Senior captain Andrew MacWilliam may not get the headlines of his better-known teammates like Danny Kristo or Rocco Grimaldi, but his contribution to North Dakota’s success is no less important.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound defenseman from Calgary, Alberta, brings a lot of grit and will to win that rubs off on his teammates, as you would expect from a former Canadian football standout.
“I am not the player who is going to score a lot of goals,” MacWilliam said recently. “I learned early on I needed to use my size. That is how I affect the game.”
He leads North Dakota with 135 games played, and has 23 points (20 assists) and 254 penalty minutes for his career so far. That gritty play makes him a respected teammate.
“He has an outstanding presence on the ice and in the locker room,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “He is highly competitive and does all the little things. He leads by example in everything he does.”
That includes leveling opponents when they drop their guard.
“He is a true throwback who plays a physical style within today’s rules,” Hakstol said of the 2008 Toronto seventh-round draft pick (188th overall). “He is a big-time leader for this team.”
Spotlight series: No. 6 Denver at No. 9 North Dakota
A storied rivalry continues with two of the WCHA preseason favorites squaring off in Grand Forks. Denver (9-4-1, 7-2-1 WCHA) will try to rebound from a tough one-point home weekend against unranked Wisconsin, which always seems to play well against the Pioneers.
“I don’t think this is anything to worry about just yet,” DU captain Paul Phillips told the Denver Post. “I think we got a little complacent with what we were doing, with how we were playing, and we know we have to get back to work.”
The key for UND may be reviving its power play against a solid DU penalty kill (86.4 percent overall). After going 1-for-7 last weekend, UND is hitting on 15.1 percent of its power plays, 37th in Division I.
“Obviously, we need more production,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said last Saturday. “We have one unit that is doing everything right but putting it into the net at the end of each sequence. We’ll keep working at it.”
A glimpse of the future for Alaska fans
The first postseason for the revamped WCHA following the 2013-14 regular season is coming into focus a little more, albeit slowly.
WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod is making the rounds at the future league members, catching a flight up to Fairbanks, Alaska, last weekend to talk to Alaska fans about their new league and its odd playoff format.
You may recall that unless one of them finishes in first place, the Nanooks and rival Alaska-Anchorage will play each other in a first-round series in Alaska. Financial reasons led to the decision, which was approved by the athletic directors of the revamped WCHA.
“It’s the financial realities for us — a lot of last-minute plane tickets and the distance between the two Alaska schools and Michigan Tech, or something like that,” McLeod told a group of 60 Nanooks fans according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “It can be a negative or a positive thing if the two Alaska teams are in the upper part of the league, it’s not quite fair to them. The opposite side of the coin is one of the Alaska schools is guaranteed of moving on.”
Unfortunately, that probably will not result in a lot of fans traveling to the lower 48 regardless of the location, which includes the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., McLeod said. Grand Rapids is about 60 miles south of the Big Rapids, Mich., campus of Ferris State, which will be in the new league.
The first-round winners from the top eight advance to a conference championship tournament, which McLeod said will be rotated between two sites. The locations haven’t been officially announced, but the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., is a likely candidate in years when the Big Ten doesn’t play there.
Two WCHA players receive national awards
Two WCHA players garnered the Hockey Commissioners’ Association national monthly awards for November.
Nebraska-Omaha junior forward Ryan Walters, who racked up 15 points in helping the Mavericks to a 7-0 record in the month, was named Division I player of the month.
Walters leads the WCHA in overall scoring with 20 points.
Minnesota freshman goalie Adam Wilcox was named as rookie of the month after going 5-2-2 with a 1.75 goals against average and .925 save percentage in November.
Five WCHA players picked to preliminary U-20 roster
Five players from the WCHA were selected to the 27-man preliminary roster for the United States Under-20 team going into the World Junior Championship. The team will make final cuts Dec. 23 and the Americans’ first preliminary game is Dec. 27.
Michigan Tech’s Blake Pietila (8-2–10, 13 games); Minnesota defensemen Brady Skjei (1-1–2, 14 games) and Mike Reilly (1-7–8, 15 games); North Dakota center Rocco Grimaldi (5-6–11, 14 games); and Wisconsin defenseman Jake McCabe (2-4–6, 12 games) made the team from the WCHA.
Minnesota State forward Teddy Blueger received an invitation to Team Latvia’s preliminary camp. MSU athletics communications director Paul Allan said Blueger will leave the Mavericks for Broceni, Latvia, after the Dec. 14-15 series at Nebraska-Omaha.
Minnesota assistant coach Grant Potulny will be an assistant for Team USA.
Pearson glad he’s ‘out of the CCHA’
Michigan Tech had a goal disallowed after review in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss at Northern Michigan and Huskies coach Mel Pearson was not happy with the officials after the game.
“I’m glad I’m out of the CCHA,” Pearson said in a postgame interview with WKMJ-FM out of Hancock, Mich. Pearson was an assistant for Michigan of the CCHA for more than two decades until 2011.
“I’m going to say it. If I get fined, I don’t care. It was atrocious. I’m going to call [CCHA director of officials] Steve Piotrowski. Even [NMU's] coach said to me after the game, ‘You should be happy you’re not in the league.’ He was referring to the refereeing. It was, let’s just say it was not good and I’ll stop at that.”
The frustration stemmed from a play late in the second period when Tanner Kero put home a rebound with seconds left on the clock. Wildcats goalie Jared Coreau pleaded for the CCHA crew to review the call, claiming he’d been tripped.
The officials decided Kero had gotten enough of Coreau and disallowed the goal.
“I just felt a guy’s stick on the back of my left leg,” Coreau said in the postgame news conference. “I didn’t think I was off balance, but that set me off for sure.
“I told the ref and I don’t think he was too pleased. I think it was his fourth time going back to the box to look it up.”
Pearson wasn’t made available to the media after the game but USCHO’s Daver Karnosky caught up to Pearson later.
“Tanner just sort of clips [Coreau], but the guy takes, in my estimation, a dive,” Pearson said. “Just incidental contact, but I have to defer to the referees.”
Players of the week
Stephon Williams is becoming a recognizable name. The freshman goaltender at Minnesota State just earned his second straight WCHA rookie of the week award, allowing one goal in the Mavericks’ sweep of Bemidji State.
Williams stopped 37 of 38 shots against the Beavers. He’s played eight games with a .953 save percentage in the last four. He had an .882 through the first four games.
MSU defenseman Brett Stern and Wisconsin’s Landon Peterson shared the WCHA defensive player of the week award. Stern had a plus-4 rating for the weekend as the Mavericks allowed one goal and held the Beavers to six shots through two periods Saturday. Stern also scored Saturday.
Peterson made 35 saves on 36 shots as the Badgers stunned No. 5 Denver 3-1 on Saturday. It was Peterson’s first win of the season although he owns a .933 save percentage and a 2.12 goals against average.
Minnesota-Duluth freshman Austin Farley scored three times and assisted on two other goals in the Bulldogs’ sweep of Michigan Tech to earn the rookie of the week honors. Farley and teammate Tony Cameranesi are ranked second in rookie scoring across the nation with 15 points each.
• Quick-developing rumors of Denver freshman forward Quentin Shore bolting to Portland of the WHL crashed Wednesday, with a source telling USCHO’s Andy Johnson that Shore is staying in school.
• Wisconsin rookie Nic Kerdiles appeared to have scored his first collegiate goal in Saturday’s 3-1 win at Denver, but the goal was re-credited to Jefferson Dahl, who tipped Kerdiles’ shot. Kerdiles finished the game with two assists.
• Minnesota-Duluth’s Mike Seidel leads the nation in power-play goals with six for the nation’s fifth-best power play. The Bulldogs average the most penalty minutes per game.
• Denver’s Joey LaLeggia has averaged one point per game, tied for second in the nation among defensemen. Teammate Nick Shore, who was near the top of the Division I points-per-game column for a good chunk of the year, has slipped to 15th but has just two points in four games.
• Alex Petan is averaging 1.08 points per game for Michigan Tech, fourth-best in the nation.
• Nebraska-Omaha goaltender John Faulkner continues to hold the nation’s top winning percentage at .850 (8-1-1).
USCHO covers the WCHA all week long on the WCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.