Three Things I Think: WCHA, Dec. 9Posted by: Ryan Evans
With four overtime games, high-scoring contests, upsets and near-upsets, it was a pretty exciting weekend of hockey in the WCHA. After the dust settled, Minnesota State emerged in a tie with Michigan Tech at 20 points apiece at the top of the standings. Bowling Green remains right behind them with 17 points. All three of those teams will resume conference play next month.
Rapid Recap: Alaska ended No. 2 Minnesota State’s six game winning streak with a 5-4 OT win on Friday before junior forward Dylan Margonari’s hat trick on Saturday salvaged a split for the Mavericks. Bowling Green went on the road an took three of four points from Northern Michigan, drawing a high-scoring, 5-5, battle in the opener before blowing out NMU, 5-0. Bemidji State and Alaska-Anchorage split a pair of ties and Lake Superior State gave North Dakota all it could handle, but was swept.
In the Polls: In the latest USCHO.com rankings, the Mavericks dropped a spot to No. 3, idle Michigan Tech moved up to No. 4, Bowling Green jumped to No. 13, and Northern Michigan dropped out of the top-20. Two WCHA teams are receiving votes: the Wildcats (51) and Ferris State (3). The WCHA is the only conference in the country with two teams ranked in the top five.
The WCHA also has three teams in the top 10 of College Hockey News’ first official look at the PairWise. Minnesota State is No. 1, followed by Michigan Tech at No. 5, and Bowling Green at No. 8. The rest of the league ranks as followed: Alaska (No. 25), Northern Michigan (No. 29), Bemidji State (No. 37), Ferris State (No. 39), Alaska-Anchorage (No. 41), Alabama-Huntsville (No. 45), and Lake Superior State (No. 54).
(After the jump: My three stars of the weekend and three thoughts on what went down)
WCHA Three Stars of the Weekend (Dec. 6-7)
1. Brett Cameron, Alaska-Anchorage senior forward
Cameron scored all four goals in the Seawolves’ 4-4 tie with Bemidji State on Saturday. The performance marked the single game high for an NCAA player this season. More impressive was the variety of ways he scored: shorthanded, power play, 5-on-5, and 4-on-4.
2. Tyler Morley, Alaska junior forward
Morley netted three goals on the road against then-No. 2 Minnesota State, including two in the Nanooks 5-4 OT upset on Friday that snapped the Mavericks’ six game win streak.
3. Dylan Margonari, Minnesota State junior forward
Margonari’s hat trick in Minnesota State’s 5-2 win on Saturday, which included the game-winner, helped the Mavericks salvage a split with Alaska. It was the fourth hat trick by the fourth different MSU player this season and was the first of Margonari’s career.
Minnesota State’s Forward Depth Continues to Impress
Once again, Minnesota State reminded the WCHA that it has the deepest, most potent group of forwards in the conference as the Mavericks’ offensive proficiency was on full display once again against Alaska.
Seemingly every weekend it is someone new pouring in the offense for Minnesota State. Against the Nanooks it was Margonari, who collected the team’s fourth hat trick in 12 games this season. He was the fourth different Maverick to see the hats fall this season. Junior forwards Bryce Gervais, Brett Knowles, and Teddy Blueger have also scored three in a game.
We knew coming into the season that the Mavericks were returning a lot of firepower with players like senior forwards Matt Leitner and Jean-Paul LaFontaine leading the way, but the secondary scoring they’ve found has put them on a whole other level of dangerous. Six different players scored MSU’s nine goals against Alaska. Overall, six Minnesota State players are among the WCHA’s top-10 scoring leaders and five of the team’s top-six forwards already boast double digit point totals.
Don’t Sleep on Bowling Green
Bowling Green continues to prove that it is a legitimate contender for the WCHA and a spot in the national tournament this season. The Falcons went on the road to face a tough Northern Michigan defense and lit it up for 10 goals in the series.
While sophomore forward Kevin Dufour has cooled significantly since his red-hot start, the rest of the BGSU offense has stepped up. Against the Wildcats, who came into the series as the top-ranked defense in the country, six different Bowling Green players scored a goal and 12 registered at least one point. The Falcons seem to have a “next man up” mentality up front. Every weekend it is someone else stepping up to provide the offense.
The defense did well to bounce back and shutout Northern Michigan on Saturday after tying its season high with five goals allowed on Friday. In goal, freshman Chris Nell stepped in for junior Tommy Burke after the latter’s shaky outing in the opener and played well. Nell turned away all 26 shots he faced for his second shutout and fifth win in five starts this season.
The biggest question for Bowling Green coming into the season was if its goaltending would reach the elite level needed to compete in the WCHA. Burke has gotten the lion’s share of starts so far but, as head coach Chris Bergeron has said, Nell wasn’t brought in to sit on the bench. Bergeron believes the competition between the two has brought out the best in each so far, but how that competition eventually shakes out will be an intriguing storyline to watch in the second half.
All Tied Up at the Top
Last season’s WCHA title race between Minnesota State and Ferris State came down to the final weekend of the season. If the first half is any indication, this year’s chase will be just as, if not more, exciting to watch.
All three teams at the top of the standings – Minnesota State, Michigan Tech, and Bowling Green – have finished their first half slate of conference games, and have done so separated by just three points in the standings. Northern Michigan is hanging on at the fringes of the title conversation with 11 points – six behind BGSU and nine behind the leaders – but probably doesn’t have the firepower to keep up now that its defense is beginning to show cracks.
The most important thing for a conference trying to re-build its image is that it has three teams that look like bonafide NCAA Tournament contenders. The league certainly appears to be trending in the right direction under first year commissioner Bill Robertson.