A Learning Experience — Somewhat
What we learned from last weekend’s Denver-St. Cloud State series:
What we didn’t learn is the big thing: We still don’t know the identity of this year’s MacNaughton Cup champion.
Denver had it in its hands, up 2-1 after 40 minutes on Saturday, needing only a draw in the third period to get its hands on the Cup. Instead, it’s a one-weekend race. Denver, still with a one-point lead, is at North Dakota; St. Cloud State has a home-and-home series with bitter rival Minnesota.
The MacNaughton Cup isn’t the only thing that’s going to come down to the last weekend of the regular season. Any number of individual awards will be decided in the WCHA’s final games before the playoffs.
This is the last week players can make an impression on voters for the league’s major awards — player of the year, defensive player of the year, rookie of the year and coach of the year — as well as the first, second, third and rookie teams.
St. Cloud State’s Hartigan made a case for player of the year last Saturday night, scoring the game-winning goal at Denver, keeping the Huskies in the hunt for the championship. Don’t rule out Denver goalie Wade Dubielewicz, Johnny Pohl, a dominating force on Minnesota’s offense, or Pohl’s teammate, defenseman Jordan Leopold.
An issue with selecting Leopold as the player of the year might be that there’s already an award for the top defenseman. A defenseman hasn’t been named player of the year since 1998, when North Dakota’s Curtis Murphy won that award but not the defensive honor.
North Dakota’s Brandon Bochenski is a top candidate to be rookie of the year. He’s averaging over a point per game in WCHA play on a Sioux team that has struggled all season.
A pair of St. Cloud State players, Mike Doyle and Peter Szabo, could figure into the mix, as could Gophers defenseman Keith Ballard, the coaches’ preseason choice as top rookie.
Coach of the year should come down to either Denver’s George Gwozdecky or St. Cloud State’s Craig Dahl. Neither’s team was picked for the top three, but there they are.
In statistical titles, Hartigan has a two-point lead over Pohl for the WCHA scoring championship. With the Gophers and Huskies playing each other this weekend, each will know where the other stands.
Barring a Herculean weekend from any of a number of players that trail him, Hartigan will be the goalscoring champion. He has 22 goals in 26 games, putting him six goals ahead of a pack of players with two games left.
Likewise, Leopold is a shoo-in for the defenseman scoring title. He has 31 points, seven ahead of Alaska-Anchorage’s Matt Shasby, not a bad selection for the league’s first team.
Bochenski is three points clear at the top of the freshman scoring race. His 27 points lead Doyle and Szabo by three.
And Dubielewicz, who’s lost only two games all season, is all but assured of his second straight goaltending title. His 1.62 goals against average is more than a half-goal better than No. 2 Dean Weasler of St. Cloud State. His save percentage is .949, meaning in WCHA games, he stops just about 19 of every 20 pucks he sees.
How does a team humbled by one opponent one weekend do the same thing to another opponent the next?
The key word there is humbled. Yes, Alaska-Anchorage was a bit red in the face after its pair of losses at St. Cloud State two weekends ago.
By the time last weekend rolled around, they were red-hot.
The Seawolves cooled off Colorado College with a pair of one-goal victories in Anchorage, fueled by junior forward Petr Chytka.
Chytka, the USCHO forward of the week, scored three of UAA’s five goals, including both game-winners.
“I think it had something to do with St. Cloud the week before — we were embarrassed by our performance, so that was a factor,” Chytka told the Anchorage Daily News. “Now, we know that maybe we’re peaking.
“And this is the most important time to have confidence and be playing well. Maybe everyone woke up after the St. Cloud series and realized, ‘Hey, there’s not much time left in the season.'”
Now, there’s no time left in the Seawolves’ WCHA regular season. UAA, which hosts Alaska-Fairbanks this weekend, will finish at 24 points, double the output of last year.
The sweep of CC gives the Seawolves a lift right when they need it — before a series with in-state rival Fairbanks and before the WCHA playoffs.
“We haven’t played a better series all season,” Seawolves coach John Hill told the Daily News. “I can say we played six straight periods of solid hockey. I hope these guys realize what they can do when they all play, when they do all the little things.”
Taking A Tumble
Courtesy of two losses at Alaska-Anchorage last weekend, Colorado College now knows where it’ll finish in the WCHA, and has to be feeling a little less secure about what it’ll be doing the week after the Final Five.
The Tigers dropped from sixth to ninth in the Pairwise Rankings. They can’t afford to fall any further in the rankings. Only the top 10 teams in the Pairwise at selection time last year made the big dance because of automatic bids going to teams that were lower in the rankings.
Since there’s always a chance for surprises in the conference playoffs, that No. 9 spot is very close to the cutoff line.
As awful as it sounds for North Dakota fans, maybe eighth place won’t be so bad for the Sioux.
First of all, that would mean a Minnesota-North Dakota first-round series. If there’s one team the Sioux can fire up to play against, it’s the Gophers. And in Minneapolis, no less. The Sioux haven’t been able to beat Minnesota in Grand Forks in four tries, but they were a period away from a sweep at Mariucci.
Secondly, you have to think Sioux coach Dean Blais would use an eighth-place finish as a mental reminder to his team for the offseason.
Meanwhile, with two games left, no first-round matchup is set. Michigan Tech will finish 10th and play the MacNaughton Cup champion, either Denver or St. Cloud State. Minnesota-Duluth will finish ninth and play the team that comes up short of the silver trophy.
Minnesota will finish third and play the eighth-place team. Colorado College is locked into fourth, where they’ll host the seventh-place finisher.
First, second, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth positions are up in the air this weekend.
Denver defenseman Aaron MacKenzie and forward Lukas Dora are out for this weekend’s regular-season finale at North Dakota.
MacKenzie had surgery on a broken left wrist and will be out until at least two weekends, the Denver Post reported. The earliest he could return would be the March 14-16 WCHA Final Five.
Dora sprained his left knee and might be able to play in the Pioneers’ first-round playoff series.
In Case You’re Wondering
You asked: How do the final standings shake out if Minnesota State-Mankato, Alaska-Anchorage, Wisconsin and North Dakota all finish with 24 points?
The math goes something like this:
Using the first of the WCHA’s tiebreaking procedures, the teams are compared on head-to-head competition. Or, in this case, head-to-head-to-head-to-head competition.
Using a Pairwise-esque comparison, Alaska-Anchorage would finish fifth, with Mankato sixth, Wisconsin seventh and North Dakota eighth. Here’s how it shakes out:
Did you really want to talk about tiebreakers, or were you just making chit-chat?
In Case You’re Wondering, Part II
Things are a little simpler if a tiebreaker is needed between Denver and St. Cloud State.
It’s Denver. No ifs, ands or buts. Well, one but. If the teams finish the season with the same number of points, they’ll be co-champions, but Denver gets the top seed.
It could come down to the third tiebreaker, fewer goals against in the season series between the teams, but Denver wins that 7-6 after last weekend’s games.
The old language of the WCHA tiebreaker rules said that particular tiebreaker was only for comparing teams that played a four-game regular-season series, but that was amended to include those teams that played a two-game series.
Jeff Sauer and Wisconsin can consider themselves fortunate that they have gone winless in their last seven games, yet still can win their way into fifth place in the last weekend.
After a devastating overtime loss to Minnesota last Saturday night, the Badgers dropped a point behind the pace for fifth. With the teams ahead of them having exhausted WCHA games, though, the Badgers still have their fate in their hands with Minnesota-Duluth at the Kohl Center this weekend.
“Three weeks ago, somebody asked what would it take to get to this point,” Sauer told reporters this week. “At that point in time, I felt we were going to have to win certainly more games than we have ahead of us, but other people behind us have kind of helped us out along the way. Now, we’re at a point where we have to help ourselves. If we win a game, we’ll play Mankato in the first round of the playoffs.”
Add To The Ammo
The ranks of those in favor of using video replay on disputed goals may have gained a few new members in Colorado Springs last weekend.
In a 2-1 loss at Alaska-Anchorage last Friday night, Colorado College should have been credited with a tying goal with three minutes left, video replays show.
Seawolves goaltender Kevin Reiter swept a trickling puck out of the net after it had crossed the goal line. Neither the referee nor the goal judge saw it that way.
“That could have changed the complexion of the weekend,” CC coach Scott Owens told The Gazette of Colorado Springs. “But I’m not one to make a lot of excuses, and the bottom line is, we didn’t play well early, and they got a breath of confidence and an extra jump in their step, and they just fed off it.”
With two assists last weekend, Michigan Tech defenseman Clay “Woody” Wilson cracked the 10-point mark for his freshman season.
Wilson, who the Michigan Tech hockey notes will tell you is “featured weekly on USCHO.com,” has 11 points as a rookie.
Is it too early to start the Woody for Hobey 2005 campaign?