This Week in the WCHA: Feb. 27, 2003

This Is a Bonus?

Some thoughts this week, while wondering how, with all the great minds in Hollywood, a TV special on the 10-year reunion of the class from “Saved By The Bell” could have been overlooked:

  • So the NCAA installs a “bonus component” to the tournament selection criteria, eh? Teams get their RPI bumped up for wins over teams outside their conference that are rated in the top 15 in the final RPI, with more awarded for a road win, huh? Just when we thought we had it all figured out…
  • You’ll probably find significantly fewer people this week saying Minnesota State-Mankato isn’t for real than you would have last week.
  • North Dakota? Free falling. The Sioux have one win in their last eight games.
  • Minnesota-Duluth senior Jon Francisco may score more goals in his Bulldogs career, but maybe no two will be sweeter than the ones he scored last Saturday to tie and beat Minnesota. The first was with 11 seconds left, the second was a minute into OT.
  • And finally, St. Cloud State stands to gain the most of the WCHA teams in contention for NCAA spots with the introduction of the “bonus component.” Its road win over Ferris State and two home wins over Providence could help out big time.

    Back to Work, Maybe

    To say the people in the Wisconsin locker room were ready to get back on the ice after a turbulent week might not accurately capture the depth of their desire.

    They wanted the carnival out of town — the carnival being the scrutiny the entire team was under after it was revealed last week that coach Mike Eaves was disciplined for an altercation with one of his players in November.

    Wisconsin sophomore forward Alex Leavitt told two Madison newspapers last week that Eaves was physically violent and verbally abusive toward him in a Grand Forks, N.D., hotel after a loss on Nov. 23. Eaves, in his first year as head coach at his alma mater, had a reprimand placed in his personnel file.

    That put an even closer eye on a Badgers team that has struggled to find form in a trying season that could end up being the worst in program history, at least in terms of victories.

    And now the scrutiny is back after captain Brad Winchester was arrested early Sunday for allegedly punching a police officer. Winchester was suspended for two games, meaning he’ll miss the Badgers’ series against Michigan Tech this weekend.

    But when Friday finally rolled around last week and the Badgers could get back to the business of playing hockey, it was a relief.

    “This week’s sort of been a circus, I guess,” UW forward Erik Jensen said Friday night.

    The players met as a group during the week. “The message was all that stuff is extraneous,” Winchester said Friday. “The guys did a good job in terms of staying focused.”

    St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl, whose team tied the Badgers 2-2 on Friday before losing 4-3 on Saturday, sounded impressed at the way Wisconsin got back to business on the ice.

    “They either get after it or they fall back,” Dahl said. “I didn’t see evidence that they were falling back.”

    Dahl added: “He’s not the only one who’s ever had a distraction like that, and that’s what you have to get across to your kids. … You don’t like to see anyone go through those things, player or coach.”

    Defenseman Brian Fahey said the Leavitt-Eaves incident wasn’t as much of a distraction as some were making it out to be. Rene Bourque, who scored the winner on Saturday night, said the losses to Minnesota the weekend before were more of an influence on the team’s psyche.

    “Last Saturday night, I don’t think I’ve ever been that embarrassed in a hockey game in my whole life,” Bourque said. “Losing 8-1 against Minnesota, then we had a hard skate Monday. Coming into this weekend, we didn’t want to go through anything like we did last weekend. We had a hard skate on Monday and the guys kind of came together after that as a team, [saying], ‘This has got to stop.’ We went out there this week and worked hard, and it paid off.”

    Believe It Or Not

    However improbable it may have sounded three months ago, Minnesota State-Mankato plays its last WCHA regular-season series this weekend with an outside shot of winning the MacNaughton Cup.

    A moment here to let that sink in.

    That moment may have included thoughts of the following scenario that allows the Mavericks to wrestle away the league championship from Colorado College, its opponent this weekend: Mankato sweeps the Tigers — don’t rule anything out in this league, right? — and CC does no better than split its home-and-home series with Denver next weekend.

    That would leave the teams tied for first place, and Mankato would take the No. 1 seed in the playoffs on the head-to-head tiebreaker (the teams split earlier this season in Mankato).

    Meanwhile, here’s a look at what has happened to this point and some scenarios for the last two weeks of the regular season:

  • CC needs two points over its last four games to clinch a share of the title. But considering the scenario above, if it claims only two points in the last two weekends, at least one of them has to come from a game against Mankato for the Tigers to earn the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
  • At the other end, Alaska-Anchorage is sealed into 10th, while Michigan Tech and Wisconsin will finish eighth and ninth, with the order up in the air.
  • Mankato has clinched a home-ice spot for the first round of the playoffs.
  • That leaves Minnesota, North Dakota, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State fighting for three home-ice spots. The Gophers and Pioneers, who play this weekend in Minneapolis, appear to have the toughest remaining schedules. In addition to this weekend’s series, Minnesota plays St. Cloud State in a home-and-home series, while Denver plays Colorado College home-and-home.

    North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth face off this weekend, but then North Dakota plays at Wisconsin and UMD hosts Michigan Tech. St. Cloud State tries to get back on track by hosting Alaska-Anchorage this weekend.

    The Bonus

    The NCAA’s new “bonus component” for NCAA tournament selection awards the most extra points for a road win over a team outside the conference that’s in the top 15 in the RPI at the time of selection.

    We don’t know what the RPI will be on March 23, but it appears St. Cloud State will be the only WCHA team that earns the maximum points from a road win.

    And it goes all the way back to the first game of the season for the Huskies, a 2-1 win over Ferris State, which presently is No. 8 in the RPI rankings.

    St. Cloud also could get points for two home wins over Providence, which is 14th.

    Here’s the rundown on the other WCHA teams in contention for an at-large bid to the field of 16:

  • Colorado College likely will get rewarded for a neutral-site win over Maine (second in RPI). Not that it’ll need it.
  • Denver should get a bonus for beating New Hampshire (sixth), and could get neutral-site points for a win over Michigan State (18th) if the Spartans finish in the top 15.
  • Minnesota will get its RPI increased for a home win over Boston College (fourth), and could get a bonus for its neutral-site win over Ohio State (16th).
  • North Dakota has 10 nonconference wins, but only a neutral-site victory over Michigan (11th) will pay off in the bonus category.
  • Minnesota State-Mankato gets nothing from the bonus system. It has only two nonconference wins, over Bemidji State (43rd) and American International (57th), with two games next weekend against Nebraska-Omaha (32nd).

    Speaking Numerically

    By the numbers from last Saturday’s 5-4 Minnesota State-Mankato victory over North Dakota:

    2: The number of goals Mavericks senior B.J. Abel scored on senior night.

    5,182: The attendance at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center, a record.

    48: The number of saves Mavs goalie Jason Jensen made.

    17: Mankato’s unbeaten streak, in games.

    120: The number of minutes Abel’s line held Sioux freshman phenom Zach Parise without a point.

    2, again: The number of points by which Mankato trails league-leading CC. Also, however, the number of league games the Mavericks have left, as opposed to CC’s four.

    Missing Malone

    Unless someone else steps forward to drive the St. Cloud State offense in Ryan Malone’s absence, the Huskies are in trouble.

    Malone may be able to return from a knee injury for next week’s series against Minnesota. Without him last weekend at Wisconsin, the Huskies looked fine in stretches, but there also were times when their offense had no form and had trouble setting up.

    Losing three one-goal leads on Saturday didn’t help, either.

    “Our all-around work ethic was good, but that killer mentality wasn’t there,” Matt Hendricks told the St. Cloud Times. “It happened last weekend [the Huskies lost 5-3 to Colorado College after leading 3-1 in the third period] and it happened again. We’re up a goal going into the third. We’ve got to bear down and get it.”

    They also didn’t deal well with Wisconsin’s aggressive style. The Huskies’ Jonathan Lehun and Tim Conboy fell victim to big hits.

    “They’re a good skilled team,” Badgers defenseman Brian Fahey said, “but obviously, we showed that they can be taken advantage of physically.”

    Leavitt Update

    Eaves and Leavitt met after last Friday night’s game, and agreed Leavitt would return to practice on Monday.

    “It was just a matter of us sitting down and saying what the next step is,” Eaves said last Saturday. “And the next step is for us to get back together on Monday.

    “We talked about it as a staff, what’s the best way to handle it right now. I did talk to the administration; it wasn’t my sole decision. But in terms of the big picture and what’s the best thing right now, we feel that’s the best thing right now for the team.”

    Eaves said Leavitt had to work his way back into the lineup, however.

    “I mean, we got three out of four points — he’s got some work cut out for him to do,” he said.

    A Follow-Up

    A few weeks back, we reported North Dakota coach Dean Blais’ hopes that freshman defenseman Matt Greene was maturing, growing out of his untimely-penalty ways.

    Well, Greene still looks like a raw freshman in that category. In the first period last Saturday, Greene took his fourth penalty of the weekend, prompting Blais to send him to the dressing room until he was notified a player had to serve his own penalty.

    Greene sat out the rest of the period. He leads the league — is that the right way of saying it? — with 119 penalty minutes. His closest teammate in that category is defenseman David Hale, at 49.

    UND’s Brian Canady had some sitting out to do, as well. A spearing major and game DQ last Friday sent him to the bleachers for Saturday’s game.

    Home Away From Home

    So what if the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wis., is closer to Madison than it is to Houghton? It’ll be Michigan Tech’s home on Saturday in what should be a key game in the race for eighth place.

    Stop snickering. There can be key games for eighth place.

    Tech, which hosts the Badgers this weekend, is one point ahead of Wisconsin with two weekends left.

    “You never know how the teams are going to finish up at the top of the league,” Wisconsin defenseman Dan Boeser said. “We’re going to be battling to get up as high as we can. Obviously, we’re one point behind. They know that, we know that. So it’s going to be a pretty hard-fought weekend.”

    The Huskies, who placed an unsuccessful bid to host an NCAA regional at the Resch Center, have expressed an interest in returning there next season for another WCHA game. They are scheduled to play the Badgers on Nov. 7 and 8.

    Breaking Streaks

    ESPN called it Bracket Buster Saturday. We’ll call it Comeback Saturday. Seems more appropriate for a day that made unlikely winners out of two teams who usually would see a deficit after two periods and pack the bags.

    Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin made victories out of second-intermission deficits on the same night.

    For the Bulldogs, it was the first time that happened in 51 games. Wisconsin was 0-17-1 this season when trailing after two periods, before Saturday.

    Showing Off

    Wisconsin’s Erik Jensen worked his way up from the fourth line to the second line in the course of last weekend’s series with St. Cloud State.

    Not bad for someone who started the week not on a line at all.

    Jensen, who was a healthy scratch for the three Badgers games before last weekend, had a goal, an assist, a couple big hits and kept his cool against the Huskies.

    “I had a little something to show for coach because he benched me the last three games,” Jensen said.

    Eaves said he would bench Jensen again if it turned his game around.

    “There was a play there in the third period [Saturday night] where he hit a guy by the bench and the guy came off the boards and punched him back,” Eaves said. “Maybe two or three weeks earlier, he would have done something silly that would’ve hurt the team. But you know what? He learned his lesson and was a very effective player for us this week. Had a couple great plays, didn’t take any penalties. He was a perfect example that you can play hard and play smart.”

    Doell-ing It Out

    It’s unlikely Denver and Michigan Tech will cross paths again this season, and that’s rather unfortunate for the Pioneers’ Kevin Doell.

    Doell, a senior forward, scored four times against the Huskies last Friday and added another goal on Saturday. That makes nearly a quarter of his collegiate goal production from games against Tech.

    In four years, he has 14 goals in 16 games against the Huskies. Seven of them came in four games this year, with five in six games last season. He scored twice in four games against the Huskies his freshman season, 1999-2000.

    For his collegiate career, he has 60 goals in 151 games. That means 23.3 percent of his goals have come against a team he’s played 10.6 percent of his games against.

    In Other Words

    What’s that line about goals in the last minute of a period? Minnesota has allowed 16 of them this season. Seven of them have been in the final minute of a game. … Instant replay is coming to the WCHA next season, but only at Denver’s Magness Arena, the Duluth News Tribune reported. The league is paying $20,000 to install replay equipment at the arena for a trial run next season. … Dan Benson, the North Dakota media relations director, has been called into service to the U.S. Army Reserves. A 17-year member of the reserves, Benson was one of 15 soldiers activated from the 308th Engineer Detachment. His orders are for one year. … Players of the week were Denver’s Doell on offense, Minnesota State-Mankato’s Jensen on defense, and the Pioneers’ Brett Skinner and UMD’s Steve Czech as the top rookies.