This Week in the WCHA: Oct. 24, 2002

It’s a Family Affair

In the grand scheme of things, it’s only one game — one nonconference game on a weekend when the WCHA opens its conference schedule, no less.

But the infrequency with which a father coaches against his sons in college hockey makes Friday’s Wisconsin-Boston College game an attention-grabber.

Mike Eaves gets that chance against sons Ben and Patrick, and he knows it might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“This may never happen again, this type of situation where I’m coaching against both boys,” Eaves said. “The grandparents are coming out. We’re going to have fun with it.”

This isn’t a situation that comes up often. Minnesota’s Doug Woog coached son Steve Woog, who played at Northern Michigan in the early 1990s. Joe Bertagna, Hockey East commissioner and an encyclopedia of college hockey knowledge, could confirm only one other father-son matchup: Army coach Jack Riley went up against son Rob of Boston College in the mid-to-late 1970s.

The last time they met, in the 1977-78 season, Rob Riley was BC’s captain. That Ben Eaves is the Eagles’ captain this season makes the connection that much more surreal.

The Wisconsin coach has a pretty good idea of what to expect from Ben and Patrick on Friday. When asked for a scouting report on his kids, Mike Eaves said some of their best traits are that they have a great understanding of the game and its nuances, and that they’re both pretty competitive.

Sounds a little like Dad.

“That’s part of who they are,” Mike Eaves said. “Naturally, their environment is going to affect them a little bit, but I think the competitiveness is a part of who they are. The skill level is a genetic thing from both sides of the family. The understanding of the game may be part of the genetic thing, too — they have the ability to learn, and take what they learn and apply it.”

And Mom gets left in the middle. Beth Eaves has gotten the OK from her husband to cheer for the boys, but jokingly was reminded to root for the team in red when the boys aren’t on the ice.

A compromise: Ben and Patrick each get a goal or two, but the Badgers still win.

“That would be an ideal world,” Mike Eaves said. “But time will tell.”

Down Times

Credit the WCHA for still publicizing its nonconference record even after it’s taken a fall.

Three weeks into the season, the league has won only half of the nonleague games its teams have played. It’s 15-11-4 outside its ranks a season after a sparkling 56-24-2 record.

There have been tough opponents on the schedule early for WCHA teams, in particular those from Hockey East. But is this an early sign that the league isn’t as strong as it has been in the last two seasons?

We’ll see in April.

The Wounded

St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl got a call on Tuesday from former Huskies defenseman and NHLer Bret Hedican of the Carolina Hurricanes.

“I told him, ‘I could use a swift-skating right D for a few weeks,'” Dahl said. “‘Think your club would loan you out?'”

Sadly for the Huskies, Hedican’s about 10 years removed from having any collegiate eligibility.

St. Cloud could use an infusion of defensive bodies — preferably the non-injured kind. Because of injuries and ineligibilities, the Huskies were without five of their top six defensemen last weekend.

Bye weekends early in the season often are unwanted because once teams start up, they’d like to keep going. If ever a bye weekend was welcomed by a hockey team, however, it was last weekend for Dahl and the Huskies.

“Initially, you don’t like to have a bye week the second week of the season,” Dahl said, “but in our case it turned out to be the perfect week. It allowed us to gain a week of healing on [Jeff] Finger and [Ryan] LaMere and [Matt] Gens. Hopefully that time will give at least two of the three a chance to get in the game.”

The Huskies’ defensive six against Ferris State two weeks ago contained three freshmen: T.J. McElroy, Greg Tam and Tim Conboy.

“The silver lining is, those freshmen got a lot of opportunities to play in a lot of different situations,” Dahl said. “Yes, they made mistakes, but it’s a chance to learn right away.”

Building a Home

North Dakota was only 7-9-1 at the new Ralph Engelstad Arena last season, something coach Dean Blais foreshadowed early in the year. The Sioux could get away with it because the new building was the focus for the fans.

Now that the attention is back on the team, it’s time for the Sioux to make REA a tough place for opponents to win.

They knocked off Manitoba 6-1 in an exhibition game there Tuesday night, but the real deal is Friday, when they start a weekend series with Niagara.

After this weekend, the Sioux go on the road for two straight weeks. But then, they’ll get a chance to go on a run if they can win at home. Starting Nov. 15, they play 14 straight games at the new Ralph, 10 of them WCHA games.

That means they’ll be on the road for most of the second half, crystallizing the importance of getting the wins at home early.

The Emergence?

To Mike Sertich, lost in the shuffle of a 34-hour round-trip bus ride, scoring 11 goals on the weekend and a successful series against St. Lawrence was one player’s big break.

Bryan Perez’s six-point weekend showed the Michigan Tech coach the sophomore is ready to make a significant contribution to the Huskies.

“We need that. We need a kid like him to come to the front,” Sertich said.

“Just talking to him Saturday night on the way home, I think he realizes what we want him to do now, and how important his fitness level is. He took it upon himself to do that. I think he saw, as a result of that, he was able to do some things that maybe he wasn’t able to do a year ago.”

Perez had 16 points last season, but had higher expectations from some, considering the good amount of ice time he logged, being an NHL draft pick and having played on a USA Hockey select junior team.

The Huskies are desperate for a lineup of scorers to produce on a consistent basis, and if Perez can do that, they’re one step closer.

With its production last weekend, Tech’s offense got in the right frame of mind to start the WCHA schedule against Minnesota this weekend. They may have to score big to stay competitive.

Brett Engelhardt had two goals in each game as the Huskies beat St. Lawrence 7-1 on Friday and earned a 4-4 tie on Saturday by rallying for the tying goal with 23 seconds left.

“We scored 11 goals on the weekend. That was probably a month last year,” Sertich said. “We scored a couple shorthanded goals and we didn’t have any last year. “We did a pretty good job defending the power play, which we had trouble with last year.

“There’s a lot of little things that happened that can boost a team’s confidence. We understand that St. Lawrence isn’t Minnesota, but St. Lawrence isn’t a slouch, either.”

One-Line Wonders

Minnesota State-Mankato has to prove it has more than one line of offense to get by this season. While it showed last weekend against Providence that its power play could be effective, not much else materialized for the Mavericks’ offense.

Three of the Mavs’ four goals in their season-opening weekend were scored while they were up a man. Grant Stephenson and Cole Bassett each had two goals, but they were expected to do the scoring this season.

The Mavericks will need some depth to emerge as time goes on. A home-and-home series with St. Cloud State this weekend would be a fine time, but this could take some time to develop.

Four freshman forwards played for Mankato last weekend, and it’s likely that’ll continue as coach Troy Jutting looks for a lineup that’ll consistently produce goals.

But with a November schedule that includes series against Minnesota, North Dakota and another with St. Cloud State, they have to be careful not to let this season get away from them early.

Saturday Morning Workout

A pair of WCHA coaches used last Saturday’s morning skate to send a message.

Alaska-Anchorage coach John Hill reportedly put his players through a tough half-hour workout in a session that is usually a casual skatearound. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the motivation for such a move: The Seawolves had a lackluster performance in a 2-2 tie with Iona last Friday in the Nye Frontier Classic.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s Eaves took three upperclassmen out of his lineup for the second game of a series against Alabama-Huntsville. Junior John Eichelberger and seniors Mark Jackson and Brian Fahey also spent an extra hour Saturday morning working with the coaching staff.

Eaves has shown he’s a stickler for players doing what’s expected of them in practice and in games, and this may have been a way to tell the team no one’s lineup spot is safe.

“It is a message to everybody,” Eaves said. “I think it shows what our philosophy is going to be and the fact that the people that are playing well and are playing the way we need them to play are going to be in the lineup. It’s a hard lesson for the older guys because in many cases it’s hard for them to make changes because they have ingrained habits. But it’s a healthy thing to do, and in the long run it’s going to serve us.”

Wearing the “C” Well

The reaction to being named captain can go any number of ways on the ice. Colorado College senior defenseman Tom Preissing seems to be handling it well.

Preissing followed up his hat trick performance of opening night with three more goals last weekend. Through four games, he has equalled his career high in goals for a season, set in each of the last two seasons.

Of his six goals, five have come on the power play, where he has emerged as a big threat largely because of the confidence he’s displaying.

Whether that’s an effect of having the “C” on his uniform or not, it’s showing CC coach Scott Owens that Preissing is maturing well.

“He just seems to be shooting the puck with so much more confidence this year,” Owens said. “Maybe being a year older or being a senior or being the captain, I’m not sure. … He’s just got a lot of confidence in that right now, and he seems to be getting it at the right time.”

That’s something the Tigers could use more of, so to have their captain leading the charge could do wonders for the younger players. They didn’t allow a goal last weekend, suggesting Preissing also is doing a fair job in organizing the defense.

“Everyone deals with [the captaincy] differently, and I think he’s dealt with it real well,” Owens said. “It’s something we’ve desperately needed here, being so young.”

On The Shelf

  • At Denver, forward Jon Foster and defenseman Brett Skinner are nursing knee sprains suffered last Friday at Boston College. Both missed last Saturday’s game at Northeastern and are out for this weekend’s nonconference series with Alabama-Huntsville.
  • At Colorado College, freshman forward Joey Crabb could be back in one to two weeks after suffering a first-degree shoulder separation last Saturday. He’s already been ruled out for this weekend.
  • At St. Cloud State, three defensemen are hurting. Injuries to juniors Jeff Finger (hand) and Ryan LaMere (shoulder) and sophomore Matt Gens (abdomen) have the Huskies reeling on the blue line. With perhaps only five healthy defensemen, it’s likely someone will have to play injured. Finger and LaMere may be able to play this weekend against Minnesota State.

    Also, SCSU forward Jonathan Lehun has joined practice after missing the first month with a stress fracture in a leg.

  • At Wisconsin, the hits keep coming for Dan Boeser. He battled non-Hodgkins lymphoma over the summer to be ready for the season, and three games in, he suffered a broken hand. Boeser, who hadn’t missed a Badgers game in his two seasons in Madison entering this fall, may be out up to a month.
  • At Minnesota, the surgery on ligament damage in Grant Potulny’s left leg was called successful. The Gophers captain is expected to miss three to four months, much longer than the six weeks estimated when the injury was only a broken leg. The damage was discovered last week, and Potulny underwent surgery last Thursday.

    In Other Words

    Sophomore defenseman Clay Wilson scored the first goal in Michigan Tech’s 7-1 win over St. Lawrence last Friday. … The average game time for WCHA teams has been 2 hours, 11 minutes, the league announced. That’s down about 10 minutes from last season, thanks largely to the fast faceoffs. … Tickets for the March 1 Michigan Tech-Wisconsin game in Green Bay, Wis., sold out in a matter of hours when they were opened to the general public. … Having sat out a year and two games for playing in Canadian Tier I games, [nl]Colby Genoway is now available to play for North Dakota. … Curtis McElhinney will start in goal Friday night for Colorado College at UMD. Who’ll start Saturday night is up in the air. … CC senior goalie Gian Baldrica made his first collegiate start last Saturday against Iona and made it memorable: 13 saves for a shutout. He has never allowed a goal in three appearances at CC.

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