This Week in the WCHA: December 13, 1996

WCHA PREVIEW: Dec. 13-15, 1996 WCHA Preview: Dec. 13-15, 1996 by Jim Thies

North Dakota won three of four points from Colorado College last weekend, increasing its lead to six in the race for first place in the WCHA.

The Fighting Sioux are off this weekend, but would probably rather be playing to keep their hot streak going. But no matter what any of the other teams do this weekend, UND will still be in first place on Monday. And that’s just fine with Coach Dean Blais and his crew.

After the Sioux, a tight race is on for second. Colorado College and Minnesota-Duluth are tied with 17 points, Minnesota and St. Cloud State have 16 apiece and Wisconsin has 15. In all, just two points separate the second- through sixth-place teams.

Here’s a look at this (short-stocked) weekend’s games.

Minnesota (9-5-0, 8-4-0 WCHA) vs. St. Cloud State (9-3-2, 7-3-2 WCHA) Saturday, 7:05 CT, National Hockey Center, St. Cloud, MN Sunday, 7:05 CT, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, MN

Minnesota and St. Cloud State are tied for fourth place in the league with 16 points, and the in-state rivals will see who can get the advantage in this home-and-home series.

Minnesota had last weekend off, and should be well-rested. Sunday’s game is in Minneapolis, where the Gophers have never lost to St. Cloud (12-0-0). Saturday, the teams play in St. Cloud, where the Huskies have won four of the last six contests. Casey Hankinson (7 goals, 7 assists, 14 points) is the Gophers’ top scorer, while Erik Rasmussen (8-5–13) leads not only in goals, but also penalties (20 for 56 minutes). Erik Day (3-1-0, 1.00 GAA, .956 SV%) is at the top of the WCHA goalie charts as a fill-in for proven player Steve DeBus (5-3-0, 3.14 GAA, .895 SV%)

St. Cloud State won four points last weekend with a sweep of Northern Michigan, which puts the Huskies in a solid position at this point. The Huskies have a four-game unbeaten streak together and are 5-0-1 at home. SCSU has been making the move with solid special teams play; they are No. 1 in the league on the power play (24.6 percent) and No. 3 in penalty killing (84.9 percent). Dave Paradise (6-10–16) and Sacha Molin (9-6–15) are the two top scorers. Molin had three goals and three assists last weekend, including two power-play goals and Friday’s game winner. Goalie Brian Leitza (5-1-0, 2.68 GAA, .922 SV%) is second in the league in goals-against average.

ELMO Picks: A split. SCSU 4-3, UM 6-3.

Minnesota-Duluth (9-6-1, 8-5-1 WCHA) at Denver (6-6-2, 4-6-2 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 MT, Denver University Arena, Denver, CO

Minnesota-Duluth gained four points with a sweep of Michigan Tech last weekend, while Denver was idle. A big weekend by Denver could push them right back into the mainstream while a sweep by UMD will solidify their standing.

Minnesota-Duluth coach Mike Sertich needs two wins to reach 300 in his career, and his team would like nothing better than to get that accomplished this weekend. Mike Peluso (12-7–19) reached the 100-point mark for his career last weekend, and is third in the league in scoring. His seven power-play goals also lead the WCHA in that category. Ken Dzikowski (5-13–18) is tied for first in the league (with UND’s Jason Blake) in assists. Brant Nicklin (8-5-1, 2.91 GAA, .905 SV%) keeps getting the job done in goal.

Denver has hovered around the .500 mark most of the year, so now would be a good time for the Pioneers to take that step forward. Lately the DU penalty killing has been great (one power-play goal in the last 20 opportunities). But the Pioneers need to stay out of the penalty box against UMD; DU is sixth in penalty killing (80.0 percent) while UMD is third (22.1 percent) on the power play. Anders Bjork (2-9–11) is the leading scorer with Antti Laaksonen (6-4–10) next. Stephen Wagner (3-2-0, 2.79 GAA, .907 SV%) is the Pioneers’ top goalie even after allowing a season-high four goals to NMU on Nov. 29.

ELMO Picks: UMD gets two, 4-2, 5-3.

Northern Michigan (4-12-2, 4-11-1 WCHA) at Colorado College (8-5-1, 8-5-1 WCHA) Saturday-Sunday, 2:05 MT, Cadet Ice Arena, Air Force Academy, CO

A young Northern Michigan team has played solid hockey this year, but Colorado College hasn’t been a disappointment either. It will be fun to see which team gets the best of this series.

Northern Michigan doesn’t like to play on the road, as evidenced by their 1-7-0 record. That may be because of a young team that is not familiar with opponents’ arenas. But NMU could make a strong statement this weekend with a good showing. Bud Smith (4-7–11) is the top scorer with Rich Metro (4-5–9) second. NMU’s top three goal scorers are freshmen and that’s a great sign for the future. Dieter Kochan (4-8-1, 4.13 GAA, .880 SV%) will need a big weekend in goal.

Colorado College took only one point against North Dakota last weekend, but that’s not too bad considering how well UND has played this year. Brian Swanson (6-11–17) is the leading scorer while Darren Clark (6-10–16) is a close second. Jason Gudmundson (9-5–14) had two goals and two assists last weekend and has scored in six of the last seven contests. The Tigers are second in the league in scoring (4.07), but eighth in goals against (3.71).

ELMO Picks: CC wins twice, 5-2, 5-3.

Next Week in the WCHA Friday, Dec. 20 Alaska-Anchorage at St. Cloud State Harvard at Minnesota-Duluth Saturday, Dec. 21 Alaska-Anchorage at St. Cloud State Harvard at Minnesota-Duluth

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

Copyright 1996 Jim Thies. All Rights Reserved. Return to Feature Articles Return to News and Recaps Return to US College Hockey Online