[Editor’s note: look for USCHO.com’s complete College Hockey Showcase preview Thursday afternoon.]
At this time of the year, we all start to think a little bit about what means the most to us — our families, our jobs, our security.
College hockey coaches are no different. They’re certainly thankful for what they have away from the rink. What, however, are they thankful for with their teams?
Here’s what some of the WCHA coaches had to say this week:
Craig Dahl, St. Cloud State: “I’d probably have to say goaltending. The emergence of our two goaltenders, filling the skates of Scott Meyer. That’s probably been our biggest key.”
John Hill, Alaska-Anchorage: “I am probably most thankful for our guys’ attitude and work ethic. And I sincerely mean that. A coaching change brings on a number of changes for players, and I think that our guys have responded on a daily basis with a real good attitude and a real strong work ethic. And I’m grateful for that as a coach because I don’t have to wonder every day what we’re going to get out of our guys.”
Dean Blais, North Dakota: “We’re certainly thankful here in Grand Forks, N.D., for Engelstad Arena and the fine weather. We always get bad-mouthed for our lousy weather here in Grand Forks, and it’s been 50, 60 out here heading into December. Once you get weather like that, you have to be thankful.”
Don Lucia, Minnesota: “I am most thankful for the quality of the kids we have in our program right now. They’re fun to coach and be around each and every day. I’m also thankful that Jordan Leopold came back for his senior year.”
George Gwozdecky, Denver: “Probably their selfless attitude. That is paying off just by not only the work they’ve done but the willingness they have to sacrifice for one another. Whether it was the six months prior to the season or the season so far, I think it’s one of the reasons we have such great balance. I don’t think anyone is overly concerned about individual stats, and I think that’s a very healthy attitude.”
Jeff Sauer, Wisconsin: “I think probably the most thankful thing is the way our defense and goaltending has developed early in the season. That was a question mark we had over the summer, that was a question mark for the coaching staff. All off a sudden, it’s blossomed into a pretty solidified unit, and we’re pleased about that.”
Minnesota State-Mankato isn’t looking for goaltenders anymore. At this point, the Mavericks will take anyone who’s just good at getting in the way.
Jon Volp became the latest injury casualty last weekend, suffering a hamstring injury and joining top goalie Eric Pateman on the shelf.
Third-stringer Jason Jensen was the only healthy goaltender, and got the job done in a 2-2 tie with North Dakota last Saturday.
Pateman, scheduled to have season-ending shoulder surgery soon, was dressed as Jensen’s backup. Mankato coach Troy Jutting considered having freshman forward Rick Kisskeys suit up as a goalie.
So if you’re reading this on the Mankato campus, have some NCAA eligibility left in you and have played goaltender in your life, Jutting would probably be interested in hearing from you.
Bring your pads, too.
On Wednesday, the Mavericks announced that Erik Gilbertson, a member of the school’s club team, was added to the roster.
Staying the Course
Why mess with something that’s working? In other words, why should Dahl mess with a goaltender rotation that has yielded impressive results?
Trick question. There is no good reason.
Dahl said he plans to rotate Dean Weasler and Jake Moreland “as long as I can.
“It’s good for us and I think it’s good for them,” Dahl said. “Both of them have had knee problems in the past, so the less they have to play it’s probably better.”
Weasler is 6-0 for the Huskies; Moreland is 5-1.
Faces in the Crowd
The Michigan Tech team is scheduled to attend the Thanksgiving Day NFL game between the Packers and the Lions in Pontiac, Mich., while on its way to Detroit for this weekend’s non-conference series against Wayne State.
Note to the Huskies: Don’t take any hints from watching the Lions.
Staying in There
Hill and his Alaska-Anchorage team had a talk this week about his team’s morale, in which the coach reinforced to his players that they are playing well.
While that may not be translating into victories for the Seawolves (they’re 2-6-2), it’s an important reminder for a team in a building stage.
“The only thing I could say to the guys is it’s not how you start the year, it’s how you finish,” Hill said. “If we continue to work, we’re going to have some successes as the year winds down, and that’s when you want to have it, at the end of the year.”
The Seawolves found themselves tied at two with St. Cloud State in the third period of both games at Sullivan Arena last weekend. The Huskies pulled away for 5-2 and 4-2 victories.
“They found a way to win, and I think that’s something that a team that has had success, they feel on their bench,” Hill said. “For our guys, I think it’s maybe the opposite. Even though we’ve had some come-from-behind wins this year, we’ve lost some games in the third period as well.”
Home for the Holiday
The idea of returning home from Alaska and immediately preparing for a WCHA series, maybe even a series against No. 1 Minnesota, doesn’t really appeal that much to Dahl.
Good thing, then, that his Huskies will take a weekend off before next weekend’s big home-and-home series with the Gophers.
“The trip to Alaska is always a tough trip. The fact that we don’t have to play afterwards is really good,” Dahl said. “Coming off back to back games with North Dakota and Colorado, and then the tough trip to Anchorage, [the week off] couldn’t come at a better time, really.”
Keeping Eyes Open
You just never know what faces are going to turn up down the road. That’s as good a reason as any for a team to pay close attention to its opponent when playing a non-conference game.
— Denver coach George Gwozdecky, whose Pioneers look to continue that success in New Hampshire.
For Denver this weekend, a Sunday evening game at New Hampshire in the Wildcats’ tournament is a perfect example. For all they know, the Pioneers could get matched up with UNH in the first round of the NCAA tournament if both teams make the field.
Plus, winning non-conference games never hurts in that old Pairwise Rankings down the road.
“We all know that our non-conference games are critical not only for us to gain strength for postseason play but it’s very critical for our league,” Gwozdecky said. “One of the reasons we were able to gain five teams into the NCAA tournament last year was the strength of our non-conference play. We’re 25-6-1 at this point of the early part of the season against non-conference competition, which says an awful lot about the strength of our league.”
Let ‘Er Rip
Matt Shasby is one of those players that really thinks about which shots he’s going to take, maybe even to the point that he thinks too much about it.
Last weekend, the junior defenseman ended a 27-game streak in which he hadn’t scored a goal, finding the back of the net in both games against St. Cloud State.
“Matt’s a little reluctant to shoot the puck, and I’m hoping this will reinforce to him that when you have an opportunity to take a shot, let it go,” Hill said. “Don’t be overselective, don’t always look to pass.”
Michigan Tech forward Paul Cabana and Wisconsin forward Kent Davyduke were each given game disqualification penalties for fighting last Saturday night in Madison.
Both players will miss their team’s Friday game this weekend — Tech’s at Wayne State and Wisconsin’s at Michigan State.
For the Badgers, it’s the second player to earn a DQ in two weekends. Erik Jensen was ejected for his fight with Minnesota-Duluth’s Steve Rodberg two weeks ago.
Back to What Works
This weekend, Minnesota-Duluth returns to what has worked this season: playing non-conference games.
The Bulldogs are 4-0 outside the WCHA this year, with wins over Nebraska-Omaha, Michigan and a pair over Rensselaer.
This weekend’s schedule has UMD traveling to Marquette, Mich., for a series against Northern Michigan.
Add to the Totals
The Clay “Woodrow” Wilson update has been all about consistency recently. Wilson, the Michigan Tech freshman defenseman, had an assist on Tech’s lone goal last weekend at Wisconsin.
That brings his point total to four — two goals and two assists, tying him for sixth on the Huskies.
“Woody” was also nominated for the WCHA’s rookie of the week award, which was won by Colorado College goaltender Curtis McElhinney.