With Minnesota State at the North Star College Cup, both Michigan Tech and Bowling Green have a chance to close the eight-point lead the Mavericks have opened up at the top of the WCHA standings. The Falcons will also be looking to jump into second place. They come into the weekend just one point behind the Huskies.
Northern Michigan, coming off being swept by Alabama-Huntsville, will have to re-group without its head coach, Walt Kyle, who was placed on indefinite administrative leave by NMU athletic director Forrest Karr on Monday. No time frame was given for the leave and the reason for it has yet to be identified. NMU’s associate athletic director, Bridget Berube Carter, was also placed on leave. In Kyle’s stead, assistant coaches Rob Lehtinen and John Kyle will share the coaching duties this weekend at Penn State.
In other league news, three WCHA teams had recruits ranked among the top North American skaters and goaltenders in NHL Central Scouting’s 2015 midterm rankings: Forward Jacob Jaremko (No. 107, Minnesota State), forward Collin Peters (No. 128, Northern Michigan), and goaltender Ryan Bednard (No. 15 goalie, Bowling Green).
Also, be sure to check out CHN’s Jen Dobias’s feature, “A Reason to Play,” which looks at how Alaska is approaching this season in wake of the program’s NCAA-imposed postseason ban.
Around the League:
Lake Superior State (6-19-1, 5-13-0 WCHA) at No. 6 Bowling Green (14-4-4, 10-2-2)
Bowling Green welcomes Lake Superior State as it looks to close the gap between it and its two MacNaughton Cup rivals, while the improving Lakers look to continue the momentum generated by their sweep of Bemidji State a week ago.
The Falcons have been tough at home this season and haven’t lost there since mid-November. BGSU has one of the league’s best offenses and has scored at least three goals in 10 of its last 11 games, which bodes well against an LSSU team that ranks last in the league in scoring defense, allowing nearly four goals per game. However, since the start of the Florida College Classic, freshman goaltender Gordon Defiel has been on fire. He has posted a .950 save percentage and 1.81 goals against average in the last six games, in which the Lakers are 3-2-1.
Defiel will have to deal with BGSU freshman defender Mark Friedman, who is also heating up. Friedman has a point in three straight games and six of his last seven.
The Falcons have feasted on teams in the bottom half of the league standings this season, going 7-0-1 in eight games against the five teams currently ranked No. 6-10 in the WCHA.
Alaska (12-11-1, 7-10-1) at No. 10 Michigan Tech (16-7-1, 11-4-1)
After a solid showing last time out against Bowling Green, Michigan Tech continues its nine-game homestand with a visit from Alaska.
This is an important series for the Huskies, who are trying to hold off Bowling Green for the No. 2 spot in the WCHA while simultaneously trying to bridge the gap with Minnesota State at the top of the standings. With points at a premium, most teams would probably welcome an extended homestand, but Michigan Tech has struggled in its own barn this season with just five wins from 11 games. It won’t get any easier against an Alaska team that has shown it can compete with the league’s best.
Junior forward Alex Petan has been on a roll lately for the Huskies. He has multiple points in three of his last four games and 11 points total (2+9) in the last six.
The Nanooks come in reeling a bit after being swept at home by rival Alaska-Anchorage in the first leg of the battle for the Governor’s Cup. You can chalk that up to a bit of bad luck, though, as UAF more than doubled up UAA on shots, 83-40, in the series. The Nanooks just ran into a hot goaltender in the Seawolves’ Olivier Mantha, who was near-super human, turning away 80 of those 83 shots. Alaska will have to bounce back on the road, where they haven’t had much success this season. UAF is just 3-6-1 away from home. However, the Nanooks have taken at least one point from every top-25 team they have faced this season and have only been swept on the road once.
Northern Michigan (9-8-5, 6-8-4) at Penn State (11-7-3, 5-2-1 Big Ten)
After losing their head coach just a few days ago, and coming off a tough weekend, it is going to be interesting to see where the Wildcats’ heads are at as they travel to Hockey Valley for a non-conference tilt against a good Penn State team.
The Nittany Lions are the surprise leader in the Big Ten right now and boast a potent offense that ranks just outside the top-10 in the country at 3.33 goals per game. Junior forward Casey Bailey is tied for second among the nation’s goal-scorers with 16 on the season and plays on a line with senior Taylor Holstrom and sophomore David Goodwin that has a claim for the best forward group in the country. The three have combined for 31 goals and 71 points this season.
Penn State is unbeaten (2-0-1) in its last three games, but is winless (0-1-1) against WCHA opponents on the season.
With all that has gone on in the program this week, the Wildcats could be forgiven if their minds are elsewhere this weekend. However, NMU’s is reeling on the ice as well right now. It is coming off being swept by Alabama-Huntsville and managed just three goals in that series against one of the most porous defenses in the league. The Wildcats have now won just once in their last 10 games and have allowed 3.4 goals per game in that stretch, while scoring just 2.2 per game.
No. 1 Minnesota State (18-4-1, 15-2-1), Bemidji State (7-12-3, 5-8-3) at North Star College Cup
The Mavericks and Beavers take a break from WCHA play to fight for State of Hockey bragging rights at the second annual North Star College Cup. Bemidji State is making its first appearance after sitting out the inaugural tournament, while Minnesota State finished fourth with an 0-2 record last season, falling to Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State. The Mavericks face No. 17 Minnesota (11-7-2, 2-2-2 Big Ten) and the Beavers square off with No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth (13-8-1, 8-5-1 NCHC) in Friday night’s semifinals.
Despite being the top-ranked team in the country, Minnesota State comes in to the tournament with something to prove to the rest of the state. This tournament offers the chance for the Mavericks to show it belongs among the more historically prestigious schools in Minnesota. They come in as the hottest team in the country, are unbeaten in their last eight games (8-0-1), have won 13 of their last 15 games, and are ranked No. 1 for the second straight week. Minnesota State is 3-1-0 against Minnesota-Duluth and Bemidji State this season. The Gophers have dominated the all-time series versus the Mavericks, with a 35-10-6 record, including a sweep at Mariucci Arena last season.
Bemidji State will have to bounce back after being swept in a disastrous series against Lake Superior State last weekend. The Beavers have played top teams tough this season, though, so maybe the thrill of their first NSCC experience will be enough to turn those solid efforts into victories. Bemidji State is winless (0-4-0) against Minnesota and Minnesota State this season, but has won nine of its last 17 games against Minnesota-Duluth.
USA Under-18 Team (25-10-2) at Alabama-Huntsville (7-16-3, 6-12-0)
The Chargers welcome the U-18 team to the Von Braun Center for a two-game exhibition tilt. After sweeping Northern Michigan last weekend, UAH has won four straight games at home. The U-18 team is 3-6-2 against Div. I opponents this season, with wins over Miami, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. These are its first games against a WCHA team this year.
Ferris State, Alaska-Anchorage