- Playoff Chase Comes Down to This: Befitting the highly-competitive nature that is a men's Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) hallmark, the league enters the final weekend of the 2016-17 regular season with five teams alive for three spots in the WCHA Tournament. While Bemidji State has already won the MacNaughton Cup as league champions and three teams have clinched home ice for the quarterfinal round of the 2017 WCHA Playoffs, only the Beavers' top seed is set.
- Michigan Tech and Minnesota State have wrapped up quarterfinal round home ice, but are still battling for the No. 2 seed. The second-place Huskies will be the second seed with any combination of four points and/or Mavericks points lost. Should the teams tie, Minnesota State owns the tiebreaker by virtue of capturing eight points in the head-to-head series (2-1-1-1).
- While Bowling Green cannot catch the Huskies or Mavericks, it controls its own fate in regards to securing the fourth seed and home ice for the quarterfinals. The Falcons and Ferris State are tied, but BGSU owns the tiebreaker by virtue of most conference wins in regulation or 5-on-5 overtime, if both teams sweep this weekend. The most conference wins tiebreaker also gives BGSU the head-to-head edge over both Alaska and Lake Superior State.
- Four points separate the current fifth- through eighth-place teams, with the Nanooks, Lakers and Northern Michigan all controlling their own destiny to advance. Ninth-place Alabama Huntsville trails the Wildcats by just a single point for the final postseason spot. Tenth-place Alaska Anchorage is five points out of eighth and, since the Seawolves do not own any tiebreakers, they are eliminated with any point lost, any point won or any two points won by UAH.
- Michaelis and Brickley Go for History in Tight Scoring Race: Only two freshmen in league history -- and none in 46 years -- have won the WCHA scoring race (league games only since 1962-63), but Minnesota State rookie Marc Michaelis (26 points) enters the final weekend just a point behind Ferris State senior Gerald Mayhew (who leads with 27, despite missing an entire series due to injury). Meanwhile, it has been 20 seasons since a blue-liner topped the scoring charts, but Maverick sophomore defenseman Daniel Brickley has amassed 25 points despite missing a full six league contests with injury.
- The last WCHA freshman to lead the league in scoring was Denver's Vic Venasky in the 1970-71 season. John Andrews is the only other rookie to accomplish the feat, doing so for Colorado College in 1955-56 (during a time in which the WCHA recognized its overall scoring champ).
- The only two defensemen to wear the WCHA scoring crown were a pair of Minnesota Golden Gophers -- the legendary Lou Nanne (1962-63) and another future NHL player, Mike Crowley (1996-97).
- Bemidji State Raises the Cup: Bemidji State has clinched the 2016-17 WCHA regular season championship, earning the Beavers' first MacNaughton Cup since they joined the league for the 2010-11 season (and 22nd regular season conference crown in program history).
- Bemidji State swept its opening weekend of WCHA play (Oct. 7-8), won its first eight league games and was undefeated in its first 13 contests (12-0-1). The Beavers' Oct. 8 win over Bowling Green gave them six points and a first-place tie with Alabama Huntsville (also 2-0-0); meaning that, aside from a bye week on the opening weekend of league play (Oct. 1-2), BSU held at least a share of first place after every WCHA weekend in which it competed.
By the Numbers
- 6: Categories in which Hobey Baker Award candidate, Michael Bitzer of Bemidji State, ranks among the top-10 nationally: goals-against avg. (first at 1.70), starts (first with 33), minutes (first with 1981:04), shutouts (tied for first with five), wins (tied for fifth with 19) and save percentage (sixth at .931).
- 339:05: WCHA record scoreless streak, the second-longest in NCAA history, by Northern Michigan goaltender Atte Tolvanen. The streak, which was snapped last Friday, spanned parts of seven games, including a WCHA-record five-straight shutouts (tying the all-time NCAA Division I men's mark).
- 700: Wins in Ferris State program history. The Bulldogs reached the milestone with last Saturday's 2-0 shutout of visiting Alaska Anchorage.
The Week Ahead
- Alaska at Alaska Anchorage: As per recent tradition, the Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup will have significant postseason implications. The host Seawolves need to sweep and get some help to keep their playoff dreams alive. The Nanooks are slightly more comfortable with a four-point lead on ninth-place Alabama Huntsville, but are also within striking distance of home ice.
- Minnesota State at Bemidji State: Minnesota rivals close out the regular season at the Sanford Center. While the Beavers already have the MacNaughton Cup, they are going for their first 20-win campaign since 2009-10 (23-10-4 en route to the NCAA Tournament). The Mavericks are playing for a shot at the No. 2 seed for the 2017 WCHA Tournament.
- Alabama Huntsville at Bowling Green: Much is at stake for the Chargers and Falcons in the final regular season series. UAH trails Northern Michigan by one point for the eighth and final spot in the WCHA Tournament, while Bowling Green can wrap up home ice for the quarterfinals.
- Ferris State at Lake Superior State: In keeping with this crazy final weekend, the Bulldogs are tied for the final quarterfinal round home ice slot, while the Lakers are clear of ninth place by just three points (yet, can still vault all the way to fourth with a sweep and help elsewhere).
- Michigan Tech vs. Northern Michigan: Perhaps the WCHA's most intense rivalry, this home-and-home can potentially decide the postseason's No. 2 seed and final participant. The Wildcats have a one-point lead over UAH for eighth, while the Huskies are three points ahead of Minnesota State for second.
The Week in Review
- Alaska earned four WCHA points, but visiting Lake Superior State used a third-period rally to earn a crucial tie (and extra point in 3-on-3 overtime) in Saturday's series finale.
- Ferris State jumped into a tie for fourth place - and the final home ice slot for the 2017 WCHA Tournament - following a sweep of visiting Alaska Anchorage.
- Minnesota State's offense exploded for 12 goals, ending Northern Michigan goaltender Atte Tolvanen's run at history and propelling the host Mavericks to a sweep.
- Full recaps, box scores and select video highlights are available at wcha.com.
at Alaska 4, Lake Superior State 2
Lake Superior State 3, at Alaska 3 - OT (LSSU scores in 3-on-3 overtime)
(Feb. 17 and 18 at Carlson Center; Fairbanks, Alaska)
Alaska earned four WCHA points, but visiting Lake Superior State used a third-period rally to earn a crucial tie (and extra point in 3-on-3 overtime) in Saturday's series finale.
In the opener, the Nanooks used a strong last two periods to earn a series-opening win. After Gus Correale put the Lakers on the board first, UAF freshman Tyler Cline tied the game up early in the second. The Nanooks proceeded to score three more unanswered goals off the sticks of Colton Leiter, Ryker Leer and Marcus Basara en route to a 4-2 triumph.
Alaska again looked strong early in Saturday's contest, as Josh Erickson, Justin Woods and Cline all scored in the first period for a 3-1 lead at intermission. After a scoreless middle frame, the Lakers came roaring back as freshman Max Humitz started the third-period comeback with his 13th goal of the season. Anthony Nellis scored the tying goal with just 3:11 remaining in regulation, sending the game into overtime knotted at 3-3. The teams skated through a scoreless 5-on-5 extra session, before freshman Luke Morgan scored in 3-on-3 OT to give the Lakers a valuable extra point.
at Ferris State 2, Alaska Anchorage 1
at Ferris State 3, Alaska Anchorage 0
(Feb. 17 and 18 at Ewigleben Ice Arena; Big Rapids, Mich.)
Ferris State jumped into a tie for fourth place - and the final home ice slot for the 2017 WCHA Tournament - following a sweep of visiting Alaska Anchorage.
Friday night, the Bulldogs kept the offense in the Seawolves end of the ice throughout the contest, outshooting the visitors 39-11 (including 27-3 over the final 40 minutes) en route to a 2-1 victory. The teams remained scoreless until the Bulldogs' Corey Mackin scored a power-play goal 36 seconds into the second period. The Seawolves tied things up later in the period on a Jarrett Brown goal, but Ferris State's Trevor Recktenwald scored the game-winner at the 15:04 mark. The Bulldogs held UAA to just a single shot on goal in the third period.
The Bulldogs kept up the firepower in the finale, throwing 53 shots on net. Mackin led the way with two goals in the first period as the Bulldogs earned the sweep with a 3-0 shutout. Seawolves goaltender Oliver Mantha held off the rush with 50 saves in the losing effort, while on the other end Darren Smith finished with 23 stops for his fifth career shutout.
at Minnesota State 5, Northern Michigan 3
at Minnesota State 7, Northern Michigan 5
(Feb. 17 and 18 at Verizon Wireless Center; Mankato, Minn.)
Minnesota State's offense exploded for 12 goals, ending Northern Michigan goaltender Atte Tolvanen's run at history and propelling the host Mavericks to a sweep.
The Mavericks opened a two-goal lead after the first period Friday night and carried that momentum to a 5-3 victory. Carrying a five-game shutout streak into the contest, Tolvanen conceded a goal to Zeb Knutson at the 3:26 mark in the opening period, ending his WCHA-record scoreless streak at 339:05. Parker Tuomie and Max Coatta each scored before intermission as the Mavs were up 3-1 after 20 minutes. Northern Michigan's Dominik Shine cut the lead to one with his 17th goal of the season at 12:07 of the second period, but 58 seconds later, Minnesota State freshman Nick Rivera scored a short-handed tally. Brad McClure added a goal for the Mavericks in the third period, offsetting the second goal of the night by the Wildcats' Zach Diamantoni.
The Mavericks continued to put the heat on the NMU defense the next night, firing 48 shots on goal in a high-scoring, 7-4 victory. After the teams traded goals throughout the first, Minnesota State's Zach Stepan put his team up 3-2 heading into the locker room. Knutson continued the hot hand with his 12th score of the season for 4-2 advantage 2:10 into the second period. The teams traded scores - including a goal by Rivera that eventually stood as his second game-winner of the weekend - before NMU's Troy Loggins cut the lead to just one heading into the final period. From there, Minnesota State forwards C.J. Franklin and Marc Michaelis put the game away as the Mavs completed the sweep. Diamantoni collected three assists for the Wildcats.