This Week in the WCHA: February 27, 1998

"Figures often beguile me, Scott, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.’"

To which I responded:

"You’re talking about Duluth’s penalty-kill percentage, right? I’ll bet they’d be better if Peluso was out there more."

After smacking me with the butt end of his stick, he said that, actually, he was referring to the WCHA’s hyping of its team’s post-holiday hot streaks. Here it is, verbatim:

"Six of the nine WCHA teams have been playing at an impressive level — .600 or above — over the past 2 1/2 months as the 1997-98 regular season winds down and post-season play looms on the horizon.

"Defending national champion and No. 1-ranked North Dakota (25-4-1) has racked up nine straight victories and is 17-1-0 (.944) since Dec. 13 … Wisconsin (20-11-1) is still at .711 since Dec. 10 … St. Cloud State is 16-7-1 (.688) since Nov. 1 … Minnesota-Duluth is unbeaten over the last five games and displays a 12-5-2 (.684) mark since Nov. 28 … Minnesota is 9-5-0 (.643) in the new year. Colorado College is 14-8-1 (.630) since Nov. 16 …"

True enough. But is anyone outside of Grand Forks really hitting on all cylinders consistently? Wisconsin’s five losses have all come to second-division opponents, and St. Cloud was just swept at home by an equally Jekyll-and-Hyde-ish CC squad. Duluth has looked strong, but Minnesota has followed a sweep-and-get-swept pattern for several weekends.

"So what does it all mean, Mr. Twain?" I said, to which he answered:

"You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, an I’ll tell you what his ‘pinions is."

I guess when my books are staples of literature curricula in American public schools, I can get away saying stuff like that.

Well, let’s drop our anchor and explore this week’s matchups, with help from our friend Twain.

Minnesota (14-18-0, 10-14-0 WCHA) at Colorado College (17-11-3, 12-10-2 WCHA) Friday, 7:35 p.m. MT, Saturday, 7:05 MT, World Ice Arena, Colorado Springs, Colo.

"The report of my death was an exaggeration."

Perhaps CC coach Don Lucia said this under his breath as he left St. Cloud’s National Hockey Center last weekend. The up-and-down Tigers put together two outstanding performances against second-place St. Cloud, solidifying their hold on the conference’s fourth slot.

"Our team played its best hockey of the season last weekend," Lucia said. "We’ve had a lot of success on the road, so that’s not so surprising."

Indeed. The Swanson boys caught fire last weekend, with Brian picking up a pair of goals and assists, and Scott going for 2-3–5. Scott’s efforts earned him WCHA Defensive Player of the Week honors for the second time this season while racking up a plus-three rating.

Darren Clark chipped in with a solid weekend, and his shorthanded goal Friday was his 100th career point, making him the 58th member of CC’s "Century Club."

The problem is, the Tigers now return to the new Colorado Springs World Arena for the majority of the remaining schedule. Problem? Yes, considering CC hadn’t won in its new palace before beating up on non-conference neighbor Air Force Tuesday night.

"Hopefully, with our last five regular-season games at home, we can build on that success and gain some momentum heading into the playoffs," Lucia said.

"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man."

Or between a Gopher and a man. It seems that every time Minnesota begins a run out of the second division, they get a tad complacent. Consider the proceedings of the previous month:

A sweep of Duluth followed by two losses at Michigan Tech. A sweep of Wisconsin followed by two losses at North Dakota. A sweep of Alaska-Anchorage followed by…

Two losses at Colorado? Well, Minnesota goalie Steve DeBus is 3-5-1 versus the Tigers for his career. The Gophers have not won on the road since Nov. 7. Minnesota is averaging a full goal less per game on the road than at Mariucci Arena.

Injuries will further hamper the Gophers’ cause. Forward Stuart Senden is out for the season after dislocating his shoulder Saturday night; Mike Anderson will miss the next two weeks with a knee injury; and Aaron Miskovich has a busted face. Defenseman Dylan Mills (groin) and forward Casey Hankinson (shoulder) are probable for the weekend.

Picks: Tigers smell blood, and the Minnesota roller coaster continues its bumpy ride. When will these injuries end for the Gophers?CC 4-2, 7-4

No. 1 North Dakota (25-4-1, 19-4-1 WCHA) at Minnesota-Duluth (16-14-2, 11-11-2 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 CT, Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, Duluth, Minn.

"Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is the lightning that does the work."

It is with this edict that North Dakota clinched at least a share of its second consecutive WCHA regular-season championship with a sweep at Denver last weekend. The Sioux did it with a lightning attack, scoring 13 goals in the series, keyed by Jason Blake’s 3-3–6, an effort good enough to earn WCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors.

By the way, the wins pushed the weekly "Sioux-o-meter" to nine straight victories, and 17 in 18 games.

"If we keep playing the way we are, I feel this team is right where we were last season when we won the national title," Blake told the Grand Forks Herald. "The pieces are fitting in the puzzle right now."

One of the key pieces is play away from Engelstad Arena, where the Sioux are 11-2-1. The constant, of course, is freshman Karl Goehring, whose personal winning streak now stands at 17 games. In allowing a forgivable seven goals against Denver, Goehring’s goals against average leapt to 1.94.

Also chipping in have been unheralded forwards like Jesse Bull, who scored three third period points Saturday after being benched earlier, and freshman center Wes Dorey, who gained WCHA Rookie of the Week honors after a three-point effort Sunday.

"Put all your eggs in the one basket and — WATCH THAT BASKET."

Duluth’s basket will be watched this weekend will be goaltender Brant Nicklin, who handles the proverbial eggs deftly when playing between the DECC pipes. In his last nine home contests, the sophomore is 7-1-1 with a 1.65 GAA, three shutouts and a .932 save percentage.

The Bulldogs took last weekend off, but enter the series with a modest five-game winning streak. However, UMD is just 1-6-1 in its last eight home matchups with the Sioux.

Watch that basket, and the goal light several feet behind it.

Picks: North Dakota is just too hot right now, even though Nicklin is on a home tear. With the Sioux having clinched first place, might we see Aaron Schweitzer in net?UND 5-3, 4-1

No. 8 St. Cloud State (18-10-2, 15-8-1 WCHA) at No. 10 Wisconsin (20-11-1, 15-8-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 CT, Dane County Coliseum, Madison, Wis.

"When angry, count four; when very angry, swear."

Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer likely became very angry and swore Saturday after he counted four Badgers on the ice, the result of numerous ill-advised penalties. Penalties taken by Alex Brooks, Joe Bianchi, Erik Raygor and Luke Gruden led to four Michigan Tech power play goals.

The Badgers dropped both games in Houghton, the Huskies’ first sweep of the UW since 1988, and have now lost five of their last six games.

"I’ve been trying to look through the last three weekends to figure out where the breakdowns have been," Sauer said. "We’ve had 11 special teams goals scored on us in the last three weekends."

Wisconsin also suffered from a lack of scoring during its mini-drought, tallying just eight goals in its five losses.

"In any sport, you have to score to win…except for golf," said a perceptive Sauer.

Injuries are less of a problem for Wisconsin than in past weeks. Goaltender Mike Valley made a return, albeit a losing one, from knee surgery in Saturday’s loss, and winger Dustin Kuk is back after missing time with mysterious virus. Forward E.J. Bradley will likely be absent from the UW lineup this weekend.

"[The Bible] has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies."

This season has been somewhat of a clever fable for St. Cloud. After losing stalwarts like Dave Paradise, Matt Cullen and Matt Parrish from last year’s team, the Huskies were slated for a middle-of-the-pack finish.

But alas, St. Cloud has exceeded expectations, hanging around the top of the WCHA for much of the season. But with erstwhile second-place holder Wisconsin stumbling last weekend, coach Craig Dahl’s team suffered a blood-drenching pair of losses to visiting CC.

OK, so maybe "blood-drenching" is a little dramatic. But the losses illustrated a point earlier made in regard to Duluth: goaltender Brian Leitza is the nerve center of this team.

"Their team goes as their goaltender goes," Sauer said. "They’re a pretty nondescript team other than their goaltender."

Leitza is about average statistically when compared with other conference goaltenders, yet only Goehring can match his total of 15 wins.

Picks: SCSU has a better road record (8-3-0) this season than at home (10-7-2). Both teams badly need this series, although an argument could be made that Wisconsin has more to lose. An NCAA tournament lock several weeks ago, the Badgers are sitting on the fence right now, and their performance down the stretch will go a long way toward determining their postseason fate. UW 4-1, 3-3 tie

Denver (10-21-1, 7-16-1 WCHA) at Alaska-Anchorage (6-23-4, 5-18-3 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 AT, Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, Alas.

"There ain’t no way to find out why a snorer can’t hear himself snore."

Aha, Mark, but we have found out! The answer: Because Anchorage coach Dean Talafous is never awakened by the sound of the goal siren.

OK, OK, I have been accused of coming down harshly on our friends to the Northwest, and maybe I have. As Lee Urton’s probing interview with Talafous illustrates, the man knows what he’s doing, and his program is merely experiencing growing pains.

So let’s accentuate the positive.

Keeping things close: more than two-thirds of the Seawolves’ games have been decided by two goals or less.

Snipers on fire: Rob Douglas broke a nine-game pointless streak with an assist against Minnesota.

Rubberized goalie: Doug Teskey has faced 154 shots over a fortnight, and is still expected to play this weekend.

Lead protectors: UAA is 6-1-0 when scoring first. Of course, the team is also 0-21-2 when its opponent scores first.

"When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not; but I am getting old, and soon I shall remember only the latter."

Coach George Gwozdecky’s team has gotten a lot older during this trying season, and last year’s NCAA tournament appearance may seem somewhat like a distant dream.

But the Pioneers have been spunky lately, posting a winning record in 1998, and giving North Dakota a fight last weekend before succumbing. Yet DU continues to be plagued by inconsistent goaltending, and Stephen Wagner ranks last among regular WCHA goaltenders.

Scoring hasn’t been as much of a problem, though. Left wing Paul Comrie has been a stalwart, currently holding a five-game goal scoring streak. Center Jon Newsman helped out against North Dakota, with his third multiple-goal game of the season. Mark Rycroft continues his push for inclusion on the WCHA all-rookie team, with 10 goals and 10 assists in conference play.

Picks: Denver has allowed six or more goals in four of its last six games, but not even El Nino is going to help Anchorage score that many goals. But look for the Seawolves’ discipline to pay dividends, as Denver has used power plays to spur their offense in recent weeks. UAA 2-1, DU 3-2

Mankato State (15-14-4) at Michigan Tech (15-16-2, 10-15-1 WCHA) Friday, 8:05 ET, Saturday, 5:05 ET, MacInnes Student Ice Arena, Houghton, Mich.

"Barring that natural expression of villainy which we all have, the man looked honest enough."

Such is the nature of Michigan Tech, the opponent teams just can’t read. Whether it’s sweeping Minnesota and Wisconsin for the first time in decades or slipping every time threatens to move into the league’s upper class, Tech is hard to gauge.

Last weekend’s effort wasn’t hard to gauge, as the Huskies used special teams and solid goaltending to stymie Wisconsin.

"First of all, let me say I was extremely pleased with our effort against Wisconsin last weekend," said Tech coach Tim Watters. "We picked up two important wins for our program."

Once more, Andre Savage was the center of attention, going 2-3–5 on the weekend. But Savage is accompanied near the top of the WCHA scoring charts by a surprise guest, defenseman Andy Sutton. Sutton is 10-13–23 in conference play, 14-18–32 overall, making him the highest-scoring Husky blueliner since Kip Noble in 1989-90.

Weninger was equally big against Wisconsin, thwarting several rallies with key saves. Weninger’s superior save totals of 29 and 26 saves won him the Superior National Bank Superior Player of the Game Award.


"Be good and you will be lonesome."

The Mavericks have been good this year, going 15-14-4 as an independent. Yet as a major-conference orphan, MSU just wants to belong.

Mankato will get its chance in two weeks, when it goes to Grand Forks and serves as North Dakota’s opening-round sacrificial lamb. In the interim, conference teams continue to build their books on the Mavericks, preparing for the day when the team joins the conference.

Last year, Mankato lost 6-3, 3-0 in Houghton, but left quite an impression on Watters.

"They gave us all we could handle last year," Watters said. "They have a solid club and we need to be ready to play."

Tyler Deis (16-20–36), Aaron Fox (13-18–31) and Tim Wolfe (11-18–29) are Mankato’s top guns, but Deis has been suspended for the remainder of the season for undisclosed violations of team policy. Des Christopher is Mankato’s top goaltender, with a 9-11-1 record and 3.77 GAA.

Picks: Will Tech get caught looking a.) back on its sweep of Wisconsin, b.) ahead to its potentially pivotal series with CC, or c.) at Sutton, the six-foot-six behemoth? Probably not. MTU 5-3, 4-3