Some thoughts this week, while suddenly leery of things falling from the sky:
• The first period last Saturday night was so long for Michigan Tech goaltender Cam Ellsworth, the scoreboard operator might just now be getting caught up with the saves.
• You know it had to happen: Days after being highlighted in this column for not scoring in 15 games, Wisconsin’s Brad Winchester gets the game winner in overtime against Minnesota-Duluth.
• Denver keeps getting downgraded. The Pioneers started the season as favorites to win the WCHA regular-season title. When that appeared unlikely, they started shooting for third. Now, they’re in a battle just to use Magness Arena for the playoffs.
• If you ever get the chance to go to Houghton, Mich., for a Michigan Tech game — or anything else, for that matter — do so. It’s a charming town with the pulse you get only in a college atmosphere. Gotta love the broomball, too.
• And finally: Yes, Chicken Little, the sky is falling at Alaska-Anchorage.
‘He’s a Man’
If this is Peter Sejna’s last season at Colorado College, as his coach has suggested it might be, he’s going out with a bang.
He’s a lock to be included among the 10 nominees for the Hobey Baker Award, and stands a decent shot at being one of the three finalists and, eventually, the winner.
“Oh, he’s a man,” said Michigan Tech coach Mike Sertich, whose team faced Sejna and the Tigers last weekend. “I haven’t seen a better player than him. I haven’t seen [North Dakota’s Zach] Parise yet, only on film. But this guy’s a man, physically. We have nobody that can go with him 1-on-1, physically.”
That’s been the case with plenty of teams this season, which is why Sejna, a junior, seemingly has had his way with the rest of the WCHA. He’s tied with Parise at the top of the league and national scoring charts at 47 points.
He has scored at least a point in 25 straight games and can tie and set the CC record of 26 this weekend at home against Wisconsin.
Two plays in particular from last Saturday’s 3-1 CC victory at Tech showed Sejna’s importance to the Tigers.
• On his goal, he practically carried a Huskies defenseman to the net before lifting an accurate backhanded shot. The weight Sejna has put on in the last two seasons appears to be all muscle, and opponents, as Sertich said, have a hard time matching up with that.
None of the members of his line — Marty Sertich plays center and Noah Clarke is on the right wing — is listed at taller than 5-foot-11, but they play big.
• With the Tigers clinging to a two-goal lead and short-handed in the final minutes, Sejna collected a loose puck in the neutral zone, but had two Tech defenders between him and a shot at the empty net.
With his team down a man, he could have fired for the open net without fear of an icing call. Instead, Sejna lightly deflected the puck off the boards and killed a little bit more time.
A scorer’s touch and brains. There’s a reason the players that have both get a lot of attention: They don’t show up every day.
It took Craig Dahl over six years to go from zero wins to 100 at St. Cloud State, then another five years to go from 100 to 200.
The third hundred victories flew by. Dahl got his 300th victory at St. Cloud last Saturday night against Providence, just over four years after claiming win No. 200.
“Honestly, I didn’t even think about it at the time,” Dahl said. “Before the game, on TV, they said this would be your 300th career win at St. Cloud State. I had 300 wins 75 games ago, you know? [Dahl’s 300th career victory came in the 1999-2000 season.] So I wasn’t even thinking about that.
“All of a sudden, they brought that up and I went, ‘Oh gosh.’ It just doesn’t seem hardly possible. Time has flown by so fast. It just humbles you to be in that type of company with those other great coaches that are up there still active. I’m just thankful for all the former assistant coaches and all the former players and our administration, who really helped do all this.”
Making Himself Big
At the summer camp of noted goaltending coach Warren Strelow, Michigan Tech goalie Cam Ellsworth was told he needed to use his 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame to his advantage. He had to make himself big to face shooters.
He made himself pretty big last weekend. Ellsworth, a sophomore, stopped 94 of 100 shots against Colorado College last weekend and was named the USCHO.com national defensive player of the week.
The goaltending performance of the season in the WCHA may have come in last Saturday’s first period. Ellsworth withstood a 28-shot barrage to preserve a scoreless game through 20 minutes.
He would have been excused had he lapsed into a Denis Lemieux-esque fit of spasms in the locker room.
“He was outstanding. Brilliant,” Sertich said. “As good goaltending as I’ve seen in many years. When you look at the great ones that played here, with nights like that and continued effort like that, you can put him among the great ones.”
Sejna said, “He was really good today, but even last year when he got really hot, we had trouble scoring on him.”
Ellsworth, whose 55 saves last Saturday were the most for Tech since 1994, doesn’t rank highly in any of the WCHA’s goaltending stats. He’s 14th — last among those who have played at least 33 percent of their team’s minutes — in goals against average at 3.61; 11th in save percentage at .896; and 13th in winning percentage at .310.
But he plays his positions well and does a decent job of holding up under heavy shot loads.
“You’re glad you have him,” Tech captain Brett Engelhardt said in a modest understatement.
Minnesota State-Mankato wasn’t intimidated going into defending league champion Denver’s arena last weekend, and it won’t be intimidated going into defending national champion Minnesota’s arena this weekend.
That’s the word from coach Troy Jutting, who has seen his team go unbeaten in nine games and jump to third in the WCHA standings, despite having played more games than the competition.
The Mavericks took three points at Magness Arena last weekend and go to Mariucci Arena with a world of confidence.
“Confidence is a good thing, provided that you’re not too confident,” Jutting said. “A lot of times you have some success and teams will get overconfident, then I think it really hurts you.
“But I think more than confidence, they’re really comfortable with each other and playing very well as a team. I think they count on each other and depend on each other. More so than the confidence, I think they just believe in each other.”
Mankato continues to get starring-role performances from Shane Joseph and Grant Stevenson, who was named the USCHO.com Division I men’s offensive player of the week. But Jutting is pleased with the supporting efforts his team finally is receiving on offense.
Junior Cole Bassett scored a pair of goals last weekend at important times. He tied Friday’s game at 1 and gave the Mavs a 3-2 lead on Saturday, both on the power play. He has nine goals this season.
Junior Dana Sorenson and sophomore Adam Gerlach each has eight goals, taking at least some of the pressure off Joseph and Stevenson, who have 20 and 17 goals, respectively.
Meanwhile, the goaltending situation has settled into a rotation of Jon Volp on Friday and Jason Jensen on Saturday.
That system has been in place since a series with American International on Dec. 27 and 28. The Mavericks are 5-0-3 since.
“Provided we keep getting the same results, we’ll stick with that,” Jutting said. “I think it’s worked very well for us to this point in time, but as always, we’ll evaluate after each weekend and see how things went and progress accordingly.”
He added: “It also takes some of the tension off of, ‘Who’s going to be the starter?’ Maybe it allows them to focus a little bit more in practice time, knowing what they’re going to do and when they’re going to start.”
Bottom Falling Out
Curious in Scott Owens’ postgame statements last Saturday night in Houghton was that the CC coach seems to be expecting things to go wrong in the final minutes of games.
The Tigers lost a two-goal lead in the third period last Friday and tied Tech 3-3. They lost a two-goal lead in the second game of the series at North Dakota two weeks ago and tied.
So when Andrew Canzanello was penalized for hooking with 1 minute, 55 seconds left and the Tigers holding a 3-1 lead, CC held its breath. Goaltender Curtis McElhinney saw the Tigers through to the victory.
“It was a tough game for McElhinney because he didn’t get a lot of shots, yet every shot he got was important,” Owens said. “I was real pleased the way he played in the last two minutes because it was that same old thing where we get ourselves in some penalty trouble, but he made a couple big saves. It wouldn’t have been that surprising to see them make it 3-2 with a minute to go.”
The unwavering confidence in a team’s ability to hold a lead that every coach wants to have doesn’t seem to be there with CC as it prepares for a seven-week race for the MacNaughton Cup.
In those seven weeks, however, there will be only one weekend in which CC doesn’t sleep in its beds. The Tigers’ lone remaining road trip is to St. Cloud on Feb. 14 and 15. They close the regular season at Denver on March 7, but that’s just a drive down the road.
The Tigers are 5-0 at home in conference this season and 5-1-5 on the road.
“We have played 10 games in the WCHA and nine of them have been on the road in this stretch, broken up by Christmas and a couple non-conference [games],” Owens said, harkening back to a series at Minnesota in mid-November. “So we’ve held serve, so to speak. And now we’ve just got to get back and get used to playing on the big sheet again.”
The Reichmuth Factor
St. Cloud State could play a great series against Minnesota-Duluth this weekend and still have it be out of the Huskies’ control.
That’s the Reichmuth factor.
Dahl appreciates the lift goaltender Isaac Reichmuth brings the Bulldogs because he’s seen it before. He called Reichmuth “awesome” after UMD’s 4-2 victory at St. Cloud on Nov. 23, probably because of two head-turning saves.
“He has the ability to steal a game,” Dahl said of Reichmuth, “and you really can’t control that sort of thing, so you just try to play as well as you can and see what happens.”
The Bulldogs and Huskies are separated by just two points in the standings, although UMD, in seventh place with 15 points from 14 games, has two games in hand on St. Cloud, which is tied for fourth with Minnesota.
The Huskies, however, are beginning to feel the effects of being back at full strength. Defenseman Derek Eastman has returned in fine form after missing the first semester because of academic problems.
They’ve had the desired lineup on the ice for the last three games, and Dahl said last Saturday’s 5-3 victory over Providence was the team’s best game of the season.
After a roughly three-month tryout, Jake Brandt will get his chance to be North Dakota’s full-time No. 1 goaltender.
That was confirmed by Sioux coach Dean Blais after Brandt earned a 3-0 victory over Alaska-Anchorage last Saturday.
“It was a nice shutout for Jake,” Blais told the Grand Forks Herald. “He was real solid, not giving up any second chances, or any rebounds. He’s stepped up in goal and gotten himself into the No. 1 position.”
Brandt, who has played in one fewer game than Josh Siembida, is 9-1-2 with a 2.32 goals against average and a .897 save percentage. Siembida is 11-1, but has a GAA of 3.21 and a poor save percentage, .846.
With UND off this weekend, Brandt’s first challenge as No. 1 will be at Colorado College next weekend.
Sign of the Times
What’s next for Alaska-Anchorage? Bad news falling from the sky? Oh. Really? Cross that one off the list.
As if things weren’t bad enough for the Seawolves — now 21 games without a win, enduring the fallout from a NCAA violation concerning the purchase of textbooks and having lost a player after an assistant coach’s slapshot broke his foot — the surreal has developed, too.
As he was skating out for warmups before last Friday’s 11-2 loss to North Dakota, forward Pavel Hlavacek was hit on the foot by a sign that fell off the Sullivan Arena suspended scoreboard. He missed the game.
While it’s true that some days you’re better off staying in bed, the same can be said for this season for the Seawolves.
Quoting the Huskies
Engelhardt on his goal last Saturday, on which he had an empty net to shoot at and was alone in front: “It’s one of those where you don’t want to do it again because you’re afraid you’ll mess up. There’s so much net that if you think about it, you’ll miss it. I was sitting on the bench, ‘God, I don’t want to do that again.'”
Sertich on playing CC: “We’re not as good as them, No. 1, obviously. I think when our top kids are healthy, we can play with most teams’ top kids. But it shows you how far we have to go yet as far as the quality of depth, and developing depth beyond two lines. We’re not there yet. We’re playing a lot of young kids. … We don’t have the luxury of a lot of depth right now.”
Jon Pittis to The Gazette of Colorado Springs after last Friday’s 3-3 tie: “This is a huge win for us.”
Pittis caught his mistake, but not quick enough.
On the Shelf
• At Michigan Tech, the Huskies lost defenseman John Scott to a shoulder injury last Friday night, then Pittis joined him Saturday night. Both are out indefinitely.
• At Alaska-Anchorage, that injury to Hlavacek’s foot will keep him out this weekend as well. Forward Dan Gilkerson is scheduled to sit out Friday’s game with a concussion, but return on Saturday. Forward Morgan Roach is questionable with a fractured finger, and defensemen Sean Honeman (shoulder) and Steve Suihkonen (kneecap) are probable.
• At Denver, a weekend off should help forward Greg Barber recover from a shoulder injury that kept him out last weekend.
• At Minnesota, captain Grant Potulny is expected to return this weekend from a broken ankle suffered Oct. 12. Meanwhile, forward Jon Waibel is listed as day-to-day with a knee bone bruise suffered last Friday night.
• At North Dakota, forward Brian Canady had to miss a homecoming in Anchorage last weekend because he tore the medial collateral ligament in a knee two weekends ago against Minnesota. The Sioux hope to have him back in a couple weeks, but he may also be out for the season.
In Other Words
Wisconsin is considering narrowing the ice surface at the Kohl Center from 97 feet wide to 90, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. Budget cuts may stand in the way, however. … Denver is 1-5-2 in its last eight WCHA games. The only win in that stretch was against St. Cloud State on Jan. 10. … Your feel-good story of the week: Minnesota walk-on senior Chad Roberg scored in the Gophers’ 6-0 exhibition victory over the U.S. Under-18 team. …
Through 78 WCHA games this season, 43 have either had one-goal margins of victory or ended in ties. … The NHL’s Central Scouting Service has eight WCHA players listed in its mid-term rankings for this season’s draft. They are: Thomas Vanek, Minnesota, third; Parise, North Dakota, 11th; Mark Stuart, Colorado College, 17th; Gino Guyer, Minnesota, 84th; Jonathan Lehun, St. Cloud State, 99th; Alex Leavitt, Wisconsin, 151st; Peter Kennedy, Minnesota, 175th; and Dan Kronick, Minnesota-Duluth, 194th. … Players of the week were North Dakota’s Jason Notermann and Mankato’s Grant Stevenson sharing the offensive honor; Ellsworth and St. Cloud’s Jake Moreland sharing the defensive honor; and Parise as the top rookie.