Three Things I Think: WCHA, Nov. 25

Posted by: Ryan Evans

The big news in the WCHA this past weekend was Michigan Tech’s fall from the ranks of the undefeated. The Huskies were swept at home by Minnesota State in a pair of tight games, ending MTU’s 10-0-0 run to start the season.

They were the close, defensive type of games that Tech has won all season, but the Mavericks found a way to get it done. Michigan Tech was either tied or led heading into the third period of both games, but the Mavericks outscored MTU 4-1 in the final frame in the series. to secure the program’s first sweep of a No. 1-ranked team in its history.

As a result, the Huskies toppled from the top spot in the national polls down to No. 6. Minnesota State, which has won four straight and seven of its last eight, moved up two spots to No. 7. Bowling Green moved up three spots to No. 15 after sweeping Bemidji State, while a split with Alaska-Anchorage moved Northern Michigan down two spots to No. 19. Ferris State, which split with Alabama Huntsville, is the only WCHA team receiving votes in the poll (4).

College Hockey News also released the KRACH ratings this week and the WCHA boasts three teams in the top-10, including No. 1-ranked Minnesota State. Michigan Tech follows at No. 4 and Bowling Green is at No. 6. Next closest is Bemidji State at No. 21, followed by Ferris State (No. 29), Northern Michigan (No. 33), Alaska (No. 38), Alaska-Anchorage (No. 42), Alabama-Huntsville (No. 50), and Lake Superior State (No. 54).

Rapid Weekend Recap: Minnesota State stated its case as the league’s top team, sweeping Michigan Tech in a pair of close games in Houghton. Bowling Green kept pace at the top of the standings, sweeping Bemidji State. The Falcons have now won six of their last seven games. Alabama-Huntsville and Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Alaska, and Northern Michigan and Alaska-Anchorage all split their series to further clog the middle of the conference standings.

(After the jump: My three stars of the weekend in the WCHA and a few thoughts on what went down.)

Three Stars of the Week (Nov. 21-22)

1.) Olivier Mantha, Alaska-Anchorage freshman goaltender

The rookie was spectacular in the Seawolves’ split with Northern Michigan, turning aside 52-of-53 shots in two games, including the first shutout of his collegiate career with a 28-save effort on Saturday.

2.) Chad McDonald, Ferris State sophomore forward

McDonald stayed hot offensively, collecting two goals and four points in the Bulldogs’ split with Alabama-Huntsville. In Ferris State’s 5-2 win on Saturday, McDonald tied the game at one with a shorthanded tally, before notching the game winner in the third. He now has eight points in his last four games.

3.) Jean-Paul LaFontaine, Minnesota State senior forward

LaFontaine came alive in crunch time of the Mavericks’ sweep-clinching win over then-No. 1 Michigan Tech on Saturday night. He was involved in both of Minnesota State’s goals in the third period that put the game away, assisting on Matt Leitner’s goal that broke at 1-1 tie, before scoring what proved to be the game-winner.

Three Thoughts

WCHA Race Should be Fun to Watch

The Michigan Tech-Minnesota State series has further convinced me this season’s WCHA race is going to be just as good, if not better, than last year’s down to the wire finish.

Right now the three teams as the top – the Huskies, Mavericks, and Bowling Green – are neck and neck at the top of the standings. Michigan Tech still sits on top with 16 points from 10 conference games, but Minnesota State and the Falcons aren’t far behind in a tie for second with 14 points from eight contests.

Minnesota State made a big statement to the league, and the nation for that matter, against Michigan Tech and have now won seven of its past eight after starting the season 2-2. Who was the only team to beat them in that stretch? It was Bowling Green, which, at 10-3-1, is off to the program’s best start in almost 20 years.

Michigan Tech’s credentials this season are well-documented, but, after being swept at home, it will be interesting to see how the Huskies deal to their first adversity of the season.

Last season’s WCHA race was a fight to the very last day of the season. Ferris State beat out Minnesota State by just a single point. If the early results are any indication, this year’s WCHA three-team title chase should be one of the nation’s best.

Middle of the Pack Just as Intriguing

While Minnesota State, Michigan Tech, and Bowling Green have separated themselves from the pack, the rest of the league is a log jam. Only four points separate the six teams sitting in fourth through seventh place, which sets up a close race for home ice advantage later this season.

Northern Michigan seems to be the “best of the rest” in the WCHA and are tied with Ferris State with eight points, albeit with two fewer conference games played than the Bulldogs. The Wildcats’ defense and goaltending needs to remain elite if they hope to compete. NMU’s 4-0 loss to UAA on Saturday showed us what will happen if that doesn’t happen. Overall, Northern Michigan managed just one goal against a Seawolves’ defense which gave up 14 goals to Ferris State the week before.

Rebounds from Alabama-Huntsville and Lake Super State’s this month have further clouded the middle of the pack. The Chargers have already surpassed their win total from last season and are 3-2-1 in their last six outings after a 0-7-1 start. After a winless start of their own, the Lakers have three wins in their past five. UAH and LSSU have won some tough games over those stretches. If they can keep it up, they’ll be right in the thick of the playoff race.

Ferris State Searching for Consistency

After their breakout offensive performance against Alaska-Anchorage two weekends ago, the Bulldogs looked ready to put their early season woes behind them and jump back into the conference hunt. They still have the capability to do that, but splitting with Alabama-Huntsville at home isn’t a step in the right direction.

Ferris State’s five goal output on Saturday was encouraging, but managing just two goals the night before against a defensively weak Chargers team is enough for doubt to linger about the team’s offense in my mind. What is good to see, if you’re a Bulldogs fan, is the team shot 9.59 percent on 73 shots against UAH, which is in line with its output from last season when FSU was the WCHA’s second-best scoring team.

Ferris State has to be excited about the emergence of McDonald over its last four games as well. The Bulldogs badly need younger players to step up and contribute offensively, and McDonald looks ready to lead the way. He seems to be a catalyst for the team’s success. Ferris Stats is undefeated (4-0-0) this season when McDonald scores a goal and has four wins in the five games he has registered at least one point.

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