A look at the WCHA race heading into the final two weekends of the regular season reveals that nearly everything is set for the WCHA Final Five.
No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth needs just two points to clinch the top seed and three points to claim the regular-season title outright. Last weekend’s split with No. 3 Minnesota enabled the Bulldogs to maintain their six-point lead over the Gophers and, by virtue of a 3-1-0 head-to-head record, gave them the tiebreak advantage should the teams share the title.
Minnesota needs just one point to guarantee itself second place, which would mean the Gophers will face No. 7 Wisconsin for three consecutive games. The Gophers close out the regular season next week at Wisconsin and, unless they unseat UMD for the top seed, will play the opening game of the semifinals, March 7, against the Badgers at Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D.
Wisconsin has clinched at least third place after sweeping St. Cloud State last weekend. Should the Badgers remain there, it will be the fourth consecutive season in which they have entered the league tournament as the third seed.
The play-in game, March 6, will pit, in all likelihood, Bemidji State and Ohio State but the teams have to play four more games before deciding who will wear their home white jerseys and get the last line change. OSU has a one-point lead in the standings while facing a home series with Wisconsin this weekend. The Beavers will take on UMD in a home-and-home series this weekend.
Unless the Buckeyes can gain four points in the standings on BSU this weekend, the final seeds will be determined next weekend in Columbus when the Beavers take on Ohio State at OSU Arena.
The only thing that could prevent a BSU-OSU meeting in the Final Five would be the Beavers being swept by UMD and the Buckeyes, while Minnesota State would need to sweep Minnesota and St. Cloud State.
Left on the outside looking in, for the second consecutive year, are St. Cloud State and Minnesota State. The two teams will do battle for the sixth and seventh spot in the league standings next weekend in Mankato with the host Mavericks already having recorded more points (seven) than in the last two seasons combined (four).
Although the WCHA has become, arguably, the best of the four women’s Division I hockey conferences, it still faces several problems.
How it handles disciplining players and coaches, on and off the ice, ranks at the top of the list.
During game two of a weekend sweep at Minnesota earlier this season, UMD head coach Shannon Miller threw a water bottle on the ice in disgust, an action she duplicated in a 4-1 win at home over Wisconsin, Jan. 18. Following the sweep of the Gophers, having lost team captain Maria Rooth to a shoulder separation, she said, among other things, that referee Bill Kronschnabel “blew it” by not assessing a major and game misconduct on Kelly Stephens for checking from behind, who was given a minor penalty for checking on the play.
Aside from the fact that video replays clearly showed Rooth falling before Stephens made any contact with her, and that contact was not from behind, Miller committed one of the cardinal sins of coaching — publicly criticizing officials. In this case, she wrongly criticized an official yet, when all was said and done, the league meted out no penalties in the way of fines or suspensions. Not even a light tap on the wrists.
By the way, she was never given a penalty for either water bottle incident either.
During a 5-2 loss at UMD, Jan. 31, Ohio State freshman goalie Natalie Lammé was given a game misconduct for spitting on a player. The league never addressed the issue but, to her credit, Buckeye head coach Jackie Barto suspended the freshman goalie indefinitely, which turned out to be three games. Barto stated that Lammé had met certain criteria set for the redshirt freshman goalie before being reinstated, but she has not played since the incident.
A week later it was another Buckeye under the gun when Heather Farrell’s check on Minnesota rookie sensation Krissy Wendell knocked the Gopher out for the remainder of the regular season. On a play which occurred behind referee Jay Mendell, neither assistant referee Dave Marcotte or Bill Danielson elected to make a call. The league viewed the play and decided not to hand out a suspension but rather to “take internal action” which, on the outside looking, seems to be nothing more than saying “don’t do it again.”
The fracas following Wisconsin’s 3-2 win at St. Cloud State Friday may have hit an all-time high.
A non-call on a play in the corner in the Wisconsin end, seemed to have set things off at game’s end as some pushing and shoving afterwards followed. However, referee Jay Mendell had not called any penalties at the time until a fracas broke out at center ice.
One Wisconsin player was knocked flat in the center circle which escalated the situation. The Badgers’ Kerry Weiland entered the fray, threw two punches, appearing to land one, and, when pulled from the melee, struck assistant referee Lisa Schlatter with her stick. For those actions, she received a minor penalty for roughing.
St. Cloud’s Erin McNamara was given a minor, major and game disqualification for checking from behind but, as video replays clearly showed she was nowhere near the center ice actions, that penalty later became a game misconduct.
The coolest heads on the ice may have been those of the respective team captains, Wisconsin’s Sis Paulsen and the Huskies’ Kobi Kawamoto. Both reacted to the situation by pulling their own players away from the scrum and, for their efforts in dissipating the situation, were given roughing penalties.
Come April, when the league annually convenes for its league meetings, how the league will handle these issues should be at the top of agenda.
WCHA “House”Hold Hints
Minnesota junior forward Kelsey Bills’ game-winning goal in Saturday’s 4-2 win at UMD was the first GWG of her career … Freshman defenseman Chelsey Brodt followed that with her first career goal … Gopher sophomore goalie Jody Horak set a school record in the game with her 20th victory of the season … UMD captain Maria Rooth, who now has 220 career points, is two points away from tying the all time UMD school record of total career points … Dan Lempe, who played for the Bulldogs from 1976 to 1980, holds the men’s school record of 222 points … Wisconsin senior defenseman Sis Paulsen took over the team lead in scoring and has scored at least four points in each of the team’s last three two-game series … After giving up seven goals on 12 power-play chances to Ohio State earlier this season, Minnesota State held the Buckeyes scoreless on five chances over the weekend … With St. Cloud’s series at Wayne State this weekend, WCHA and CHA teams are meeting for the final time in 2002-03 … The WCHA owns an 11-8-0 record in interconference games with the CHA.
Offensive Player of the Week–Amber Fryklund, Sr., F, Bemidji State
Defensive Player of the Week–Jaclyn Haines, So., D, Ohio State
Rookie of the Week–Caroline Ouellette, Fr., F, Minnesota-Duluth
No. 7 Wisconsin at Ohio State (Friday-Saturday)
Wisconsin owns a 9-1-5 record in four seasons against Ohio State … The five ties for both schools are the most against any single opponent … The Badgers are 3-0-3 at OSU Arena … Wisconsin is the only team among the top five in the WCHA without a player averaging at least one point per game … The Badgers are 9-for-28 on the power play over their last six games … Carla MacLeod’s short-handed goal in Saturday’s 9-2 win was Wisconsin’s first in league play since Meghan Hunter accomplished the feat in a 3-3 tie against UMD, Feb. 3, 2001 … The Badgers had gone 50 games without a short-handed goal during that time … The Buckeyes have 10 players on their roster with more than 100 career games played … Senior defenseman Emily Hudak has not missed a game during her career and leads all active WCHA players with 141 games … OSU has played 12 one-goal games this season, including its last three games … The Buckeyes are 4-8-0 in one-goal games this season.
No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth at Bemidji State (Friday)
Bemidji State at No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth (Saturday)
UMD owns a 13-0-1 record in the all-time series between the two teams … The Bulldogs are 7-0-0 at Bemidji’s John Glas Fieldhouse and own a 6-0-1 record against the Beavers at home … BSU senior forward Alicia Kinsman ended a career-long eight-game scoring drought with a goal in Friday’s 4-3 win over Findlay … Senior forward Amber Fryklund was named the league’s player of the week with a six-point weekend, putting her over the point-per-game mark for the season … Senior goalie Bre Dedrickson got her first back-to-back starts of the season, just her fourth and fifth starts in all, and posted her first two wins of the season … UMD rookie forward Caroline Ouellette notched four points in Friday’s 7-1 win over Minnesota, extending her multiple-point scoring streak to eight games … She was held to just one point in Saturday’s 4-2 loss but has 26 points in her last nine games … Her WCHA rookie of the week honor was her fourth award of the season … The nation’s number two scoring offense, UMD boasts seven players averaging more than a point per game.
Minnesota State at No. 3 Minnesota (Saturday-Sunday)
Saturday’s game has been moved up to a 1:05 p.m. CST start to accommodate the Minnesota State High School League tournament, being held at Ridder Arena this weekend … With a two-game series sweep at Minnesota State earlier this season, the Gophers are a perfect 20-0-0 in five seasons versus the Mavericks … Minnesota has two players, freshmen Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell, over the 50-point mark for the first time since 1999-2000, when six Gophers reached the half-century mark … Three of Minnesota’s four goals Saturday came from players with a combined seven goals on the season … MSU junior forward Amanda Osborn’s 10 goals and 21 points represent two-thirds of her career totals of 15 goals and 31 points.
St. Cloud State at Wayne State (Friday-Saturday)
St. Cloud earned 3-1 and 6-1 wins, Nov. 3-4, 2000, in the teams’ only previous meetings, in Detroit … The Huskies have scored seven third-period goals in their last three games … Wayne State is 0-2-0 against WCHA opponents this season, having been swept at home by Minnesota State, Jan. 17-18 … The Warriors are coming off a 3-1 loss Wednesday night at Findlay … WSU’s regular season concludes this weekend as they have a weekend off before hosting the inaugural CHA Championship, March 8-9 … The Oilers will meet No. 9 Mercyhurst, the top seed, to open the tournament.