This Week In The WCHA: Nov. 23, 2000

Blais Fires Back

Just call it Whistlegate.

WCHA assistant referee Jay Kleven was suspended indefinitely last week by league supervisor of officials Greg Shepherd because of two questionable calls in the Minnesota-North Dakota series in Grand Forks, N.D., two weekends ago.

The penalties — a cross-checking minor on Nov. 10 and a boarding call on Nov. 11, both on Minnesota — were wrong, Shepherd said.

The cross-checking call should have resulted in coincidental penalties and the boarding call was viewed by referee Mike Schmitt, Shepherd told Gregg Wong of the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press. Assistant referees are not supposed to call minor penalties if the referee has seen the play and chosen not to make a call.

“He used poor judgment,” Shepherd said.

But here’s where this all gets interesting. North Dakota coach Dean Blais is flabbergasted by this situation.

“I was upset that I read it in the newspaper, first of all,” Blais said. “[It] insinuated that we won and tied [against] Minnesota because of home cooking. I reviewed the calls that he made and they were good calls; I was disappointed that there weren’t more calls made by the A.R.s, both ways.

“What does that say as a league when a good young official, whether it be a referee or an A.R., is suspended indefinitely? For what reason? He wasn’t favoring North Dakota. My point was, we don’t seem to get a lot of calls our way anyway. I’m not paranoid. I’ve been watching hockey a long time. Is that because we’re playing the University of Minnesota that that happened?”

The smart move on Blais’ last question is to plead the fifth, but he has a point on his other claims. Assistant referees are a valuable part of the officiating crew because the referee, as any disgruntled fan will tell you, can’t see everything. It’s the A.R.’s job to keep an eye on the rest of the ice.

When an official is reprimanded for making a call he felt was necessary, it opens a can of worms. Say a referee calls for a penalty shot when he observes a defenseman cover the puck with his hand in the crease. If, on video review the next week, it is proved that the defenseman merely pushed the puck out rather than covering it, will the referee be suspended?

"Now when an A.R. [assistant referee] is suspended because he made a call, if I was an A.R. I wouldn’t call anything."

— UND coach Dean Blais

“Is it setting a precedent now?” Blais asked. “I’ve got a call in to [WCHA commissioner] Bruce McLeod. I had one in to Greg Shepherd asking the same thing. What does that say? Are the officials now going to band together and quit or protest? I would.

“[Assistant referee] Randy Schmitt made [a call] against Duluth [last weekend] and the other A.R. made one against us, both the right calls. So was Jay Kleven’s as far as I’m concerned.”

Blais is also concerned assistant referees may be hesitant to make valid calls.

“Especially when you’re playing Minnesota. Maybe you don’t call them when you’re playing Minnesota,” he said.

“The referee is supposed to watch the puck and the A.R.s watch everything behind. Now when an A.R. is suspended because he made a call, if I was an A.R. I wouldn’t call anything.

“[That could be bad for] the integrity of the league.”

He said it.

A Fight Ahead

Colorado College faces quite a struggle in the coming weeks. And not just from the opposing team.

Injuries have yet again decimated the Tigers’ roster, already one of the smallest in the league.

“We’re looking at about a six-to-eight-week window that we just need to persevere,” CC coach Scott Owens said. “We have some tough games — Wisconsin, Providence, BU, North Dakota, Bemidji and Air Force. We’re trying to keep our head above water and pick up as many wins as we can during that period. But also we’re using it as an opportunity for some other people to step forward that we hope, in the long run, will make us a better team come February and March.”

The Tigers fought off the problems last weekend to gain a split at Wisconsin with an overtime goal by Alex Kim on Saturday.

But, as has become almost a trend, it was a costly weekend at the Kohl Center for CC.

Two years ago, the Tigers lost Darren Clark for the rest of the season because of a broken arm suffered against the Badgers. The injury, suffered Feb. 11, 1999, ended the collegiate career for Clark, then a senior.

Last weekend, with Mark Cullen already out because of a compression fracture in his neck and spine, top defenseman and captain Paul Manning was lost to an injured kneecap on Friday.

“It’s gone from a kneecap to maybe a severely sprained knee,” Owens said. “In any event, they do not think it’s going to need surgery. There’s a lot of play there, no pun intended, in terms of when he can come back.”

The Tigers hope to have Cullen back by Jan. 1 and Manning will be out a minimum of two weeks.

And that makes this upcoming stretch interesting for the Tigers. They play Providence and Boston University this weekend and Air Force and Bemidji State next weekend. Those are four non-conference games the Tigers could use to rest some bodies.

But they also need to win the games, especially the ones this weekend, for potential Pairwise points later in the season. They would hate to be No. 13 when the No. 12 team is Providence or BU.

“On the one hand, you look at four non-conference games,” Owens said, “but on the other hand, Providence is about eighth in the country and BU is just lurking, they’re waiting to get on a roll.”

But the Tigers could be poised for another roll, too, especially if Peter Sejna stays hot. The WCHA’s top-scoring rookie, has seven goals and nine assists this season and has assisted on three game-winning goals, including the winner last Saturday.

“He wasn’t picked to be first or second in the rookie balloting, which surprised me a bit because he led the USHL in scoring by 19 points,” Owens said. “I guess it doesn’t surprise me that he’s doing well. Maybe the fact, so well. But he’s an older kid and obviously an excellent player.

“With Mark Cullen out, he’s been forced to carry more of the scoring load.”

Hitting Their Stride

Once North Dakota got through the tough early part of its schedule, it could get down to business.

After starting shakily, the Sioux are 8-2-4, 7-2-1 in the WCHA and in the middle of things as usual.

“We had a tough start with the schedule and everything,” Blais said. “Just the circumstances of having three days of practice and having to fly to Michigan to play New Hampshire and Michigan, and having to go to Maine. That’s a real tough start. We played quite well even though they were good teams. I think we’re playing better now than we were then.”

A lot of that is due to the Sioux’s top line, which many people, Blais included, consider the best in the country right now. Jeff Panzer centers Bryan Lundbohm and Ryan Bayda.

Panzer leads the team with 29 points; Lundbohm has 16 goals, far and away leading the conference in that category; and Bayda has a nine-game point-scoring streak.

“I don’t see them tailing off because they can all skate and sink and grind. They’re all good hockey players,” Blais said. “If the officials are calling the obstruction and clutching and grabbing, they can outskate anyone. If they’re allowed to be hauled down and clutch-and-grabbed, they’re ineffective because they’re not 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 where they can skate through that.”

News And Views

  • Here’s a telling statement on why Alaska-Anchorage is doing so well this season. The Seawolves scored three goals in a series last weekend, the lowest for a two-game set this season. Not meaning to criticize, but remember when three goals in a series was good for UAA?
  • Minnesota, at 9-1-2, is off to its best start since the 1984-85 season. That season Brad Buetow, in his last year with the Gophers, led them to a 10-1-1 start and the NCAA tournament with a 31-13-3 record.
  • Minnesota-Duluth is 11-1 against New Hampshire, its opponent on Friday in the Sheraton/Howard Bank Classic in Burlington, Vt. Something tells me the tables are turning on that one.
  • Bulldogs goaltender Adam Coole dislocated his right thumb last Saturday in a 5-2 loss to North Dakota. He’s listed as questionable for this weekend’s tournament.

    On The Docket

    It’s tournament and nonconference time for WCHA teams this weekend. Minnesota and Wisconsin host the SBC College Hockey Showcase with Michigan and Michigan State.

    Duluth and Minnesota State-Mankato play Vermont and New Hampshire in the Sheraton/Howard Bank Classic in Burlington, Vt.

    But the most interesting pair of games may take place in Colorado Springs, Colo., where Colorado College hosts Providence on Friday and Boston University on Saturday. Can CC translate its success in the WCHA into nonconference wins?

    On The Side

    Apologies for the brevity of the column this week. Hey, even USCHO writers get some time off for Thanksgiving, don’t they?

    Thanks for reading, and Happy Thanksgiving.