Have the first few weeks of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association schedule just been a little bit of a tease? Some big matchups, but always pointing to this weekend in November when No. 1 North Dakota faces No. 3 Colorado College in a struggle for control of the conference?
If so, it sure was worth it. This is it: Speed vs. speed. Scoring vs. scoring. What else could you ask for in a series? Call it a hunch, but I think there’s going to be some good hockey in Grand Forks this weekend.
No. 3 Colorado College (7-1, 7-1 WCHA) at North Dakota (5-0-1, 3-0-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:35 CT, Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, N.D.
Speed vs. speed? Sure. Scoring vs. scoring? Yup. Injury vs. injury? Yikes.
Colorado College lost junior left winger Toby Petersen until at least January when he suffered a fractured fibula just above his right ankle in last Friday’s win over Denver. He had successful surgery Saturday morning, but it’s too early to tell exactly when he’s going to be able to get back.
Add that to the loss of K.J. Voorhees and the problem gets magnified.
"It really starts having an effect," CC coach Don Lucia said. "There’s two guys that were both going to be 20-goal scorers for us and you take them out of the lineup. We’re not as deep as North Dakota, not scoring-wise. We’ve got players that can play, but we can’t bring in guys that can score. It is having an effect on us right now, but there’s not a whole lot we can do."
But North Dakota received some bad news itself this week, when it was learned that leading scorer David Hoogsteen will be out three to six weeks after he fractured his fibula in Saturday’s win over Minnesota. Hoogsteen’s injury, however, will not require surgery.
"He’s a big loss," Fighting Sioux coach Dean Blais told the Grand Forks Herald. "He’s a captain and a leader and we’ll miss him as much for his off-ice contributions as on the ice."
Want further similarities? Each team had a bit of a setback last weekend. The Tigers were shelled by Denver, 6-0 Saturday night while Minnesota came back from a three-goal third period deficit to tie North Dakota, 4-4 last Friday.
Where’s the difference between these two teams, you may ask? Lucia said it’s in the depth. Having just Brian Swanson and Darren Clark scoring probably isn’t going to be enough against the Sioux.
"If we’re going to rely on Brian and Darren to do it all for us, it’s not going to happen because North Dakota’s deep enough where they can shut down our top line," Lucia said. "The other guys are going to have to come through and score for us."
Another thing to look for is the ice surface, not to mention the atmosphere, at Ralph Engelstad Arena. CC had to adjust to the smaller rink last Saturday against Denver, and you saw what happened then.
To counter that, the Tigers have practiced this week on a smaller rink than at the World Arena, which has an Olympic-sized sheet. Engelstad’s rink is listed as 200’x85′.
"We’re going to have to hold them up a little bit and not let them get up on our defense," Lucia said. "They play such a pressure system, they keep coming at you, just waiting for you to make a mistake.
"The other thing that’s going to be really important is we have to take care of the puck. You absolutely can not throw the puck away against North Dakota or it’s going to be in your net about two seconds later."
That’s a lot of concerns going into a series. But there’s more:
"We can’t get into a shootout this weekend. We don’t have the offensive firepower that North Dakota does," Lucia said. "What makes it hard to play North Dakota is they’re four lines deep and (goaltender Karl) Goehring’s so darn good. He’s kind of the X-factor.
"Playing well defensively and getting good goaltending is going to be the most important thing for us this weekend. We can’t get into a shootout because we’re not going to score that many. It’s one of those things where you hope you can get three on Goehring and hope we play well enough defensively that that’s enough."
Everything seems to be firing for North Dakota. While the injury to Hoogsteen has a negative impact on the team, Blais is confident someone will fill the role.
"We’ve got good depth, and we’ll be able to replace David with another player," Blais said. "But you don’t easily replace his level of play."
Looking for a way to sum up this series? Ask Lucia:
"We just need to try to get in there and get some points this weekend. That’s the big goal," he said. "North Dakota’s not going to lose very many games this year, they’re just too good. I think they’re the best team in the country and Engelstad Arena may be the most difficult place in the country to play."
Picks: You get the feeling that this is going to be one of those series decided by the third and fourth lines, because each team’s top lines are solid. UND seems to have the advantage as you reach deeper into their lineup. Plus, Goehring may be that X-factor in the series. But don’t bet against CC, even without Petersen. Brian Swanson will find out and make you pay. UND 4-1, CC 3-2
Wisconsin (4-4-1, 4-3-1 WCHA) at No. 10 Denver (6-2, 4-2 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 MT, Denver Coliseum, Denver
Denver averages 4.67 goals per game. Wisconsin hasn’t scored more than three goals in any of their nine games this season.
Wisconsin gives up 1.87 goals per game. Denver gives up 3.17.
Sounds like a good series in the making.
Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer has come up with some interesting ways to improve his team’s scoring:
"We’re still struggling scoring goals," Sauer told reporters at his weekly press conference, "and if anybody has any suggestions on how to do it, I’ll take them and use them."
Changes in practice may be the cure.
"A normal week of practice is spending a lot of time on defense," Sauer said. "This week, we’re going to throw out the defense — we’re playing well defensively — now we’re going to try to score some goals this week. The goaltenders are going to have a real fun week at practice. There’ll be a lot of shots on them."
Creative idea No. 2:
"The interesting thing to me is the kids stand around before practice and before games and they tape their sticks and they bend their sticks and they get the torches out," Sauer lamented. "When it’s said and done, some of them don’t even get a shot on goal. Maybe we’ll just take the sticks away and let them use brooms or something."
Here’s an idea: Find a way to clone Steve Reinprecht and put five of him on the ice. Since he finally got in the goal column against Duluth two weekends ago, the Badgers are 3-0-1. In that time, Reinprecht has four goals.
Denver has been finding a good share of success on the power play recently, scoring with the man advantage in seven straight games. They’ve scored two or more power-play goals in each of the last five games.
But Wisconsin is stingy when shorthanded. They lead the league with an 89.1 kill percentage, including 91.7 percent on the road.
The Pioneers certainly have quite a bit to build off after their 6-0 victory over Colorado College last Saturday. The six goals is the most the team has scored all year. It was also Stephen Wagner’s second career shutout.
Picks: If you just take this on averages, one game should be a blowout in favor of Denver and the other a close one for Wisconsin. I’m in no mood to argue with averages. DU 5-1, UW 3-2
Minnesota (5-5-2, 4-4-2 WCHA) at Alaska-Anchorage (2-7-1, 1-4-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:35 AT, Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, Alaska
The last time Minnesota ventured into Sullivan Arena, the Gophers came up empty. As in swept by the Seawolves. As in the only sweep Alaska-Anchorage could complete last season.
Is that going to be with the Gophers this weekend? You don’t need to ask UAA coach Dean Talafous twice.
"The only advantage that’s going to be is to Minnesota, because they’re probably still upset and they have revenge on their minds," he said. "It doesn’t do us a bit of good at all because it’s a new Minnesota team and it’s a new Seawolf team and it’s going to be a real battle."
Minnesota had better get enough of the WCHA this weekend, because the Gophers won’t see another league opponent until Jan. 9 when they go to Denver. The city of Minneapolis doesn’t see WCHA action until Jan. 29.
Gopher senior captain Wyatt Smith reached 50 goals for his career last weekend against North Dakota, but nonetheless, maybe November just isn’t the Gophers’ month. They are 2-13-1 in their last 16 games in the 11th month of the year.
The concern for Anchorage is the power play. They are 1 for 40 on the season and 0 of 15 in the WCHA. Talafous said he went to some extreme measures to shore it up.
"We sent an e-mail to Jaromir Jagr, see if he wanted to just play for a weekend, but I guess Pittsburgh’s playing this weekend," he said.
All jokes aside, the team isn’t really too preoccupied with problems on the power play.
"We’re not overly concerned. We’re just trying to find guys that have a knack, that can make plays at this level on the power play and try to put some groups together," Talafous said. "Hopefully it’ll start to click this weekend. If it doesn’t we just have to keep working. One day we hope we’ll find that magic and we start putting the puck away."
Picks: Will that magic appear this weekend? Probably not. Will Minnesota pull out of their funk? Maybe. Am I finally going to give you the picks? UM 3-1, UAA 4-3
Minnesota-Duluth (1-6-1, 0-5-1 WCHA) vs. St. Cloud State (3-5, 2-4 WCHA) Friday, 7:35 CT, National Hockey Center, St. Cloud, Minn. Saturday, 7:05 CT, Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, Duluth, Minn.
Is there a goaltender in the house? If so, either one of these teams could use your services. Inquire within.
The Huskies outshot Michigan Tech 33-25 last Friday and 28-23 last Saturday, but still lost both games at home.
Duluth split a road non-conference series with Providence, but is still searching for its first WCHA win of the season.
But that win was a costly one for the Bulldogs. Wing Curtis Bois broke his collarbone and is out indefinitely.
This home-and-home series may get interesting, especially when looking at the goaltending situation. UMD has Brant Nicklin, who has started 66 straight league games. The junior has a 2.65 GAA and a .925 save percentage. Not too bad, unless you consider the Bulldogs offense, which has allowed opposing teams a 0.99 GAA and a .962 save percentage.
Neither Scott Meyer nor Gert Prohaska have stepped forward to take the No. 1 spot in nets for the Huskies. Meyer took both losses last weekend and now has a 3.00 GAA.
Picks: If SCSU can get some defense and goaltending this weekend, holding down the Bois-less UMD offense shouldn’t be too much of a problem. SCSU 3-1, 4-2
Next Week’s Games
Friday, Nov. 27 Alaska-Anchorage at Minnesota-Duluth North Dakota at St. Cloud State Air Force at Colorado College Michigan at Minnesota (College Hockey Showcase) Michigan State at Wisconsin (College Hockey Showcase)
Saturday, Nov. 28 Alaska-Anchorage at Minnesota-Duluth North Dakota at St. Cloud State UMass-Amherst at Colorado College
Sunday, Nov. 29 Michigan at Wisconsin (College Hockey Showcase) Michigan State at Minnesota (College Hockey Showcase)