This Week in the WCHA: November 29, 1996

WCHA PREVIEW: Nov. 29-30, 1996

WCHA Preview: Nov. 29-30, 1996 by Jim Thies

Even though there were some surprises last weekend in WCHA play, one thing remained constant: the standings are still close.

Only four points separate the top five teams, which doesn’t even remotely resemble what’s happened in the WCHA the past few years — when one or two teams have run away from the pack.

Every game, even every shift, is important for teams to win. A slip at this time of the season could mean disaster at season’s end. That makes for some great hockey at every rink in the league.

Besides league games, Minnesota and Wisconsin represent the WCHA in the College Hockey Showcase in Detroit against two strong CCHA teams, Michigan and Michigan State. Bragging rights will be on the line this weekend at the Joe Louis Arena.

Here’s a look at this week’s games.

Alaska-Anchorage (4-5-1, 2-5-1 WCHA) at Colorado College (7-3-0, 7-3-0 WCHA) Friday, 7:35 MT, Saturday, 2:05 MT, Cadet Ice Arena, Air Force Academy, CO

Colorado College had last weekend off and should be rested for Alaska-Anchorage. UAA topped North Dakota last weekend and will try to keep it up this time.

UAA hits the road for just the second time this year. A big win against North Dakota helps their confidence this weekend, but now they’re going to CC, where teams have traditionally had a tough time winning. They must stay with their patient, defensive style of play to have success. UAA will have their hands full with the Tigers, who have won five straight.

CC didn’t play last weekend, yet still finds itself just two points out of first place. A big weekend against UAA could send the Tigers into first and into the driver’s seat for now; the Tigers have never lost at home to UAA. Stewart Bodtker (2-10–12) has caught fire and leads the Tigers in scoring. Look for Darren Clark (5-6–11) and Brian Swanson (4-7–11) to play well. The Tigers realize that UAA will play a defensive game and not take foolish penalties. If the Tigers get impatient, they won’t have the success they should this weekend.

ELMO Picks: A CC sweep. 3-1, 4-1.

Denver (6-5-1, 5-5-1 WCHA) at Northern Michigan (3-10-1, 3-9-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 ET, Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI

Both Denver and Northern Michigan had solid games last weekend and hope to stay hot for this series.

Denver took two games at Michigan Tech to get back in the hunt. They trail the leaders by five points, but in this season that’s not too much to overcome. The Pioneers are 3-0-1 in their last four. Winger Antti Laaksonen (6-3–9) scored his second career hat trick last Saturday. Paul Comrie (3-5–8) has also played well lately. Goalie Jim Mullin (1-4-1, 3.70 GAA, .843 SV%) earned the shutout with a well-played effort.

Northern Michigan split with Minnesota last weekend, which should give the Wildcats some confidence going into the series with the Pioneers. The Wildcats must forget their recent history against DU (eight straight losses) and get the type of game they had in the win against UM. Bud Smith (5-8–13) leads in points and goals and is tied for the team lead in assists. Curtis Sheptak (2-8–10) set up both goals in Saturday’s win and will need another strong series against the Pioneers.

ELMO Picks: DU stays hot, 4-1, 5-2.

St. Cloud State (6-3-1, 4-3-1 WCHA) at Michigan Tech (5-8-0, 2-8-0 WCHA) Friday, 7:35 ET, Saturday, 7:05 ET, John MacInnes Student Ice Arena, Houghton, MI

St. Cloud State wants to keep improving while Michigan Tech desperately wants to get out of the basement of the WCHA in this series.

St. Cloud State should be well-rested after having last weekend off. SCSU is off to its best start since joining the Division I ranks. Matt Cullen 3-5–8) missed the Huskies last series, but should be ready to go this weekend. Dave Paradise (4-6–10) and Mark Parrish (3-7–10) will have to continue to play well for the Huskies to succeed. Sacha Molin (6-3–9) is the team’s top goalscorer.

Michigan Tech has lost five straight games and needs a good weekend to break out of the slump. It isn’t defense that has hurt the Huskies — they have allowed three or fewer goals in 10 of their last 13 games. The penalty-killing units have also played well, with .886 efficiency. Andre Savage (4-3–7) is the top offensive player, but he needs help from all his teammates if MTU wants to win.

ELMO Picks: SCSU wins twice. 4-2, 3-1.

North Dakota (8-4-0, 8-4-0 WCHA) at Minnesota-Duluth (7-4-1, 6-3-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, DECC, Duluth, MN

This should be a great series between two teams who are playing well. Just three points separate the two teams, which will add flavor to this rivalry.

North Dakota is led by the league’s top scorer, Dave Hoogsteen (7-9–16). Jason Blake (6-8–14) isn’t far behind in the scoring race and Ian Kallay (5-8–13) gives the Fighting Sioux a solid one-two-three punch. Goalie Toby Kvalevog (7-3-0, 3.03 GAA, .871 SV%) has given UND the big games when needed. The Sioux are second in the league — to UMD — on the power play with a .238 conversion rate. But UND needs to improve its penalty-killing, where it ranks last (.690). That’s an area where the Bulldogs could hurt the Fighting Sioux this weekend.

Duluth will be home for eight of its next 10 games, and it would like to start that stand with a sweep. Mike Peluso (8-4–12) has points in nine straight games and has been a leader all season. Defenseman Rick Mrozik (3-8–11) is tied for second in scoring in all games and has three goals and four assists in his last three games. Goalie Brant Nicklin (6-3-1, 2.48 GAA, .916 SV%) has been outstanding, and tied a team record for shutouts in a season (2) when he blanked UW 4-0 last weekend. He has allowed opponents just one goal in four other games.

ELMO Picks: Two even teams split. UMD 4-3, UND 5-3.

Minnesota (8-4-0, 8-4-0 WCHA) vs. Michigan (11-1-1, 6-1-1 CCHA) Friday, 4:30 ET, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI

Minnesota loves to play against tough competition and that’s what they’ll get with this weekend’s games with Michigan and Michigan State. Of course no one will want to talk much about last year’s loss to Michigan in the NCAA tourney, but don’t kid yourself. The Gophers want to erase that memory. A big question is who will be in goal this weekend. Steve DeBus (5-3-0, 3.14 GAA, .895 SV%) and Erik Day (3-1-0, 1.00 GAA, .956 SV%) both have injured shoulders. Casey Hankinson (7-7–14) is tied for second in the league in scoring, while Erik Rasmussen (8-5–13) is tied for the league lead in goals.

When the Wolverines play, there will be more than just a couple of games at stake; there’s CCHA (and Big Ten) pride on the line. "It’s a unique tournament in that you have four of 10 schools that are traditional hockey powers who have had strong teams for a long time," says Michigan head coach Red Berenson.

"When we play each other, there’s something more at stake than what [shows] up in the standings." The Wolverines have four of the top 11 scorers in the CCHA — John Madden, Warren Luhning, Matt Herr and Brendan Morrison — and solid goaltending in Marty Turco.

ELMO Picks: Michigan wins a thriller, 4-3.

Wisconsin (6-6-0, 6-6-0 WCHA) vs. Michigan State (9-4-0, 8-2-0 CCHA) Friday, 8 ET, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI

Wisconsin wants to get over that .500 mark, but it will be tough against Michigan State and Michigan in Detroit. The Badgers would like to redo the calendar and play all their remaining games on Friday, since they are 5-0-0 on that day, and just 1-5-0 on Saturday. Brad Englehart (7-5–12) leads the Badgers’ scoring attack, and has six goals in his last six games. Rick Enrico (3-5–8) is another known quality player. Goalie Mike Valley (1-0-0, 3.11 GAA, .902 SV%) won his first collegiate start last Friday, but look for Kirk Daubenspeck (5-6-0, 3.41 GAA, .886 SV%) to return to action.

Michigan State is no offensive slouch, either. The Spartans have three of the top 11 scorers in the CCHA in Sean Berens, Mike York and Mike Watt. Even though MSU has outscored opponents 47-31, coach Ron Mason said last week that the Spartans are still working to come together. Michigan State completed a sweep through Ohio last week, beating both Bowling Green and Miami.

ELMO Picks: Badgers play well and win, 5-3.

Wisconsin (6-6-0, 6-6-0 WCHA) vs. Michigan (11-1-1, 6-1-1 CCHA) Saturday, 4:30 ET, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI

See Wisconsin and Michigan previews above.

ELMO Picks: Michigan wins again, 4-1.

Minnesota (8-4-0, 8-4-0 WCHA) vs. Michigan State (9-4-0, 8-2-0 CCHA) Saturday, 7:30 ET, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI

See Minnesota and Michigan State previews above.

ELMO Picks: Minnesota rebounds and wins, 5-3.

A special thank-you to Paula Weston, USCHO’s CCHA Correspondent, for previews on Michigan and Michigan State.

Next Week in the WCHA: Friday-Saturday, Dec. 6-7 Wisconsin at Alaska-Anchorage Colorado College at North Dakota Michigan Tech at Minnesota-Duluth Northern Michigan at St. Cloud State

Jim Thies is the WCHA Correspondent for US College Hockey Online.

Copyright 1996 JIm Thies. All Rights Reserved. Return to Feature Articles Return to US College Hockey Online