This Week in the WCHA: October 24, 1997

St. Cloud State, bereft of much of last year’s good-for-third-place talent, was swept by lightly-regarded CCHA opponent Notre Dame, and Minnesota-Duluth lost to upstart Mankato State on Friday before clawing back for a 7-6 goalies-optional victory the next day. In the same vein, Minnesota’s early-season showdown with Maine started out disastrously with a 6-1 thrashing, though the Gophers fought back to split the series.

Colorado College, Denver and North Dakota entertained guests from the Great White North for exhibition matchups — and the Pioneers lost theirs, 2-1 to Calgary — so the only WCHA team which could call the weekend a (slightly-qualified) success was Michigan Tech, which tied and beat Northern Michigan.

The upcoming weekend features the opening of the conference season, as the Gophers head up I-35 to Duluth to lock horns with the Bulldogs and Denver begins its WCHA schedule by hosting MTU for a pair.

Meanwhile, St. Cloud receives Mankato in a non-conference series, Hockey East power New Hampshire makes the long, long trek to Anchorage to play the Seawolves, and Colorado College participates in Maine’s season-opening tourney, the J.C. Penney Classic.

Defending WCHA and national champion North Dakota and Wisconsin, second-place finishers in the two-weeks-gone Ice Breaker Invitational, sit out this week. Both schools open conference play next weekend.

And now — the previews…

No. 9 Minnesota (1-1-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) at Minnesota-Duluth (1-1-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 p.m. CT, Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, Duluth, MN

Both these teams split season-opening series last weekend, and though neither was especially pleased, the Bulldogs have much greater reason to worry.

Minnesota-Duluth lost its first game of the season to Mankato State last Friday, largely thanks to an outstanding performance by Maverick goaltender Des Christopher. Christopher made 36 saves, including 16 in the third period alone, and the Mavericks scored twice in a span of 1:11 during the third period to spoil a solid effort by Bulldog netminder (and 1996-97 WCHA Rookie of the Year) Brant Nicklin.

Now, a hot goaltender can tilt a close contest, so losing a game like that is no shame, even when your opponent is just moving into Division I play. Saturday’s contest was another matter entirely.

Although the ‘Dogs came away with the win, they needed two goals from sophomore defenseman Curtis Doell, including the game-winner at 13:47, just seconds after Mankato sniper Tyler Deis (30-20–50 last season) had lit the lamp to tie the match.

The Bulldogs also needed two shorthanded goals (which came just 1:13 apart in the second period) — or one more than they scored all of last season — to overcome a miserable night for Nicklin, who was shelled for six goals on 30 shots.

A bright spot amidst the chaos was the play of sophomore center Jeff Scissions, who tallied two goals in Saturday’s win. But make no mistake: the Bulldogs will have to play much better to man up with ninth-ranked Minnesota this weekend.

For their part, the Gophers received a rude introduction to the 1997-98 season from the Maine Black Bears, who ran the Gophers up and down the ice at will en route to at 6-1 victory in the opener at Mariucci Arena. A young Gopher defense was victimized repeatedly by the Maine shooters, and senior goaltender Steve DeBus compounded the trouble with an off-night.

Ever the diplomat, Maine head coach Shawn Walsh played down the victory, insisting that the game had been much closer than the score suggested. Many disagreed with Walsh’s modesty, among them Gopher co-captains Ryan Kraft and Casey Hankinson, both of whom marked the team’s performance among their worst embarassments as Gophers.

The Gophers’ netminder concurred. "It’s like, ‘Geez, we played that bad?’," DeBus told the Minnesota Daily. "It’s like watching a bad movie, but it’s a learning experience.

And Minnesota did learn, coming back strongly on Saturday to claim a 3-2 victory. The Gopher forecheck, nearly invisible the previous night, was again in attendance, and succeeded in slowing the Maine attack considerably. Minnesota defenseman Bill Kohn scored the opening goal, his second of the season, and Rico Pagel netted the game-winner early in the third period. For Maine, Steve Kariya scored both goals Saturday after gathering two assist the night before.

"I think when you take care of the little things — hard work for one, and second, taking care of your checks — then the big things seem to fall into place a little better," said Gopher head coach Doug Woog.

The series also exacted a physical toll on the Gophers, who lost sophomore defenseman Ben Clymer to a shoulder injury Friday night. Clymer, who will be out three weeks, was replaced Saturday by Mike Lyons, whom Woog pointed out for a top performance in the clutch.

Picks: This longstanding rivalry has been dominated by Minnesota, which is 99-52-9 over its 35-year history. The Bulldogs have to ask themselves what went wrong last weekend, while the Gophers appear to have already put aside their early problems with Maine. Minnesota 5-3, 3-2

Mankato State (1-1-0) at St. Cloud State (0-2-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 p.m. CT, National Hockey Center, St. Cloud, MN

The Huskies suffered through a disappointing pair against Notre Dame, falling 4-3 Friday in overtime, then again on Saturday, 4-1. Friday’s loss was especially disappointing, as St. Cloud ran up a 3-0 lead in the second period before letting the Irish back into the game, which Notre Dame won on Ben Simon’s second goal of the game, at 1:22 of the extra frame.

Sophomore defenseman Tom Lund figured in all three SCSU goals, assisting on the first two and netting the third himself in the Husky loss.

"Lund played well for us all weekend," head coach Craig Dahl told the St. Cloud University Chronicle. "Defensively, we were strong, but we didn’t score the goals and get the goaltending needed to win."

That goaltending — from both Brian Leitza and Tim Lideen — allowed eight tallies on the series, posting an .840 save percentage. Special teams were also a factor: St. Cloud went 0-for-6 with the man-advantage, while Notre Dame was four of 10.

"Anytime you have a three-goal lead, you should win," continued Dahl in the Chronicle. "We took four penalties in the third period (two of which led to Irish scores) and dug ourselves a hole."

Forward Sacha Molin had the lone SCSU goal Saturday, the first of the young season for the Huskies’ top-scoring returnee from last year’s squad.

Also last weekend, just up the road in Duluth, the Mavericks of Mankato State surprised the home UMD team, taking the first contest and battling to a one-goal loss in the second. That may be a signal that the little-known Mavs won’t just lie down for WCHA teams this season, as Mankato vies for full conference membership.

Equally as interesting, Mankato owns the lead in the all-time series with St. Cloud (45-26-5), though the teams haven’t squared off in almost five seasons. Mankato got goals from seven different players in the series, led by Tyler Deis’ pair.

Picks: St. Cloud is down, and Mankato is coming off a very successful weekend. The safe pick is still the Huskies at home, but where’s the fun in that? Mankato 3-2, St. Cloud 4-2

J.C. Penney Classic No. 5 Colorado College (0-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) vs. St. Lawrence (0-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) Friday, 5:00 p.m. ET, Alfond Arena, Orono, ME

Colorado College vs. Maine/St. Thomas Saturday, 4:00/7:00 ET, Alfond Arena, Orono, ME

The Tigers of Colorado College open their season on the Atlantic coast as guests of the University of Maine.

The Black Bears won this tourney last year, defeating Princeton in the final, and the format is essentially identical this time around: Maine takes on Canadian university St. Thomas in the first round, while two U.S. schools — in this case, CC and St. Lawrence — presumably duke it out for the right to face the Bears in the final.

Colorado College enters the Classic as a formidable contender. The Tigers beat Calgary 3-1 last Friday in an exhibition contest, outshooting the Dinosaurs 44-24. Head coach Don Lucia used each of his three goaltenders for a period against Calgary, but the main man in nets this weekend should be Jason Cugnet, who takes the reins from the departed Judd Lambert.

Senior left wing T.J. Tanberg (who owns the distinction of scoring the only goal in the longest collegiate game ever — CC’s four-overtime victory over Wisconsin last season in the first round of the WCHA playoffs) scored twice for the Tigers against Calgary, and senior right wing Stewart Bodtker notched the other goal in the tuneup.

Colorado College returns most of its offense from last season, including preseason Player-of-the-Year candidate Brian Swanson, twice an all-WCHA pick and a finalist last season for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award.

Across the ice, the Saints of St. Lawrence have some problems on defense, but are solid up front, led by Paul DiFrancesco.

"He brings everything one can ask," says SLU head coach Joe Marsh of his star forward. "He can put points on the board, and he’s a great leader."

(For more on St. Lawrence, see Jayson Moy’s ECAC preview.)

If they can get by the Saints, the likely opponent for the Tigers’ second contest will be the host Black Bears, who split a pair with Minnesota last weekend. Maine comes into the tourney as the sixth-ranked team in the land, and for good reason, as the Gophers discovered in a 6-1 drubbing last Friday.

Maine features the talents of sophomore Alfie Michaud in nets, who head coach Shawn Walsh said "was terrific all [last] weekend." Among the forwards is ever-dangerous Steve Kariya, who totaled four points, including both of Maine’s goals Saturday, against Minnesota.

(For a second look at Maine, check out Dave Hendrickson’s Hockey East preview.)

Picks:Colorado College justifies its lofty ranking in the opener. CC 5, SLU 2. Then the Tigers run into a buzzsaw in the fired-up Bears, who are buoyed by the crowd at Alfond. Maine 5, CC 3.

No. 4 New Hampshire (1-0-0, 0-0-0 Hockey East) at Alaska-Anchorage (0-1-1, 0-0-0 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 p.m. AT, Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, AK

UAA lost the Governor’s Cup for the first time since the 1993-94 season, tying Alaska-Fairbanks 5-5 on Friday before falling 4-0 the next day at Fairbanks.

Curt Malin and Jamie Coady both scored two goals Friday for the Seawolves, who were down 5-3 in the middle of the second period before coming back to earn the draw. Doug Teskey played both nights in goal for Anchorage, but made only 37 saves.

Alaska-Anchorage also got a score Friday from Gord McCann and two assists from Stacy Prevost, both instrumental performers in this year’s Seawolf offense.

Oddly enough, UAA’s 16 penalty minutes Friday were the most recorded by a Seawolf team under Dean Talafous’ tenure. The ‘Wolves also fell to 0-4-5 in their last nine overtime decisions.

The Seawolves’ opponent will be New Hampshire, fresh off a 5-1 victory over depleted Vermont. UNH’s visit makes for head coach Dick Umile’s first trip to Anchorage.

"I’ve never taken a team out to Anchorage so I really don’t know how it will affect them, but it’s probably no worse than having to go out and play in Denver with the altitude changes. So we just have to find a way to get comfortable and get ready to play," Umile said.

Despite their win last weekend, Umile was concerned with his team’s performance, citing a soft defense early in the game. UNH features a solid offense, including the productive second line of Mike Souza, Derek Bekar and John Sadowski, and the netminding of Sean Matile.

(For more on New Hampshire, head over to Dave Hendrickson’s Hockey East preview.)

Michigan Tech (1-0-1, 0-0-0 WCHA) at Denver (0-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) Saturday-Sunday, 7:35-7:05 p.m. MT, Denver Coliseum, Denver, CO

Perhaps the most successful WCHA team last weekend, the Michigan Tech Huskies tied in-state (but newly interconference) rivals Northern Michigan 4-4 Friday before drubbing the Wildcats 8-2 Saturday to claim three points in the weekend series.

It could easily have been a sweep for Tech, which led NMU 4-2 after two periods before giving up a pair of scores in the third. David Weninger, the Huskies’ incumbent netminder, made 29 saves to hold on to the draw.

In the recap, Tech led only 3-2 early in the second before exploding for five unanswered goals, making a winner of freshman Todd Weninger (yes, that’s David’s brother) in his collegiate debut. The Huskies’ total of 12 goals on the weekend, combined with nine against Laurentian in MTU’s opener, gave Tech a total of 21 goals through just three games of the new season.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, nine Huskies lead the WCHA’s overall scoring board, including Andre Savage (2-5–7), Bret Meyers (3-3–6) and five Techsters with five points apiece.

The Denver Pioneers step in front of the Tech steamroller this weekend, and DU should prove a greater challenge to the Husky snipers than either Laurentian or Alaska-Fairbanks posed.

Denver is down from last season, to be sure, thanks to the losses of Jim Mullin, Antti Laaksonen and Erik Andersson. Making matters worse, star forward Paul Comrie has been diagnosed with mononucleosis, which will keep him out of the Pioneers’ first few games.

Nonetheless, Denver still boasts offensive firepower in Anders Bjork, Gavin Morgan and captain Joe Murphy, and the services of Stephen Wagner (who enjoyed an outstanding rookie campaign last season) in net.

Picks: The Pioneers will miss Comrie, who would have been counted on to lead the charge up front. Bjork and company are still competent scorers, and Wagner is solid in goal. For Michigan Tech, the question is how much defense the Huskies can play — because we already know they can score. MTU 5-4, DU 4-2

Next week in the WCHA:

Friday, Oct. 31 Colorado College at Michigan Tech North Dakota at Minnesota Wisconsin at Alaska-Anchorage Minnesota-Duluth at St. Cloud Denver at Mankato State

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