WCHA Column: Oct. 12, 2000

You know Scott Sandelin and Troy Jutting.

But do you know Martin Bakula, Joe Bonnett and Brad Willner? They’re part of the changing face of the WCHA, as far as the space behind the bench is concerned.

This is a season in which if you didn’t make any coaching changes, you’re in the minority in the WCHA, a statistic that surprises some, considering the prestige of the league.

Six of the league’s 10 teams had some sort of change in the coaching ranks between April and October, including two with new head coaches. Having two openings to lead WCHA teams in one offseason is something of an anomaly as well.

“Every year is different, but I know that’s the most movement I’ve ever seen within our league in a long, long time,” said Sandelin, who replaced Mike Sertich at Minnesota-Duluth. He was an assistant under Dean Blais at North Dakota.

“To have even the two head jobs come available, it’s funny because we used to talk as assistants, how do we become head coaches in our league? What’s the best route to go? Is it staying with the program you’re with? Going to the USHL like [Colorado College coach] Scotty Owens did? Going to be a Division III head coach? It was kind of a unique year.”

  • Jutting worked for longtime Minnesota State-Mankato coach Don Brose for 10 years after playing for the Mavericks. Jutting and Sandelin represent the new guard in the league, but they are just part of a tremendous overhaul in the league.
  • Bakula takes over for Chris Brown as an assistant at Alaska-Anchorage.
  • Bonnett and Norm Bazin are in as Colorado College assistants, and Terry Kleisinger will be a volunteer assistant. Garett MacDonald and Steve Nelson are out.
  • Darren Blue takes Jutting’s spot as a Mankato assistant.
  • Sandelin tabbed former Wisconsin players Mark Strobel and Steve Rohlik as his assistants with the Bulldogs, replacing Jim Knapp and Glenn Kulyk.
  • In addition to Sandelin’s departure from UND, fellow assistant Jeff Bowen left the program. Blais hired former Sioux defensemen Dave Hakstol and Brad Berry.
  • Brad Willner takes over for the departed Brett Petersen at St. Cloud State.

    That leaves only Denver, Michigan Tech, Minnesota and Wisconsin in the minority — with a stable coaching staff.

    And it leaves most of the teams with some educating to do. Not that many are all too worried about it.

    Turnover is turnover, and you deal with it.

    “I think you have a system that you stay with, not only on the ice but in recruiting,” said Blais, one of two returning head coaches with two new full-time assistants. “You try to do everything the same way even though the people change. It’s just like players: The names change but your systems don’t.”

    But Blais knows he lost a quality hockey person in Sandelin, his assistant for six years. A tremendous recruiter and defensive coach, he will be tough to replace.

    “It’s more devastating to lose a coach sometimes than one or two good players,” Blais said, knowing both feelings all too well.

    He picked Hakstol and Berry in part because of their experience. Hakstol was the coach and general manager of the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League for the last four years. Berry was an interim assistant coach for the Michigan K-Wings of the International Hockey League last year.

    But he also tabbed the pair because they know what it’s like to play in the WCHA, something that can be said for many of the other new assistants as well. And they know defense, something the Sioux will focus on this year.

    “You can read all the books you want, you can do a lot of good things, but if you haven’t played the position, it’s tough to coach it,” Blais said. “You can do it but you can’t do it as much justice as someone who’s played it. It’s just like goaltending; it’s a game within the game.”

    Rohlik and Strobel at Duluth are on the same page — they know the league. Sandelin was also impressed with their excitement about being a part of the program.

    Rohlik, a former assistant at Nebraska-Omaha, approached Sandelin about the postion during the winter meetings in Florida. That showed Sandelin he was serious about committing to the program.

    “Those guys are both hard workers; they’re going to pound the pavement recruiting wise,” Sandelin said. “More importantly, they’re going to work well with the players and teach, and that’s why they’re both here.”

    Don’t Cry For Me, North Dakota

    You can almost hear the North Dakota faithful saying, “These used to be the games we would put away.”

    Yes, it’s not like the Fighting Sioux to lose a two-goal lead. But that was the first game of the season.

    Yes, it’s not like Andy Kollar to allow five goals. But he did see 49 shots, including five in overtime.

    Yes, it’s not like North Dakota to be winless through two games — it last happened in 1994, Blais’ first in Grand Forks when the Sioux lost the first four games, two to Northeastern and two to Colorado College. But that comparison is like apples and oranges. To think this team will revert to the fate of a fifth-place squad is ludicrous.

    Even Blais was quick to point out he barely had time to cut his team to a “workable number” before the opener.

    “It’s tough to get all your systems in place, so it really wasn’t a fair assessment that way,” he said.

    Yet, all that being said, it was a bit surprising to see the Sioux lose the two-goal lead to New Hampshire last Friday, a game the teams tied. UNH won the shootout to advance to the championship game of the Ice Breaker Cup. And it was surprising to see the Sioux follow that game with a 5-5 tie. Normally, when North Dakota scores five, that’s more than enough to win. Only once last year did UND score five or more goals and lose (Nov. 20, 6-5 to Minnesota State-Mankato).

    What’s the point of all this? Maybe the Sioux are going to have to work harder than ever to win a fourth MacNaughton Cup in five years. Maybe the natural talent isn’t present up and down all four lines.

    Or maybe the tough schedule will make them stronger, ready to make a run when it really counts. Because with the Sioux’s success down the stretch in recent years, they could go .500 in the regular season and still be a favorite to win the playoff championship.

    It’s tough to get all your systems in place, so it really wasn’t a fair assessment that way.

    — UND coach Dean Blais, after ties against Michigan and UNH at the Ice Breaker Cup

    One wonders if this is the same Sioux team. The answer is “no.” One wonders if this Sioux team can manage the same success as last year’s. The answer is “we’ll see.”

    Top of the List

    Lost in the carnage that was a 9-6 Wisconsin victory over UMass-Amherst last Friday was that Brad Winchester did a fair job in his first game centering the Badgers’ featured line — between Dany Heatley and David Hukalo.

    Winchester was tabbed as the first player to replace Steve Reinprecht on the Badgers’ top line — good luck — and he held his own.

    He figured in two goals — both assists, and both on the power play. He added an assist on Saturday.

    “[The line] did OK,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer said. “We’ve got some work to do there. It’s a different line without Steve Reinprecht there. It has a different look to it than it did a year ago. In saying that, I was pleased with how things went.”

    And Winchester? “He’s going to be OK,” Sauer said, not giving away too much vital information.

    So much emphasis is being placed on Wisconsin’s top three because it is a vital cog to the offense. Sauer has said the top line can’t be the only source of points if the Badgers are going to be successful, and he’s right.

    But it also can’t disappear if the Badgers are going to be successful.

    Still Waiting

    Call them the late starters. Denver and Duluth will each have to wait another weekend before playing a regular-season game.

    When the Pioneers and the Bulldogs do start the season, each may be at a bit of a disadvantage compared to their opponent, which will already have played an NCAA foe. But a little extra time to prepare could be exactly what’s needed for these teams.

    It’ll give the teams time to examine their goaltending. Duluth coach Sandelin plans to use that opportunity to the fullest.

    He plans to give all three goalies — Rob Anderson, Jason Gregoire and Adam Coole — a period of action in Sunday’s exhibition against Regina.

    “It’s going to be a battle,” said Sandelin, whose team opens the regular season Oct. 20 at Minnesota. “I hope that I can get into a situation where we can split a couple guys on Friday and Saturday until somebody pulls away. Hopefully it’s a nice problem to have.”

    Denver’s Wade Dubielewicz appears to be the top candidate for the start when the Pioneers play Boston College on Oct. 20. Newcomer Adam Berkhoel is also trying to replace the graduated Stephen Wagner.

    And the Pioneers will have to be as ready as they’re going to be all season for the first three weeks. After two with BC, they play a series at St. Cloud State and a weekend set at home against North Dakota.

    Both Denver and Duluth will be opening against a team with at least a week of experience in the season.

    “When you drop the puck, the only thing that may come into it is they’re probably a little more game-ready than we will be,” Sandelin said. “In that sense, I can see it having some effect.”

    The Shoe-gate Fallout

    Wisconsin’s Sauer is thankful his team is indeed a hockey team.

    Confused? Allow me to explain.

    You see, hockey players wear skates. We can all agree on that. Other teams at his school wear shoes to compete. It would appear logical, then, that members of other teams were more susceptible to Shoe-gate, a scandal in which some Wisconsin athletes accepted unadvertised discounts and lines of credit at a Madison-area shoe store.

    In the end, the Badgers hockey team was the only one of the big four — hockey, football, men’s and women’s basketball — not to lose a player to suspension. Four hockey players — Alex Brooks, David Hukalo, Mike Cerniglia and Erik Jensen — had to close their open accounts and pay the discount they received to charity.

    “I wasn’t really worried when it started because I knew we didn’t have anybody that was going to be involved in it,” Sauer said.

    But he does have of players from Madison who have been customers of The Shoe Box, the Black Earth, Wis., store at the heart of the scandal, for years.

    “It’s a situation where they knew the store before and had an exisiting relationship with it,” Sauer said. “From our standpoint, it wasn’t unexpected. The bottom line is we’re very fortunate. And it’s fortunate that the sport we’re in, we don’t have to deal with that type of equipment very often.”

    He Said It

    “Collectively, this was a mediocre performance tonight. Maybe it was first-game jitters, but in order to be a contender, we have to do better than this.”

    — Colorado College transfer Alex Kim, on his first game with the Tigers, a 2-1 exhibition victory over Calgary last Saturday.

    News and Views

  • Speaking of Colorado College, would anyone who was convinced by the Tigers’ play last weekend that they would indeed contend for the title please stand up? Sure, it was an exhibition game, but if it was any kind of indication, it may be the same old story for the Tigers: not enough scoring. But the acquisition of Kim, a transfer from Miami, may turn out to be one of the best additions to the team this year.
  • Minnesota’s win over Notre Dame in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game marked the first time the Gophers have opened the season with a win since 1995. And you had to a be a little convinced by the offensive output displayed by the Gophers. And remember Don Lucia wanting his team to lower the shots on goal allowed? Saturday’s shots: Gophers 31, Notre Dame 18.
  • The Gophers’ win gave Lucia his 300th career coaching victory. He won 113 games in six seasons at Alaska-Fairbanks, 166 in six years at Colorado College and now has 21 at Minnesota. If he exceeds 166 in six years at Minnesota, make room at the college hockey hall of fame, wherever it may be.
  • It took Michigan Tech only one day this season what they couldn’t do in all of the 1999-2000 campaign: tie. The Huskies were one of two WCHA teams last season without a tie last season, and they only got to one overtime game in all. Remember: baby steps.
  • Alaska-Anchorage’s Green team defeated the Gold team 3-1 in an intrasquad game last weekend. The first goal of the game was scored by Pete Talafous, coach Dean Talafous’ son. Here’s to making dad proud.

    On the Docket

    It’s a national semifinal rematch this weekend when North Dakota plays Maine in Orono. The Sioux beat the Black Bears 2-0 in April to advance to the national championship game.

    That day, the big decision Blais faced was between Andy Kollar and Karl Goehring in goal. Kollar led them there, but Goehring took center stage, stopping 30 shots.

    The decision this year is a little easier. Blais has two games against Maine, so he said he’ll probably split the goaltenders.

    Also this weekend, Alaska-Anchorage faces its first of many tests, hosting Michigan State and Michigan in the Johnson Nissan Classic. But don’t feel bad for the Seawolves because of the tough opener — they wanted it this way.

    We’ll soon find out if that was a wise decision.