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College Hockey:
WCHA weekend rewind, Oct. 15: Minnesota makes a statement

Here are three things that grabbed my attention this opening weekend:

Minnesota makes a powerful statement

The Gophers’ dominant performance in a nonconference series sweep over No. 16 Michigan State sent word around the college hockey world that Minnesota may indeed be as good as the preseason hype.

Saturday’s 7-1 win was so lopsided that former NHL standout Chris Chelios called it “men against boys,” which is especially telling since his sons Dean and Jake play for the Spartans.

No. 2 Minnesota, soon to be No. 1 in both major polls after Boston College’s season-opening loss, outscored the Spartans 12-2 with points coming from throughout the lineup.

Goalie Michael Shibrowski made 25 saves Friday and freshman Adam Wilcox 10 on Saturday, which suggested UM may have the netminder it needs to replace Kent Patterson, now 0-1 (overtime loss) with the Central Hockey League’s Denver Cutthroats.

MSU (0-2) seemed so overwhelmed Saturday that Wilcox needs more playing time to gauge his abilities. I expect the two to split goaltending duties this weekend at Michigan Tech.

Was Michigan State overrated a bit or is Minnesota that good?  The next couple months will provide a clearer answer.

Owens deserves praise for impressive milestone

Congratulations to Colorado College coach Scott Owens for recording his 300th win behind the Tigers bench with Friday’s season-opening home win over ECAC member Clarkson.

Owens gets some unfair criticism from opposing and fair-weather Tiger fans about never winning a national championship. That is wrong. There are plenty of very good coaches who have left the Frozen Four empty-handed. It doesn’t make him any less of a coach.

The difficulty of recruiting for a small liberal arts school with high-admission standards and a challenging block plan for classes make his 61 percent winning average (301-185-43) and a 2005 Frozen Four appearance all the more impressive.

All you have to see is the bags under the CC players’ eyes following a block final to see the physical and mental toll that takes on them every 25 days, usually with two games to play that weekend. Such will be the case later this month when CC travels to ECAC contender Cornell.

I would be remiss in not mentioning longtime assistant Joe Bonnett, who clearly plays a big role in the program’s success, which includes 12 consecutive winning seasons and an average of 23 wins per campaign. That success includes 16 All-America selections, two Hobey Baker Award winners and 13 players earning WCHA Scholar-Athlete distinction a total of 25 times since creation of the award in 2005-06.

Owens’ players know they have a very good coach.

“Everyone wanted to get it for him tonight,” senior Rylan Schwartz said on Friday. “He’s a great coach and has done a lot here.”

Not surprisingly, Owens was ready to move on. You don’t get 300 victories early in your 14th season by focusing for long on a season-opening win.

“Three hundred is a nice round number,” he said. “You don’t put too much into that. I’m most proud of the consistency and the number of excellent players who have come through and the great assistant coaches I’ve had.”

Minnesota-Duluth can learn lesson from Saturday’s loss

The Bulldogs were seeking a season-opening sweep for the first time in 16 seasons. They felt short in a fashion that was not common for a program known for its grit.

“Some of our guys didn’t show up, and I’m excluding our freshmen,” coach Scott Sandelin told USCHO after Saturday’s 3-2 home loss to Ohio State. “We had some passengers.”

The Bulldogs could afford that with Hobey Baker Award winner Jack Connolly in the lineup. He could take over a game and will UMD to a win.

That was last season. The lesson the Bulldogs may take from the loss it that it will take contributions from throughout the lineup to replace the 160 points lost to graduation with Connolly (20-40-60) and Travis Oleksuk (21-32-53) and the early departure of J.T. Brown (24-23-47).

UMD gets a chance to show they learned that lesson during a Thursday-Friday road series at Notre Dame.

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