This Week In The WCHA: Feb. 22, 2001

An Old-Fashioned Western

I’ll admit that I don’t have much in the way of an argument built up to support this, but here’s my take on the ongoing NCAA bye situation:

If the top three teams are from the West, why shouldn’t the West get three byes?

For some time, there were questions about some language in the NCAA’s Ice Hockey Championships Handbook, more specifically about a phrase that was supposed to be deleted.

In years past, there were always two byes for the East and two for the West. That was supposed to change this year, but no one ever erased the rule.

An NCAA representative this week said the byes would be awarded as scheduled. In other words, a 3-1 split is possible.

It only seems fair that you rank teams in order of accomplishments. Right now, Michigan State, North Dakota and Boston College are solid bye choices. But to get another Eastern team, can you leave out Minnesota? Or Michigan? Or Colorado College or St. Cloud State?

I’d hate to be the person who had to explain that to Don Lucia, Red Berenson, Scott Owens or Craig Dahl.

The East-vs.-West issue isn’t the big thing here. We all know that, as time goes on, the East will get three byes as many times as the West does. It just happens that this year, the West has too many bye-worthy teams. In that same respect right now, the East is deficient.

The NCAA has always contended conference affiliation should have no large impact on a team’s chance to reach the national tournament. That’s why this year we have automatic bids for five conferences instead of the traditional four.

It would follow, then, that the location of the school should have no bearing on its chances to earn a bye in the NCAA’s tournament system.

And just remember this: When — I say WHEN — the tournament gets to 16 teams, the bye will be a moot point anyway.

All the more reason for the NCAA to get cracking on that, too.

The All-Underappreciated Team

They are the ones that don’t get the accolades, but get that extra pat on the back from the coaches.

You have to be a particularly detailed student of the game to notice their efforts sometimes. They’re not going to wow you with stunning goals, dazzling defensive plays or incredible saves.

They just do their jobs.

It’s somewhat unfair that they don’t get the recognition the stars do. But that’s why they’re on the all-underappreciated team.

For the second year, I asked readers to nominate players who don’t get the attention they deserve. This year’s team doesn’t consist of anyone who was on last year’s. In other words, I had to leave Wisconsin’s Andy Wheeler, otherwise a sure bet, off.

So here they are, the players who are underappreciated no more.

Eric Pateman, goaltender, Minnesota State-Mankato: With stellar goalies all around the upper levels of the league, it’s tough sometimes for the netminders in the lower half to get recognition. Pateman doesn’t have the flashiest style or statistics, but he’s just solid when he needs to be.

Ritchie Larson, defenseman, St. Cloud State: He’s a great story because of his personal saga (that’s a tale for another day). “Ritchie likely has no playing future beyond this year and he doesn’t put up big numbers by any means,” reader Alex Walker wrote, “but the contribution he brings is as important as any point-getter or goalie ever could.”

Ryan Caldwell, defenseman, Denver: The most impressive statistic on this first-year defenseman is that he has not gone more than three goals without a point. Not too shabby for a new guy in the WCHA. He has one goal and 15 assists this year, and is 10th among league defensemen in scoring.

Tyler Liebel, forward, Colorado College: CC has enough big guns that it would be easy for a guy with four points (three goals and an assist) to get lost. “Lacking the size of other WCHA players, he uses a gigantic heart and incredible competitive drive to become a spark plug for the Tigers each and every time he sets his skates to the ice,” reader Sandy Kinnee wrote. “Tyler makes things happen.”

Grant Potulny, forward, Minnesota: Maybe he’s not underappreciated in the traditional sense of the award. But he’s not going to win the WCHA’s Rookie of the Year award after a fantastic season, so he deserves some kind of recognition.

Matt Murray, forward, Wisconsin: Murray is on this team because he came to the Badgers as a walk-on when he could have gone elsewhere. He then made something of himself. Not everyone can say that. A reader who identified himself only as UWHKYFAN wrote: “I am persuaded due to my Cardinal and White blood, but his effort would make any college hockey fan respect the game that much more.”

Trivia Question

Five recipients of the WCHA’s Player of the Year award are from teams that are no longer part of the league. Name them, and each’s team. Hint: One is mentioned elsewhere in this column. Answer later.

Saturday Night Dead

Anyone really surprised by the shambles on Saturday known as the Wisconsin Badgers doesn’t follow the team all that closely, or has a short memory.

Last year’s success no matter the day of the week (except consecutive Saturdays in March) was a turnaround from the way things had been.

The Badgers probably shouldn’t go and blame Saturday. It’s really the second game of the series. Last season, the Badgers were 13-3-1 in the second game of a series. They were 5-10-2 in ’98-’99; 12-4 in ’97-’98; and 4-14-1 in ’96-’97.

Notice a trend? It’s called a roller-coaster. The Badgers have this quality that sends them into the gutter on Saturday nights every other year.

Yours truly saw a lot of the Saturday-night games at the Dane County Coliseum in that ’96-’97 season, and I can say many were just flat-out horrible. Big losses to Minnesota (6-1), Minnesota-Duluth (4-0), Northern Michigan (4-1) and Colorado College (6-2) all followed wins the night before.

Adam Mertz of The Capital Times in Madison said it best:

“Pity the poor fan who dug down deep and shelled out for Saturday night season tickets to University of Wisconsin hockey games,” he wrote.

“You have seen a team at its befuddling worst. And worse yet, you haven’t witnessed a victory since Oct. 21, so far back that not only were chads not pregnant, they hadn’t yet been kissed.”

Trivia Answer

Michigan’s Berenson (1961-62), Michigan’s Mel Wakabayashi (1965-66), Michigan State’s Tom Ross (co-winner, 1974-75), Notre Dame’s Brian Walsh (1976-77) and Northern Michigan’s Scott Beattie (1990-91). Those teams are all now CCHA members.

News and Views

  • Alaska-Anchorage junior forward Gregg Zaporzan sprained his left medial collateral ligament last Saturday in a 5-3 win over Minnesota-Duluth. He had a magnetic resonance imaging test done on Tuesday and is doubtful for this weekend’s series with Denver. Boy, just when things go a bit in the right direction for the Seawolves, there’s another step back. Zaporzan is second on his team with 17 points (eight goals, nine assists).
  • Minnesota goaltender Adam Hauser was named USCHO’s defensive player of the week after stopping 50 of 52 shots against Colorado College last weekend. The Gophers have long relied on Hauser, but now the goaltender is having the best stretch of his collegiate career. He has won eight straight starts, a stretch in which he has a 1.38 goals against average and a .951 save percentage. The Gophers just have to make sure to keep every possible illness away from him this year.
  • Speaking of the Gophers, two wins this weekend at Minnesota-Duluth and two wins next weekend against St. Cloud State will give them the MacNaughton Cup. After all this time with Minnesota’s Lucia talking about fighting for second and third, it looks like he’ll go into the last weekend with hardware on the line.
  • On the Docket

    Don’t make any plans before the last weekend of the season, especially with Minnesota and St. Cloud State playing a home-and-home series that could decide if North Dakota or the Gophers will win the regular-season title.

    North Dakota’s done in conference play after this weekend’s series at Michigan Tech; the Sioux play at Bemidji State next weekend.

    In what could be a race for the last home-ice spot, Wisconsin, Minnesota State-Mankato and Denver are all at home next week. The Badgers host Michigan Tech; Mankato hosts Colorado College; and Denver hosts Duluth. My guess: Wisconsin will host Mankato in the first round at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison (formerly known as the Coliseum). The Badgers can’t play at the Kohl Center because of the girls state basketball tournament.

    Another NCAA Rant

    Speaking outside college hockey for a moment, the NCAA has some rules that just make you scratch your head.

    The need for an NCAA Clearinghouse — which certifies all student-athletes as eligible — isn’t lost on me. But when a terrific student-athlete is disqualified from participation because a form wasn’t filed, the NCAA has misfired.

    Wisconsin men’s basketball player Ricky Bower was suspended because UW didn’t request his high school transcript be sent to the clearinghouse for approval. Bower’s high school didn’t send the transcript, even though the player requested it.

    Bower would have easily cleared the requirements and was easily eligible, which the NCAA would have seen if the information had been provided.

    After an appeal, his suspension was cut from nine games and 34 practices to four games and 17 practices.

    Still, the NCAA is missing the point about the punishment fitting the crime. Wisconsin fans should feel fortunate this fall’s shoe scandal didn’t bring the program down.

    But this one was way overboard. Punish the university, fine. But punishing the player, who really did all he could on his end, is too much. Nine words from the NCAA would have been sufficient:

    “Give us the transcript, and don’t do it again.”

    Heck, if someone can forget to erase a passage in a rule (see above), someone can err in sending in a form.

    While We’re Talking

    Last week, my good friend Paula C. Weston, the CCHA Correspondent, was called into jury duty. My turn comes next week.

    This week, I was called into computer training. It’s not a great excuse for a less-than-stellar offering this week, but I hope you, the USCHO readers, will understand.