WCHA Weekend Preview, Jan. 8-10

Posted by: Ryan Evans

For just the second time this season all ten WCHA teams are in action this weekend, making for what should be an exciting week of league play. There are a number of series that are sure to have big effects on playoff positioning, as well as a couple of rivalry match-ups.

The series to watch is in Bowling Green, where the red-hot Falcons take on similarly streaking Alaska. Another fun one will be Alabama-Huntsville and Bemidji State renewing a rivalry that stretches two conferences and two divisions for a series that, for the first time in awhile, means something. As for the title race, Minnesota State heads into the weekend on top with 23 points, but both Michigan Tech and Bowling Green have the chance to make up some ground.

Hobey Baker Fan Voting: Seven WCHA players, from four different schools, are among the 59 candidates on the 2015 Hobey Baker Fan Ballot. This first phase of fan voting runs through Sunday, March 8, before the field gets whittled down to the ten finalists.

The nominees from the WCHA are: junior forward Bryce Gervais (Minnesota State), senior forward Tanner Kero (Michigan Tech), senior forward Jean-Paul LaFontaine (Minnesota State), senior forward Matt Leitner (Minnesota State), junior forward Tyler Morley (Alaska), senior goaltender CJ Motte (Ferris State), and junior goaltender Jamie Phillips (Michigan Tech).

Around the League

Lake Superior State (4-17-1, 3-11-0 WCHA) at No. 4 Minnesota State (14-4-1, 11-2-1)

The top and bottom of the WCHA standings collide as Lake Superior State, fresh off its Florida College Classic title, visits Minnesota State. The Mavericks are undefeated in four all-time meetings with the Lakers, including a dominating sweep earlier this season in which LSSU was outscored 10-0.

The Lakers do have some momentum, however, after a pair of good performances in Florida over the break. Freshman goaltender Gordon Defiel turned in a pair of sterling performances, turning away 67-of-68 shots (.985) in the tournament. The Stillwater, Minn., native has faced the most shots in the country so far this season (681) and will likely have to stand on his head again this weekend for the Lakers to have a chance. No team in the confernce averages more shots on goal per game than Minnesota State (34.05).

LSSU allows a lot of shots and gives up a lot of goals, which doesn’t bode well against the high-powered Mavericks’ deep group of forwards. MSU has scored the third-most goals in the nation (73) and will surely make life difficult for Defiel and the Lakers. Minnesota State has won nine of its last 11 games and is averaging over four goals per game during that stretch.

No. 8 Michigan Tech (15-5-0, 10-2-0) at/vs. Northern Michigan (8-6-4, 5-6-3)

The Huskies and Wildcats renew the Battle for the U.P. this weekend in a home-and-home series. Northern Michigan hosts Friday’s series opener before the series shifts to Houghton, Mich., for the finale.

Michigan Tech has stumbled a bit recently, going 3-3-0 in its last six games and 5-5-0 in the ten games since its ten game unbeaten run to start the year. The loss to Wisconsin last weekend doesn’t look great on the schedule, but it’s not anything for the Huskies to panic about either. The end results weren’t indicative of how MTU played. Tech was the dominant team against the Badgers, outshooting UW 87-43 in the series. Through everything, junior goaltender Jamie Phillips has been great. The Winnipeg Jets draft pick had a .947 save percentage last weekend and his overall stats remain among the best in the country. He’s been the team’s rock, starting all 20 games this season, and his emergence as an elite net minder has been a big reason why the Huskies find themselves in the thick of the WCHA race.

Northern Michigan has significantly slid back in the standings over the last month and now find themselves in the logjam of teams in the middle of the pack that will be fighting for home ice in the second half. The Wildcats are winless in their last six games, but did manage to salvage a valuable point against Minnesota State last weekend. Scoring continues to be a problem. NMU is averaging just under two goals per game in its current winless stretch. Take away their five goal outlier against Bowling Green on Dec. 5, and that average drops to around one.

Alaska (12-8-0, 7-7-0) at No. 11 Bowling Green (12-3-3, 8-1-1)

The Nanooks versus the Falcons pairs two of the hottest teams in the conference. Bowling Green is on a seven game unbeaten run (5-0-2), which is tied for the longest current streak in the country, while Alaska has won four straight and seven of its last ten.

BGSU is mired in the three-team race for the MacNaughton Cup and is positioned nicely at the moment. The Falcons have played the fewest league games in the conference, yet sit in third place with 17 points, which puts them three points behind second place Michigan Tech and six points back of the leaders, Minnesota State. Bowling Green has four games in hand on the Mavericks and two in hand on the Huskies. With the race heating up, BGSU had to be encouraged by its offensive output versus Robert Morris. Six different players notched a goal and ten registered at least one point. If that keeps up, the Falcons will be tough to beat.

Alaska has come a long way since being swept at home by Bowling Green back in November. The Nanooks have settled into their role as league spoiler and their list of wins includes a road upset of league-leading Minnesota State. This is a talented team and it’s unfortunate it won’t have a chance to show people that on the postseason stage, but UAF will still play a big role in the postseason picture. Junior forward Tyler Morley is one of the conference’s most dangerous offensive players and sophomore goaltender Davis Jones is coming off a 47-save weekend against Ferris State, including a 26-save shutout, that earned him WCHA Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Ferris State (9-11-1, 6-6-0) at Alaska-Anchorage (5-9-4, 2-8-2)

Ferris State continues its extended stay in The Last Frontier with a trip to Anchorage for a Thursday-Friday series between two teams who are trending in the wrong direction as the playoff race heats up. The Bulldogs come in having lost four straight and five of their last eight, while the Seawolves are winless in their last four and are just 1-8-2 in their last 11 games stretching back to the beginning of November.

For Ferris State, the toughest stretch of their schedule looms after this weekend, so it’s imperative to get points against UAA. The Bulldogs had their best showings of the season the last time these two played, demolishing the Seawolves 10-2 and 4-0 in Big Rapids in mid-November. Those two games account for nearly 30 percent of FSU’s total offensive output on the season. Ferris State is also hoping senior goaltender CJ Motte rebounds after a tough outing last Saturday. The Bulldogs rely heavily on him to win games, so it’s vital that he does bounce back.

After starting with four wins in its first six games, Alaska-Anchorage has become one of the coldest teams in college hockey, but have a chance to catch a team in Ferris State that hasn’t been good away from home this season. The Seawolves play their best hockey at home. Four of UAA’s five wins have come at Sullivan Arena and it scores more (2.88 per game vs. 1.25 on the road) and gives up less (2.00 at home vs. 3.75 on the road) in its own barn. The Bulldogs have won just three of 12 games away from home on the year.

Alabama-Huntsville (5-14-3, 4-10-0) at Bemidji State (5-10-3, 3-6-3)

A pair of old CHA rivals renew acquaintances in Bemidji for a series with postseason implications. There’s not as much at stake as the four times these two played for Div. II national titles in the 1990s, but the Chargers and Beavers do head into this weekend separated by just one point in the league standings.

Both teams come in with some momentum. Alabama-Huntsville swept Alaska-Anchorage last weekend – its first-ever sweep of a WCHA opponent – and is now unbeaten in its last three games (2-0-1). Likewise, Bemidji State is unbeaten in its last five (2-0-3), though the Beavers haven’t played since a 1-1 draw with Northern Michigan back on Dec. 13.

Sophomore goaltender Carmine Guerriero continues to stand on his head for the Chargers, stopping 58 shots in the two games versus the Seawolves. The offense has been better recently as well, averaging nearly three goals per game during their current three game unbeaten run. A big part of that has been the emergence of freshman forward Max McHugh, who leads all WCHA rookies in points with 15 (7+8) and has six points (3+3) in the Chargers’ last four games.

It has been awhile since this rivalry was relevant, but this weekend will have big implications for playoff positioning.

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