In This Corner…
There’s no truth to the rumor that noted boxing promoter Don King called Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer and Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin to organize Jensen-Rodberg II.
For some, the first time around was quite enough, thank you.
Wisconsin’s Erik Jensen and Duluth’s Steve Rodberg went toe-to-toe last Friday in an honest-to-God hockey fight. Not just pushing and shoving, real punches with real, gloveless fists, hitting helmetless heads.
Anywhere but in college hockey, this wouldn’t be a story. There would probably be 15 of them to go around in one weekend of play. But part of what makes college hockey unique is its ban on fighting.
That’s what got some people talking this week.
In the blue corner, Sandelin: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what happened.”
In the red corner, Sauer: “It’s not something we want to condone.”
Other WCHA coaches had their say, too.
“I don’t like fighting, period,” Michigan Tech coach Mike Sertich said. “I don’t think it corrects anything. There’s another level of hockey for that, not in college.
“It’s not in the spirit of college games at all. I’ve been chairman of the rules committee. For me to endorse that would be asinine.”
Minnesota State-Mankato coach Troy Jutting noted that there’s a time and a place for fighting in hockey. It’s called the professional ranks.
“In college hockey, we’re trying to teach kids right and wrong, and that comes as part of the game, part of the responsibility,” Jutting said. “I don’t think we should have fighting in the college game. I know at times it’s going to happen, but I think we need to do everything we can as coaches and as referees to keep it out of the game as much as we can.”
But those who don’t see fighting as purely evil have their points too. One of the long-held arguments for the usefulness of fighting is that it gets aggression out in one quick package. It eliminates the 60-minute chippiness that has a place in some college games.
“I know we don’t want that in our game, but those things happen,” Sandelin said. “Once in a while, I don’t think it’s bad.”
The key point there is that, even if the occasional donnybrook has its merits, the college game has something of an image to protect. Players aren’t brought in by schools only for their knuckles.
The college game isn’t going to become “Slap Shot” anytime soon, but any leaning in that direction will be scoffed at by some.
Still, even those who don’t condone it see how fighting can add some life to a hockey game and a hockey team.
“If you ask the question, ‘Can it change the momentum in a game?’ I’d say absolutely,” Sauer said. “If you ask the question, ‘Can it build up your team and give your team a spark?’ I can also answer that by saying absolutely. But it’s not something we want to condone.”
Then Frustration Sets In
Michigan Tech coach Sertich has watched his team play the top three teams in the nation in the last three weeks, watched the Huskies hold their own but earn only one point from six games.
Frustrating? Yeah, you bet.
“It’s a little bit frustrating because you’re not getting rewarded very much,” Sertich said. “You really have to be cautious about being negative.”
It’s easy to get frustrated when, for example, your most talented scorer goes seven games without a goal. Paul Cabana is in the midst of such a streak, and the Huskies have suffered.
“He’s one of those kids that’s getting three, four good chances a game. They’re just not dropping for him,” Sertich said. “We need him to score, obviously, but we need others to score.
“I guess I have other concerns rather than who’s scoring. We have to keep the puck out of the net. We gave up five power-play goals again on Friday [a 9-2 loss to Denver]. That’s very frustrating.”
If there’s anything that hasn’t been frustrating to Sertich, it’s the character he said his team has shown through one of the toughest stretches any team in the nation will face this season.
The Huskies dressed nine freshmen on Saturday, and Sertich knows he’ll have to be patient with players still getting used to the college game.
But after that seven-goal loss last Friday, his players could have folded in Saturday’s rematch with the Pioneers. They didn’t, and Sertich chalks that up to a good mental outlook from his team.
“We got smacked around pretty good on Friday night (but) we responded extremely well,” Sertich said. “If it wasn’t for a couple bounces [Saturday night, a 3-1 loss], that could have been a different hockey game. They got a couple cheapies and we hit four, five pipes.
“It isn’t falling right now, but we’re getting chances and that’s the main thing.”
A New Face
The mainstay of Minnesota State-Mankato goaltending in the Mavericks’ brief history in the WCHA has been Eric Pateman. Jon Volp is starting to challenge that notion.
Now that Pateman has been shelved for the rest of the season because of surgery on a dislocated right shoulder, Volp will have to backstop the Mavericks’ run for a finish in the top half of the league.
Volp has done an admirable job of filling in. His won-lost record (3-4), goals against average (3.49) and save percentage (.891) may not inspire thoughts of being the league’s first-team goaltender, but he’s done what Mankato coaches have asked of him.
“It’s been a bit of a surprise. We thought Jon was a good goaltender, but we didn’t think we’d have to stick him into the fire like we’ve had to,” Mavs coach Jutting said. “He’s responded very well.
“He’s worked extremely hard since the day he got here, and it’s starting to pay off for him right now.”
Pateman’s status with the injured shoulder is unknown, Jutting said — “If I knew that, I’d be a doctor and making a hell of a lot more money than I am now” — but it’s safe to say he won’t be counted on to return soon.
That’s why it’s fortunate for them that the Mavericks have a capable backup in Volp, who has started six of the last seven games.
He stopped a career-high 48 shots in a 4-2 loss at Minnesota last Saturday. The last time a Mankato goaltender stopped 48? Pateman, in his freshman season of 1998-99.
Volp will have to emulate Pateman’s ability to carry the show in the next few weeks for the Mavericks. A tough upcoming schedule begins with four straight games against North Dakota, spread over three weekends. They also play Denver and St. Cloud State before Christmas.
“You’re talking about the top three teams in the country, playing them four out of five league series, then throw in North Dakota,” Jutting said. “It’s a very tough stretch we’re in right now, and Jon has played well so far. Hopefully he can continue that, and I believe he will.”
Pateman, meanwhile, will petition the NCAA for a medical redshirt since he played only three games this season. He is a senior this season.
You Gotta See This!
You’d think the programmers over at Fox Sports Net could find the time in between the 14th daily showing of “You Gotta See This!” and the ninth airing of “Bluetorch TV” for some college hockey programming.
In Wisconsin last Saturday, instead of seeing the Gophers-Mavericks game (albeit a day and a few hours late) that was promised by the cable company, viewers were treated to the world’s greatest fastballs to the face on “You Gotta See This!”
Pardon me for flipping the channel.
Heck, I’d settle for seeing the game in the middle of the week. How about Tuesday? Nope. “Bluetorch TV,” followed by a double dose of “You Gotta See This!” and “Totally NASCAR.”
As if by chance, a commercial flashed on the screen for Friday’s Michigan Tech-Wisconsin game on Fox Sports Net while this was being written. Sadly, it’s the only mention of college hockey to be expected until the weekend.
A Full House
St. Cloud State saw one streak end last Saturday night with a 4-3 loss to Colorado College, the Huskies’ first defeat in 10 games this season.
Another streak, however, continued. It’s something that’s probably equally as important to the program as the wins.
The Huskies and the Tigers drew 6,410 to the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, the sixth sellout in six regular-season games this year at the arena.
It was the 15th straight sellout for a regular-season game at the National Hockey Center. The correlation is clear between victories and attendance: The Huskies have been one of the nation’s best teams in that period.
Preseason Polls? What Preseason Polls?
Here’s one good reason not to believe the preseason coaches polls, the ones that pick the favorites for conference regular-season finishes. It comes courtesy of Scott Owens, whose Colorado College Tigers were picked by the coaches to win the WCHA, but have slumped early.
“Those preseason expectations, look around at Providence, Harvard and ourselves,” Owens said, “and look where they all are right now.”
CC is 3-5 overall and eighth in the WCHA at 1-5. Providence, the preseason favorite in Hockey East, is 4-5 overall and tied for third in the league. Harvard is 1-2-1 overall and tied for fourth in the ECAC.
No one said it was going to be easy.
A Statement Please
The WCHA schedule-maker was kind enough to allow Minnesota State-Mankato and North Dakota not two, but four opportunities to show the rest of the league that one of these teams will be in the WCHA race for the long run.
North Dakota? Yes, at the end of a bye week and nine games into its season, North Dakota hasn’t really stepped before the WCHA and shown that it has chosen a path for its season.
Or maybe that’s the way this season will go for the defending MacNaughton Cup champions. They play four straight games against Mankato — a week off in the middle of the two series — and probably need to win all four games to climb back into the race for first in the WCHA.
That’s not to say the Sioux couldn’t make up ground later in the season — don’t rule out anything happening in North Dakota — but they can’t afford to fall much more behind the league leaders.
“I’m not really concerned about that,” Sioux coach Dean Blais said. “I just want to play better.”
The Mavericks are in the same situation. They’re 5-5 overall but just 2-4 in the WCHA. Their tough upcoming schedule provides the perfect opportunity to show the league they’re in the race for the top five for good.
“Hopefully we can clean up a few of the mistakes and keep progressing because I do think we’ve gotten better since we opened up in Bemidji,” Jutting said. “I think the team has progressed each and every week and we’re going to have to keep doing that if we’re going to have a chance to do anything at all in the league.”
The One Thing That Is Working
It’s an unfortunate thing for a hockey coach when the best thing working for your team is the penalty kill.
Not that the kill isn’t an essential part of the game or anything. But, when you think about it, you get in that position because you’re being penalized.
At Colorado College, you can just call it making the best of a bad situation. The Tigers have killed 40 of 42 shorthanded chances this season, including all 12 against the heralded St. Cloud State power play last weekend.
They’ve scored four shorthanded goals, double the amount they’ve allowed while in the man disadvantage. One of those was Mark Cullen’s game-winner last Saturday.
If only CC could build around the penalty-kill units.
“It’s just one of those supplementary things that helps your team,” Owens said. “Obviously, it helped us win a game [last] weekend against the No. 1 team in the country because we were able to keep them 0-for-12.
“When you’re struggling scoring, you need to be looking for some things, in a sense, to rally around. I think our penalty killing has been [that].”
A strong penalty kill is fine and dandy, but the Tigers are going to need some goals — soon — to get out of the WCHA doldrums. They don’t get the chance this weekend — a series against Clarkson is on the schedule instead — but the WCHA calendar is a bit more friendly from here on.
“It’s just a matter of us continuing to work. Five out of six of our WCHA games have been on the road, and against teams that are rated 3, 3 and 1,” Owens said. “That’s not an easy thing to do. We play somebody not rated in the top three and we win 3-0, 7-1. We’re close. We’re getting there. Saturday was a huge step in the right direction. The only question that remains is, did we put ourselves in too big of a hole?”
Owens hit the nail on the head. That is the $64,000 question for the Tigers, holders of tremendous preseason expectations and one of the most potent offenses in the WCHA — if it ever gets started.
First place may be out of the Tigers’ reach, but that doesn’t mean CC has to pack it in for the season.
“I think, realistically, unless we go on just an absolute tear, first place is going to be tough,” Owens said. “Second place might be tough. When you’ve got five losses already and some tough games coming up, it’s certainly tough. Our league is so strong and if we can have success in the nonconference games, there’s no reason to think that we can’t be a top-five team in the league and also be in the NCAA tournament.”
Nate Anderson returned to action last weekend for Minnesota-Duluth, and fellow center Luke Stauffacher may be next to come back.
Anderson missed six games with an injured knee. Stauffacher has missed the last two weeks with a broken wrist. Sandelin said it’s possible Stauffacher could play this weekend at Minnesota with a playing cast.
Scott Kabotoff appears to be settling into the role as Wisconsin’s top goaltender.
At the same time, he hasn’t allowed Bernd Bruckler another chance to get back in the mix.
Kabotoff, a junior who backed up Graham Melanson in his first two seasons, earned league defensive player of the week honors this week after allowing two goals in two games against Duluth last weekend.
Kabotoff was viewed by some as the favorite in the race for the top spot because of his experience in at least having seen the WCHA teams play, if only from the bench. But Bruckler was expected to give him a run.
Thus far, though, Bruckler has played in only two games, and Kabotoff has played well enough to earn his starts.
“He’s playing with probably more mental toughness than anything,” Sauer said. “He’s a good goaltender; our biggest concern was how he was going to react to the pressure of the situation, and he’s done very well. He’ll be in the goal again Friday night [at home against Michigan Tech], and hopefully he continues to play the way he is.”
Minnesota’s Johnny Pohl got the WCHA’s offensive player of the week award for his four-point series against Mankato last weekend, but another stat further shows his value to the Gophers.
Pohl was 36-13 on faceoffs against the Mavericks. It’s not a stat that’s quoted by many or even kept officially by some, but it shows Pohl’s proficiency all over the ice.
From the Archives
You know Denver is doing well when it can boast of topping its 1960-61 team.
That squad went 30-1-1 and won the national championship. Still, it didn’t have the start that this year’s Pioneers team has.
Denver is 8-0 to open this season. The 1960-61 team only won its first five before losing at Michigan Tech.
In case you were wondering, the only tie of that season was against the Moose Jaw Pla-Mors. Now that’s a nickname.
Much At Stake
Wisconsin’s Sauer views this weekend’s Badgers-Michigan Tech series as more than just your normal Badgers-Michigan Tech series.
“This is the only time we play them this year, so it’s really like an eight-point series,” Sauer said. “If you can beat them twice and put them behind you in the standings, they’re behind you all the way unless they beat you in number of points at the end of the year.”
More big news this week in the Clay “Woodrow” Wilson update. A week after scoring his first two collegiate goals in a tie with Minnesota, the Michigan Tech freshman defenseman was nominated for the WCHA’s defensive player of the week award.
Wilson added an assist last Friday to his two goals for the season, giving him three points in eight games.
He Said It
“We know that we’re not going to win the WCHA with 10 freshmen in the lineup. That’s ridiculous. But if we can get better and improve and then be dangerous in the second half, watch out. Things could happen.”
— North Dakota coach Dean Blais.