This Week in the WCHA: December 27, 1996

WCHA Preview: Dec. 27-31, 1996 by Jim Thies

Next to the end-of-the-year league and national playoffs, this time of year is possibly the most exciting for players, coaches and fans alike, since teams leave the rigors of conference play and face new opponents from across the nation.

This leads to some great matchups, and that’s the case this weekend as top teams meet in tournaments and nonconference games which should let any fan enjoy the Holiday Season even more.

Here’s a look at the games this weekend.

Northern Michigan (4-14-2, 4-13-1 WCHA) at Saskatchewan Thursday, 7 CT, Saskatoon, SK

York University and the University of Regina will join Northern Michigan and the University of Saskatchewan in the Saskatchewan Chillout. Additional games will be played Friday and Saturday.

Northern Michigan could see a lot of action at the Chillout, as the Wildcats also play a single game against Saskatchewan on Dec. 29. The good news for coach Rick Comley is that freshman center Bud Smith (four goals, seven assists, 11 points) will be back in the lineup after missing the CC series with a concussion. He is the team’s top scorer. Rich Metro (5-6–11) is one of the team’s top players. The Wildcats would like to sharpen their game in this action, to warm up for the rest of the WCHA season. Any experience this young team can get will help, so expect to see a lot of players hit the ice during these non-conference games.

Colorado College (10-5-1, 10-5-1 WCHA) vs. Vermont (9-4-0, 2-3-0 ECAC) Friday, 5:05 CT, Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI

Colorado College and Vermont both want to play well against a respected opponent in this game at the Badger Hockey Classic. Three of the participants — Vermont, New Hampshire and Colorado College — are among the top ten teams in the country.

Vermont is led by one of the top players in the nation in Martin St. Louis (10-18–28), a true Hobey Baker Award candidate. But if you concentrate on St. Louis, then Eric Perrin (10-13–23) will hurt you. This is a talented team, and they will give Colorado College a great contest. In goalie will probably be Tim Thomas (9-4-0, 3.11 GAA, .910 SV%) who has been a mainstay in the nets.

Colorado College, currently third in the WCHA and just two points out of first, has played better and better as the season has progressed. The games this weekend are important for coach Don Lucia and his team if they want to keep improving for what lies ahead in the WCHA. Brian Swanson (8-13–21) is third in the league in scoring. Jason Goodmundson (10-8–18) and Darren Clark (7-11–18) are tied for seventh in scoring.

The Tigers have gotten help from a lot of players this year, with 10 different guys netting game-winning goals. Goalie Judd Lambert (8-4-0, 3.40 GAA, .875 SV%) hasn’t had the type of season he wanted so far, and would like to improve his numbers. CC is just 3-3-1 on the road and wants to improve that percentage with a couple of wins.

Wisconsin (7-8-1, 7-6-1 WCHA) vs. New Hampshire (13-2-0, 10-0-0 HE) Friday, 8:05 CT, Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI

Vermont and New Hampshire join CC and UW in the Badgers’ hockey showdown. Games will also be played on Saturday at 5:00 and 8:05 CT. Wisconsin faces Hockey East power New Hampshire in this game of the Badger Hockey Classic.

The way his team was playing before the break, New Hampshire coach Dick Umile may have petitioned the North Pole for a postponement of Christmas. The second-ranked Wildcats were riding a 12-game win streak, during which they averaged over six goals a game, while giving up a mere 2.75. Recently New Hampshire posted six players among Hockey East’s top ten scorers. Last year’s three All-America candidates — Eric Boguniecki, Mark Mowers and Eric Nickulas — have been joined by Tom Nolan, Derek Bekar and Jason Krog to power the most explosive offense in the East. Nolan and third-liner Greg Dumont return after missing the last month with injuries.

Wisconsin faces one of the top teams in the country, but the Badgers need to play good teams to get better. These games are in Milwaukee, which is as close as the Badgers get to playing at home this weekend.

Speaking of which, the Badgers need to play better at home, where they are 3-3-0 this year. Goalie Kirk Daubenspeck (6-6-1, 3.40 GAA, .883 SV%) will see plenty of action and he will need to be at the top of his game for the Badgers to have a chance. Brad Engelhart (9-5–14) is among Wisconsin’s top scorers, while any time Rick Enrico (4-10–14) is near the puck good things happen for the Badgers. Maybe this is the kiss of death, but the Badgers are 14-0-0 all-time against New Hampshire.

Yale (3-5-2, 3-5-1 ECAC) vs. Denver (8-6-2, 6-6-2 WCHA) Friday, 7:05 MT, McNichols Arena, Denver, CO

Maine and Air Force join Denver and Yale in the Denver Cup. Games will also be played on Saturday, at 4:00 and 7:05 CT.

Yale has hovered near the .500 mark most of the season and will try to get back to that point with a couple of wins at the Denver Cup. Jeff Hamilton (4-7–11) is among the ECAC scoring leaders. Look for the Bulldogs to play the game close to the vest and wait for their opponent to make a mistake. They will try to then capitalize and sneak out a win.

Denver has played well lately, going 5-1-2 over its last eight games. After a poor start, they are starting to climb back into the fight in the WCHA. Antti Laaksonen (8-5–13) has had five multiple-point games and leads the Pioneers in all games with 16 points. Paul Comrie (5-6–11) has points in his last three games and is second on the team overall with 15 points. Warren Smith (2-9–11) has been hot the last six games by scoring nine points. Goalie Stephen Wagner (4-2-0, 2.82 GAA, .906 SV%) is among the top league goalies.

Michigan Tech (5-11-1, 2-11-1 WCHA) vs. Michigan (15-1-1, 8-1-1 CCHA) Friday, 7:30 ET, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI Michigan State and Lake Superior State join Michigan Tech and Michigan in the Great Lakes Invitational. Games will also be played Saturday, at times to be announced. One of the top tourneys at this time of year is the Great Lakes Invitational and this year’s action will be among the best.

Michigan Tech will have its hands full with rival Michigan in this contest. The Huskies need to break out of a nine-game winless streak, the team’s longest since the 1993-94 team did not win in 11 straight games. The Huskies haven’t lost because of defense; they have held their opponents to three or fewer goals in 12 of 17 games this year. But a look at the WCHA scoring leaders list doesn’t show a single MTU player. Tech has scored three or fewer goals in 12 games. Also, the power play has frozen solid, scoring just two times in the past 57 chances.

Defending champion Michigan hopes to sweep this tournament for the ninth straight year. Even though these games have no bearing on the CCHA standings, the Wolverines have used past GLI titles to propel them to success the rest of the season.

"When you win that tournament, it helps your team come together and get ready for the second part of the season," says Michigan coach Red Berenson.

Minnesota (10-6-0, 9-5-0 WCHA) vs. Boston College (7-8-1, 4-5-1 HE) Friday, 7:05 CT, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, MN Miami University and Clarkson join Minnesota and Boston College in the Mariucci Classic. Games will also be played Saturday, at 4:00 and 7:05 CT.

BU’s Chris Drury and his four goals sent BC into the break shaking their heads over their 6-4 loss to the Terriers. No one likes to lose to a top rival, but they certainly won’t be the last victim of the Chris Drury Show. Unfortunately for the Eagles — at least in the short term — Jeff Farkas, Blake Bellefeuille and sophomore sensation Marty Reasoner will instead be skating for the U.S. team in the upcoming junior tournament. Only defenseman Mike Mottau and Cam Neely lookalike Kevin Caulfield remain for the power play. BC coach Jerry York will probably move upperclassmen Brian Callahan, Jamie O’Leary and Ken Hemenway onto his top unit. Callahan leads BC scoring with 14 goals and nine assists. O’Leary is the only true center remaining with Farkas and Reasoner gone.

Minnesota, currently fourth in the WCHA and five points behind the leaders, would like to rebound from a 4-3 overtime loss to St. Cloud State in its last game. But that could be tough with three key players missing: defenseman Ben Clymer, and forwards Erik Rasmussen and Wyatt Smith are with the junior team. But Casey Hankinson (7-7–14) is on hand, along with Brian LaFleur (4-7–11) and Ryan Kraft (5-5–10). Goalie Steve DeBus (6-4-0, 2.99 GAA, .896 SV%) is having a steady season.

Boston University (10-3-1, 8-0-1 HE) at North Dakota (11-4-1, 11-4-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:35 CT, Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, ND

This is a great matchup: BU, second in Hockey East, against North Dakota, which sits atop the WCHA.

BU entered exam break on a high after beating arch-rival Boston College 6-4 on the back of Chris Drury’s four goals, two of them short-handed. BU coach Jack Parker looks for a positive carryover effect from the win.

"Winning a BC game, no matter what time of year it is, always has a good psychological effect on our team," said Parker.

Prior to the BC game, the Terriers had only scored two goals in three games while going 0-2-1. Freshman Dan Lacouture’s departure from the team for personal reasons has shifted an unhealthy scoring burden onto Hobey Baker candidate Drury. With Walsh also out of the lineup in the BC game, Drury’s 20 goals matched that of BU’s entire second and third lines combined.

"We’re going to have our hands full with North Dakota. They’re at the top of the WCHA. Dean [Blais] has obviously done a great job turning that situation around, going from the middle of the pack to the top pretty quickly. It’s a great rink and a great place to play … once you get there," Parker added with a laugh. The Terriers will leave BU at 4:30 a.m. on the 26th and arrive at noontime, just in time for an afternoon practice.

North Dakota is 5-1-1 over their last seven games and looks to keep its streak alive against a great opponent. The Fighting Sioux lead the league, but certainly can’t put their play in cruise control since the third-place team is just two points behind. These games should help UND keep at the top of their game for the rest of the WCHA season. Dave Hoogsteen (11-12–23) and Jason Blake (10-13–23) are tied for the league lead in scoring. Ian Kallay (7-11–18) isn’t that far behind.

Goalie Toby Kvalevog (9-3-1, 3.09 GAA, .872 SV%) has been the main man in the nets. UND will need a strong rest-of-the-season push to stay in first place in the league. Playing a team like BU, and playing well, can only help down the road.

Pori Aces Finland at Minnesota-Duluth (11-8-1, 8-7-1 WCHA) Friday, 7:05 CT, DECC, Duluth, MN

The Bulldogs get a chance to play a game before returning to the WCHA rigors on Jan. 10-11 at home against Alaska-Anchorage. Ken Dzikowski (8-13–21) is tied for third in league scoring and just two points behind the leaders. Mike Peluso (12-8–20) is fifth in scoring and has at least one point in 16 of the 19 games he has skated.

Congratulations to coach Mike Sertich, who reached the 300-win plateau when the Bulldogs beat Harvard, 4-2, on Dec. 21.

NOTE: A special thanks to Paula Weston, USCHO CCHA Correspondent, for the preview on Michigan and to Dave Hendrickson, USCHO Hockey East Correspondent, for the previews on Boston College, Boston University and New Hampshire.

Next Week in the WCHA

Friday-Saturday, Jan. 3-4 Minnesota at Alaska-Anchorage St. Cloud State at Denver Michigan Tech at Wisconsin North Dakota at Western Michigan

Saturday, Jan. 4 Laurentian at Northern Michigan

Tuesday, Jan. 7 Colorado College at Air Force

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

Copyright 1996 Jim Thies. All Rights Reserved.

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