Only two of Michigan’s seven Division I hockey programs are left standing, Michigan Tech and Western Michigan. And this weekend, both of them will begin their quest to become 2017 Division I Men’s Hockey champions.
The Huskies (23-14-7) got the automatic bid thanks to a WCHA Tournament title, highlighted by a 3-2 win over Bowling Green in double overtime. Overall on the season, they’ve been relatively steady, hovering around the polls for much of the season and in considerable contention atop the WCHA, finishing 2nd to only Bemidji State, who did not receive an at-large bid.
Tech as the season was winding down was not playing their best hockey, finishing the regular season on a 2-4-1 stretch. But they ultimately hunkered down when it mattered most, picking up series wins over in-state rival Lake Superior State as well as Minnesota State in the WCHA playoffs, before dispatching Bowling Green last Saturday.
In terms of production, it’s been a very balanced Husky offense. They have nine players that have accumulated at least 20 points this season, and 15 players reaching double-figures in that department. And while it’s a upperclassman-heavy bunch, some notable freshmen and sophomores have chipped in all year long, namely sophomore Jake Lucchini (10 G, 11 A) and freshman Alex Smith (7 G, 13 A).
Tech is back in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons, after a 33-year absence from the festivities. They will have their hands full this weekend, however, when they play the No. 1 overall seed in Denver, a perennial powerhouse who was the regular season champions in the NCHC this season.
Speaking of the NCHC, Western Michigan is one of four teams from that conference earning a bid into the field of 16. The Broncos (22-12-5) are one of the best stories in college hockey this season after winning just eight games a season ago. The 14-win improvement from a year ago is the biggest in college hockey this season.
Unlike Michigan Tech, Western Michigan has relied heavily on underclassmen this season. Six of their top seven point-getters are either of freshman or sophomore status, including team-leader, sophomore Matheson Iacopelli. The Brownstown, MI native and Woodhaven High School product has potted 20 goals and totaled 34 points this season, after scoring just one goal and notching seven points as a freshman.
Western Michigan began playing Division I hockey back in 1975-76. This is just their fifth appearance overall in the NCAA Tournament, but third in the last seven seasons. Like Tech, they too have a tough test this weekend when they battle Air Force, who took home the American Hockey title last weekend. The Broncos and Falcons met way back in mid-November in Kalamazoo, a series in favor of the Broncos (1-0-1).
The first weekend of the NCAA Hockey Tournament begins on Friday, puck dropping early afternoon. For a complete look at the bracket and schedule, click here. Here is when Western Michigan and Michigan Tech will take the ice:
- WESTERN MICHIGAN
- Friday, March 24 vs. Air Force | 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3
- Saturday, March 25 vs. Harvard/Providence | 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU (if WMU wins on Friday)
- MICHIGAN TECH
- Saturday, March 25 vs. Denver | 1 p.m. ET on ESPN3
- Sunday, March 26 vs. Penn State/Union (NY) | 6 p.m. ET on ESPNU (if MTU wins on Saturday)