This Week in the WCHA: October 27, 1999

Sertich day-to-day

And we all thought the health concerns at Minnesota-Duluth were for goaltender Brant Nicklin and forward Jeff Scissons. Those pale in comparison to what coach Mike Sertich has been going through.

Sertich missed both games at Wisconsin last weekend with pneumonia. Sertich made the trip to Madison for the series but got very ill before the start of Friday’s game. Sertich was reported to have been coughing up blood. He was examined by the Wisconsin team doctor and was advised to remain in the team’s locker room during the game.

On Saturday, Sertich was driven back to Duluth and was checked into a hospital. In the meantime, assistant coach Jim Knapp took over the Bulldogs.

As of Thursday afternoon, Sertich had left the hospital and was resting at home, the UMD hockey office reported. It doesn’t happen very often, but the coach is listed as out for this weekend’s series.

"They admitted him back to the hospital but they gave him a higher dose of antibiotics and are treating it more aggressively," said Knapp, a longtime Bulldogs assistant, on Monday. "He was actually getting worse with the treatment he had before. I talked to him Sunday and he was feeling a little bit better, but they won’t let him do anything until it starts to clear up. It’ll probably be a couple days."

In his absence, Sertich missed quite a performance by his team, especially Nicklin, on Friday. Playing with an injured knee and thumb, Nicklin toughed it out, stoning Wisconsin’s forwards time after time and came away with a 3-1 win.

Scissons had a goal and Colin Anderson added the other two.

"It’s too bad that Mike wasn’t behind the bench because he would’ve enjoyed how hard we played," Scissons told Kevin Pates of the Duluth News-Tribune.

Said Knapp: "It was a good, gutsy effort on Friday and Sert would have enjoyed it. But he did enjoy it from his point of view, being that we did win. He was excited for the players."

Though a late one, the decision that Sertich wasn’t going to be on the bench wasn’t much of a surprise.

"Everybody knew that there would be that possibility, that he wouldn’t be able to make it on the bench," Knapp said. "He hadn’t been at practice for over a week, maybe closer to a week and a half. It wasn’t a big shock to anybody that he wasn’t going to be able to be on the bench."

While the Bulldogs may not have their leader right now, things must press on. There are drills to be done, practices to be run and games to be played — UMD hosts Colorado College this weekend.

The Bulldogs say they’re carrying on and that Sertich actually prepared them quite well for just such an occasion.

"He’s always been the person that’s tried to give responsibilities to the people around him," Knapp said. "It would be a shock to people’s systems if everybody else just pushed pucks around and had no responsibilities and then all of a sudden they were put into that duty. Nobody during practice or during the games was thinking it was too much different than what was before that."

While you were sleeping…

You may have missed it, but Alaska-Anchorage isn’t off to the terrible start it appears the WCHA coaches assumed they would have.

On the annual coaches’ teleconference earlier this month, UAA coach Dean Talafous lamented about the fact that his team was picked to finish last. Again. His team is better than it was last year, he said, yet the coaches picked the Seawolves for 10th.

So when Talafous was asked to reflect on his team’s first six games, he seemed genuinely pleased.

And why not? The Seawolves are 3-3 with road wins over Alaska-Fairbanks and, just last week, Denver, and a home win over Niagara.

"Now that I look back on the first six games, we’re 3-3, we played a strong Niagara, we played BU, we went on the road and played Fairbanks and then we go into Denver, who hadn’t lost in 12 games at home, in their new building," Talafous said. "Now that I look back and say we’re 3-3, four of them on the road, all of them tough games, that’s OK. Sure, I’d like to have one more, but it’s OK."

Even better for the Seawolves is that they now get a chance to improve on their record with six of their next eight games at home.

One thing, however, that may have to improve for the Seawolves is the offensive output. Not that the offensive output has always been a strength for UAA, but they show those flashes that always keep opponents on their toes.

For example, the Seawolves got all of 11 shots on goal against Denver on Friday but came back for four goals and returned from a one-goal, third-period deficit in a 4-3 win on Saturday.

Talafous doesn’t want to make too much of one game, but that was a lift for his team.

"I don’t like to overanalyze things. We’re just trying to gain some confidence," Talafous said. "We have a lot of freshmen in the lineup, and winning one in Denver on Saturday … that’s positive for our program. It adds to the confidence. You start to play a little more relaxed, believe in yourself more."

A couple more wins, and the sky will be the limit for the Seawolves.

Role players play roles

In the WCHA, and college hockey in general, there’s a saying that a team beats another with its third and fourth lines. The top two lines will more or less cancel each other out. But if your third and fourth lines put some numbers on the board, you stand a good chance of winning.

Maybe that’s why North Dakota has won three straight WCHA regular-season championships.

The lower lines were the difference in the Sioux’s 3-2 win over Minnesota last Saturday. Forwards Ryan Bayda and Kevin Spiewak scored their first collegiate goals within 22 seconds of each other, with Spiewak’s ending up the game-winner. Ryan Hale, Travis Roche and Jason Notermann also collected their first points.

The all-freshman line of Spiewak, Notermann and Tim Skarperud, according to UND coach Dean Blais, didn’t play too well on Friday and got benched. But they came through on Saturday.

"We had a little meeting and they played well Saturday night," Blais said. "They had been playing well all through training camp so they weren’t really playing like freshmen. But that’s intimidating to get down there in Mariucci Arena, you’ve got 10,000 fans yelling, screaming. They were playing a little bit afraid or intimidated."

The freshmen’s success didn’t overshadow the productivity of the Jeff Panzer-Bryan Lundbohm-Lee Goren line. They were the stars, Blais said, in the 2-2 tie on Friday.

"Jeff Panzer’s line was the best line on the ice I thought on Friday night," Blais said. "We basically have speed with Panzer and Lundbohm and Lee is your goal-scorer, the finisher. Brian had a bunch of chances. I think that line generated 16 shots on net out of the 48 we had (on Friday)."

Apparently, everything was working at one point or another for the Sioux.

Dahl OK with non-conference opening

St. Cloud State is two-thirds of the way through a six-game non-conference swing to open the season, having lost twice to Miami before sweeping Bemidji State last weekend. The Huskies travel to Vermont this weekend to round out the non-league stretch.

Some teams may prefer to get some league games in early to get right into the swing of things. Of course, others may envy coach Craig Dahl’s situation because he, in effect, has something of a preseason before the WCHA season begins.

Would Dahl rather have some league games early?

"Not with this team," he said. "We’ve got 12 freshmen and sophomores in our lineup. It’s still a pretty young team, so it’s good for us to get our feet wet and iron out some kinks."

One of the things that has emerged for this team is a good bit of speed, something that may surprise some league coaches … once the Huskies play some league teams.

"We recruited speed so I knew it would be better, but it makes a big difference," Dahl said "You can really tell the difference."

On another hand, one area in which the Huskies still have some questions is goaltending. Sophomore Dean Weasler and freshman Jake Moreland split time last weekend, and Dahl said he’ll probably play Scott Meyer as well this weekend.

Dahl said he didn’t get what he expected out of Weasler the first weekend, but that he came back well against Bemidji.

"Both of them were a little shaky the first weekend, and I didn’t like to see that out of Dean because he’s been through it before," Dahl said. "But then he came back and had some decent tests on Friday. You have to be consistent there."

The Huskies hope the whole package can come together in time for the league schedule. But then again, St. Cloud’s first conference opponent is North Dakota in Grand Forks. Welcome back to the schedule, guys!

Around the WCHA

Wisconsin: Badgers senior forward Dustin Kuk had a five-point weekend against Minnesota-Duluth last weekend. Just think what might have happened had he played on Friday.

Kuk sat out Friday’s game on suspension after a game disqualification in the second game against Michigan Tech two weeks ago. He wasn’t too happy about it, either.

"(Friday) night was torture," Kuk told Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal. "Had to watch with the parents and the girlfriend."

That must make the parents and the girlfriend real happy. Kuk’s five assists was one off the UW record, set in 1968 by Mark Fitzgerald against Lake Forest.

Minnesota: Don Lucia knew what he was getting into. He took the job at Minnesota knowing well that his teams first three opponents would be Maine, North Dakota and Boston College.

Boston College is up this week and the Gophers have an 0-3-1 record going into the series with the nation’s No. 1 team. Lucia’s teams have never started this poorly, record-wise, in 13 years of coaching. Of course, they probably never had a schedule this tough.

But there is good news for the Gophers. The last time Minnesota did not win in its first four games was the 1993-94 season. The Gophers ended up in the Frozen Four.

Gophers fans can keep hope alive after all.