This Week In The WCHA: Nov. 8, 2001

A Milestone?

In the storied tradition of college hockey, 49 coaches have attained the 300-win plateau — Canisius’ Brian Cavanaugh the most recent.

George Gwozdecky is one victory away from being the 50th. He’s at 299, but to hear him talk about it, he might as well be going for win No. 183 this weekend at Michigan Tech as No. 300.

“It means absolutely nothing to me,” Gwozdecky said, “I’ll be very honest with you.”

In a way, that’s unfortunate. Part of this great game is its history, and when it has a chance to be made, it should be celebrated.

Gwozdecky, on the other hand, sounds as if he doesn’t want his 300th win to overshadow his players or his team.

"It means absolutely nothing to me."

— Denver coach George Gwozdecky, downplaying his imminent 300th win.

“To me, it’s really insignificant compared with all of the other things that are happening within the program this year,” he said. “That’s the way I truly feel about it. Perhaps when I’m long out of this game, I’ll be able to look back at it. But there’s so many good things going on with the team and how the team’s playing and being developed.

“To me, whether it’s one game away or 10 games away, it’s very insignificant.”

With his team’s next victory, Gwozdecky will become the fifth active WCHA coach with at least 300 wins. He’ll join Wisconsin’s Jeff Sauer, Michigan Tech’s Mike Sertich, St. Cloud State’s Craig Dahl and Minnesota’s Don Lucia.

He won 67 games at Wisconsin-River Falls and 83 at Miami before arriving at Denver in 1994.

Instead of focusing on 300 as a milestone, however, he’s looking at another step on the road to a successful season.

“I don’t mean to downplay it, because for some people it might seem like something that should be talked about,” Gwozdecky said. “I really don’t consider it that way at all.”

High Honors

Compliments are compliments, no matter the source.

Many people have called St. Cloud State the No. 1 team in the country this week, enough that the Huskies gained that status for the first time in the school’s Division I history.

There are some statements, however, that mean just a little more than the rest. For instance, when Dean Blais, coach of the WCHA’s best team over most of the last five years, says you’re at the top of the pack, it carries a bit more weight.

“Best team in the country, I think, right now,” the North Dakota coach told the Grand Forks Herald after Saturday’s 6-1 SCSU victory and a sweep of the defending MacNaughton Cup champion.

Thirty-six of the 40 voters in the poll agreed this week. What does that get them?

In April, it could get them a wooden plaque adorned with gold and a few pictures that will become part of team lore.

In November, though, it brings the best game every opponent can muster, plenty of attention that may or may not be wanted and higher expectations.

Yes, higher expectations than 8-0 and 6-0 in the league. How about 10-0 and 8-0 after this weekend, for one?

That’s what the Huskies have earned: Once you’re No. 1, any slip-up from that point is magnified. Look at Minnesota. The Gophers played a sub-par weekend against Michigan Tech, still came away with three points on the road and saw the nation’s top spot travel 60 miles up Interstate 94.

Let’s be honest here: The Huskies will not be the No. 1 team for the rest of the season. Doing so would most likely mean they ran the table through the entire season — a 44-0 record that would put them among the greatest hockey teams of all time.

At some point, there will be another No. 1. The Huskies, though, need to focus on not making this run the best of their season. People don’t remember who starts the season on top; they remember who ends it there.

“We’re only eight games into the season,” St. Cloud goaltender Dean Weasler told the St. Cloud Times. “Whatever they say right now doesn’t matter. You could say it puts a target on us, but I think we’ve had one all along this year.”

Said forward Lee Brooks: “We’ve got to take the games one by one, and if people are going to come gunning for us, I guess that’s good. That will mean we’ll have to play that much better.”

You Scratch My Back…

It had to work out this way at some point. Minnesota goaltender Adam Hauser, maligned for allowing four goals on eight shots in his first period of work this season, made further amends last Saturday night.

Travis Weber came on in that opener against North Dakota and earned the victory. When Weber was lit up for four first-period goals by Michigan Tech last weekend, Hauser replaced him, stopped 18 of the 19 shots he faced and helped Minnesota earn a tie.

Much Rejoicing

This week’s Clay “Woodrow” Wilson update comes with some happy news: “Woody” scored his first collegiate goal in the first period of last Saturday’s 5-5 tie with Minnesota, then followed it up with another goal later in the period.

For the season, that’s two goals and no assists for the freshman defenseman.

And all of Sturgeon Lake, Minn., population 250, celebrating its centennial in 2001 and hometown of Clay Wilson, rejoiced.

Time Dwindling



At this rate, Colorado College coach Scott Owens said, his team, picked by the coaches to finish first in the WCHA, could be out of the running for a top-two spot in a number of weeks.

“The battle for first and second place could be over within two weeks, from our perspective,” Owens told the Denver Post after Saturday’s loss to Denver.

“We just have to focus on getting better as a team. But until our big horses find a way to score, it’s going to be tough for us.”

The Tigers find themselves at 0-4 in the WCHA, the only team without as much as a point in the league. They’re 12 points behind front-runner St. Cloud State with two games in hand, but eight behind second-place Denver, which has played the same number of league games.

And good luck trying to find a CC player among the WCHA scoring leaders. You have to read down all the way to No. 24 to find Mark Cullen, with two goals and six assists.

The Tigers are last in the WCHA in scoring, averaging a mere 2.67 goals through six games. The defense is holding the Tigers together right now, and it’s a good thing or the season could be a total wash already.

They did what they had to do on Monday: get back to work.

“I was real curious how they would respond,” Owens told The Gazette of Colorado Springs after Monday’s practice. “We’re disappointed, but not distraught. They feel we’re still going to be a good team. We had a very good practice.”

With two games at St. Cloud this weekend, there’s no time for the present for the Tigers to start making up ground in the WCHA race. A fight for the top half of the league would await after another unsuccessful weekend.

Losses? What Losses?

Hey, wasn’t St. Cloud State supposed to be hurting this season? Hurting because of some painful losses in personnel?

Scott Meyer? Brandon Sampair? Tyler Arnason? Duvie Westcott?

Remember them? They were supposed to be the players St. Cloud State fans were longing for this season. You know, the good old days of last year.

Sorry, fellas.

Weasler and Jake Moreland have done an admirable job in goal, replacing the all-league Meyer. Nate DiCasmirro and Mark Hartigan have filled in for Sampair and Arnason, not to mention significant contributions from Matt Hendricks and Mike Doyle.

Defenseman Derek Eastman could match or better Westcott’s 34-point contribution on the blue line. Judging from the 1.75 goals allowed a game, the defense as a whole is coping with loss quite well.

But don’t feel too bad if you were one of the ones not expecting the Huskies to make this kind of run. WCHA coaches are with you.

“I think everybody is surprised with how well they have played and how dominating they have been in the early part of the season,” Denver’s Gwozdecky said. “All due respect to the team that they have right now, but they lost so much in the offseason.

“I don’t think anybody could have forecast St. Cloud playing that well at this time of the year.”

Pioneers Loss

Denver freshman defenseman Jussi Halme underwent shoulder surgery on Tuesday and will likely miss a good portion, if not the rest, of the regular season.

“That’s a blow to Jussi and our defensive corps,” Gwozdecky said. “Fortunately, we’re deep there, but he was playing on a regular basis — in a position where he was one of our top four guys.”

If Halme, 6-foot-1 and 182 pounds, is unable to return this season, he can petition the NCAA for a fifth season of eligibility under medical hardship rules.

On and Off

North Dakota has an off weekend to try to regroup after a 4-5 start and a 3-3 mark in the WCHA.

One question, though: Have the Sioux had an “on” weekend yet this season? With the possible exception of a sweep of Colorado College, North Dakota hasn’t been able to sustain a solid effort through an entire weekend.

Another Top Spot

St. Cloud State scored eight goals on 17 power-play attempts last weekend in North Dakota, vaulting the Huskies past Minnesota as the league’s top power-play team.

The Huskies have converted on 43.4 percent of their chances with the man advantage (23 of 53) to Minnesota’s 42.9 percent.

“It’s not brain surgery,” DiCasmirro told USCHO’s Nick Clark last Saturday. “It’s just finding the open man and going to the net, and we have been able to do that.”

Hold It

Think the course of the week for the Michigan Tech players was “Holding a Lead 101?”

The Huskies lost a 3-1 lead in a 7-3 loss to Minnesota last Friday, then had 4-0 and 5-1 leads on Saturday, but tied 5-5.

Cullen’s Comeback Slow

Caution appears to be the name of the game in bringing St. Cloud State captain Jon Cullen back to speed from a knee injury.

He won’t play again this weekend with a sprained medial collateral ligament suffered against Clarkson on Oct. 12. He may even sit out St. Cloud’s next series — at Alaska-Anchorage next weekend — so he can be rested and ready after the Huskies’ bye week for a home-and-home series with Minnesota on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

He Said It

“As a team we thought we had them on the ropes most of the weekend, except for 10 minutes (Friday) and five minutes (Saturday). It’s disappointing to get a tie, but we know that they’re the best team in the nation and we can play with anyone.”

— Michigan Tech senior Brad Patterson, on last weekend’s series with then-No. 1 Minnesota.