WCHA Week 21: Three-Way Chase For MacNaughton Cup On Season's Final Weekend
MINNESOTA STATE, MICHIGAN TECH AND BOWLING GREEN ALL IN CONTENTION, WHILE TOP SEVEN SEEDS WILL BE DETERMINED AND GOVERNOR'S CUP DECIDES FINAL PLAYOFF PARTICIPANT
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The 16th-ranked Mavericks control their own destiny in the hunt for Minnesota State's second consecutive WCHA regular season title as they host Bemidji State this weekend.

Opening Face-Off

- Polling Place: This week's national polls feature a pair of rising WCHA teams, with No. 13 Michigan Tech (up one spot) and No. 16 Minnesota State (up two) carrying the league's banner in the USCHO.com rankings. The Huskies hold the same spot in the USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine poll.

- Winning Hockey: The WCHA continues to have 60 percent of its membership (six of 10 teams) playing .500-or-better hockey, the second-best league-wide distribution among all NCAA conferences (ECAC Hockey has nine of 12 teams at-or-above .500, for 75 percent).

- Talking Playoffs: While seeds 1-7 - including the MacNaughton Cup - are still to be determined, seven of the eight available spots for the 2016 WCHA Playoffs are wrapped up. Minnesota State, Bowling Green, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, Ferris State, Bemidji State and Lake Superior State are all assured a spot in the league quarterfinals. The eighth and final playoff spot will be determined this weekend at the Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup, with host Alaska needing three points or more to overtake Alaska Anchorage. Alabama Huntsville has been eliminated from postseason contention. For a full list of playoff seeding and tie-breaker scenarios, please see pages two and three of this release.

- Home Ice Advantage: Minnesota State, Bowling Green and Michigan Tech are all assured of hosting a first round WCHA playoff series March 11-13. Northern Michigan, hoping to host a playoff series at the Berry Events Center for the first time since 2012, holds a one-point lead over Ferris State for the fourth and final home ice slot.

- Huskies and Beavers Continue Hot Pace: Michigan Tech's climb up the national rankings coincides with its hot play since the calendar flipped to 2016, as the Huskies rank fifth nationally with a .792 winning percentage (8-1-3) since Jan. 1 - part of a longer 10-2-4 stretch since Dec. 11 (.750, t-5th nationally). Over that same Jan. 1-current stretch, Bemidji State is tied for 14th with a .676 mark (10-4-3).

- 20-20: With one more win apiece, Bowling Green and Michigan Tech will reach the 20-win plateau for the second consecutive season. The Falcons last achieved that feat between 1994-95 and 1995-96; the Huskies, not since a three-campaign run between 1980-81 and 1982-83 (including the final two years of John MacInnes' legendary tenure in Houghton).

- Quickly Around the WCHA: With 44 career points (18g-26a), UAH points leader Max McHugh (soph.) is the first Charger to record at least 40 points in two seasons since Cody Campbell had 43 between the 2008-09 and 2009-10 campaigns ... UAA, which will look to win its first Governor's Cup since the 2008-09 season, is 7-2-3 when scoring first this season ... UAF junior G Davis Jones led the WCHA and tied for second nationally with 77 saves over the final five periods at MTU, including a career-high 48 on Saturday ... After netting just four goals in BSU's first 30 games, sophomore F Myles Fitzgerald has potted four in his last four contests ... With one more victory, not only will BGSU will reach the 20-win plateau in consecutive years, it would also be the 100th career victory for head coach Chris Bergeron ... When FSU was swept last weekend, it marked the first time this season the Bulldogs failed to capture at least two points in a WCHA series ... LSSU has clinched a playoff spot, and can move as high as sixth in the standings, on the strength of a 3-1-1 stretch over its last five games ... MTU is 8-1-3 in its last 12 WCHA games, 12-2-2 in its black jerseys this season and 19-6-3 in its last 28 games against opponents from Michigan; all three numbers should be in play this weekend ... MSU, which ranks first in the nation for shots on goal margin with an +12.35 SOGM mark, is 10-1-5 this season when scoring first ... Since sophomore D Jordan Klimek was promoted to the top defensive line Jan. 15, NMU is 7-4-1 (tied for second in the WCHA); Klimek is +16 overall, tied for second in the league.


By the Numbers

- 1a: Point differential that has determined the first two MacNaughton Cup winners of the "new" WCHA, with the champion being crowned both years on the regular season's final night (Ferris State by a lone point over Minnesota State in 2013-14, and the Mavericks by a singular point over Michigan Tech last year).

- 1b: Point differential that has determined the first two scoring champions of the "new" WCHA (determined by conference-only statistics), with UAF's Cody Kunyk (17g-17a=34pts) besting MSU's Matt Leitner (8-25--33) in 2013-14, and MTU's Tanner Kero (13-21--34) overtaking UAF's Tyler Morley (14-19--33pts) on the season's final day in 2014-15. This year, MTU's Alex Petan (15-11--26) has a one-point lead over NMU's Dominik Shine (12-13--25) and MSU's Teddy Blueger (6g-19a--25), and a two-point edge over NMU's Darren Nowick (11-13--24).


The Week Ahead

- Bemidji State at No. 16 Minnesota State: The 16th-ranked Mavericks control their own destiny in the hunt for Minnesota State's second consecutive WCHA regular season title. A three-point-or-more weekend for the league-leading Mavs keeps the MacNaughton Cup in Mankato, while Bemidji State (currently in sixth place) can move up or down a spot. These two teams also met on the season's final weekend last year, with BSU winning the opener to secure home ice advantage and MSU winning the second game to earn its first-ever MacNaughton Cup. Minnesota State won a pair of 3-2 decisions in Bemidji on Oct. 23-24.

- Northern Michigan at/vs. No. 13 Michigan Tech: Perhaps the WCHA's most intense rivalry renews in the UP, with a home-and-home between the Wildcats and 13th-ranked Huskies. Michigan Tech has its eyes on the MacNaughton Cup, while Northern Michigan holds a slim, one-point lead in the race for the fourth and final home ice position. The teams split in late-October, with each team winning in front of a capacity crowd in its own barn.

- Bowling Green at Alabama Huntsville: The host Chargers are the lone WCHA team eliminated from playoff contention but, with at least a point in five of six series in 2016 (including a pair of ties against Minnesota State), UAH will look to play spoiler against a Falcons team hoping for a shot at hoisting the MacNaughton Cup. Bowling Green won a pair of one-goal decisions over UAH on Nov. 20-21.

- Lake Superior State at Ferris State: The Bulldogs will look to snap a four-game losing skid (three-straight WCHA losses) against a Lakers team that is 3-1-1 in its last five outings. Ferris State trails by one point for the final home ice slot, while Lake Superior State can potentially move up one slot (to sixth).

- Alaska Anchorage at Alaska: The Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup is for all the playoff marbles, as the Seawolves and host Nanooks are the last two teams vying for the eighth and final WCHA postseason slot. The math is simple for UAA: win (or tie twice) and the Seawolves are in. Alaska must take three points in the series to extend its season. Also on the line is the Governor's Cup, which Alaska Anchorage has not won outright since the 2008-09 season.


The Week in Review

- Then-No. 18 Minnesota State maintained its hold on first place in the WCHA with a sweep that also prevented host Alaska Anchorage from clinching a playoff berth.

- Bemidji State remained hot and continued its recent mastery of Alabama Huntsville, taking three points from a weekend series at the Sanford Center.

- Bowling Green used a combined seven third-period goals to twice erase final-stanza deficits and remain in WCHA title contention with a key home sweep over Ferris State.

- Gordon Defiel turned in a 54-save weekend, Lake Superior State earned three points from Northern Michigan and the Lakers won the UP rivalry's Cappo Cup for the first time since the 2012-13 season.

- Then-No. 14 Michigan Tech twice used late-game heroics to outlast visiting Alaska in a pair of one-goal wins, allowing the Huskies to remain in contention for the MacNaughton Cup.

- Full recaps, box scores and select video highlights are available online at wcha.com.


No. 18 Minnesota State 3, Alaska Anchorage 0
No. 18 Minnesota State 2, Alaska Anchorage 1
Feb. 26 and 27 at Sullivan Arena; Anchorage, Alaska

Then-No. 18 Minnesota State maintained its hold on first place in the WCHA with a sweep that also prevented host Alaska Anchorage from clinching a playoff berth.

Junior netminder Cole Huggins stopped all 15 shots Minnesota State skated to a 3-0 win in Friday's series opener. Bryce Gervais scored in the first period for the Mavericks, while Dylan Margonari and C.J. Franklin each lit the lamp in the second stanza.

Minnesota State scored the game's first two goals and held on in earning a 2-1 victory on Saturday. Gervais again opened the scoring with his sixth goal in the last six games, Teddy Blueger added a second-period marker and the Mavericks withstood a late Blake Leask short-handed tally.


at Bemidji State 1, Alabama Huntsville 1 - OT
at Bemidji State 6, Alabama Huntsville 2
Feb. 26 and 27 at Sanford Center; Bemidji, Minn.

Bemidji State remained hot and continued its recent mastery of Alabama Huntsville, taking three points from a weekend series at the Sanford Center.

Cory Ward scored his eighth goal of the year to force overtime and Michael Bitzer turned aside 21 shots, including a penalty shot with 1:49 left in extra time, to lead the Beavers to a 1-1 tie Friday. Matt Larose made 36 saves for the Chargers, while UAH's Madison Dunn scored on the power play.

Senior captain Graeme McCormack led the way for the Beavers on senior night, setting up four of BSU's six goals to become the first BSU player to post four assists in a single game since Tyler Scofield, Dec. 3, 2005. BSU also went 3-for-7 on the power play, scored three times in the first period and cruised to a 6-2 win.


at Bowling Green 4, Ferris State 3
at Bowling Green 6, Ferris State 2
Feb. 26 and 27 at BGSU Ice Arena; Bowling Green, Ohio

Bowling Green used a combined seven third-period goals to twice erase final-stanza deficits and remain in WCHA title contention with a key home sweep over Ferris State.

On Friday, the Falcons faced a broken glass delay, a two-goal deficit and a 3-2, third-period hole, but rallied for a 4-3 victory on Kevin Dufour's tying strike (his second goal of the game) and freshman Stephen Baylis' game-winner with 2:47 remaining.

Bowling Green exploded for five goals in the third period and earned home ice in the first round of the 2016 WCHA playoffs with a 6-2 win in front of 4,613 fans Saturday. Five Falcons scored a goal and 11 earned at least one point. Mitch McLain scored two goals for the first time in his career, while senior Mark Cooper posted two points in his final regular season game at home.


at Lake Superior State 3, Northern Michigan 1
at Lake Superior State 2, Northern Michigan 2 - OT
Feb. 26 and 27 at Taffy Abel Arena; Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

Gordon Defiel turned in a 54-save weekend, Lake Superior State earned three points from Northern Michigan and the Lakers won the UP rivalry's Cappo Cup for the first time since the 2012-13 season.

Bryce Schmitt and freshman Jake Hand (power-play game-winner) gave the host Lakers a 2-0 lead Friday, and Mitch Hults' short-handed empty-netter countered Dominik Shine's third-period strike for NMU. Defiel turned aside 27 shots in the 3-1 win.

After falling behind 2-0 within seven minutes Saturday, LSSU rallied to score a pair of goals and earn a 2-2 tie. Gage Torrel and Diego Cuglietta scored for the Lakers, who captured the Cappo Cup by virtue of a 2-1-1 series victory over the Wildcats.


No. 14 Michigan Tech 6, Alaska 5
No. 14 Michigan Tech 3, Alaska 2 - OT
Feb. 26 and 27 at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena; Houghton, Mich.

Then-No. 14 Michigan Tech twice used late-game heroics to outlast visiting Alaska in a pair of one-goal wins, allowing the Huskies to remain in contention for the MacNaughton Cup.

Joel L'Esperance scored two goals - including the game-winner with 37 seconds remaining - and the line of Max Vallis, Michael Neville and Reid Sturos combined for three goals and seven points to help Michigan Tech outlast Alaska 6-5 on Friday night. L'Esperance's winner came after the Nanooks had rallied from a 4-0 deficit to tie the game 5-5 with less than five minutes remaining.

Alex Petan notched the game-winner in overtime while teammates Tyler Heinonen and L'Esperance scored in regulation to help the Huskies earn a 3-2 win Saturday in front of 3,337 fans in Houghton.