Woog On the Clock
Doug Woog has a seven-to-10-minute window to speak at his induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame next week, so he’s working on limiting what he’ll say.
Woog, along with Mark and Scott Fusco and the late Joe Riley, will be inducted on Wednesday at Touchstone Energy Place in St. Paul, Minn. — a fitting venue for one of the Twin Cities’ most recognizable hockey figures.
That gives Woog, the former Minnesota coach and All-American as a player there in the 1960s, a few more days to get prepared for his time in front of the microphone.
He said he doesn’t want it to be a biography, but there’s so many people to mention. It starts with family, but it includes the coaches that taught him hockey as a youth, his high school coaches — in both hockey and football — the people responsible for him getting into Minnesota and eventually becoming its coach, those who helped him as a coach and the players that gave him their all.
“So I’m trying to put that into about 10 minutes,” Woog said. He was told his tale took about 10 minutes. “Yeah, but I didn’t even get into the stories.”
Woog said that when Minnesota legend John Mayasich called him last summer to tell him of his election to the Hall, he had doubts as to whether he deserved such an honor ahead of others who had yet to make it.
“It’s become more of an honor as I’ve had a chance to think about it,” Woog said. “Obviously, it’s a hell of an honor. But you have to edge yourself into rationalizing whether or not you’re deserving.
“One of the satisfying things about it is that some of the people from the East have to vote for you. Sometimes in your own back yard issues happen, but it’s kind of nice when people nationally look at it and say the guy did a pretty good job.”
The South St. Paul native was 389-187-40 behind the Gophers’ bench from 1985 to 1999. He took the Gophers to an NCAA-record 12 straight national tournaments. Six of those trips ended in Frozen Four appearances.
He also was an assistant coach with the 1984 U.S. Olympic team after seven years as the head coach at South St. Paul and six with the St. Paul Vulcans of the United States Hockey League.
As a player at Minnesota, he was the team’s MVP in his senior season and was an All-American and the leading scorer in his junior season.
All this from someone who was a basketball hopeful before, in fifth grade, a doctor told him he couldn’t play roundball. “I would have been a 5-7 guard who couldn’t jump,” he said.
“You live in the moment you’re in, and I think that’s why it’s hard to think about accomplishments,” Woog said. “You really deal with today all the time. You don’t sit back in the rocking chair … and yarn about old times and how great you were.
“You always hear guys talk about the hall of fame and how they can’t take that away from you. People respond in a real positive way. There’s probably some people out there saying, ‘What the hell did he get in for?’ It’s a funny thing, they don’t come in front of you.”
Today, Woog works as a consultant to the university in selling suites for hockey and basketball games. He also does color commentary for Gophers games on Fox Sports Net and operates a summer hockey camp in Breezy Point, Minn.
That roughly three-hour drive to Breezy Point is one of the farthest locales to which Woog has had to pick up and leave to make a living as a college hockey coach.
“I never looked at a puck as my salary,” he said. “It was really kind of interesting that I taught for 17 years at South St. Paul and never had to leave the area to be involved in hockey. How many guys had that opportunity?
“I’m pretty blessed with opportunities falling for me. A lot of guys chased the thing for a long time and never get the chance. I’m pretty lucky.”
Speaking of Wooger
Woog will be honored before Sunday afternoon’s Gophers game against Michigan at Mariucci Arena.
In addition, the first 10,000 fans will receive what the school is describing as a limited-edition trading card of Woog, which he will be available to sign after the game.
Tickets for the hall of fame induction ceremony and dinner are $75 and can be purchased by calling the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame at (800) 443-7825.
OK, so the WCHA has a less than memorable record in the College Hockey Showcase. Or, in the case of Wisconsin, a downright awful record.
But Wisconsin (2-15-1 in the CHS) and Minnesota (9-8-1) will go at it again this weekend against CCHA and Big Ten rivals Michigan and Michigan State, this time on the campuses of the WCHA teams.
Here’s a look at the Badgers and the Gophers at this point in the season; for the Wolverines and Spartans, check out Paula C. Weston’s CCHA column.
In the first practice since one of the most embarrassing performances of Mike Eaves’ brief tenure at Wisconsin, the Badgers worked. And worked. And worked.
We’re talking length-of-the-ice crawling (without the help of knees). We’re talking skating, and a lot of it. And we’re talking a conditioning session so rigorous that when assistant coach John Hynes slipped up and instructed them to go to the wrong line in a skating drill, the players yelled to correct him, almost in a pleading way.
This was Monday at the Kohl Center. This was the first time the Badgers had taken the ice since a 3-2 loss to North Dakota last Saturday. That game will be remembered more as the one in which UW was outshot 19-1 in the first period and after which Eaves told reporters to put the onus on his players than one which the Badgers almost rallied to tie.
“At times, it looked like men vs. boys,” Eaves said. “They were just blowing down the wall on us. We had no containment. That’s just the maturity level of our team, being there one night and not being able to reproduce that same type of focus and desperation. We focus on Friday because it’s been an issue for us. We play pretty well on Friday and we absolutely don’t show up on Saturday. We still have to mature as a team.”
Eaves wouldn’t deny that Monday’s practice was at least in part fueled by Saturday’s events, but added that it wasn’t too much different than most practices.
Not all of the Badgers may be accepting that level of conditioning. As with every coaching change, there’s a period of adjustment.
But when asked whether the team was latching on to the new regime’s focus on conditioning, UW defenseman Dan Boeser said, “Some guys yes, some guys no.
“I think there’s going to be players on every sports team that are happy with some things and not happy with others,” Boeser said. “Some guys adjust well and some guys don’t. It’s going to take time. We’re still going through the coaching change and still trying to get used to everything.”
Eaves reaffirmed his long-held belief that his team will start to be more consistent after it returns from Christmas break. He said his hope is that the peaks and valleys won’t be as distinct by then.
But the Badgers are 1-5 in the WCHA, and going into break at 1-7 isn’t out of the question with a series against Minnesota next weekend. Will the second semester be too late?
Boeser prefers to think the next games will be the ones that turn things around.
“I don’t like to look at a date far off and say, ‘That’s our goal to start playing well,'” he said. “I think our goal is to play well on Friday night.”
Gophers Going for Repeat
It was about this time a year ago that Minnesota coach Don Lucia realized his team was going to make some waves in the postseason.
His Gophers beat Michigan 5-2 behind a Jeff Taffe hat trick and tied Michigan State 4-4.
“To me, the Michigan and Michigan State games are a great measuring stick,” Lucia said. “At that point [last season], that’s when I knew that our team was going to be good enough to have a shot. We could compete with the best teams in the country. Whenever you play Michigan and Michigan State, they’re usually the top two teams year in and year out in the CCHA. It gives you a better opportunity to see how you’re going to stack up nationally.”
A repeat of those performances this weekend would be a welcome sight for a Minnesota team that hasn’t been as strong in its last few games as it was at the end of last season or early this season.
The Gophers swept Michigan Tech last weekend, but somewhat unconvincingly. The week before, they managed only a tie in a home series against Colorado College.
“I can’t say as a team the last couple weeks we’ve played real well,” Lucia said. “For whatever reason, we don’t seem to have the same energy or hop to our step as what we had the first month of the season. Why, I don’t know. We seem to have played better on the road this year. We seem to be a little more tentative at home that what we’ve been on the road.”
The Gophers, however, have won 13 straight nonconference games at Mariucci Arena. On the other hand, that dates back to Nov. 23 and 25, 2000, when the Gophers lost both games in the Showcase.
Meanwhile, Travis Weber is settling in as the Gophers’ No. 1 goaltender. Since Justin Johnson allowed six goals in a 7-3 loss to CC on Nov. 15, Weber has played all three games and has allowed five goals in that span.
“He’s given us three real strong outings in a row,” Lucia said. “I think that’s been, to me, the best part of the last few weeks. We’ve been searching, and it’s tough to win if you’ve got an 87 save percentage (Johnson is at 86.6 percent) — the standard you’re hoping for is 90 or better. [Weber has] given us that over the last three games he’s played. I think that’s why we’re 2-0-1, because of that.”
Not the Same Sioux
If North Dakota wins the MacNaughton Cup this season, it might not be with the kind of offensive firepower it had in previous championship seasons.
In six WCHA games this season, the Sioux are scoring 2.67 goals per game. In the 2000-01 season, they averaged 4.11; in 1998-99, 5.07; in 1997-98, 4.54; and in 1996-97, 4.28.
Even last season, when the Sioux finished tied for sixth in the league, they averaged 3.68 goals per WCHA game.
This is not your typical North Dakota scoring punch, but it’s nothing that concerns coach Dean Blais, either.
“Sooner or later, we’re going to break out of scoring two or three goals and we’re going to get right back to five and six,” he said. “If the other team’s a little bit off in goaltending or in defensive play, we’re going to fill the net.”
This 11-1 start has indicated a kind of charmed existence to date for the Sioux. Question the strength of schedule, yes, but don’t forget to credit the Sioux for doing what they’ve had to do at just about every step along the way.
Blais credits a comeback from a two-goal deficit against Michigan in the second game of the season for getting North Dakota started in the right direction. Tight-checking nonconference games along the way and contests that were anyone’s game entering the third period have prepared the Sioux well, Blais said.
“We slugged it out there, and it set the tone for the whole year,” he said.
Yet that game against Michigan also may have been the last time anyone’s seen North Dakota at its best in terms of execution on the offensive front, Blais added. During that down period in scoring, the Sioux defense — lately including goaltender Jake Brandt — has turned up as the strength.
Brandt has allowed just two goals in his last three games. Two of those were shutouts, one against Alaska-Anchorage and one against Wisconsin in which he turned away six good chances from in front of the net.
“We’ve been getting shots on net, they just haven’t been going in,” Blais said. “It’s a little bit of bad luck as far as hitting pipes and coming out, missing wide-open nets. But defensively, we’ve really been strong, allowing [an average of 19] shots against. It doesn’t seem to matter who we play, we’ve been good defensively.
“You can’t control your offense with the other goaltender, execution and missed passes. But you can control hard work, and that’s what defense is.”
Friday Night Flameout
Denver coach George Gwozdecky has seen one too many lax Friday nights from his team this season. Last weekend, it cost a number of players a chance to play on Saturday.
The Pioneers dressed only 15 skaters in Saturday night’s 3-1 victory at Alaska-Anchorage, a direct result of Gwozdecky’s disappointment with his team in a 2-2 tie a night earlier.
Interestingly, Saturday’s win with only three-plus forward lines may have been one of the Pioneers’ best efforts of the season.
Out of the lineup on Saturday after playing Friday were forwards Kevin Ulanski, Jeff Drummond and Luke Fulghum, and defensemen Brett Skinner and Ryan Caldwell.
“There were probably others we were seriously considering, but we need to have enough guys on the bench so we could properly spell the guys and give them some rest,” Gwozdecky said.
Gwozdecky has made it a point of emphasis this week to show some Friday-night fire.
“We’re at a point in our team’s development where, as a staff, we’re not so much concerned about whether we’re playing conference or nonconference games,” he said. “Our focus of attention is on the way we’re playing as a team from one night to the next. We’ve developed a little bit of a trend of not playing that well on Friday night and coming back and playing much better on Saturday night. That’s something that we’re working on and we need to improve on this coming weekend.”
Concerning the Huskies
Peter Szabo and Mike Doyle are only part of the chain at St. Cloud State, but coach Craig Dahl this week expressed concern at the lack of production he’s receiving from those sophomores.
Szabo and Doyle set the bar pretty high for themselves with 33- and 32-point freshman seasons, respectively. Twelve games into this season, however, they’re both mired at one goal and five assists.
Dahl said he didn’t see opponents keying on the sophomores.
“They’re just not getting it done,” he said. “So we’re going to work through that with them.”
That’s just one concern with a 6-5-1 team that has looked uncharacteristically average, at least in comparison with the last few seasons.
The Huskies’ longest winning streak has been two games, drawn from winning the second game of a series with Minnesota State-Mankato and the first game of last weekend’s series with Minnesota-Duluth. Each weekend has seen some sort of Jekyll & Hyde act — the best series was a win and a tie against Mankato in late October.
For Dahl, it all goes back to a disjointed start to the season because of injuries to key offensive and defensive players.
“When you go through what we went through early with all the injuries, you’re not able to develop any consistency,” he said. “Then, when you get the guys back, they’re one, two, three, four weeks behind everybody else that has been there. It’s just going to take us a while to get that consistent behavior.
“It can be a little maddening in a way, but the morale of the team is good.”
The saving graces have been the solid production from seniors Ryan Malone, Joe Motzko and Jon Cullen and a 30.8 percent efficiency rate on the power play.
The appeal of the two-game suspension to Denver’s Max Bull was half-successful. The WCHA’s executive committee cut the suspension in half after a conference call on Tuesday, and Bull will sit out Friday night’s home game against Mercyhurst.
Bull appealed the suspension, which was handed down by WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod last Thursday for a collection of events in the two weeks previous, and played last weekend at Alaska-Anchorage.
Bull was involved in a knee-to-knee collision with UMD forward Jesse Unklesbay on Nov. 9, a play on which Unklesbay’s left tibia was broken but no penalty was called. Bull was issued a warning by the league after Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin asked that the league review the play.
Against Michigan Tech on Nov. 15, Bull was given a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct for checking from behind. One day later, he was whistled for a checking-the-goaltender minor penalty.
“I was somewhat surprised at the severity of the suspension,” Gwozdecky said. “Like the league did, we did our due diligence on investigating it and analyzing not only the play that resulted in the warning but the subsequent plays after that. We felt we had a pretty good case in support of Max.”
Count St. Cloud State’s Dahl among those believing in Minnesota-Duluth goaltender Isaac Reichmuth.
“That Reichmuth is as good as I’ve ever seen,” Dahl said after splitting with the Bulldogs last weekend. “He was unbelievable against us both nights. … He was phenomenal and he was really big for them in the third period down here [a 4-2 UMD victory last Saturday].”
Reichmuth still must face the test of time in the WCHA, though, and show that he won’t run out of big saves.
“That might tell you whether he’s big time or not,” Dahl said. “I told Scotty [Sandelin] before Saturday night’s game, he keeps playing like this, you’ll be talking about when he used to be here.”
On the Shelf
Also, forward Adam Burish and defenseman Andy Wozniewski are questionable for this weekend’s games because of shoulder injuries.
“He’s going to have an opportunity to go back to back games again this weekend,” Gwozdecky said of Berkhoel. “Wade is probably going to start skating a little bit toward the latter part of this week. The following weekend, we’ll see.
“We’re not going to push Wade to get back. When he does feel good and comfortable, he’s going to need at least two or three days of good practice before he’ll feel comfortable going back into the net in a game situation. We’re very fortunate that we don’t have to push him back. The most important part of the season is the second half of the schedule. Not that I think it’s going to take that long, but if need be, we’ll let Wade get healthy. If it takes two weeks, great; if it takes five weeks, fine.”
In Other Words
Minnesota-Duluth becomes the second WCHA team to close the league portion of its schedule for 2002 this weekend (Michigan Tech did so last weekend), and with a pair of home wins over Alaska-Anchorage could take 14 points from the first 12 games. Not too shabby considering the Bulldogs had 15 points in 28 games last season. … Alaska-Anchorage’s Ales Parez became the first Seawolves player to reach double figures in points last weekend when he reached 10 points. … Now that’s quick: Colorado College has scored twice in the span of a minute or less on five occasions this season. …
Sometimes you watch Michigan Tech and just wonder when the Huskies will finally be rewarded for a good effort. Last weekend provided two of those times. … After this weekend’s series at North Dakota, Minnesota State-Mankato will have a seven-game homestand that includes a Dec. 17 exhibition against a traveling Italian team. …
Players of the week were Minnesota’s Paul Martin on offense, North Dakota’s Brandt on defense and UMD’s Tim “Buster” Stapleton as the top rookie. … This weekend in Houghton, Mich., Wayne State coach Bill Wilkinson will go up against son Peter, an assistant for Michigan Tech. … Minnesota has set Jan. 19 for its annual Skate with the Gophers event. It runs from 1 to 4 p.m. at Mariucci Arena, and admission is $5 for adults and $3 for university students and children under 18.
One Last Thought
Politics aside, you have to be impressed with Ralph Engelstad’s dedication to the North Dakota hockey program through the years.