This Week in the WCHA: January 6, 2000

When is a tie and a loss … better than a win and a loss?

When historians look back at the 1999-2000 Denver Cup, they will see the hosts came away with a tie and a loss and finished ahead of a team with a win and a loss.

As improbable as it seems, Denver placed second without a win, while Colorado College took third with the equivalent of two points.

Under NCAA rules, the Pioneers and Notre Dame each received credit for a tie for their semifinal game, which stood at 3-3 after overtime. Denver advanced to the final with a win in a shootout — something not acknowledged by NCAA rules, but now allowed to determine winners in tournaments.

So officially, it’s a tie and a loss. To the Pioneers, though it means quite a bit more.

DU, coming off what was probably its biggest win of the season, a 7-2 trouncing of then-No. 1 North Dakota on the road, was also coming off the long Christmas layoff and quickly made a transition back into playing as a team.

It got to the point where the Pioneers almost pulled off their second upset in three games of a team ranked in the top three in the nation.

And while Denver lost the championship to Maine, 4-3, it may have gained a measure of respect from the rest of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for being able to shake off an extremely poor start and make a run at something that, just a month ago, looked completely out of the question.

"We got better as the tournament went along, with our timing and getting back into our rhythm," DU coach George Gwozdecky said. "It was a good field. That was the kind of weekend that at least we needed to get back in field. That was the kind of weekend that at least we needed to get back in the swing of things. Even though we came out of it with a tie and a loss, I think there were some more important things we got out of that."

And the Pioneers were very close to sending the championship game to overtime. With a faceoff in the Maine zone in the last minute, the Pioneers applied pressure and got the puck to Chris Paradise — who "has the hardest shot in the league," Gwozdecky said — for an open shot in the waning seconds.

Paradise’s rocket, though, missed the crossbar by inches and the Black Bears were able to escape.

"This may prove a point, because I think a lot of people doubted that we could play with Maine, but we expected to win this game," Denver’s Kelly Popadynetz told Mike Chambers of the Denver Post afterwards. "In our last (series) we played the No. 1 team in the country (North Dakota) and outplayed them, I thought, in both games. So we really expected to win tonigh."

But Gwozdecky may have a point about getting more than just a tie out of the tournament. The popular thing for WCHA teams to do in the holiday tournament season was apparently to schedule difficult teams. While there’s something to be said for making it easy for your team to take home the trophy, there’s also something to be said for toughening yourself by playing tough opponents.

"When you look at the power ratings formula, there’s no question that scheduling a good, strong opponent is very important," Gwozdecky said. "It really helps you. Obviously, if you can win, it also helps you, no matter who you’re playing."

No matter who they’re playing, Denver needs to keep the kind of spirit that got them that close to a tournament title if the Pioneers hope to have an impact come March.

A Mariucci comeback?

It appears something finally went right for Minnesota.

In a season that has been plagued by a bad start and inner turmoil (see the Shawn Roed saga), the Golden Gophers may have received the kick in the pants they needed for the second half.

Winning the Mariucci Classic used to be a given for the Gophers. Right now, though, it’s a battle. Thankfully for them, it was a battle they won.

Minnesota took the championship with a 6-2 win over Northern Michigan on Dec. 30. That’s right, Minnesota, a team averaging just over three goals a game, scored six of them.

"We’re now a scoring machine," Minnesota coach Don Lucia told Gregg Wong of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Lucia can joke now, but his team needs more than laughs to get through this season. The Gophers are seventh in the WCHA with 10 points and a 4-6-2 record. Overall, Minnesota has an 8-10-2 record.

Despite the fact that it’s about as safe to rule the Gophers out of the chase at any point as it is to rule out Y2K problems at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, Lucia’s team needs to get in gear.

They have nine home games remaining, as opposed to seven road games, but have a trip to North Dakota on the schedule as well as visits from Colorado College and Wisconsin.

But this weekend may help the Gophers as much as did the break for Christmas. They have the weekend off before a series with Denver at Mariucci Arena.

"The break let us get away and clear our minds, and I think we realized what we needed to do to win," said Gophers goaltender Adam Hauser, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player. "And when you realize that, you never know what can happen."

Yes, that’s eight goals

What does one make of the performance by Minnesota-Duluth at their Silverado Shootout? Fluke, or a sign of things to come?

The Bulldogs lost to Northeastern, 3-2 in overtime, before rebounding for an 8-5 victory over Boston University.

Since when does UMD, the third-worst scoring team in the WCHA, light up the DECC scoreboard for eight goals? That’s another discussion entirely.

Senior Colin Anderson had a hat trick in the win over BU and freshman Drew Otten added two goals.

If the Bulldogs can find this kind of offense on a regular basis, who knows what the second half will bring. The knock on the team has usually been a lack of scoring, but this event has to be an encouraging sign for coach Mike Sertich.

With seven wins, the Bulldogs have already ensured a better overall finish than last season. A few more goals here and there, with some help from other teams, and a top-five finish may not be out of the question this season.

Sioux schedule doesn’t get any easier

By this time, Dean Blais’ fingernails have probably had enough time to grow back. But they got a workout during the championship game of the Badger Showdown.

In a championship game they eventually won over host Wisconsin, the North Dakota coach was chomping regularly on his nails in the third period and during the overtime.

With good reason, because it was just one of those games in which you couldn’t predict much. Couldn’t tell who was going to win, who was going to get the momentum or when, or for how long.

"My mother’s always said, ‘Don’t bite your nails, you might be on TV,’" Blais said after the game. He may not have been on TV, but he was on the Bradley Center’s Jumbotron plenty of times. "It was a nerve-wracking game, but a good hockey game up and down."

But more important than the win or the trophy for the Sioux may have been things they learned about their team before they enter a crucial four-game stretch. UND hosts Colorado College this weekend and travels to league-leading Wisconsin the next.

It appears Wisconsin may have exposed a weakness in the Sioux defense. The Badgers had numerous odd-man rushes and breakaways.

"From the defensive standpoint, Wisconsin players beat our defensemen too many times one-on-one," Blais said. "I can remember three or four times where their forwards came down and took us inside out or outside in and got a shot on net."

In response?

"We’ve been doing one-on-ones every day (in practice)," said Blais, who admitted a lot of the problem may have been the skill of the Badgers.

Another issue may have been the absence of starting defensemen Chad Mazurak and Paul Murphy, who were injured at the time of the Showdown but should be back this weekend, Blais said.

But still, what do you do if you’re Colorado College this weekend? Try to get one-on-one matchups. If played right, that might be good for a goal each game. Maybe.

That maybe is because the two-headed goalie has returned for the Sioux. Karl Goehring won the semifinal game at the Showdown and Andy Kollar turned in a solid performance in the championship.

That seven-goal shellacking by Denver in December ruined Kollar’s goals-against and save percentage, but he’s still 6-1 this season and has only one loss against WCHA opponents in his career.

The message: It’s still going to be tough to beat the Sioux.

Thumbs of the week

Up to Hauser. The Minnesota goaltender played marvelously in earning the MVP award at the Mariucci Classic. The Gophers might rely too much on Hauser, but when he comes up big, so does the team.

Down to the shootout used to determine the winner in the Denver Cup semifinal between Denver and Notre Dame. I understand you don’t want to play all night, but using the shootout in tournaments starts us down a slippery slope toward using it in league play. Don’t let it happen.

Up to Kyle Reininger, the millionth fan to go through the turnstiles at the Great Lakes Invitational in December. Reininger, an electrical engineering student at Michigan Tech, also gets thumbs up for still supporting the Huskies.

Down to scheduling the World Junior tournament in December. Why couldn’t it be after the season? Fans in Milwaukee were robbed of the chance to see how Dany Heatley would do against North Dakota. Fans in Madison will get their chance soon enough — next week.

Around the league

St. Cloud State: At last check, the Huskies do still have a hockey team. But these long layoffs make it seem like they’re not around anymore.

The Huskies won’t play until next Friday, meaning they will have not played a game in 34 days — since a 2-2 tie on Dec. 11.

It’s debatable whether the negatives of such a long time without game action (possible loss of cohesion, taking a while to get back in shape) outweigh the positives (time to heal injuries, coming back fresher).

Final thought

Last week, I picked the results of games that had no impact on the WCHA because they were parts of tournaments. I asked the readers if those games should count in my record, and the response was mixed.

Some thought they should count. Some said I should have two records — one for conference teams and one for non-conference teams. Some thought they didn’t count for me, the WCHA correspondent.

But, the more I think about it, I picked the games and I should be accountable for them, as bad as it makes my record (and thanks to Hockey East correspondent Dave Hendrickson for pointing out that he is leading the way this season).

I’m writing this before I tabulate the results from last week, which, as always, can be found in the sidebar on the right. I apologize in advance. But if I did better than I thought, never mind.

Thanks for reading.