WCHA Weekend Preview, Feb. 13-14

Posted by: Ryan Evans

The WCHA has a full slate of league play this weekend, with five conference series on the docket as the races for playoff positioning head toward the stretch run.

Minnesota State and Michigan Tech have already clinched home ice for the playoffs and Bowling Green can join them this weekend. The fourth spot it up for grabs though, with three teams — Northern Michigan, Ferris State, and Bemidji State — in the best positions to clinch it. Though, Lake Superior State and Alabama-Huntsville can put themselves in the conversation with strong showings this weekend.

With so many teams packed together in the middle of the standings, it’s looking like a lot will have to be decided on the final weekend of the season.

Two WCHA players — Michigan Tech senior forward Tanner Kero and Ferris State senior goaltender CJ Motte — have been named as finalists for the Senior CLASS Award. Players are nominated based on notable achievements in the community, in the classroom, in their character, and in competition. Fans can vote for the winner on the Senior CLASS website.

I apologize for the lack of a “Three Things” article after last weekend, luckily CHN has a lot of good WCHA content to check out: BGSU was featured as a the team of the week, and Jen Dobias wrote a great piece about Alabama-Huntsville’s return to relevance this season in her feature, “Southern Revival.”

In the Polls: No movement for any of the three teams in this week’s USCHO.com poll. Minnesota State remains the No. 1 team in the country, Michigan Tech joins them in the top-five at No. 5, and Bowling Green sits at No. 8. Bemidji State (1) is the only WCHA team receiving votes in this week’s poll.

In the Pairwise, the Mavericks remain No. 1, the Huskies jumped up a spot to No. 6, and the Falcons dropped a couple places to No. 8.

Around the League: 

No. 1 Minnesota State (23-5-1, 19-2-1 WCHA) at Alaska (14-13-1, 9-12-1)

Alaska is charged with slowing Minnesota State’s roll this weekend as the Mavericks continue their push for the MacNaughton Cup.

Minnesota State is unbeaten in its last 11 league games and has won 18 of its last 21 (18-2-1) overall. Its last conference loss, though, was to the Nanooks, who handed the Mavs a 5-4 (OT) setback in Mankato on Dec. 5. Junior forward Tyler Morley (2+0) and freshmen forwards Tayler Munson (1+2) and Austin Vieth (2+0) all had big games for UAF in that one. Vieth netted the OT-winner three minutes into the extra frame to seal the upset.

Since that loss, though, the Mavericks have been near-unbeatable. They are 11-1-1 since then and are averaging over four goals per game and have scored at least four goals in each of their last four contests. Minnesota State continues to show off impressive offensive depth. Four players — junior Teddy Blueger, senior Matt Leitner, sophomore Casey Nelson, and freshman Brad McClure — registered three-point weekends in MSU’s sweep of Alaska-Anchorage last weekend. Junior forward Bryce Gervais also has a four-game goal-scoring streak going for the Mavericks.

It is Senior Weekend in Fairbanks this weekend and Alaska will be keen to send their seven senior out on a positive note, especially considering there won’t be a postseason for the Nanooks. UAF snapped its six-game winless streak with a sweep of LSSU last time out and, historically, have won 13 of 15 meetings with Minnesota State at home.

No. 5 Michigan Tech (22-7-1, 17-4-1) at Alaska-Anchorage (7-15-4, 4-14-2)

Streaking Michigan Tech invades Anchorage to take on the Seawolves as it seeks every point possible in its pursuit of Minnesota State and the league title. The Huskies have won six-straight games, while Alaska-Anchorage have lost four straight and have won just twice in its lat 12 games.

The good news for Michigan Tech as it chases the MacNaughton Cup is that junior goaltender Jamie Phillips appears to have returned to his dominant early season form. After posting sub-.900 save percentage games in five of MTU’s first six league games in the second half, Phillips has rebounded with four-straight .915 or better games, including three where his save percentage was better than .960. Senior forward Tanner Kero is also on a roll for the Huskies. He has points in six straight and has five goals and 10 points total in that span.

With Minnesota State looming next week, Michigan Tech can’t be caught looking ahead. With four points separating them from the top of the standings and just a handful of weeks left in the season, the Huskies need all the points they can get. They’ve been great at picking up points on the road this season. Michigan Tech is unbeaten (8-0-1) on the road in league play and has won nine of 11 away from home overall.

The Seawolves are trying to avoid being the only team left out of the conference playoffs. They sit in 10th place with 10 points and are two points behind Lake Superior State and Alabama-Huntsville for the final spot in the postseason. UAA was scorched by the Mavericks last weekend, including managing just 12 shots on goal against 53 allowed in a 4-0 loss last Saturday. Anchorage has the benefit, though, of playing six of its last eight games at home, where it has enjoyed most of its success. Four of UAA’s seven wins on the season have come in Anchorage.

No. 8 Bowling Green (17-6-5, 13-4-3) at Ferris State (11-17-1, 8-12-0)

This is the second of back-to-back meetings between these two. Bowling Green swept Ferris State with a pair of one-goal, come from behind wins last weekend. More success like that and the Falcons can lock up a home ice spot this weekend.

While its early second half stumbles have probably cost it a shot at the league title, Bowling Green has some breathing room in third place and is still within striking distance of Michigan Tech in the No. 2 spot.

BGSU junior forward, and reigning WCHA Offensive Player of the Week, Ben Murphy was clutch in last weekend’s series, scoring the tying goals on both nights. It was just another example of the team’s “next man up” mentality up front. The Falcons haven’t had a go-to forward all season, but have done well with an offense by committee approach. They boast the No. 16-ranked scoring offense in the country despite having no players in the top-100 nationally in scoring and not one that has eclipsed the 20-point mark. What BGSU does have, though, is an impressive 12 players with double digit point totals.

After this weekend, Ferris State will gladly wave goodbye to a brutal stretch in its schedule. The Bulldogs are in the midst of an eight-game stretch versus teams ranked in the top-10 nationally, all against Minnesota State and Bowling Green. As a result, they’ve lost six straight and have been out-scored, 20-7, in that span. Despite those struggles, Ferris State is still in the thick of the home ice hunt, sitting just four points back of fourth place Northern Michigan.

FSU is unbeaten( 2-0-1) in its last three home meetings against Bowling Green, though the Falcons have won nine of 15 (9-3-3) games away from home this season.

Bemidji State (10-14-4, 6-10-4) at Northern Michigan (11-11-6, 8-8-4)

This series is rife with home ice implications. Northern Michigan is currently sitting in the No. 4 spot, but is just four points ahead of both Bemidji State and Ferris State. The Beavers are unbeaten (1-0-1) against the Wildcats this season.

NMU comes into this one winners of just two of its last eight and only three of its last 12, though it has won three of its last five in league play. The Wildcats offense has come alive in the second half, averaging nearly three goals per game in their last 12, but it has unfortunately coincided with the team’s defensive collapse. In that same 12-game span, Northern Michigan is allowing just under four goals per game. It will also again be without sophomore goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom (lower body injury) this weekend. The Wildcats have won just once in seven tries this season when Dahlstrom doesn’t start.

Bemidji State saw its four-game unbeaten run end at the hands of Bowling Green last weekend, and will be eager to get back on track as it chases home ice. Home ice advantage may mean more to the Beavers than any other team in the conference. BSU has just one win in 13 true road games this season (1-10-2). They took three of four points from Northern Michigan the last time these two met, and similar results would be huge at this point in the season for the Beavers. Junior forward Cory Ward has been hot recently, scoring a point in five of Bemidji’s last seven games. He has two goals and five points total in that span.

Alabama-Huntsville (7-18-3, 6-14-0) at Lake Superior State (7-22-1, 6-16-0)

Playoff implications are everywhere in the WCHA this weekend, including in this series between two teams near the bottom of the standings. The Chargers and Lakers come in tied for eighth place with 12 points, just two points ahead of Alaska-Anchorage in the league cellar. A sweep for either of these teams this weekend could vault them as high as sixth place.

Neither of these teams score much, but both do boast goalies capable of winning games on their own. In the 10 games since the start of the Florida College Classic, LSSU freshman keeper Gordon Defiel has an insane .950 save percentage all while facing an average of 35.8 shots on goal per game. As a result, the Lakers have four wins in their last 10 games after winning only three times through the first 20 games of the season. On the other side, UAH sophomore Carmine Guerriero ranks third in the WCHA, and is tied for No. 19 nationally, with a .926 save percentage. He’s coming off a pair of tough outings against Michigan Tech, though, allowing nine goals on 65 shots on the weekend and was pulled in the second period of the Chargers’ 11-1 loss on Jan. 31.

Despite LSSU and Alabama-Huntsville ranking No. 10 and No. 9, respectively, in the league in scoring offense, both teams boast forwards capable of making an impact this weekend. Lakers sophomore forward Stephen Perfetto has five points (3+2) in his last games and UAH freshman Max McHugh scored five points (2+3) over the team’s four January series. McHugh’s season point total (17) is also the most for an Alabama-Huntsville player since Matt Baxter scored 22 in 2010-11.

These two teams split earlier in the season in Huntsville. While LSSU has won six of the 10 all-time meetings, the Chargers have only lost once in four games in Sault Ste. Marie.

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