This Week In The WCHA: Feb. 7, 2002

The Public Reprimand

To those who say the WCHA’s public reprimand of Alaska-Anchorage and Wisconsin for the brawl after last Saturday’s game was a slap on the wrist, league commissioner Bruce McLeod will kindly disagree.

“Some people think, well, you didn’t do anything,” McLeod said. “This is more than the normal, behind-the-scenes taking care of business. This is a public thing and it hurts.”

Reprimands take place all the time. Few ever hear about them because they’re normally done in private. The league sends a coach or a school a note to say it disapproves of something.

Almost never, however, does the league send a fax to the media to announce it. This was one of those extreme cases.

Six players got fighting majors and game disqualifications after a fracas developed at the end of Saturday’s game in Madison, Wis. There were 26 penalties called after the horn, resulting in 118 penalty minutes.

“It was really important to set that it’s completely unacceptable,” McLeod said of the need to send a message to the Badgers, the Seawolves and the league as a whole.

“It gives all of us a black eye — collegiate hockey, the league, the institutions, the coaches, the players, everybody.”

McLeod noted that Wisconsin and UAA were spared larger penalties by being “proactive” in handling the situation — by showing that they were embarrassed by it and by talking with the players about it.

The commissioner, who solicited advice from Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna and former WCHA commissioner Otto Breitenbach, considered suspending Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer and UAA coach John Hill for a game each for a “lack of control.”

Indeed, this was no normal week around the WCHA home office.

The Stretch Run

What do we know about the way the WCHA is going to shape up at the end of the regular season, just four weekends away? Not as much as you might think.

Precious little is actually clinched at this point. Here are (smart-aleck) answers to some questions:

So who’s going to win the MacNaughton Cup, anyway? Ask after the Denver-St. Cloud State series on Feb. 22-23.

OK. Who’s not going to win the MacNaughton Cup? That’s an easier one. There are five teams that have been officially eliminated from championship contention. Others may have packed it in, but only five — Michigan Tech, Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, Alaska-Anchorage and Minnesota State-Mankato — are mathematically out of it.

What’s it going to take to get a home-ice spot for the first round of the playoffs? One more point than the sixth-place team.

All right, smart guy. Who’s not going to have home ice for the first round of the playoffs? Surprisingly, no one has yet been eliminated from holding a top-five spot, by the numbers. The team to watch right now is fifth-place Wisconsin, with 22 points. Tenth-place Michigan Tech can finish with 24 points by winning out; ninth-place Minnesota-Duluth can end with 25 points by doing the same. Tech will be eliminated from home-ice contention with a net loss of three points with Wisconsin (combination of Wisconsin winning points and Tech losing points). Duluth will be eliminated with a net loss of four points with Wisconsin.

Did I really need to know all that? Isn’t it a foregone conclusion that Tech and Duluth are going to be on the road for the first round? Do you ever really know with this league?

So who’s going to be at home for the playoffs then? It appears that only Denver has an upper-level finish wrapped up at this point. There are enough games left that St. Cloud, Colorado College, Minnesota and Wisconsin could all take great falls.

What’s your prediction, then? The only thing I’m sure of is at this point is that the over/under on the number of bags of minidonuts I’ll take down combined at the Xcel Energy Center this postseason is seven.

The Wait Is Over; Now He Waits

If T.J. Caig was going to have to sit out a year of collegiate hockey, Scott Sandelin said, this is the way to do it.

Maybe that’s just a positive spin the Minnesota-Duluth coach is putting on the NCAA’s decision that Caig would be punished for playing in a Tier I exhibition with a one-year ban and a loss of one year and one game of eligibility.

But it’s the reality with which Caig and the Bulldogs must live. Caig will be eligible to play starting Dec. 28 against Union.

“If you’re going to sit a year, the best way to do it is the way it’s going to happen,” Sandelin said. “Not being here a full year, you have a summer to break it up. The reality is, we’ve only got a little over a month, month and a half of hockey left anyway … then you’ve got school, school’s done, then you have your summer, come back and you have a little over two months, then you play.”

Sure, piece of cake, right?

‘A Matter Of Perspective’

Look at it one way, Michigan Tech coach Mike Sertich will tell you, and the Huskies are in last place in the WCHA.

Always the jester, though, Sertich is encouraging his players to start looking at things from another angle. Like, the bottom.

“Like I told ’em yesterday,” Sertich said Wednesday, “if you turn the paper upside down, we’re in first place. It’s a matter of perspective.”

The perspective from the way most college hockey fans read the standings isn’t very cheery for the Huskies. They’re 3-15-2, less than three weeks after sweeping Minnesota-Duluth in a series that looked like it could put Tech on an upswing.

This week is different for the Tech players. It’s Winter Carnival. It has historically been the highlight weekend of the season.

But for some added incentive against second-place St. Cloud State this weekend, Sertich said his players don’t have to look far.

“All we have to do is look at the standings,” he said, assuming he meant they should look at them right side up. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where we are and why we are.”

In short, they’re there because of a scoring offense that ranks last in the WCHA at 2.54 goals a game and a scoring defense that’s also last at 4.36 goals a game.

They’re last in every major statistical category except penalty minutes, in which they’re ninth.

Power play? Last. 7.1 percent. Ouch.

Penalty kill? Last. 72.6 percent. Double ouch.

Attitude? There’s no ranking for that, but Sertich indicated that it, too, needs to improve.

“We’ve got to win these games that we’ve been in the ballpark to win,” he said. “We’ve got to find ways to win rather than find ways to lose. I think we have to expect to win rather than think we’re going to lose. It’s just an attitude.”

Leadership? It’s coming right now from two sophomores and a freshman. Brett Engelhardt, with linemates Jon Pittis and first-year player Colin Murphy, is driving the Huskies’ offense.

“That’s an unfortunate state where we are, when you’ve got two sophomores and a freshman leading,” Sertich said.

That’s not a direct attack on anyone, but senior forwards Paul Cabana and Brad Patterson aren’t producing at the expected pace.

Patterson had 21 points last year; he has 10 (two goals) this season. Cabana had 15 goals last season; he has six this year.

“Without the contributions of your upperclassmen,” Sertich said, “it gets a little harder.”

As if it wasn’t hard enough.

Who’s Out?

Wisconsin’s defense takes a big hit from the DQ’s handed out last Saturday night in Madison. Brian Fahey and Jon Krall will be out for Friday night’s game at Colorado College. Also out is Badgers freshman forward Jake Heisler.

For Anchorage, Mike Scott and Vladimir Novak are out for Friday’s game against Minnesota State-Mankato. Gregg Zaporzan was originally charged with a DQ, but that penalty was rescinded and assessed to Martin Stuchlik after WCHA officials watched video of the brouhaha.

Kick Start To Nothing

The last time North Dakota and Minnesota got together, it looked like the Sioux were ready to make a run at the upper half of the WCHA.

Looks can be deceiving.

You might remember a four-goal Sioux third period in a 4-3 victory over the Gophers. You might remember that it was new goaltender Josh Siembida’s second win in a row and the team’s fifth in a row.

“That gave us a little bit of confidence going into the second half,” Sioux coach Dean Blais said.

But you’ll probably also remember that, starting with a Sunday night loss to the Gophers the next night, the Sioux didn’t win another game until last weekend. That was five games without a victory, doubly bad because it was their second such skid of the season.

The Sioux won’t win their fifth MacNaughton Cup in sixth years. It looks like they won’t even come close. But if they’re going to avoid finishing in eighth place, it’s time for them to show they’re not an eighth-place team. They host the Gophers this weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Blais said he hasn’t noticed a sense of urgency from his team about trying to climb the league ladder.

“We kind of thought we’d be here with 11 freshmen playing week in and week out,” Blais said. “Some of the games that we’ve won we probably shouldn’t have. I don’t think we’ve stolen a whole lot of games; I think the games we’ve won, we’ve deserved. It’s just a tough league. We don’t have the personnel that a Colorado College or a St. Cloud or a Minnesota has.”

Say it as many times as you want, in as many different ways; it’s still odd to hear that North Dakota is having trouble just competing with the rest of the WCHA.

Pan Stays South

Is this any way to settle a dispute?

Colorado College’s sweep of Denver last weekend tied the regular-season series at two games apiece. The Gold Pan, awarded annually to the winner of the season series, stays in Colorado Springs because the Pioneers failed to win it away from the Tigers.

All In The Power

In its three-game losing streak, Denver hasn’t scored a goal at even strength. The Pioneers have five power-play goals and two shorthanded goals.

Friday Fizzle

Those who wanted to blame goaltender Adam Hauser solely for Minnesota’s recent woes on Fridays got some bad news last weekend.

It’s not Hauser.

The Gophers lost 5-2 to Minnesota-Duluth last Friday — they’re 0-3-1 in their last four Friday games — but, for the first time in its winless Friday streak, Hauser wasn’t the goaltender of record.

Travis Weber allowed four goals on 17 shots and was pulled in the second period. It was Weber’s first loss of the season.

Largely In The Right Direction

Sandelin is one of many who didn’t quite know which direction Minnesota-Duluth was going two weeks ago.

His Bulldogs had just been swept by Michigan Tech, sinking his team into the depths of last place in the WCHA. One of the toughest parts of the schedule stared him right in the face.

But does anyone really know what to expect from UMD when it takes the ice?

“After the Tech weekend, I didn’t really know what direction we were going to go,” Sandelin said. “We tried not to make a big deal or dwell on it, focus on what’s ahead and I think our kids did a great job with that.”

Sure did. Two home wins — especially the Saturday game against the Seawolves — helped set up last Friday’s surprise 5-2 victory over Minnesota.

“Winning one [against UAA] would have been OK, but to come back and play an even better game Saturday — we played with a lot of confidence and carried that over last weekend,” Sandelin said. “It’s a funny thing. Confidence, you never know what triggers it.”

Had the Bulldogs not pulled out of the funk, they would most likely be facing an ominous outlook for this weekend’s series against Denver. While the Bulldogs still appear overmatched by the top-ranked Pioneers, do you ever know what to expect from UMD?

Colorado College might be the WCHA team no one wants to play right now, and deservedly so from its record in the last five weeks. But UMD’s unpredictability makes it an interesting draw for a series.

The Bulldogs have found that success, even in moderatation, can be invigorating.

“It’s just a better feeling, and winning is a big part of that,” Sandelin said. “It doesn’t get any easier this weekend.”

Eight In One

Sertich has been involved in some high-scoring games in his time as a college hockey coach. One that stands out was a 10-7 Minnesota victory over his Minnesota-Duluth team in late February 1999.

That game was 5-5 after the first period. So when his Michigan Tech squad rallied last Saturday from a 4-1 deficit against Minnesota State-Mankato to tie the game at 4 by the end of the first 20 minutes …

“I thought that’s where we were headed,” Sertich said.

As it turned out, that was the end of the scoring for the Huskies. The Mavericks’ B.J. Abel scored with eight seconds left in the second period and Justin Martin added an empty-netter with one second left in the third for the only other goals of the game.

Odd when a 6-4 game seems tame.

Hobey Hubbub

The Mark Hartigan-for-Hobey campaign got into full swing this week, when media members found materials in their e-mail inbox touting the St. Cloud State forward for college hockey’s top individual award.

St. Cloud State sports information director Tom Nelson said the mailing, which included a Hartigan profile and stats, was sent to about 150 people, including coaches, media members and school alumni and fans.

The Update Returns

We were advised this week that Michigan Tech freshman defenseman Clay Wilson gets a significant amount of ribbing from his teammates for being featured in this space.

Sorry, Woody.

Wilson — here known as “Woody” because he was described on a Huskies line chart early in the season as having the same last name as a U.S. president — hasn’t cracked the scoresheet with a goal since he scored two in a Nov. 3 game against Minnesota.

Woody has two goals and six assists for the season. His last assist came on Jan. 19, against Minnesota-Duluth.

Oh, and making up for lost time, did you know Woody asked Santa for a PlayStation 2 system for Christmas? He didn’t get it.

One Last Thought

In just two months, we’ll know the identity of the 2001-02 NCAA champion. Enjoy the ride.