Houghton, Mich. will be the site of the WCHA finale this weekend when the Michigan Tech Huskies (22-14-7) host the Bowling Green Falcons (21-17-2) with a bid to the NCAA tournament on the line. This was the game that the coaches predicted in the preseason when they picked BGSU and MTU to finish 1-2, respectively. After a slow start to the year by both teams—but especially the Falcons—neither quite met the expectations that they and others had for them. All of that will be forgotten by the team that wins Saturday’s winner-take-all contest and heads to the national tournament.
Bowling Green is one of the hottest teams in the nation, having won seven straight games and surrendered a goal or less in five of those games. Like Michigan Tech, this team relies on goaltending and defense well before their offense. Junior goaltender Chris Nell struggled in the first half of the season but has allowed less than three goals in all but four games in 2017. He was at his best last weekend when he stopped 70 shots in two games against Bemidji State in their road sweep of the WCHA’s top seed.
The Falcons finished at .500 during the regular season because of inconsistency, and while they have steadied the ship on defense, their offense remains a question mark. It has been running on all cylinders recently, with 29 goals in the last seven games (which was immediately preceded by being shut out three times). If you believe in this complete resurgence of both offense and defense, it is hard to bet against this Falcons team.
Offensively BGSU is led by upperclassmen, with their top six point-scorers all being juniors and seniors. Foremost is junior Mitchell McLain, who has 17 goals and 33 points. Like the team as a whole, McLain is rolling recently with a point in five of the last six games. None of their top point-getters scored in their only series against Michigan Tech, a sweep by the Huskies in December where BGSU only scored one goal each night. Along those lines, history has not been kind to the Falcons in this matchup—MTU has lost only once in the last six games, including the 2015 WCHA semifinal when the Huskies won 5-2.
Michigan Tech enters the weekend with a golden opportunity to clinch an automatic bid in the friendly confines of MacInnes Arena fresh off a hard-fought quarterfinal win over nemesis Minnesota State. Clearly the story of the weekend was freshman forward Gavin Gould’s four goals, including a hat trick in Sunday’s elimination game. Lost in the drama of a series win and Gould’s heroics was the unofficial of ‘Beef.’ Angus Redmond proved he was at full strength, building off of the prior weekend’s shutout to hold MSU to one goal for three straight nights. Any questions about his fitness or focus were effectively dismissed. Redmond came up with some “A1 saves,” as a fan’s sign in the Mac so eloquently put it, especially during Sunday’s game which was close until the very end.
MTU’s offense has been extremely consistent, even bordering on prolific, in the last month. Only once in the last eight games have they not scored at least three goals. The problem is that one game was on Saturday when the Mavericks shut out the Huskies to force a game 3. Also worth noting is that Sunday’s boxscore does not tell the entire story of that game. In a span of only a few moments did a MSU goal get waved off that would have made the game 3-2 followed by MTU’s empty net goal to ice the game at 4-1. That two-goal swing may have changed the course of the season, but outside of Gould, no one in gold and black scored against MSU’s Jason Pawloski for two games. In a three-game series, there is room for error. This weekend, the Huskies must bring the offense that routed Lake Superior State and crushed the Mavericks in game one of the semifinals.
There is plenty of reason to believe that the Huskies will put forth a championship level defensive effort. This weekend likely comes down to whether MTU brings their offensive A game. Tech has more efficient special teams while Bowling Green has some elite individual scorers. Goaltending is usually a great equalizer, but both teams have elite netminders. The team that can control the offensive game will come away with the Broadmoor Trophy.
Keys to the Game
- Bring as much pressure to the net as possible. This is especially true early in the game. These teams have won a combined three games when they trail after the first period. In Saturday’s loss to MSU the Huskies had very few scoring opportunities. That must not happen again because this weekend will feature a much better goaltender.
- Control the shots battle. Michigan Tech has relied on a large shot advantage this season to account for their low shooting percentage (36th in the nation at 9.5%). Their best skill has been to severely limit their opponent’s shots and chances, holding conference foes to under 23 shots per game compared to MTU’s 33 per game.
- Take advantage of depth. The Huskies are deeper than just about any team in the WCHA, including the Falcons. That depth has allowed them to utilize their speed late in games, something they showcased when they scored five third period goals in last weekend’s series. This could be a difference maker if the game is close in the third period or goes past 60 minutes.
It seemed as though the Huskies fed off of the energy in the building on Sunday, which bodes well for them this weekend in what should be as good or better of an atmosphere. Not to be overlooked, however, is how the Falcons did not blink when faced with that exact situation against the Beavers. They won two close games, including Friday night in overtime. This is a team that is peaking at the right time and is backed by a hot goaltender, a formidable combination. Having watched all five games these teams played this weekend, I liked what I saw from Bowling Green too much. After a mostly disappointing season full of adversity, the Falcons end up doing what most pundits expected of them before the season began – represent the WCHA in the NCAA tournament. Bowling Green wins a nail biter, 3-2.
Saturday’s game begins at 7:07pm ET. The game is not televised but for a low fee ($10 or something in that range), you can stream the game on WCHA.TV.
Cover image courtesy of Travis Pierce.