Three Things I Think: WCHA, Dec. 1

Posted by: Ryan Evans

This weekend in the WCHA didn’t have as much sizzle as the last, but still featured some important match-ups. Michigan Tech and Minnesota State are still neck and neck at the top of the standings. Both teams earned sweeps, leaving the Huskies still just two points ahead of the streaking Mavericks.

In this week’s USCHO.com poll, Minnesota State – winners of six-straight — was the big jumper, sliding up five spots to No. 2. Michigan Tech moved up one spot to No. 5, idle Bowling Green jumped one spot to No. 14, and Northern Michigan held firm at No. 19. Ferris State (7) and Alaska (2) are both receiving votes in the poll.

WCHA teams now occupy the top two, and three of the top five, spots in the KRACH ratings. Minnesota State remains No. 1 this week, while Michigan Tech moved up three spots to No. 2, and Bowling Green jumped up one place to No. 5.

Rapid Recap: In league play, Minnesota State continued its recent roll with a dominating sweep of Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech bounced back with a road sweep of Alabama-Huntsville, and Northern Michigan closed out its Alaskan road trip by splitting with Alaska. Elsewhere, Bemidji State snapped its seven game losing streak on Saturday to split with St. Cloud State, and Ferris State continued its roller coaster season by going winless against previously winless Wisconsin. The WCHA’s non-conference record now stands at 23-19-5 (.543).

(After the break: My WCHA Three Stars of the Weekends and three thoughts on what went down.)

WCHA Three Stars of the Weekend (Nov. 28-29)

1. Stephon Williams, Minnesota State junior goaltender

Stonewalled Lake Superior State on back-to-back nights, stopping 45-of-45 shots on the weekend for his first and second shutouts of the season.

2. Brett Knowles, Minnesota State junior forward

Registered his first career hat trick in the Mavericks’ 7-0 win over the Lakers on Saturday. His three goals now on the season represent the second-highest single season total of his two-plus year career.

3. Gerry Fitzgerald, Bemidji State freshman forward

The pivot of the Beavers’ famed “Triplet Line” notched two goals and three points against St. Cloud State, including the game-winner in Bemidji State’s 4-1 win over the Huskies on Saturday.

Three Thoughts:

Minnesota State continues to roll

The Mavericks dominated Lake Superior State, outscoring the Lakers 10-0 on the weekend to earn their third conference sweep in as many weeks. You’d be hard-pressed to find a hotter team in the country than Minnesota State, which has won six-straight games and nine of its last 10. More impressively, it has done so against what KRACH considers to be the second-toughest schedule in the country.

Not only are the Mavericks scoring (we knew they could do that), but their defense has turned the corner. After giving up nearly three goals per game through its first 10 games, the MSU blue line has conceded just three times total in its last four. The turnaround shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Minnesota State was the second-best defensive team in the conference a season ago.

Williams has been a big part of that. His save percentage had been hovering around .900 for most of the season, but it is up to .931 now after turning away 100 of 103 (.971) shots in his last four games. The Fairbanks, Alaska, native has been the Mavericks’ workhorse this season, starting 10 of the team’s 14 games. After losing his starting job to then-freshman Cole Huggins last season, Williams has reclaimed the crease in Mankato, as well as the form from his outstanding freshman campaign in 2012-13, when he posted a 2.00 goals against average and .924 save percentage in 35 games.

Michigan Tech gets back on track

Faced with adversity for the first time this season, the Huskies recovered well from last weekend’s Minnesota State-inflicted disappointment, going on the road and sweeping Alabama-Huntsville in a pair of back and forth games.

After notching just three goals against the Mavericks (which was the team’s season-low in a two-game series this season), the Huskies bounced back against the Chargers, lighting them up for nine on the weekend.

What was encouraging for Michigan Tech was they weren’t the type of games it was used to winning this season. In MTU’s victories this season, its defense has smothered opponents, but it had some trouble with the Chargers. The Huskies didn’t get the best performance from junior goaltender Jamie Phillips, forcing the offense to compensate, and it did.

Beavers finally get over the hump

After a seven game skid in which Bemidji State lost a number of close games, it was nice to see the Beavers get rewarded for a good effort on Saturday against St. Cloud State.

This season has certainly not been easy on BSU . It has faced six-straight ranked opponents to start the season and despite playing most of them close, have just four wins to show for it. It has been a “close, but no cigar”-type season for the Beavers. Seven of the team’s 10 losses have come by two goals or less. Bemidji lost another tightly contested game Friday versus the Huskies, before finally getting a complete effort in Saturday’s 4-1 win.

The Beavers are not as bad a team as their 4-10-0 record would have you believe. They can score with just about anybody, the problem is they often get caught up in track meets. If Bemidji State can shore up their defense and special teams a bit to help ease the burden on the offense, it can be a factor in the WCHA.

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