The Minnesota State men’s hockey team took care of business at home on Friday and Saturday. The Mavericks swept Alabama Huntsville with a pair of 4-0 victories, skating away unscathed from a weekend in which, it seemed, little good could come.
The games weren’t as close as the scores indicated, especially Saturday when Minnesota State outshot the Chargers 65-10 and out-attempted them 131-25. At the end of each period, only half the rink needed to be resurfaced.
At 1-30-1, Huntsville isn’t a good team, but things should get better there now that there’s stability with a committed university, a conference home and a coach who seems willing to sick around longer than the last two guys.
With the very real potential of being a one-bid league for the national tournament, the WCHA might not be able to boast about its top-to-bottom strength as it had in its previous incarnation. But it’s not like the conference hasn’t seen situations like Hunstville’s before.
The league often has a whipping boy.
Alaska Anchorage won just four games last season and was 2-20-6 in league play. In 2010-11, Michigan Tech had four wins and was 2-24-2 in the conference. In 2002-03, Anchorage one just one game and went winless (0-22-6) against WCHA teams.
For the teams vying for the MacNaughton Cup, for home ice for the playoffs and to get into the postseason, avoiding disaster against Alabama Huntsville is important.
Bowling Green is in a three-way tie for fourth place and that final home-ice spot right now. How big are those two points they’re missing due to a home loss to the Chargers on Dec. 7? Vastly improved Alaska Anchorage is in third place with a two-point lead over those fourth-place teams. An extra point of comfort was left behind in Huntsville when the Seawolves tied there on Jan. 17.
Huntsville’s final three opponents — Lake Superior, Bemidji State and Northern Michigan — all have something to play for down the stretch, possibly home ice but, really, the chance to get into the conference tournament. You think those teams aren’t a bit nervous about playing that potential spoiler?
Upsets happen. Just ask the North Dakota women’s team.
Ranked fourth in the nation last week, UND was swept at home by Minnesota State on Saturday and Sunday, thanks to Mavericks goalie Danielle Butters, who stopped 85 of 88 shots, and forward Nicole Germaine, who scored a pair of game-winning goals.
The Gustavus Adolphus women, almost unstoppable in MIAC play and riding a 30-game conference win streak at the time, were stunned and lost two games St. Benedict on Jan. 31-Feb. 1 and will head into the final weekend of the regular season as part of a three-team race for the championship.
With their wins over Huntsville, the MSU men clinched home ice for the WCHA tournament, stayed in the hunt for the MacNaughton Cup and even moved up a bit in the Pairwise Rankings.
They have nothing to apologize for.
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.