Who’s going to be in first after Week 17?

By Ryan Stieg 

It’s February, which is still very early in 2024, but we’ve now entered the home stretch for the college hockey regular season.  

Over the next five weeks, home ice spots for the playoffs will be earned, regular season titles will be clinched and if they stay the course, some teams might be lucky enough to get at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament.  

For some leagues, things are starting to straighten out a bit and people can start to guess where each team will finish in the standings. That isn’t the case for the CCHA though. As I’ve written several times this year, this conference is almost impossible to predict on a weekly basis and as far as who is the favorite to win the MacNaughton Cup, I honestly don’t know because every team has battled inconsistency. As a result, my overall track record with weekly predictions this year must be ghastly to look at.  

Looking back at last week, I had a decent performance. I was right that Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State would split in Sault Ste. Marie and my special rule gave me another victory as Minnesota State got a win and a tie against Northern Michigan. The only loss I suffered came in Sioux Falls as I picked Augustana to sweep Ferris State during the opening weekend of its new arena, and instead, the Bulldogs swept the Vikings in their flashy new crib. Yikes.  

This week, there could be some big shifts in the CCHA standings. First off, the two teams that are tied for first place, Mankato and St. Thomas, play each other this weekend. Then out in Michigan, two archrivals will battle for supremacy with one team trying to stay in MacNaughton contention, while the other is hoping it can get home ice. Since I’ll be covering the MSU-UST series live, I won’t be predicting that one. So, I’ll start this week’s set of picks with that big battle in the Upper Peninsula.  

Michigan Tech vs. Northern Michigan (Friday at Marquette, Saturday at Houghton) 

After covering this series for seven seasons in the U.P., I know how intense it can get. The hits will be hard and frequent and there will probably be more than a few scuffles that break out. Tech is four points behind Mankato and UST, and a sweep of the Wildcats could put it right back in the mix for the MacNaughton Cup race. NMU, on the other hand, is 10 points off the lead, so it’s probably out of Cup contention at this point. However, a sweep of the Huskies could keep the Wildcats’ hopes for home ice in the first round alive. I don’t like picking sweeps in rivalry series, but it was around this time last year that Northern caught fire, got home ice and made a deep run in the league playoffs. I think the Wildcats’ February fire will return this week as NMU sweeps the series, 4-2 Friday and 3-1 Saturday. 

Bowling Green at Ferris State 

This series won’t have an impact on the MacNaughton race, but it could affect the competition for home ice. Both teams are in the bottom half of the conference with the Bulldogs in last place and the Falcons just two points ahead of them. However, if one of them were to pull off a sweep, it’d keep its home ice hopes alive. As I mentioned earlier, Ferris is coming off an impressive road sweep of Augustana and the Bulldogs have now won four in a row. BG, on the other hand, was off last week and is in desperate need of a second half boost. The Falcons did sweep the Bulldogs earlier this season, but this time, it’ll be a split. BG wins Friday 3-2, but Ferris wins Saturday 4-3. 

Augustana at Bemidji State 

Right now, the Beavers must be wishing they were playing games that mattered right now. After being off last week and falling into fourth place, Bemidji now hosts Augie in a series where it won’t gain any ground in the standings. Playing the Vikings in February is the worst time to play them as the games don’t count for anything points-wise, so they’re glorified exhibitions at this point. For Augie, they’re just hoping to get back on track after getting swept by Ferris and nabbing two wins from a frustrated Beavers team would be a great treat. Seeing how it’s a “play for pride” scenario for Bemidji, I’m going to pick a split. The Beavers win Friday 3-2, but Augie wins Saturday 5-3.  

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