WCHA Week 20: Penultimate Regular Season Weekend
MacNaughton Cup, final home-ice slot and last three spots in the 2018 WCHA Playoffs to be determined over the regular season's final two weekends
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With two points, the Minnesota State would move past idle Northern Michigan and into the top spot in the WCHA standings heading into the final weekend.

Opening Face-Off

- Penultimate Weekend: With just two weeks left in the regular season, races across the Men's League of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) remain intriguing. Five of eight spots in the 2018 WCHA Playoffs are set, along with three of four quarterfinal hosts.

  • Three nationally-ranked teams (USCHO.com and USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine polls) are within nine points atop the WCHA standings: No. 17 Northern Michigan (58 points), No. 5 Minnesota State (57) and No. 14 Bowling Green (49). The Mavericks and Falcons, however, have two games in-hand on the Wildcats (MSU, in fact, is the only team that controls its own destiny -- if the other teams win out, but the Mavericks get eight of 12 available points, they are MacNaughton Cup champions). All three have quarterfinal-round home ice in the 2018 WCHA Playoffs (NMU is host for the first time since 2012).
  • Fourth-place Bemidji State has a two-point lead on fifth-place Michigan Tech for the last quarterfinal-round home ice slot. However, the Beavers have two games in-hand and can wrap up home ice with five points this weekend against Alaska.
  • Four teams are separated by three points in the race for the final three playoff spots. Sixth-place Alabama Huntsville (30 points) and ninth-place Lake Superior State (27) are idle this weekend, while seventh-place Alaska (29) and eighth-place Ferris State (28) each play on the road.

- Winning Hockey: The WCHA's top four teams all rank among the top-20 nationally this season for winning percentage.

  • Minnesota State, which leads the country with 23 wins, is tied for second at .767 (23-7-0). Northern Michigan, which is enjoying its first 20-win season since 2009-10, is 10th at .632 (20-11-3). Bowling Green is 11th (.625, 17-9-6), while Bemidji State is 17th (.562, 15-11-6).
  • The Mavericks have played the best hockey in the country since Dec. 1, going 14-2-0 (.875). The Wildcats are fourth in that span at .725 (13-4-3), while the Falcons are tied for sixth at .706 (11-4-2).
  • MSU is also tops since New Year's Day at .900 (9-1-0), while NMU (.792, 9-2-1) is third and BGSU (.760, 9-3-0) is tied for fourth.

- Journey Up: Lake Superior State has rallied back to WCHA Playoff contention with consecutive sweeps at Bemidji State and Alaska Anchorage -- the Lakers' first four-game road winning streak since Oct. 2011 (at Alabama Huntsville and at Miami).

  • LSSU has allowed just three goals in that span. Junior goaltender Nick Kossoff, who has started both Friday night games, has a 0.98 GAA and a .967 save pct. (59-for-61). Freshman netminder Mareks Mitens, who has earned the nod for both Saturday contests, has a 0.50 GAA (1 goal allowed) and a .983 save pct. (58-for-59). Both goalies have a shutout during the stretch.

By the Numbers

- 4: WCHA skaters among the top-15 top-scoring defensemen in the country. BGSU's Alec Rauhauser is second at 0.97 points per game, MSU's Daniel Brickley (0.93) is fourth, UAF's Zach Frye (0.93) is fifth and NMU's Philip Beaulieu (0.82) is 13th.

- 10: Categories in which Minnesota State leads the country: wins (23), goals (117), goals per game (3.90), goal margin (+53), goal margin per game (+1.77), power-play goals (39), power-play percentage (.273), fewest shots allowed per game (22.00), shots on goal margin (+369) and shots on goal margin per game (+12.30).

- 119: Career points for Minnesota State senior C.J. Suess (52g-67a), tied with NHL All-Star David Backes for sixth on the program's D-I era scoring charts. Suess is tied for the team lead this season with a career-high 35 points (17g-18a), tied for 10th-best nationally.


The Week Ahead

- No. 14 Bowling Green at Alaska Anchorage: The Falcons look to gain on idle Northern Michigan and keep the heat on Minnesota State, while a sweep would wrap up a top-three finish for BGSU. The Seawolves, eliminated from playoff contention, will look to play spoiler.

- Alaska at Bemidji State: The Beavers clinch quarterfinal home ice with five points, while five for the Nanooks wraps up a playoff spot.

- Ferris State at No. 5 Minnesota State: With two points, the Mavericks will move past idle Northern Michigan and into the top spot in the WCHA standings heading into the final weekend. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, would clinch a playoff spot with a road sweep.

- Arizona State at Michigan Tech: A nonconference series for the Huskies, who welcome the Sun Devils to Houghton for the first time.


The Week in Review

- Fifth-ranked Minnesota State ran its winning streak to seven-straight games, improved to 14-2-0 in its last 16 contests and remained right on Northern Michigan's heels with a road sweep at Alabama Huntsville.

- Behind the late-game heroics of Anthony Nellis, Lake Superior State remained very much alive in the playoff chase with a pair of one-goal victories at Alaska Anchorage.

- The annual Winter Carnival weekend in Houghton saw a series split between Michigan Tech and Bemidji State, but the host Huskies won their sixth-straight MacInnes Cup by total goals, 7-5.

- Northern Michigan assured itself of entering the final weekend of the regular season in no worse than first place, as the league-leading and No. 20 Wildcats swept visiting Alaska.

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


No. 5 Minnesota State 3, at Alabama Huntsville 2 - OT
No. 5 Minnesota State 6, at Alabama Huntsville 1
(Feb. 9 and 10 at Von Braun Center; Huntsville, Ala.)

Fifth-ranked Minnesota State ran its winning streak to seven-straight games, improved to 14-2-0 in its last 16 contests and remained right on Northern Michigan's heels with a road sweep at Alabama Huntsville.

UAH, fighting to secure its own playoff spot, nearly pulled off the home upset Friday, leading the Mavericks, 2-1, after goals by Kurt Gosselin and Christian Rajic in the first 2:35 of the third period. However, 2016-17 WCHA Rookie of the Year Marc Michaelis tied the game with his 12th goal of the year, with 2:10 remaining in regulation; then, senior co-captain C.J. Suess scored just 27 seconds into overtime to lift Minnesota State to the 3-2, comeback road win.

Saturday was a much different game, as the Mavericks rolled from the start en route to a 6-1 victory. Minnesota State scored a pair of first-period goals; then, after the Chargers' Richard Buri scored short-handed early in the second to cut the lead to 2-1, Suess responded 1:44 later with his 17th of the year. Power-play goals by Michaelis and Daniel Brickley, and an insurance goal from Jared Spooner, rounded out the scoring in the Mavericks' NCAA-leading 23rd win of the year.


Lake Superior State 3, at Alaska Anchorage 2 - OT
Lake Superior State 2, at Alaska Anchorage 1
(Feb. 9 and 10 at Sullivan Arena; Anchorage, Alaska)

Behind the late-game heroics of Anthony Nellis, Lake Superior State remained very much alive in the playoff chase with a pair of one-goal victories at Alaska Anchorage.

In a theme for the weekend, Nellis scored 2:50 into overtime to give the Lakers a 3-2, series-opening win Friday night. Before Nellis' efforts, however, it appeared LSSU was in danger of giving one away. The Lakers jumped out to a 2-0, first-period lead on goals by William Riedell and Hampus Erikkson, but the Seawolves battled back on scores from Jeremiah Luedtke (at 18:51 of the first period) and the red-hot Alec Butcher, whose sixth goal in six games tied the contest midway through the third. Nick Kossoff made 31 saves for LSSU.

It was Nellis again for the Lakers on Saturday, this time snapping a 1-1 tie 6:34 into the third period for his second-straight game-winner in a 2-1 LSSU triumph. Trey deGraaf put UAA in front, 1-0, early in the second period, but just two seconds before intermission, Max Humitz tied the game for LSSU with his team-leading 13th goal of the season. Freshman Mareks Mitens made 10 of his 22 stops in the third period for the Lakers.


Bemidji State 4, at Michigan Tech 2
at Michigan Tech 5, Bemidji State 1
(Feb. 9 and 10 at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena; Houghton, Mich.)

The annual Winter Carnival weekend in Houghton saw a series split between Michigan Tech and Bemidji State, but the host Huskies won their sixth-straight MacInnes Cup by total goals, 7-5.

The visiting Beavers scored twice in a span of 1:21 in the second period, snapping a 1-1 tie en route to a 4-2, series-opening victory Friday. Senior Jordan Heller had a three-point effort for BSU, including a pair of goals one to tie the game, 1-1 in the first period, and another the insurance marker 2:17 into the third. After T.J. Roo gave BSU a 2-1 lead at 10:44 of the second, freshman Ethan Somoza's first collegiate goal stood as the eventual game-winner for the Beavers.

The Huskies rallied in a big way Saturday, not only winning, but winning by four goals to capture another MacInnes Cup as Winter Carnival champions. Tied 1-1 after the first period (BSU's goal coming, again, from Heller), Tech scored three times in the second period: Senior captain Brent Baltus netted the game-winner, followed by fellow senior Mark Auk, then sophomore Gavin Gould. Greyson Reitmeier added an insurance goal in the third period. Senior goaltender Devin Kero, who did not play Friday, was named Winter Carnival MVP after stopping 36-of-37 shots for his third-straight win as a starter.


at No. 20 Northern Michigan 2, Alaska 1 - OT
at No. 20 Northern Michigan 4, Alaska 1
(Feb. 9 and 10 at Berry Events Center; Marquette, Mich.)

Northern Michigan assured itself of entering the final weekend of the regular season in no worse than first place, as the league-leading and No. 20 Wildcats swept visiting Alaska.

It took OT, but NMU ran its home winning streak to seven-straight games with a 2-1 triumph Friday. Denver Pierce, who way back on Oct. 20 scored the OT winner against Wisconsin, did it again, lighting the lamp 1:06 into the extra session. In fact, it was the fifth time this season that the Cardiac 'Cats won with a goal in either the last minute of regulation or at any point in OT. The two regulation goals came 21 seconds apart, with NMU's Joseph Nardi scoring at 17:39 of the second period and UAF's Tayler Munson at 18:00.

Adam Rockwood ran his scoring streak to 11-straight games with a two-point effort, helping the Wildcats to a 4-1 win (their eighth-straight at home) and a series sweep. The junior forward (and first-year Wildcat, after transferring from Wisconsin) picked up his NCAA-leading 29th assist on Pierce's game-opening goal, then scored one of his own the eventual game-winner late in the second. Darien Craighead (his 16th) and Robbie Payne (his 19th, on an empty-netter) also scored for NMU, which maintained a one-point lead on Minnesota State atop the WCHA standings.