This guy had other responsibilities all last weekend so I didn’t get much of an opportunity to pay attention to WCHA action as it was going on, but man what a weekend it was. Again.
In regards to standings, there’s clear separation from the top three, though BG is kind of hitting the spuds lately. More on that in a bit. After that, you have Northern standing pat at fourth, then places five through nine separated by four points. Anchorage is only two behind that mess, so there’s still quite a bit to play for, for everyone.
Now, in terms of BG, the Falcons are coming off their first weekend of the year in which they didn’t pick up a win. For comparison sake, BG had its first winless weekend the first weekend of the year last year, albeit against national champion Union College. BG had five winless weekends last year.
The Falcons still sit third in the WCHA with 25 points in 18 games. They’re five clear of Northern, with two games in hand. So as long as BG doesn’t completely fall apart, that top three spot should be safe.
And, you know, Bemidji is a strong team. The Beavers played the Falcons tough in November, and obviously are on a pretty strong run. So while the results of this weekend leaves a lot to be desired, it doesn’t bring BG into a “sky is falling” scenario. Obviously people and the computers agree. BG is No. 8 in the USCHO poll, and still No.6 in Pairwise.
However, should things not begin to improve soon, there is some cause for concern. Since that Bemidji sweep at the end of November, BG is 5-3-4 (let’s just pause and appreciate how far this program has come the last five years that we’re considering 5-3-4 to be “less than ideal). But really, at some point that can become a detriment.
If the Falcons have any hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, they’ll need to likely be in the top 8-10 in Pairwise heading into the WCHA playoffs, and even in that scenario they’ll probably have to at least make it to the Final Five. Anything less than that leaves too much to chance and would probably require too much help from other teams.
Don’t forget, the top 16 in Pairwise don’t all make it. Atlantic Hockey has no top-16 teams, and their champion will get an automatic berth. Plus there’s always the chance that a team outside the top 16 could go on a huge playoff run and win the conference tournament, like say Bemidji for example. The closer you get to that 16th place, the more likely you are to get bumped in one of those scenarios.
So yeah, that’s getting ahead of ourselves a lot. But that’s possible scenario at this point in the season. You can bet the team knows that, and the coaching staff will keep pushing them to make sure it doesn’t come to that. Let’s dig in:
1. Minnesota State (LW: 1): Ho-hum another sweep and now the Mavs are No. 1 again. I really don’t even feel the need to explain their weekend because it feels like “same song, different chorus” at this point. They took out their anger from the Bemidji loss and added to Ferris’ dismay by coming away with a pair of 5-1 wins. In a span of four games that was going to have a pretty big impact on shaping the WCHA standings, Minnesota State outscored the Bulldogs 15-4. They already have six guys with 20 points. It will not surprise me if they’re the last team standing at the Frozen Four.
2. Michigan Tech (LW: 2): Speaking of firepower, Tech dropped 11 on Huntsville on Saturday. In that game, Alex Petan, Tanner Kero and Blake Pietila combined for 10 points. This is not a drill.
I think the Huskies are the one team in the WCHA that can match Minnesota State’s firepower. Their scoring doesn’t run quite as prolifically deep, But Kero and Petan are 1 and 2 in the league in scoring by a decent margin, while Malcolm Gould and Pietila are really good secondary options. Tech and Minnesota State play each other at the end of February. I’m excited for the fireworks that are gonna go off during that series.
3. Bowling Green (LW: 3): A tenuous grip for BG on the third spot this week. In talking to Chris Bergeron today, he said he didn’t like the team’s compete level Friday. Then obviously giving up two late in the third Saturday is less than ideal. Now BG has back-to-back weekends with Ferris, with whom they’ve gotten to know quite well the last five years. You can bet Ferris will be angry, and desperate to not let its season fall further down the drain, so BG will need to be on high alert.
4. Bemidji State (LW: 4): Don’t look now but the Beavers are rising. They’re tied with Ferris for fifth, and with two games in hand on fourth-place Northern, could theoretically jump into a tie for fourth this weekend, as the Wildcats are off. But Bemidji plays Tech, so there’s no gimme there, though they have proven to be giant slayers the last two weekends.
Two big reasons for the turnaround? Senior captain Matt Prapavessis and goalie Michael Blitzer. During the last two weeks, Prapavessis had a goal and an assists against Minnesota-Duluth, an assist against Minnesota State, and a goal and an assist in the tie with BG. His 19 points rank third in the league among defensemen.
Blitzer, meanwhile, has started 10 straight games, in which he is 6-2-2 with three shutouts. Prior to that 10-game run, he had a 3.03 GAA and a .890 save percent. Today, he has a 2.00 GAA and .919 save percent. His stabilization of the Bemidji crease is a big reason for why the Beavers very well could be a dangerous team once the playoffs roll around.
5. Northern Michigan (LW: 9): Beating Anchorage when you’re at home isn’t the pinnacle of sweeps, but it was a big one for Northern, which had been trending in the wrong direction.
In big news, Mathias Dahlstrom left Friday’s game with an injury and did not return for the rest of the weekend. Derek Dun replaced him and allowed three goals on 26 shots. The next night, Michael Doan allowed two goals on only 13 shots. An extended absence by Dahlstrom is not good news for the Wildcats.
6. Ferris State (LW: 4): As touched on above, Ferris continues its brutal eight-game stretch with back-to-back weekends against BG. Bergeron also mentioned this today, but as far back as Ferris is from BG (nine points), the Bulldogs are a pair of sweeps from being right on that doorstep. C.J. Motte can steal games, and after allowed 10 goals on 66 shots this weekend I’m sure he’s ready to put that past him.
7. Lake Superior (LW: 7): The Lakers were off this weekend and will look to continue their run of recent success this weekend at Alaska.
8. Alabama Huntsville (LW: 6): I don’t really know how to categorize this weekend for Huntsville other than to call it “demoralizing,” especially for a team that has shown great improvement this year.
The Chargers have this weekend to regroup, before taking on Lake on the road next weekend. How they respond, I think, will tell us a lot about the progress of this team. They still hold a playoff spot, so there’s still a lot on the table for them.
9. Alaska-Anchorage (LW: 8): Anchorage was swept by Northern this weekend, further complicating its playoff future. With 10 points, the Seawolves are on the outside looking in, but they have two games in hand on both Lake and Huntsville, which each have 12 points. The issue here is Anchorage is a putrid 2-9-1 on the road this year. The good news? Three of its remaining five weekends are at home. The bad news? Those weekends are against Minnesota State and BG.
10. Alaska (LW: 10): The Nanooks were off this weekend and resume action this weekend against Lake.