WCHA Weekend Preview, Jan. 2-4

Posted by: Ryan Evans

Eight WCHA teams return to action this weekend after the holiday break and six will resume league play as the race for the MacNaughton Cup resumes.

Of the top three teams in the league standings, only No. 3 Minnesota State is in league play this weekend, travelling to the U.P. to take on Northern Michigan. Any points give the Mavericks sole possession of first place. The Alaska-Anchorage at Alabama-Huntsville and Ferris State at Alaska series can give the middle of the standings increased clarity.

Holiday Recap: Four WCHA teams were in action over the holiday break, including three in two different tournaments. Lake Superior State brought home the only hardware for the conference, capturing the Florida College Classic with a 2-1 win over Notre Dame. LSSU junior defender, a Florida native, netted the tournament-winning goal for the Lakers.

Michigan Tech and Ferris State both participated in the Great Lakes Invitational, but were bounced in the semifinals by Michigan, 2-1, and Michigan State, 2-0, respectively. The Huskies knocked off the Bulldogs, 4-2, in the third place game.

In non-tournament action, Alabama-Huntsville lost, 2-1, and tied, 3-3, Nebraska-Omaha on the road back on Dec. 20-21.

Around the League:

No. 3 Minnesota State (13-4-0, 10-2-0 WCHA) at Northern Michigan (8-5-3, 5-5-2)

Considering the struggles of Northern Michigan’s defense at the end of the first half, Minnesota State probably isn’t the team the Wildcats want to see as they seek to turn things around in the second.

The Mavericks are tied with Michigan Tech at the top of the league standings with 20 points and can take sole possession of the top spot this weekend.

NMU is winless in its last four games and have surrendered 15 goals (3.75 per game) during that stretch and now welcome the Mavericks high-powered offense, which has averaged just over four scores per game during their current run of eight wins in nine games. The Mavs have had plenty of time to get healthy again as well after illness ravaged their roster, which forced the cancellation of its scheduled Dec. 13 game vs. Princeton.

Defense has been key for Northern Michigan this season and two goals allowed seems to be its magic number. When they hold opponents to two goals or less, the Wildcats are 8-1-2, but are winless (0-4-1) in games they’ve allowed more than that. Minnesota State has scored at least two goals in 16 of 17 games this season.

Alaska-Anchorage (5-7-4, 2-6-2) at Alabama-Huntsville (3-14-3, 2-10-0)

The Seawolves are kicking off the new year by making the 4,000-plus mile trip to Huntsville, Ala., to face the Chargers and are hoping to shake off their struggles from the end of 2014. UAA has just two wins in its last 12 games (2-7-3) stretching back to the end of October.

Alabama-Huntsville has proven that it’s no pushover this year, however. UAH has played teams tough, thanks in large part to great goaltending. It becomes dangerous when the offense can make those strong efforts stick. Unfortunately for the Chargers, strong offensive efforts have been few and far between. They’ve scored two or less goals 14 times this season, including 10 zero or one-goal outings. Huntsville is 3-1-2 when scoring more than two goals in a game.

Anchorage still has the potential to be a home ice team, but has to start picking up points to make that happen. To that end, the Seawolves’ renewed goal-scoring ability has been encouraging. After going cool for awhile, UAA’s offense has picked it up lately, scoring 11 goals in the team’s last three games (3.67 per game).

Ferris State (9-9-1, 6-4-0) at Alaska (10-8-0, 5-7-0)

Ferris State begins a two week stay in Alaska with a visit to a Fairbanks team that has proven it should not be taken lightly down the stretch despite its postseason ban.

The Nanooks have won five of their last eight in league play, including an upset of Minnesota State on the road. Junior forward Tyler Morley has been a big part of that. He’s been on fire recently with four goals and six points in Alaska’s last three games.

The Bulldogs have been good recently against WCHA competition as well, with five wins in their last six. Overall, though, Ferris State has lost three of its last five games, including struggles versus Alabama-Huntsville and Wisconsin. The team’s ups and downs have been well-documented this season, but series like this are the kind the Bulldogs have to have as they strive to secure home ice advantage for the playoffs. Points will be at a premium for Ferris State beginning this weekend, which kicks off a brutal stretch in its schedule. FSU hasn’t been great away from home this season (3-6-1, including neutral site games) and eight of its next 10 games are on the road.

Non-Conference:

No. 5 Michigan Tech (14-4-0, 10-2-0) at Wisconsin (1-10-1, 0-2-0 Big Ten)

Two old WCHA rivals renew acquaintances in Madison with their traditional roles reversed. The Badgers have had their fair share of success against Michigan Tech in 154 all-time meetings,  boasting a .636 win percentage (including .723 at home), but this time the Huskies visit a one-win Wisconsin team as the No. 5-ranked team in the country.

After rattling off 10-straight wins to start the season, Michigan Tech is .500 (4-4) in its last eight games, but has still shown off the strengths that make it dangerous, including a stout defense that ranks No. 4 in the country. The Huskies have conceded just 14 times in their last eight games and have given up more than two goals just three times on the year, which doesn’t bode well for an underclassmen-laden Badgers team that struggles mightily on offense.

No. 13 Bowling Green (11-3-2, 8-1-1) vs./at No. 19 Robert Morris (12-3-3, 9-2-3 Atlantic Hockey)

The highlight of this top-20 series is the outdoor game on Saturday night at Fifth Third Field in Toledo, Ohio. It will be the first outdoor game in Bowling Green program history, assuming the weather cooperates (80 percent chance of rain). The teams will return indoors for the series finale on Sunday at the Colonials’ barn.

BGSU will be better-rested. The Falcons haven’t since a 5-0 win at Northern Michigan on Dec. 6, while Robert Morris just played on Tuesday in the Three Rivers Classic, falling, 6-1, to Colgate. The Colonials come in having lost two of their last three games, while the Falcons are unbeaten in their last five.

Robert Morris can score with the best of them and is tied with Minnesota State for the nation’s most prolific offense (3.94 goals per game), but has tallied only three times in its last three contests. BGSU boasts a top-20 defense at 2.19 goals allowed per game. The Colonials loss to Colgate earlier this week was their only game versus a team of similar defensive caliber to the Falcons and they struggled.

Byes: Bemidji State, Lake Superior State

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