WCHA Weekend Preview, Nov. 28-29

Posted by: Ryan Evans

Eight WCHA teams are in action this weekend, including six conference showdowns and a pair of non-conference match-ups.

Bowling Green is on bye, but No. 6 Michigan Tech and No. 7 Minnesota State will be in action, against Alabama-Huntsville and Lake Superior State, respectively, as the fight for the league’s top spot continues. The Huskies and Mavericks enter the weekend with just two points separating them in the standings.

Northern Michigan travels to Alaska to face the Nanooks and seeking to re-assert itself as the top defensive team in the league. In non-conference play, Bemidji State faces yet another ranked team in No. 16 St. Cloud State, while Ferris State visits struggling Wisconsin.

(After the jump: Previewing this weekend’s WCHA match-ups)

Around the League:

No. 6 Michigan Tech (10-2-0, 8-2-0) at Alabama-Huntsville (3-9-2, 2-6-0) 

Michigan Tech heads to Huntsville for the first time ever looking to get back on track after seeing its 10-game win streak to start the season ended by Minnesota State. Facing their first adversity of the season, it will be interesting to see how the Huskies respond this weekend against the Chargers.

UAH has been much improved recently. After starting 0-7-1, it has won three of its last six games. The Chargers have already equaled their win total from last season and have shown the ability to surprise people, including a 3-2 on the road last weekend at Ferris State.

If Michigan Tech plays like it is capable of, though, it should be able to get back on track and start a new streak against Alabama-Huntsville.

Even though they were swept, the Huskies’ stiff defense allowed just five goals against Minnesota State, which was the high-scoring Mavericks’ lowest weekend total this season. If Tech can slow the Mavericks down, it shouldn’t have a problem with the Chargers, who are tied for last in the conference in scoring.

The Huskies will want to jump start its potent offense after managing just three goals in two games versus Minnesota State. Junior forward Alex Petan, who has goals in five straight games, should be able to help with that.

No. 7 Minnesota State (9-3-0, 7-1-0) at Lake Superior State (3-11-0, 3-7-0)

The Mavericks have a chance to ascend to the top of the WCHA standings as they face Lake Superior State. Minnesota State enters as arguably the conference’s hottest team with four-straight wins and seven wins in its last eight contests.

Its offense has provided the fuel for most of that success, but Minnesota State proved for the first time last weekend against Michigan Tech that it can win low-scoring, defensive games as well. Junior goaltender Stephon Williams, the reigning WCHA Defensive Player of the Week, was a big part of that. Against the Huskies, Williams put together his best weekend of the season since reclaiming the Maverick crease.

The Lakers are 3-2-0 after their 0-9-0 start thanks to an offense that is gaining confidence. LSSU put up eight goals last weekend against Alaska, but still rank last in the WCHA in defense (3.71 goals allowed per game). That doesn’t bode well against Minnesota State, the league’s most potent offensive team.

No. 16 St. Cloud State (5-6-1, 2-3-1 NCHC) at Bemidji State (3-9-0, 2-6-0)

There is no rest for weary Bemidji State, which is facing its seventh-straight ranked opponent to start the season in No. 16 St. Cloud State. The Huskies will also be the third in-state opponent for the Beavers, who are winless in those games (0-4).

The Beavers have lost four-straight, but have never lost by more than two goals during that stretch. They have been playing teams tough, including the best the WCHA has to offer, having faced Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Bowling Green already. It wouldn’t be surprising to see their season turn around in the second half once their schedule eases up.

This weekend’s meetings will be the 93rd and 94th all-time between Bemidji State and St. Cloud State. The Beavers have won just once in their last eight meetings with the Huskies and haven’t won at home in the series since the 2008-09 season.

SCSU, like the Beavers, is probably a better team than its sub-.500 record indicates. St. Cloud has wins over both Minnesota and North Dakota this season, but has been up and down. The Huskies do boast the NCHC’s second-best power play at 25.5 percent, which could prove problematic for a Bemidji State penalty kill unit that ranks near the bottom of the WCHA, killing off just 77.2 of opponent’s man advantage opportunities.

No. 19 Northern Michigan (7-2-1, 4-2-0) at Alaska (6-6-0, 1-5-0)

Northern Michigan heads to Fairbanks hoping to get its league-leading defense back on track. The Wildcats want to prove that giving up four last Saturday to Alaska-Anchorage was nothing more than a fluke.

The Wildcats’ success this season has come largely in part to its stingy defense. They give up around just a goal per game and sophomore Mathias Dahlstrom has been fantastic between the pipes. NMU doesn’t score much (2.10 goals per game), so the defense will have to be great for the Wildcats to keep pace in the WCHA race.

Alaska is coming off its first WCHA win of the season, but has lost six of its last seven since starting the season with five-straight wins. During that stretch, the Nanooks have lost four one-goal games. UAF scored nine goals against LSSU last weekend and is the conference’s No. 4-ranked offense. The Nanooks will be the best offensive team the Wildcats’ defense has faced this season.

Ferris State (7-6-0, 4-4-0) at Wisconsin (0-8-0, 0-0-0 Big Ten)

The Bulldogs travel to Madison, Wisc., for a non-conference tilt with the winless Badgers. Wisconsin is Ferris State’s third Big Ten opponent of the year and the Bulldogs are 2-1-0 in those games.

The WCHA’s success in non-conference play has come largely at the expense of the Big Ten. WCHA teams are 10-4-1 (.733) overall against the Big Ten this season.

Ferris State has been up and down this season, but should be able to continue the conference’s success against the Big Ten against Wisconsin, which is the nation’s lone winless team. Not much has gone right for the young Badgers team. UW ranks in the bottom ten in the country in both scoring offense (1.38) and defense (3.50), and senior goaltender Joel Rumpel – a Hobey Baker top-10 finalist a season ago – has struggled.

The Bulldogs boast a top-six defense and elite net minder in senior C.J. Motte, and their once-struggling offense appears to be turning a corner. Ferris State has averaged just over five goals per game in its last four games and just under four in its last three if you ignore the 10-goal outburst versus Alaska-Anchorage on Nov. 13.

That turnaround has coincided with the emergence of sophomore forward Chad McDonald. The reigning WCHA Offensive Player of the Week has four goals and eight points in the Bulldogs’ last four outings. Junior forward Matt Robertson has also been hot in that stretch, with nine points (2+7).

Bye Weeks: No. 15 Bowling Green and Alaska-Anchorage

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