This Week in the WCHA: November 15, 1996

And the race is on.

The WCHA looks like a dogfight with four teams within two points of the lead, as the standings tightened after Minnesota swept previously-undefeated North Dakota last weekend. There are plenty of interesting matchups this weekend, which means that things could look very different by Monday.

Here’s a look at this weekend’s games.

Wisconsin (5-3-0, 5-3-0 WCHA) at Colorado College (5-3-0, 5-3-0 WCHA) Saturday, 2:05 MT, Sunday, 1:05 MT, Cadet Ice Arena, Air Force Academy, CO

Both of these teams are high, coming off weekend sweeps. They are tied for second in the standings, making this one the featured series in the WCHA this weekend.

The Badgers have been a pleasant surprise to their fans with early-season success. Not many expected the Badgers to do as well as they have to date. Wisconsin looked good last weekend without one of their top players, Erik Raygor, who has scheduled knee surgery. That news didn’t stop the Badgers; in fact, it probably helped motivate them. Can they continue that momentum this weekend? Brad Engelhart scored the hat trick last Friday — he needs another strong performance to help the Badgers stay on a roll.

Colorado College also enjoyed a big weekend, sweeping rival DU. Darren Clark (5-3–8) led CC with his best-ever weekend, finishing with three goals and two assists. Brian Swanson (3-6–9) is the Tigers’ leading scorer. Judd Lambert (3-3-0, 3.15 GAA, .878 SV%) and Jason Cugnet (2-0-0, 2.21 GAA, .912 SV%) each got a win between the pipes. Playing at home, where they are 2-1-0, will help the Tigers this weekend.

ELMO Picks: CC sweeps, 4-2 and 5-1.

Alaska-Anchorage (3-3-0, 1-3-0 WCHA) at Denver (3-5-0, 1-5-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 MT, Denver University Arena, Denver, CO

Denver lost twice last weekend while Alaska-Anchorage did not play. The bottom two teams in the WCHA standings meet this weekend to see who can rise from the cellar.

This will be the first time that new UAA coach Dean Talafous takes his team on a long road trip. How will travel affect the players? Perhaps it will pull them together and make them play well. Or maybe they’ll have too many distractions and won’t get organized. Whichever the case, they will have to be at the top of their game to beat the Pioneers this weekend. Stacy Prevost (3-5–8) is the offensive leader while Doug Tesky (2-1-0, 2.01 GAA, .928 SV%) is the top netminder.

Coach George Gwozdecky’s Pioneers started the 1996-97 season where they left off last year, which is a big surprise for all. Coaches, media and fans were certain the Pioneers would be one of the top teams in the WCHA this year. But nothing has gone right for Denver: scorers aren’t scoring, the defense has allowed too many opportunities and the goalies have not been able to keep the team in games. Something must improve, and soon, or the Pioneers will be staring up from the huge hole they’ve dug.

ELMO Picks: Denver improves and wins twice, 4-2, 3-1.

Northern Michigan (2-7-1, 2-6-0 WCHA) at Minnesota-Duluth (4-3-1, 3-2-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 CT, Duluth Entertainment & Convention Center, Duluth, MN

Northern Michigan lost twice last weekend. Minnesota-Duluth split. So these teams look to rebound in this series in Duluth. Three points separate the teams in the standings, so a big weekend by the Wildcats would improve their placing.

NMU has lost five straight WCHA games and wants to stop the bleeding. In 10 games this year, the Wildcats have scored just 21 goals. Bud Smith (4-5–9), Roger Trudeau (4-0–4) and Curtis Sheptak (1-7–8) have performed well. Dieter Kochan (2-7-1, 3.97 GAA, .894 SV%) has played all but one minute in goal, and has kept his team in almost every game.

UMD earned just one point at St. Cloud State last weekend, and looks forward to returning home to play in front of a friendly crowd. The Bulldogs scored just three goals and must do better in the offensive zone. And with players like Mike Peluso (6-3–9), Mike Dzikowski (2-6–8) and Brad Federenko (4-4–8), they should do better.

ELMO Picks: UMD sweeps, 5-1, 6-3.

St. Cloud State (5-2-1, 3-2-1 WCHA) at North Dakota (6-2-0, 6-2-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:35 CT, Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, ND

St. Cloud State played inspired hockey last weekend while North Dakota was brought back to earth by Minnesota. This combination will set up a big weekend in Grand Forks.

SCSU turned up its game and got great results. Coach Craig Dahl would like nothing better than to keep his team on top of its game and playing well. Matt Cullen (4-9–13) is having an all-star season so far. Sacha Molin (6-4–10) leads the team in goals. In all, 12 players have scored goals for St. Cloud, and 15 have at least one point. Goalies Brian Leitza (3-1-0, 2.76 GAA, .919 SV%) and Tim Lideen (2-1-1, 2.78 GAA, .907 SV%) have been mainstays.

UND ran into a desperate hockey club last weekend and got beat. But that only means the Fighting Sioux will have to regroup this week in practice and get ready to play hard this weekend. Dave Hoogsteen (6-7–13) is the UND points leader, and he plays better all the time. Jason Blake (5-4–9) is second in scoring. Toby Kvalevog, despite getting peppered by the Gophers last weekend, is still the main stopper in goal.

ELMO Picks: UND gets back with a sweep, 5-3, 5-4.

Michigan Tech (5-4-0, 2-4-0 WCHA) at Minnesota (5-3-0, 5-3-0 WCHA) Saturday-Sunday, 1:05 CT, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, MN

This Saturday-Sunday afternoon series will be a fun one for fans.

Both teams are playing well. Michigan Tech had last weekend off, and should be well-rested and ready to put together a big effort. The Huskies have played very well defensively thus far, and that part of their game must be at its best this weekend. Goalie Luciano Caravaggio (4-1-0, 2.33 GAA, .933 SV%) will have to have a hot hand and offensively the Huskies will need every scoring opportunity.

Minnesota swept league-leading North Dakota last weekend. Now, to prove that they’re a good hockey team, they have to forget that success and focus on upcoming games. Casey Hankinson (6-6–12), the league’s offensive Player of the Week, will need another good weekend. Goalie Steve DeBus (5-3-0, 3.14 GAA, .895 SV%) had a decent weekend against UND, despite giving up some soft goals on Saturday.

ELMO Picks: A split. UM 4-2, MTU 4-3.

CORRECTION: Colorado College’s 28-game undefeated streak was in games at Air Force Academy Arena, and not against St. Cloud State University as was reported in last week’s WCHA Previews.

Next Week in the WCHA Friday, Nov. 22 North Dakota at Alaska-Anchorage Denver at Michigan Tech Minnesota at Northern Michigan Minnesota-Duluth at Wisconsin Saturday, Nov. 23 North Dakota at Alaska-Anchorage Denver at Michigan Tech Minnesota at Northern Michigan Minnesota-Duluth at Wisconsin

Jim Thies is the WCHA Correspondent for U.S. College Hockey Online.

Copyright 1996 Jim Thies . All Rights Reserved.

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