This Week in the WCHA: October 17, 1997

For the rest, it’s game time once again as the first (near-)full weekend of play is finally upon us. Four of the eight — North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College and Minnesota-Duluth — hit the ice for the first time this season (though UND, CC and DU’s games are exhibitions against Canadian schools).

The rest — St. Cloud, Minnesota, Alaska-Anchorage and Michigan Tech — all have a game under their belts: Minnesota an exhibition loss to Michigan, UAA a defeat at the hands of Alberta, Tech a convincing victory over Laurentian and SCSU a win versus Regina.

The weekend features some intriguing early-season matchups, including the continuation of in-state rivalries between UAA and UAF, Tech and Northern Michigan — and St. Cloud’s reception for Notre Dame, which split a pair last season with the Huskies in South Bend.

The premier game this weekend, however, is USCHO’s Game of the Week: eighth-ranked Maine’s visit to number-seven Minnesota.

With no further delays, then — the previews:

Game of the Week No. 8 Maine (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) at No. 7 Minnesota (0-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:30-7:00 p.m. CT, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, MN

The Minnesota Golden Gophers skate into their home opener — indeed, their "real" opener — stinging just a little bit.

The Gophers were toppled 3-2 by Michigan at last weekend’s U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame exhibition at Target Center in Minneapolis. Minnesota ran up a 2-0 lead in the first period, then gave it back, plus one. After the game, Gopher players and coaches alike played it cool.

"I was happy with the way we played," asserted co-captain Casey Hankinson, who assisted on the second Gopher goal during a first-period power play. "We play them again at mid-season, and I think you’ll see a different game."

Gopher head coach Doug Woog seconded his captain, noting that the HOF game is, after all, an exhibition, and that he had tried some line changes and other moves one might not have seen in a regular matchup. Meanwhile, Michigan head man Red Berenson played it to the hilt, even leaving in first-string goaltender Marty Turco for the full 60 minutes in an all-out attempt to win.

So. Is it that simple — Michigan was trying real hard and Minnesota just wasn’t?

Don’t bet on it. Exhibition or not, the Gophers wanted to win, especially against the team that sent them home from last year’s NCAA West Regional. Blowing a two-goal lead couldn’t have helped, either — though the decisive goals came against backups Willy Marvin and Erik Day, and not regular Steve DeBus (25-12-1, 3.15 GAA, .888 SV% last season), who will be Maine’s target this weekend.

Perennial all-star Mike Crowley is gone, but sophomore Dave Spehar (20-17–37) made his presence felt with a goal less than a minute into the game, and Hankinson’s (17-24–41) assist was certainly a good start. Also, the Gophers took on Michigan with the benefit of only five defensemen, as sophomore Ryan Trebil and freshman Dylan Mills were held out of the game, punishment for a scuffle earlier in practice.

Look for both of those two to play significant roles against the Black Bears, winners of 12 of their last 13 games in 1996-97. Sophomore Alfie Michaud (17-8-1, 3.09 GAA, .864 SV%) is the main man in nets for Maine, who also feature the scoring of Steve Kariya (19-31–50), Shawn Wansborough (18-21–39) and Cory LaRose (10-27–37) up front and David Cullen (5-25–30) from the blue line.

(For another look at Maine, see this week’s Hockey East preview.)

Picks: No one really knows what to expect from the Black Bears, who are just returning from a spell in the NCAA’s doghouse. Maine played exceptionally well after the mid-season return of head coach Shawn Walsh, despite (or maybe because of?) the Bears’ postseason ban.

Minnesota, for its part, has a game in hand and is anxious to prove that it doesn’t need Crowley, the WCHA Player of the Year last season, to succeed. Minnesota 4-2, 4-3

Notre Dame (1-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at St. Cloud (0-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 p.m. CT, National Hockey Center, St. Cloud, MN

This series, which is only two games old, already has some interesting history. Last year, Notre Dame hosted St. Cloud for a series in late January and shocked the 14-7-3 Huskies by winning the first game convincingly, 5-2. St. Cloud got out to a 2-0 lead in the return matchup the next day, but barely hung on for a 2-1 win.

That pair of games came amidst a 7-7-2 stretch for SCSU which did considerable damage to their NCAA hopes. Oddly enough, Notre Dame’s success against the Huskies preceded a dismal 1-9-0 CCHA finish which left the Fighting Irish in the basement of the conference, and out of the playoffs.

Notre Dame’s last-place standing had to come as a severe disappoinment to the team’s fans, many of whom had expected improvement last season under then-second-year head coach Dave Poulin.

St. Cloud, for its part, finished third in the WCHA but missed out on the NCAAs after losing the consolation game at the WCHA Final Five to Colorado College. Adding insult to injury, sophomores Matt Cullen (15-30–45 last season), the team’s leading scorer a year ago, and Mark Parrish (27-15–42), its top goal-scorer, both departed for pro careers.

Brian Leitza (19-8-1, 3.21 GAA, .886 SV%) is back to cover the pipes, as is Sacha Molin (18-25–43) at forward, but the Huskies may face a down year. At least, the WCHA’s coaches seem to think so, voting St. Cloud seventh of nine in this year’s preseason poll.

(For another look at Notre Dame, see this week’s CCHA preview.)

Picks: St. Cloud may be down, but the Huskies are at home, and Notre Dame, despite a 5-1 victory over Western Ontario last weekend, doesn’t seem to have the requisite firepower. St. Cloud 3-2, 4-2

Alaska-Anchorage (0-1-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) vs. Alaska-Fairbanks (0-1-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) Friday, 7:05 p.m. AT, Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, AK Saturday, 7:00 p.m. AT, Carlson Center, Fairbanks, AK

The Seawolves make their annual trek to Fairbanks Saturday, one day after entertaining the Nanooks at Sullivan Arena in the series for the Nissan Governor’s Cup.

Alaska-Anchorage is coming off a disappointing 4-2 loss to Canadian university Alberta, a game played at Eagle River, Alas. That’s bad news for the Seawolves, but the good news is that Fairbanks also was beaten by Alberta, 3-1, the very next day.

The ‘Wolves can be expected to continue head coach Dean Talafous’ commitment to discipline, having set a WCHA record for fewest penalties last season. Also, UAA received a big boost when second-leading scorer Stacy Prevost (9-17–26) was awarded an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, meaning the Seawolf captain will try to bolster an offense that ranked last in the WCHA (75 goals) last season.

Meanwhile, the Nanooks have the opposite problem with penalties — they commit a bunch of ’em. Dave Laurion’s gang is spotty on defense, but has solid Chris Marvel (9-13-1, 3.99 GAA last season), a CCHA all-rookie pick, in goal. Junior forward Jeff Trembecky (24-17–41) leads the charge.

(For another look at UAF, see this week’s CCHA preview.)

Picks: Neither team began its season auspiciously, but the Nanooks, who reached the CCHA playoffs by the skin of their proverbial teeth last year — may be on the rise.

Consequently, UAF is a bit better thought of than the Seawolves, who were picked last in this year’s WCHA preseason coaches’ poll. Still, a split seems in order. UAA 3-2, UAF 4-2

Michigan Tech (1-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) vs. Northern Michigan (1-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET, Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI Saturday, 7:35 p.m. CT, MacInnes Student Ice Arena, Houghton, MI

The Huskies of Michigan Tech, who suffered through a school-record 19-game losing streak last year, guaranteed that they wouldn’t start the 1997-98 season the same way by thrashing Laurentian 9-3 last weekend. Much like the UAA-UAF series detailed above, Tech now takes on its intrastate (but now interconference) rival Northern Michigan in a home-and-home series.

Also much like the Alaska series, both teams in this one played and beat the same opponent last week. That’s right: Laurentian took its licks from NMU too, and the result — a 10-1 Wildcat victory — was even more lopsided than the MTU-Laurentian result.

All-WCHA selection Andre Savage (18-20–38 last season) is the Huskies’ top returning scorer, and two-time captain Jason Prokopetz is back after missing several games due to injury last year. Tech has some scoring, but not a lot of defense beyond Kevin Mulligan (2-18–20).

The Huskies also lost number-one goaltender Luciano Caravaggio after last season, leaving a gigantic hole in net which backup David Weninger (1-13-0, 4.14 GAA, .881 SV%) and a newcomer, Weninger’s brother Todd, will try to fill.

For its part, Northern Michigan brings back intact its top-scoring line from last season: junior center Buddy Smith (13-20–33), sophomore left wing Roger Trudeau and sophomore right wing J.P. Vigier. Smith led the ‘Cats in scoring last year, and his line combined for 35 goals.

To top it off, Saturday’s game is the annual Michigan Tech Sports Hall of Fame game, which means that seven new members are to be enshrined in Tech’s pantheon of athletic greats.

Included in that group is a defenseman who skated pretty well for MTU a few years back, winning All-America distinction in 1981 and leading his team to a third-place finish at the NCAA tournament that year. Congratulations to Husky head coach Tim Watters.

(For another look at Northern Michigan, see this week’s CCHA preview.)

Picks: Neither team looks terribly strong, but Northern may have a slight edge in experience and scoring. But count on the Huskies to ride the emotional wave Saturday. NMU 5-3, MTU 3-2

Mankato State (1-0-0) at Minnesota-Duluth (0-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 p.m. CT, Duluth Entertainment and Convocation Center, Duluth, MN

Minnesota-Duluth fans have good reason to be excited. The Bulldogs are on their way up, especially considering the dropoff in store this season for WCHA rivals St. Cloud and Denver. The Bulldogs make their season debut with a pair against intrastate opponents Mankato State this weekend at the DECC.

The Bulldogs return senior leadership in Mike Peluso (20-20–40 last season) and Ken Dzikowski (15-20–35), who should help to make up for the premature loss of defenseman Rick Mrozik to the pros. Another primary strength is in net, where WCHA Rookie of the Year Brant Nicklin (18-15-4, 3.25 GAA, .897 SV%) plies his trade.

Their opponents, the Mavericks, went 17-14-3 last season with a schedule variegated enough to include both CCHA powerhouse Miami and small-college Gustavus Adolphus. Mankato beat both Ferris State (twice) and Notre Dame on its swing through the CCHA, so there’s some talent growing in southwest Minnesota.

Mankato is a pseudo-member of the conference this season, playing a predominantly WCHA schedule and filling the ten-spot (vacated by Northern Michigan’s return to the CCHA) in the WCHA’s playoffs.

The Mavericks return their top five scorers from last year’s squad, led by junior right wing Tyler Deis (30-20–50 last season) and senior center Ryan Rintoul. In net are senior Des Christopher and sophomore Brian Nelson. Jason Krug heads up the blueline corps for Mankato, which is young in back.

Picks: Mankato is a strong independent, and may well be voted membership in the WCHA next season. Nonetheless, the Mavericks are playing a full-fledged WCHA opponent in Minnesota-Duluth, and a strong one at that. UMD 5-2, 4-1

Calgary at No. 3 Colorado College (0-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) Exhibition Friday, 7:35 p.m. MT, AFA Cadet Ice Arena, Colorado Springs, CO

Calgary at Denver (0-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) Exhibition Saturday, 7:35 p.m. MT, Denver Coliseum, Denver, CO

Manitoba at No. 1 North Dakota (0-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) Exhibition Sunday, 2:05 p.m. CT, Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, ND

Three of the WCHA’s four representatives to last season’s NCAA tourney begin their seasons with exhibitions against Canadian universities. All three are coming off highly successful years, with Denver winning its first-round tournament contest, Colorado College reaching the Final Four and North Dakota — as everyone knows by now — winning it all in Milwaukee.

Coming into this season, UND seems in the best shape, returning most of its offense and defense alike. CC loses WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Eric Rud and senior netminder Judd Lambert, but retains virtually all of its offense.

Denver, though, lost quite a bit to graduation, including forwards Erik Andersson and Antti Laaksonen and goaltender Jim Mullin. The Pioneers may find this go-round a bit rockier than the last.

Nonetheless, these will almost certainly be tuneups for the WCHA teams involved, so expect to see plenty of youngsters on the ice in each of the three games.

Picks: North Dakota and Colorado College overwhelm their northern neighbors, while Denver has only a little more trouble. CC 6-2, DU 5-3, UND 6-1

Scott Brown is chief editor for U.S. College Hockey Online.

Copyright 1997 Scott Brown . All Rights Reserved.

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