fourtunes could have Bemidji sitting real pretty right now. Instead, at 13 points, it’s stuck right in the middle of the mess that is the bottom 70 percent of the league.
10. Alaska (LW: 7): This is kind of fitting, seeing as Alaska is the only team in the WCHA with no playoff hopes. Let’s just take a moment to appreciate that irony.
OK. Well, Alaska out-shot its in-state rivals both nights, including by a 48-16 margin Saturday, but the Nanooks could not beat Mantha. So it’s not like they were outplayed or anything. Sometimes a goalie just gets you. They’re at Tech this weekend, so it will be a good chance to see how they respond. You can be the chance to add a road block to a top-10 team’s season will be a prime motivating factor.