Whew—the Old Dog is feeling a lot of relief after the Huskies completed their sweep of Ferris State this past weekend on the road in Big Rapids. Make no mistake, it was a struggle as the Bulldogs refused to play the role of a weak opponent and gave Tech a spirited and determined game both nights. But there were plenty of good things to see in Them Dogs in the series. Matt Jurusik was outstanding in net, Colin Swoyer was named WCHA Defenseman of the week with three points and two goals (including both Tech goals on Saturday) and the powerplay showed signs of life.
There were also some hard-to-watch moments, including the opening period on Friday when Tech didn’t seem to rise to the significance of the moment and was outshot and badly outplayed. However, all’s well that ends well, and with the WCHA regular season nearly at an end, it’s a good time for the Old Dog to review the what’s left on the schedule and how things might play out.
As I suggested before the season started, the teams have sorted out into three tiers. But it hasn’t turned out quite the way I suggested it might, primarily because both Bemidji State and Alaska have performed far better than I predicted they would, and Lake Superior has underperformed, too. So, let’s look at the tiers on a team-by-team basis and see what’s ahead—and better yet, the Old Dog will try and offer his foggy crystal ball guesses about how things might end up when the ice chips clear.
Tier One-1st & 2nd Place
Minnesota State and Bemidji State are alone here. It’s impossible for any other team to catch either of these squads, as the Mavericks have 62 points and the Beavers have 57. Mankato hosts a series with Alabama-Huntsville next weekend, while BSU travels to Anchorage. Then these two rivals will finish head-to-head in Bemidji on the final weekend. Bemidji might be able to catch the Mavs, but they’d have to hold serve in Alaska and then sweep Minnesota State on the final weekend—or hope that Huntsville somehow gives them a hand in Mankato. That seems like too much to expect.
Predicted Finish: MSU 1st, BSU a close 2nd.
Tier Two-3rd through 6th
This is the toughest one to call, and, of course, it’s where Tech sits and so it’s of incredible interest to everyone at THG. At this point, the standings show Northern Michigan with 44 points, Alaska with 43, Tech with 41 and Bowling Green with 37. The Nanooks and the Huskies have only two games to go, while NMU and BGSU have four remaining to be played.
The Wildcats have a road series at the Soo with LSSU and the big home-and-home with Tech left. The Falcons host Ferris State this weekend, and then end with UAH in Alabama. Alaska has their traditional finale with Anchorage on the final weekend, and the games are in Fairbanks.
I really hate to say it, but it’s not easy to see how NMU won’t get at least 6 points in their two series, although LSSU, with a very slim chance to catch Bowling Green, won’t be an easy mark at Taffy-Abel Arena. I’d also be very surprised if UAF doesn’t hold serve over the Seahawks. BGSU should, barring some serious upsets, get 8 or 9 points (at least) in their remaining contests.
The “wobble factor” in all of these series is that the Tier Three teams will be in a mad scramble for the WCHA playoffs and—as the past 6 weeks have shown—not one of these teams is going to mail it in and hand over any easy victories.
For this tier, the Old Dog’s crystal ball isn’t just foggy, but it’s probably cracked. The critical factor in all of this will be what the Huskies do with their hated rivals from Marquette. If Them Dogs can win at the Litter Box on Friday and then finish off the Cats at the JMac on Saturday, UAF could end up third if Lake State can win one at home against Northern. If all that happens, UAF would finish with 49 points, and Tech and NMU would both have 47. The Huskies would win the tiebreaker and then host NMU at home for the first round of the playoff.
Unless of course BGSU wins all four of their remaining games—and ends up with 49 points and jumps ahead of both Tech and NMU. Then UAF and BGSU could end up tied. The two games they played earlier ended up with UAF winning one in 3 on 3, and BGSU winning the second tilt in a shootout. How that tie would be resolved is too much for the Old Dog to figure out.
It’s beyond unlikely that everything will play out that way, however. So, with almost no probability of getting this correct, it’s time for the Old Dog to throw darts at the standings board.
Predicted Finish: NMU 3rd, Alaska 4th, BGSU 5th and MTU 6th. I’d rather pick Tech to finish higher, but the lower tier teams would have to win so many of the remaining games that a leap of faith is required for that to happen—even if Tech sweeps Northern. I will concede, though, that stranger things have happened in the always zany WCHA.
Tier Three-7th through 10th
At the moment, LSSU has 32 points, Alaska-Anchorage has 20, Ferris has 17, and Huntsville has 13. All four teams have four games left and none of them are against one another. To start, it looks like LSSU is a lock for seventh slot and Huntsville can’t hope to climb out of last place.
I don’t think Anchorage can get any points with games against Bemidji and Fairbanks. The Bulldogs are more likely to get 3 or even more against LSSU and BGSU. If they get three and the Seahawks lose the rest, they end up tied. If that happens, Ferris State wins the tiebreaker and gets rewarded with a trip to Mankato for the first round of the playoffs.
Predicted Finish: LSSU 7th, FSU 8th, UAA 9th, and UAH 10th.