Question of the day: Is (insert WCHA team) as far along as it should be by this point of the season?
Answer of the day: It depends who you ask, and it depends on what the greater goal is. (How’s that for coach-speak?)
For instance, George Gwozdecky and his Denver team have their eyes a lot higher than do, say, Troy Jutting and Minnesota State-Mankato. Therefore, it’s easier for Jutting to say, yeah, our team is where it should be despite an 0-3-1 record. Gwozdecky surely would prefer to answer those questions with a national championship trophy in his hands.
It’s only a few weeks into the season, but we’re inquisitive. So, with the help of some of the league’s coaches, here are the answers to the question above:
“I’m comfortable with where we’re at,” coach Scott Owens said. “To be honest, our record [4-1-1] is a little bit better than I thought it would be with nine freshmen and two sophomores that haven’t played much.
“I don’t think we’re behind the learning curve; I think we’re right at it. I don’t think we’re way ahead of it other than the fact that maybe our overall record as a team is a little bit better.”
“The six nonconference games that we’ve played have at least identified areas of our team that are relatively incomplete,” Gwozdecky said. “Did I expect that? I think so. … I think we’re, in a sense, still establishing an identity for ourselves.”
Coach Mike Sertich said he couldn’t answer the question because his team is so young and he didn’t form an opinion on where he hoped it would be at this time. He did admit, however, that he’s pleased with the progress the Huskies have made so far.
“We’re different than we were two weeks ago,” Sertich said.
At this point in the season, they’re probably a yes, but continual success will continue to elude them until they take the step that helps them win close games.
“When I look at our team right now, in some ways, we’re where I thought we would be,” Lucia said. “I think our freshmen have come in and contributed, maybe even moreso than I thought. What’s going to be a real key for us is we have to get more production from some of our veterans.”
“I think we’ve gotten better every game, which is something that we knew we’d have to do with a young team,” Jutting said. “In terms of what I expected and where I expect us to be, I’d like to score a few more goals than we have — we’ve had two games where we’ve had 40 shots on net and scored one goal and another where we had 31 shots on net and scored one goal.”
But Mike Eaves knew there was going to be a lot of learning going on at Wisconsin, so he can say yes, his team is where he thinks it should be in conditioning, work ethic and understanding of new systems. The next step, Eaves said, is to work on that consistency problem.
One More in the Rafters
Don Lucia hopes this banner ceremony goes better than the first he witnessed as Minnesota’s coach.
The Gophers will celebrate last season’s national championship on Friday by unveiling a banner in the rafters of Mariucci Arena.
In his first game as Gophers coach, Lucia watched as Maine attempted to drop its 1999 national championship banner from the ceiling at Alfond Arena. No dice — the banner didn’t unroll.
The Gophers’ ceremony, before a nonconference game against Alabama-Huntsville, is sure to summon memories of Grant Potulny’s game-winning goal against the Black Bears last April. But it won’t exactly be complete without those players who aren’t with the team anymore but played a big role in last season’s team.
“It’s a special moment, but it probably means more to the fans,” Lucia said. “It’s too bad you can’t do it last spring when the team is together. You’re raising the banner based on what happened last year, not what’s going on this year.”
Television coverage is planned at the start of Friday’s broadcast on Fox Sports Net North (Minnesota).
No Slacking Off
It would have been easy for Mike Eaves to skip that 7:45 a.m. Badminton class at Wisconsin in the 1970s, but he didn’t. That’s one of the things that showed Gwozdecky that Eaves was serious about everything he does.
Eaves and Gwozdecky were teammates at Wisconsin, even linemates for a few games in Eaves’ freshman season, 1974-75. This weekend, they’ll be on opposite benches at the Kohl Center.
“There’s no question that he was extremely diligent with everything he approached: his hockey, his school, even his social life,” Gwozdecky said of Eaves, with whom he won the 1977 NCAA championship at Wisconsin. “He really was as focused as an athlete could be during those years on his hockey and his school.”
For his part, Eaves remembers Gwozdecky more for the spark he provided on the ice. Gwozdecky had 43 points in 96 games from 1973 to 1977.
“George was a little buzzsaw,” said Eaves, who had a slightly higher total of 267 points in 160 games from 1974 to 1978. “He could really skate and he created energy by running into people and he’d get the crowd going in the game.”
That energy from Gwozdecky and diligence from Eaves apparently carried over to the classroom. The Denver coach said he and Eaves often were selected to demonstrate activities in their physical education classes.
And some of the characteristics Eaves is trying to instill in his Badgers players now — following the system and having a tremendous work ethic to name a couple — were evident when he roamed the Madison campus.
“Could I envision in those days that he would be a coach or I was going to be a coach? No,” Gwozdecky said. “But you could really see the focus he had and the tremendous desire he had to be the best player in the league. There weren’t too many practices that I recall where Mike didn’t give everything he had. He was a hard worker, he was a talented athlete, he was a very good student-athlete.”
Maybe we’ll just start telling you when Zach Parise doesn’t get a hat trick.
Through four games in his collegiate career, the North Dakota freshman phenom has two hat tricks, eight goals and 13 points.
The cynic would point out that those three-goal specials came against Canisius of the MAAC and Niagara of CHA. At this rate, however, Parise likely will make that cynic eat his words when the Sioux finally start their WCHA schedule.
5 for the Road
Minnesota State-Mankato likely will be better off for falling behind 5-0 last Friday at St. Cloud State.
Trust Jutting on this one.
The Mavericks undoubtedly will find themselves down a few goals plenty of times between now and the rest of the season. After rallying to tie the Huskies last weekend, what’s stopping them from rallying from any other deficit?
That Mankato lost that game 6-5 in overtime had to be disheartening, but the rally just to get there almost makes up for it.
“Friday night, the first period we were horrible. We couldn’t have been any worse than we were, probably,” Jutting said. “While you never like to go down 5-0, it’s good to have a game early in the season where you have to battle back and you have to battle through some adversity, and especially if you can do it like we did.
“Granted, losing that game in overtime after battling all the way back hurts a little bit, but it also gives the kids a sense of confidence that, ‘Hey, we’re not out of any game. If we keep playing hard and keep doing the things that we’re capable of doing, we can get ourselves back in a game.'”
Late League Starters
Blais is just fine with not having a WCHA game through the first three weeks of North Dakota’s season. As he sees it, it’s all the more time to work out the early-season bugs with no points on the line.
Next weekend, the Sioux will be the last team with a WCHA opener, playing at St. Cloud State. By that time, they’ll have played six nonconference games and an exhibition.
“I think that’s the way it should be,” Blais said. “Just because you can experiment with your lineup. Everyone wants to win, but if you should happen to lose because of not [having] the right combination of players or personnel where they should be, it’s not that devastating.
“It’s intense, but it’s not as intense as the regular season. Certainly, you’re going to be intense any time you put on a jersey, but it just gives you more time to experiment and see how everything’s working. If you should happen to not perform well, it’s not as devastating as those 28 league games.”
On The Shelf
“I’ve always said, you can go without your key guys for a week or two. The longer you have to go without them, the more it has an impact,” Lucia said. “The good thing is, it should strengthen our team for the second half of the year, when it becomes even more important. We just have to hang in there.”
“As soon as the guys were injured, we thought we’ve lost them for a good duration of time,” Gwozdecky said. “At this point in time, it looks like the injuries were severe but not as severe as we thought they were going to be.”
In Other Words
Eight former WCHA players currently based in Europe have been selected for the U.S. team to play in the Deutschland Cup Nov. 8-10 in Hanover, Germany. They are: defenseman Brett Hauer (Minnesota-Duluth) and Nick Naumenko (North Dakota); and forwards Mark Beaufait (Northern Michigan), Brian Bonin (Minnesota), Kelly Fairchild (Wisconsin), Pat Mikesch (Michigan Tech), Derek Plante (UMD) and Chris Tancill (UW). … WCHA weekly award winners were Denver’s Kevin Doell on offense, Minnesota State-Mankato’s Jason Jensen on defense and Parise as the top rookie.