WCHA Championship Preview
Michigan Tech Hosts New-Look On-Campus Final
The WCHA switched postseason formats last season, awarding home series to the higher seeds throughout the tournament. This culminates with a single-game championship game Saturday night in Houghton, Mich., the home of Michigan Tech, the highest remaining seed.
2. Michigan Tech (22-14-7) vs. 4. Bowling Green (21-17-2)
The Huskies aim to get back to the NCAA tournament after a one-year absence, and will have the advantage of playing the final conference tournament game at MacInnes Student Ice Arena, in front of what will be a sold-out crowd.
Tech swept the season series with Bowling Green, winning two games at BGSU Ice Arena in December. After finishing second in the regular season, the Huskies easily swept Lake Superior State in the quarterfinals before grinding out a three-game series against Minnesota State.
Bowling Green is currently one of the hottest teams in the country, and should be no slouches this weekend. Winners of seven straight games, the Falcons swept Ferris State in the quarterfinals before upsetting regular-season champion Bemidji State at the Sanford Center last weekend.
While confidence and consistency have been issues this season, it turned around the past few weeks, especially noting the recent win streak. The Falcons last lost on Feb. 4 to Northern Michigan, but since then, the team recorded three shutouts and allowed just one goal twice.
“The confidence thing has been very difficult for us to grab onto and keep for any length of time this season,” Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron said. “Right now, our confidence is pretty good. That’s more ourselves than anything else. We’re not thinking of anything outside of ourselves with that. We knew it was going to be a difficult series going to Bemidji, and to be able to get that series and move on, that’s very positive for our group. It’s going to help us this weekend.”
Bowling Green’s defense is led by goaltender Chris Nell. While he struggled to start the season, the netminder has been strong lately, raising his save percentage to .916 on the year. On the offensive side, the Falcons have juniors Mitchell McLain and Tyler Spezia, along with senior Kevin Dufour, who all average more than 0.7 points per game.
“When I look at Bowling Green, I see a lot of similarities with Minnesota State,” Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson said. “Just the way they’re structured from the net out. (They have) good defense, dangerous forwards up front and (are) good on special teams.”
With a win, Bowling Green would clinch its first spot in the NCAA tournament since 1990.
Michigan Tech’s netminder Angus Redmond will be heavily relied upon in the championship. The freshman has a .919 save percentage, and is the cornerstone of the fifth-ranked defense in the country, allowing just 2.16 goals per game.
While the Huskies are an average scoring team, with an offense that produces just 2.93 goals per game, they excel at spreading the puck around. Led by junior forward Joel L’Esperance, the Huskies have nine players with at least 20 points.
“We know Michigan Tech is very confident,” Bergeron said. “Michigan Tech’s got a bunch of momentum, and they’re playing at home. We’re going to control ourselves, we’re going to focus on ourselves and our own game. We know they’re a really deep team at all three positions, and a really talented team at all three positions. We’re going to go up there with a game plan, and hopefully execute it at the best level possible.”
Neither team has won the WCHA tournament since the conference realigned after the 2013 season. With a win, it would be Michigan Tech’s 12th appearance in the NCAAs, and Bowling Green’s 10th trip.
“It sums up as a classic game,” Pearson said. “You got two teams that are very similar; I think evenly matched. If you look at them in the mirror, it’s a lot like looking at our team. I expect a low-scoring, tight, hard-fought game.”