As the WCHA begins to turn toward the finish line, some teams appear to have a more friendly road than others.
Minnesota State has a weak schedule down the stretch with just two series against teams with an winning WCHA record (Minnesota and North Dakota), and three of those four games are at home.
The only other TUC (“team under consideration” for the NCAA tournament) on MSU’s remaining schedule is Colorado College. The Mavericks need to win these games because they’re 2-6 against TUCs this season and that could cost them some comparisons in the PairWise Rankings.
Don’t sleep on Nebraska-Omaha, either. The Mavericks may have had a bad weekend at Quinnipiac but in terms of the WCHA race, they’re tied for fifth with two games in hand and a favorable second-half schedule.
North Dakota is in second place with two games in hand, rolling into the break with a 4-1-1 record the last three weekends, and two key forwards will make their debuts soon. Mitch MacMillan is eligible after he transferred from St. Cloud State and Michael Parks is expected to make his return after battling a lower-body injury.
Will all of that be enough for UND to stay near the top of the standings despite such a tough second-half conference schedule? History tells us not much can stop UND in the second half, but UND has to go on the road to face four of the five over-.500 teams on its schedule.
Here’s a quick look at the strength of schedule numbers for the rest of the way in WCHA play. The opponents’ records don’t include previous results between the two teams so as to not penalize a team’s future strength of schedule as a result of beating a team earlier in the year.
|St. Cloud State||0.494||32-33-19||18||14|
Spotlight series: No. 12 Cornell at No. 11 Denver
The host Pioneers will look to build on the momentum of last weekend’s 6-0 home win over then-No. 6 Boston University and give themselves a solid boost in the PairWise Rankings.
The Big Red are No. 12 in those rankings, which mimics the NCAA tournament selection process for determining at-large picks. Denver is No. 13 and could use a little breathing room.
An offense that was humming in the first two months (4.65 goals) is led by junior Nick Shore (22 points, team-high 14 assists), senior Chris Knowlton (19, team-high 11 goals) and sophomore defenseman Joey LaLeggia (17, 10 assists).
Sophomore goalie Juho Olkinuora (4-1-3, 1.69 goals against average, .944 save percentage) seized the starting nod on Friday with strong play, even during a first-half-ending 0-5-3 downturn, with his third career shutout last Saturday against the Terriers.
“The things we were doing back in October, we did a lot more of tonight,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said after last Saturday’s win. “That was one of the things that a lot of people reflected on over the course of the break. We certainly saw that in how hard we competed.”
Cornell, fourth in the ECAC Hockey standings, is paced by senior Greg Miller (13 points, team-high seven goals) and 10 points (five goals) from sophomore Joel Lowry. The power play clicks at 17.7 percent (11-of-62), 26th out of 59 Division I teams. The Big Red takes 16.5 penalty minutes per game, 55th in the nation, putting pressure on the 45th-rated penalty kill (45-for-56).
Copley talks about big weekend
Pheonix Copley said he never felt better about a weekend of hockey in his career.
After all, Michigan Tech’s freshman goaltender shut out Michigan last Saturday and No. 8 Western Michigan last Sunday to claim the Great Lakes Invitational title in Detroit.
But Copley was referring to the way he felt about the team’s success.
“For the seniors on our team and the coaching staff, it felt really good to get the GLI,” said Copley, the tournament’s MVP. “It was a big confidence booster for the guys. We’ll keep moving forward and build on this going into the second half.”
Copley finished the weekend with 70 saves without allowing a goal. It’s a far cry from the early part of the season when Copley gave up no fewer than three goals in each of the seven games he played. He had an .851 save percentage going into the GLI.
“The guys in front of me kept it to the outside, took care of rebounds and played a good team defensive game,” Copley said. “For me, personally, I was seeing the puck well. I felt controlled and comfortable out there.”
“Obviously, I want to give my team a chance to win every night and that’s what I’m going to keep working for.”
But for Copley, the focus remains on the team.
“We talked about how we want a better second half and we came out of the break with that mentality,” Copley said.
Luckily for Gophers, Haula out only 1-2 weeks
No. 1 Minnesota’s scoring depth will be tested a little while it is without leading scorer and alternate captain Erik Haula for one to two weeks, including next Tuesday’s home showdown with No. 3 Notre Dame.
The good news for the Gophers is it is not expected to be for a longer period of time.
“He’s going to be out for maybe a week or two,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia told Michael Russo of the Star Tribune Wednesday on KFAN, adding it that is was an “upper body injury” for the Pori, Finland, native. Numerous reports say it was a finger injury suffered from a slash.
It will force a temporary shuffle of a top six that was clicking well of late. What may be missed most will be his competitive fire and his shots. He leads the team with 78 shots on goal, 10 more than Nick Bjugstad, to keep things busy in the opponents’ zone, which is a big help to a workhorse goalie like Adam Wilcox.
Haula, who is fourth in Division I with 26 points (17 assists) and on a 14-game point streak, was injured in the third period of Sunday’s 8-1 win over Boston College in the Mariucci Classic and did not come out onto the ice to receive his all-tournament team honor.
• St. Cloud State’s Drew LeBlanc and Nebraska-Omaha’s Ryan Walters are tied for the national lead in points with 28. Haula is fourth with 26. LeBlanc leads the country in assists with 22, five more than next highest total, and Walters is tied for the most goals in the country (12).
• Denver’s LaLeggia leads Division I in points by a defenseman (17).
• Kalle Kossila is the national leader in goals by rookies (11) for St. Cloud State.
• Minnesota-Duluth has a 41-minute lead on Denver for the country’s most penalty minutes (345).
USCHO covers the WCHA all week long on the WCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.