This Week in the WCHA: Dec. 5, 2002

Another Preface

Some thoughts this week, while waiting for Wisconsin to take a shot on a 5-on-3 advantage:

  • Colorado College-Denver and Minnesota-Wisconsin this weekend? This must be the WCHA equivalent of Rivalry Week.
  • North Dakota is No. 1 in the poll on this here Web site. Settle down, folks. The Pairwise will be out soon enough.
  • The WCHA expects to use video replays next season, the Duluth News Tribune reported last week. Good plan if it can work as well in Houghton, Mich., as it does in Minneapolis. But so much for shortening games.
  • Those three dreaded words surfaced last week at Michigan Tech: “Players-only meeting.”
  • And finally, watching the Badgers sometimes is a little like watching a 1989 Ford Escort try to get off a patch of ice. The wheels are spinning — maybe not together, though — but the car’s just not getting anywhere. Eventually, someone has to give it a push. Any takers, Mike Eaves?

    Reviewing the Options

    For evidence that instant replay would work in the WCHA, league supervisor of officials Greg Shepherd points to the Final Five two seasons ago.

    In a St. Cloud State-Minnesota semifinal game, a goal was awarded on replay when no on-ice official saw the puck go through a small hole in the net.

    The WCHA is on the verge of pioneering regular-season video reviews in college hockey. Shepherd is writing a report that commissioner Bruce McLeod will submit to the league’s teams at a January meeting.

    The association will vote on the proposal during its April meeting and, if passed and approved by the NCAA, a two-year experiment with replay will start next season.

    In the meantime, Shepherd is weighing some options. The reviews could happen in one of two ways, he said:

  • Like the NHL, with a video replay official in the building who makes the final call after consulting the tapes;
  • Or like the NFL, with the referee leaving the playing surface to watch a replay on a monitor and make a judgment.

    The league also must decide which situations will call for replays and how to get facilities not presently wired for replay up to a new code.

    Shepherd, who has worked with the NCAA on reviews for the national tournament for six years, said he prefers a camera mounted at the top of the Plexiglas behind the goal. In some buildings where games are not televised, those two cameras might provide the only video feed.

    Then there’s the funding issue. A vote to try instant replay would be a vote to open wallets from the WCHA’s members because there will be equipment to purchase.

    “You continue to look at what’s going to be best for your league, and I think that’s what you always have to look at as a coach and as your administration,” Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said. “If it’s going to be a benefit and help our league … it just comes down to what’s best.”

    The Catalyst

    Grant Stevenson saw the sign in the window of the Minnesota State-Mankato men’s hockey program before this season. He figured he’d be pretty good at that goalscorer position the Mavericks were looking to fill, given the chance.

    The start to the season has surprised even him.

    Stevenson leads the nation in points per game (2.08) and has 11 goals and 25 points in 12 games.

    “Yeah, I’m pretty surprised,” he said. “It’s been going good so far, but I’m surprised about it. It was a goal of mine to be scoring goals and be helping the team more, but I didn’t expect to be doing this well this early.”

    Stevenson, who debuted last season with eight goals and 16 points, had been tagged by coach Troy Jutting as someone who could be one of the better players in the league at some point in his career.

    Twelve games into his sophomore season may have been earlier than anyone expected, but no one’s complaining in Mankato.

    Stevenson, a 6-foot, 180-pound native of Spruce Grove, Alberta, has an eight-game point streak going into this weekend’s series against Alaska-Anchorage at the Midwest Wireless Arena. He has seven goals and 17 points in that span and has scored a goal in nine of the Mavericks’ 12 games this season.

    He said his goal for this season was to score a point a game, so it’s easy to see why even he’s surprised at the offensive surge.

    The jump in his development is, if nothing else, timely for his team. After losing forwards Jerry Cunningham and Tim Jackman in the offseason, the Mavericks needed someone to step forward as a scorer.

    “The coaches talked to me and gave me a lot of confidence, said that I had to be a leader,” Stevenson said. “I knew there was an opening to step in with losing guys like Cunningham and Jackman. It was a goal of mine and I’m trying to fill that role as much as I can.”

    Stevenson also has played an key role in the Mavericks’ successful power play in the last four weeks. In the same span as Stevenson’s point streak, the Mavs have scored a power-play goal in the last eight games. Stevenson has had a hand in a PPG in all but one of those games.

    Mankato scored on 38.3 percent of its chances in the last four weeks.

    It’s on the power play where Stevenson and linemate Shane Joseph have connected. They’ve been on the same line since after the winter break last season and have formed an on-ice bond.

    “We’re both pretty unselfish players,” Stevenson said. “I know he likes to pass me the puck a lot and I like to find him, too. On the power play, I seem to be able to find him. Most of the time, he’s sneaking back around behind the net trying to get into spots, so I’m looking for him a lot of the time and I know he’s looking for me, too. It’s nice to be able to be confident that he’s going to find me the puck.”

    The one thing Stevenson hasn’t been able to provide is a winning record. The Mavericks are 3-6-3.

    But after starting the season 0-3-2, they may be starting to level off.

    “We’ve had a pretty tough schedule here, these last couple games playing a lot of ranked teams,” Stevenson said. “I think we’ve been doing all right. It’s early in the year, too, but [there have been] a couple minor breakdowns.

    “But as far as from now on, we’re playing Anchorage this weekend and we’ve got to put together some wins and go into that Christmas break with some confidence and come back and get a run going. All it’s going to take is to win a couple games and start getting on a roll.”

    Don’t be surprised if Stevenson’s the catalyst.

    They’ve Proved It

    They’ve had something to prove since the season began, so why should this weekend be any different?

    Colorado College goalie Curtis McElhinney and Denver’s Adam Berkhoel each needed to show he could be a No. 1 goaltender. Berkhoel’s situation is a little different in that he has all-league Wade Dubielewicz by his side, but he’s injured, making it look like Berkhoel’s show for now.

    So far, the results are stellar. Berkhoel leads the WCHA in record (8-0-1), goals against average (1.39) and save percentage (.932). McElhinney isn’t too far behind: He’s fifth in record (8-1-2), second in goals against (2.23) and third in save percentage (.917).

    But the biggest test of those numbers comes this weekend when they square off in a home-and-home series.

    McElhinney was expected to be CC’s top goalie this season, but with little experience to draw on. He was the backup to Jeff Sanger last season and played in only nine games.

    Berkhoel split time last season until the Pioneers went with Dubielewicz for the stretch run. With Dubielewicz out injured the last two weekends, Berkhoel has gone 3-0-1 while allowing only four goals.

    Since the start of the 2001-02 season, when McElhinney entered the league, these two goalies have won over 77 percent of the games in which they’ve been the goalie of record. McElhinney is 14-1-3; Berkhoel is 20-4-2.

    Dog Days

    Temporary it may be, but Minnesota-Duluth moved into a tie for second place in the WCHA last weekend.

    The Bulldogs may find themselves in fifth place next week and may lose ground for quite a while because they’re done playing league games until Jan. 17. But their first half of the WCHA season has been good. They’re above .500 (5-4-3), have scored enough goals to be successful and have one of the league’s better goalies to date in Isaac Reichmuth.

    “I’m pleased that we’ve got points every weekend,” Sandelin said. “We’ve played pretty good hockey. We were a little bit inconsistent the last six, seven games, where the first six we were probably more consistent. With a young team, I thought that might happen earlier.

    “It’s part of that learning process. We’ve obviously played more games than teams, but to get points every weekend is very important for us. Hopefully, we can continue that trend in the second half.”

    The Bulldogs can’t work on that for well over a month. The immediate challenge is a home-and-home series with Bemidji State this weekend. UMD is 5-5-4 overall, and going into the break above .500 would be a good thing for the players to have in their minds while they’re away from the rink.

    UMD doesn’t expect the going to get any easier in the second half, but it’s in a position to be fighting for a spot in the upper half of the league.

    “It keeps you in a position to accomplish that,” Sandelin said. “The second half is always tougher because everybody gets better. … I think it’s important that you get points every weekend in this league. Maybe we can learn that if we put ourselves in position down the road to get more than two or three, we’ve got to take advantage of that.”

    A Little Extra

    Game Nos. 220 and 221 in the Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry might have a little more attached to them, if anything more can be squeezed between the lines of history.

    The motivation of playing in the Border Battle is always there, but not since the 1990-91 season has one of the teams been able to get extra incentive from playing against the defending national champion.

    Then, Minnesota had that in its corner after the Badgers won the 1990 national title. The Gophers went 4-0-1 against UW in 1990-91.

    Advantage, Wisconsin?

    “Having played the game, I know as a player when you are playing against a team that is the defending national champions or defending Stanley Cup champions, there is a natural elevation of emotion — you don’t have to work as hard to play,” Wisconsin coach Eaves said at his weekly news conference.

    “The kids are going to be naturally excited. No. 1, it is a huge rivalry. No. 2, they are the national champs. So getting the kids excited to play won’t be an issue. Probably to harness that emotion and making sure they are using their energy in a wise fashion will be the task of the coaching staff this week.

    “The building will probably be packed. But we’ll just carry on and use this weekend as another measuring stick of where we are at.”

    Thoughts on Ralph

    North Dakota practiced for about 30 minutes last Wednesday before coach Dean Blais took his players off the ice. Practicing just wasn’t in them after they learned of the death of Ralph Engelstad, one of the biggest friends of the Sioux program.

    The Sioux earned a tie and a win against Minnesota State-Mankato last weekend, but it wasn’t incredibly motivating from a North Dakota perspective.

    “The players didn’t want to blame it on Ralph, but I don’t think we were as focused as we have been, with the same intensity,” Blais told USCHO’s Patrick C. Miller after Saturday’s game.

    “It was a tough week for everyone. I’ve known Ralph for a lot of years, going back to when I was an assistant coach. He was always behind us. That’s huge when you’ve got someone when things aren’t going right, you make a phone call and he’ll try to help you out. There aren’t a lot of guys who can do that who have the impact that he had on our program.

    “A lot of times with an athletic director or a president, they’re looking out for everyone. Ralph just looked out for hockey. He cared about everyone else in the academic setting, but his No. 1 love was hockey.”

    The Sioux wore patches with “23”, Engelstad’s number when he played for UND, on their jerseys last weekend. Defenseman Lee Marvin changed jersey numbers from 23 to 13, indicating the school may retire No. 23.

    Life in Hell

    When they say being a goalie is hell, believe them. Especially if you’re talking to Gunther Hell, one of the netminders for the Italian team scheduled to play five exhibition games against WCHA teams in the next two weeks.

    The Italians, coached by Pat Cortina, play Minnesota on Monday, Wisconsin next Thursday, Michigan Tech next Saturday, St. Cloud State on Dec. 16 and Minnesota State-Mankato on Dec. 17.

    The Countdown

    When Saturday rolls around, it’ll be three weeks until T.J. Caig finally can start his UMD career.

    On Dec. 28, Caig will have served his one-year penalty for playing in Canadian Tier I exhibitions and will be able to play in the Bulldogs’ home game against Union.

    “He’s counting the days,” Sandelin said.

    Sandelin is concerned, however, that there may be too much pressure on Caig, a star in Canadian Tier II juniors who by the time he suits up will have missed a year of games.

    “In a way, I feel bad for him because there’s just too many expectations,” Sandelin said. “The kid hasn’t played in a year. … Any time a player sits for a year, that’s a hard thing to do and you don’t know what they’re going to accomplish when they come in.

    “I’ve seen it work both ways. Jason Blake never missed a beat. Lee Goren didn’t have a good first year, but he had mono, too. Some guys make that adjustment right away and some don’t. I think it’ll be just nice to get his enthusiasm to play.”

    On the Shelf

  • At Denver, Dubielewicz remains doubtful for this weekend’s series with Colorado College. He’s sat out the last four games with a hamstring injury.
  • At Minnesota-Duluth, forward Jesse Unklesbay is looking at a mid-January return from the broken left tibia he suffered on Nov. 9, Sandelin said. He wouldn’t rule out an earlier return. Also, defenseman Todd Smith is out this weekend after suffering a concussion last weekend.
  • At St. Cloud State, defenseman Tim Conboy and forward Mike Walsh won’t play at North Dakota this weekend, the St. Cloud Times reported. Conboy has a sore back and Walsh missed Wednesday’s practice with an illness.

    In Other Words

    Seven of the 22 players on the U.S. National Junior Team named this week are from the WCHA. Defensemen Matt Greene (North Dakota), Matt Jones (North Dakota), Mark Stuart (Colorado College) and forwards Gino Guyer (Minnesota), Zach Parise (North Dakota), Brett Sterling (Colorado College) and Barry Tallackson (Minnesota) will play for the U.S. at the World Junior Championships in Nova Scotia in late December and early January. Also, former Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer is an assistant to head coach Lou Vairo. … Twenty-three of the 42 league games played so far have been decided by one goal or have finished in ties. … From the “Let’s Try Something New” file: Michigan Tech’s Greg Amadio, a defenseman on the roster, played forward for the first time since he was six years old last weekend. He picked up an assist on Saturday. …

    The official title of this year’s Final Five: The 2003 Kellogg’s WCHA Final Five, presented by Keebler. … Players of the week were Minnesota-Duluth’s Junior Lessard on offense, Denver’s Matt Laatch on defense and CC’s Marty Sertich as the top rookie. … In a 5-1 loss to UMD last Saturday, Alaska-Anchorage put 14 shots on goal in the third period and came up empty. That’s the highest shot count for any period this season for the Seawolves. … Minnesota State-Mankato’s Joseph was called for just the second penalty in his collegiate career last Saturday. A hooking minor was his first penalty since Oct. 13, 2000. …

    For the first time since Oct. 16, 2000, a few games into its most recent national title defense, North Dakota is on top of the poll. … This weekend at the Ralph: North Dakota’s Zach Parise, second in the nation in points per game at 2.07, vs. St. Cloud State’s Ryan Malone, fourth nationally at 2.00 points per game. … Rene Bourque’s power-play goal against Michigan State last Saturday broke Wisconsin’s 0-for-33 stretch in power-play futility. … CC’s Peter Sejna was named the player of the month for November by the Ice Hockey Collegiate Commissioners’ Association. He had six goals and 11 assists in eight games last month.