After a one weekend of play, there were some clear winners and losers in the WCHA. Here are some thoughts on who those may be:
• Michigan Tech. The Huskies didn’t open with a power house like a couple other teams in the league did. In fact, they may have opened with the worst team in Division I hockey. But Tech hasn’t been that far from the bottom either in recent seasons, and sweeping their season opening games will definitely help get new coach Mel Pearson’s message across early. Afterall, this is a team that won just four games all of last season. The Huskies should now be able to equal and pass that pretty easily. At least that’s the hope.
• Bemidji State. Any time you can roll into the home arena and beat the No. 1 team in the country, you’re doing something right. The Beavers were down 1-0 after one Friday and 2-1 after two, but a stellar third period was enough to nab the victory. Kudos to BSU for responding after the Red Hawks tied the game at three late in the third period. Bemidji stemmed the tide and was able to, not only score the game winner, but add an insurance marker too. BSU led in the second period of game two as well, but Miami isn’t the top team for nothing. A great two points for the Beavers.
• Minnesota State. Same thing on a smaller scale. Not much is expected of the Mavericks this season, but they came out of York, N.Y. with a split against RPI. The Engineers entered the weekend ranked No. 18 and coming off an NCAA Tournament bid last season. But the Mavs used stellar goaltending from senior Austin Lee Friday to win a low-scoring affair. Mankato was also able to overcome a pair of injuries — one to captain Tyler Elbrecht — in the win. Elbrecht will miss several weeks with a broken arm, a big loss for a MSU D-core already short on experience and size. Freshman Brett Stern must step in now and play a much more important role. Another concern: The Mavs scored just two goals on the weekend. While getting a win was nice, they’ll need more offense to sustain themselves in conference play.
• Minnesota. Yeah, it was against Sacred Heart. But the Gophers left no doubt this weekend. Kent Patterson became the first Gopher to secure consecutive shutouts in the same weekend against the same team since Adam Hauser did it over a decade ago. Another positive: Minnesota had 10 different players score at least one goal and 16 different players score points this weekend. This from a team that struggled to score in stretches last year. The opponents will most definitely get better, but you can’t argue with the results for the Gophers.
• Alaska-Anchorage. If the Seawolves nonconference game against St. Cloud State is any indication of what we’re going to see in conference play this year, it’s gonna be an awesome season. The Huskies led 2-0 then 2-1 in the third period before UAA junior Mickey Spencer scored goals two minutes apart to pull Anchorage even and in front with under six minutes to play. A goal by Jared Festler with the SCSU net empty and under a minute to play made it 3-3 before Spencer struck again in overtime to cap the comeback win. The OT goal capped a six-point weekend for Spencer who had 13 points in the two years prior. It also capped a weekend of comebacks for UAA, as they tied Clarkson Friday after trailing on two different occasions in that one as well.
• Minnesota Duluth. A split at home against Notre Dame puts them in the winners category, if only because the Irish are one of the top teams in the nation.
• North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux had to come from behind to beat Air Force Friday before getting hammered by Boston College Saturday. Aaron Dell allowed five goals on just 10 shots against BC, a far cry from his all-league showing last season. The one positive: Early season struggles aren’t exactly new to UND. And it wasn’t exactly unexpected this season. North Dakota is young and will take some lumps through the holidays. This weekend will help them in the long run.
• Nebraska-Omaha. In what should have been an easy couple of wins at home, UNO was impressive in a 5-1 win Friday over Mercyhurst before a disappointing loss to Colgate the next night. The Mavericks badly outshot the Raiders, but an inconsistent effort in goal by John Faulkner doomed UNO. Faulkner’s inconsistency last year was a problem for Omaha, and he must get it corrected if they hope to have another top-6 finish in league play.
• St. Cloud State. The Huskies defeated Alaska Friday and looked to be headed to a win again Saturday. But a problem that plagued SCSU last season surfaced again — third period malaise. The Huskies must get this straightened out. If they don’t, another disappointing season will ensue.
• Wisconsin. Northern Michigan at home needs to be at least three points. It wasn’t. Joel Rumpel was impressive Saturday in a 3-2 win to salvage the split. But Landon Peterson allowed three goals on just 19 shots in a 3-2 OT loss Friday. That battle in goal will be the defining one for the Badgers, at least early on.
There will definitely be some movement in my WCHA Power Rankings, which I will post Thursday. My conference preview is also posted on the College Hockey News main page. It is in two parts, which I will link here and here.
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