WCHA Weekend Preview, Jan. 16-17

Posted by: Ryan Evans

The WCHA boasts a full slate of conference action for the second-straight week, the marquee match-up of which is a showdown between title contenders Michigan Tech and Bowling Green in Houghton, Mich. The Huskies and Falcons come into the match-up separated by just one point in the standings.

Elsewhere, the two Alaska teams renew their rivalry and annual battle for the Governors’s Cup, newly-minted No. 1 Minnesota State heads on the road to face Ferris State, Northern Michigan heads south to face Alabama-Huntsville, and streaking Bemidji State meets Lake Superior State.

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No. 1 Minnesota State (16-4-1, 13-2-1 WCHA) at Ferris State (11-11-1, 8-6-0)

As the new No. 1-ranked team in the country, the Mavericks are hoping to avoid the curse that has plagued top-ranked teams this season as they travel to Big Rapids, Mich., to face Ferris State in a match-up of last season’s WCHA regular season and postseason champions.

This series was certainly circled by many after the two were picks to finish No. 1 and No. 2 in the preseason, but it has lost its luster a bit considering Ferris State’s struggles this year. The two teams developed a thrilling rivalry during their chase for the league title last season, and while this weekend doesn’t carry those types of implications, it still means a lot to both sides with four vital league points up for grabs. The red-hot Mavericks, winners of 11 of their past 13, can further separate themselves from their title rivals, while Ferris State is embroiled in the four-team chase for the WCHA’s final home ice spot.

As good as Minnesota State has been this season — it leads the country in wins, goals, goals per game, and shots allowed — it can’t overlook a trip to Ewigleben Arena. The Bulldogs are very tough to beat at home. Six of their 11 wins have come at home and FSU holds a 6-3 mark overall there this season. These are the first home games since early December for Ferris State, which is in the middle of a brutal stretch of its schedule where points are at a premium as the Bulldogs look to separate themselves from the middle of the pack.

No. 7 Bowling Green (13-3-4, 9-1-2) at No. 11 Michigan Tech (15-6-1, 10-3-1)

Two MacNaughton Cup contenders trending in opposite directions meet at MacInnes Arena, for a showdown rife with league title implications.┬áThese teams developed a bit of a rivalry last season, meeting six times including a playoff series, which the Falcons swept, and this weekend’s highly-anticipated series should only add to that.

Bowling Green, unbeaten in its last nine games, heads to the U.P. trailing Michigan Tech, which is just 5-6-1 after starting 10-0-0, by just one point in the standings. The Falcons, who have two games in hand on the Huskies, can move into sole possession of second place by taking at least three points from the series. For that not to happen, Michigan Tech will have to do a better job defending its home ice. The Huskies are just 5-4-0 at home this season, while BGSU has thrived on the road, winning eight of 11 games. Its recent slump has also dropped Michigan Tech to the fringe of NCAA Tournament conversation at No. 14 in the Pairwise, so good results are a must for the Huskies to climb back into solid standing.

Now that he’s eligible for the NCAA leaderboards, the rest of the country can see how good Bowling Green freshman goaltender Chris Nell has been. Nell is unbeaten (6-0-1) in his seven starts this season and is among the top-10 goalies nationally in winning percentage (.929), save percentage (.950), goals against average (1.41), and shutouts (three). The Green Bay, Wis., native has been key during the Falcons’ nine-game unbeaten run, starting five of those contests and giving up two goals or less in each one, including two shutouts.

Northern Michigan (9-6-5, 6-6-4) at Alabama-Huntsville (5-16-3, 4-12-0)

Two of the WCHA’s top goalies square off as the Wildcats and Chargers meet in a series that counts for real this time. Northern Michigan went 1-0-1 against Alabama-Huntsville earlier this season in a non-conference series.

Neither of these teams is known to light up a scoreboard, so we could be in store for a low-scoring series.

While NMU has won just one of its last eight games dating back to the start of December, it has been able to earn at least one point from each of its last four conference series, which include match-ups with the top three teams in the league — Minnesota State, Michigan Tech, and Bowling Green. The Wildcats held the Huskies winless last time out and totaled eight goals in the process, marking a single series-high for their struggling offense. Sophomore goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom started both games against MTU, marking his first appearances since early December. He allowed seven goals on 62 shots (.887) but has outstanding career numbers against UAH.

Like Dahlstrom, Chargers sophomore puck-stopper Carmine Guerriero also had a tough time in his last outing, conceding four times on 33 shots (.879) against Bemidji State last Friday. After a modest three-game unbeaten run, Alabama-Huntsville didn’t look good against the Beavers. UAH was shutout on back-to-back nights while allowing eight goals in two games. The Chargers are winless in 10 all time meetings with Northern Michigan (0-8-2).

Alaska-Anchorage (5-11-4, 2-10-2) at Alaska (12-9-1, 7-8-1)

A leg up in the annual battle for the Governor’s Cup is on the line as Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage renew their in-state rivalry this weekend in Fairbanks, Alaska.

The Nanooks have won five straight Governor’s Cups dating back to the 2009-10 season, though the wins from then until 2011-12 were vacated due to the NCAA sanctions leveled against the program earlier this season. This is only the second time in the last seven seasons that the Cup will feature a four-game format. The two teams will meet again March 6-7 in Anchorage to determine the winner. Since the Governor’s Cup started back in 1993-94, it has had to be determined by a shootout in the final game seven times, including last year.

Alaska-Anchorage comes into the first meeting having not won a game since the end of November. The Seawolves have lost four straight and 10 of their last 13 games overall. That stretch has put them firmly in the bottom third of the league standings and battling Lake Superior State and Alabama-Huntsville for a spot in the postseason.

Meanwhile, Alaska, despite its NCAA-imposed postseason ban, has been playing well. The Nanooks have won four of their last six games. However, they are coming off a winless weekend against Bowling Green and will be looking to get back on track at home in a pair of big rivalry games. UAF has won seven of 10 games at home this season, while Anchorage is winless (0-7-1) on the road.

Bemidji State (7-10-3, 5-6-3) at Lake Superior State (4-19-1, 3-13-0)

Since losing seven-straight, the Beavers have been on a nice little roll. Bemidji State is unbeaten in its last seven games (4-0-3) and, as a result, have created some separation between it and the three teams log-jammed at the bottom of the standings. Once of those teams is Lake Superior State, which, if the season ended today, would be the team on the outside looking in for the postseason.

The Beavers’ turnaround has coincided with an uptick in offensive production. BSU has shown goal-scoring ability, but hasn’t been able to string together consistent efforts. Over the unbeaten streak, though, Bemidji State is averaging around three and a half goals per game and has outscored opponents, 24-11. Without a go-to guy up front, the Beavers have had to rely on a committee for that success. Last week against Alabama-Huntsville, five different players scored BSU’s eight goals and 11 registered at least one point.

Not much has gone right for Lake Superior State this season, but the Lakers do get to play at home this weekend for the first time since the end of November. They hope that helps solves the woes that have seen LSSU lose its last six in league play and eight of its last 10 games overall. The Lakers’ success this year has come when freshman goaltender Gordon Defiel has been at his best. Three of their four wins on the season have come when Defiel’s save percentage has been above .930 and LSSU is unbeaten overall (3-0-1) when he hits that mark.

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