I’m going to attempt to rank the 10 teams in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association each week, starting this weekend. And as I put together these rankings, I realized just how tough that job is -- because the WCHA standings can give you a false impression of where teams belong.
It would be easy to just go down the line and place the teams in the order of the standings, breaking ties along the way. Here’s the problem: The league standings are determined by points, and the teams haven’t played the same number of games -- hence the points don’t mean as much as they should at this point in the season.
To prove it, let’s look at Northern Michigan, a team that is eighth in the standings with 13 points. You could say the Wildcats are only one point behind Lake Superior and Michigan Tech, so a case can be made that NMU is better than those two squads. But consider this: Northern Michigan has played just 12 WCHA games, four fewer than the three teams directly in front of them, and SIX games fewer than Bemidji State and BGSU.
So there certainly is still room for movement in the standings, especially when two points separate the sixth- through ninth-place teams.
But enough chit-chat. For these rankings, the premise is simple: When the regular-season ends, how do I think these teams will shake out? These rankings are based on on-court performance, PairWise rankings … and gut feelings.
So here they are, my Power Rankings for WCHA hockey (The “LW” stands for a team’s ranking in this poll “last week”) …
1. FERRIS STATE (17-3-3, 12-0-2 WCHA, 26 points) (LW #1): Of all the rankings I do on this site, this is the easiest team to rank by far. Anyone who argues for another team in this spot just isn’t watching. The No. 2 ranked Bulldogs always have been known for strong defensive play, but this season they have added plenty of offense. FSU has been tested at times, but to this point the Bulldogs have answered every test. Perhaps the biggest test comes this weekend, though, when Ferris State plays at Minnesota State. PairWise: 3.
2. MINNESOTA STATE (12-10-0, 10-6-0 WCHA, 20 points) (LW #2): Normally it’s the team that travels to Alaska that struggles against the team that spends time there, but the Mavericks were swept by Anchorage despite spending the week in Alaska -- and the SeaWolves struggling to get home. But a 1-3 record on a two-week Alaska trip can be forgiven, at least to a degree, by the seven-game WCHA winning streak that preceded it. Knowing that Minnesota State also plays much of the rest of the league season at home also is a plus. PairWise: 23.
3. BOWLING GREEN (12-9-5, 9-6-3 WCHA, 21 points) (LW #3): It looks as if the Falcons have put the debacle of a home loss to Alabama Huntsville behind them, posting a 4-0-2 record since. What’s more, BG is 3-0-1 since the new year began … and no other WCHA team has played more of its schedule on the road. The Falcons have this weekend off in preparation for what may be the most important stretch of the schedule, back-to-back home series against Lake Superior State and Michigan Tech. PairWise: 22.
4. BEMIDJI STATE (7-11-6, 7-7-4 WCHA, 18 points) (LW #4): This is where things start to get interesting. I have the Beavers in this spot following an important road sweep at Lake Superior State. The fact that Bemidji State swept on the road against a decent team is impressive enough; the fact that the two wins put a halt to a six-game winless streak in WCHA play is critical. The Beavers play a home-and-home with North Dakota this week before a critical stretch in the WCHA schedule (road games at Alaska and Minnesota State followed by a home series with Ferris State). PairWise: T36.
5. NORTHERN MICHIGAN (8-10-2, 6-5-1 WCHA, 13 points) (LW #8): I may be overly optimistic about the Wildcats, but there are reasons for optimism. First, Northern Michigan has at least four games in hand with every league team except Alabama Huntsville, which means a winning streak will push them up the standings. Second, the Wildcats have played just five home league games, and are 3-1-1 at home. More games at a place where they play well also points to a push up the standings. But that push must begin this weekend as NMU hosts Alaska. PairWise: T34.
6. ALASKA-ANCHORAGE (11-9-2, 7-7-2 WCHA, 16 points) (LW #5): Not many WCHA fans envisioned the Seawolves this high in the standings (“Not many?” Perhaps none). As a result, Anchorage is fighting for a first-round home series in the WCHA playoffs. Also, big props for the home sweep of Minnesota State last weekend. But it’s worth noting that the sweep came on home ice, where UAA is 7-2-1 in league play. On the road, the Seawolves are 0-5-1, a number that must improve -- and might this weekend as they play at Alabama Huntsville. PairWise: T27.
7. LAKE SUPERIOR STATE (11-10-1, 7-9-0 WCHA, 14 points) (LW #6): You could argue that the Lakers are the best WCHA team in terms of non-conference performance this season. But there have been some troubling trends for LSSU in league play, and that list only begins with the pair of home losses to Bemidji State last weekend. The Lakers haven’t been good at home (4-6-0 in the WCHA), and they have just one win in their last five league games. The road ahead is tough, too, with a pair of games at Notre Dame followed by a crucial series at Bowling Green. PairWise: 31.
8. MICHIGAN TECH (7-13-6, 7-9-0 WCHA, 14 points) (LW #11): There is no shame in the pair of one-goal losses at Ferris State last weekend, but that continues a troubling trend for the Huskies. MTU now has just one win in its last eight WCHA games, and four of those contests were played on home ice. The Huskies will have this week off to lick their wounds and prepare for back-to-back big weekends as they host Ferris State twice before playing a pair of games at Bowling Green. PairWise: 41.
9. ALASKA (8-10-4, 5-9-2 WCHA, 12 points) (LW #7): Of all the teams in the poll, this one mystifies me the most. There is WAY too much talent for this squad to be on the verge of not even making the WCHA playoffs. The stats say this team has trouble keeping the puck out of the net, but the defense looked stout this past weekend at BG. Here’s something to watch: The Nanooks have played only six home league games (only NMU has played fewer), although Alaska is just 2-4-0 at home. If this team can steal some points at Northern Michigan this weekend, four of its final five WCHA series are at home. PairWise: T36.
10. ALABAMA HUNTSVILLE (1-23-0, 1-13-0 WCHA, 2 points) (LW #10): I’m not going to beat a dead horse here, because the record explains everything. But I do see a bad recent trend in that the Chargers have been getting blown out recently (they were outscored 39-6 in their last eight games with just a single one-goal loss). This team has proven it is capable of staying close in games, and that’s what it needs to do to have an opportunity to win. Perhaps an opportunity awaits this weekend when the Chargers host an Anchorage team that is 0-5-1 in WCHA road games this year. PairWise: 58.
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