Before we get to this week’s column, here’s an update on some news — some surprising, some not-so-surprising.
St. Cloud State senior forward Matt Noga has decided to leave the team for personal reasons, according to the St. Cloud Times.
Minnesota freshman forward Shawn Roed, who was on suspension because he was behind in classwork, has decided to leave the team, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported.
For more on these stories, see USCHO’s Notes and Quotes page.
The charmed ones
How does one begin to explain Wisconsin? Colorado College coach Scott Owens may have said it best: "They’re living a charmed life this season."
Just one year removed from one of the least-productive offenses in program history, the Badgers have turned things around to the point where, at 13-3, coach Jeff Sauer has his best start with the school.
And remember, this is a man with two national championship rings. And this weekend, he goes for his 600th career win.
To get it, all his team will have to do is continue its assault on the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
Sauer got wins No. 598 and 599 last weekend at Colorado College in another demonstration that, apparently, the Badgers intend on being at or near the top of the WCHA for a while.
"We really played well on Saturday night," Sauer said. "(CC) had eight power play opportunities and didn’t score. I was not pleased with our outing Friday night even though we won (4-3 in overtime). We just didn’t play very consistent on Friday. Saturday night, I thought we really stepped it up and played very well. I was pleased with that."
Another thing Sauer has to be pleased with is his goaltender. With names like Steve Reinprecht, Dustin Kuk and Dany Heatley on offense, Graham Melanson sometimes gets forgotten. But he’s been a constant for the Badgers.
The junior has a 2.48 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage, not to mention another important element of being a goaltender — confidence.
"He’s kind of in that zone that’s fun from a coach’s standpoint, because you know he’s going to do a good job for you," Sauer said. "He’s played extremely well."
The Badgers gave the Tigers plenty of chances to score — with 12 power-play chances on the weekend. UW, however, allowed only one power-play goal.
"I wasn’t pleased with the penalties, but in saying that, we did a good job of knowing what CC was going to do and neutralized their power play," Sauer said. "Graham was there and made the first save for us, but we did a good job of getting rid of the puck. He didn’t have a lot of rebound shots, a lot of perimeter shots. When he gets those kinds of shots, nine out of 10 times, he’s going to stop them."
The one thing that may start to bite at Wisconsin eventually is the injury bug. It would be tough to match the injuries the Badgers faced last season, but Reinprecht missed last weekend’s games (he’ll be back this week) and Matt Doman is out of a considerable length of time (Sauer cautioned about saying he’s done for the year) after having his right Achilles tendon cut by a skate blade in Saturday’s game.
The loss won’t be felt immediately, though. The Badgers weren’t expecting him back for a while, as he was scheduled to play for the U.S. Junior National team at the World Championships.
"We had a horrible year last year with injuries," Sauer said. "Hopefully they’re over for a while."
With only three losses on the year and coming off a successful road swing, Sauer is taking extra steps to make sure his team doesn’t suffer from a bout of overconfidence this weekend against Alaska-Anchorage.
"We talked about that (Tuesday) in practice," Sauer said. "We’ve had a tough stretch here. We’ve had three straight weekends on the road. We had to go to St. Cloud, we had to go to Michigan and Michigan State and then Colorado College. All three of those opponents were tough. We came out of it 4-2, so I was very pleased with that.
"Coming home, everyone thinks this one’s going to be easy, but this may be the toughest of them all because it’s right before finals, guys are working on class, thinking about Christmas. From the standpoint of a coach, I have to really get them ready to go this week."
Big scorers at North Dakota? You’re kidding
A look at the top six scorers in the WCHA this season doesn’t yield much of a surprise: Three from North Dakota, three from Wisconsin.
With the help of a five-point night on Friday, the Sioux’s Jeff Panzer was named the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week. He also had two assists on Saturday for a total of seven points on the weekend. Not bad.
But Panzer is just one of a handful of players holding his own offensively for North Dakota. Lee Goren has nine goals and 11 assists for 20 points and Jason Ulmer has six goals and 14 assists for 20 points.
It’s no wonder the Sioux have a stranglehold on the WCHA scoring offense category. They average 4.71 goals per game. St. Cloud State, the next closest, averages 3.94.
Panzer is a big part of the Sioux’s success — on and off the ice.
"Jeff’s a junior and he not only does his fair share in the locker room but certainly on the ice," said coach Dean Blais, who added that seniors usually are the ones who take control in the locker room. "He knows how to play the game and he’s accountable in everything he does. In that way, he provides leadership on and off the ice."
The team’s top two lines — Panzer, Bryan Lundbohm and Wes Dorey on one; Goren, Ulmer and Ryan Bayda on the other — have accounted for 73 percent of North Dakota’s goals this season.
Blais’ plan with the top two lines is to put together players "who complement each other.
"Right now Bryan Lundbohm complements Jeff Panzer because he’s got great speed, like Wes Dorey," Blais said. "Then you have Jason Ulmer, who’s a playmaker, and Lee Goren, who’s a finisher. Lee’s got a lot of goals being around the net: rebounds, tip-ins, backhands. He has a lot of skill that way."
Why would the Sioux mess with success?
The next Vezina?
Let’s just think about this:
Minnesota State goaltender Eric Pateman set a school record for shutouts in a career last weekend, recording his fifth with a 3-0 win over Michigan Tech on Saturday.
The kid’s a sophomore. He’s earned decisions in 30 games and blanked the opponent in five of them. Unfortunately, this is Mankato’s first season in the WCHA, so his records from last year don’t count toward the league record book.
Still, he needs five more conference shutouts in his career to tie Gerry Powers, who played at Denver from 1966-69, for the WCHA record in conference games.
Who does this kid think he is, Georges Vezina?
There was a period, Mankato coach Don Brose freely admits, when his goaltending didn’t look so stellar. And it wasn’t that long ago. Before the team’s sweep of Michigan Tech last weekend, the Mavericks had gone four games without allowing less than five goals.
They gave up five to North Dakota twice and seven and eight to St. Cloud State. What isn’t widely known, however, is that Pateman, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound native of McAuley, Manitoba, had an upper respiratory infection during that period, according to Brose.
That’s one of the reasons it was so refreshing for Brose to see Pateman do well last weekend.
"He got back on track," Brose said. "He didn’t have a quantity of tough saves against Michigan Tech this past weekend, but when he did, he made some very good saves."
The reason Pateman isn’t mentioned as one of the league’s elite goaltenders is that he’s fairly unpredictable. He can have a fantastic game one night and fail to come back with a solid effort the next. Many goaltenders fall into that category, but few if any are considered the tops in the league.
But just remember: he still has two years of eligibility left after this year. Two more years to grow just may be enough to push Pateman into the elite class.
Misty watercolor memories…
The image is one it’s going to be tough to forget when the Minnesota-St. Cloud State series comes up.
There was Doug Woog, standing behind his team’s bench at Target Center in Minneapolis, seconds before the horn would go off and his Gophers would skate off the ice with a win over the Huskies in the play-in game of last season’s Final Five.
There was Woog, waving his arms and pumping his fist in an attempt to further encourage the pro-Minnesota crowd to roar.
Woog, of course, is gone. The rivalry, of course, stays. Will it retain its ferocity?
And, if the Huskies sweep the Gophers, will Huskies coach Craig Dahl stand on his team’s bench in the final few seconds, pumping his fist to the crowd at Mariucci Arena?
Now that would be a sight.
Seawolves forced to make a change
Alaska-Anchorage freshman goaltender Cory McEachran was suspended last week for an indefinite period of time, according to coach Dean Talafous, for what the Star Tribune of Minneapolis is reporting as punishment for setting off a fire extinguisher in a dormitory.
McEachran, a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder from Thunder Bay, Ont., has a 5-4 record in his first season with the Seawolves, with a 2.56 goals-against average and an .888 save percentage. He sat out both games last weekend against Minnesota, being replaced by freshman Corey Strachan.
"We have our own set of standards too, and he didn’t live up to those this one time," Talafous said. "He would have received something from our end too. He’s a good kid — it’s just when you make poor choices, you have to pay a penalty so you can learn from them."
Strachan earned a split in net against Minnesota and also earned Talafous’ praise.
"Friday, he was very good," Talafous said. "Good concentration, very steady and made all the saves. He’s never played two games back to back. I thought Saturday, (he was) not quite as sharp, not horrible, but not quite as sharp as he was Friday."
From all appearances, Strachan will get a pair of starts at Wisconsin this weekend. Why does it always seem like we talk about measuring sticks when Anchorage plays? Maybe because some are reluctant to say the Seawolves are as good as their record and fifth-place standing indicate.
"What can we do? We can’t run and hide," Talafous said. "We’re going to have to suit up and be at our best. I think anybody that plays a team like Wisconsin, it is a measuring stick. Where are we right now? I thought we fared pretty well against Minnesota, but they’re not Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s the best team in our league right now, or one of two. We’ll see how we do against them."
Thumbs of the week
Down, a big down, to the idiot who vandalized Denver coach George Gwozdecky’s car while the Pioneers were out East two weekends ago.
Up for North Dakota and Wisconsin, for being Nos. 1 and 2 in the USCHO poll this week. When’s the last time WCHA teams were 1-2? And up to the Badger Hockey Showdown after Christmas, which, should North Dakota and Wisconsin keep rolling, feature a No. 1-vs.-No. 2 showdown for its championship game.
Around the league
Colorado College: This is new for the Tigers. Their four-game losing streak is the longest since 1992-93, Brad Buetow’s last season in Colorado Springs. CC faces Minnesota State this weekend.
Denver: With a 6-0 loss to St. Cloud State last Friday, the Pioneers have been shut out three times this season. The last time that happened was the 1949-50 season, the first in which DU played hockey.