It appears the defending national champions have only one route if they want to defend that title.
As the third team in the NCHA, Wisconsin-Superior is likely to be on the outside of the NCAA tournament unless it wins the Peters Cup as the league’s playoff champion.
“You have to win the playoffs. That’s the only guarantee there is,” UWS coach Dan Stauber said after last Saturday’s 4-3 loss at St. Norbert.
“I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done, it’s the only guarantee there.”
The Yellowjackets won the Peters Cup last season en route to the national title, and they had to go on the road to do it, so there’s little question they have the potential.
Last season, they beat St. Norbert in overtime at the Green Knights’ home rink to win the conference title and the automatic berth to the NCAAs.
This time around, they’ll have to go to either River Falls or St. Norbert to do so. The Falcons have a two-point lead on SNC for the top spot in the NCHA, with four games left in the regular season.
After a successful first try last season, the NCHA again will hold its championship at the home of the regular-season champion, if it advances past the first round.
A Whole Lot of Nothing
St. Norbert is taking its second No. 1 ranking of the season in the USCHO.com poll in stride, meaning it’s hardly recognizing it.
It means “pretty much nothing,” Green Knights senior defenseman John Donnelly said. “Those rankings, I’m not exactly sure who does them, but the game’s not played on the computer and in the newspapers. I guess it’s nice, but it doesn’t really mean much to us.”
SNC coach Tim Coghlin said: “From a hockey standpoint, honestly, it means nothing. From a public-relations standpoint, it’s nice for our institution, it’s good publicity and it still means nothing.”
St. Norbert spent two weeks at the top of the poll in November before a loss to River Falls, its only defeat of the season.
Bo Knows Rebuilding
Cory Borys started at St. Scholastica before last season with a timetable. Sitting down? He wants the Saints to be in the NCHA final four in the 2004-05 season, with a trip to the NCAA tournament the next season.
Still sitting down? He thinks they’re ahead of schedule.
St. Scholastica (4-15-1, 1-8-1 NCHA) has a long way to go before it gets to that stage, but Borys, who was a player and assistant coach at St. Norbert before moving to the Duluth, Minn., school, said they’re on their way.
“I’m kind of going to put last year aside, mainly because I couldn’t recruit because I got in so late,” Borys said of his first season, when the Saints were 5-22 and 1-13 in the NCHA. “So this is my first year from a recruiting standpoint. With these kids, by their junior year, I’d like to be in the NCHA final four. I’d like to be competing for that.
“Could it be earlier? Most definitely. You never know. But then the year after that, when they’re seniors, we should have a good shot of going to the NCAAs. And from then on, just go to work.”
That’s a bold statement, but Borys was hired at CSS to turn things around, so why not set the bar high?
The Saints are a little ahead of where Borys had them pegged.
“That’s because [we have] 10 to 14 freshmen in the lineup every night, and these kids are learning,” he said. “Granted, they’re learning the hard way sometimes, but they’re learning. And it shows with the maturity and the evolution of some of our players. Granted, we’re not young in age, but we’re young in experience.”
Junior Cale Finseth leads the team with nine goals and 13 points, but the rest of the top five on the scoring chart is made up of freshmen. Curtis Markewich, defenseman Gordon Burnett and Kyle Cash each has 12 points, and Jamie Coffey has 11.
The Saints haven’t been much of a threat to the NCHA’s elite this season — although they took Superior to the wire a couple weeks ago before losing by two goals with an empty-netter. But Borys envisions a time when that will change.
“It’s baby steps for us right now,” he said. “Our record is almost identical to what it was last year, but what people don’t see is that last year, it’d be 10-1, 9-1, 8-2 blowouts very often. “This year, when we’ve been bad, we’ve been bad and it’s cost us.
“But for most nights, we’ve been in every game and been very competitive. That’s the first step we have to take. And now, it’s learning how to win. Another recruiting class is going to help. It’s just going to take a little time.”