This Week in the WCHA: November 6, 1998

WCHA Preview: Nov. 6-7, 1998 by Todd D. Milewski

In these days, where the 30-second campaign commercial is the difference between being elected and being left behind, brevity is the key. In honor of the recently-completed election season, this week’s preview will give you just enough information to make your decision. Oh, and with no negative politicking.

There’s some familiar faces near the top of the WCHA standings a couple weeks into the season.

But there’s also a good share of surprising starts in the conference — most notably the resurgence of Denver to an early undefeated record and the struggles of Wisconsin — which lost four of five games at home to begin the season.

While true that the Pioneers haven’t exactly faced the likes of North Dakota and Colorado College, they swept Michigan Tech in Houghton last weekend to move to 4-0. They are outscoring their opponents 5-2 this season.

The Badgers, on the other hand, are wondering where their next goal is going to come from. Will Steve Reinprecht, Dustin Kuk and Kevin Granato be able to shake off some of the pressure they put on themselves to lead the team in scoring, or will this bad start be too much for Bucky to overcome?

This weekend’s action also features a marquee matchup as Colorado College travels to the kingdom of Jesse "I’m attracted to your mind not your body" Ventura to take on Minnesota. While Ventura’s victory would fall in the shocking category, it shouldn’t surprise folks if this matchup proves to be interesting as the teams jockey for early position.

Colorado College (4-0, 4-0) at Minnesota (5-2-1, 4-1-1) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 CT, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis

While Minnesota has a one-point lead over CC, that comes with two more games played. Both teams enter the series having played solidly last weekend — the Gophers sweeping Wisconsin in Madison and the Tigers claiming two home victories against Alaska-Anchorage.

One of the more striking points about CC’s undefeated start is not in the record but the goals for and against. The Tigers have scored 20 goals — an average of five per game, while allowing only six for an average of 1.5 per game. That translates into wins.

"Some of our key guys are off to real good starts, like Brian (Swanson) and Darren (Clark) and Toby (Petersen), guys we’re counting on to be scorers," CC coach Don Lucia said. "It takes the pressure off them. When you get off to a good start, you stop pressing."

Minnesota’s power at this point in the season is the power — the power play, that is. The Gophers are hitting at 24 percent (10 of 42) in the conference with the man advantage.

After a stellar performance last weekend, Minnesota freshman goaltender Adam Hauser returns to start Friday’s game. Hauser, who has stopped 87 of the last 91 shots he has faced, may or may not start on Saturday. After all, coach Doug Woog planned on starting Willy Marvin last Saturday against Wisconsin. That was until Hauser’s performance Friday.

"If he plays like he has been, it’s pretty hard to make too much room for anybody else," Woog said of Hauser. "He’s obviously played well enough to earn the first crack."

CC’s series with the Seawolves had a positive impact on the Tigers’ scoring. Swanson netted three goals and two assists, Clark scored two goals and three assists and Petersen added two goals.

Picks: CC is one of two teams the Gophers have yet to sweep in the new Mariucci Arena. Don’t expect it to happen this weekend, either. In a matchup this tight, there’s bound to be a split. UM 4-1, CC 5-2

Michigan Tech (1-7, 1-5) at Alaska-Anchorage (1-5, 0-2) Friday-Saturday, 7:35 AT, Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, Alaska

This may turn out to be a battle to see who is reeling less.

The teams have combined for 14 goals in eight games, while allowing 34. Each has only one win.

So here’s the perfect chance for one team to break out of its funk. Anchorage plans to be slightly more physical than they have been in the past. Michigan Tech is trying to get more than two goals in a game.

Picks: Anchorage’s aggressiveness pays off Friday, but Tech claws back to make it even. UAA 3-1, MTU 4-3

Wisconsin (1-4, 1-3) at Minnesota-Duluth (0-3-1, 0-3-1) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 CT, Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, Duluth, Minn.

Here’s a tale of two teams — one trying to find some scoring and the other just trying to find some players to put on the ice.

Wisconsin has played five one-goal games so far — and has lost four of them. Steve Reinprecht, Dustin Kuk and Kevin Granato have combined to score one goal so far this season, that coming from Kuk.

Duluth will have to play Friday’s game without the services of five players — Curtis Bois, Rich Anderson, Jesse Fibiger Tom Nelson and Judd Medak — after they received game DQs for fighting last Saturday against North Dakota.

Bulldogs coach Mike Sertich refused comment on the situation.

Duluth also finds itself in need of someone to step up and score. In four games, the Bulldogs have four goals. It doesn’t take a math major to tell you that’s one goal per game.

Despite having an 0-3-1 record, UMD goalie Brant Nicklin has a 2.71 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. But he has just one victory — a 4-0 shutout against Wisconsin.

Sertich said, despite the record, Nicklin is in top form.

"He’s playing the best hockey of his career," Sertich said.

So goes the recent series. The Badgers have swept the last two series in Duluth and are 5-0-1 against UMD in the last six meetings.

Picks: Duluth is just happy to be home. This is the Dogs’ first home action of the season, and it just might net them a split. UW 4-0, UMD 3-2

St. Cloud State (2-2, 1-1) at Denver (4-0, 2-0) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 MT, Denver Coliseum, Denver

The difference between these teams may lie in nets. While DU’s Stephen Wagner has showed good form so far this season, St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl is frustrated with the lack of progress in his goaltenders.

Put it this way: No one has won the spot yet.

"We’ve been a little inconsistent in the goaltending department," Dahl said. "We’re still trying to find someone that can play at this level. Right now it’s kind of goaltending by committee."

For Denver, not only has Wagner been solid between the pipes, the offense is chiming in with good production. In fact, the Pioneers have won all four games this season by at least three goals. In the last three games, they have scored five goals each.

Picks: Denver continues to prosper early while the Husky goaltending situation remains murky. DU 4-2, 5-4

Clarkson (0-2, 0-0 ECAC) at North Dakota (2-0, 2-0) Friday-Saturday, 7:35 CT, Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, N.D.

It’s hard enough that the Fighting Sioux are forced to play without Brad DeFauw, Adam Calder, Trevor Hammer, Tim O’Connell and Jason Ulmer — disqualified last weekend against Minnesota-Duluth — but Jason Blake is also gone, to Austria with the USA Select team.

But UND still has goaltender Karl Goehring, fresh off a series where he allowed only one goal. The WCHA defensive player of the week stopped 61 of 62 shots.

"He played outstanding," UND coach Dean Blais said. "Not only because he only gave up one goal for the weekend, but he didn’t leave any rebounds around."

Picks: North Dakota shows it’s still tough at home, even without a number of top players. UND 5-2, 4-1

Next week’s games

Friday, Nov. 13 Alaska-Anchorage at Wisconsin Denver at Colorado College Michigan Tech at St. Cloud State North Dakota at Minnesota Minnesota-Duluth at Providence

Saturday, Nov. 14 Alaska-Anchorage at Wisconsin Denver at Colorado College Michigan Tech at St. Cloud State North Dakota at Minnesota Minnesota-Duluth at Providence