WCHA Week 12: Final Weekend Before Holiday Break
First half of the 2017-18 season concludes with two series in the state of Michigan (Lake Superior State at Michigan Tech and Ferris State at Northern Michigan) and two in Minnesota (Alaska Anchorage at Bemidji State and Alabama Huntsville at No. 7 Minnesota State)
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Bemidji State hosts Alaska Anchorage this weekend at Sanford Center

Opening Face-Off

- Mavericks Up to No. 7: Minnesota State is carrying the men's Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) banner into the top-10 of the national rankings, tabbed as No. 7 in this week's USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls. Bowling Green, which leads the Mavericks by one point atop the WCHA standings, is receiving the most votes of any team outside the top-20 of the USCHO.com poll.

  • The Mavericks are sixth in the PairWise Rankings entering the weekend, while the Falcons are 20th.

- Clicking on All Cylinders: Minnesota State is one of three teams to rank in the top-10 nationally for both scoring offense (third at 3.75 goals per game) and scoring defense (eighth at 2.38 goals allowed per contest), joining No. 1 (in the polls) St. Cloud State (first and fourth) and No. 5 Cornell (ninth and second).

  • The Mavericks are also third nationally with a 28.0-percent success rate on the power play (21-for-75). They are 15th for penalty-kill efficiency at 84.0 percent (63-for-75).

- Kester On a Roll: Before being held off the scoresheet last Saturday, UAH senior forward Josh Kestner had posted consecutive two-goal games, helping the Chargers to a win at Northern Michigan (Dec. 2) and a tie at Bowling Green (Dec. 8). The Huntsville native now has a career-high 12 goals, becoming just the third UAH player in the last decade to light the lamp a dozen times in a single season (Max McHugh in 2014-15 and Matt Sweazy in 2008-09).

  • Kestner is tied for second overall in the WCHA for goals, while his 10 in league play pace the conference. He is tied for 12th nationally by averaging 0.67 goals per game, while his five power-play markers are tied for eighth.

- Scoring Ticks Up: For the second-straight season, scoring in WCHA league games is up. There have been average of 5.63 goals per game through the first 62 league contests in 2017-18 (349 total), up 7.9 percent from the 5.22 scored in 2016-17 (731 total); and, an increase of 13.1 percent from the 4.98 average of 2015-16 (697 total).

- Tradition Starts Here: The WCHA has four of the nation's top-20 winningest teams since opening night of the 2013-14 season.

  • Minnesota State ranks third with 109 wins in the last four-plus seasons Michigan Tech is 12th with 97, Bowling Green is tied with Minnesota Duluth for 14th with 92 victories and Ferris State is 18th with 89.

By the Numbers

- 1a: Save by Bemidji State senior Michael Bitzer to reach 2,700 for his career. Last Friday, Bitzer passed BSU great Chuck Scanlon (1971-75) for third in school history and is now just 18 shy of matching Gordy Hunt (2000-04) for second (2,717 stops).

- 1b: Extra point earned by UAH with a shootout win last Friday at Bowling Green, the first time (in five chances) since the new WCHA overtime format came into effect last year that the Chargers "won" in a 3-on-3 overtime or shootout.

- 5: Straight Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup titles won by UAF, which secured the 2017-18 Cup with a road sweep at UAA last weekend. The Nanooks have won all four games against the Seawolves this season (including two nonconference contests), with just two more remaining (Feb. 23 and 24 in Fairbanks).

- 6: Ties this season for Bowling Green, matching Holy Cross for the most nationally.

- 8(th) and 9(th): NCAA rank for goals-against average (1.92) and save percentage (.926) for Bowling Green sophomore goaltender Ryan Bednard. The Florida Panthers product continues to lead the WCHA in both categories.


The Week Ahead

- Final Weekend of the First Half: This weekend is the last before teams take their holiday break, a point traditionally marking the end of the season's first half. Alaska and Bowling Green have already wrapped up their first-half schedules, but key WCHA points will be on the line this Friday and Saturday.

- Michigan and Minnesota: The weekend will see a pair of matchups in the state of Michigan (Lake Superior State visits Michigan Tech and Ferris State is at Northern Michigan), and two sets in Minnesota (Alaska Anchorage is at Bemidji State and Alabama Huntsville continues its road trip at No. 8 Minnesota State).


The Week in Review

- The Nanooks secured their fifth-straight Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup with two games remaining in the series, sweeping the Seawolves in Anchorage.

- Twice Northern Michigan and Bemidji State played to a tie and, twice, the visiting Wildcats came away with the extra league point.

- Bowling Green ran its unbeaten streak to five games (2-0-3), earning four points with a tie and win against visiting Alabama Huntsville.

- Behind three WCHA weekly award winners, No. 8 Minnesota State rolled to a road sweep at Lake Superior State, outscoring the host Lakers by a 12-1 margin.

- The past two WCHA playoff champions met in Houghton, with visiting Ferris State and Michigan Tech each earning a win in the series split.

- Full recaps and box scores, along with the "Inside the WCHA" highlights show, are available at wcha.com.


Alaska 7, at Alaska Anchorage 2 Alaska 3, at Alaska Anchorage 2 (Dec. 8 and 9 at Sullivan Arena; Anchorage, Alaska)

The Nanooks secured their fifth-straight Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup with two games remaining in the series, sweeping the Seawolves in Anchorage.

Alaska scored the game's first six goals in Friday's series opener, chasing Alaska Anchorage goaltender Olivier Mantha en route to a 7-2 win. Tyler Cline and Colton Leiter each scored two goals apiece for the Nanooks, leading six UAF players that had at least two points. UAF goaltender Anton Martinsson pitched a shutout for the first 51:33, finishing with 22 saves.

Saturday's contest was much tighter, but with the same result: A Nanooks victory, this time 3-2, their fourth win in four games this season against UAA. The visiting Nanooks scored once in each period (Kylar Hope, Steven Jandric and James LaDouce) and got 19 saves from Martinsson. Austin Azurdia scored in the second period for UAA, while Eric Sinclair brought the Seawolves within one at the 13:01 mark of the final stanza. Mantha made 29 stops in the UAA net.


Northern Michigan 1, at Bemidji State 1 - OT (NMU wins shootout, 1-0) Northern Michigan 4, at Bemidji State 4 - OT (NMU scores in 3v3 OT) (Dec. 8 and 9 at Sanford Center; Bemidji, Minn.)

Twice Northern Michigan and Bemidji State played to a tie and, twice, the visiting Wildcats came away with the extra league point.

Following a 1-1 draw Friday night, Jordan Klimek scored on a breakaway goal in the 3-on-3 overtime to give NMU the extra point. Both regulation goals were scored in the first period, as the Wildcats' Robbie Payne potted his league-leading 13th of the season and the Beavers' Justin Baudry struck on the power play. NMU goaltender Mathias Israelsson finished with 24 saves, while BSU's Michael Bitzer made 20 stops.

Saturday's series finale was a much different affair, with the teams skating to a 4-4 tie; however, the end result was the same with NMU earning the extra league point. This time, the point was determined via shootout, with Payne scoring for the Wildcats and Israelsson shutting the door on BSU's attempt. Regulation featured three lead changes and four ties, the last coming when Bemidji State's Myles Fitzgerald scored a power-play goal with 5:50 remaining in the third period. Darien Craighead scored twice for NMU, while Carter Struthers and Hampus Sjödahl each tallied their first career goals for the Beavers.


Alabama Huntsville 3, at Bowling Green 3 - OT (UAH wins shootout, 2-1) at Bowling Green 3, Alabama Huntsville 1 (Dec. 8 and 9 at Slater Family Ice Arena; Bowling Green, Ohio)

Bowling Green ran its unbeaten streak to five games (2-0-3), earning four points with a tie and win against visiting Alabama Huntsville.

For the first time in the two seasons of the WCHA's new overtime format, UAH came away with an extra league point following Friday's 3-3 tie. Christian Rajic and Brandon Salerno each scored in the shootout, after the Chargers' Josh Kestner lit the lamp twice in regulation. Connor McDonald scoring the tying, third-period goal for Bowling Green, which played to its NCAA-leading sixth draw of the season.

Like the previous weekend, BGSU followed a Friday tie with a Saturday win, skating to a 3-1 triumph in the series finale. Alec Rauhauser, McDonald and Stephen Baylis all scored for the Falcons, who held UAH to just 12 shots on net (a season-low for a BGSU opponent). Tyler Poulsen scored the lone Chargers goal.


No. 8 Minnesota State 5, at Lake Superior State 1 No. 8 Minnesota State 7, at Lake Superior State 0 (Dec. 8 and 9 at Taffy Abel Arena; Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.)

Behind three WCHA weekly award winners, No. 8 Minnesota State rolled to a road sweep at Lake Superior State, outscoring the host Lakers by a 12-1 margin.

After Hampus Erikkson scored his first collegiate goal to give LSSU a 1-0, first period lead Friday, the Mavericks scored five times in the second stanza to win going away, 5-1. Five different Minnesota State skaters scored in the outburst. Zeb Knutson was all over the ice in the stanza, with a goal and three assists, while Parker Tuomie's first of a three-goal weekend was the game-winner. Jason Pawolski made 23 saves in the Mavericks net.

Minnesota State scored twice in the first period, three times in the second and twice more in the third Saturday, cruising to a 7-0 victory. Ian Scheid and Tuomie both scored two goals apiece, Reggie Lutz had three assists and Jake Jaremko capped a four-point weekend with two helpers. Senior goaltender Connor LaCouvee stopped all 13 shots he faced for his first collegiate shutout.


Ferris State 4, at Michigan Tech 3 Michigan Tech 5, at Ferris State 1 (Dec. 8 and 9 at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena; Houghton, Mich.)

The past two WCHA playoff champions met in Houghton, with visiting Ferris State and Michigan Tech each earning a win in the series split.

Ferris State goaltender Justin Kapelmaster was the story Friday night, making a season-high 45 saves as the Bulldogs won, 4-3, despite being outshot by a 48-25 margin. Michigan Tech trailed 3-1 entering the third, but tied the game on goals by Justin Misiak and Brent Baltus. Andrew Dorantes' second goal of the game was the power-play game-winner with 5:08 remaining, while Kapelmaster withstood the rest of Tech's 17-shot third-period onslaught to secure the win.

Tech finally solved Kapelmaster on Saturday, chasing him after two periods en route to a 5-1 victory. In the opposite crease, Huskies freshman Robbie Beydoun made 31 saves to earn his first collegiate victory. Five different Huskies scored, with Alex Gillies tying the game in the first period and Jake Lucchini netting the game-winner 11:09 into the second stanza. Alex Smith had a goal and an assist for MTU.