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This Week in the WCHA

College Hockey:
Presenting the nuts and bolts of the WCHA’s second half

As we approach the dawn of a new calendar year, many of us find ourselves making soon-to-be-broken resolutions of self-improvement and planning a festive night out with family and/or friends. The rest of us will be covering and recapping games with no conference implications and little or no PairWise ramifications for your reading pleasure sometime Sunday afternoon when you roll out of bed.

WCHA teams from top to bottom are making their own resolutions at this moment. All but one are pledging to climb higher on the league ladder in the year to come and to that end have vowed to score more, tighten their defense, improve their special teams or become more disciplined.

Some will succeed in varying degrees while others will most certainly fall short of their goals and that’s what the next two months are all about.

In any case, we wish you all a happy and safe New Year celebration and leave you with our thoughts on the second half of the WCHA season.

Alaska-Anchorage

Overall record: 6-10-2

WCHA record/rank: 3-10-1/11th

USCHO national rank: NR

PairWise rank: NR

Record vs. TUC: 3-10-0

Remaining schedule (16 games, 9 home/7 away): Jan. 13-14 at Michigan Tech; Jan. 20-21 at Wisconsin; Jan. 27-28 vs. Denver; Feb. 3-4 vs. Minnesota-Duluth; Feb. 10-11 vs. Minnesota State; Feb. 17-18 at St. Cloud State; Feb. 24 vs. Alaska; Feb. 25 at Alaska; March 2-3 vs. Bemidji State.

Strength of remaining WCHA schedule (win percentage, record): 0.489, 57-60-16

Conference rank: 10

Strength of remaining overall schedule (win percentage, record): 0.483, 64-69-18

Conference rank: 11

Number of remaining scheduled games vs. TUC: 10

Second-half outlook: After sitting 4-8-2 in the WCHA at this time last year, the Seawolves vaulted to an eighth seed in the WCHA playoff behind an 8-6 second-half surge. UAA parlayed that into a trip to the Final Five after upsetting fifth-seeded Minnesota in Minneapolis. While a repeat of the surge and a return to St. Paul are unlikely, Alaska-Anchorage can, in fact, impact the conference race.

Maybe it has something to do with the Northern Lights, but odd occurrences have a way of happening in Anchorage so Denver, UMD and Bemidji State would be wise to bring their “A” games to “The Last Frontier.” Michigan Tech, against whom the Seawolves hold a .524 all-time winning percentage, may also want to be ready to play when UAA visits Houghton in a couple of weeks.

Tyler’s prediction: 11th

Brian’s prediction: 11th

Bemidji State

Overall record: 9-19-2

WCHA record/rank: 5-7-2/Ninth

USCHO national rank: NR

PairWise rank: 27

Record vs. TUC: 6-9-1

Remaining schedule (16 games, 8 home/8 away): Dec. 30-31 vs. Bowling Green; Jan. 13-14 at Denver; Jan. 27-28 vs. Minnesota State; Feb. 3-4 at Nebraska-Omaha; Feb. 10-11 vs. Colorado College; Feb. 17-18 at Minnesota; Feb. 24-25 vs. Wisconsin; March 2-3 at Alaska-Anchorage.

Strength of remaining WCHA schedule (win percentage, record): 0.508, 60-58-12

Conference rank: tie-8

Strength of remaining overall schedule (win percentage, record): 0.490, 66-69-15

Conference rank: 10

Number of remaining scheduled games vs. TUC: 8

Second-half outlook: Bemidji State’s WCHA record a year ago (4-9-1) was nearly identical to that of Alaska-Anchorage and, although BSU won just four of its final 14 conference games, the 10th-seeded Beavers became another unlikely Final Five entrant with a sweep in Omaha. They followed that up by becoming the last team to defeat Minnesota-Duluth on its way to the national title.

Goaltender Andrew Walsh, a two-time WCHA rookie of the week, is gaining confidence with every start while vets Brad Hunt (4-13–17) and Jordan George (11-6–17) continue to be the catalysts. Despite tough road tests the next two-plus months in Denver, Omaha, Minneapolis and even Anchorage, don’t be surprised if Bemidji State moves up a spot or two down the stretch, which sets up nicely for a potential postseason return trip to Omaha.

Tyler’s prediction: 6th

Brian’s prediction: 8th

Colorado College

Overall record: 11-5-0

WCHA record/rank: 9-5-0/Third

USCHO national rank: 6

PairWise rank: 15

Record vs. TUC: 4-4-0

Remaining schedule (18 games, 11 home/7 away): Dec. 30 vs. Air Force; Dec. 31 vs. Union; Jan. 6-7 vs. Cornell; Jan. 13-14 vs St. Cloud State; Jan. 20-21 at Minnesota; Feb. 3-4 at Denver/vs. Denver; Feb. 10-11 at Bemidji State; Feb. 17-18 vs. Nebraska-Omaha; Feb. 24-25 at Minnesota-Duluth; March 2-3 vs. Michigan Tech.

Strength of remaining WCHA schedule (win percentage, record): 0.567, 68-50-17

Conference rank: 2

Strength of remaining overall schedule (win percentage, record): 0.593, 93-60-25

Conference rank: 1

Number of remaining scheduled games vs. TUC: 16

Second-half outlook: Of those in contention for the conference title, the Tigers face the most daunting task over the season’s final 10 weeks. Eighty-nine percent of CC’s remaining games are against vaunted Teams Under Consideration (TUC) which could easily be a blessing as much as a curse when March rolls around depending, of course, on how the Tigers do.

With eight games (five on the road) against the two teams they trail (UMD and Minnesota) and the two immediately behind them (UNO and Denver) in the WCHA standings, Colorado College will, if nothing else, be battle tested heading into the postseason. CC’s success will hinge on its ability to stay healthy throughout the late-season grind and who, if anyone, steps up between the pipes.

Tyler’s prediction: 3rd

Brian’s prediction: 3rd

Denver

Overall record: 8-7-3

WCHA record/rank: 6-5-3/Fifth

USCHO national rank: 15

PairWise rank: 23

Record vs. TUC: 4-6-3

Remaining schedule (18 games, 10 home/8 away): Dec. 30-31 vs. Union/at Air Force; Jan. 6-7 vs. Alabama-Huntsville; Jan. 13-14 vs. Bemidji State; Jan. 27-28 at Alaska-Anchorage; Feb. 3-4 vs. Colorado College/at Colorado College; Feb. 10-11 vs. Minnesota; Feb. 17-18 at Wisconsin; Feb. 24-25 vs. North Dakota; March 2-3 at Nebraska-Omaha.

Strength of remaining WCHA schedule (win percentage, record): 0.542, 65-54-11

Conference rank: 4

Strength of remaining overall schedule (win percentage, record): 0.511, 84-80-19

Conference rank: 7

Number of remaining scheduled games vs. TUC: 12

Second-half outlook: The time is rapidly approaching for the Pioneers to turn the corner and become the team they were expected to be entering the season. If they don’t, they could find themselves in the unfamiliar position of opening the postseason on the road.

While DU’s overall strength of schedule is tempered by the presence of Alabama-Huntsville, the Pioneers face the fourth-toughest league schedule of the season’s second half and it’s heavily back loaded. The UAH series should allow Denver to rest Jason Zucker, if needed, after his return from the World Junior Championship, and the impending returns of Beau Bennett and goaltender Sam Brittain in late January should bolster the lineup for the stretch run.

Tyler’s prediction: 5th

Brian’s prediction: 5th

Michigan Tech

Overall record: 9-9-1

WCHA record/rank: 6-7-1/tie-Seventh

USCHO national rank: NR

PairWise rank: 30

Record vs. TUC: 2-6-1

Remaining schedule (17 games, 7 home/8 away/2 neutral): Dec. 29-30 vs. Michigan State/vs. Boston College or Michigan at Great Lakes Invitational; Jan. 13-14 vs. Alaska-Anchorage; Jan. 21 vs. Northern Michigan; Jan. 27-28 at Minnesota-Duluth; Feb. 3-4 at Minnesota State; Feb. 10-11 vs. Nebraska-Omaha; Feb. 17-18 at North Dakota; Feb. 24-25 vs. St. Cloud State; March 2-3 at Colorado College.

Strength of remaining WCHA schedule (win percentage, record): 0.508, 59-57-14

Conference rank: tie-8

Strength of remaining overall schedule (win percentage, record): 0.524, 87-78-22 ###

Conference rank: 6

Number of remaining scheduled games vs. TUC: 11 ###

Second-half outlook: In our MTU season preview, the health and return to form of Brett Olson and Jordan Baker were listed as keys to the Huskies finishing higher than predicted in the coaches poll (12th). After an injury-plagued 2010-11 season, each has played all 19 games thus far with Olson’s 19 points (6-13–19) leading the team in scoring, Baker second at 15 (4-11–15), and the Huskies sitting tied for seventh in the league standings.

Other than wins and losses, coach Mel Pearson’s impact has been most dramatic in scoring, both offensively and defensively. After allowing over two goals more than it scored in 2010-11, Michigan Tech’s scoring differential is nearly even at only minus-0.14 goals per game.

The Huskies are entering unfamiliar territory as they battle for postseason home ice in the new year and, while we predict they will ultimately come up short, they won’t be a team anyone is eager to host come playoff time.

Tyler’s prediction: 8th

Brian’s prediction: 7th

### Assumes MTU plays Michigan in second game of Great Lakes Invitational

Minnesota

Overall record: 14-5-1

WCHA record/rank: 11-3-0/tie-First

USCHO national rank: 2

PairWise rank: tie-6

Record vs. TUC: 5-2-1

Remaining schedule (17 games, 10 home/7 away): Dec. 30-31 vs. Niagara/vs. Northeastern or Princeton; Jan. 7 vs. Notre Dame; Jan. 13-14 at North Dakota; Jan. 20-21 vs. Colorado College; Jan. 27-28 vs. St. Cloud State/at St. Cloud State; Feb. 10-11 at Denver; Feb. 17-18 vs. Bemidji State; Feb. 24-25 at Nebraska-Omaha; March 2-3 vs. Wisconsin.

Strength of remaining WCHA schedule (win percentage, record): 0.519, 60-55-15

Conference rank: 6

Strength of remaining overall schedule (win percentage, record): 0.527, 83-73-26 ***

Conference rank: 5

Number of remaining scheduled games vs. TUC: 12 ***

Second-half outlook: Although the Gophers finished a disappointing fifth in the WCHA last year, coach Don Lucia aptly pointed out that his team was 3-2-2 against three of last spring’s Frozen Four participants (UMD, UND and Michigan).

“We weren’t that far away,” said Lucia. “Now we have to find a way just to score that one more goal a game or give up that one less goal a game, and that’s really that fine line from week to week.”

Lucia’s words turned out to be prophetic. Through 14 conference games, Minnesota has done a little of both by increasing its scoring differential over its opponents by 1.18 goals per game over last season (0.46 to 1.64).

Of Minnesota’s final seven WCHA opponents, only St. Cloud State and Nebraska-Omaha are in the top half of the league in both scoring offense and defense, so opportunities are there to capitalize one way or another. UMD’s meager strength of schedule means finishing above the Bulldogs will be difficult but the Gophers shouldn’t fall below second in the league race.

Tyler’s prediction: 2nd

Brian’s prediction: 2nd

*** Assumes Minnesota plays Northeastern in second game of Mariucci Classic

Minnesota-Duluth

Overall record: 12-3-3

WCHA record/rank: 10-2-2/tie-First

USCHO national rank: 1

PairWise rank: 2

Record vs. TUC: 7-3-2

Remaining schedule (18 games, 8 home/10 away): Jan. 6-7 at Western Michigan; Jan. 13-14 at Nebraska-Omaha; Jan. 20-21 vs. Alabama-Huntsville; Jan. 27-28 vs. Michigan Tech; Feb. 3-4 at Alaska-Anchorage; Feb. 10-11 vs. North Dakota; Feb. 17-18 at Minnesota State; Feb. 24-25 vs. Colorado College; March 2-3 at St. Cloud State.

Strength of remaining WCHA schedule (win percentage, record): 0.473, 56-63-12

Conference rank: 12

Strength of remaining overall schedule (win percentage, record): 0.441, 66-86-18

Conference rank: 12

Number of remaining scheduled games vs. TUC: 10

Second-half outlook: There are many reasons the Bulldogs shouldn’t be 12-3-3, ranked No. 1 and tied for the lead in the WCHA standings at this point of the 2011-12 season. The team might’ve felt the pressure to repeat last season’s success without Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine to help lead the offense. Justin Faulk’s early departure for the NHL left a gap. Or maybe just the idea that UMD rode a hot goalie in Kenny Reiter during the title run.

The Bulldogs are atop the league because guys like J.T. Brown and Travis Oleksuk have been able to step in to fill the voids Connolly and Fontaine left behind. Meanwhile, two-time All-American Jack Connolly’s line with Mike Seidel and Joe Basaraba is producing offense as well. Reiter’s numbers are among the best in the WCHA, too. The Bulldogs have the weakest second-half schedule in the WCHA so expect them to win the regular-season title or be not far behind.

Tyler’s prediction: 1st

Brian’s prediction: 1st

Minnesota State

Overall record: 5-14-1

WCHA record/rank: 2-11-1/12th

USCHO national rank: NR

PairWise rank: NR

Record vs. TUC: 1-11-1

Remaining schedule (16 games, 8 home/8 away): Jan. 6-7 at St. Lawrence; Jan. 13-14 vs. Wisconsin; Jan. 20-21 vs. Nebraska-Omaha; Jan. 27-28 at Bemidji State; Feb. 3-4 vs. Michigan Tech; Feb. 10-11 at Alaska-Anchorage; Feb. 17-18 vs. Minnesota-Duluth; March 2-3 at North Dakota.

Strength of remaining WCHA schedule (win percentage, record): 0.519, 61-56-14

Conference rank: tie-6

Strength of remaining overall schedule (win percentage, record): 0.507, 68-66-14

Conference rank: 8

Number of remaining scheduled games vs. TUC: 10

Second-half outlook: MSU’s injuries buried the team’s chances early, as did below-average goaltending from Austin Lee and horrible goaltending by Phil Cook. Keep an eye on the freshmen skaters, though. There’s some budding talent there. Will they make the Mavericks a WCHA title contender? Not until 2013-14, but they’re something to build on and they can help get the program out of the WCHA cellar, maybe catching more eyes next season.

Tyler’s prediction: 12th

Brian’s prediction: 12th

Nebraska-Omaha

Overall record: 9-8-3

WCHA record/rank: 7-4-3/Fourth

USCHO national rank: NR

PairWise rank: 26

Record vs. TUC: 3-5-2

Remaining schedule (16 games, 10 home/6 away): Dec. 30-31 vs. Quinnipiac; Jan. 13-14 vs. Minnesota-Duluth; Jan. 20-21 at Minnesota State; Feb. 3-4 vs. Bemidji State; Feb. 10-11 at Michigan Tech; Feb. 17-18 at Colorado College; Feb. 24-25 vs. Minnesota; March 2-3 vs. Denver.

Strength of remaining WCHA schedule (win percentage, record): 0.561, 68-52-11

Conference rank: 3

Strength of remaining overall schedule (win percentage, record): 0.570, 79-58-14

Conference rank: 3

Number of remaining scheduled games vs. TUC: 14

Second-half outlook: The Mavericks are a team with issues that need to be figured out quickly if they want to make a run at a home playoff series, starting up front with the forwards. Their lack of depth have been well-documented and coach Dean Blais admitted he might have to shorten his lineup to three forward lines. This all started, of course, when senior forward and former captain, Alex Hudson, was dismissed from the team.

Goaltending has been a little bit of a nightmare, but the UNO defense has bailed them out time and again. The Mavericks need to find a starting goalie to stick with down the stretch. Blais said he’d wait for either John Faulkner, Ryan Massa or Dayn Belfour “to get hot and ride him” down the stretch. Lately, it’s been Massa, who gave up three goals in his last two games.

Keep it together and the Mavericks have a shot against the third-toughest remaining schedule in the WCHA.

Tyler’s prediction: 7th

Brian’s prediction: 6th

North Dakota

Overall record: 9-8-1

WCHA record/rank: 7-7-0/Sixth

USCHO national rank: 18

PairWise rank: tie-21

Record vs. TUC: 6-5-1

Remaining schedule (17 games, 11 home/6 away): Dec. 30-31 vs. Harvard; Jan. 7 vs. Clarkson; Jan. 13-14 vs. Minnesota; Jan. 20-21 at St. Cloud State; Jan. 27-28 vs. Wisconsin; Feb. 10-11 at Minnesota-Duluth; Feb. 17-18 vs. Michigan Tech; Feb. 24-25 at Denver; March 2-3 vs. Minnesota State.

Strength of remaining WCHA schedule (win percentage, record): 0.523, 62-56-15

Conference rank: 5

Strength of remaining overall schedule (win percentage, record): 0.528, 75-66-22

Conference rank: 4

Number of remaining scheduled games vs. TUC: 10

Second-half outlook: The Fighting Sioux need to get more scoring from outside the Danny Kristo/Brock Nelson/Corban Knight line, and if Rocco Grimaldi finally returns to the Sioux lineup from injury, he can just make that happen. The small freshman has arguably the best hands in the league and his shot is rivaled by few. When he gets the puck, everyone on the opposition turns their focus to him and that’s why he adds a whole new dimension to whichever line he plays on.

If Grimaldi returns soon, he could make UND even more successful in the second half than many already expect them to be. Aaron Dell’s performance in goal down the stretch paced the Sioux and will give UND a shot to hang with the best in the league if he keeps that play up.

Tyler’s prediction: 4th

Brian’s prediction: 4th

St. Cloud State

Overall record: 7-9-4

WCHA record/rank: 5-6-3/tie-Seventh

USCHO national rank: NR

PairWise rank: NR

Record vs. TUC: 4-7-2

Remaining schedule (16 games, 9 home/7 away): Dec. 29-30 vs. Western Michigan; Jan. 13-14 at Colorado College; Jan. 20-21 vs. North Dakota; Jan. 27-28 at Minnesota/vs. Minnesota; Feb. 3-4 at Wisconsin; Feb. 17-18 vs. Alaska-Anchorage; Feb. 24-25 at Michigan Tech; March 2-3 vs. Minnesota-Duluth.

Strength of remaining WCHA schedule (win percentage, record): 0.575, 68-49-10

Conference rank: 1

Strength of remaining overall schedule (win percentage, record): 0.583, 77-53-15

Conference rank: 2

Number of remaining scheduled games vs. TUC: 12

Second-half outlook: The Huskies sit in seventh place and they’ll have to play an incredible second half to keep from slipping any further. The easy part of SCSU’s schedule is over and the remaining slate is the toughest any WCHA team has to face.

Perhaps no team in the league has faced more adversity than the Huskies, who lost two captains in the first month of the season; neither is expected to return soon or at all this season. Goaltender Mike Lee underwent hip surgery to repair an injury he suffered in a mid-October practice. SCSU’s leading scorer at the time, Drew LeBlanc, broke his leg against Wisconsin in early November.

Tyler’s prediction: 9th

Brian’s prediction: 10th

Wisconsin

Overall record: 7-9-2

WCHA record/rank: 4-8-2/10th

USCHO national rank: NR

PairWise rank: NR

Record vs. TUC: 4-8-1

Remaining schedule (16 games, 8 home/8 away): Jan. 6-7 vs. Rochester Institute of Technology; Jan. 13-14 at Minnesota State; Jan. 20-21 vs. Alaska-Anchorage; Jan. 27-28 at North Dakota; Feb. 3-4 vs. St. Cloud State; Feb. 17-18 vs. Denver; Feb. 24-25 at Bemidji State; March 2-3 at Minnesota.

Strength of remaining WCHA schedule (win percentage, record): 0.485, 58-62-14

Conference rank: 11

Strength of remaining overall schedule (win percentage, record): 0.493, 66-68-16

Conference rank: 9

Number of remaining scheduled games vs. TUC: 8

Second-half outlook: The Badgers might have an formidable schedule down the stretch but goaltending has been a glaring issue and the penalty kill is awful. Wisconsin can’t expect to be in the fight for a home playoff series if Justin Schultz and Mark Zengerle are forced to carry the load every night offensively. In goal, either Joel Rumpel or Landon Peterson must find a groove soon.

Tyler’s prediction: 10th

Brian’s prediction: 9th

USCHO covers the WCHA all week long on the WCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.


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  • Phoenixfyre1313

    Nice column this week!

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