And then there were two.
We entered last week with four of the seven Division I college hockey programs in the mitten still left standing in the postseason. That has since then been cut in half, following series losses to both Michigan and Western Michigan last weekend.
- Michigan (20-14-3) lost 3-2 in overtime to arch-rival Ohio State in the Big Ten semifinals. The defeat snapped a seven-game winning streak for the Wolverines. Still, they have a very good shot to make the NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Tournament as an at-large bid, largely due to going 11-4-1 over their last 16 and gradually climbing up the USCHO polls in the process.
- Unfortunately for Western Michigan (15-19-2), their season comes to a close after being swept by (8) Minnesota-Duluth in the opening round of the NCHC Tournament, failing to even score a goal in either game against the Bulldogs. It was a tale of two seasons for the Broncos, who went 4-11-1 when the calendar flipped to 2018. Much of the late-season struggles can be attributed to the injury of Wade Allison as well.
The two teams who did survive and are still left standing: Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan. And better yet, the two Yooper schools will duke it out once more for a conference tournament title, a spot in the NCAA Tournament and a year's supply of bragging rights.
MICHIGAN TECH at NORTHERN MICHIGAN
RECAP: Both teams needed a third game in their respective best-of-three WCHA semifinals series last weekend to set up this rivalry showdown for the championship.
Michigan Tech (21-16-5) upended top-seeded and No. 3 nationally-ranked Minnesota State in Mankato, capping the series win with a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game 3. The Huskies have now won five of six overall and appear to be playing their best hockey when it matters most.
Northern Michigan (25-14-3) can share Tech's similar storyline with any worries of copyright infringement. The Wildcats ousted 3-seed and No. 17 nationally-ranked Bowling Green in three games, winning the series-clincher in overtime on Sunday. NMU continues what has been a revival of hockey in Marquette this season.
UP NEXT: It sure does seem fitting that these two schools will battle it out in the final game before the big dance. The U.P. figures to be buzzing tonight with this matchup taking place. Amazingly, it will be the first time that Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan will play one another in the conference title game.
The hockey rivals split their two home-and-home series with each other this season, with both winning their respective games on their home ice. Michigan Tech has sizable control of the all-time series as of late, going 13-6-1 since the Huskies re-joined the WCHA (for a second time) back in 2013.
This will be the 149th meeting all-time between Tech and Northern, with the Wildcats holding a 72-62-14 advantage. NMU head coach Grant Potulny, who took home conference coach of the year honors in his first season behind the bench said it is a “great thing for the whole Upper Peninsula” to have a game of this magnitude.
“It’s a great hockey town. They’ve been supportive of us all year and it’s nice to support them with a championship at home,” he said. “There’s a little more buzz and more excitement, and you can’t ignore the fact that you’re playing a rival, but this is a championship game and at the end of the day it’s more about advancing than it is about anything else.”
Another coach in his first season at the helm, the Huskies' Joe Shawhan says it is “absolutely special” to have this as the final matchup.
“It’s a big deal for people up here. It’s great that people are able to take the pride in it,” Huskies coach Joe Shawhan said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: For Michigan Tech, look for Brent Baltus to make an impact. The senior has four goals over his last 10 games played since returning from injury. He has yet to score in the postseason for the Huskies but he has scored in three of the four games against Northern Michigan; four total goals. In 17 career games against the Wildcats, Baltus has seven goals and three assists.
Meanwhile for Northern Michigan, Troy Loggins will look to stay red hot. The junior for the Wildcats has enjoy a marvelous breakout season, leading the team with 23 goals and is second with 47 points. This comes after collecting just 19 points in 54 games over his first two seasons in Marquette. Loggins has scored a goal in six of the last seven games for NMU (7 G, 5 A in that span), and has a goal and two assists in four games vs. Tech this season.