WCHA Weekend Preview, Feb. 6-7

Posted by: Ryan Evans

Nine of the WCHA’s 10 teams are in action this weekend with four conference and one non-conference series on the docket.

With just five weeks left in the season, Minnesota State and Michigan Tech have already locked up two of the league’s eight playoff spots. The battle for position among the remaining six should be fun to watch over the next few weeks. Three teams sit within five points of each other for fourth place and the last home ice advantage slot. While the three teams battling for the last two spots – Lake Superior State, Alabama-Huntsville, and Alaska-Anchorage – are separated by just two points in places No. 8-10, with the Seawolves as the team currently on the outside looking in.

Around the League: 

Alaska-Anchorage (7-13-4, 4-12-2 WCHA) at No. 1 Minnesota State (21-5-1, 17-2-1)

The top and the bottom of the league standings meet as the Mavericks and Seawolves clash in Mankato. These will be the Mavericks’ fifth and sixth games this season as the No. 1-ranked team in the country. They are 3-1-0 in the previous four.

Minnesota State has been close to unstoppable in conference play this season. It is unbeaten (8-0-1) in its last nine WCHA games and its plus-46 goals margin in league play is tied for the best in the conference. The Mavericks have won 16 of their last 19 overall.

Alaska-Anchorage is in a tough fight for the WCHA’s last playoff slot, but it’s not going to be easy to get there. Starting this weekend, three of the Seawolves’ next four series are against the top three teams in the conference and the fourth is against Bemidji State, which is playing arguably as well as anyone in the country right now. Throw in a rivalry series with Alaska and its going to be tough sledding for UAA, which has lost six of its last eight games in conference, to make the postseason.

Bemidji State (10-12-4, 6-8-4) at No. 5 Michigan Tech (20-7-1, 15-4-1)

This should be an entertaining clash between two streaking teams. There’s also a little added incentive on Winter Carnival weekend in Houghton, as the MacInnes Cup is on the line. It will be awarded to the team that scores the most total goals in the series.

With the way they have been putting pucks in the net, Michigan Tech has to like its chances of taking that trophy home. The Huskies have been red-hot offensively, scoring 23 goals in their past four games – including 16 last weekend against Alabama-Huntsville – and have averaged nearly five goals per game since the start of the second half.

That offense will be tested against Bemidji State, arguably the hottest team in the country. The Beavers are unbeaten in their last four games, all of which have come against opponents ranked in the top-10 and have lost just twice in their last 13 games (7-2-4). Freshman goaltender Michael Bitzer has been a big reason for that success. He has won six of his last eight starts and has a .943 save percentage and an NCAA-best three shutouts since mid-December.

Ferris State (11-15-1, 8-10-0) at No. 8 Bowling Green (15-6-5, 11-4-3)

This is the first of back-to-back meetings between these two teams. The Falcons and Bulldogs will meet again next weekend in Big Rapids.

Both teams come into this meeting licking their wounds a bit. Bowling Green has won just three of its last eight conference games, relegating it to the fringes of the WCHA title conversation, though they can close the gap with Michigan Tech for second place with a strong weekend. BGSU is coming off a weekend in which it took just one of four points from Bemidji State. It was the first time all season the Falcons failed to win a game in a series this season.

Ferris State, which is in a battle for home ice, was outscored, 10-2, last weekend against Minnesota State. It is in the midst of a four-game losing streak – all to Minnesota State – and has managed just one goal in each of those contests. The Bulldogs have owned this former-CCHA rivalry in recent years, though, losing just one of the last 10 regular season meetings and 19 of the last 23 overall, including nine of 11 and six straight on the road.

Lake Superior State (7-20-1, 6-14-0) at Alaska (12-13-1, 7-12-1)

The Lakers invade Fairbanks looking to continue their current form against a struggling Alaska team. Lake Superior State has won four of its last eight games after a horrible start, while the Nanooks are winless in their last six.

LSSU’s rebound couldn’t have come at a better point in the season. Tied with Alabama-Huntsville for eighth place with 12 points, the Lakers are in a tight battle for one of the league’s last postseason berths. Alaska-Anchorage is firmly in the rear view mirror as well, just two points back. Freshman goaltender Gordon Defiel has been instrumental in LSSU’s recent run of good form. Since Dec. 28 he boasts a .949 save percentage and 1.86 goals against average. He’s had to earn it too. No goalie in the country has faced more shots than Defiel this season.

Alaska’s recent struggles can be attributed to an inability to win close games. The Nanooks have lost four straight all by one goal and they held leads in two of those games.

These two teams played a wild series in Sault Ste. Marie back in November. LSSU lost an offensive track meet, 7-5, in the opener before salvaging a split with a 3-2 OT win in the finale.

Non-Conference: 

Northern Michigan (11-9-6, 8-8-4) at No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth (15-10-1, 9-6-1 NCHC)

The Wildcats head to Duluth for the final WCHA non-conference series of the season. NMU is 2-1-1 in non-WCHA non-conference games this season, while the Bulldogs have won two of five games this year against WCHA opponents.

Northern Michigan will be without sophomore goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom due to injury this weekend, making its task against a good UMD team even tougher this weekend. Without Dahlstrom between the pipes, NMU has won just one of five games this season. It’s suddenly-hot offense will have to compensate for Dahlstrom’s absence. The Wildcats are unbeaten in their last three games and have averaged over four goals per game in their last four. The defensive woes are still there, though. NMU has allowed 3.5 goals per game during its unbeaten run.

Minnesota-Duluth comes in having won just two of its last seven games. This will be the 71st and 72nd all-time meetings between these two schools, who were WCHA rivals for 13 seasons during the mid-1980s and late-1990s. The series is remarkably even at 33-33-4, though NMU head coach Walt Kyle has won just one of six games in his career against the Bulldogs.

Byes: Alabama-Huntsville (7-18-3, 6-14-0)

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