WCHA Week 17: The Plot Thickens In Face For MacNaughton Cup, Home Ice
No. 7/8 Minnesota State, No. 20 Northern Michigan and No. 15 Bowling Green separated by just five points, while Bemidji State is nine back (two ahead of Michigan Tech for the last home-ice spot)
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Alabama Huntsville returns home for the first time since Nov. 24-25, hosting long-time rival Bemidji State (the Chargers will also recognize the 20th anniversary of their 1997-98 Division II national champions).

Opening Face-Off

- Winning Hockey: The top-five teams in the Men's League of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) have separated themselves since Dec. 1, with all five ranking among the top-15 nationally for winning percentage in that span.

  • Minnesota State has won 10 of its last 12 games and is tied for second in the NCAA with an .833 winning percentage since Dec. 1. Bemidji State is eighth at .714 (8-2-4), Bowling Green is tied for 10th at .692 (8-3-2), Northern Michigan is 12th at .679 (8-3-3) and Michigan Tech is tied for 14th at .650 (6-3-1).

- The Plot Thickens: With five weeks left in the regular season, the top three teams in the WCHA standings are separated by just five points, each with eight league games remaining (first-place Minnesota State has 45 points, followed by Northern Michigan at 43 and Bowling Green with 40). The Mavericks and Wildcats have secured their spots in the 2018 WCHA Playoffs.

  • Defending champion Bemidji State stands just nine points back, but with two-games in-hand on the front-runners. The Beavers are in fourth place, two points ahead of Michigan Tech for the final home-ice spot in the WCHA Playoffs.

- A Look at the Rankings: For the first time this season, three WCHA teams are ranked by USCHO.com poll: No. 7 Minnesota State, No. 15 Bowling Green and No. 20 Northern Michigan (Bemidji State and Michigan Tech are receiving votes). The Mavericks are No. 8 in the USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine rankings (the Falcons are receiving votes).

  • Minnesota State, which is tied for the NCAA lead with 19 wins (19-7-0), is sixth in the PairWise rankings entering the weekend. Northern Michigan is 19th, while Bowling Green is tied for 20th and Bemidji State is tied for 22nd.

- Historic Night for Bitzer: Bemidji State senior goaltender Michael Bitzer added another chapter to his storied career, moving into sole possession of second place in NCAA Division I men's hockey history with his 21st career shutout.

  • The Moorhead, Minn. native reached the milestone last Friday night in his 124th collegiate game (a 23-save effort in a 2-0 win at Ferris State), surpassing Vermont's Joe Fallon (132 games between 2005-08) and moving within five of all-time men's leader Ryan Miller (26 in 106 contests for Michigan State between 1999-2002).

- Offensive Defensemen: Four WCHA defensemen rank among the NCAA's top-15 scoring leaders at the position: Bowling Green sophomore Alec Rauhauser is second at 1.00 points per game (6g-22a=28pts in 28 games), Minnesota State junior Daniel Brickley is fifth at 0.92 (7-17--24 in 26), Alaska senior Zach Frye is 11th at 0.84 (7-14--21 in 25) and Northern Michigan sophomore Philip Beaulieu is 15th at 0.82 (8-15--23 in 28).


By the Numbers

- 4: Categories in which Minnesota State's Connor LaCouvee ranks among the NCAA goaltending leaders: winning percentage (3rd at .812, 13-3-0), wins (t-4th), goals-against average (fourth at 1.78) and save percentage (17th at .915).

- 5: Game-winning goals by Northern Michigan's Darien Craighead, tied with Canisius' Nick Hutchinson for the most nationally.

- 8: Consecutive WCHA wins for Bemidji State, tying the program's D-I record for longest conference winning streak. The Beavers are undefeated in their last 11 league games (8-0-3), beginning Dec. 2.


The Week Ahead

- Key Points at Stake: The coming weekend features four WCHA league series, as points are at a premium. Alabama Huntsville returns home for the first time since Nov. 24-25, hosting long-time rival Bemidji State (the Chargers will also recognize the 20th anniversary of their 1997-98 Division II national champions). On the flip side, Lake Superior State plays its final home games of the season, hosting No. 15 Bowling Green. Northern Michigan, back in the national rankings at No. 20, can move into first place with three-or-more points at Alaska Anchorage. Michigan Tech plays at Ferris State for the first time since October 2015.

- Minnesota State hosts USNTDP: The No. 7/8 Mavericks will take a break from collegiate competition, hosting the U.S. Under-18 team for an exhibition game Saturday night.


The Week in Review

- Bowling Green returned home and took care of business, as the 17th-ranked Falcons swept visiting Alaska Anchorage.

- Bemidji State ran its WCHA winning streak to eight-straight games (matching the program's D-I era record) and its league unbeaten streak to 11-straight contests with a sweep at Ferris State.

- Michigan Tech returned to WCHA play for the first time in 2018 and picked up a home sweep over Alaska, the Huskies' 13th and 14th-straight wins over the Nanooks.

- Northern Michigan won a pair of one-goal games over visiting Lake Superior State by identical 3-2 scores, retaining possession of the Cappo Cup and moving within two points of the WCHA lead.

- Minnesota State avenged a season-opening loss to St. Cloud State in a big way, as the No. 9/8 Mavericks went on the road and defeated the No. 3 Huskies, 5-2, on Hockey Day Minnesota.

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


at No. 17 Bowling Green 6, Alaska Anchorage 2
at No. 17 Bowling Green 3, Alaska Anchorage 2
(Jan. 19 and 20 at Slater Family Ice Arena; Bowling Green, Ohio)

Bowling Green returned home and took care of business, as the 17th-ranked Falcons swept visiting Alaska Anchorage.

Looking to rebound after being swept at NMU the previous weekend, the Falcons do so in a big way, scoring four first-period goals en route to a 6-2 win Friday. All kinds of BGSU skaters got into the action, with six different goal-scorers. Coming into the game, BGSU junior defenseman Adam Smith did not have a point all season, but collected a career-high three on a goal and two assists.

Saturday was a much different game, but the same result: A Falcon win. This time, though, BGSU fell behind 7:22 into the game (UAA goals by Tad Kozun and Alec Butcher), trailed 2-0 after the first period and played from behind until the third period. Freshman Max Johnson scored the tying goal 1:09 into the final frame, then fellow rookie Brandon Kruse capped a career-best three-point night with the tie-breaking, game-winner at the 13:03 mark. Kruse had the primary assist on the other two goals, helping the Falcons to the comeback win and a big sweep.


Bemidji State 2, at Ferris State 0
Bemidji State 4, at Ferris State 1
(Jan. 19 and 20 at Ewigleben Ice Arena; Big Rapids, Mich.)

Bemidji State ran its WCHA winning streak to eight-straight games (matching the program's D-I era record) and its league unbeaten streak to 11-straight contests with a sweep at Ferris State.

BSU senior goaltender Michael Bitzer moved into sole possession of second place on the all-time NCAA men's hockey shutout list with his 21st career clean sheet, a 23-save effort in Friday's 2-0 victory. With Bitzer's effort, the Beavers just had to get one of their 44 shots past FSU's Darren Smith. It took a while, but Jordan Heller finally broke through 14:25 into the second period. Brendan Harris added a third-period goal for the 2-0 final.

Jay Dickman was the difference in BSU's 4-1 win Saturday, snapping a 1-1 tie with a power-play goal at 19:25 of the second period, then putting the Beavers up, 3-1 with another power-play strike in the third period.


at Michigan Tech 5, Alaska 2
at Michigan Tech 4, Alaska 3
(Jan. 19 and 20 at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena)

Michigan Tech returned to WCHA play for the first time in 2018 and picked up a home sweep over Alaska, the Huskies' 13th and 14th-straight wins over the Nanooks.

Tech broke open a 1-1 tie Friday with a four-goal, third-period outburst to win, 5-2. Huskies' freshman Mitch Meek scored in the first period, finished his first collegiate multi-goal game with the first goal of the third period, then wrapped up a career-best three-point night with an assist later in the period. Raymond Brice, Mark Auk and Thomas Beretta added MTU goals over the final 20 minutes.

Saturday was a back-and-forth contest that was not settled until Tech's Joel L'Esperance scored with 1:06 remaining in regulation, snapping a 3-3 tie and giving the Huskies a 4-3 win and sweep. UAF jumped out to a 2-0 lead after 8:52 on goals by Tyler Cline and Tayler Munson; Tech stormed back to go on top, 3-2 heading to the third period, before the Nanooks' Zach Frye scored a power-play marker to draw UAF even, 3-3. MTU junior goaltender Devin Kero, who entered the season without a collegiate win to his name, backstopped both games of the sweep and now has three wins in his last four starts.


at Northern Michigan 3, Lake Superior State 2
at Northern Michigan 3, Lake Superior State 2
(Jan. 19 and 20 at Berry Events Center; Marquette, Mich.)

Northern Michigan won a pair of one-goal games over visiting Lake Superior State by identical 3-2 scores, retaining possession of the Cappo Cup and moving within two points of the WCHA lead.

Wildcats sophomore Darien Craighead, who leads the WCHA and is second nationally with 11 goals since December 1, scored twice in the second period, including the game-winner, to lift NMU to a 3-2 victory Friday. LSSU led, 1-0, after the first period before the Wildcats scored three-straight goals. LSSU's J.T. Henke scored at 14:58 of the second period to bring the Lakers within one, but Atte Tolvanen turned aside all 15 shots he faced in the third period to preserve the win.

Philip Beaulieu the OT hero from the previous Saturday against Bowling Green was at it again in the series finale, scoring in the first period to draw the 'Cats even, 1-1, then snapping a 2-2 tie 8:19 into the third to give NMU a 3-2 win, the sweep and the Cappo Cup. Adam Rockwood picked up a pair of assists and now is tied for the NCAA lead with a WCHA-best 23 helpers this season.


No. 9/8 Minnesota State 5, at No. 3 St. Cloud State 2
(Jan. 20 at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center; St. Cloud, Minn.)

Minnesota State avenged a season-opening loss to St. Cloud State in a big way, as the No. 9/8 Mavericks went on the road and defeated the No. 3 Huskies, 5-2, on Hockey Day Minnesota.

Freshman defenseman Connor Mackey got the Mavericks on the board just 1:33 into the game, while senior Zeb Knutson scored twice. In a special moment, the Mavs' third goal of the game came via a pair of freshmen both Minnesota natives as Reggie Lutz' nice feed set up the 2015 Mr. Hockey winner, Jake Jaremko, for the score. Forest Lake, Minn. native C.J. Suess added an empty-netter to seal the deal, while Connor LaCouvee made 28 saves including 13 in the third period.