WCHA Week 19: Down The Stretch They Come
Three nationally-ranked teams are within three points atop the WCHA standings, two points are the difference in the race for home ice and three points separate the sixth- through eighth-place teams
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League-leading Northern Michigan, which has a one-point lead on second-place Minnesota State, hosts seventh-place Alaska.

Opening Face-Off

- Down the Stretch They Come: With three weeks remaining in the regular season, the races across the Men's League of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) are growing ever-tighter.

  • Three nationally-ranked teams (USCHO.com and USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine polls) are within three points atop the WCHA standings: No. 20 Northern Michigan leads with 52 points, No. 5 Minnesota State is in second place with 51 and No. 14/15 Bowling Green is in third (49). The Mavericks, however, have two games in-hand on both the Wildcats and Falcons. All three have clinched home ice for the quarterfinals of the 2018 WCHA Playoffs (NMU will host for the first time since 2012).
  • Defending champion Bemidji State is still alive with 39 points (and two games in-hand on NMU and BGSU). The fourth-place Beavers have a two-point lead (and two games in-hand) on fifth-place Michigan Tech for the last quarterfinal-round home ice slot. Both teams have secured a 2018 WCHA Playoffs berth ahead of this weekend's series in Houghton.
  • Alabama Huntsville (30 points), Alaska (29) and Ferris State (28) are also separated by just three points in the sixth- through eighth-place spots. All three are still in the hunt for home ice.
  • Lake Superior State and Alaska Anchorage, which meet this weekend in the Last Frontier, are still alive in the playoff chase, but need to accumulate points -- and receive outside help.

- Winning Hockey: The WCHA's top four teams all rank among the top-15 nationally this season for winning percentage.

  • Minnesota State ranks third in the NCAA at .750 (21-7-0). Bowling Green is 10th (.625, 17-0-6), Northern Michigan -- which has its most victories since a 20-win campaign in 2009-10 -- is 11th (.609, 18-11-3) and Bemidji State is 15th (.667, 14-10-6).
  • The Mavericks have played the best hockey in the country since Dec. 1, going 12-2-0 (.857). The Falcons are tied for seventh in that span at .706 (11-4-2), while the Wildcats are ninth at .694 (11-4-3).
  • Since New Year's Day, MSU is tops at .875 (7-1-0), while BGSU (.750, 9-3-0) and NMU (.750, 7-2-1) are tied for sixth.

- 6x20: At 21-7-0, Minnesota State has reached the 20-win plateau for six-consecutive seasons, the longest run in program history. The Mavericks have won 143 games since opening night of the 2012-13 season, matching North Dakota and Quinnipiac for most nationally.

- Back-to-Back Shutouts: Junior Nick Kossoff (28 saves) and freshman Mareks Mitens (36 stops) combined to give Lake Superior State back-to-back, 2-0 shutout wins last weekend at Bemidji State.

  • It marked the first time the Lakers had shutouts in consecutive games since March 2013 (3-0 at Northern Michigan on March 2 and 2-0 vs. Bowling Green on March 8). LSSU had not blanked the same opponent for an entire weekend series since holding Ferris State scoreless Nov. 12-13, 2010 (1-0 and 4-0).

- Lighting the Lamp: With scoring in WCHA league games up nearly 10 percent over final 2016-17 numbers (to 5.74 goals per game, from 5.22), six WCHA skaters are among the top-25 goal-scorers in the country.

  • UAH senior and Huntsville native Josh Kestner is tied for second with a WCHA-leading and career-high 20, becoming the Chargers' first 20-goal scorer since Bruce Mulherin (24) and Jared Ross (22) in 2004-05.
  • NMU senior Robbie Payne (18), junior Troy Loggins (16) and sophomore Darien Craighead (15) are tied for sixth, 12th and 16th, respectively, while each has set a new career high.
  • MSU senior C.J. Suess is tied for 16th (a career-best 15), while BGSU senior Mitch McLain is tied for 24th (14).

By the Numbers

- 8: Categories in which Minnesota State leads the country: wins (21), goals per game (3.86), goal margin (+47), power play goals (38), power play pct. (.277), fewest shots allowed per game (22.04), shots on goal margin (+334) and shots on goal margin per game (+11.93).

- 10: Wins for Alabama Huntsville, most by a Chargers team since the 2009-10 campaign.


The Week Ahead

- Winter Carnival and Points Chase Highlight Weekend: The annual Winter Carnival weekend in Houghton also has major WCHA Playoffs implications, as fourth-place Bemidji State visits Michigan Tech with a two-point lead on the Huskies for the final quarterfinal-round home ice slot. League-leading Northern Michigan, which has a one-point lead on second-place Minnesota State, hosts seventh-place Alaska, which trails sixth-place Alabama Huntsville by a single point; meanwhile, the Chargers host the Mavericks. Lake Superior State visits Alaska Anchorage, with both looking to keep their postseason hopes alive.


The Week in Review

- A tightly contested series in the "Hockey Capital of the South" saw a split, with No. 19 Northern Michigan remaining in first place and Alabama Huntsville moving up to sixth.

- Alaska posted its first home sweep of the season, leapfrogging Ferris State into seventh place in the league standings following a pair of win over the visiting Bulldogs.

- Lake Superior State kept its postseason hopes alive with its first sweep of the season, posting consecutive shutouts for the first time since March 2013 with a pair of 2-0 victories at Bemidji State.

- The fourth and fifth games of the season between 2017 WCHA Championship foes resulted in a split, with No. 14 Bowling Green winning the opener and Michigan Tech bouncing back in the series finale.

- After two weekends away from WCHA competition, No. 7 Minnesota State swept visiting Alaska Anchorage to move back into second place in the league standings -- just one point behind league-leading NMU.

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


No. 19 Northern Michigan 4, at Alabama Huntsville 3
at Alabama Huntsville 4, No. 19 Northern Michigan 2
(Feb. 3 and 4 at Von Braun Center; Huntsville, Ala.)

A tightly contested series in the "Hockey Capital of the South" saw a split, with No. 19 Northern Michigan remaining in first place and Alabama Huntsville moving up to sixth.

Friday night, the visiting Wildcats built a 3-1 lead, withstood a late Chargers rally to tie, and clinched quarterfinal round home ice in the WCHA Playoffs with their seventh-straight win. NMU's Troy Loggins scored his 16th goal of the season with 6:41 remaining, snapping a 3-3 tie and giving the Wildcats a 4-3 victory. Zach Diamantoni scored NMU's NCAA-leading 7th shorthanded goal of the season late in the first period, and second-period power-play strikes from Joseph Nardi and Mitchell Slattery (the first collegiate goal for the freshman) gave the Wildcats a 3-1 lead. Goals by Tyler Poulsen with 22 seconds left in the second period and Josh Kestner 9:03 into the third tied the game, setting up Loggins' game-winner.

UAH was outshot by a 36-15 margin Saturday, but received two goals each from Tyler Poulsen and Kestner, along with 34 saves by senior goaltender Jordan Uhleski, for the 4-2 victory. Poulsen and the Wildcats' Philip Beaulieu traded goals in the first period, before Kestner struck for the first time 11:31 into the second his 19th of the season. Poulsen extended the lead at the 10:13 mark of the third period, before NMU's Robbie Payne brought the Wildcats within one and briefly tied Kestner for the WCHA lead with his 19th goal of the season. Kestner, however, retook the league lead, and iced the game with his 20th of the season an empty-netter with 3 seconds remaining. With the victory, UAH (10-18-2) has 10 wins in a season for the first time since the 2009-10 campaign.


at Alaska 4, Ferris State 2
at Alaska 4, Ferris State 1
(Feb. 2 and 3 at Carlson Center; Fairbanks, Alaska)

Alaska posted its first home sweep of the season, leapfrogging Ferris State into seventh place in the league standings following a pair of win over the visiting Bulldogs.

A pair of seniors stepped up for the Nanooks in a 4-1 win Friday, as forward Tayler Munson scored twice (including the game-winner) and defenseman Zach Frye had three points (1g-2a). After the first period saw a trio of power-play goals (two by Ferris State and one by Alaska), the host Nanooks scored the game's final three goals all of the even-strength variety. Frye tied the contest 4:12 into the second period, Munson put UAF ahead for good later in the frame and Tyler Cline added an insurance marker in the third period.

Colton Leiter scored twice, including the game-winner, to help UAF complete the sweep with a 4-1 win Saturday. Again, Ferris State struck first; again, the Nanooks ended the game on a flurry, this time scoring the final four goals. Troy Van Tetering tied the game at 6:49 of the second period, and Leiter followed just 26 seconds later to put UAF ahead. Munson (on the power play) and Leiter (empty-netter) lit the lamp in the third period. WCHA Goaltender of the Week Anton Martinsson made 18 saves for the win.


Lake Superior State 2, at Bemidji State 0
Lake Superior State 2, at Bemidji State 0
(Feb. 2 and 3 at Sanford Center; Bemidji, Minn.)

Lake Superior State kept its postseason hopes alive with its first sweep of the season, posting consecutive shutouts for the first time since March 2013 with a pair of 2-0 victories at Bemidji State.

The first of two Lakers goaltenders to pitch a shutout on the weekend, junior Nick Kossoff made 28 saves including 13 in the third period in a 2-0 victory. LSSU's points leader, J.T. Henke, scored at 14:49 of the first period, while Anthony Nellis potted his 10th goal of the season at 16:17 of the second stanza.

It was freshman Mareks Mitens' turn in the Lakers' net, and he one-upped Kossoff with a 36-save effort in a 2-0 blanking. Mitens made 13 saves in the first period, 10 more in the second and 13 more in the third for his first collegiate shutout (and second win). Max Humitz scored his team-leading 12th goal of the season 1:14 into the second period, while Diego Cuglietta put the game away with an empty-netter at 19:38 of the third.


at No. 14 Bowling Green 7, Michigan Tech 2
Michigan Tech 4, at No. 14 Bowling Green 0
(Feb. 2 and 3 at Slater Ice Arena; Bowling Green, Ohio)

The fourth and fifth games of the season between 2017 WCHA Championship foes resulted in a split, with No. 14 Bowling Green winning the opener and Michigan Tech bouncing back in the series finale.

The No. 14 Falcons used an offensive onslaught to defeat the Huskies, 7-2, Friday night before a raucous crowd at the "Madhouse on Mercer" a victory that clinched quarterfinal-round home ice in the 2018 WCHA Playoffs. After a scoreless first period, seven different Falcons lit the lamp over the final 40 minutes, including four in the second period alone. The captain, Mitch McLain, started the scoring 2:28 into the second period with his 14th goal of the year, while freshman Max Johnson finished with a career-best three points (1g-2a). It marked the third win this year for BGSU over the Huskies, including a nonconference victory in the GLI championship game. However, despite the loss, Michigan Tech clinched a spot in the 2018 WCHA Playoffs when UAA lost later in the night at Minnesota State.

The Huskies rebounded Saturday behind a superb effort by freshman goaltender Robbie Beydoun, who made 26 saves in a 4-0, shutout victory. Gavin Gould opened the scoring for MTU 12:49 into the first period, Jake Lucchini scored in both the second and third stanzas, and Mark Auk tallied a power-play goal.


at No. 7 Minnesota State 7, Alaska Anchorage 1
at No. 7 Minnesota State 4, Alaska Anchorage 3
(Feb. 2 and 3 at Verizon Center; Mankato, Minn.)

After two weekends away from WCHA competition, No. 7 Minnesota State swept visiting Alaska Anchorage to move back into second place in the league standings -- just one point behind league-leading NMU.

The Mavericks got four points from senior Zeb Knutson (2g-2a) and three from sophomore Marc Michaelis (1g-2a) en route to a 7-1 victory Friday. It was all Minnesota State, as the home team scored two goals in the first period, three in the second and two more in the third before UAA got on the board with a late Alec Butcher goal (his fifth in four games). MSU senior C.J. Suess scored his 50th career goal at the 5:55 mark of the third period, netting his 15th of the season. By improving to 20-7-0, Minnesota State has now reached the 20-win plateau in six-straight seasons for the first time in program history.

A much different game, but the same result a Mavericks win (their 21st of the season, tied with Notre Dame for the most in the country). Austin Azurdia gave the Seawolves a 1-0 lead 6:17 into the game on his 10th goal of the season, a power-play marker. But, Minnesota State responded 1:17 later on a goal by Nick Rivera, then took a 2-1 lead into intermission on the 10th goal of the season from freshman Jake Jaremko. After Dallas Gerads scored and Zeb Knutson added his third of the weekend, the Mavs led, 4-1 heading into the third. But, UAA made it a game over the final 20 minutes with a pair of goals. Jonah Renouf scored 4:27 into the frame and, after Azurdia netted his second of the game, the Seawolves trailed by just one with 56 seconds remaining. But, the Mavericks held on from there to win and clinch quarterfinal round home ice in the 2018 WCHA Playoffs.