This Week in the WCHA: January 10, 1997

WCHA Preview: Jan. 10-11, 1997 by Jim Thies

In past years, the WCHA often looked like this: one or two teams out front, with such large leads in the standings that the rest of the league was just playing for second place, or even third.

That’s not the case this year. With the season half over, there are seven teams which still have a legitimate chance of finishing near the top of the standings. North Dakota and St. Cloud State share a slim lead with 23 points. Minnesota is breathing down their necks with 22 points and, Colorado College is feeling good at 21. Wisconsin is in fifth place with 19 points while Denver and Minnesota-Duluth aren’t out of it, each with 17.

With some interesting matchups this weekend, we might see a shakeup. The WCHA’s co-leaders, UND and SCSU, meet in St. Cloud, while Denver can make up some ground when the Pioneers head to Minnesota.

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

No. 2 North Dakota (14-4-2, 11-4-1 WCHA) at St. Cloud State (12-5-3, 10-5-3 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 8:35 CT, National Hockey Center, St. Cloud, MN

The league’s top teams meet this weekend in St. Cloud; these two split in Grand Forks back in November (SCSU 5-2, UND 5-3).

North Dakota is 7-0-2 in its last nine games, its longest unbeaten streak since the 1986-87 season, when UND went 14 games without a loss. UND’s Dave Hoogsteen (11 goals, 12 assists, 23 points) and Jason Blake (10-13–23) are tied for the WCHA points lead. Ian Kallay (7-11–18) and Kevin Hoogsteen (7-10–17) are up there as well. Toby Kvalevog (9-3-1, 3.09 GAA, .872 SV%) has been the mainstay in goal.

North Dakota leads the league in scoring, averaging 4.63 goals a game. The Sioux are second in the league in power-play conversion, but only ninth in penalty-killing.

For the first time since they joined the WCHA in 1990, the Huskies are in first place. They have accomplished that with excellent defensive play and a great home record (7-1-1). The Huskies are second in WCHA goals-against, with a 3.00 average. Tim Lideen (3-3-3, 2.81 GAA, .913 SV%) and Brian Leitza (7-2-0, 3.09 GAA, .900 SV%) can take credit for a lot of the team’s success.

But don’t forget Sacha Molin (11-11–22), who is third in the league in scoring and has nine multiple-point games; Dave Paradise (9-10–19), who picked up his 100th career point last weekend; or Mark Parrish (10-7–17), returning to the Huskies after playing in the World Junior Tournament.

ELMO Picks: A close split. UND 4-3, SCSU 3-2.

Denver (11-6-3, 7-6-3 WCHA) at No. 4 Minnesota (14-6-0, 11-5-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 CT, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, MN

Both teams had big weekends last time out, with Denver getting three of four points against St. Cloud State and Minnesota sweeping two games at Alaska-Anchorage.

Denver is on a much-needed run, going 8-1-3 over its last 12 games; in particular, the Pioneers are unbeaten in their last seven. DU’s Paul Comrie (6-9–15) will be looked upon to lead the Pioneers in the offensive zone this weekend. He had a career-high four points in Friday’s 9-6 win over SCSU. Antti Laaksonen (9-5–14) needs to have a big weekend for DU to win, and he’s capable of that.

Goalie Stephen Wagner (5-2-0, 3.25 GAA, .894 SV%) gave up six goals Friday night against SCSU but still got the win. Jim Mullin (2-4-3, 2.94 GAA, .888 SV%) saved 27 of 28 shots in the tie Saturday. This series could depend on the play of these two goalies.

Minnesota may be playing the best of any team in the league right now. Despite being without three top players (all at the World Junior Tournament), the Gophers won twice last weekend on the road. Coach Doug Woog gets those players — Erik Rasmussen, Wyatt Smith and Ben Clymer — back, so he will have some decisions to make about the lineup this weekend.

The Gophers lead the league in both power-play conversion (25.4 percent) and penalty-killing (91.6 percent). It’s tough to beat a team that plays that well on special teams, so a stern test awaits Denver. Goalie Steve DeBus (8-4-0, 2.75 GAA, .900 SV%) is among the WCHA leaders in goals-against and save percentage. Casey Hankinson (7-8–15) was hurt last weekend and it’s not certain that he’ll play. But with players like Defensive Player of the Week Mike Crowley (3-12–15) and high-scoring forward Ryan Kraft (8-6–14), the loss isn’t as great.

ELMO Picks: Minnesota wins twice, 5-2, 4-1.

Alaska-Anchorage (5-11-2, 3-11-2 WCHA) at Minnesota-Duluth (11-8-1, 8-7-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 CT, DECC, Duluth, MN

Here are two teams going in different directions: Minnesota-Duluth is 4-2, and Alaska-Anchorage is 0-5-1 over each team’s last six games.

Alaska-Anchorage lost twice last weekend at home to Minnesota, going 0-for-15 on the power play. At the same time, the Seawolves allowed the Gophers five power-play goals in seven chances. UAA is eighth in the league on power plays and last in penalty-killing, which makes their rough season a little easier to understand.

Overall, UAA is ninth in both goals-against average and scoring. David Valliers (5-10–15) is a fine player, but he needs help from teammates to make things happen.

Minnesota-Duluth finds itself in an enviable position, playing at home this weekend against a lower-division team with a chance to pick up some points. A big weekend could lift the Bulldogs into the top half of the standings. Ken Dzikowski (8-13–21) is tied for fourth in the league in scoring, while teammate Mike Peluso (12-8–20) is sixth. Peluso*s 12 goals and seven power play goals leads the league. Goalie Brant Nicklin (8-7-1, 3.23 GAA, .898 SV%) has played in every league game.

ELMO Picks: A Bulldog sweep: 6-2, 5-1.

No. 8 Colorado College (11-7-1, 10-5-1 WCHA) at Michigan Tech (5-15-1, 2-13-1 WCHA) Friday, 7:35 ET, Saturday, 7:05 ET, John MacInnes Student Ice Arena, Houghton, MI

These will be the only regular-season meetings between Colorado College and Michigan Tech.

Colorado College has a chance to make a big move with a sweep this weekend; a four-point effort could be a catalyst for a strong second-half finish. Brian Swanson (8-13–21) is tied for fourth in the league in scoring, and his five power play goals are second in the WCHA. Jason Gudmundson (10-8–18) is tied for eighth in scoring.

Goalie Judd Lambert (8-4-0, 3.40 GAA, .875 SV%) needs to play well, not only this weekend, but the rest of the way if the Tigers want to make a move. CC averages 4.44 goals a game in the WCHA, ranking them second — but they allow 3.56, which puts them seventh.

Michigan Tech sits in the league basement. At least the Huskies are home (though they’re only 3-6-1 there) for six of the next eight games. MTU is last in league scoring, averaging just two per game. Andre Savage (5-6–11) is the only Husky listed among the top 49 scorers in the league.

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

Northern Michigan (8-14-2, 4-13-1 WCHA) at Wisconsin (9-10-1, 9-6-1 overall) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 CT, Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI

Both Northern Michigan and Wisconsin have played well lately in the WCHA: NMU is 4-0 and UW is 3-0-1 in their last four league games.

Northern Michigan’s young team is getting better each weekend. This series with the Badgers is a chance for those players to show their stuff. Bud Smith (4-7–11) is one of those young players; he leads the Wildcats in assists and points overall. Roger Trudeau’s nine overall goals leads the team. Brad Frattaroli and Tyson Holly went 1-4–5 and 2-2–4, respectively, in the win against Laurentian last weekend.

Wisconsin took two wins over the Wildcats in November, 4-3 and 5-1. Last weekend the Badgers beat Michigan Tech for their first home sweep of the season. Could a second be possible? Brad Englehart (10-8–18) has scored at least one point in eight of his last nine games and gone 4-8–12. He is tied for eighth in the league. Rick Enrico (6-11–17) and Joe Bianchi (7-8–15), who has points in seven of his last eight games (4-8–12), are also solid scorers.

ELMO Picks: A second sweep for the Badgers, 5-1, 4-2.

Next Week in the WCHA Friday, Jan. 17 Alaska-Anchorage at Northern Michigan Minnesota-Duluth at Colorado College Michigan Tech at Denver Minnesota at St. Cloud State Wisconsin at North Dakota

Saturday, Jan. 18 Alaska-Anchorage at Northern Michigan Minnesota-Duluth at Colorado College Michigan Tech at Denver St. Cloud State at Minnesota Wisconsin at North Dakota

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

Copyright 1996 Jim Thies. All Rights Reserved.

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