Remember a week ago, when all kinds of assumptions were made right here about how there wasn’t really that much left to change in the WCHA?
Well nothing changed this weekend. And now there’s so much that can happen these last two weekends. Mostly because BG let Northern Michigan take four points last weekend.
There were only three conference series’ last weekend, each featuring a team that was on that bubble for the final home ice spot: Bemidji faced Anchorage, Ferris played Huntsville and BG played Northern.
Coming into last weekend, both Bemidji and Northern had 20 points, while Ferris had 18. Conventional wisdom would’ve dictated that Bemidji and Ferris would find some separation on Northern, based on who those two teams were playing, versus the team Northern was playing.
Well, that didn’t happen. Bemidji, Ferris and Northern all swept their respective series’, and with four games to go, those three teams sit within two points of each other for the final home playoff spot (side note: Alaska also has 22 points. If the Nanooks were eligible for the postseason this year these last two weeks would be a mess).
Now, theoretically, both Northern and Bemidji could end up hosting a first round series, because BG has not yet clinched. But once again, conventional wisdom says those three teams are fighting for only one spot, because the Falcons need just one point in four games against Anchorage and Huntsville to clinch. So they should tie that up this weekend, but after last weekend, who knows.
In other news, the battle for first place is happening this weekend. That’ll be exciting.
1. Michigan Tech (LW: 1): So here’s the scoop: for Michigan Tech to win the league, it needs to be two points better than Minnesota State over the next two weekends (next weekend, the Mavs play Bemidji, while Tech plays Northern).
There are a few ways it can get there. A sweep this weekend, obviously, would do the trick. A win and a tie would have it at 42 points, compared to 41 for the Mavericks. The teams could also split this weekend, and Tech could be two points better next weekend, and that would get the job done.
The issue for Tech is, if it doesn’t sweep this weekend, Minnesota State would hold the tiebreaker should the two teams end up tied. That’s not necessarily a big deal for the first round of the playoffs, but for the Final Five, it could be the difference between playing BG or Bemidji, which sounded a lot more daunting four weeks ago. So really it might not matter at all.
2. Minnesota State (LW: 2): The Mavs are now, statistically, the second best offense in the conference. That’s mostly because Tech has 10+ goals twice this year, but also because the Mavs only mustered two goals in two games the last time they were on the ice against Alaska. They’ll be challenged this weekend by the best scoring defense in the league.
3. Bemidji State (LW: 4): Did you know, that now over the course of 32 games, Bemidji has scored only six fewer goals and allowed three more, against a more difficult schedule, than BG has? Well now you know. According to the KRACH rankings, Bemidji has played the seventh most difficult schedule in the nation. At 14-14-4 overall, the Beavers haven’t exactly been flourishing through that schedule, but they’ve improved significantly on last season, and are playing some solid hockey right now, just as the playoffs are coming around. Since getting swept by Tech, they’ve won four straight and can go a long way in securing home ice this weekend against Ferris State.
4. Bowling Green (LW: 3): We can talk all we want about Pairwise and stuff like that, but matter-of-factly speaking, the Falcons aren’t a tournament team right now. I mean, that could change real fast. But the Falcons are heading in the wrong direction at the worst possible time.
At 13 in Pairwise, BG is squarely in the danger zone of getting bumped out by a conference champion that’s outside of the top-16 (a la Robert Morris). A loss over these next four games to Anchorage or Huntsville probably bumps BG to 15 or 16, at best. We’ve likely reached the point that the Falcons need to get to the Final Five, in convincing fashion, to save a berth in the NCAA Tournament. I’ve been saying it for the last month: the margin of error is thin. Well, there’s no margin for error anymore. Any misstep from here on out could be fatal.
5. Ferris State (LW: 6): Ferris did well to build on its OT win against BG with a hard-fought sweep against Huntsville. Now, after everything this year, the Bulldogs can end up hosting a first round series with a little help.
Should Ferris finish 4-0, no matter what Bemidji does its final weekend against Minnesota State, the Bulldogs will have cleared the Beavers. If that happens, and Northern finishes 3-1 or worse against Lake Superior and Michigan Tech, the Bulldogs would be your four seed. But, you know, that would require them to sweep a strong Bemidji team. So we’ll see what happens.
6. Northern Michigan (LW: 8): The Wildcats kept their hopes for a first-round home series alive in the most improbably of ways last weekend, coming back in the third period twice to sweep BG. Michael Doan played well without having to really stand on his head at all on Friday, and was decent Saturday. He’s going to have to keep improving because, at least from what I heard through the grapevine this weekend, it doesn’t sound like Mathias Dahlstrom is going to be riding in to help pilot a playoff run. Hosting a first round series will be a tall order, especially with Northern ending the season against Michigan Tech. But that’ll be fun to pay attention to the next two weekends.
7. Alaska (LW: 5): The Nanooks have created a little chaos in the playoff hunt, but don’t expect there to be much of that the last two weeks. The finish with Huntsville and Anchorage. No matter what it does this weekend, Huntsville will clinch a playoff spot if Anchorage doesn’t pick up at least a win against BG. Then next weekend, technically, the Nanooks can officially eliminate Anchorage from playoff competition if Lake hasn’t already done so by that time. But that’s almost been a foregone conclusion that I’d hardly call it “chaos.”
8. Alabama Huntsville (LW: 7): The Chargers once again played well against Ferris, but didn’t pick up a win to show for it. An offense that averages 1.69 goals per game, plus, you know, a first round playoff date against either Minnesota State or Michigan Tech, are going to prevent the Chargers from making a deep playoff run, but this year has still been an impressive improvement. Even if Alaska wasn’t DQ’d from the postseason, the Chargers would still be in a position to qualify for the playoffs. They have a chance to reach double-digit wins the next few weeks, so we’ll see if they can reach that.
9. Lake Superior (LW: 9): Since winning three straight against Bemidji and BG, the Lakers have gone 0-4-1, obviously failing to create some distance between themselves and Anchorage in the standings. But they can clinch this weekend with a win against Northern if Anchorage fails to get a point against BG. Should that happen and they pull even with Huntsville, the Chargers still have the tiebreaker. Not that it matters, really. You’re either facing Minnesota State or Michigan Tech in the first round. Pick your poison.
10. Alaska Anchorage (LW: 10): This year, the Seawolves have seven wins, and not a single one of them has come outside the state of Alaska. Anchorage is 2-13-1 on the road this year. Those two wins? At Fairbanks. That’s bad, but, in a glimmer of good news, each of the Seawolves’ last four games will be played at home. They’re 4-6-2 at home this year, and if BG is sleeping on them, Anchorage will make them pay.