This Week in the WCHA: January 17, 1997

WCHA Preview: Jan. 17-18, 1997 by Jim Thies

How tight is tight? Take a look at the WCHA standings for one answer to that question.

With seven weeks to go in the regular season, just four points separate the top six teams. That will make for some playoff-type hockey down the stretch as those squads battle for the MacNaughton Cup.

Nothing was settled in St. Cloud last weekend, as the Huskies and North Dakota split a series to remain tied for first with 25 points. Minnesota had a chance to overtake the leaders, but Denver had other thoughts — those two teams split at Mariucci Arena. Colorado College had to battle hard to take three points from Michigan Tech, which leaves CC tied with Minnesota for third with 24 points. Not far behind are Minnesota-Duluth, which was forced into overtime to beat Alaska-Anchorage and sweep four points last weekend, and Wisconsin, which split with Northern Michigan.

Here’s a look at this week’s games.

Minnesota (15-7-0, 12-6-0 WCHA) vs. St. Cloud State (13-6-3, 11-6-3 WCHA) Friday, 7:05 CT, National Hockey Center, St. Cloud, MN Saturday, 7:05 CT, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, MN

This will be a great in-state battle between two teams just a point apart in the standings. The Gophers and Huskies split their first series of the year, with each team winning on the road — including St. Cloud’s first-ever win at Mariucci.

Minnesota has been streaky this year. There are times when it looks like the Gophers can be on the ice with any team; but in other contests, they don’t play up to their abilities. The Gophers will have to guard against that this weekend against SCSU. They lead the league in power-play conversions (24.0 percent), penalty-killing (90.0 percent) and have one of the WCHA’s top goalies in Steve DeBus (9-5-0, 2.78 GAA, .897 SV%). But all those numbers don’t mean a thing if the players aren’t ready. None of the Gophers are above one point per game in WCHA scoring, including defensive leader Mike Crowley (4 goals, 13 assists, 17 points).

St. Cloud State is having a banner season, but can’t afford to stop and celebrate yet. The Huskies are 8-2-1 at home, where they will have to play well again this weekend. In the recap, the Gophers hate to lose at home, so it will be important for the Huskies to play well on Friday to get a jump on the series. SCSU had been playing great team defense, but the last couple of weeks that part of their game has fallen off. Offense isn’t a problem with Sacha Molin (11-13–24) tied for the league lead in points, and Dave Paradise (11-12–23) not far behind.

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

Wisconsin (10-11-1, 10-7-1 WCHA) at North Dakota (15-5-2, 12-5-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 8:35 CT, Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, ND

Wisconsin and North Dakota’s only two meetings of the regular season come on the Sioux’ home ice. That could be the difference.

The Badgers were up-and-down last weekend, splitting with Northern Michigan on their home ice. Two wins would have put the Badgers to within two points of the lead, but with that chance gone they must come back and face a top team on the road. The Badgers will want to come out hard like they have all year. They have an 8-1-0 record in opening game of a series, but are 2-6-1 in the recaps. Brad Engelhart (11-8–19) is second in the league in goals and is 5-7–12 in his last 10 games. Goalie Kirk Daubenspeck (8-6-1, 3.20 GAA, .889 SV%) won his 50th game last weekend and will have to be at his best against ND.

North Dakota has been on a streak lately, going 8-1-2 in its last 11 games; the only blemish was last weekend’s 5-3 loss at St. Cloud. But like great teams do, ND bounced back to win on Saturday, 6-1, to improve their Saturday night record to 9-1-1 this year. Teammates Dave Hoogsteen (12-12–24) and Jason Blake (10-14–24) are tied for the league lead in points, although Blake had a 10-game scoring streak snapped on Saturday. Jay Panzer (8-11–19) led the Fighting Sioux last weekend against SCSU, going 1-4–5. Curtis Murphy (8-10–18) had multiple-point games last weekend. Part of North Dakota’s success this year has come from its offensive and defensive balance, which will benefit them as the regular season draws to a close.

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

Minnesota-Duluth (13-8-1, 10-7-1 WCHA) at Colorado College (13-7-2, 11-5-2 WCHA) Friday, 7:35 MT, Saturday, 7:05 MT, Cadet Ice Arena, Air Force Academy, CO

Both teams are in the hunt for a top finish and this series, the only regular-season meeting between the teams this season, could propel one in that direction.

Minnesota-Duluth has played at home in eight of its last 10 games. In their last six WCHA road games, the Bulldogs are just 1-4-1, which will put the pressure on. Mike Peluso (12-9–21) is eighth in the league in scoring, but he hasn’t scored a goal in six games, the longest drought of his UMD career. Ken Dzikowski (9-15–24) leads the league in assists and has a least one point in seven of his last eight WCHA games. Ironman goalie Brant Nicklin (10-7-1, 3.14 GAA, .899 SV%) has played every minute of every WCHA game. He will have to remain sharp this weekend.

Colorado College returns home, where the Tigers have a 33-2-2 record in their last 37 games at Cadet Ice Arena. The Tigers have had a solid year despite wearing the bullseye as the team to beat; five of the team’s seven losses this year are to top ten teams. Calvin Elfring (5-11–16) has a point in seven straight games for the second time this year. Brian Swanson (9-14–23) is tied for fifth in the league in scoring, but just one point away from the top spot. Jason Gudmundson (12-10–22) and Darren Clark (8-11–19) are also playing well.

ELMO Picks: CC wins twice in close battles: 5-3, 4-3.

Michigan Tech (5-16-2, 2-14-2 WCHA) at Denver (12-7-3, 8-7-3 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 MT, Denver University Arena, Denver, CO

Denver and Michigan Tech face off after the Pioneers split and the Huskies earned one point last weekend.

Michigan Tech tied with Colorado College, 4-4, last weekend; hopefully the Huskies realize that with hard work good things can happen. The tie was a highlight in the Huskies’ current 15-game winless streak. Scoring has been the Huskies’ problem this year; the four they managed against CC was just the third time this year they netted that many. MTU has scored three or fewer goals 20 times this year.

Andre Savage (6-8–14) is Tech’s leading scorer; he is on a five-game point streak. Kyle Peterson had three goals last weekend, and now has 10 overall.

Denver is coming off a big split at Minnesota last weekend. Another big weekend could put them right in the middle of the battle for the top spot in the league. The Pioneers are 9-2-3 over their last 14 games, and are playing well at an important time of the year. Goalie Jim Mullin (3-4-3, 2.85 GAA, .894 SV%) got the win on Saturday, and has not lost since a Nov. 8 game against Colorado College. Paul Comrie (6-11–17) and Antti Laaksonen (10-6–16) both had their sixth multiple-point games in the win last Saturday.

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

Alaska-Anchorage (5-13-2, 3-13-2 WCHA) at Northern Michigan (9-15-2, 5-14-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 ET, Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI

These contests are between two teams that want to get something positive going; this should be a good matchup.

Alaska-Anchorage has been keeping its head up despite losing six straight and going 0-7-1 in its last eight. The lack of a power play has hurt the Seawolves, who are 0-for-26 with the man advantage over their past five games. Eric Silverman has scored a goal in four straight games and is 4-1–5 in his last five contests. David Valliers (5-12–17) is the top scorer in league games. With the loss of some players, the Seawolves are at 22 bodies right now. UAA alternated goalies Doug Tesky (3-7-2, 3.65 GAA, .884 SV%) and Chris Davis (0-6-0, 3.80 GAA, .871 SV%) last weekend; it must have worked — the seven goals they allowed were the best in a series since early November.

Northern Michigan got a big split on the road with Wisconsin last weekend. That should help the Wildcats as they prepare for UAA. NMU equaled last year’s league win total with the victory last weekend, and are looking to make some bigger strides this weekend. Bud Smith (6-8–14) leads the Wildcats in points and assists and had his second two-goal game of the season on Saturday.

ELMO Picks: NMU gets two: 4-1, 3-1.

Next Week in the WCHA Friday, Jan. 24 Denver at Alaska-Anchorage Minnesota at Michigan Tech Wisconsin at Minnesota-Duluth St. Cloud State at Notre Dame Saturday, Jan. 25 Denver at Alaska-Anchorage North Dakota at Colorado College Minnesota at Michigan Tech Wisconsin at Minnesota-Duluth St. Cloud State at Notre Dame Sunday, Jan. 26 North Dakota at Colorado College

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

Copyright 1996 Jim Thies. All Rights Reserved.

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