This Week in the WCHA: November 1, 1996

After a couple of wild weekends of WCHA play, only one team remains undefeated; it looks like the race for the MacNaughton Cup will take the entire year to decide.

And that’s great for fans, because each weekend of play will be important. So players, coaches and teams will have to be at the top of their game to win and keep up.

North Dakota, the lone unbeaten team, will host Northern Michigan this weekend. In other games Michigan Tech goes to Alaska-Anchorage, St. Cloud State travels to Colorado College and Minnesota visits traditional rivals Wisconsin. In a non-conference series, Denver hits the road for a pair of games at Clarkson.

Here’s a look at each of the series.

Northern Michigan (2-3-1 overall, 2-2-0 WCHA) at North Dakota (4-0-0 overall, 4-0-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:35 p.m. CT, Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, ND

North Dakota will try to keep its perfect record intact as they host Northern Michigan in a two-game series.

The Fighting Sioux are at home, where they topped Denver twice two weeks ago. Playing in front of their own fans will be a plus this weekend. Curtis Murphy and Peter Armburst each scored twice in Friday’s win at Michigan Tech, and Dave Hoogsteen had two goals in Saturday’s one-goal win. Key to the wins was that UND allowed MTU just 20 shots on Friday and 27 shots on Saturday. The Fighting Sioux are playing well defensively and that’s what it takes to win consistently.

"Our 4-0 start is especially nice after losing some fine players from last year’s team," coach Dean Blais said on Tuesday. "Right now we are scoring goals and playing well with a young team. I don’t know what to expect from Northern, since they are playing up to 10 freshmen. But they were able to beat CC, which is quite an accomplishment."

Blais likes the way his team is playing. "We are going in the right direction. The kids are playing good hockey. In my first year we fought for a spot in the middle of the pack, but now a team goal is to finish in the top five and get home ice in the first round of the playoffs. Anything after that is a bonus. I don’t think we have enough returning to win the WCHA, but with some of the results already in, it will be a wild, wild year.

"We sold out both games of the Denver series and it’s been quite a while since we’ve done that. There’s a lot of enthusiasm back in Grand Forks and having a 4-0 record adds to that excitement."

The Wildcats split at home against Colorado College last weekend and have the difficult task of going to Grand Forks where teams haven’t had much success this year. John Coyle and Tyson Holly scored their first collegiate goals in Friday’s win, while the Wildcats were outshot 29-26. Holly scored again on Saturday but it wasn’t enough. NMU allowed 46 shots on goal on Saturday, and they can’t afford to do that this weekend.

ELMO Picks: UND wins both, 4-1 and 5-2.

Michigan Tech (4-3-0 overall, 1-3-0 WCHA) at Alaska-Anchorage (2-2-0 overall, 0-2-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 p.m. AT, Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, AK

This series is important to both teams: Michigan Tech wants to get back to winning ways, and Alaska-Anchorage needs some good efforts to help them reach some team goals.

Michigan Tech has had a good start, but must bounce back after losing twice to North Dakota. Kyle Peterson had a pair of goals last weekend but goalie Luciano Cavaggio had to make 38 saves on Saturday. That’s too many shots on goal for a team to win consistently. Look for the Huskies to improve in that category this weekend. If they can, they’ll enjoy the results.

The Seawolves lost a 5-0 decision to the Canadian national team in their last outing and were idle last weekend. Coach Dean Talafous will continue his disciplined style of play and team defense concept. The Seawolves will win some this year, but will need to hold teams to about 20 shots a game. Against Michigan Tech this weekend, that could be a problem.

ELMO Picks: MTU sweeps, 5-1 and 6-2.

St. Cloud State (3-1-0 overall, 1-1-0 WCHA) at Colorado College (2-2-0 overall, 2-2-0 WCHA) Friday, 7:35 p.m. MT, Saturday, 2:05 p.m. MT, Cadet Ice Arena, Air Force Academy, CO

Colorado College and St. Cloud State will both try to get over the .500 mark in WCHA play in this series.

For CC, Brian Swanson (3-2–5) is leading the way; Darren Clark and Cam Kryway are the only other Tigers with more than one goal this year (two apiece). Getting offensive production was a main concern for coach Don Lucia, and that hasn’t changed. Judd Lambert has been solid in goal with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.

St. Cloud State has relied on Matt Cullen and Sacha Molin for scoring this year. Cullen (1-5–6) leads in scoring, but Molin isn’t far behind (4-1–5). Goalies Tim Lideen (2-0-0, 1.98 GAA) and Brian Leitza (1-1-0, 2.02 GAA, .927 SV%) have provided strong work in net.

ELMO Picks: CC takes both games, 4-1 and 5-1.

Minnesota (2-2-0 overall, 2-2-0 WCHA) at Wisconsin (2-2-0 overall, 2-2-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 p.m. CT, Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI

Here are two more teams hoping to get their heads above water in league play. This is always a classic matchup, the first half of the annual "Border Battle."

Minnesota has coach Doug Woog back behind the bench after he served his one-week suspension. But Woog’s presence wouldn’t have mattered last weekend, when the Gophers split at Minnesota-Duluth — Minnesota was seriously outplayed on Friday, but came back strong the next evening. The Gophers must put a full game together to win. Sometimes they get plenty of scoring, other times good goaltending and defensive play. So far this year, they haven’t had it all at once. Goalie Steve DeBus needs to be solid this weekend and team defense must be part of the plan. There’s talk that the injured Reggie Berg may be back in the lineup, and that’s nothing but good news for the Gophers.

Coach Jeff Sauer is still looking for win No. 367, which would tie him with Bob Johnson for the all-time lead at Madison. Goalie Kirk Daubenspeck will have to be sharp against the Gopher’s snipers, but if there’s one goalie who can come up with a big game every night, it’s the Badgers’ senior netminder. Last year, the Badgers swept the Gophers in Madison; that’s the goal again this year.

ELMO Picks: Friday UM 4, UW 3. Saturday UW 5, UM 4

Denver (1-3-0 overall, 1-3-0 WCHA) at Clarkson (2-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 ECAC) Friday-Saturday, 7:35 p.m. ET, Cheel Arena, Potsdam, NY

The Pioneers leave WCHA play this weekend after splitting at home against Wisconsin (an 8-3 loss and a 3-2 win).

The Pioneers have been up-and-down so far; take a look at last weekend for a prime example. Coach George Gwozdecky will try to get his team untracked in this non-conference series. Maybe a trip away from home will be the answer. Sometimes, teams just perform better on the road, where players can concentrate on the task at hand, free of the distractions which accompany home games. In any case, the Pioneers need a solid weekend, since they have a home-and-home series with Colorado College upcoming.

The Golden Knights opened two weekends ago and topped Ohio State twice (7-4, 5-2). Denver will give them more to be concerned about. They finished in a solid second place in the preseason coaches poll, behind Vermont and ahead of Harvard. There are six seniors and eight juniors to lead the way, which should make for a solid season.

ELMO Picks: A Denver sweep, 6-2 and 4-3.

Next Week in the WCHA Friday, Nov. 8 Colorado College at Denver North Dakota at Minnesota Minnesota-Duluth at St. Cloud State Wisconsin at Northern Michigan Saturday, Nov. 9 North Dakota at Minnesota Minnesota-Duluth at St. Cloud State Wisconsin at Northern Michigan Sunday, Nov. 10 Denver at Colorado College

Copyright 1996 Jim Thies . All Rights Reserved.

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