Mr. Blais Goes to Washington
When you have a chance to have the President of the United States tell you, “Good job,” you drop everything and run — not walk — to Washington.
A trip to Alaska-Anchorage? That can be put off for a day.
That’s the way it goes for North Dakota coach Dean Blais and team captains Jeff Panzer and Karl Goehring, who met with President Clinton on Thursday for a ceremony honoring the 2000 national champions.
From there, it was on to Anchorage, Alaska, for the weekend series.
The trip was too long to take the entire team, but Blais, Panzer and Goehring will be joined by six other members of the 2000 team who are now playing professionally.
“We’re all excited,” Blais told Virg Foss of the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald. “I know it would have been more special if the whole team could have been there last year right after it happened, but there’s a tremendous amount of organizational work to put everything together. We’ll make you proud when we’re out there representing the University of North Dakota.”
The North Dakota congressional delegation arranged the visit with the president, and Northwest Airlines contributed 15 round-trip tickets.
Yes, that was a seven on the scoreboard last Sunday. And on the Minnesota-Duluth side, no less.
As a result of a 7-3 victory over Vermont, the Bulldogs’ scoring offense rose from 2.36 goals per game to 2.78. They passed Michigan Tech to move out of 10th place in the league in that category.
It’s a small victory. But when you’re struggling, you take victories when you can get them.
“We scored some nice goals,” Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said. “We worked hard to get those goals. It was nice to see for a change instead of us not being able to bury it. It’s only one game, but I’d like to see us create those same type of chances and get the same results.
“Certainly, you don’t expect to score seven goals every game, but you just never know if you get those opportunities, when they’re going to go in.”
It’s been an uphill battle for the Bulldogs, who scored just their second victory of the season on Sunday. The schedule hasn’t exactly been kind, either.
At Minnesota, at Colorado College, at North Dakota. Those are the top three teams in the WCHA, all on the road. Going 0-6 in those games isn’t a total shock.
But the improvement has been noticable to Sandelin.
“I think over the course of the last four or five games, we’ve played pretty well,” Sandelin said. “We played pretty well at North Dakota; we just didn’t get rewarded. We played pretty well against New Hampshire. Our biggest problem is we’ve been getting down to good teams and it’s been tough for us to get back, to make up that two- or three-goal difference. We scored a couple in Grand Forks in the third, in New Hampshire the same type of deal, but when you start to spot teams a goal or two, especially the top-end teams, it’s usually pretty tough.
“We’ve had some good third periods. Our kids have competed pretty hard. There’s been some times when they could have folded the tent. I think the third period in our last three games has probably been our best period.”
Another sign that things are coming together in Duluth is a marked improvement in the power-play statistics.
The Bulldogs are 10-for-30 in the last six games when on the man advantage. That follows a 2-for-31 stretch over the first six games of the season.
“Part of that takes time, trying some different things and learning who might work well with everyone,” Sandelin said. “The nice thing is we’ve been getting some shots and some rebounds and some tips, and they’ve been going in.
“Let’s face it, if you’re struggling, I think every coach says, ‘Shoot the puck.’ At least we’ve been able to get the puck to the net and luckily they’ve been going in.”
Sandelin will be the first to tell you, though, that the other side of the specialty teams is woefully deficient. A 69.1 percent success ratio is really stretching the meaning of the word “success.”
“We’ve done a better job killing penalties but it’s got to get better,” Sandelin said. “When you’re not even at 70 percent, that’s a sore spot.”
This season could provide a lot of sore spots for Sandelin and the Bulldogs. Small victories, though, could be enough to keep some momentum going.
He Said It
“This hockey team was special. You could feel it and sense it when you were around them.”
— North Dakota athletic director Roger Thomas, on last year’s national champions.
News And Views
On The Docket
This weekend’s conference action is crucial for many of the league’s teams. Can Wisconsin break out of its funk at Minnesota-Duluth? If not, the Badgers will be fighting just to stay out of the bottom five.
Will Denver prove to be a serious contender for a top spot in the league, or will losses to Minnesota at home send them back to the bottom third?
Can Alaska-Anchorage break an 11-game losing streak to North Dakota? Don’t count them out, especially they continue the trend of staying out of the penalty box.
Will St. Cloud State be able to get out of its seventh-place tie with Michigan Tech? The Huskies and the Huskies (oh boy, not another one of those series) both have six points, but St. Cloud has played only six league games compared to 12 for Tech.
Colorado College hosts Air Force and Bemidji State, while Minnesota State-Mankato takes the weekend off.