Minnesota is 7-2-2 overall and in second place in the WCHA with just one loss since Oct. 19, yet there’s still plenty of work to be done according to junior defenseman Nate Schmidt.
“I think we’re a work in progress right now,” Schmidt said. “We have some pieces in motion that could make us a very good team down the stretch but we have some pieces, right now, that we’re trying to work on.
“We try to get as many points as we can every weekend but sometimes we let some points slip away.”
The Gophers picked up six points in the past four games, three points at Alaska-Anchorage and three last weekend at home against Wisconsin. Both opponents are in the bottom half of the WCHA standings.
With the kind of record Minnesota has, problems are typically less glaring. Many pointed out the loss at Michigan Tech to open the Oct. 19-20 weekend at Houghton, the following Sunday when the Gophers squeezed past Canisius by just a one-goal margin or the Nov. 3 loss at Minnesota State.
Then there were the ties against UAA and Wisconsin. When Minnesota beat UAA, all four goals came on the power play. The Gophers didn’t lead until the third period in last Saturday’s 3-1 win against the Badgers.
“Getting three points isn’t a bad weekend but we expect better from ourselves,” captain Zach Budish said. “We strive every weekend to get four points. You have to give those teams credit.”
While the Gophers need to take advantage of a fairly light schedule, the underdogs will show up every night, especially against a team like Minnesota that always wears a bull’s-eye on its back.
Then again, the Gophers should be held accountable. Minnesota is at a 15-12 disadvantage in even-strength goals in WCHA play.
“Our five-on-five isn’t where we want it to be,” Schmidt said. “We haven’t put together a full 60 minutes yet this season. That’s our biggest issue, right now.”
There’s no doubt the Gophers have ridden their WCHA-best special teams this season. Minnesota is tops in power play (25 percent) and penalty kill (88.2 percent) with the fewest penalty minutes per game (10.1) in the league.
Defense has been solid, too. The Gophers have allowed 21 goals this season, tied with Wisconsin for the fewest in the league, and Adam Wilcox has a .924 save percentage.
Spotlight series: No. 12 St. Cloud State at Minnesota-Duluth
In the only league series this weekend involving a ranked team, the No. 12 St. Cloud State Huskies travel to face a Minnesota-Duluth squad that has played well in the past two weeks but doesn’t have a win to show for it.
“If you look at the last two weeks, they are a couple turnovers away from a pile of points,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said. “They are going to be desperate to get a win, which is not a good situation to be headed into on the road. Winning on the road is hard enough in this league.”
SCSU (6-4, 4-2 WCHA) is paced by senior Drew LeBlanc and junior Nic Dowd, who are tied for second in the WCHA with 14 points apiece. Dowd has a team-high six goals this season, while LeBlanc has five goals and nine assists.
The Huskies rank fifth in the country and second in the WCHA with 3.60 goals scored per game. SCSU has allowed only two power-play goals in its last seven games.
The host Bulldogs (2-6-2, 0-4-2) are led by senior wing Mike Seidel with 12 points (team-high seven goals, four on power play) and freshman center Tony Cameranesi’s 10 points (six assists). UMD is the most penalized team in the WCHA at 20.6 minutes but has a solid 82.4 percent penalty kill (42-for-51) to make up for it.
DU’s Gwozdecky on the lookout for overconfidence
After sweeping rival Colorado College last weekend for the No. 2 Pioneers’ fifth straight win, Denver coach George Gwozdecky, who has coached during a win streak a few dozen times before, knows to keep his eye out for any overconfidence.
It is especially important with ECAC Hockey member Yale and No. 3 New Hampshire of Hockey East coming to town this weekend.
“We will spend the next five days keeping on an eye on these guys about being too confident,” Gwozdecky said. “It is human nature. These games are important for the league and it will be very important for us in March and April. This is big for our strength of schedule and for the WCHA.”
WCHA gets lion’s share of NHL draft-eligible commits and signees
NHL Central Scouting announced its preliminary 2013 draft rankings on Tuesday, with 13 of the top 25 skaters and top five goalies in the Junior A USHL committed to or signed to play for a current WCHA program, according to Chris Heisenberg’s national commits list.
Denver led the way with three — No. 15 Trevor Moore, No. 20 Will Butcher and No. 21 Garrett Gamez. Minnesota, Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota had two apiece.
The Gophers have No. 3 Hudson Fasching and No. 18 Taylor Cammarata while UND has No. 5 Keaton Thompson and No. 8 Luke Johnson coming in. The Mavericks have laid claim to No. 13 Jake Guentzel and No. 24 Jacob Montgomery.
Colorado College, Bemidji State, Minnesota-Duluth, and St. Cloud State each had one from the USHL. No. 9 Gustav Oloffson is a Tigers commit while the Beavers have a commit from No. 16 Brendan Harms. No. 11 Blake Heinrich is headed to Duluth and No. 4 goalie Charlie Lindgren to St. Cloud.
CC investigates spectator role in melee
It all started last Friday with a monster hit by Colorado College’s Rylan Schwartz on Shawn Ostrow near the Denver bench as the game ended. The Pioneers bench reacted to the check and a brawl broke out on the ice.
The TV cameras didn’t catch the debris raining down on the Denver bench before the Pioneers headed to the locker room. Food and beverage pelted Denver players and personnel, according to a Denver Post report.
The report said CC athletic director Ken Ralph emailed and called Denver coach George Gwozdecky last Saturday to apologize for the incident. It also said Ralph “is not done with his investigation” although the WCHA isn’t issuing further punishment.
Denver assistant coach David Lassonde appeared to be pointing at someone in the crowd behind the Pioneers bench with his clipboard before Altitude went to its final commercial break, but that’s all the cameras caught related to fan interaction.
Quirky injury won’t keep Wittchow out
Eddie Wittchow suffered an injury Saturday night that was about as fluky as it gets. It happened after the game before Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves came out for postgame interviews.
The Badgers freshman defenseman was helping load the bus to head back to Madison after the loss to Minnesota when he cut skin near his heel.
Wittchow passed out at the sight of his own blood when he and a trainer went back to the locker room to clean it up, according to Eaves, who said in his Monday news conference that Wittchow “kind of keeled over and bopped his head a little bit.”
Wittchow was along for the trip but didn’t play against Minnesota. He has played in five games this season.
Wittchow shouldn’t miss any time. Eaves expected Wittchow to skate in practice Monday.
Players of the week
• North Dakota senior Danny Kristo, who recorded three goals and five points while helping his team record a win and tie against Minnesota-Duluth last weekend, was the league’s offensive honoree this week. The Canadiens draftee has recorded at least one point in seven of eight games to lead North Dakota with 12 points (eight assists) in 10 games.
• Denver sophomore defenseman Joey LaLeggia was the weekly defensive honoree. Along with his three points in the series against Colorado College, he also helped Denver kill seven of nine power plays. The Edmonton draft pick is the top-scoring defenseman in the WCHA with 12 points (seven assists) in 10 games.
• Michigan Tech forward Jujhar Khaira, who had a breakout weekend with four points in a pair of road overtime league victories at Bemidji State, was this week’s rookie honoree. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound freshman center scored two power-play goals to force overtime and then contributed the primary assist on both the OT winner Friday and Saturday. The Edmonton draft pick is tied for third in scoring overall among WCHA freshmen with eight points (2-6–8) in 10 games played.
• North Dakota’s 4-3 overtime win against UMD last Saturday was the first time UND won the last game of a weekend since it beat Denver in the Final Five championship game last season. The last time UND won a Saturday game in another team’s building: Jan. 21 at St. Cloud State. UND is at Notre Dame this weekend.
• Denver’s Nick Shore leads the WCHA in points with 16 and his 1.6 points per game ranks fourth in the nation. Teammate Chris Knowlton is tied for second nationally in goals with eight.
• The offenses of CC and Denver have great tests this weekend. Both teams will play one game against Yale and one against No. 3 New Hampshire. The goaltenders for both opponents rank in the top three in Division I for save percentage. Casey DeSmith of UNH has a .961 in 12 games and Yale’s Jeff Malcolm has a .949 in six games.
• After 18 straight power plays without a goal, Nebraska-Omaha is 5-for-13 on the man advantage the last three games.
• Minnesota State is 14-for-15 on the penalty kill the past three games and this week faces a slumping power play in Wisconsin (3-for-22).
USCHO covers the WCHA all week long on the WCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.