- Beavers Closing in on Cup: Following a sweep last weekend of second-place Michigan Tech, league-leading Bemidji State has a magic number of three points (either Beavers points earned or Huskies points lost) to clinch the program's first-ever MacNaughton Cup as men's Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) regular season champions.
- Bemidji State clinches a co-championship, and thus No. 1 seed for the 2017 WCHA Tournament, with two points (either BSU points earned or MTU points lost). The Beavers hold the tiebreaker over the Huskies due to a 3-1-0 advantage in the season head-to-head series.
- The Puck Stops Here: Bemidji State junior goaltender Michael Bitzer, a Hobey Baker Award candidate, leads the NCAA with a 1.61 goals-against average, 18 wins and five shutouts (tied). The workhorse is also tops nationally with 31 games (and starts), and 1863:23 in the BSU net. Finally, Bitzer ranks sixth in the country with a .935 save percentage and 723 saves.
- Wildcats on the Prowl: Northern Michigan has a seven-game unbeaten streak (5-0-2), tied for the second-longest active run in the country. The Wildcats, who earned a WCHA shootout win following one of the ties, have gained 18 league points since Jan. 7 to move within two points of Alabama Huntsville for the eighth and final playoff spot.
- Behind the sensational play of sophomore goaltender Atte Tolvanen, NMU has allowed an NCAA-best 1.00 goals-per-game over the last month. Tolvanen leads the country since Jan. 7 with a 0.98 goals-against average and .966 save percentage (200-for-207). The Finn has posted three-straight shutouts, while his scoreless streak stands at a school-record 215:42.
- Playoff Chase Continues: Three of the eight teams that will advance to the 2017 WCHA Playoffs are determined, with Bemidji State, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State clinching spots. The Beavers and Huskies have secured home ice for the quarterfinal round, while BSU has locked up a top-two seed, and thus the Sanford Center, through the semifinals (should the Beavers advance that far). Tight races still abound throughout the league. For example:
- A mere two points separate eighth-place Alabama Huntsville from ninth-place Northern Michigan, just three points are the space between the four teams currently clumped in fifth through eighth place, while eight points can mean the difference between fifth place or 10th.
- Minnesota State is still within striking distance of a top-two seed, trailing Michigan Tech by six. Bowling Green, currently in fourth, can catch the Mavericks for third or fall completely out of the playoff picture. Alaska is eight points out of a home ice slot with four games in hand on Bowling Green, while Ferris State and Lake Superior State are nine back of the Falcons (also with four games in hand).
- Fantastic Freshmen: The WCHA has seen a bevy of excellent performances by first-year skaters this season.
- Offensively, Minnesota State's Marc Michaelis leads all NCAA freshmen with 33 points (12g-21a) and is sixth with an average of 1.10 points-per-game. Michaelis and Lake Superior State's Max Humitz lead WCHA rookies with 12 goals, tied for the fourth-most nationally.
- Lake Superior State defenseman Collin Saccoman leads all NCAA skaters with 79 blocked shots and 2.82 blocks-per-game.
- Michigan Tech goaltender Angus Redmond ranks second nationally with a 1.72 goals-against average and 13th with a .922 save percentage. Ferris State netminder Justin Kapelmaster's .941 save percentage is the NCAA's second-best, while he ranks 10th with a 1.99 GAA.
- Tradition Starts Here: Four (4) of the nation's top-15 winningest teams over the past three seasons play in the WCHA - tied with Hockey East for the highest representation among that upper 25% of programs of any D-I conference since realignment (the NCHC has three teams, ECAC Hockey has two and both Atlantic Hockey and the Big Ten has a single program apiece).
- Minnesota State ranks fourth nationally over the last three-and-a-half seasons with 92 wins, Michigan Tech ranks 12th with 82, Bowling Green is 14th with 77 and Ferris State is 15th with 76.
By the Numbers
- 3: Consecutive shutouts for Northern Michigan, a program record. The Wildcats have not allowed a goal in 215:49 (:07 of empty-net time).
- 70: Consecutive games that Bemidji State had trailed entering the third period and not won (0-61-9), prior to the Beavers erasing a 2-1 deficit Friday to defeat Michigan Tech, 4-2. BSU had not overcome a deficit entering the final stanza to win since Feb. 10, 2012.
- 12: NCAA-best goals scored since Dec. 1 by NMU senior forward Dominik Shine, who also leads the country with 1.00 goals-per-game since Jan. 1.
- 150: Consecutive games played by Ferris State senior defenseman Ryan Lowney - every contest the Bulldogs have had since he arrived on campus.
The Week Ahead
- Bemidji State at Alabama Huntsville: The Beavers control their own destiny, as a win in regulation or 5-on-5 overtime gives BSU the MacNaughton Cup. The Chargers picked up a huge win last Saturday in Fairbanks to remain in eighth place. This is the lone regular season series between these teams, whose rivalry dates to their 1990s D-II national championship matchups and extends through both College Hockey America and the WCHA.
- Ferris State at Michigan Tech: One of the best annual events on the WCHA calendar, as the Huskies host the Bulldogs on Winter Carnival weekend in Houghton. Michigan Tech is looking to secure a top-two seed for the league playoffs, while Ferris State - currently tied for sixth - can still climb into home-ice contention. The teams last met in the semifinals of the 2016 WCHA Final Five, a 1-0 FSU victory.
- Alaska Anchorage at Lake Superior State: Key points are on the line in the Soo, as the Lakers are tied for sixth place with 29 points, while the Seawolves sit five points shy of postseason position. This is the only regular season series between the schools.
- Alaska at Northern Michigan: Another UP series with huge playoff implications. The Nanooks are within striking distance of home-ice, while the streaking Wildcats are just two points out of eighth place. The teams have yet to skate against each other this season.
The Week in Review
- League–leading Bemidji State moved within three points of clinching the program's first-ever MacNaughton Cup following a sweep of visiting Michigan Tech.
- Red-hot Northern Michigan ran its unbeaten streak to seven games, riding the stellar work of goaltender Atte Tolvanen to consecutive shutouts in a road sweep at Bowling Green.
- Alaska Anchorage and visiting Minnesota State both earned three points following a weekend split.
- Alaska and visiting Alabama Huntsville both earned crucial points in the race for the postseason, winning a game apiece in Fairbanks.
- Full recaps, box scores and select video highlights are available at wcha.com.
at Bemidji State 4, No. 20 Michigan Tech 2
at Bemidji State 3, No. 20 Michigan Tech 0
(Feb. 3 and 4 at Sanford Center; Bemidji, Minn.)
League–leading Bemidji State moved within three points of clinching the program's first-ever MacNaughton Cup following a sweep of visiting Michigan Tech.
Friday night, it looked like the No. 20 Huskies might have the upper hand, as goals by Mitch Reinke and Cliff Watson gave Tech a 2-1 lead head into the third period. But, Bemidji State turned up the offensive pressure and scored three unanswered goals in the final stanza en route to a 4-2 victory. Mike Soucier tied the game 3:45 into the period with his second goal of the night, and just over two minutes later, Leo Fitzgerald gave the Beavers their first lead of the night. The Huskies made an aggressive run late, but BSU goaltender Michael Bitzer capped off a 33-save night and Kyle Bauman added an empty-net strike for the final margin.
The Beavers led from the first minute to the last on Saturday to cap the crucial sweep with a 3-0 victory. Bauman got the BSU on the board first just sixty seconds after the puck dropped. Justin Baudry and Myles Fitzgerald added second- and third-period goals, respectively, but the real story was BSU's goaltender. Michael Bitzer followed up his 33-stop performance on Friday with a 27-save shutout -- his NCAA-leading fifth of the season.
Northern Michigan 3, at Bowling Green 0
Northern Michigan 2, at Bowling Green 0
(Feb. 3 and 4 at Slater Family Ice Arena; Bowling Green, Ohio.)
Red-hot Northern Michigan ran its unbeaten streak to seven games, riding the stellar work of goaltender Atte Tolvanen to consecutive shutouts in a road sweep at Bowling Green.
Tolvanen opened his WCHA-best 75-save weekend with a 35-stop effort in Friday's 3-0 NMU victory. Shane Sooth gave the Wildcats an early 1-0 edge with a power-play goal six minutes into the first period. Zach Diamantoni added to the lead 5:18 later, while Robbie Payne capped the scoring with an empty-netter. Tolvanen and the Wildcats' defense did the rest, with the goaltender making 11 saves in the first period, 16 in the second and eight more in the third.
Tolvanen continued his outstanding play into the next night, recording his second shutout of the weekend with 40 saves - including several of the highlight-reel variety. Brock Maschmeyer provided all the necessary offense, scoring at the 11:18 mark of the second period. Dominik Shine added an empty-net goal, while Tolvanen finished his third-straight shutout with double-digit saves in each period (16, 11 and 13). The sophomore also established NMU's record for longest scoreless streak, with a current run that stands at 215:49. NMU earned the sweep despite being outshot by a 75-43 margin.
at Alaska Anchorage 4, Minnesota State 3
Minnesota State 5, at Alaska Anchorage 0
(Feb. 3 and 4 at George M. Sullivan Arena; Anchorage, Alaska)
Alaska Anchorage and visiting Minnesota State both earned three points following a weekend split.
The Seawolves got rolling early Friday night and, behind a fantastic effort by goaltender Olivier Mantha, held on for a 4-3 win. David Trinkberger and Nicolas Erb-Ekholm gave UAA a 2-0 advantage at the 16:34 mark of the second period, before the Mavericks got on the board heading into the final frame. Mason Mitchell pushed the lead back to two goals midway through the third period, but Sean Flanagan answered for the Mavericks less than a minute later. With the pressure mounting, Tad Kozun put the game away with an empty-netter, offsetting a Minnesota State goal with nine seconds remaining. UAA goaltender Oliver Mantha stopped 40 of the 43 shots the Mavericks threw at him, including 12 saves in the final frame.
Minnesota State's offense led the way in a 5-0 victory in the series finale, including a pair of goals by Zeb Knutson. After Knutson opened the scoring, Brad McClure added to the lead before the end of the first period. C.J. Franklin and Michael Huntebrinker also scored, while Aaron Nelson made 13 saves for his second career shutout.
at Alaska 3, Alabama Huntsville 0
Alabama Huntsville 4, at Alaska 1
(Feb. 3 and 4 at Carlson Center; Fairbanks, Alaska)
Alaska and visiting Alabama Huntsville both earned crucial points in the race for the postseason, winning a game apiece in Fairbanks.
UAF earned its first shutout of the season Friday night, as senior goaltender Davis Jones made 31 saves for the home team. First-period goals by John Mullally and Chad Staley proved to be all that the Nanooks needed as they went on to win 3-0 to open the weekend. Jones wrapped up the shutout with 18 stops in the third period.
Special teams play proved to be the difference in the finale, a 4-1 UAH victory. Brennan Saulnier opened the scoring 1:12 into the contest, before Josh Kestner put in a power-play goal to give the visitors a quick 2-0 lead. After Staley cut the lead in half, Matt Salhany's short-handed strike pushed the UAH advantage back to 3-1 heading into the third period. Freshman Sean Rappleyea put in an empty-netter for his first career goal, while Jordan Uhleski made 30 stops for the Chargers.