Note: This week, CSTV’s game of the week airs on Saturday evening, but Friday will still consist of its regular “Thank God Its Hockey” programming, with original pre- and wrapup coverage, wrapped around a repeat of last week’s Michigan-UNH game.
So far this season, CSTV has shown you two very dramatic hockey games, with both the season-opener between Maine and North Dakota and last week’s Michigan-New Hampshire contest going into overtime. The drama won’t stop in this week’s special Saturday night game, but it’ll be a different kind of drama. Before taking the ice against St. Cloud State, the University of Denver will raise its 2004 NCAA Championship banner to the top of Magness Arena. In a classy move, the Pioneers will also unveil new banners for each of their five previous championships, with captains from all six championship teams participating in the festivities. As if emotions wouldn’t be running high enough, it’ll also be the opening weekend of WCHA play, which raises the stakes for this game.
THREE KEYS FOR ST. CLOUD STATE
Craig Dahl’s 18th season as the head coach of the Huskies is off to a respectable start after a win and tie at the Ice Breaker and a split with Northern Michigan last weekend, but Dahl would certainly like his team to kick its season into high gear as the Huskies open conference play against Denver. They can go a long way toward doing so with strong efforts in three key areas:
FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH: Dahl will bring ten freshmen to Denver this weekend, the second-largest freshman class he’s had since his arrival at St. Cloud. It’ll be on-the-job training for these Husky freshman, as they will play regularly and will be expected to contribute. Forward Andrew Gordon – who Dahl calls a legitimate NHL prospect – leads the class, entering the weekend on a three-game goal streak and leading the team with four points on the season. Fellow rookies Nate Dey and Matt Francis have also played all four games for the Huskies, and should be watched as key freshman contributors for St. Cloud.
“UPPER” DECK: Dahl will also, naturally, look for big contributions from his upperclassmen, starting with senior Dave Iannazzo. The 5-foot-9 Iannazzo was the team’s leading scorer last season, and the tenacious senior forward will need to deliver the goods again for St. Cloud to be successful. Also look for big things from junior Joe Jensen, a 24-point scorer last season, and senior Peter Szabo. Szabo needs to be better for the Huskies than he was last season. The Nitra, Slovakia, native has 91 career points at St. Cloud (18g, 55a), but only recorded 17 of them in 2003-04, and needs to get back to handing out the helpers for the Huskies.
POWER OUTAGE: Entering the weekend, the Huskies are a paltry 2-for-34 on the power play. With so much of the game being devoted to special teams as everyone adjusts to the NCAA’s new standards for rule enforcement, this simply cannot continue if the Huskies hope to be successful. The Huskies have generated chances with the extra man, but they haven’t been able to score, and power-play goals will be a key issue for the Huskies until they start to convert on their opportunities.
THREE KEYS FOR DENVER
The Pioneers know that they’re going to have a target on their backs all season long, especially during the first few weeks. Boston College and Minnesota have already hit the mark, but Denver would like to stop St. Cloud from doing the same. Head coach George Gwozdecky knows it’s great to have long-range plans – like another run for the national championship – but it’s more important to have smaller daily goals. In that spirit, here are three daily goals for the Pioneers as they take the ice on Saturday night.
I FEEL THE NEED…THE NEED FOR SPEED: One of the staples of Denver’s championship run last season was excellent team speed. While Gwozdecky might not have anyone who can fly like Connor James, there are still plenty of Pioneers who know how to turn on the jets. Gwozdecky will be looking for guys like returning scoring leader Gabe Gauthier (18-25-43 in 2003-04), current leader Jon Foster (4-0-4 in three games so far this season) and senior Luke Fulghum to expose the young Husky defense.
GONE FISHIN’: Last year, Glenn Fisher was “The Apprentice” under Adam Berkhoel, but you won’t hear Gwozdecky saying “You’re Fired” to the sophomore from Edmonton. Instead, Fisher heard “You’re Hired” when Berkhoel graduated, and his confidence has only grown since taking his place in the Pioneer net. Fisher is a big kid at 6-foot-1, and he needs to play big for Denver to win.
THE PAST IS THE PAST: Gwozdecky said it best: the banner ceremony on Saturday night is a great way to “really appreciate what a terrific accomplishment the team made last year.” Emphasis on last year. The Pioneers made a magical run to the championship last season, and the ceremony will be a great way to recognize that. However, Denver can’t get caught reliving the past once the puck drops. They need to focus on the task at hand, which is getting off to a winning start in the always-competitive WCHA. St. Cloud isn’t about to bow down before the defending champs, so the Pioneers will need to assert themselves.
It will be a special night in Denver, as the Pioneers celebrate last season’s championship victory, but could it be a special night for St. Cloud? There’s only one way to find out, and you’ll have the chance on Saturday, on a special Saturday edition of CSTV Friday Night Hockey.
Billy Jaffe serves as a hockey analyst for CSTV. He is a former college player at Michigan and has served as a broadcaster and an on-ice official for CCHA games.