There's just three series in the WCHA this week, as half the league has the weekend off. It's an important weekend in the WCHA, however. League play begins this week with a pair of conference series.
rare, extremely rare, first ever stroke of genius by the WCHA, the first two WCHA series of the year will feature a pair of old rivalries that have been given new life thanks to conference realignment.
First off, Bemidji State travels to Alabama-Huntsville for a pair of games. The two teams were long-time rivals during their Division 2 days, and continued that rivalry in the CHA. uahhockey.com has a great write-up on just what the Bemidji State-Alabama-Huntsville rivalry means.
On the ice, it has been over a calendar year since Alabama-Huntsville hosted a Division I opponent on their home ice(October 12-13, 2012 against Minnesota State). Both teams come into this series winless on the season,and both look like they could be battling to avoid the bottom two spots in the league and missing out on the playoffs. Bemidji has had four tough games against a pair of really good opponents in Minnesota and St. Cloud, and have looked pretty tough, despite coming out of it with a 0-3-1 record. This weekend will be a good test to see what they can do against a more equally-matched opponent.
Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech will meet up once again as well as conference rivals after spending over a decade in separate conferences. The two teams still met on an annual basis, but a mid-week non-conference series just doesn't have the same intensity as a series where conference points are on the line.
The Wildcats are coming off a big non-conference win against Nebraska-Omaha last weekend for their first win of the year. They're still without their leading scorer from last year, Reed Seckel, who has yet to play yet this year due to an undisclosed injury. Forward Ryan Aynsley is also questionable for this series with an injury. Freshman forward Sami Salminen will sit out the final game game of a five-game NCAA suspension on Friday night, and be eligible to return to the line-up on Saturday night. In goal, the Wildcats have given freshman Mathias Dahlstrom the start on Friday night, and Michael Doan the start on Saturday twice so far, and that rotation seems unlikely to change for the time being.
The Huskies, meanwhile, are looking to erase the taste of an ugly weekend in South Bend against Notre Dame out of their mouths. The Huskies were whistled for 85 minutes of penalty time in their Sunday loss to the Irish.
The bigger concern for Michigan Tech has been the struggles of their offense. They're averaging just 1.75 goals per game. Alex Petan, Blake Pietila, and Tanner Kero were all projected to be breakout offensive players for the Huskies, and each only has a single point through four games this year. They'll look to get their offense back on track this weekend against the Wildcats.
The final series involving a WCHA team this week is a non-conference series between Alaska and Mercyhurst that will be played at the Patty Center in Fairbanks. Alaska was forced out of their regular home, the Carlson Center, by the Alaskan Federation of Natives Convention, forcing them to move to the 1300 on-campus rink. Both games are sold out which should give the home Nanooks the advantage of an intense atmospere.
After a strong finish last Saturday, the WCHA as a league sits one game below .500 in non-conference play. With the WCHA playing a longer league schedule than some other leagues, the number of non-conference opportunities they'll have is rapidly dwindling, and a pair of wins here by the Nanooks to give the WCHA a winning league record would be helpful.