This Week in the WCHA: February 21, 1997

WCHA Preview: Feb. 21-22, 1997 by Scott Brown

Despite a split against Northern Michigan, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux edged ever closer to the MacNaughton Cup last weekend. Although the Sioux managed only two points on the road, their competitors fared no better: Minnesota split a home series with Minnesota-Duluth, and Denver and Colorado College each won one game of a home-and-home series. Among the contenders, only St. Cloud, which took four points at home from Wisconsin, managed to gain ground on UND.

Farther down the standings, Michigan Tech moved out of the basement for the first time in recent memory, sweeping Alaska-Anchorage in Houghton. Northern gained the aforementioned split with the conference leaders, but dropped into last place anyway.

WCHA Standings

Meanwhile, the battle for home ice rages unabated. Second-place Minnesota, with 36 points, and third-place St. Cloud, with 35, seem good bets to finish in the top five, but Colorado College, Wisconsin, Denver and Minnesota-Duluth are all still in the hunt.

In particular, Minnesota plays at CC this weekend, Denver visits Wisconsin and St. Cloud heads to Duluth in three series which will have considerable impact on the arrangement of the standings. Rounding out the schedule are UAA’s visit to Grand Forks to play North Dakota, and Michigan Tech versus Northern Michigan in a home-and-home between in-state rivals.

This week’s games:

No. 7 Minnesota (21-11-0, 18-10-0 WCHA) at Colorado College (18-12-2, 16-10-2 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:35 p.m. MT, AFA Cadet Ice Arena, Colorado Springs, CO

This one is probably the biggest series in the WCHA this week. Minnesota, despite blowing a chance to get within one point of North Dakota last weekend, is still in contention for the title, while Colorado College, five points behind the leaders, is gunning mainly for home ice.

The Gophers were blown out on their home ice last Friday, dropping an 8-4 decision to Minnesota-Duluth. In that game, a five-goal Duluth second period erased what had been a 3-1 Minnesota lead. The loss kept the Gophers from gaining ground on first-place North Dakota, which had been beaten earlier in the evening by Northern Michigan.

Minnesota’s team effort did not sit well with many players, some of whom referred to the result as an embarrassment.

But Minnesota did come back to post the split. The Gophers won the recap going away, by a final score of 7-1. Minnesota goalie Steve DeBus (18-10-0, 3.23 GAA, .888 SV%), who made 20 saves, came within two minutes of his first shutout of the season before Brad Federenko got on the board for UMD.

The Saturday win, which kept the Gophers in sole possession of second place in the conference, was head coach Doug Woog’s 350th. Ryan Kraft totaled a career-high five points (1-4) in the win, and now has 5-7–12 in his last four games. Kraft leads the Gophers in goals (19), and is second in points (36).

In the meantime, Dave Spehar (14-17–31) scored three goals on the weekend (two in Saturday’s win) and was named WCHA Rookie of the Week for the first time.

Of even greater note was the performance of Minnesota’s special teams: on Saturday, the Gophers enjoyed an astonishing fifteen power plays, and converted five, both season highs. Simultaneously, the Gopher penalty-kill held UMD to an 0-for-5 performance on power plays.

Colorado College is coming off a home-and-home with traditional rival Denver. The Tigers split, 4-3 and 1-6, which means that it’s been 60 series since they lost a sweep.

CC’s impressive offense is headed up by WCHA scoring leader Brian Swanson (14-30–44), who has 20 points in his last 13 games despite being held to two assists on the weekend. Stewart Bodtker (14-17–31) missed Saturday’s contest thanks to a DQ the previous night — one assessed with only seconds to go in the game. He should be well-rested for Minnesota.

Scott Swanson (3-13–16), who has had a tough time generating offense this season, assisted on two scores Friday. Rookie of the Year candidate Toby Peterson (10-15–25) scored the game-tying goal.

Head coach Don Lucia went to Jason Cugnet (5-2-1, 3.24 GAA, .868 SV%) for netminding duties Friday, and was rewarded with a 4-3 victory. Number-one goaltender Judd Lambert (13-10-1, 3.40 GAA, .878 SV%), however, allowed six goals on 36 shots in the loss on Saturday.

Picks: Although Minnesota would love four points on the road, it ain’t likely to happen. Make it 61 straight for the Tigers. CC 4-2, UM 5-3

St. Cloud (19-10-3, 16-9-3 WCHA) at Minnesota-Duluth (17-13-2, 14-12-2 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 p.m. CT, DECC, Duluth, MN

St. Cloud was the big winner last weekend, moving into third place in the WCHA via its sweep of the Badgers.

Mark Parrish (18-13–31) earned his Offensive Player of the Week award, scored four goals and assisting on another. But he got plenty of help from Dave Paradise (19-15–34), whose three goals included both game-winners, and defenseman Randy Best (5-10–15), with a goal and two assists. Saturday’s win also featured the first goal of defenseman Geno Parrish’s (1-8–9) collegiate career.

Brian Leitza (13-5-0, 3.29 GAA, .884 SV% WCHA) played both games in net for the Huskies, making 47 saves for the two-game series. Leitza has been the primary goaltender down the stretch for SCSU, after splitting time most of the season with Tim Lideen (3-4-3, 3.07 GAA, .905 SV% WCHA).

The Huskies are 4-1-0 in their last five, and have not been swept during the 1996-97 season. They should face a stout test in Duluth, where UMD is 12-6-0 this season, versus only 5-7-2 on the road.

The friendly confines of the Duluth Entertainment and Convocation Center are home to a team that looked to be on its way out of contention a few weeks ago. First, the Bulldogs were swept in their own building by a charging Wisconsin team; then, the very next weekend, UMD granted Michigan Tech its first win in nearly three months, and followed that up with a tie for a one-point weekend in Houghton.

But the Bulldogs showed there’s no quit in them, bouncing back to sweep Denver and split a series with Minnesota at Mariucci Arena. Friday’s game against the Gophers cemented the UMD surge, as the Bulldogs used a five-goal second period to ice the victory.

In that game, UMD got consecutive goals by leading scorer Mike Peluso (18-17–35); freshman goaltender and Rookie of the Year candidate Brant Nicklin (17-12-2, 3.13 GAA, .900 SV%) turned in a 32-save performance against a pressing Gopher squad. Nicklin is on the verge of becoming the first Bulldog goaltender in 30 years to play every single minute of the WCHA season.

The next night, the Gophers turned the tables despite 39 saves from Nicklin (who did allow seven goals in the process). Only Brad Federenko’s (9-10–19) late goal prevented the shutout.

Picks: As mentioned above, the ‘Dogs are tough at home, and a sweep isn’t out of the question, especially since this could be the last home series for UMD. But St. Cloud’s probably too strong to let that happen. SCSU 4-3, UMD 6-3

Alaska-Anchorage (9-18-3, 7-18-3 WCHA) at No. 2 North Dakota (22-8-2, 19-8-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 8:35 p.m. CT, Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, ND

The Seawolves of Alaska-Anchorage finish up the season the hard way, traveling to North Dakota before coming home to wrap up the regular season against Colorado College.

UAA looked for much of the season to be a half-step better than its brethren — Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan — at the bottom of the WCHA; but after a 1-5-1 stretch which culminated in a road sweep by Tech last weekend, one that moved MTU out of the cellar and pulled UAA back toward it.

Friday’s loss was especially difficult to stomach, as Anchorage lost a 3-2 lead with nine seconds left in regulation and went on to lose in overtime. UAA also lost the recap, 5-3, with goaltender Doug Teskey (7-12-3, 3.27 GAA, .891 SV%) making a total of only 31 saves in the two games combined — that’s a .775 save percentage for the weekend.

The Seawolves, by the way, are winless (0-4-3) in OT this season.

The only piece of good news for the team last week came out of Detroit: senior center David Vallieres (7-18–25 WCHA) was selected to play for Team USA in the inaugural World University Games, to be played at the Joe Louis Arena in April.

Conversely, fans in North Dakota are getting closer and closer to being able to celebrate a WCHA regular-season title and the resulting NCAA tournament berth. The Fighting Sioux are now in a commanding position to claim the title — a three-point lead with only four games to play. In addition, the Sioux became the first team to clinch home-ice, with Saturday’s 5-3 win over Northern Michigan.

That game was critical for UND, which feared the consequences of being swept in what is still an open race to the MacNaughton Cup.

"We thought if we lost [Saturday’s] game, we’d probably lose first place, and we could lose the league title," said Kevin Hoogsteen in Tuesday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune.

But the Sioux didn’t lose, despite spotting the Wildcats a 2-0 lead through two periods; the UND snipers came through again late in the game, scoring five goals in the last 20 minutes to win. Sophomore Jesse Bull (11-6–17) was vital to the comeback, notching his first two-goal game with the first two Sioux tallies. Ian Kallay (16-20–36) had two goals as well, including the game-winner.

Going into this weekend, the Sioux’ confidence level might be further enhanced by a little history: although the all-time series between UND and UAA is fairly even (12-9-0 in favor of the Sioux), North Dakota has never lost to the Seawolves in Grand Forks.

Picks: Much as in the UM-CC series above, there’s a trend to consider here. Can Anchorage win its first game at North Dakota now? Probably not. UND 4-1, 5-2

Michigan Tech (8-21-4, 5-19-4 WCHA) at Northern Michigan (10-22-2, 6-21-1 WCHA) Friday, 7:05 p.m. ET, Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI Saturday, 7:05 p.m. ET, MacInnes Student Ice Arena, Houghton, MI

Michigan Tech is riding high this week, the product of its weekend sweep of Alaska-Anchorage, a performance that lifted the Huskies out of last place for the first time in some time.

Andre Savage (14-14–28 WCHA) was the hero in Friday night’s OT win, scoring both the game-tying goal (a six-on-five with an empty net behind him) and the game-winner (just 29 seconds into overtime, on the first shot on goal for either team). Savage was quiet the next night, but his teammates didn’t need his help; Bret Meyers scored his seventh and eighth goals of the season to lead the way.

In net, Luciano Caravaggio (5-9-4, 3.36 GAA, .904 SV% WCHA) didn’t get a lot of work, facing only 43 shots on the weekend, including a bare 13 on Friday — none of which came after the second period. Caravaggio can undoubtedly use the rest: coming into the weekend, he was among the WCHA leaders in saves per minute of play.

The Wildcats should also be pleased with the results of their weekend, as they managed a split with the conference-leading Fighting Sioux. Friday’s 2-1 victory earned goaltender Dieter Kochan the Defensive Player of the Week award, despite the fact that he was held out of Saturday’s game with a knee sprain.

Kochan made 37 saves in the game, including 16 in the third period, and had a shutout spoiled at 19:59 of the third period, seconds after Aaron Cain scored an empty-net goal to secure the victory.

Northern is led on offense by its freshmen: Bud Smith (9-15–24) leads the team in points; Marquette native Roger Trudeau (10-5–15) is tops among the Wildcats in goals; Tyson Holly (9-3–12) scored the first goal on Friday; and J.P. Vigier (8-9–17) rounds out the rookie class of snipers despite missing the last five games with an ankle sprain.

Denver (17-11-4, 13-11-4 WCHA) at Wisconsin (15-15-2, 15-11-2 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 p.m. CT, Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI

This series could go a long way toward deciding home ice in the first round of the playoffs. Both the Pioneers and the Badgers are on the bubble right now — Wisconsin holds down a tenuous fifth, and Denver is just two points behind them, tied with Minnesota-Duluth for sixth.

It’s unfortunate for the Pioneers that they have to play this series on the road, since they have a current 11-game unbeaten streak (8-0-3) in Denver. That streak was preserved last Saturday against Colorado College, a 6-1 thrashing of the Tigers in the second game of their home-and-home twin bill. That victory broke a less-welcome streak the Pioneers had built — six consecutive losses against their in-state rivals.

Eight different Pioneers scored the nine Denver goals against CC last weekend, with Gavin Morgan, who scored his fifth of the season on Friday and his sixth the next evening, the only repeater. In goal, the tandem of Jim Mullin (6-6-4, 2.96 GAA, .889 SV% WCHA) and Stephen Wagner (7-5-0, 3.10 GAA, .896 SV% WCHA) performed credibly, though Mullin took the loss on Friday, allowing four goals on 29 shots. The duo are currently one-two in WCHA goals-against average.

In contrast to their home record of success, the Pioneers are only 6-9-1 on the road this year, including a 1-4-0 record in their last five. That’s just fine with the Badgers, who host Denver this weekend. Wisconsin was swept out of the National Hockey Center last week, losing a 5-4 battle on Friday before being blown out, 7-1 on Saturday.

There wasn’t much for Jeff Sauer’s bunch to cheer about after those games. The defeat in the opener was Wisconsin’s first loss to a WCHA foe on Friday all season (11-1-1), although Brad Englehart (16-16–32) managed a goal and an assist.

On Saturday, all-time Badger saves leader Kirk Daubenspeck (13-13-2, 3.91 GAA, .883 SV%) suffered the ignominy of being pulled midway through the second period, after allowing a shorthanded goal to make the score 7-0. Daubenspeck’s replacement, Mike Valley, had better luck, with nine saves on nine shots over the final 30:10.

The lone Badger goal on Saturday came courtesy of Joe Bianchi (15-16–31), whose unassisted tally gives him 11 points in his last eight games. Freshman Dustin Kuk (7-17–24), who scored Friday, is tied for the WCHA rookie lead in assists (with Minnesota’s Dave Spehar).

Next week’s action, listed below, is the final week of WCHA regular-season play. After that, fans can look forward to U.S. College Hockey Online coverage of the WCHA first round, and reports from the Final Five at the St. Paul Civic Center.

Friday, Feb. 28 Colorado College at Alaska-Anchorage North Dakota at Denver Wisconsin at Minnesota (at Target Center) Minnesota-Duluth at Northern Michigan Michigan Tech at St. Cloud

Saturday, March 1 Colorado College at Alaska-Anchorage North Dakota at Denver Wisconsin at Minnesota Minnesota-Duluth at Northern Michigan Michigan Tech at St. Cloud — End regular season —

Scott Brown is Features Editor for U.S. College Hockey Online.

Copyright 1997 Scott Brown. All Rights Reserved.

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