Except for you, my friends on the World Wide Web, who, instead of being treated to tuxedos and slinky dresses on the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, will be treated to 30-some bloody, battered, bruised dudes — and one guy in a suit — waiting to get their mitts on some USCHO hardware.
I think the actual prize is a "virtual bouquet" from chief editor Scott Brown.
Well, anyway, may I please have the envelopes?
Forward Steve Reinprecht, Wisconsin Arguably the league’s top sophomore, has been a consistent point producer for top-three team. Like the rest of these top guys, his motor never stops running, and he always seems to be generating scoring chances.
Forward Wyatt Smith, Minnesota See teammate Berg. Reigning WCHA offensive player of the week for four-goal effort against Colorado College.
Forward Jason Blake, North Dakota Some say he’s the league’s most annoying/hated player, yet Sioux coach Dean Blais wouldn’t trade him for the world. Reportedly, Minnesota-Duluth coach Mike Sertich called him a "dinkhead" on the radio after a game last weekend. High praise, indeed.
Defenseman Curtis Murphy, North Dakota Anchor of nation’s number-two team. Little guy (five-foot-eight) who has not only contributed offensively, but played a big role in Karl Goehring’s stunning success.
Defenseman Craig Anderson, Wisconsin Tough, and hesitant, choice over Michigan Tech’s Andy Sutton, who has more power play goals. Gets the nod for crisp passing (21 assists) and puck-carrying skills, but more importantly, his team’s overall success.
Goaltender Karl Goehring, North Dakota Won starting role from last year’s frosh phenom, Aaron Schweitzer, and has dazzled, winning 18 straight decisions. Undoubtedly aided by stellar talent in front of him, how can you argue with a sub-2.00 goals-against average?
Forward Reggie Berg, Minnesota See teammate Smith. Currently tied with Reinprecht in league scoring race.
Forward David Hoogsteen, North Dakota Another Sioux little guy is big on the power play, with eight man-advantage goals in conference play.
Forward Andre Savage, Michigan Tech Came back from injuries to challenge in the league scoring race.
Defenseman Andy Sutton, Michigan Tech Picked up scoring slack when Savage was injured, has had a breakout season offensively.
Defenseman Scott Swanson, Colorado College Somewhat of a disappointing year, yet still good enough to be here.
Goaltender Brian Leitza, St. Cloud State Not as far behind Goehring as one might expect. The backbone of the season’s most pleasantly surprising team.
Forward Brian Swanson, Colorado College Like the other Swanson, Brian has played beneath expectations, but still put up good numbers.
Forward Mike Peluso, Minnesota-Duluth Overcame a frustrating start with a strong 1998.
Forward Paul Comrie, Denver May be league’s top power forward (ask Peluso what he thinks).
Defenseman Brad Williamson, North Dakota Underrated in Murphy’s shadow.
Defenseman Curtis Doell, Minnesota-Duluth Sophomore has bright future ahead of him.
Goaltender Doug Teskey, Alaska-Anchorage The lone bright spot in otherwise-dreary Seawolf season.
Matt Henderson, F, North Dakota; Joe Bianchi, F, Wisconsin; Jeff Scissons, F, UMD; Darren Clark, F, CC; Mitch Vig, D, North Dakota; Mike Valley, G, Wisconsin; Matt Noga, F, St. Cloud; Mike Maristuen, F, St. Cloud.
Forward Mark Rycroft, Denver Forward Kevin Granato, Wisconsin Forward Jeff Panzer, North Dakota Defenseman Adrian Fure, Michigan Tech Defenseman Ryan Coole, Minnesota-Duluth Goaltender Goehring
Coach of the Year: Craig Dahl, St. Cloud State
Arguments could be made that this should be Blais, but come on — he hardly lost anyone from last year’s national championship squad. Dahl’s Huskies lost guys like Dave Paradise, Matt Cullen and Matt Parrish, and still will likely finish second in the WCHA. Dahl’s teams play hard and smart, an extension of their coach.
Player of the Year: Murphy
Rookie of the Year: Goehring
Whoops, the awards banquet isn’t for another couple of weeks. We’ve still got one week of regular-season hockey to play.
No. 9 Wisconsin (21-12-1, 16-9-1 WCHA) at No. 2 North Dakota (26-5-1, 20-5-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:35 CT, Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, N.D.
There’s been some heated discussion in Sioux country over the presentation of the MacNaughton Cup. North Dakota won the Cup outright by beating Minnesota-Duluth Friday, a year after sharing the title with Minnesota, yet opted to receive the award from commissioner Bruce McLeod this Saturday night.
An outrage? A publicity ploy by athletic director Terry Wanless? A slap in the face for Badgers and Bulldogs alike?
Settle down, people, and listen to the sensible words of the youngest Sioux.
"It just makes more sense," said Commodore after Friday’s clincher. "We would love to receive it now, but I hardly think UMD fans would like to see us prancing around their rink, and besides, our fans at North Dakota deserve to see it."
Indeed. Commodore wasn’t around for last year’s disappointing share with the Gophers, but Blais was. The Sioux boss didn’t seem to mind the lack of drama heading into the season’s second-to-last weekend.
"We have played very well all year, so we felt we were in good position," Blais said. "Last year was probably a little better in terms of all-around excitement for the players. This year we had eight points leading into the contest with UMD, and only four games remaining."
Now the Sioux have two games remaining, but are 0-1-0 since clinching the league crown. Aha! Here is another conspiracy theory being bantered around the upper Midwest: did Blais concede the game to Duluth, thus clinching playoff home ice for the Bulldogs, and thus eliminating Minnesota from similar contention?
Again, get real. This is uscollegehockey.com, not alt.hockeyconspiracy.x-files.com. The letdown was inevitable, and Aaron Schweitzer was the unfortunate victim of subpar play. Schweitzer will probably split time in net with Goehring again this week, and hopes to have a refocused team in front of him.
"Sometimes a 7-0 spanking is better than a 3-2 loss, and I’m sure it will make us realize what we need to do for the next few weeks," Blais said.
What they need to do next is take care of a Wisconsin squad which has struggled of late, but also has much more to play for in the midst of a second-place battle with St. Cloud.
But the Huskies aren’t Wisconsin’s sole concern. Coach Jeff Sauer’s rear-view mirror is trained on Colorado College, which could assume third place with a sweep of Michigan Tech, accompanied by a Sioux sweep.
"This is not just ‘Go and play the games and get ready for the playoffs’ — we need to play well," Sauer said.
More specifically, Sauer’s defense needs to play well. After allowing a scant 2.35 goals per game through its first 26 contests, Wisconsin has let in 4.5 per over its last eight games.
Part of the struggle has come from No. 1 goaltender Mike Valley’s re-insertion into the starting lineup. After struggling for several games, Valley picked up his first win since Jan. 23 Saturday night, and he figures to be even more comfortable between the pipes this weekend.
"He was a little shaky [Friday] night, but I felt we needed for him to come through for us," Sauer said. "We need him down the stretch."
Sauer also needs to determine how an adjusted defensive system will work. After a quarter-century of a zone-oriented defensive style, Sauer has gone with a man-to-man system this year, with great success. Yet in the face of the league’s top offense, Sauer saw the need for change.
"Going against North Dakota, we may need a little more support," Sauer said.
Picks: North Dakota may be complacent, and looking to go easy on its players with minor injuries. And, as Sauer points out, "North Dakota’s not invincible; we’ve always played well in that building." But emotions will be running high Saturday night, so the sweep Wisconsin hopes for looks pretty much impossible. UW 4-3, UND 7-2
Minnesota (12-20-0, 10-16-0 WCHA) at St Cloud (19-11-2, 16-9-1 WCHA) Friday, 7:05 CT, National Hockey Center, St. Cloud, Minn. Saturday, 7:05 CT, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, Minn.
This intrastate rivalry has been decidedly lopsided over time, with Minnesota leading 21-8-3. But the teams have split their last 10 games, with St. Cloud sweeping its in-state neighbors for the first time ever earlier this season.
As has come to be the case this season, Leitza stole the show for St. Cloud, saving 73 of 75 shots in the Husky sweep. St. Cloud was an efficient 4-for-8 on the power play, but was outshot by Minnesota by a staggering 75-32 margin.
"It’s important for us to work hard — we’re not going to be the most talented bunch in the chute," Dahl said.
Still, the Huskies remain the most dangerous special-teams workers in the chute, scoring two power play and two shorthanded goals in Friday’s win over Wisconsin. St. Cloud leads the WCHA with 10 shorthanded goals.
Friday night will be Senior Night at the National Hockey Center, as such notables as Leitza, Mike Maristuen and Sacha Molin will be honored for their outstanding careers.
Minnesota, on the other hand, continues to take things to extremes week after week. The Gophers have either swept or been swept for six straight weeks and nine out of 10. Last weekend was no exception, as Minnesota followed a pair of victories over Alaska-Anchorage with two losses at CC, yielding nine goals in Saturday’s game.
One bright spot, though, was Smith’s four-goal, one-assist output, the junior’s second hat trick of the month. Smith is 10-4–14 in his last seven games. Berg has remained a strong running mate for Smith, recording his 50th career goal Saturday. Minnesota is an impressive 24-1-0 in Berg’s 25 multiple-point games.
Yet defense continues to be a sore spot for coach Doug Woog. Goalie Steve DeBus was shelled for five first-period goals Saturday night before giving way to Erik Day, and since the injuries which have plagued Minnesota this year don’t appear to be getting much better, the senior must pick up his play between the pipes.
Picks: This will be the weekend Minnesota actually splits a series. St. Cloud has more to play for; if they win twice, and Wisconsin doesn’t sweep (likely), the Huskies get to host Anchorage next weekend. Minnesota is playing for pride, which shouldn’t be underestimated. SCSU 6-4, UM 4-1
Michigan Tech (16-16-3, 10-15-1 WCHA) at Colorado College (20-11-3, 14-10-2 WCHA) Friday, 7:35 CT, Saturday, 7:05 CT, World Ice Arena, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Depending on how the chips fall, these two teams could play meet again next weekend, which likely wouldn’t upset the Tigers one bit. CC took two games in Houghton earlier this season, and the Tigers are even more of a threat now that they have learned to win at home again.
"Colorado College is a dangerous team," said Tech coach Tim Watters. "They’re on a bit of a roll right now and we know we’ll have to beat the top of our game."
Colorado has extra motivation for this series. After a year spent knocking on the door, trying to break into the WCHA top three, CC could earn a day off at the Final Five with a sweep of Tech and a North Dakota or Minnesota sweep.
But first things first. The Swansons are playing well for CC — especially Scott, who had a goal and three assists in last weekend’s 13-goal effort against Minnesota. Darren Clark has also been solid, contributing two goals and an assist in Saturday’s romp.
Freshman goaltender Colin Zulianello has his goals-against average under three (2.95), but look for Jason Cugnet to get some playing time if third place is out of the question.
Tech is in the midst of a four-game unbeaten streak, following an impressive sweep of Wisconsin with a mediocre 1-0-1 performance against Mankato State.
"We didn’t play particularly well last weekend," Watters said.
Savage and Sutton continue to lead the Husky attack, both carrying five-game scoring streaks into this weekend’s games. Added back to the attack this week is Bret Meyers, the league’s second leading power-play scorer. Meyers missed last weekend’s series with knee injury, but is probable this weekend, along with A.J. Aitken, who has been out with a shoulder injury.
Picks: CC has a lot more riding on this series than Tech — if St. Cloud and Wisconsin lose Friday night. If that happens, CC turns it up a notch in its quest for the third position. CC 6-2, MTU 3-2
Minnesota-Duluth (17-15-2, 12-12-2 WCHA) at Denver (11-21-2, 8-16-2 WCHA) Sunday, 7:05 MT, Monday, 7:35 MT, Denver Coliseum, Denver, Colo.
The series that screws everything up. With their Sunday-Monday series, Duluth and Denver have thrown a monkey wrench into several teams’ playoff plans, most prominently their own.
The Bulldogs and Pioneers will have just three days to rest and prepare for their first-round opponents. Even more interesting, if Denver, St. Cloud and CC were to sweep, these two teams would meet again next weekend.
Denver won and split at Anchorage last weekend, but shockingly allowed five Seawolf goals in Friday night’s win. Goaltender Stephen Wagner was the culprit, saving just 21 of 26 shots before yielding to Ben Henrich Saturday. Henrich gave up a UAA-like one goal, so look for a goaltender tandem this weekend.
Denver’s top guns were silenced last weekend, as Paul Comrie, Anders Bjork and Mark Rycroft combined for one assist on the weekend. A balanced attack picked up the slack, with Gavin Morgan scoring two goals Friday, while Jon Newman added two assists.
Duluth, on the other hand, comes in as high as a team which split can be. The Bulldogs waxed then-No. 1 North Dakota 7-0, administering the Sioux their worst loss of the season.
Brant Nicklin was spectacular in net, recording 40 saves, good enough to be named WCHA Defensive Player of the Week. Even more spectacular were the Bulldog penalty killers, which successfully erased 21 Sioux man-advantage situations on the weekend.
"Nicklin played really well for UMD," said UND defenseman Curtis Murphy. "I thought we would of buried a few on him early on, but we were unable to get the puck past him."
But alas, they didn’t, and UMD did. Mike Peluso scored two goals, and Ken Dzikowski recorded five assists.
"We got great penetration down low from out forwards," said UMD coach Mike Sertich.
"The strength of our team is getting the puck low and really working them over," said Nicklin.
Picks: How about we make this series a doubleheader and finish the regular season on Sunday? Duluth is playing well right now, and Denver may be drained after two overtime games in Alaska. But eight days off to rest and home ice will make this an interesting series. UMD 6-4, DU 5-1
Thanks to WCHA game reporter Ryan Kern, who contributed to this report.