WCHA Tournament Preview: Saying Goodbye to One of Hockey’s Great Conferences

Story posted March 12, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Christopher Hess

As we begin to say goodbye to the WCHA before it becomes the CCHA at the conclusion of the season, the Jeff Sauer Trophy is on the line for the conference tournament champion over the coming weeks.

The tournament will be held at campus sites with the quarterfinals taking place in a best-of-three format March 12-14, then a four-team, one-site championship weekend March 19-20.

Minnesota State won the WCHA championship during the 2018-2019 season, which saw the Mavericks complete an improbable comeback after being down 2-0 with under two minutes to play in regulation and winning 3-2 in overtime over Bowling Green.

The Mavericks were the favorite last year as well before the termination of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they enter this year as the favorite again.

Now let’s take a look at the quarterfinal matchups and break them down.

No. 8 Ferris State (1-21-1) at No. 1 Minnesota State (18-3-1)

No. 7 Alabama Huntsville (3-16-1) at No. 2 Lake Superior State (15-6-3)

No. 6 Northern Michigan (8-15-1) at No. 3 Bowling Green (19-8-1)

No. 5 Michigan Tech (17-10-1) at No. 4 Bemidji State (13-8-3)

 

No. 8 Ferris State at No. 1 Minnesota State

Ferris State has won only one game this season, and Minnesota State is a national title contender. That’s the story of the matchup in a nutshell.

Expect potential Richter Award winner Dryden McKay to add to his career shutout total in the quarterfinal round and lead his team into the semifinals after two blowout wins. This series could get ugly really fast.

Prediction: Minnesota State

 

No. 7 Alabama Huntsville at No. 2 Lake Superior State

Kudos to Huntsville for resurrecting the program in the offseason and trying to find a solid foundation for the future of Chargers hockey. It wasn’t easy, but they found a way to play under the most challenging circumstances.

UAH struggles to find consistency on offense, but goalie David Fessenden has a save percentage of .920 and a goals-against average of 2.62. He is a main reason as to why Huntsville has been competitive in a number of games this season.

The Lakers will bring the heat to the undermanned Chargers and will do so with a vengeance. Ashton Calder and Pete Veillette have been outstanding for Lake State offensively, combining for 44 points in 24 games played.

Mareks Mitens has been solid in net all season, and that will likely continue as his goals-against average has been sitting below 2.0 virtually the entire season.

Prediction: Lake Superior State

 

No. 6 Northern Michigan at No. 3 Bowling Green

It’s been tough sledding for Northern Michigan this season, coming into the tournament with a record of 8-15-1. And the Wildcats are faced with a tall task in round one.

The offensive production from star Griffin Loughran has dropped off significantly, scoring only four goals as opposed to 23 last season. Loughran has the ability to be electric, but he just hasn’t looked the same.

André Ghantous and Joseph Nardi have a combined 51 points, but they can’t do it all by themselves. As good as they are, they’ve been let down by poor goaltending.

Four netminders have gotten action throughout the season, and when the Cats are going up against a quick-strike offense led by Brandon Kruse, Connor Ford, Cameron Wright and Max Johnson, it may get ugly.

The Falcons are loaded and have a three-game winning streak heading into the quarterfinals. Eric Dop and Zach Rose have been great in net, and BGSU should come out on top here.

Prediction: Bowling Green

 

No. 5 Michigan Tech at No. 4 Bemidji State

There are two words to describe what fans should do for this series: buckle up.

Michigan Tech’s Alec Broetzmen and Trenton Bliss have been playing at an extremely high level over the past few weeks as the duo has racked up 25 goals and 46 points.

Defensively, Colin Swoyer and Eric Gotz have the ability to lock up a team’s best player with ease and will bring a great test to a BSU team that always seems to get hot in February and March.

Blake Pietila’s 1.74 goals-against average and .937 save percentage have been superb. However, the Beavers were able to crack him just under a month ago.

Bemidji has won six out of its last eight heading into the conference tournament, and it’s safe to say that this team is hot.

Alex Ierullo has led the way with 20 points and is easily one of the most unselfish players in the nation when it comes to giving his teammates chances to score.

Ethan Somoza has a wicked wrister that has allowed him to light the lamp 11 times, and Owen Sillinger has nine for an offense that knows how to create chances.

Goalie Zach Driscoll has also played at a high level, allowing 2.3 goals per contest and holding a .922 save percentage. Although his numbers are down, he has still been able to rise to the occasion.

This series has the potential to go to three games, and overtime is also on the table as well. But teams playing with confidence and swagger are tough to beat, and the Beavers have both.

Prediction: Bemidji State

 

It’s been a long and wonderful ride for the WCHA as some of hockey’s blue bloods have created memories and rivalries that will last a lifetime.

The greatest hockey rivalry in the collegiate ranks once lived in the WCHA—North Dakota vs. Minnesota—and it gave fans thrills and chills for decades.

Those iconic battles between the former Fighting Sioux and Golden Gophers brought people from all walks of life together whether it was in Minneapolis, Grand Forks, or anywhere else around the country.

It just meant more in the WCHA, and every program who had the opportunity to play in it was incredibly fortunate.

The WCHA was truly one of a kind, and it will be greatly missed in the future. It’s sad to see a conference with so much tradition just wither away, but we should celebrate those memories enshrined in college hockey lore forever.

Tournament winner: Minnesota State

 

Christopher Hess is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email christopherhess22@gmail.com.