This Week in the WCHA: November 22, 1996

And then, as musical stalwarts Genesis might say, there were three. Three teams — North Dakota, Minnesota and Colorado College — stand atop the WCHA standings; this week two of them are in action away from their home rinks, trying to preserve a piece of the lead.

But with the way this year’s season has gone so far, fans will have to stay tuned to see who stays hot and who goes cold. An off-weekend could cost a team dearly by the time the season comes to an end.

Four points separate the top five teams and six points separate the top six clubs, so almost every game this weekend has implications for the top. Here’s a look at ’em.

Minnesota-Duluth (6-3-1, 5-2-1 WCHA) at Wisconsin (5-5-0, 5-5-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 CT, Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI

This is an important series, since these teams are within a point of each other for fourth place in the standings. A sweep by either team could propel them into a strong position for the rest of the season.

The Bulldogs took out the brooms last weekend, and are unbeaten in their last three games. UMD spread the scoring around, led by Rick Mrozik (2-7–9), who finished with two goals and three assists in Saturday’s win. Forward Ken Dzikowski (3-9–12) is third in the league in scoring. Brant Nicklin (5-2-1, 2.60 GAA, .912 SV%) has played very well as the defensive backbone of the team. The Bulldogs lead the league in power-play scoring (25.6 percent) and penalty-killing (92.1 percent).

The Badgers need to rebound with a strong showing this weekend if they want to stay in the race. More players must step up their game, like T. R. Moreau did with three goals against Colorado College. Brad Engelhart (6-4–10) leads the Badgers in scoring. UW needs its best weekend of the season on special teams, thanks to UMD’s success in that category.

ELMO Picks: UMD wins twice, 5-2, 4-2.

Denver (4-5-1, 2-5-1 WCHA) at Michigan Tech (5-6-0, 2-6-0 WCHA) Friday, 7:35 ET, Saturday, 7:05 ET, John MacInnes Student Ice Arena, Houghton, MI

This series is a must for both squads, who look to rise from the WCHA second-division. The Pioneers, in particular, would like to justify preseason expectations which have thus far not been met.

Denver must have been disappointed not to win all four points last weekend against UAA — missed opportunities could mean a big difference at the end of the season. The good news about the weekend was that the Pioneers finally won a conference game. DU has gotten at least one point from 20 of their 22 guys with ice time. But wouldn’t it be nice for someone to step up and take charge of the attack? Anders Bjork (3-8–11) is the points leader. Goalie Stephen Wagner (2-1-0, 2.65 GAA, .916 SV%) keeps playing well, and will need another good weekend.

The Huskies were shut out in both games last weekend at UM, so it’s no secret what they’ve been working on in practice this week. It was the first time the Huskies have been shut out back-to-back since the 1953-54 season (by North Dakota). Andre Savage (3-3–6) is the only Husky listed among the page-long WCHA scoring leaders. Goalie Luciano Caravaggio (2-2-0, 2.60 GAA, .933 SV%) has been a workhorse and his save percentage leads the league.

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

North Dakota (7-3-0, 7-3-0 WCHA) at Alaska-Anchorage (3-4-1, 1-4-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 AT, Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, AL

North Dakota makes the trip north to face a Seawolves team coming home after winning one point last weekend. The Fighting Sioux get back on the ice after a split last weekend.

UND has never won at Sullivan Arena (0-8-0). But the Fighting Sioux need to pick up some points in order to stay in the top spot. Dave Hoogsteen (7-7–14) is the leading scorer in the league and gets help from Jason Blake (5-7–12), who is tied for third, and Ian Kallay (4-7–11), tied for sixth. UND averages a league-leading 4.30 goals per game. Goalie Toby Kvalevog (6-3-0, 3.20 GAA, .872 SV%) leads the league in wins.

UAA is making steady improvement, but there’s still room for plenty more. The Seawolves have scored the fewest goals in the league with nine, but their goals-against average (3.17) isn’t bad. The Seawolves are the most-improved team in the conference in one area: penalties. After leading the league in penalties last year, the Seawolves are the least-whistled team this year at 8.5 minutes per game.

ELMO Picks: UND wins two, 5-1, 3-1.

Minnesota (7-3-0, 7-3-0 WCHA) at Northern Michigan (2-9-1, 2-8-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 ET, Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI

Minnesota travels to Northern Michigan holding a slight (5-4-1) edge in the last 10 games between these two teams.

Last weekend the Gophers held MTU scoreless with backup goalie Erik Day, a freshman, getting the two shutouts. Now, the question is who will be in the nets this weekend? If Steve DeBus (5-3-0, 3.14 GAA, .895 SV%) is healthy, look for him to play. Casey Hankinson (7-6–13) has been a player on a mission lately, and is second in the league in scoring. Erik Rasmussen (6-4–10) and Mike Crowley (2-8–10) also average a point per game for the Gophers.

Northern Michigan has been led by its freshmen class all year. That bodes well for the future, but makes it tough against talented teams like UM. Bud Smith (3-4–7) and Curtis Sheptak (1-6–7) are the two scoring leaders. Those two are the only Wildcats with points in each series this year. Of the team’s 25 goals, 15 have been scored by freshmen.

ELMO Picks: A UM sweep, 4-2, 5-1.

Next Week in the WCHA Friday, Nov. 29 Alaska-Anchorage at Colorado College Denver at Northern Michigan St, Cloud State at Michigan Tech North Dakota at Minnesota-Duluth Minnesota vs. Michigan at Detroit (College Hockey Showcase) Wisconsin vs. Michigan State at Detroit (College Hockey Showcase) Saturday, Nov. 30 Alaska-Anchorage at Colorado College Denver at Northern Michigan St, Cloud State at Michigan Tech North Dakota at Minnesota-Duluth Minnesota vs. Michigan State at Detroit (College Hockey Showcase) Wisconsin vs. Michigan at Detroit (College Hockey Showcase)

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

Copyright 1996 Jim Thies . All Rights Reserved.

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