Denver coach George Gwozdecky jokes that whenever Wade Dubielewicz heads into a down stretch, he’s going to throw the goaltender against the wall.
Hold on — there is more to the story.
You see, Dubielewicz has come back strong after a dislocated shoulder, an injury that has hampered him in the past and will probably require surgery in the summer.
“So from here on in, anytime he goes into a slump in his career, I’m just going to throw him up against the wall and see if I can hurt his shoulder so he’ll snap back into playing like he’s playing right now,” Gwozdecky said.
Interesting logic, these coaches.
Dubielewicz was named the WCHA’s defensive player of the week after holding Minnesota to one goal in a two-game series. And he’s a big key to why the Pioneers are in the midst of a five-game unbeaten streak.
In that period of time, the sophomore has a 1.38 goals against average and has saved 95.2 percent of the shots that have come his way.
“There’s no question that by his play, he’s ready to handle anything that comes his way, no matter where we break down in front of him,” Gwozdecky said. “The thing that amazes me is that he hasn’t been making things look difficult. He’s played very efficiently. There’s very few times it looks like he’s making magnificent saves. And I know for a fact he’s been tested a number of times in big ways.
“He’s not overplaying pucks, he’s very comfortable when facing shots, he’s controlling the rebounds extremely well. He’s playing a very intelligent and efficient game. There’s no question that he’s given the team tremendous amounts of opportunities to stay in games and develop confidence.”
All this is important for the Pioneers, who came into the season not knowing what to expect in the goaltending position. Stephen Wagner played in 33 of the team’s 41 games last season.
While Dubielewicz got some playing time last season, it couldn’t prepare him for what faced him this season.
“All of a sudden, Wade was put into the role as a No. 1 guy and I don’t know if he was really that experienced to inherit that position and understand the physical and mental responsibilities that go with it,” Gwozdecky said. “The first few games he played, I think he was still trying to find himself. Everyone gets to the point where they say enough is enough, I’m going to make my presence known.
“I think Wade has done that. He’s a very confident young man and has really developed over the course of a year and some. Pretty mature young guy. He’s become a leader in his own right and obviously with his play on the ice, he’s really had a very positive impact on the team.”
The confidence Dubielewicz has given the Pioneers in the last few weeks is helping them win mental battles against other teams.
When he has shut down opposing offenses, it gives DU the upper hand.
“I think the greatest example is Saturday night against Minnesota, when they threw everything including the kitchen sink at him in the first period, and after one period we were badly outplayed and they had a 1-0 lead, but we’re still in the game,” Gwozdecky said. “We come out in the second period and we score to tie it up and go ahead shortly thereafter.
“It’s very frustrating, having been on the other side, you know you’re working your [butt] off, creating great scoring chances, doing everything well and you can’t score, and the other team seems to come down and score. It re-emphasizes how important that position is in this sport.”
Minnesota knows all about that frustration. The Gophers outshot Denver 33-20 on Friday and 29-20 on Saturday and got one goal past Dubielewicz.
Even more frustrating to Gophers coach Don Lucia, though, was that the power play was nonexistent.
Minnesota was 0-for-9 on Friday and 0-for-3 on Saturday. The team still leads the league by two percentage points in that category, but more weekends like the last will end that.
“It’s always been such a strength and it hasn’t been going real good,” Lucia said. “Part of it is that I think our key guys offensively aren’t doing much right now. And those are the guys that are on our specialties. We need our key guys to pick up their game.”
Maybe it’s been because of a lack of drive on the power play. Lucia said his team has been playing too much on the perimeter.
“We’re not going to the net, we’re not getting rebound opportunities,” he said. “You have to get some of those types of goals as well.”
But when you only allow 20 shots a night and still end up with four goals on the scoreboard for the other team, the finger often points at the goaltender.
Lucia said Adam Hauser didn’t have his best game last weekend, and when that happens, the Gophers usually lose.
“Friday night, Adam didn’t have a very good game, and that’s going to happen,” Lucia said. “Saturday night he was fine, he only gave up three, and they were good goals. Friday night he would admit he could play a whole lot better, and that’s a big part of it. In the league, when Adam hasn’t been 90 (percent) or better, we’re 0-3-2. When he’s struggled, we haven’t won.”
You hate to pin all the pressure on one person, especially the goaltender, who can’t control what happens out in front of him, but facts are facts. It may turn out that, much like last year, the Gophers will go the way Hauser goes unless the players in front of him find a way to win even on off nights.
Hauser will play Saturday’s game against Quinnipiac, a game that suddenly gains a ton of importance for the Gophers. With a four-game losing streak, they can’t afford to make it five with a two-plus-week layoff until the Mariucci Classic.
“I think it’s real important, especially because we’re going to lose three guys [Jeff Taffe, Troy Riddle and Paul Martin] to the world junior team,” Lucia said. “We not only have to get our key guys going, but some of our second-tier players have to start producing a little bit more. Right now we’re kind of falling in that trap of not scoring a lot five-on-five. And that, I think, was the big downfall of our team last year.”
An Out-of-Conference Experience
Without a conference series for nearly a two-month period, Minnesota State-Mankato coach Troy Jutting has some plans.
“It’s good in that it does give us a chance to work on some things and maybe get a few kids in the lineup that haven’t been in the lineup for the past few weeks,” Jutting said, indicating freshman forward Dana Sorenson may see more playing time and players like freshman Shane Joseph could see different roles.
“It also gives you a little chance to heal up some injuries that kids would play with if it was league games. You can afford to let them heal up a little bit.”
But then again …
“The one thing that is kind of a downfall from it is you lose the pressures of league play and playing with that type of intensity every night,” Jutting said. “Obviously, you’d like to play with that type of intensity every game you play, but it’s not the same when you’re not playing for points and the competitiveness that builds up after playing a league opponent year in and year out.”
After losing the first four games of the season — a pair each to Colorado College and Wisconsin — the Mavericks have won six of their last 10, including one over North Dakota. That’s not stellar, but it’s something from which they can work.
“Obviously, we’d like to be 12-0 in the league right now, but I do think we’re making strides in the right direction,” Jutting said. “We knew it would be tough those first three weekends without some of our kids. We have not had a game yet where we’ve had our full roster available to us. We’re healthy right now, knock on wood, for the first time this year, completely healthy and that should help us.
“We’re starting to come together as a team a little bit better. Like I said at the beginning of the year, it’s going to be important for us to make sure we stay competitive and kept getting better through Thanksgiving and Christmastime because I think we will be a better hockey team in January and February.”
The next two weekends might not be for points, but they’ll be important to the Mavericks nonetheless.
They host Alabama-Huntsville, a team they played on a yearly basis before entering the WCHA, this weekend. The next weekend, Bemidji State, a longtime rival, comes to the Midwest Wireless Civic Center.
“It is nice to have those nonconference games against teams that are rivals because, while it doesn’t simulate a league series, it does add a little something to what a normal nonconference team would be,” Jutting said.
One More Showdown
The last big WCHA series of 2000 could tell us a lot about who will be controlling the league into 2001.
North Dakota, a tired team after a trip to Anchorage, Alaska, last weekend, goes back on the road to face Colorado College.
Put it this way: If North Dakota sweeps, look who’s running away with the league. In that case, they would be seven points up on Minnesota and nine ahead of CC, having played two more games than both.
“At this time you can just say our goal is to go up there and split,” UND coach Dean Blais said. “Obviously, if you win Friday night we’re really going to dig our heels in and try to win Saturday, but you sure would like to come out of there with some points. We have really played quite well on the road.”
Last weekend was a good example of that. The Sioux took a pair of games from Alaska-Anchorage, one via shutout.
“It takes a lot of character. Any level, any sport you play in, playing at home is a lot easier than playing on the road,” Blais said. “It takes tremendous character, leadership and determination to win on the road. We’ve found a way to do it.”
But it came at a price. Blais, goaltender Karl Goehring and forward Jeff Panzer went to Washington to meet with President Clinton last Thursday, then went to Anchorage. After going back to Grand Forks, N.D., the team now gets on a plane to go to Colorado Springs, Colo.
“We’re tired,” Blais said. “We didn’t even practice [Monday], and [Tuesday] we’ll go for about an hour. I would think by [Wednesday] we’ll have a pretty good practice, but then Thursday we’ll be tired again. Hopefully we can get through this weekend. I would have much preferred a home game this weekend, but you can’t control the schedule, you just have to play through it.”
This weekend’s series, if it goes the way of the Tigers, could put them in a tremendous position to start the new year. Neither CC nor North Dakota plays another conference game after this weekend before the holiday break, so if CC sweeps, it will be one point behind the Sioux with two games in hand.
From the Oval Office
Blais is already picking pictures for next year’s North Dakota media guide. He has one of himself, some of his current and former players and Bill Clinton picked out. Not a bad choice.
When the Sioux met with the president last Thursday, Blais was impressed with how personable the country’s chief executive was.
“It was exciting to see all of last year’s seniors out there and Mike Commodore [who left school after his junior season],” Blais said. “We got a chance to tour the White House and then meet with him for a half hour in the Oval Office. He was very cordial and personable, and everyone was kind of in awe of him and the way he handled himself.”
He Said It
“Anytime you get a sweep, it’s a great feeling. Against the Gophers, we just love beating them.”
— Denver captain Judd Stauss.
News And Views
On The Docket
In the last true weekend of WCHA games for 2000, the series that stands out is the aforementioned Sioux-Tigers battle.
But the Wisconsin-St. Cloud State series is intriguing because the Huskies could put the Badgers in quite a hole in the conference race while putting themselves right among the leaders despite having played only 10 games.
And watch out for those Russians. Their tour of WCHA arenas begins on Sunday at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.