So things are starting to take shape in the WCHA playoff race.
With one more point needed and six games to get it, BG can clinch home ice for the first round. Minnesota State and Michigan Tech have already clinched home ice, and are all but locked in as the top two seeds, baring a catastrophic collapse.
Bemidji and Northern Michigan are tied for the fourth seed and the right to host a first round series. Bemidji is trending up, while Northern is trending down. The Falcons hope to add to that downward trend this weekend.
After that, you have Ferris, Huntsville and Lake Superior. At this point, I don’t see a way that Anchorage is able to climb out of 10th and qualify for the playoffs. With the way those teams are separated, I would reckon it would take a superb effort by one, or an abysmal effort, for the positioning to change. So really, there shouldn’t be a ton of movement over the next three weeks. There could be some, like I could see Ferris realistically jumping Northern, but that’s a story for later.
That being said, all is not settled. Thanks to Alaska playing big-time spoiler against Minnesota State last weekend, the Mavs’ hold on the top seed has become rather perilous. Why? Because Michigan Tech beat the everloving snot out of Anchorage, and now sits only one point back. The best part? Those two teams play in nine days.
So we realistically could have a new top seed coming up. Just like we have a new No. 1 here this week.
1. Michigan Tech (LW: 2): On Saturday’ Tech dropped a 10-spot on Anchorage. It’s the second time this year that Tech has put up double digits in a WCHA game. For that to happen once in a season is quite absurd. But twice? They might want to start saving some goals for the postseason.
Tanner Kero and Alex Petan are still top two in the league in scoring, and by a pretty decent margin over Tyler Morley. Kero’s 40 points are tied for fourth nationally, while Petan’s 38 are ninth. Neither will get much buzz for the Hobey Baker — there’s a certain player from Boston University who I think has a pretty sizeable lead for that — but either one of them is likely going to be WCHA Player of the Year, and may get some All America buzz. That offensive attack isn’t all them, and goaltender Jamie Phillips has been a big reason for the Huskies’ success, but these two are piloting that ship right now.
2. Minnesota State (LW: 1): Remember how like, two months ago I said Alaska was going to spoil someone’s playoff hopes? Well, despite being No. 1 in the nation for a period of time, and being a top of the WCHA standings almost all year, Minnesota State could find itself in a position where it ends up not even winning the league.
A split next weekend would be a win for the Mavs. But should Tech take three of four or all four points, assuming both teams accumulate the same number of points in the final weekend, Tech would be your champion. We’ll get into this more next week. Both teams are off this weekend so nothing is going to change in the next seven days.
3. Bowling Green (LW: 3): A spilt with Ferris wasn’t the best way to end the weekend, but beating the same team four times in a row is tough, especially when that team plays the grinding style Ferris does.
The kicker here is should the season end today, BG would host Ferris in the first round of the playoffs. If I were to have a rooting interest, that’s not a series I would want for BG. Really the only team I would want to play less than Ferris is Bemidji, which doesn’t look like it would happen because of the way the Beavers are playing. But Ferris would be tough. Even though BG went 3-1-0 against the ‘Dogs, all four games this year could’ve gone either way. BG can help itself a lot in that regard this weekend by sweeping Northern, which sits just two points clear of Ferris.
4. Bemidji State (LW: 4): The Beavers helped themselves last week by sweeping Northern. The two teams are now tied for fourth place, and Bemidji is moving in the right direction.
Goalie Michael Blitzer posted his fourth shutout of the season Friday, and stopped 36 of 37 shots Saturday in a 5-1 win. He’s now third in the league with a 1.86 GAA. The Beavers are also fourth in the league in scoring with 2.80 goals per game, so they’ve kind of separated themselves as the “best of the rest” behind the top three in the WCHA. I would not sleep on them though. Just in the last few weeks, they’ve beaten Minnesota State, beaten and tied BG and played Tech tough. Should they hold serve in fourth and get through the first round of the playoffs, they’ll be a tough matchup for whoever ends up No. 1 in the Final Five.
5. Alaska (LW: 7): If the Nanooks were eligible for the playoffs, we’d be talking a lot about how they would be a tough out going forward. Talking about pure standings for a second, they’re fourth in the league with 22 points after taking three of four from Minnesota State this weekend.
I mean, they’re more of a one-trick pony than any of the top three teams are, but having Tyler Morley is a good one trick to have. He scored three of Alaska’s four goals this weekend, and is unquestionably the best player in the WCHA who doesn’t play home games in Houghton or Mankato. Also, goalie Sean Cahill has allowed only one goal in four straight games. That’s helped a lot.
6. Ferris State (LW: 6): So Ferris finished its MSU/BG odyssey at 1-7-0, which isn’t entirely surprising, but you would have thought that maybe C.J. Motte would’ve stolen an extra game or two in there. Alas that wasn’t the case.
But it’s not all bad for Ferris. After getting mollywhopped by Minnesota State in the final series, the Bulldogs played well, for the most part, against BG. They finish the season at Huntsville, against Bemidji and at Lake, so there are definitely winnable games down the stretch. But, should Ferris falter against Huntsville this weekend and going forward, the Chargers are close enough in the standings to make a move..
7. Alabama Huntsville (LW: 8): The Chargers came out of their bye week strong, taking three of four points from Lake in what was a crucial battle for playoff position. They’re two points clear of the Lakers with six games to play. Lake has only four games to play. But, most importantly, Huntsville is now five clear of Anchorage, so a playoff berth is rather likely.
Carmine Guerriero was, once again, stellar. He stopped 25 of 26 shots both nights, and now has a 2.45 GAA and .929 save percent for the season. When you consider Huntsville gives up 3.17 goals per game, those are both very strong numbers. Well, the save percent is strong either way, but you get the point. His improvement this year has been a big reason Huntsville is in the position it’s in now.
8. Northern Michigan (LW: 5): Northern may still technically be in a position to host a first-round playoff series, but that’s looking less likely by the game.
Since goalie Mathias Dahlstrom got hurt, the Wildcats are 2-4-0, with those two wins coming at home against Anchorage. Northern has lost four straight games by a combined score of 15-5. I haven’t been able to find anything online suggesting when Dahlstrom might be back, and as long as he’s out they’re in trouble. Michael Doan hasn’t been terrible in his absence. But playing behind a team that averages only 2.30 goals per game, you need more than “not terrible” from your goalie. It’ll be interesting to see what transpires this weekend against a BG offense that has been sputtering a bit lately.
9. Lake Superior (LW: 9): At this point, you can pretty much pencil in Lake for the eighth seed. Even if Huntsville loses out, Lake would need to go, at worst, 1-2-1 over its last four games to jump the Chargers. That’s not impossible to do against Northern and Ferris, but that would also require Huntsville to lose out, which I don’t think happens.
It doesn’t really matter what seed Lake gets, though, as long as it’s able to qualify for the playoffs, which it should. The difference right now between playing Minnesota State and Michigan Tech in the first round is so small that there’s really no added benefit to getting the seventh seed other than, you know, to say you were the seventh seed.
10. Alaska Anchorage (LW: 10): The Seawolves were the recipient of Tech’s 10-goal game Saturday. That was a strange game though. Tech scored five in the first and five in the third. In the second period, Anchorage had a 14-4 shot advantage, and finished with 35 for the game. I mean, I can’t tell you how many quality chances were mixed in there, but that’s still a weird statistical tidbit for you. Also a fun fact: that’s the second time this year Anchorage has given up 10 goals in a game. It also accomplished (not the right word?) that feat Nov. 13 against Ferris.
Anchorage getting into the playoffs now seems to be a talk order. It has two games in hand on Lake, but is three points behind. So, obviously, that means they’d need Lake to lose out for the best chance, but then would need to go at least 2-4-0 against a schedule of Bemidji, BG and Alaska (a 1-4-1 record would not help because Lake would hold the tiebreak in that scenario). Can Anchorage do it? Sure I suppose. I just wouldn’t bet anything on it.