College hockey is at its best when it comes down to rivalries. And the Western Collegiate Hockey Association features two such matchups this weekend as the top-ranked team in the country, North Dakota, travels to Minneapolis to face the Gophers and No. 3 Colorado College plays a home-and-home series with Denver.
What makes these rivalries so special is that they are so unpredictable. North Dakota may be the No. 1 team in the nation right now, but in the series between the Sioux and the Gophers, the home team has won 11 of the last 12 games. Colorado College has a strong team, but Denver has possession of the Gold Pan, which goes to the winner of the regular-season series.
"I think when rivals get together, because of the emotions that are attached to the rivalry itself, not always the so-called best team wins," Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. "Emotion can play such a major part in the outcome of a game or of a series, both in a positive and negative way."
Minnesota and UND have met 230 times since 1948, while CC and DU have squared off 221 times since 1949.
As with every week in the WCHA, it’s difficult to tell what’s going to occur in these rivalries. One thing’s for sure: they usually make for some pretty good hockey.
No. 1 North Dakota (4-0, 2-0 WCHA) at Minnesota (5-4-1, 4-3-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 CT, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis
Minnesota can not have the kind of weekend they did against Colorado College if they expect to have any bearing on this series. In 7-1 and 6-1 losses to the Tigers at Mariucci Arena last weekend, the Gophers looked flat when challenged by CC’s top two lines.
Is important for coach Doug Woog’s team to get over what happened on home ice last weekend?
"If it wasn’t important, you wouldn’t ask the question," he said. "You can’t do anything, it’s the nature of the business. You don’t have much time to savor the victories and hopefully you don’t have to live with the losses more than six days. We got hammered pretty good and we know (North Dakota) is equal to them. I don’t know if anyone can play as well as CC did against us in particular segments. I’m hoping that’s part of the issue, that they were just very good and played an ‘A’ series. If it isn’t, the rest of this league is going to see a lot of dust."
And if you think CC’s best is tough, wait until North Dakota comes to town this weekend. Woog said the thing that concerns him the most is that the Sioux are much like the Tigers on offense.
"They have good firepower, their goals for (have been) very high over the last three or four years," Woog said. "And they have solid goaltending. They’re a pretty good package."
Speed was the difference in North Dakota’s 6-2, 5-1 wins over Clarkson last weekend and on the large ice sheet at Mariucci, bottling up the Sioux skaters will be a priority for the Gophers.
UND’s wins last weekend moved the Sioux to 4-0 for the first time since 1996-97. Sure, that was only two years ago, but two years ago the Sioux won the national championship.
One of the things coach Dean Blais said may help his Sioux at Mariucci is the Olympic-sized ice surface. Give North Dakota some room to skate and you’ve got problems.
"I think right now we’re a better skating team, so it’s better suited for us, the bigger ice sheet," Blais said. "Back five years ago when I took over, we weren’t even close to being as good a skating team as Minnesota, but we recruited better skaters. We’re a speed team, but certainly Minnesota can get up and go with most teams."
Blais’ team also gets back the services of Jason Blake, who missed last weekend’s series while he was with the U.S. National Team in Austria.
"Jason’s always our hardest worker day in and day out," Blais said. "He’s like the Energizer bunny, he goes all the time."
Having a good number of seniors on the roster has certainly helped the Fighting Sioux in the early part of the season. The senior class, led by seven senior forwards, has scored 27 points through four games — 11 goals and 16 assists. Last Friday night, the line of David Hoogsteen, Jeff Panzer and Jay Panzer accounted for four of the team’s six goals, scoring 11 points. Hoogsteen had two goals while the Panzer brothers each netted one.
And oft-forgotten Lee Goren has already matched his ’97-98 output with three goals in the first four games.
"He just had a tough year last year because of mono," Blais said. "And then when he started to get back and get into shape, he separated his shoulder."
That adds up to a Sioux offense that appears to be firing on all cylinders already.
On the other hand, Minnesota couldn’t get its offense out of first gear last weekend, scoring two goals in two games while watching Colorado College take advantage of their defense.
The disparity is clear: So far this season, the Gophers have allowed 26 goals in their four losses and just 10 in their five wins and one tie. Minnesota averages 2.9 goals per game while allowing 3.5.
While the Gophers’ power play has been successful 10 of 49 times in conference play this season, it has been more effective on the road. For the year overall, UM is 4-for-44 at home and 7-for-20 away from Mariucci.
Picks: Will this turn out to be a tale of two teams traveling in opposite directions? Or will Mariucci help the Gophers regain some of the form they showed before the series with CC? UND 4-1, UM 3-2
No. 3 Colorado College (6-0, 6-0 WCHA) vs. Denver (5-1, 3-1 WCHA) Friday, 7:35 MT, Colorado Springs World Arena, Colorado Springs, Colo. Saturday, 7:05 MT, McNichols Arena, Denver
This weekend, Colorado College and Denver start their annual battle for the Gold Pan, the trophy awarded to the winner of the regular-season series between the two teams.
DU coach Gwozdecky said the trophy isn’t exactly what the players are out striving for, but it’s a nice addition.
"It’s kind of like putting the sprinkles on top of the ice cream cone," he said. "Whether the Gold Pan award was there or not, it would not decrease any of the importance of the rivalry or make it any less emotional or any less exciting. It really adds a little more luster to what has become a tremendous rivalry."
But it can also be a bit deceiving. Last year, CC won the overall season series, including playoffs and the Denver Cup, 4-2 with one tie. But, because Denver won two of the regular-season games to CC’s one, the Pioneers took home the Pan. Go figure.
It almost goes without saying that if coach Don Lucia’s Tigers play this home-and-home series in the fashion in which they disposed of Minnesota last weekend, two wins are in the future.
"We played really well last weekend," Lucia said. "In all phases, goaltending was good, the penalty kill, power play. We played a real outstanding weekend of hockey. Now we need to continue to do that, we need to continue to get better."
Gwozdecky knows how to contain the Tigers. Whether his team can do it, however, remains to be seen.
"I think one of the biggest things CC has always been good at is their transition game and creating offense through that," he said. "They do that as well as any team in the country.
"You want to make sure you’re never outnumbered. If you give a team like that a three-on-two or a two-on-one, there’s a great chance that they’re going to create not only a great scoring opportunity, but probably put the puck in the net."
With Friday’s game at the Olympic-sized World Arena and Saturday’s on the 200×85 McNichols Arena surface, there will be a difference in the openness.
"I think that’s a great advantage CC has going into Friday’s game, not only have they played on the big ice sheet, but they’ve practiced on it," Gwozdecky said. "We haven’t seen the big ice sheet since last year."
CC may have one of the best top line combinations in the country, with Brian Swanson, Darren Clark and Toby Petersen. But lines two through four can’t be forgotten either.
"Our top two lines are playing really well," Lucia said. "I think we feel right now when our top two lines are on the ice, they’re a threat to score at any time. I was really happy with the play of our third and fourth lines last week, I thought they did a good job, some of the bigger guys played physical. Everybody understood their role.
"I think any team’s going to have dropoff when you go one through four, but we were hoping our third and fourth lines were going to be better than they were a year ago. I think they have that opportunity. We still are missing K.J. (Voorhees), who was a good goal-scorer last year. Some of our guys have improved; they’ve worked hard in the offseason to become better players."
Special teams have helped the Pioneers in the early going. While they have killed off 30 of 33 opponents’ chances, including 12 consecutive entering the weekend, they are 10 of 32 with the man advantage and have added three shorthanded goals.
Gwozdecky would like to see that continue this weekend.
"Special teams in the CC-DU series, since I’ve been here, has always played a huge factor in the outcome," he said. "I would like to think that our success in special teams will play a positive role in how we play this weekend."
Lucia sees the Pioneers as vastly improved over last season.
"They seem to be a lot more motivated this year," he said. "I think they have a large senior class that knows this is their last year of college hockey and they are probably very disappointed in the year they had last year. I think they’re performing up to the standard that George expected."
One of the reasons for DU’s successful start is the play of left wing James Patterson, who was named the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week after a 3-3–6 weekend against St. Cloud State. He has scored multiple points in each of his last four games.
"I think he’s the best kept secret perhaps in the WCHA at this point, maybe in college hockey," Gwozdecky said. "When we recruited him, we expected him to come out and supply us down the road with offense. We recruited him as an offensive player, as a gifted offensive player. He came out of midget hockey directly into the WCHA, which is perhaps a huge jump. For most, it’s a pretty difficult jump to make and to have success at right away.
"James is one of those young men who is big and gifted and has, over the course of the last three seasons, has learned the kind of commitment he has to make to himself to make himself the kind of player he wants to be at this level. Right now he’s playing with a lot of confidence."
Picks: Colorado College is playing at a high level right now, but when the Pan is on the line, strange things can happen. After all, size matters…the size of the ice, of course. Look for the Tigers to come out flying on the big ice Friday, but Denver to bottle them up Saturday. CC 5-1, DU 3-2
Alaska-Anchorage (2-6, 1-3 WCHA) at Wisconsin (3-4, 3-3 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:35 CT, Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
Jeff Sauer’s Badgers still have something to prove. Through five games at the new Kohl Center, Wisconsin is 1-4, not the kind of start the UW leader hoped for.
"The bottom line is we have to worry about ourselves," Sauer said. "We have to establish something here at the Kohl Center, which we haven’t been able to do yet. Winning a couple games this weekend will certainly help."
For Anchorage, which split a home series with Michigan Tech last weekend, getting shots on goal hasn’t been the problem. Getting them in the goal has been.
UAA has outshot opponents 281-205 this season, including 78-40 in last weekend’s split. But they managed just four goals in the two games.
"It’ll be interesting to see if they can do that when they come here," Sauer said of the Seawolves’ advantage in shots. "We’ve been able to hold people down fairly well. They’re not playing the defensive style of play they’ve been using before. That may be a plus because I’d like to see them open it up a little bit, free-wheel it a little bit more and I think the advantage goes to us if we do that."
Last weekend’s sweep of Minnesota-Duluth was just what the doctor ordered for the Badgers. Equally important were the first two goals of the season for captain Steve Reinprecht.
"I just hope he doesn’t press too much because he needs to be relaxed when he plays," Sauer said. "Hopefully now he relaxes and plays his game. If he does that he’ll be fine. It’s nice to see him get on the scoreboard, I certainly hope he does it many, many more times this year."
Freshman defenseman Dave Tanabe added two goals on Saturday. The White Bear Lake, Minn., native has fit in well at UW.
"I think the biggest thing for Dave Tanabe is the adjustment has been very quick," Sauer said. "It hasn’t been one of those things where we’re waiting for him to do this, we’re waiting for him to do that. He has come in and at the drop of the puck, has continued to improve on a day-to-day basis. Last weekend, he played extremely well.
"He plays with a great deal of poise and patience, and that’s something for a young player, 18 years old, just coming into the league, it’s a real gift he’s got."
A concern for Sauer and the Badgers, however is the status of forward Kevin Granato. He missed the trip to Duluth and is expected to miss this weekend’s action as well.
"It’s a charley-horse situation and we just don’t want to risk it too much," Sauer said. "Losing him is tough because he gives us some speed and he’s on one of our power plays."
But being at home gives the Badgers a better opportunity to try some things to replace him this weekend.
"We tried a few things last weekend. I wasn’t real pleased with it," Sauer said. "Now that we’re at home, we can juggle things a little bit easier because you have more players to deal with."
The thing to look for from Anchorage is the freshman class. They have accounted for 41 percent of the team’s points and 49 percent of the team’s goals this season. Mike Scott (2-3–5) and Steve Cygan (3-2–5) share the team lead for points.
Freshman Gregg Zaporzan had a goal and two assists last weekend. And goaltender Gregg Naumenko started both games against Tech, earning his first career win on Friday.
Picks: Wisconsin needs to win home games in order to contend for a top-three spot in the final standings. Countering Anchorage’s new aggressive style may provide a challenge, but a wide-open game probably favors the Badgers. UW 4-1, 3-2
Michigan Tech (2-8, 2-6 WCHA) at St. Cloud State (3-3, 2-2 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:35-7:05 CT, National Hockey Center, St. Cloud, Minn.
To say that the injury bug has hit coach Craig Dahl’s St. Cloud State team might be just a little bit of an understatement.
Call it more of an injury monster.
Getting out of Denver with a split last weekend was a bonus given the number of injuries.
"I’m happy with it because we got four kids hurt during that weekend," Dahl said. "We’ve played six games and we’ve lost 27 man-games to injury so far. I’ve had 10 kids hurt in the past two weeks. It’s just unbelievable. With as many injuries as we’ve had, we’re fortunate to be 3-3 right now.
"We’ve got enough depth so that we haven’t had a big dropoff, just somewhat of a dropoff. But we still haven’t been able to play Nate DiCasmirro yet this year really. He was national junior player of the year and he’s played in part of one game. He’s in practice this week — we’ll see what happens. Hopefully he’ll be back this weekend."
Goaltending problems continue to plague SCSU. Gert Prohaska was in net for a 5-3 loss last Friday while Scott Meyer got a 6-3 win Saturday.
It’s starting to sound like a broken record.
"What we’re looking for is someone to consistently give us back-to-back games of decent goaltending," Dahl said. "I’ll go with Scott Meyer again on Friday against Michigan Tech and we’ll see how he does."
Tech regrouped from a 3-2 loss to Anchorage last Friday to claim a 2-1 victory on Saturday.
"I wasn’t pleased with the way we played the first two periods on Friday," MTU coach Tim Watters said. "I thought that we played much better that third period and the game Saturday night."
Tech goaltender David Weninger stopped 74 of 78 Seawolves shots last weekend.
"A kid like that can definitely beat you, especially when you’re struggling on the power play and your penalty kill is as atrocious as ours," Dahl said.
Dahl was referring to his power play, which is 2-for-33 this season.
Tech is still waiting for junior forward Riley Nelson to come through with some scoring. The team’s leading returning scorer (17-22–39 last year) has yet to put up a point in 10 games this season.
"Yeah, you expect him to chip in offensively, but he’s going to come around and he’s been doing the small things correctly," Watters said. "Yes, we’re concerned, but he’s going to come along. He’s too good of a hockey player not to get out of it."
St. Cloud State’s fourth line has been productive lately. Against Denver, the line of Ritchie Larson, Lee Brooks and Brad Goulet accounted for 2-2–4. Goulet tallied the game winning goal last Saturday,
"They’ve been playing really good for a fourth line," Dahl said. "They give you a lot of jump when they get out there, they’ve been good defensively and they’re really good with the systems. They’re getting some turnover goals."
In the battle of the Huskies, look to see who gets ahead first. St. Cloud has been outscored 12-5 in the first period this season.
"Two of the six games, we’ve been behind 3-0 at the end of the first," Dahl said. "Both of them were goaltending problems."
For Watters and Tech, putting the puck on SCSU’s goaltenders is the key.
"In any of our game plans, we want to get the puck to the net more," Watters said. "We haven’t done a great job of that lately and that’s one thing we want to do against St. Cloud."
Picks: If Dahl’s team can recover and stay away from injuries this weekend, they should be in good shape. But there’s always the question of goaltending. SCSU 3-1, MTU 4-3
Minnesota-Duluth (0-5-1, 0-5-1 WCHA) at Providence (4-2, 3-1 Hockey East) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 ET, Schneider Arena, Providence, R.I.
A break from the WCHA grind, which has seen them go winless in their first six games, may be exactly what the Bulldogs need.
But then again, going to Rhode Island to play the Friars is no picnic either, especially for a team that has scored six goals in six games.
Of course, the goaltending hasn’t been bad for the Bulldogs. It’s just that there’s no help in front of junior Brant Nicklin. He has a 2.65 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage — and an 0-5-1 record.
UMD has yet to hold a lead this season, and when you average one goal per game, it’s easy to see why.
But history may be on Duluth’s side this weekend. Coach Mike Sertich’s team has not been beat on the road by a non-conference opponent since 1991.
But then again, Providence came into the DECC last season and swept the Bulldogs, 6-5 (ot) and 3-0.
More bad news: Junior center Shawn Pogreba is listed as questionable for the series after sustaining a concussion against Wisconsin last weekend.
For more insight on the Friars, see Dave Hendrickson’s Hockey East preview.
Picks: For UMD, the theme of the series may be "from bad to worse." PC 3-1, 2-1
Next Week’s Games
Friday, Nov. 20 Minnesota at Alaska-Anchorage Colorado College at North Dakota Minnesota-Duluth at St. Cloud State Wisconsin at Denver
Saturday, Nov. 21 Minnesota at Alaska-Anchorage Colorado College at North Dakota St. Cloud State at Minnesota-Duluth Wisconsin at Denver