Some thoughts this week, while watching Herb Brooks throw it in reverse.
At 6-0-2, Colorado College is off to the start most people thought it would have for the WCHA season.
The Tigers were picked by the coaches to win the MacNaughton Cup before last season. Maybe they’re just realizing that potential a year late because they appear to be a strong team this season.
But the way things have gone with injuries and 0-5 league starts in recent years, can this string last? Or is something bound to interfere with a CC challenge for the regular-season title?
“As a staff and a team, we’re keeping everything in perspective,” Tigers coach Scott Owens said. “We have had some things go our way, but we’ve created some opportunities for ourselves.
“Yeah, I think there’s going to be some things that are going to pop up. We’ve been healthy and we’ve had good goaltending and the special teams have been strong. I think it’s unrealistic to think that all three of those things in particular are going to continue the way they’re at.”
Health is largely out of their control, but goaltending and special teams aren’t. The Tigers have a weekend off — giving Owens a rare chance to get out and do some scouting — and they take into that break the league lead in power play (29.4 percent), penalty kill (87.3 percent), goals scored (55) and goals allowed (24).
Curtis McElhinney doesn’t have sterling numbers — 2.38 goals against average, .910 save percentage — but, so far, he’s been a fine answer to one of CC’s biggest questions at the onset of the new season.
“Especially this past weekend, in a difficult building and against a very good team, he stood in there very calmly, very poised for a young sophomore,” Owens said of McElhinney earning a win and a tie at Minnesota. “It’s been one of our question marks, and he’s certainly risen to the occasion. We’ll see how things continue.”
Owens added: “We’ve had a lot of different people scoring. For me, that’s the most pleasant surprise. We’ve been able to not just rely on [Peter] Sejna and [Noah] Clarke, even though they had big weekends at Minnesota. Throughout this 12 games, we’ve had a nice sprinkling of scoring from other players as well.”
Blue on the Blue Line
When it comes to issues on the Alaska-Anchorage team, Matt Shasby’s string without a goal to start the season probably doesn’t rank very high.
But it’s indicative of a number of things with the Seawolves, who are mired in a nine-game winless streak.
Shasby was expected to provide an offensive spark from the blue line. He has no goals and seven assists, but he’s not the only defenseman not putting goals in the net.
The Seawolves have scored just 17 goals in 10 games this season — or 1.7 per game, not even enough to win if they had Colorado College’s top-ranked defense (the Tigers even allow an average of 2 goals a game).
Shasby, as with all the UAA defensemen, has the green light to make plays happen from the blue line. It’s just not happening.
“I don’t think that Matt is being as assertive as he probably was last year in terms of play with the puck in the offensive zone. And I’m not quite sure why,” Seawolves coach John Hill said. “He knows he has the green light, as do most of our defensemen. I know it’s not a confidence thing with him, he has confidence in his ability, he skates the puck up. But we’d love to see him involved more in the offense, whether it’s carrying the puck up and making plays or jumping in holes when they’re open and available.”
While Seawolves defensemen have their own zone to worry about as well, it seems UAA would take a spark on offense anywhere it could get it.
Matt Hanson, a freshman, has two power-play goals from the blue line, but that’s it as far as goalscoring from Seawolves defensemen.
“We need our defensemen to become more active,” Hill said. “It’s something we work on in practice, it’s something that we talk about. We have three to four freshmen defensemen in the lineup, and I’m sure there’s a little bit of hesitancy on their part as they adjust to this level of play, and recognizing when it’s OK and when it’s not. But we’re certainly not holding them back.”
Question of Consistency
Some exams, sandwiched around a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Alaska.
Maybe that’s not the best set of circumstances around which to try to coax a team to be more consistent. It is, however, Denver’s dilemma this week.
It’s guaranteed no one trying to take the MacNaughton Cup away from the Pioneers is feeling especially sorry for them.
But one of the things coach George Gwozdecky has noticed through 12 games this season is a struggle to put together six good periods on a weekend. They’ll go after that goal this weekend at Alaska-Anchorage, but after a week in which they’ve practiced only sparingly because of those exams.
Then again, maybe changing up the procedure will be just what Denver needs after a loss and a tie in its last four games.
“I sure would like to think that might happen, but I really don’t know,” Gwozdecky said. “Your first reaction is, ‘Oh boy. We’re not going to get a chance to practice on a regular basis and prepare properly like we normally do for an opponent because of exams and because of our travel schedule.’
“And our travel schedule has been a challenge for us. It’s one thing to fly to Minneapolis and play Minnesota. … But when you have to go to Michigan Tech and then turn around and head up to Anchorage, that’s a little bit more of a demand because of longer travel hours, different modes of transportation.
“I would hope that with the different week we’ve got this week as far as exams and less practices, perhaps it’ll give the guys an opportunity to concentrate on something else other than hockey. When Wednesday evening rolls around, exams will be over, the quarter will be over and really, our players and our staff won’t have to worry about anything other than hockey over the next six weeks because our winter quarter doesn’t begin until January.”
The Pioneers have been good enough at the right times to start the season 9-2-1 — maybe it seems beneath them because they started last season 11-1. But Gwozdecky hasn’t seen it all come together yet.
“We have not shown the great sign of consistency in our games,” he said. “We have played at times well in games and at times very poorly. The consistency of effort, the consistency of execution, the consistency of attitude has not been there for six periods over the course of a weekend. As a result, we have found ourselves at times struggling.
“That’s the sign of a team that’s still in the development phase and still trying to establish an identity. … We’ve got some work to do to be able to develop that kind of consistency that will allow us to play well over six periods of a weekend.”
Isaac Reichmuth is looking like Minnesota-Duluth’s No. 1 goaltender.
Reichmuth, a freshman, has made six straight starts for the Bulldogs, who are 3-3 in that time.
In WCHA games, he leads the league with a .925 save percentage (.915 overall). He’s second with a 2.10 goals against average (2.39 overall).
At first glance, that appears to add up to a track record for a top goaltender. The Bulldogs have senior Rob Anderson on the bench, but there’s something to be said for going with the hot hand.
“He’s gone in and played very well for us,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said of Reichmuth. “But at the same time, we need two guys. Robbie went in in Denver and played very well, too. He’s given us an opportunity to win a lot of games, and that’s what you ask of a goaltender. For a freshman, I think he’s come in and played very solidly for us. Yet it’s nice to know we still have Robbie, who has proven he’s a good goaltender in this league as well.”
On the Line
If they weren’t before, seniors’ jobs in the lineup now are on the line at Alaska-Anchorage.
Hill said he’s making that public knowledge so his four senior forwards, who have produced just four points, have fair warning.
“It’s a message and it’s also reality,” Hill said. “I don’t want anyone to feel like they got caught off guard. I want them to know they received ample warning. I don’t want our seniors to be feel like they’re being made to be scapegoats, because they’re not. But I think if you look at their stats and you look at the production and where we’re at right now, I think it’s obvious that they need to do more.
“I won’t hesitate to go with an all-freshman, sophomore and junior lineup. I can see us with one or two seniors in the lineup. If things are going to continue the way they are, there’s no sense in playing seniors. We might as well start developing for the future.”
Joe Garvin and Morgan Roach have one goal apiece and Dan Gilkerson and Petr Chytka have one assist each while freshmen and sophomores carry the team.
Freshman Ales Parez has eight points to lead the team. Sophomore John Hopson leads with five goals and freshman Curtis Glencross has four — that’s more than half of the team’s goalscoring in two players.
Hill said his freshman class has produced as well as expected, and “they certainly can’t be faulted for our meager offense to date.”
He added: “I can honestly say that our goalscoring woes are not a result of a lack of hard work. I think guys are trying; maybe pressing a bit too much. We’ve got to do a better job in the offensive zone down low of cycling and keeping the puck down low and finding someone open in the slot area. Until we can do that, it’s going to continue being a struggle.”
More Fab Freshmen
Along the same lines as the Seawolves: of Wisconsin’s 28 goals through 10 games this season, 10 have been scored by freshmen.
Ryan MacMurchy is leading the way with four, while A.J. Degenhardt has three.
“We said at the beginning of the year that we didn’t know where our goalscoring was going to come from and they were going to have an opportunity to get in there and show what they could do,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said of his freshmen at his weekly news conference.
“We really had no choice. That is what has happened. They are doing the things we have asked them to do, and they’ve been put in situations where they have been able to be successful. That is the way we’re running our team: The kids who are playing well are the ones that will play.
“It is interesting to talk to the guys — they like that. And I look at it like, ‘Why wouldn’t we do it like that?’ The coaches want to play their best players, and some nights that changes. But if you play well, you are going to play.”
Hold the Phone
Maybe, just maybe, Hill will get a few phone calls from parties interested in keeping Parise off the scoreboard.
After all, his team was the first to do it for an entire weekend.
“I doubt it,” Hill said of expecting those phone calls. “Most of that’s good goaltending.”
Reiter, the Seawolves goaltender previously mentioned, was named the WCHA defensive player of the week for stopping 68 of 73 shots last weekend against North Dakota, seven of them from Parise.
Unfortunately for him, it’s just about the only reward he’s received this season. He’s 1-6-1, a testament to UAA’s lack of scoring more than his goaltending.
Hill said he feels sorry for Reiter.
“Kevin has played outstanding for hockey all year for us, not only stopping pucks, but he’s got excellent stick skill,” he said. “He can get a puck out of the zone, he can get it up to one of his teammates to kick-start the transition. Many times we’ve been shorthanded, teams have dumped it in, it’s on the stick and it’s out.
“He certainly deserves better than what he’s gotten so far. I’m very happy for him. He’s very confident in his game right now. He’s got a lot of fire and focus to him, and I know our coaching staff and his teammates really thrive on that.”
Win Some, Lose Some
The good news for UMD: Freshman forward Justin Williams is eligible to play after the school won an appeal with the NCAA.
The bad news: He’s out for about a month with a broken foot.
“It’s a tough situation for Justin because of the uncertainty of the thing. It was either one extreme or the other,” Sandelin said. “You really felt for him because, when it’s out of your hands and people are making decisions, you’re on pins and needles.”
School officials were caught by surprise when the NCAA required a grade reported from a 17th core course — the Bulldogs had been planning for 16. A core course, under NCAA definitions, is a college prep course in English, mathematics, natural/physical science, social science, foreign language, computer science or nondoctrinal religion/philosophy.
With that 17th grade figured in, Williams didn’t meet eligibility requirements.
Williams’ high school sent the NCAA a letter saying that 17th course wasn’t in fact a core course, and UMD won that appeal.
Meanwhile, the school had to wait for two weeks on a separate ruling on a Williams test, which it also won.
A look at who signed with what teams in the early signing period:
Alaska-Anchorage got defensemen Chad Anderson and Mark Smith, who should see ice time right away with seniors Matt Shasby and Steve Suihkonen leaving.
Colorado College signed three players: forwards Braydon Cox and Jamie Hoffmann and defenseman Lee Sweatt.
Defenseman Matt Carle chose Denver over hometown UAA, Minnesota and Michigan State. The Pioneers also landed forwards J.D. Corbin and Adrian Veideman. Denver, however, hasn’t heard from forward Ty Morris, who has not passed his SAT, according to the Denver Post
Michigan Tech got three letters of intent, from defenseman Lars Helminen, forward Jeric Agosta and goaltender Kevin Hachey. Hachey will join the team in the 2004-05 season.
The family connections continue at Minnesota, where forward Ryan Potulny will join brother Grant next season. Also, defenseman Mike Vannelli, son of Gophers 1974 and 1976 championship teams member Tom Vannelli, will wear maroon and gold. Forward Danny Irmen and defenseman Jake Taylor also signed last week.
Minnesota-Duluth got a letter of intent from forward Bryan McGregor, but that appears to be all for the early signing period for the Bulldogs.
Defensemen Chad [nl]Brownlee and Lucas Fransen signed with Minnesota State-Mankato. Forwards Travis Morin and David Backes earlier committed to the Mavs.
St. Cloud State signed five players, three of them defensemen: Chris Anderson, Grant Clafton and Justin Fletcher. The Huskies also signed forwards Gary Houseman and Nate Raduns. As of Thursday morning, they were waiting by the mailbox for one more signed letter of intent.
A legacy will continue at Wisconsin as well. Defenseman Ryan Suter joins defenseman Jeff Likens and forward Andrew Joudrey as Badgers signees, and will join father Bob and uncles Gary and John as UW players.
Meanwhile, North Dakota is waiting on a routine compliance check before releasing the names of its signed players.
On the Shelf
“I think both of these guys are old enough and experienced and mature enough to understand that if something does happen where they’ve got to play on alternate nights or they’ve got to handle both games, it’s not going to change their preparation,” Gwozdecky said, “it’s not going to change the way they approach each and every game.”
Also, senior forward Matt Weber won’t make the trip to Anchorage because of a shoulder injury. He may return in time for next weekend’s nonconference games.
In Other Words
St. Cloud State dropped out of the USCHO.com poll this week. It’s the first time the Huskies have been unranked since March 20, 2000, when the poll was only 10 teams. … Michigan Tech coach Mike Sertich on this weekend’s series with Minnesota in the team’s weekly news release: “We’re going to hop on the bus Thursday, fill up on some pasties on the way down and let the chips fall where they may. I think the pasties can make the difference, honestly.” … In each of its losses this season, Denver has allowed two power-play goals. …
Jim Archibald and the 1947-48 and 1958-59 North Dakota teams will go into the school’s athletics hall of fame this weekend. Archibald played from 1981 to 1985; the 1947-48 team was the school’s first at the Division I level; and the 1958-59 team won the national championship. … They’re streaking: Minnesota’s Troy Riddle has a 12-game point streak, the Gophers’ Thomas Vanek’s point streak is at six games and UMD’s Junior Lessard’s is seven. … St. Cloud State’s Moreland is 5-0 this season, but Jason Montgomery is 0-4-1. The Huskies tried switching the rotation order last weekend, but Montgomery got the loss on Friday and Moreland picked up the win on Saturday. …
WCHA players of the week were CC’s Sejna on offense, UAA’s Reiter on defense and UMD’s Reichmuth as the top rookie. … You want balance? CC has scored 18 goals in the first period, 18 in the second and 19 in the third this season. The Tigers have allowed eight in the first, nine in the second and seven in the third. Most other teams have large jumps in goal figures between periods. … Last Friday’s 7-6 victory over St. Cloud State was Minnesota State-Mankato’s first over the Huskies as a Division I team. The Mavericks last beat St. Cloud in the 1986-87 season. In Friday’s game, the Mavs were 4-for-7 on the power play. … The average WCHA attendance this season is 6,290. Last season’s average was 6,814.