This Week In The WCHA: March 8, 2001

The Entertainer

His view of the game may have changed, but Mike Sertich still knows how to entertain a crowd.

A group of reporters crowded around the longtime Minnesota-Duluth and Michigan Tech coach after Friday night’s game at the Kohl Center. He answered all the questions, then bantered with one of the writers about a recent story.

The reporter said he’d get Sertich a copy of the story. Sertich’s response? He’d read it. …

“I’m almost done with that Hooked on Phonics class.”

Life isn’t all jokes for Sertich, who took a while to look at himself after stepping down from his position at Duluth, which he held for 18 years. He talked about his new view of the game, and what he learned from his departure from Duluth in a story that debuted this week on USCHO.

People’s Choice Awards

You, the faithful readers of USCHO, apparently think alike.

Last week, I asked you to vote for the WCHA postseason awards — player of the year, coach of the year, defensive player of the year, rookie of the year and first-team goaltender.

When the results were tallied, few of the categories were close.

North Dakota’s Jeff Panzer was the runaway winner for player of the year, and who can argue with that? Sure, an argument can be made for some players, but no one has dominated the WCHA the way Panzer has this season.

But for all the accolades, Panzer’s biggest feat might have been convincing even the toughest fans — in his case, Minnesota’s — that he’s the best player in the league.

“He’s probably the best WCHA forward since Brian Bonin,” wrote a reader who identified himself simply as Mike from Minnesota.

The numbers are nice — he has 22 goals and 48 assists for 70 points — but to some, it’s the intangibles that make the senior the tops.

“Amazing unselfishness — he knows he could score more goals, but prefers to dish the puck and let others finish the job,” James Kuhn wrote. “Heart of a champion — he is not big, he just plays that way. How could this fantastic season for Panzer go unrewarded? Jeff deserves the highest honor in the WCHA.”

The pick for defensive player of the year was Minnesota’s Jordan Leopold. The problem with picking the defensive star is that one automatically turns to points. After all, it’s the most available statistic. But it doesn’t always apply to defensemen.

Leopold plays on the Gophers’ power play, which accounts for more than half of his 43 points.

But Leopold has earned his share of recognition as a defenseman.

“The guy never gets beat defensively and makes it look pretty easy most of the time,” Jon Morris wrote. “Add his offensive output to that, a great shot and skating ability and you have the winner.”

Said Scott Eisentrager: “Jordan has anchored the Gophers’ defense this year and been one of the main reasons the team has done a 180 from last season on the defensive end of the ice.”

Like it must be painful for a Minnesota fan to admit a North Dakota player is the best in the league, it’s tough for a St. Cloud State fan to credit a Gophers player.

“This is similar to a mortal sin for me to admit that a Gopher is the best at his position,” Huskies fan Andy Roeser wrote. “I don’t think he is the best defensive defenseman, but the way he truly is the commander of their potent power play makes him my choice.”

The sentiment, if not the delivery, was nice anyway.

A few weeks back, I proclaimed Colorado College forward Peter Sejna to be my pick for rookie of the year. The readers agreed, but it was closer than some may have imagined.

Minnesota’s Grant Potulny received his share of votes, but even some who voted for the Gophers phenom saw that it was just Sejna’s year.

He’s fifth in the WCHA with 47 points (third in the league with 23 goals), and has helped keep CC together through some difficult times this year.

“No other freshmen has made as big of an impact on his team as Sejna has,” Aaron Perrault wrote.

“On a team that already had some top-notch scorers returning, he has stood out,” Roeser added. “He’s no Dany Heatley, but he’s the best this year.”

For the foreseeable future, all WCHA freshmen will be compared to Wisconsin’s Heatley, who took the league by storm as a rookie last year. That’s somewhat unfortunate because the chances there will be another player like Heatley taking the ice for a WCHA team soon is slim.

But Sejna has made his transition to the college game look seamless, a credit to someone who has only been in this country for three years.

The readers selected St. Cloud State’s Scott Meyer as the first-team goaltender by a 2-to-1 margin over Minnesota’s Adam Hauser.

And who said the last weekend of the regular season doesn’t mean anything for individual awards? Meyer may have locked up a spot on the first team by helping the Huskies sweep the Gophers.

It swayed at least one fan.

“After this last weekend’s games, I would respectfully like to change my vote for goaltender to Scott Meyer of St. Cloud,” wrote Jeremy Lundy, who last week voted for Hauser. “He was amazing against the Gophers and put up the stats this year with four freshman defensemen in front of him. St. Cloud will go as far as he can carry them.”

It seems goaltending may determine who travels farthest in the national tournament. Meyer’s hot right now, which is fortunate for St. Cloud. But anyone can make a run once the playoffs start.

The coach of the year, if the readers have their say, will be Minnesota’s Don Lucia. After a marginal year in his first season, Lucia is back to the kind of form that put him on top of the league at Colorado College.

“He has brought back a team that used to be the best or near-best every year in only two years,” John Kinzer wrote. “He got them to believe in themselves.”

Bill Robeck wrote: “Lucia has found a way to amass the talent-filled Gophers into a cohesive unit. He has them as one of the hardest-working teams in the league and has the Gophers heading back to the big dance.”

If you’re interested, the WCHA will announce its awards before the start of the Final Five, March 15 at 4 p.m. at the Landmark Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Trivia Question

Who was the first man to be honored as the WCHA’s coach of the year? Answer later.

The Final Countdown

Debate the merits of a 10-team tournament or a Final Five all you want. The simple fact is, everyone gets another shot this weekend.

Slip up this weekend, though, and for most teams there won’t be yet another shot.

Here’s a quick look at this weekend’s first-round series. The winners will end up in St. Paul next weekend.

The Return Home, aka Minnesota-Duluth at North Dakota

Dean Blais is expecting a rousing ovation at the start of his North Dakota team’s series against Minnesota-Duluth.

This time, it’ll be for his team.

Scott Sandelin is still highly regarded in Grand Forks a year after accepting a job as Duluth’s head coach. He spent six years as an assistant to Blais.

But now, on his second trip back this season, he’s just an opposing coach.

“They won’t be giving him a standing ovation,” Blais said, “Now he’s the enemy. I know he’s going to come over here and try to take some points this weekend.”

For his part, Sandelin just wants to get off on the right foot.

“I guess it’s only fitting that I go up there to that rink,” he said. “Maybe we’ll get that first one and put some pressure on them.”

The MacNaughton Cup is in the Sioux’s hands, but they’re not quite sure how it’s going to be presented. Blais doesn’t want the players to be distracted from the overall goal of defending their national championship. But you can’t get to the national championship if you don’t take the steps to get there.

“We have [the Cup] locked up so players concentrate on playing Duluth,” Blais said. “We want to concentrate all our efforts on getting to the Final Five.”

Watch this: Check out how Blais plays his goaltenders this weekend. Will one get pulled after a bad outing on Friday? On the Duluth end, watch to see if the Bulldogs get intimidated in Engelstad Arena. If they do, good night now.

Less Is More, aka Alaska-Anchorage at St. Cloud State

Everyone’s wondering exactly how far St. Cloud State can go this year. The simple answer is that the Huskies can go until they lose.

The more verbose answer has to deal with staying fresh and being the most prepared team on the ice. Huskies coach Craig Dahl has cut back on the practice time in recent weeks, trying to keep his players from wearing out before game time.

“We’ve adopted this year the less-is-more theory,” he said. “We haven’t practiced on Monday for a month. … It’s seemed to keep our guys relatively fresh.”

That could come into play as the teams dwindle. The best fit team, mentally and physically, could get an advantage.

Alaska-Anchorage coach Dean Talafous, whose job has been rumored to be in jeopardy, isn’t planning on doing anything different this weekend.

“We’re just trying to prepare to be our best,” he said. “St. Cloud, you could argue is as good as anybody in the country right now. But we can’t go in there with fear. We have to play our game and see what happens.”

Watch this: Will St. Cloud carry over the high of the success against Minnesota last weekend? Will Anchorage be bolstered by three points against rival Fairbanks?

Battling Back, aka Michigan Tech at Minnesota

Michigan Tech and Minnesota each lost two games last weekend, but in vastly different ways. The Huskies came oh-so close to tripping up Wisconsin twice, while Minnesota was never in its series against St. Cloud.

That would give the momentum advantage to Tech, but Minnesota’s skill advantage probably negates that.

Also in Minnesota’s favor is the thumping the Gophers put on the Huskies in the teams’ last series at Mariucci Arena. Minnesota won 8-3 and 5-1.

Tech took 76 minutes in penalties in the first game, then only 10 in the second game. There were two different styles for the Huskies that weekend.

“Wait until you see the third style. … I don’t know what it is yet,” Sertich said. “The big thing is we got distracted. I don’t think we’re as aggressive as people think we are.”

Watch this: How long will it take Minnesota to shake off last weekend? How long can Michigan Tech stay on a relative high from last weekend’s excellent performance?

Second Verse, aka Minnesota State-Mankato at Colorado College

Chances are Colorado College and Minnesota State-Mankato are going to have seen too much of each other by the time this weekend closes.

The Tigers and the Mavericks will face each other for the third, fourth and possibly fifth straight times after last weekend’s series split.

“It’s not a big issue that we’re playing them this many times in a row,” CC coach Scott Owens said.

What could be a big issue is the style of play. The teams saw the entire spectrum of hockey last weekend, from clean to dirty and everywhere in between.

There were 18 minutes of penalties called in last Friday’s 3-2 Mankato victory. In a 7-0 Tigers rout last Saturday, there were 52 penalty minutes.

“We hurt ourselves on Saturday night with our lack of discipline,” Mankato coach Troy Jutting said. “I thought Friday night was one of the better games I’ve seen in this league. I would like to think that’s the kind of game that’s going to happen out in Colorado.”

Said Owens: “I don’t know what’s going to happen. If they play like they did Friday night, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Watch this: Mankato has to keep CC’s big scorers quiet. A high-scoring game probably doesn’t help the Mavericks.

Sudstown, aka Denver at Wisconsin

Don’t worry about Wisconsin losing home-ice advantage by playing its first-round series at the building formerly known as the Dane County Coliseum.

The suds will take care of everything.

The Coliseum’s celebrated beer gardens, one of the staples of Wisconsin hockey lost in the shuffle to the Kohl Center, comes back this weekend. The Badgers were forced out of their home building by the Wisconsin girls basketball tournament.

“People are excited about being able to drink a beer and watch a hockey game, so that’s a positive,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer said.

On the ice, this could be the most intriguing series because of the way these teams fought tooth-and-nail for the last home-ice spot. Wisconsin got it by one point.

“They’ve done a great job staying ahead of us in the last two weeks,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said.

What could put Wisconsin over the top this weekend is really no surprise. Heatley has started to make his mark on games again, something that was missing for a good part of the season.

“It’s going to be a real challenge for us to keep him under wraps,” Gwozdecky said.

Watch this: The Badgers have to love the numbers. They’re 28-2 in the WCHA playoffs at the Coliseum and 7-0-2 this year on NHL-size ice (the Coliseum converted back to 200×85 after the Badgers men’s team left). Denver has, statistically, the best goaltender in the league in Wade Dubielewicz. Can he carry the Pioneers?

Trivia Answer

Michigan Tech’s John MacInnes was named the WCHA’s first coach of the year after the 1959-60 season.

He Said It

“A lot of us, I’m sure, are going to be kicked out of the coaching position, but Bob was carried off.”

— North Dakota’s Blais, on Bob Peters, the retiring Bemidji State coach who was carried off the ice by his players after his final game, against the Sioux last Saturday.

News and Views

  • How’s this for the friendly skies? Denver is scheduled to fly United to Madison, Wis., for this weekend’s playoff series. According to a source, United’s union won’t allow its employees to lift packages weighing more than 100 pounds, meaning the Pioneers had to arrange for their skate sharpener and stick bags to be transported via FedEx. Gwozdecky is reportedly not too happy with the situation. Imagine what might happen if FedEx doesn’t come through.
  • Michigan Tech goaltender Brian Rogers turned in a tremendous performance at Wisconsin last weekend, stopping 75 of the 81 shots he saw. He kept the Huskies in the series with some dazzling stops and a lot more of the ordinary variety. He’ll probably need more dazzling ones this weekend against Minnesota.
  • On the Docket

    The league’s playoff field is cut in half this weekend, setting up next weekend’s Final Five. The play-in game is at 7:05 p.m. Central on Thursday. Semifinals are set for 2:05 and 7:05 p.m. on Friday. The consolation game is 2:05 p.m. Saturday and the Broadmoor Trophy game is at 7:05 that night.

    All five games take place at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.


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