The good name of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association is on the line this weekend as Minnesota and Wisconsin square off with Big Ten rivals Michigan and Michigan State in the College Hockey Showcase.
Make a note of this, ladies and gentlemen: For once, Minnesota and Wisconsin and Michigan and Michigan State will not be at each other’s throats, but at those of teams of the other conference. As soon as the weekend concludes, the cheesehead jokes can resume as can the witty banter between those in Ann Arbor who say it’s a crime Wisconsin is going to the Rose Bowl and the ones in East Lansing Badger fans can thank.
You see, in football — that other sport that’s going on now — the Spartans knocked off Ohio State, meaning Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State all had one conference loss. By process of elimination, the Badgers are going to Pasadena.
Sorry about that. I guess the fighting for airline tickets to California has gone to my head.
Back to hockey, anyway. Most of us are fairly familiar with how the Showcase, now in its sixth season, takes place. Departing from the early years, when the tournament was all held at one building — which led to collosal disasters like the time it was at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee and there were enough people there for a small picnic — the games now take place on the campuses of the host conference. This season, it’s the WCHA. Michigan travels to Minneapolis on Friday before doubling back to Madison on Sunday. Vice versa for the Spartans.
Add to the non-conference slate two home games for newly-crowned No. 2 Colorado College, fresh off a split with No. 1 North Dakota in Grand Forks. The Tigers, still minus Toby Petersen and K.J. Voorhees, face Air Force on Friday and UMass-Amherst on Saturday at the World Arena.
Michigan Tech and Denver take the week off before returning to action next week.
But first, let’s delve into the two conference matchups this weekend, starting with the top-ranked team in the latest U.S. College Hockey Online Division I Poll…
No. 1 North Dakota (6-1-1, 4-1-1 WCHA) at St. Cloud State (5-5, 4-4 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:35 CT, National Hockey Center, St. Cloud, Minn.
Talk about your streak stoppers. Last weekend’s home series with Colorado College saw a number of North Dakota streaks come to an end, other than their unbeaten streak to start the season:
– Friday night’s loss was the Fighting Sioux’s first home loss to CC since 1995.
– UND had a four-game home winning string going into the series.
– For the first time this season, the Sioux didn’t score a power-play goal in Friday’s loss.
– Jason Blake’s five-game goal-scoring streak was snapped as he was held scoreless on Saturday.
Oh well, start some more. North Dakota’s never been known to sit around coming off a split. That may be unfortunate for St. Cloud State, the Sioux’s opponent this week.
But the Huskies are riding high after a home-and-home sweep of Minnesota-Duluth. And what’s this? Coach Craig Dahl’s team had a goaltender play a whole weekend and get two wins. Sounds like something to build off.
Dean Weasler stopped 55 shots for both wins on the weekend. He improved his record to 3-0 this season.
"Well, let’s just say this is a weekend that we needed to get our game where we wanted it," Weasler said after Saturday’s victory.
But the offense may have been a bigger story, especially the line of Jason Goulet, Matt Noga and George Awada. Against the Bulldogs, they accounted for 14 points. Noga had a goal and three assists on Friday.
Further, defensemen Kyle McLaughlin, Geno Parrish and Mike Pudlick teamed for three goals and an assist. The Huskies may just be on track.
But look out for North Dakota. Check that. Look out for Lee Goren.
The left winger has six goals in six games, including the game-winner in overtime last Saturday against Colorado College. If he continues his pace and the rest of the team follows suit, it’s going to look like the Sioux took Friday’s loss to heart.
Goaltender Karl Goehring didn’t exactly have the most stellar weekend of his career against the Tigers. He was pulled in the second period of Friday’s game in favor of freshman Andy Kollar after Goehring gave up five goals. On Saturday, he allowed four goals.
But even Superman gets a dose of Kryptonite every now and then.
Picks: While it wouldn’t come as a complete shock if the Huskies get a split on home ice, North Dakota has the better team. Goehring returns to form and the Sioux stay No. 1. UND 4-1, 4-1
Alaska-Anchorage (3-8-1, 2-5-1 WCHA) at Minnesota-Duluth (1-8-1, 0-7-1 WCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7:05 CT, Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, Duluth, Minn.
When things aren’t going your way, they just aren’t going your way.
No further explanation is needed for members of the Minnesota-Duluth team, who have endured their first eight conference games of the season without a win.
"I don’t know what we can do," UMD wing Shawn Pogreba said after the most recent loss, a 4-1 decision to St. Cloud State last Saturday. "It seems no matter what we do, we can not get it to click. We have the chances, but the puck isn’t falling our way."
A team in turmoil? Maybe. The Bulldogs, mired in last place in the WCHA standings, have scored just 10 goals through those eight league games while their defense has allowed 26.
And just when it looks like you’re going to pull one out, bad things happen. On two occasions last Friday night against the Huskies, UMD had a lead, only to see SCSU skate away with a 4-3 victory.
That kind of loss leads to bad decisions, which led to yet another loss.
"We made some bad decisions," Duluth coach Mike Sertich said after Saturday’s game. "Look at St. Cloud’s third goal and their fourth goal. We had the puck on our sticks and turned it over. Our effort tonight was better than Friday night, but we still got beat again in the third period. We have to have more confidence with the puck."
But numbers, for once, may be on UMD’s side this weekend. The Bulldogs are an imposing 25-4-3 all-time against Alaska-Anchorage, this weekend’s opponent. They’ve only lost once to the Seawolves at the DECC.
But that doesn’t mean Anchorage is coming into Duluth without hope. After all, a split with second-place Minnesota last weekend included three goals from center Rob Douglas (7-1–8), who now holds the team lead in points.
Freshman goaltender Gregg Naumenko was stellar last Friday against Minnesota, making 30 saves in a 5-3 victory. But he fell off a bit on Saturday, allowing three first period goals before giving way to Doug Teskey.
Here’s something that may end up being more than just numbers on paper: Anchorage is 0-27 with the power play in WCHA games. Duluth has killed 79.5 percent of opponent power play chances. Duluth is sixth in the league with a goal on 12 percent of their power plays while Anchorage leads the league in penalty killing at 89.5 percent.
Duluth goaltender Brant Nicklin has only allowed 14 even-strength goals this season. If the Seawolves can’t cash in on their chances, the Bulldogs may have an advantage.
Picks: Despite the power play ratios, Duluth is still looking for a way to win. Anchorage may be revived after a big win last weekend. UAA 5-3, tie 2-2
Air Force (6-3-1) at No. 2 Colorado College (8-2, 8-2 WCHA) Friday, 7:35 MT, Colorado Springs World Arena, Colorado Springs, Colo. UMass-Amherst (3-4-1, 2-2-1 Hockey East) at No. 2 Colorado College Saturday, 7:05 MT, Colorado Springs World Arena, Colorado Springs, Colo.
A week ago, Colorado College coach Don Lucia said his team’s goal was to get out of Grand Forks with some points against North Dakota. They came within 68 seconds of claiming three out of the four points, but had to settle for two.
"It was a great weekend of hockey," Lucia said. "Both teams played hard and I think played well. We went toe-to-toe really for 124 minutes. It was great for our players to be in that type of environment. I was very pleased with how our kids played. We played really hard and we competed."
Lucia used Jeff Sanger both nights in goal, partially to get his confidence back after pulling him from the 6-0 drubbing to Denver a week prior.
"When we took him out of the Denver game, it wasn’t his fault, the team played horrible in front of him," Lucia said. "We wanted to throw him right back in, and we felt he played so well on Friday that we were going to go back with him on Saturday."
Sanger made 33 saves Friday and 27 on Saturday. That confidence may be back.
"He felt really good about how he played," Lucia said. "There were some deflections, a couple weird goals on him, but I think he only got beat clean on the first shot once all weekend. That was nice to see."
The Tigers now get a bit of a break from the road grind. They play six straight games at the World Arena, a building they’re beginning to grow accustomed to.
"I think the guys are looking forward to coming back and playing at home this weekend," Lucia said. "We’ve played pretty well here at home and the guys are comfortable now."
As far as this weekend’s competition goes, don’t ask Lucia. He hasn’t seen either team play this season, and is going on what he has heard. But he looks at that as a plus.
When his team enters the NCAAs, they may not know much about their opponent. They’ll just have to go out there and play.
"UMass-Amherst (Saturday’s opponent), they’ll have an advantage," Lucia said. "We play Friday night, they’ll sit in the stands and watch. That’s fine, that could happen at the end of the road for us in March. That’s one of the reasons I like the idea of doing that, trying to be able to adapt."
The Tigers coach sees Air Force as a team to be careful with.
"The last five years I’ve been here, the Air Force games have always been close," Lucia said. "They always compete and play very, very hard. It’s one of those games where, for them, it’s the game of the year and for our kids, it’s a non-league game and they probably don’t get up as much as maybe they should. We want to try to get through it."
"From what I’ve heard of UMass, their goaltending has been outstanding, I think the kid’s got close to a 94 save percentage," Lucia said. "When they won and tied against Maine, that told me all I needed to know about them. They obviously have a good hockey team and they seem to be playing very defensive. They don’t give up a lot of goals and they don’t score a lot of goals. I expect a very low scoring game on Saturday."
For more on UMass-Amherst, dial up Dave Hendrickson’s Hockey East preview.
Picks: Brian Swanson. Darren Clark. Enough said. CC beats Air Force 5-3, Amherst 4-1
No. 8 Michigan State (7-2-2, 6-2-2 CCHA) at Wisconsin (5-5-1, 5-4-1 WCHA) Friday, 7:35 CT, Kohl Center, Madison, Wis. No. 4 Michigan (8-2-1, 7-1-1 CCHA) at Wisconsin Sunday, 12:05 CT, Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
The College Hockey Showcase has not exactly been kind to Wisconsin. In fact, they’ve won only one game in the five previous years. They are 0-5 against Michigan State and 1-4 against Michigan.
But it also has never been in Madison. Sure, it was in Milwaukee, but that was more like a bingo crowd that a hockey crowd. You could yell across the arena to get a vendor’s attention.
Wisconsin got a needed win over a ranked opponent last weekend, as Graham Melanson earned his first shutout of the season in a 3-0 win Friday against Denver. Some said it’s about time Melanson got the credit he’s deserved. Of the 29 games he’s started in his year-plus in Madison, Melanson has given up two or less goals in 17 of them. He leads the conference in goaltending with a 1.99 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.
"It was one of those types of things where he was in a zone," Badgers coach Jeff Sauer said of Melanson’s performance. "Fundamentally, they just weren’t going to score. They had very few chances five-on-five. The only chances they had on Friday night were power play situations. Graham was called upon to make five what I would call goal-saving type of saves and he came up big on all of them."
But Saturday proved to be a bit different, as UW’s scoring difficulties came out again in a 5-3 loss.
"We were up 2-1 and we had a five-on-three power play for a minute," Sauer said. "We had about seven good chances to score and we didn’t score. If we score any one of those times, I really felt we would have got the momentum and gone. Right at the beginning of the second period, we fell asleep for about three minutes, they scored two goals and went ahead of us and then we never got the momentum back again."
So it goes for the Badgers this season. But in this weekend’s series, Sauer knows there’s more on the line.
"This weekend has a lot of connotations other than that it’s just Michigan and Michigan State," he said. "This is a way we can push ourselves from a national ranking standpoint. Denver was ranked in the polls, we split with them on the road. You have Michigan and Michigan State coming in, we haven’t had them in Madison for a while. These are two games we’d like to win."
Here’s the coach’s take on each of the teams:
On Michigan State: "Michigan State, especially at home, is very conservative, very defensive-oriented, to the extent of playing a strict defensive system. I don’t know if they’ll play that way in our building because it’s a bigger ice surface and it’s not quite as easy to do that."
On Michigan: "Michigan is more like we are, more like the WCHA, more of a skating type of team. They’re more like a WCHA team in terms of the run-and-gun, score goals-type of team. But they’ve been having trouble scoring goals. They’ve had kind of the same scenario that we’ve had — they lost some pretty good players from last year."
Picks: Wisconsin hasn’t had the best success with the CCHA. But if Badgers captain Steve Reinprecht gets on the board, Wisconsin wins. It’s a fact. I don’t know why, that’s just the way it’s been. UW defeats MSU 3-1 but falls to UM 4-3
For more on Michigan and Michigan State, see Paula C. Weston’s CCHA preview.
No. 4 Michigan (8-2-1, 7-1-1 CCHA) at Minnesota (6-6-2, 5-5-2 WCHA) Friday, 7:05 CT, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis No. 8 Michigan State (7-2-2, 6-2-2 CCHA) at Minnesota Sunday, 2:05 CT, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis
The big news out of Minneapolis this week was backup goaltender Willy Marvin’s decision to leave the team.
"I just felt it was time to move on with my life and concentrate on things other than hockey," Marvin told the Minnesota Daily. "I wasn’t playing as much as I would have liked, and I wish I could have contributed to this team more on the ice."
But when you’re in a state where seemingly everyone has some hockey experience, it’s not too difficult to find someone else. Coach Doug Woog said freshman Rob LaRue, who also plays on the Gophers football and baseball teams, will join Erik Westrum as backups. LaRue was an honorable mention all-state goaltender in Minnetonka in high school, so he’s no novice to the position.
"Adam Hauser will be our goaltender and hopefully this kid will come along and give us some depth in backup, and I think he will," Woog said of LaRue. "I think it’s going to be fine."
Marvin’s decision to leave wasn’t exactly expected but wasn’t exactly surprising either. He played in just four games over three seasons.
"Going into the season, it was a scenario that was possible, if he wasn’t playing up to his satisfaction he would move on and do something else," Woog said. "It’s his choice and he’s obviously got his own reasons. Basically, he would have liked to play more."
Minnesota split a series with Alaska-Anchorage on the road last weekend, but Woog said both games were similar.
"We had about the same number of opportunities the first night as the second night, but the puck went in the second night," Woog said. "It wasn’t that we gave up a whole lot of opportunities. We made a couple errors the first night and that was it. The defenseman fell down a couple times, but they skated hard. We bounced back and got one game, that’s all you can do."
Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota have a long tradition. The Gophers lead over UM, 113-107-16 and MSU 96-39-6. But Woog remembers a time when the teams played in the Big Ten.
"I don’t know if we think of it as CCHA as we do Big Ten," he said. "That may be my orientation, having played against these schools in the WCHA when I was playing, they were in the WCHA."
Here’s Woog’s take on the teams:
On Michigan: "Michigan, it looks to me like they have a tremendous defense, big guys. They’re going to be a good skating team with big defense."
On Michigan State: "You look at Michigan State and they don’t give up any goals. I imagine they have good size on the outsides and the goaltending must be pretty good because they only give up two goals. They play a real tight checking game."
Picks: For the honor of the WCHA … each conference will get two wins. I don’t like picking splits, but when teams like these get together, it’s too close to call. U of M takes Michigan 3-2 in OT, but loses to State, 3-1
For more on Michigan and Michigan State, see Paula C. Weston’s CCHA preview.
Schedule for Dec. 4-6, 1998
Friday, Dec. 4 St. Cloud State at Colorado College Minnesota-Duluth at Michigan Tech North Dakota at Denver Air Force at Alaska-Anchorage
Saturday, Dec. 5 St. Cloud State at Colorado College Minnesota-Duluth at Michigan Tech Air Force at Alaska-Anchorage
Sunday, Dec. 6 North Dakota at Denver
Special thanks to USCHO game reporter Ryan Kern for his help with this week’s preview.