This year’s WCHA race, if it stays on the same course, will need a photo finish to determine not only a winner but a last-place team as well.
North Dakota is the exception this year; the Fighting Sioux have started strong and lead the league after three weekends of action. But after UND the race is tighter than a drumhead, with every team gaining and within four points of second place.
A big game this weekend has UND going to Minnesota to face the Gophers in what should be a great, and typical, WCHA series. In other games — and this year they’re all important — Minnesota-Duluth is at St. Cloud State, Wisconsin visits Northern Michigan and Colorado College and Denver play a home-and-home series.
Here’s a look at each series.
North Dakota (6-1-0, 6-0-0 WCHA) at Minnesota (3-3-0, 3-3-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 CT, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, MN North Dakota has taken the league by surprise, but it’s Minnesota who would like to have the party this weekend.
UND has put together an excellent early-season run; they are undefeated in league play and at the top of the standings. They have put together three distinct parts of their game this year: timely scoring, team defense and good goaltending. Teams like that win, and that’s what Coach Dean Blais has the Fighting Sioux doing this year. Can players like Dave Hoogsteen, Jason Blake, Toby Kvalevog and Kevin Hoogsteen continue their excellent play, especially in a big series with an even bigger rival?
Minnesota players and coaches remember the past few years, when rivals have built big leads and been impossible to catch. Nobody in the league (except maybe North Dakota) wants that to happen again, and the Gophers hope to stop UND this weekend. Playing at home should help the Gophers, but UND has looked good both at home and on the road. Erik Rasmussen (4-2–6) and Mike Crowley (1-5–6) have been the offensive leaders for the Gophers, while Steve DeBus (3-3, 2.85 GAA, .898 SV%) has been solid in goal.
ELMO Picks: The Gophers make it a race by winning twice: 4-3, 4-2.
Minnesota-Duluth (4-2-0, 3-1-0 WCHA) at St. Cloud State (4-2-0, 2-2-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 CT, National Hockey Center, St. Cloud, MN
Both teams have to be happy with their seasons so far. This weekend both are confident, and the Bulldogs and Huskies want to stay close to the top.
After a week’s rest, Duluth will look to Mike Peluso (5-3–8), Ken Dzikowski (2-5–7) and Brad Federenko (2-4–6) to lead the way. Peluso has three of his team’s seven power-play goals and has taken on the leadership shoes. Goalie Brant Nicklin (4-1-0, 2.00 GAA, .923 SV%) has been there to make the big saves.
This series presents a chance for the Huskies to make a move against an in-state rival. Coach Craig Dahl will have to have his team going on all cycles to win and make a statement to the other league teams. Matt Cullen (1-8–9), Sacha Molin (6-1–7) and Mark Parrish (3-4–7) have been wonderful offensively while defenseman Josh DeWolf (2-4–6) has also made his talents known.
ELMO Picks: A close split. SCSU 4-3, UMD 5-4.
Wisconsin (3-3-0, 3-3-0 WCHA) at Northern Michigan (2-5-1, 2-4-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 ET, Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI
The Badgers’ Friday win over Minnesota last weekend should have showed them that they can play well against good competition. But what effect did Saturday’s loss have? The Badgers have not looked good on Saturdays this year (three straight). If they want to compete for a top finish, that will have to be corrected. A special note: Saturday’s win gave coach Jeff Sauer his 367th at Wisconsin, tying him with the legendary Bob Johnson for the school record. Goalie Kirk Daubenspeck will need another good weekend of play. Erik Raygor, Joe Bianchi and company will need two nights of solid effort.
Northern Michigan’s young lineup hasn’t made life easy for opponents this year. As these players gain experience, look for more good things to happen. Bud Smith (1-4–5), a freshman, leads the Wildcats in scoring. Curtis Sheptak (1-3–4) is next. In all, eight of the top 10 scorers are freshmen. Goalie Dieter Kochan (2-4-0, 3.67 GAA, .901 SV%) has been brilliant in averaging 33 saves a game.
ELMO Picks: The Badgers sweep: 4-2, 3-1.
Colorado College (3-3-0, 3-3-0 WCHA) at Denver (3-3-0, 1-3-0 WCHA) Friday, 7:05 MT, DU Arena, Denver, CO Denver (3-3-0, 1-3-0 WCHA) at Colorado College (3-3-0, 3-3-0 WCHA) Sunday, 2:05 MT, AFA Cadet Ice Arena, Air Force Academy, CO
This is another in-state rivalry that will jam the arenas with plenty of up-and-down action.
Colorado College is another team playing poorly one night of the week; the Tigers have lost three straight Friday games coming into this weekend. Last Friday’s loss to SCSU snapped a 28-game undefeated streak in that series. However, there was one good note about Friday: the Tigers scored their first power-play goal in 27 chances. Brian Swanson (3-3–6) and Eric Rud (1-5–6) lead the team in scoring. Judd Lambert (2-3-0, 3.39 GAA, .864 SV%) is the top netminder.
Coach George Gwozdecky hopes his team will be consistent this weekend against a big rival. Antti Laaksonen (1-5–6) and Paul Comrie (3-3–6) lead the team in scoring, and Stephen Wagner (2-0-0, 2.80 GAA, .923 SV%) has been consistent between the pipes. The Pioneers have been a streaky club this year, losing three straight before their current run of three wins. After this series, the Pioneers play Alaska-Anchorage, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan; they’ll want to put together a solid run before December hits.
ELMO Picks: A split. CC 5-2, DU 4-1.
Next Week in the WCHA Friday, Nov.15 Alaska-Anchorage at Denver Northern Michigan at Minnesota-Duluth St. Cloud State at North Dakota Saturday, Nov. 16 Alaska-Anchorage at Denver Northern Michigan at Minnesota-Duluth St. Cloud State at North Dakota Michigan Tech at Minnesota Wisconsin at Colorado College Sunday, Nov. 17 Michigan Tech at Minnesota Wisconsin at Colorado College
Copyright 1996 Jim Thies . All Rights Reserved.
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