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This Week in the WCHA

College Hockey:
Another ‘great day for hockey’ as Wisconsin honors Bob Johnson with Colorado College in town

Two WCHA programs — Colorado College and Wisconsin — that owe a lot to the late Bob Johnson will get an opportunity to pay respect to the coaching great when UW names its ice sheet at the Kohl Center as the “Bob Johnson Rink.”

Johnson passed away Nov. 26, 1991, at age 60 in Colorado Springs. His widow, Martha, was scheduled to drop the puck before Friday’s league game in Madison but had to back out because of an illness.

“It’s an honor,” said CC head coach Scott Owens, who grew up in Madison and played hockey with his children, including current Wisconsin women’s coach and 1980 Olympian Mark Johnson.

There are numerous connections between the schools through Johnson, who coached at Wisconsin for 15 seasons and won three NCAA titles. He led CC from 1963 to 1966 before moving to Madison.

His famous quote “It’s a great day for hockey” remains in CC’s campus rink, Honnen Ice Arena, along with photos of other past Tigers greats.

Many Tigers players and coaches travel on Bob Johnson Drive, a street between the Colorado Springs World Arena facility and USA Hockey national headquarters, on their way to games and practice.

Badgers volunteer assistant coach Jeff Sanger is CC’s all-time goaltending leader with 76 victories (16 shutouts). His seven shutouts as a senior in 2001-02 is the school record. Also worth noting: CC volunteer goalie assistant Terry Kleisinger was a standout netminder at Wisconsin and according to the Wisconsin State Journal, CC sophomore right winger Charlie Taft is the son of John Taft, a UW defenseman on the first NCAA championship team Johnson coached here in 1973.

Badgers coach Mike Eaves was a member of the 1977 championship team coached by Johnson. He wondered how profound Herb Brooks and Johnson’s influence on the game may have been had they lived longer.

“The United States has lost two icons way too early in life,” Eaves said during his Monday news conference. “I’m talking about Bob Johnson and Herb Brooks and what their influence could have been far beyond — when they died, they were young.”

He also had no doubt that “Badger Bob” would be a standout coach today.

“Without a doubt because he was cutting edge all through his career,” said Eaves, who played for Johnson in the NHL while with the Flames. “Because of the type of mind he had, he would stay on top of things and he would ask — he was always asking questions to other coaches and players, what do you think? I think he’d be very [relevant] in this day and age.”

UNO AD Alberts talks arena

Last Friday was not only a big day for the Nebraska-Omaha hockey program but the athletic department as whole and the Omaha community.

UNO got the go-ahead from the University of Nebraska Board of Regents to move forward on a plan to build a hockey arena in the campus area.

“There’s more work to do but I think we’ve passed the critical stage,” UNO athletic director Trev Alberts told USCHO Tuesday.

University officials weren’t allowed to speak publicly about the project until Friday’s approval. The next step is to get private funding in place and select the developers, and that’s what UNO officials are currently working.

“I don’t want to say there won’t be obstacles because sometimes you think you have it figured out and then something else sort of pops up,” Alberts said. “We’ve made a lot of progress. We had to gain consensus with our own campus and within the overall system.

“Gaining support from the flagship institution down in Lincoln was also critical.”

According to a news release from UNO, the 7,500-seat proposed arena will cost an estimated $76.3 million and also house a practice rink.

The university “will eventually acquire the land through a lease-purchase agreement,” according to the release.

The current arena, off-campus CenturyLink Center Omaha, poses problems a new arena would resolve.

It’s too far from UNO — roughly a five-mile drive from the main campus. A new arena would be located in central Omaha between plots of UNO-owned land and blocks from many of UNO’s student housing units.

It’s too big — it can seat over 17,000 people but college hockey isn’t big enough in Omaha yet to fill an arena of that size. An arena that is small enough to fill up and is accessible to students would give the Mavericks a better atmosphere in which to play.

“You wouldn’t know by walking into [CenturyLink Center Omaha] that it’s the home of the Mavericks,” Alberts said. “When we go to places like Denver and North Dakota, you see their brand everywhere in their arenas. With a new arena, we’d be able to display our brand.”

The proposed arena would be home to UNO’s men’s and women’s basketball teams. Basketball and UNO’s other non-hockey athletic programs are making the transition to the Division I level, which means they’re also looking to upgrade their facilities.

SCSU’s LeBlanc is back, so are his skills

It took some time for St. Cloud State’s Drew LeBlanc to regain the skating and stickhandling skills that have made him a valuable point-scorer, but his recovery is definitely complete.

LeBlanc is tied for the national lead in assists with seven and is tied with teammate Nic Dowd for the WCHA lead in points (10).

LeBlanc led the Huskies in scoring as a junior in 2010-11, tying for the team lead in goals (13) and assists (26) and led SCSU in overall points (39).

He had 12 points through the first 10 games last season before he suffered a broken leg Nov. 5 against Wisconsin, ending his season. He was granted a medical redshirt and has made the most of it to this point.

“I think Coach [Bob Motzko] will still say I’m still a little rusty,” LeBlanc said. “I was able to do my summers as I normally would, I didn’t have any setbacks and I’ve been looking forward to these games since last November.”

LeBlanc’s ability to create plays is among the best in the WCHA because of his superb stickhandling skills and quick skating.

He’s a slick offensive player that held the Huskies together when everything else seemed to unravel in 2010-11 and was the missing link to a SCSU team that might’ve made a deeper run in the postseason last year.

He recorded his second one-goal, three-assist night of his career last Friday in a 5-1 win against Minnesota State.

With one assist already in that game, LeBlanc, the WCHA offensive player of the week, sent a long lead pass from in front of the SCSU goal to Ben Hanowski at the red line for a goal. He dished a saucer pass across the crease to WCHA rookie of the week Kalle Kossila for another.

He made a move on MSU goalie Phil Cook from one side of the crease to the other and shelved the puck in the top of the net for a goal of his own late in the third.

“He looks better than the Drew LeBlanc of old,” forward Nic Dowd said. “Guys are excited to play on his line. I’m sure Kossila is excited to sit in front of the net and bang away at empty nets and back-door tap-ins. The goal [LeBlanc] had at the end was unbelievable.”

When the Beavers come to town

Graduated goaltender Dan Bakala got a lot of the recognition for Bemidji State’s success at Nebraska-Omaha in six games from Jan. 14, 2011, to Feb. 4, 2012, in which BSU went 4-0-2.

The Beavers weren’t given much of a chance when they made the trip to Omaha without Bakala for the first time since 2003.

But when BSU left town with three points last weekend, the penalty kill was the hero. The Beavers gave the Mavericks 10 opportunities on the power play — seven Saturday night — and killed all of them off.

The Beavers’ PK has given up just one goal in 16 chances this season and the UNO power play was just 2-for-15 before the BSU series.

Minnesota-Duluth leadership continues to struggle to find 60-minute effort

Every team has its problems to fix in early November but a disturbing one keeps popping up for No. 17 Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs haven’t been able to string together three periods of consistent effort for two weekends in a row, and no one can blame the departure of graduated Hobey Baker Award winner Jack Connelly for it.

It is especially perplexing for a program known for being tough to play against.

“It was a great 40-minute effort,” senior Mike Seidel told UMD sports information after last Saturday’s 2-2 home tie against Wisconsin. “In the third I thought we played a little hesitant. Even when you’re up two goals, you still have to keep playing the way that got you to where you were.”

It marked just the fifth time since the start of the 2011-12 season that UMD failed to secure a victory when leading entering the third period (16-1-4 during that stretch). There could be six, seven and so on if Seidel and the other Bulldogs leaders cannot get the message through to their teammates soon.

Quick hits

• Alaska-Anchorage has a bye this weekend but already a couple of players are enjoying breakout starts. With an assist on Saturday, senior Alex Gellert (2-1–3) has a three-game point streak, which matches last season’s points total. Sophomore Scott Allen (4-1–5) has surpassed his freshman stats already. UAA hosts No. 2 Minnesota Nov. 9-10.

• Minnesota State (2-2-2) came down to earth at St. Cloud State last weekend. While the purple Mavs are on their way to becoming a better program, expect them to take their lumps, especially with series against No. 2 Minnesota and No. 3 Denver in the next two weeks.

• Nebraska-Omaha defenseman Bryce Aneloski will play the 100th game of his college career, including 16 played at Providence, this weekend at Michigan Tech. He is part of a blue line corps that has produced 19 points so far, tied for third in Division I with Colgate.

• What’s holding Minnesota State back this season has been its slow starts. The Mavericks have scored 10 of their 15 goals in the third period, two each in the first and second periods and one in overtime.

• MSU’s Chase Grant and Minnesota-Duluth’s Seidel are both part of a four-way tie for the most power-play goals (three) in the nation.

• Three Denver players — Joey LaLeggia (3-3–6), David Makowski (3-2–5) and Nolan Zajac (1-4–5) — are in the national top five in scoring by defensemen. They’re on the top offensive team in the nation with five goals per game.

• Denver and North Dakota have both allowed just six goals in four games. That 1.50 goals-per-game average is fourth-best nationally.

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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