Hi guys, I’m back. Did you miss me? No? OK.
Yes, it’s been awhile. The Olympics kind of made me question everything I knew about hockey and stuff like that and before I knew it, I looked up, it was March and the WCHA postseason was right around the corner.
Well, it’s our favorite time of the year. Hockey playoffs in general are great. It’d be tough for me to say that college postseason tournaments are better than the NHL playoffs, like how March Madness is infinitely better than the NBA playoffs, because the NHL playoffs might be my favorite thing in the world. But the CCHA Tournament was a close second. By the relative property, that means the WCHA playoffs are now my second favorite thing in the world.
The games start tonight, with Alaska taking on Alaska-Anchorage (how funny is it that this happened?). Everyone else plays tomorrow. Let us take this time to look at each playoff series, which will include my awesome, uninformed predictions.
No. 1 Ferris vs. No. 8 Bemidji
Fun fact about this series: Bemidji finishing No. 8 is one of three teams I successfully placed in my preseason power rankings. To be fair, one of those was Huntsville finishing No. 10, which I think everyone would have guess so that doesn’t really count. Yeah, that’s how seriously you should take my prognostications.
Anyway, Bemidji is still playing right now because they held the tiebreaker with Lake Superior, which kind of sucks for the Lakers because Bemidji was categorically worse than they were this season. The Beavers finished 10-19-7 overall. They are 5-10-1 overall since 2014 began, and have lost three of their last four, which includes a loss at home to Huntsville.
However, they’ve played Ferris tough this year. The Beavers beat them once and lost in overtime on another occasion. That being said, the last time Bemidji was on the ice, they got mollywhopped by BG. So I don’t know how much I’d trust them.
Meanwhile, Ferris kind of sputtered down the stretch. If you want to classify a 7-3-0 finish as “sputtering.” As I noted earlier this week on Twitter, the WCHA is probably going to be secretly rooting against the Bulldogs, because them not winning the tournament is pretty much the only way the WCHA gets two teams into the NCAA Tournament. At No. 6 in pairwise, Ferris is pretty much locked into the NCAA Tournament. Unless Bemidji beats them by like 20 each night.
Prediction: Ferris in two.
No. 2 Minnesota State vs. No. 7 Northern Michigan
For those curious, Northern Michigan at No. 7 was the third and final team I correctly picked in my preseason rankings. Sad day.
Northern was a curious case for much of the season. Up until like two weeks ago, they had four games in hand on a few teams in the league. So they theoretically could have jumped just about everyone and earned home ice by playing catch-up. A streak in which they lost six of seven WCHA games in February did not help them. Still, they finished only three points out of third in the league.
I’ve noted this before, but there is a realistic chance that any team can pull an “upset” in this tournament because of how evenly matched everyone is in terms of talent. I just don’t think it will happen in either of these first two series’. Mankato, since losing to this same Northern team on Jan. 31, has gone 8-0-1. Granted, that includes a sweep of the Nos. 8, 9 and 10 teams in the WCHA, a win against this Northern team and a 1-0-1 weekend against Michigan Tech, but I digress. They’re hot and playing with confidence, so it doesn’t really matter whom you beat to get that confidence. They have three players with at least 34 points, and freshman goalie Cole Huggins has been arguably the best goalie in the league this season.
Prediction: Minnesota State in three
No. 3 Alaska vs. No. 6 Alaska-Anchorage
Once again, how funny is it that these teams ended up playing each other? Athletic directors have to love it, because that means there’s no expensive first-round trip either way.
For much of the season, Alaska was sputtering between eighth and ninth place in the league, despite them being a much better team than that. How did they get here? Well, they’ve picked up at least one point in 10 straight WCHA weekend sets, dating back to their first series of December. That’s huge. Also, since an 0-1-1 trip to BG in early January, they’ve won nine of 12 games thanks to a greatly improved offense that finished the season tops in the WCHA. In that 12-game run, they’ve scored at least five goals six times. With 42 points on the season, senior forward Cody Kunyk leads the WCHA in points and will get some WCHA Player of the Year votes, if he doesn’t outright win it.
Meanwhile, as a shock to most, Anchorage spent the majority of the season in the top-four of the WCHA standings, despite a 3-9-2 road record. A 1-3-0 finish to the season has them where they are now; they finished two points behind Alaska for the three seed. Even though they’re proverbial “underdog” in this series, it’s really the best scenario they could have fallen to. Even though they’re exponentially worse on the road, they’re still playing in Alaska, so it’s almost like a neutral site for them, even though it will be at Fairbanks.
Prediction: Anchorage in three
No. 4 Bowling Green vs. No. 5 Michigan Tech
This might be the funniest series of them all. Two weeks ago I’d have placed money on BG missing the playoffs entirely before I’d have placed money on it hosting a first-round series. But, for the first time since the 2007-08 season, here we are.
First and foremost, I wonder what student attendance is going to be like, with kids on spring break (and on-campus students not allowed in the dorms until Sunday), and students required to purchase tickets (which is a conference rule, not a BG rule). That being said, I would hope the non-student attendance to be the highest of the season.
Onto hockey, this is not a particularly great matchup for BG, which is 1-2-1 against Tech this season, with both of those losses coming at home. BG is on a modest three-game win streak, but is still 4-5-1 in its last 10. Obviously scoring will be needed, but the key player has to be Tommy Burke and the defense keeping Tech’s eighth-in-the-WCHA offense off the board, which they could not do in January/February. Burke has allowed six goals during BG’s win streak, and has a .923 save percent in that time. So he’s playing well, but he has to be on his game.
With Tech, their defense is on par with BG (2.66 goals against/game for Tech, 2.69 for BG), but their offense is not. Tech only scores 2.53 per game, but the Huskies scored 10 their weekend at BG. Freshman defenseman Shane Hanna has 22 points from the blue line, and forward Blake Pietila leads the team with 27 points. Goalie Pheonix “yes that’s how it’s really spelt” Copley has a 2.47 goals-against average and a .912 save percent this season.
Prediction: BG in three. Yes, this is a homer pick.
-Based on my predictions, that means the semifinals would be: Ferris vs. Anchorage, Mankato vs. BG. Those would be a couple good sets.
-BG’s 16-14-6 record is the first time they’ve finished above .500 since finishing 17-16-4 in 2004-05.
-BG is 4-1-1 with Jake Sloat in the lineup this year. Clearly he is key to the operation.
-Speaking of stupid splits, BG is 11-4-2 when Dan DeSalvo posts at least one point. He leads the team with 28 this season.
-For what seems to be a lot of talk about how bad BG’s power play has been, the Falcons are second in the WCHA with a 19.2 percent conversion rate on the power play. Michigan Tech, meanwhile, is at 14.3 percent.
-Tommy Burke’s .625 winning percent is fourth in the WCHA.
-BG has won at least one playoff series in each of coach Chris Bergeron’s three seasons. Each playoff series win has been in three games.
-In the four playoff series’ BG has won since 2010-11, it lost game one three times. The only game-one victory game against Ferris State in 2012.
-Can’t help but wonder where BG would be with a full season of Ryan Carpenter. He has 11 points in 12 games, the highest points-per-game percentage he has posted in his career.
-Nine of BG’s top-10 scorers, plus Ryan Carpenter, have eligibility remaining after this season. If all of them (namely Carpenter and Ralfs Freibergs) chose to use it, BG will be dangerous next year.
-All three BG games this weekend are schedule to begin at 7:07 p.m.