This Week in the WCHA: January 24, 1997

WCHA Preview: Jan. 24-26, 1997 by Jim Thies

Even though some teams had a chance to inhale a little breathing room, the WCHA race is still tight — seven teams within five points of each other with six weeks to go in the league season.

Last weekend Alaska-Anchorage was the only team to earn four points as the Seawolves took two wins at Northern Michigan. Denver came close by winning three of four points at home against Michigan Tech. But Minnesota and St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth and Colorado College and Wisconsin and North Dakota all split.

That leaves UND and SCSU still sharing the lead (with 27 points) for the third straight week. UM and CC are just a point behind and in third place. UMD and UW share fifth place with 23 points, and Denver is still in the running with 22.

The two top league series this weekend have North Dakota playing at Colorado College and Wisconsin traveling to Minnesota-Duluth.

Here’s this week’s look at each series.

No. 3 North Dakota (16-6-2, 13-6-1 WCHA) at Colorado College (14-8-2, 12-6-2 WCHA) Saturday, 12:05 MT, Sunday, 2:05 MT, Cadet Ice Arena, Air Force Academy, CO

These two teams meet with a lot on the line for the last time during the regular season. Earlier this year, UND took three points in a series at Grand Forks.

North Dakota is a little new to this scenario, but coach Dean Blais should have his team ready to face one of the league’s top clubs. UND split at home last weekend; Friday’s 5-2 loss to UW was just the second for the Fighting Sioux at home this year, where they are 8-2-2. On the road the Sioux are 8-4-0.

David Hoogsteen (13 goals, 15 assists, 28 points) is tied for the league scoring lead. His 13 goals ties him for the league lead. Jason Blake (10-15–25) is fourth in scoring, and Ian Kallay (11-13–24) is seventh. There’s no doubt the Sioux have plenty of offensive firepower, since they average a league high 4.65 goals a game. Defensively they are tied for sixth, allowing 3.55 goals a game. Goalie Toby Kvalevog (11-4-1, 3.21 GAA, .870 SV%) will have to stand tall in the nets this weekend.

Colorado College is more accustomed to this title-chasing business; the Tigers have won three straight regular-season crowns. At home, they are 8-3-0, and simply put, they expect to win there. Last weekend’s 4-2 loss to UMD was just the fifth Tiger home loss in their last 54 contests.

Can they keep that home hot streak alive? A lot will have to do with how the Tigers can counter UND’s offensive powers. The Tigers also allow 3.55 goals a game and score 4.30 a contest, second to UND. Brian Swanson (9-19–28) is tied for the league lead in points, and his 19 assists lead the WCHA. He has a six-game point streak. Darren Clark (11-12–23) scored the hat trick in Friday’s 5-4 win over UMD and it was the first of collegiate career. Goalie Judd Lambert (10-5-1, 3.35 GAA, .874 SV%) could be a key to this series.

ELMO Picks: In the toughest call this year, CC wins twice: 4-3, 4-2.

Wisconsin (11-12-1, 11-8-1 WCHA) at Minnesota-Duluth (14-9-1, 11-8-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 CT, Duluth Entertainment & Convention Center, Duluth, MN

Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth will let everything loose this weekend in an important series that could determine how these two teams finish.

Wisconsin kept its excellent Friday play going when it won, 5-2, at North Dakota last weekend. The Badgers are 8-0 in Friday games. But now they need to put two solid games together at Minnesota-Duluth. The UW power play has been the difference in the team’s last 11 games. The Badgers have scored a power play goal in 10 of their last 11 games, and are 15-38 (39.5 percent) during that stretch.

Brad Engelhart (11-10–21) and Rick Enrico (7-11–18) have three power-play goals each in league play. Goalie Kirk Daubenspeck (9-7-1, 3.42 GAA, .889 SV%) had a busy weekend (78 saves) and is second in all-time saves (3,050) for the Badgers.

Minnesota-Duluth is happy to be back home, where the Bulldogs have won six straight games. Overall they are 10-4 at home. Ken Dzikowski (9-16–25) and Mike Peluso (13-10–23) are fourth and eighth in scoring, respectively, in the WCHA. Peluso’s seven power-play goals lead the league. Rick Mrozik (8-13–21) has a five-game point streak (4-4–8) and a four-game goal streak going. The Bulldogs power play has also come alive lately, going 10-for-23 (43.5 percent) over the last five games. Goalie Brant Nicklin (11-8-1, 3.18 GAA, .899 SV%) should easily make the league’s All-Rookie team after playing in every game and posting some great numbers.

ELMO Picks: A split. UW 4-3, UMD 5-2.

Denver (9-7-4 WCHA, 13-7-4 overall) at Alaska-Anchorage (5-13-2 WCHA, 7-13-2 overall) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 AT, Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, AL

Alaska-Anchorage and Denver both played well last weekend and both teams want that to continue in this series.

Denver goes on the road, where the Pioneers are just 5-5-1 this year. But the Pioneers have been hot lately, going 10-2-4 in their last 16 contests. Despite his mediocre record, goalie Jim Mullin (3-4-4, 2.93 GAA, .887 SV%) has not lost in almost two months, and has only one loss on the road. He leads the WCHA in goals-against average.

Paul Comrie (9-12–21) and Antti Laaksonen (11-7–18) are two players who will have to also play well. Laaksonen is tied for 30th on the DU all-time scoring list with 66-66-132.

Alaska-Anchorage’s road sweep last weekend was the first for the Seawolves since they did the trick at Denver last year. The two wins were enormously important for coach Dean Talafous, who has had several players either leave the program or be dropped from the club. The players left needed to see Talafous’ systems work, and they did at Northern Michigan. Last weekend might go down as a turn in the right direction for UAA.

David Valliers (5-16–21) is still his team’s MVP. He had assists on four of his team’s six goals last weekend. Goalie Doug Tesky (5-7-2, 3.24 GAA, .896 SV%) played in both games last weekend, and may be the answer to the Seawolves’ goaltending questions.

ELMO Picks: UAA is playing better, but DU sweeps, 4-2, 3-1.

No. 4 Minnesota (16-8-0, 13-7-0 WCHA) at Michigan Tech (5-17-3, 2-15-3 WCHA) Friday, 7:35 ET, Saturday, 7:05 ET, MacInnes Student Ice Arena, Houghton, MI

Minnesota and Michigan Tech have had different seasons, with the Gophers enjoying their success while the Huskies have labored from the start. UM needs to play well and win twice, but MTU realizes it can be a giant-killer this weekend.

Minnesota took two wins earlier this year (3-0, 3-0) against the Huskies. The Gophers are 7-5-0 on the road this year and will have to make sure all parts of their game are in order. Nothing comes easy in the WCHA and that’s the case every weekend. Mike Crowley (4-15–19) hasn’t put the puck in the net this year, but he has been a leader nonetheless. He is 2-7–9 over his last six games and is fourth all-time in points by a Gopher defenseman (124).

Freshman standout Dave Spehar (6-10–16) is in a position to earn a spot on the All-Rookie team. He started slowly, but has a team-high nine-game point streak going. Goalie Steve DeBus (10-6-0, 3.02 GAA, .893 SV%) is second in the league in goals-against average. He will probably see all of the action until the season’s over, since backup Erik Day will have elbow surgery and be out for the rest of the year.

Michigan Tech needs to have a big weekend to regain some confidence. No doubt the 4-4 tie last Saturday at Denver is a step in the right direction, and a huge confidence builder. But the Huskies must put together more than just a couple of solid games.

Andre Savage (8-10–18) needs to get some help from his teammates. He is 4-7–11 in his last seven games, while Travis VanTighem is 3-6–9 over his last nine contests. Goalie Luciano Caravaggio (2-7-3, 3.60 GAA, .904 SV%) will have to stand on his head and come up with a huge effort against UM.

ELMO Picks: Close games, but UM sweeps, 4-2, 5-2.

No. 10 St. Cloud State (14-7-3, 12-7-3 WCHA) at Notre Dame (7-15-1, 5-11-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7 ET, Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center, South Bend, IN

St. Cloud State travels to Notre Dame for a matchup of WCHA and CCHA squads.

St. Cloud State takes a weekend off from the WCHA battles, but traveling to Notre Dame will be no walk in the park. The Huskies put together a hard-fought split last weekend with in-state rival Minnesota. They want to continue to play well, because they go back to the WCHA wars next weekend and want to stay sharp.

Sacha Molin (12-15–27) is third in scoring in the WCHA. He has scored a point in six of his last eight games. Dave Paradise (12-13–25) scored a Husky career-record seventh short handed goal at UM on Saturday. He has a four-game point streak going (3-3–6) and is now 18th in scoring all-time at SCSU (60-46–106). Tim Lideen (3-4-3, 3.07 GAA, .905 SV%) and Brian Leitza (9-3-0, 3.27 GAA, .891 SV%) should split duties in goal this weekend.

Last weekend, the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish split a pair of games with Alaska-Fairbanks. The 5-4 loss on Friday was the seventh league game the Irish have lost by a goal this season. The one-goal losses put Notre Dame in the position of having to fight for a playoff spot.

On Saturday, the Irish channeled that frustration into an important 6-2 win over the Nanooks, giving the Irish the series edge, which may come in handy at the end of the season. At least for this weekend, coach Dave Poulin and the Irish won’t have to worry about how wins or losses affect the playoff CCHA picture.

ELMO Picks: SCSU stays hot and wins twice, 5-2, 5-1.

A special thanks to USCHO CCHA writer Paula Weston for information on Notre Dame.

Next Week in the WCHA

Friday, Jan. 31 Alaska-Anchorage at Wisconsin Northern Michigan at Denver Minnesota at North Dakota Minnesota-Duluth at Michigan Tech

Saturday, Feb. 1 Alaska-Anchorage at Wisconsin Northern Michigan at Denver Minnesota at North Dakota Minnesota-Duluth at Michigan Tech Colorado College at St. Cloud State

Sunday, Feb. 2 Colorado College at St. Cloud State

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

Copyright 1996 Jim Thies. All Rights Reserved.

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