Some thoughts this week, while waiting to see if Tony Hrkac can still get some assists added to his account for the 1986-87 season:
That Keel Again
OK, some of you, being the astute USCHO readers you are, deserve a bit of a challenge. Which WCHA coach made the following statement this week?
“One of the strengths of this team is that it’s been very even-keeled.”
A. Minnesota’s Don Lucia
B. St. Cloud State’s Craig Dahl
C. Colorado College’s Scott Owens?
We can see how you’d guess A or B, since those coaches have used the even-keel approach in the past. But it’s C, and Owens has good reason for using that phrase with his Tigers.
You could say CC is at its highest point right now, after a sweep of North Dakota that put the Tigers in a position where they would have to lose the WCHA regular-season championship. But with Minnesota coming to the World Arena this weekend, you won’t find CC doing any gloating. It’s just another weekend.
That’s an even keel.
“It’s really necessary during the length of the season, and how every weekend is such a big weekend,” Owens said. “A lot of that radiates from your leadership. I know Don [Lucia] had good leadership last year with [Jordan] Leopold and company. We’ve got really good leadership this year from Tom Preissing and Peter Sejna and that group. Yeah, I think there are similarities.”
Things haven’t always been rosy. The first period last Friday against North Dakota rates as one of the worst for the Tigers all season. They left the ice down 3-0 and came back on with an earful from the coaching staff.
Owens said the coaches were “somewhat stern” in their message that CC needed to start picking up its pace. They fed off the energy in the World Arena to claw back to a 5-3 victory.
With the Gophers visiting the World Arena for the first time since 1999 — “We’re just kind of excited to have them out here,” Owens said — and series with St. Cloud State, Minnesota State-Mankato and Denver thereafter, the MacNaughton Cup isn’t exactly in hand, even if it’s within reach.
“With all those games we have left against those top teams,” Owens said, “there’s no time to get distracted.”
Jerseys, Tickets, TV and Cups
The WCHA will make a decision at its spring meetings on the thought of home teams wearing dark jerseys. The idea had been kicked around at last season’s meetings.
“We don’t have any particular reason,” league commissioner Bruce McLeod said. “Just a change of pace, and [to] let people in the home town see a different jersey.”
In other news from the commissioner:
“I think it’ll be good from the standpoint that we’re going to have an awfully, awfully competitive tournament, no matter who the five that get there are,” McLeod said.
The MacNaughton Cup travels from year to year, but the league is working with a Montreal silversmith — the same one the NHL uses — to produce one miniature (about 18 inches high) version of the cup each season. The winner will keep it for good.
McLeod said the project might not be ready for this season.
An inattentive listener to an Oasis CD might hear the following lyric:
“You better get on your knees and pray/Vanek is on the way.”
The real lyric warns that panic, in fact, is on the way. All right, you try and figure out half of what Liam Gallagher sings.
Minnesota’s Thomas Vanek might not be the WCHA’s rookie of the year this season, but at least he’s making it so North Dakota’s Zach Parise isn’t a runaway choice.
Vanek is having a top-notch freshman season of his own, putting up team highs with 21 goals and 39 points in 27 games. The Gophers’ rookie record of 32 goals, set by the legendary John Mayasich in 1951-52, is within reach, especially if Vanek can put up more two-goal games like he did last Saturday at Anchorage.
It’s hard to turn a corner when all you can see is a long, straight road. Maybe that’s what Wisconsin’s players see right now, with five straight losses in hand and a bottom-three spot almost certain.
But the corner coach Mike Eaves wants them to turn isn’t to make this season an instant success. First, the Badgers have to get some goalscoring, he said.
They haven’t scored more than two goals in a game since Jan. 4, and have done so only two times since Nov. 2. Top scorer Rene Bourque has 20 points, which would be good for eighth on North Dakota’s roster.
“This major-league drought, it’s almost as dry as the desert,” Eaves said. “We had some pretty good chances up at Denver — open nets, I mean — and we’re hitting shafts and putting the thing over the net. That would be one thing that would really help us get to the corner and turn it.”
Easy thing to say, right? The Badgers are getting the chances — they outshot Denver 56-48 last weekend but got outscored 11-2.
“You just kind of put them in situations at practice where hopefully they’re being successful,” Eaves said, “and they get that feeling again.”
Figuring It Out
This puzzle may be slow in coming together, but Michigan Tech looks like a better team than it did a couple months ago.
That’s the first step.
“We’re starting to learn how to win,” Tech captain Brett Engelhardt told USCHO’s Eric J. Habermas after last Friday’s 4-3 overtime victory over St. Cloud State.
“It gets easier once you start to figure it out.”
The Huskies were 3-2-1 in their just-completed six-game homestand that featured weekends against Colorado College and SCSU sandwiched around one with Anchorage.
The five wins they claimed in January were the most in the first month of the year since 1988.
There isn’t much more to say about second-place Minnesota State-Mankato — yes, second-place Minnesota State-Mankato — than what forward Shane Joseph told USCHO’s Dusty Sedars last Saturday night.
“This is the farthest we’ve ever been up in the standings. We’re battling, and once we got to this place, we think, ‘Hey, we’re only six points out of first,'” Joseph said. “We had goals coming in the year to finish a top-five team. We got to that level where we know we can be a top-five team, and once you get to that, you have to reevaluate the goal and go for a higher goal.”
The Bottom Bowl
Coach John Hill said the mood around the Alaska-Anchorage team is somber. Going 25 games without a win will do that to you.
But the Seawolves can be heartened this week by the prospect of playing the only team in the WCHA that’s having almost as hard a time scoring goals as they are.
Anchorage is managing a paltry 1.45 goals per game in WCHA play, but Wisconsin, which hosts the Seawolves this weekend, is getting only 1.67.
In Anchorage last month, the teams played to a pair of ties — fittingly, 2-2 and 1-1.
“Both teams struggle to score goals,” Hill said, “so in that regard, we do match up well.”
Said Eaves: “They’re trying to turn the corner too, and we are. So you’ve got a couple desperate teams. It’ll be hard hockey. I know both teams will be playing hard, trying to do what they want to achieve.”
Oh, Dany Boy
You knew there would come a day when you, the WCHA fan, would be able to say you saw Dany Heatley when he was playing college hockey, and when he had all of his teeth.
Now’s a good time. Heatley tied an NHL All-Star Game record with four goals last Sunday and was named the game’s MVP.
If he had chosen to play out his collegiate eligibility, Heatley would have been a senior at Wisconsin this season. And probably wouldn’t have a gap in his front teeth.
On the Shelf
In Other Words
Denver forward Kevin Ulanski registered his first career four-point night last Saturday against Wisconsin. He’s from Madison, Wis. … St. Cloud State takes the weekend off, probably still fuming from losing valuable points in overtime last Friday. Even a tie instead of a loss to Michigan Tech might make a big difference in the final standings. … Minnesota-Duluth had won seven straight Saturday games before last weekend. The Bulldogs go into this weekend’s key home series with Denver three points behind the Pioneers, who are in sixth place. …
The WCHA went over the 1 million mark in attendance last weekend (1,015,863 for 156 games). It’s the 10th straight season the WCHA has done so. … With CC doing so well this season, its alumni have set up viewing parties of this Saturday’s game against Minnesota across the country. For a full list of places to watch the game, go here. … Players of the week were Minnesota’s Troy Riddle on offense, Denver’s Aaron MacKenzie on defense and Minnesota’s Vanek as the top rookie.