The WCHA season gets off to a roaring start this weekend with four series, one that features two of the top teams in the league meeting in an early-season battle.
Colorado College, the coaches’ pick to win its fourth straight league championship, invades the University of Minnesota, which was picked to finish second by the coaches. The series could set the stage for the rest of the 1996-97 season as each team would like to start fast and make the other play catch up.
In other weekend series, which all have the makings as close, hard-fought contests, have Minnesota-Duluth at Alaska-Anchorage, Denver going to North Dakota and St. Cloud State at Wisconsin. In non-conference action Michigan Tech hosts Mankato State in a series while Northern Michigan hosts Lake Superior State on Friday.
Colorado College (0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 WCHA) at Minnesota (0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 WCHA), Friday, 7:05 p.m. CT, Saturday, 8:05 p.m. CT
This conference opener will be watched closely by most people in the WCHA and for good reason; Colorado College and Minnesota are two of the top teams in the league and will battle to the end of the season to claim the No. 1 spot.
Colorado College Coach Don Lucia wants his team to play consistent hockey all season long and not peak for any series, especially one so early in the season. "This series isn’t really that important," he said on Wednesday. "This is the first of a 32-game WCHA schedule. We have to be patient with our young team. We want to be consistent and if we get a split on the road, especially at Minnesota which is a very tough place to play, that will be just fine."
Minnesota Coach Doug Woog has a different outlook because of how CC was able to get ahead early last year in the standings. "Really the last three years we’ve been playing catch up. We want to stop that this year. We had a great winning streak last year and still trailed them. It’s important to not get behind."
But Woog doesn’t think there is a team that will run away from the pack this year. "I don’t think losing a series will hurt a team as much this year because there isn’t a team as dominant as CC was last year. However, still this is a significant series and teams need points against contending teams."
The Gophers must be better defensively against CC than they were in the 4-3 loss to Boston University last weekend. "We learned that we must be more responsible at team defense. That will be a big factor in the game."
"I think both teams are similar in that they are young," Lucia said. "We are very young up front and last weekend we found out that it will be harder for us to score goals this year. We lost some great scorers from last year’s team. Now the question is who will step up and do that this year. Defensively we return a lot of talent and Judd Lambert is great in goal."
Lucia has a great deal of respect for the Gophers. "Mike Crowley is a big-time player and we can’t give them a lot of power plays because he will quarterback that for them and do a great job. Erik Rasmussen is excellent and Ryan Kraft has played very well against us the past two years."
Woog knows that the talented defensive players that CC has will make it tough for the Gophers to score. "It’s pretty simple; CC has great defense. Eric Rud and Scott Swanson are two of the best pair of defensemen in the WCHA."
Lucia admits the CC – UM series has grown into a great event. "If there is one team we would like to beat it’s Minnesota, and I think it works the same way with them. This has grown into a very healthy rivalry in the past few years."
ELMO Picks: CC 4, UM 3 on Friday; UM 4, CC 2 on Saturday.
Minnesota-Duluth (1-1-0 overall, 0-0-0 WCHA) at Alaska-Anchorage (2-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 WCHA), Friday-Saturday, 7:05 p.m. AT
Both the Bulldogs and the Seawolves had good showings last weekend when UMD split with Army and UAA topped rival Alaska-Fairbanks twice.
UMD outshot Army 90-35 last weekend and any time any team can average 45 shots a game, something is going well offensively. The Bulldogs will try to keep that up this weekend. Freshman goalie Brant Nicklin get the shutout in the 3-0 win Saturday, but faced just 12 shots. Winger Sergei Petrov leads UMD with a goal and three assists. Center Mike Peluso had two goals and an assist on Friday and defenseman Curtis Doell had a goal and two assists. In all 11 players picked up points.
UAA Coach Dean Talafous picked up his first two wins quickly last weekend when his team topped Alaska-Anchorage. And, typical of Talafous teams, they allowed just four goals in the two games. That’s something Talafous would like to see continue against UMD, but that may be a bit more difficult after the Bulldogs scored seven goals. Stacy Prevost had the hot hand with a goal and four assists. Eric Tuott had two goals. The Seawolves were 3-10 on the power-play and held UAF to 0-8. Both stats are Talafous trademarks.
ELMO picks: UAA 3, UMD 1 on Friday, UMD 4, UAA 2 on Saturday.
Denver (0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 WCHA) at North Dakota (0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 WCHA), Friday-Saturday, 7:35 p.m. CT
This should be another good opening-weekend series between two teams who have high expectations of the season.
Look for Denver to open up the guns this weekend and let their offensive talent flow. The Pioneers are one team in the league that have enough depth up front to get into a skating game with any opponent. That could happen this weekend with the Fighting Sioux.
UND Coach Dean Blais knows Denver has a talented group and he will be looking to shut down the opponent. The Fighting Sioux will have to rely on some tight defensive play to be successful. Even though it is early in the season this series will tell Blais a lot about his squad.
ELMO picks: DU 6, UND 3 on Friday, DU 4, UND 3 on Saturday.
St. Cloud State (0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 WCHA) at Wisconsin (0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 WCHA), Friday-Saturday, 7:05 p.m., CT
St. Cloud and Wisconsin will look to get off on the right skate this year as they meet in an early-season series in Madison.
This is the Badgers’ first game of the year under veteran Coach Jeff Sauer. The Badgers have been successful in opening the season at home with a 21-11-1 record. The Badgers haven’t lost a home opener since 1988 (Minnesota winning, 3-2). Erik Raygor has played eight games against the Huskies and has two goals and three assists. Goalie Kirk Daubenspeck has a 1-5-2 record with a 4.89 goals against average against the Huskies.
St. Cloud’s reliable Mark Parrish and Matt Cullen led the way in the Huskies 4-2 exhibition loss to Alberta last weekend. Both had a goal and assist. The Huskies will need a solid effort at both ends of the rink this weekend. But that’s what coach Craig Dahl is counting on.
ELMO picks: SCSU 4, UW 1 on Friday, UW 3, SCSU 1 on Saturday.
Mankato State (1-1-0 overall) at Michigan Tech (2-1-0 overall, 1-1-0 WCHA), Friday, 7:35 p.m. ET, Saturday, 7:05 p.m. ET (nc)
The Huskies got a split last weekend against Northern Michigan and will look for even more success this weekend against Mankato State. Coach Tim Watters got that all-important first win and this weekend the Huskies should concentrate on improving all phases of their game against a new Div. I opponent. There is always the possibility of overlooking an opponent, but Watters will have his team ready to play.
Mankato State is a new Div. I program and they picked up their first win at that level last weekend (5-4 in overtime over Ferris State). Veteran Coach Don Brose, who has worked for years at getting the Mavericks to Div. I, couldn’t be happier with his team. Going to MTU and winning will be a huge challenge for MSU. Right now Brose and his team are getting used to the Div. I play and taking small steps one at a time.
ELMO picks: MTU 5, MSU 1 on Friday, MTU 6, MSU 2 on Saturday.
Lake Superior State (0-1-0 overall) at Northern Michigan (1-1-0 overall, 1-1-0 WCHA), Friday, 7:05 p.m. ET (nc)
Whenever NMU and LSSU meet there’s plenty of action and that’s especially true with the Cappo Cup on the line. Wednesday the Lakers opened the series with a 5-0 win on their home ice.
Coach Rick Comley and the Wildcats split a series with Michigan Tech last weekend and that had to help the confidence of this young team. Trevor Janicki, Curtis Sheptak and J. P. Vigier each had a goal and assist. With each passing game the Wildcats will get better. The goal is to be good enough near the end of the season to put a push on for a WCHA Final Five spot. A strong showing Friday will help erase the memory of Wednesday’s loss and the team’s confidence.
In Wednesday’s win five Lakers scored goals with Matt Alvey getting a goal and an assists. Joe Blaznek had the only power-play goal. John Graham made 15 saves to record his fifth career shut out.
ELMO picks: LSSU 4, NMU 2.
Next Week in the WCHA Wednesday, Oct. 23 Canadian National Team at Alaska-Anchorage Friday-Saturday, Oct. 25-26 Colorado College at Northern Michigan Wisconsin at Denver North Dakota at Michigan Tech Minnesota at Minnesota-Duluth St. Lawrence at St. Cloud State (nc)
Copyright 1996 Jim Thies . All Rights Reserved.
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