This Week in the WCHA: Oct. 9, 2003

Getting Punchy

Some thoughts this week, while pondering just how far off those preseason predictions are going to be:

  • Here’s setting the tone for a season: North Dakota’s Mike Prpich and Minnesota-Duluth’s Marco Peluso squared off in an old-fashioned donnybrook at center ice in last Saturday’s U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game. The game DQs mean each will miss a game against Boston College — Peluso this Friday and Prpich the next.
  • The timing of Alex Leavitt’s $1 million lawsuit against Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves and others? Interesting.
  • The possibility of the home team wearing dark jerseys is still on the table, although the WCHA has no formal policy on the matter. With the decision left up to the home team, we wonder when the first dispute will be.
  • And finally, when thinking about the preseason selection, we’re reminded of words about the WCHA from one of its coaches: “Whatever you think is going to happen usually doesn’t.”

    After Further Review

    The instant replay trial the WCHA planned for this season is on hold because of differences in how the league and the NCAA wanted the system to work.

    Denver’s Magness Arena had been chosen as the test site for a replay system that would be the first allowed in non-tournament regular-season play in college hockey.

    The league petitioned the NCAA ice hockey rules committee for permission for the trial and the committee approved it, but only if the same protocol that governed postseason video replay was followed. The WCHA, which wanted referees to view the replays and make their own decisions instead of sending matters to a replay judge, decided to put the plan on the shelf.

    League commissioner Bruce McLeod said the costs associated with employing another official for every game was the reason the league couldn’t go along with the NCAA’s demands.

    “We’ve worked hard, the WCHA, the last two or three years, to try to come up with what we saw for collegiate hockey as a feasible protocol,” he said. “Collegiate hockey, not just the WCHA, asked for an experiment in this area so people might be able to consider this across the board.”

    McLeod then offered a rhetorical question: “The honest truth is, if the WCHA can’t afford it, who can?”

    Denver coach George Gwozdecky, who would have seen the most of the replay system, called the turn of events “disappointing.”

    “Our officials, in conferring with them, I had heard many of them indicate that, boy, what a great idea to be able to have a television monitor, if there is a questionable goal or if there is a goal they just don’t know, they can go to the timers table and review it,” he said. “If they can’t tell by the review, whatever way they call it stands. That basically was our proposal.”

    McLeod said he has been waiting to talk to someone from the NCAA or the rules committee to see if they’ll give any ground on their stance. But it appears the replay trial is on hold for this season, considering the league still would have to train its referees if it was allowed to do things its way.

    Here We Go Again

    We don’t mean to make a big deal out of an exhibition game, but, in case you missed it last weekend, Alaska-Anchorage lost 2-1 to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

    Enough said.

    Goal Party

    We don’t mean to make a big deal out of an exhibition game, part two, but Michigan Tech racked up 49 shots on goal in a 10-1 victory over Waterloo last Friday.

    Ten players scored the 10 goals for the Huskies, bringing the inevitable line: I didn’t know the Huskies had 10 scorers.

    “I don’t know if that indicates anything,” first-year Huskies coach Jamie Russell said, justifiably taking the shine off an inconsequential victory. “We’ll have a better idea of where we’re at after we play Northern Michigan [next weekend]. It was certainly a good start, and it gives the guys a lot of confidence in the systems and what we’re trying to do.”

    What impressed Russell was his players’ ability to absorb a new system in six days of practice and be able to perform in a game situation. In the days leading up to the exhibition, Russell and the coaching staff introduced a new defensive-zone system, a new forecheck and changes to the power play and penalty kill.

    It’s all part of the master plan for the Huskies. Russell intends to shake the passiveness out of his players and infuse some energy in their style.

    “That was the biggest change for them, and I think they did a good job,” Russell said. “We were real happy with the results.”

    Tech takes a step backward this weekend for an intrasquad scrimmage and skills competition, something Russell would have preferred to see before the exhibition game to ensure more of a steady buildup to the season. The schedule had been finalized before the new coach could do anything about it, however.

    After seeing what a lot of players can do last weekend, the coaches will look to see what role each player will be able to fulfill.

    Russell said he enjoyed his first game behind the Huskies’ bench, but a 10-1 victory will go a long way in making that happen.

    “Anytime you have a 6-0 lead after one,” Russell said, “there’s not a lot of stress in that game.”

    No Turning Back

    A year ago, Minnesota-Duluth opened the season with a pair of games against Notre Dame, then had to play an exhibition game against Lakehead, which it won comfortably.

    “Quite honestly, it was a waste of a game,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “I don’t think either team was really into it.”

    So Sandelin is sticking with his claim that starting with games against North Dakota and Boston College will be good for his team. This may be an opportune time for a warning to be careful what you wish for.

    Sandelin noted fatigue as a factor in the second half of the Bulldogs’ 3-2 loss to the Sioux last Saturday. But he’s much happier with facing the Eagles this weekend than playing a throwaway game.

    “To go into another weekend where you’re going to play some good teams again, obviously right off the bat a team that’s one of the favorites, I think that’s a real good thing,” Sandelin said. “I think it keeps you focused on what you have to do. Also, it’s going to be another measuring stick as to your progress.

    “This gives our guys something to work hard for this week, and I think it keeps that focus on working hard to improve and trying to go in there and play better.”

    The Bulldogs get a weekend off after the Ice Breaker at Michigan State, where they’ll play either the Spartans or Findlay on Saturday. But then they go to Mariucci Arena, so progress this weekend would be especially welcome.

    Legally Speaking

    Just when those around the Wisconsin program thought they could close the book on last season and start fresh, out came the news last Friday that Alex Leavitt is suing Eaves, Wisconsin athletic director Pat Richter, senior associate athletic director Cheryl Marra and the UW athletic department for $250,000 each.

    Leavitt claims his prospects for a high-earning hockey career were damaged by the altercation he had with Eaves in a Grand Forks, N.D., hotel room last November and what he claims were “defamatory statements” made by Eaves during the reporting of the incident.

    Eaves was issued a letter of reprimand by the athletic department after the incident, during which Eaves reportedly grabbed Leavitt by the shirt, threw him across the room and verbally berated him. After sitting out for a period of time after he went public with the story last season, Leavitt returned to practice, only to be dismissed days later.

    In the lawsuit, Leavitt claims his draft status was lowered as a result of the incident and Eaves’ claim that Leavitt broke team rules. Leavitt said he did not break any rules, and is asking the court to order Eaves to retract that statement.

    Among the other claims made by Leavitt in the lawsuit:

  • Richter and Marra were negligent in hiring Eaves, saying had they investigated his past they would have found “one or more outrageous acts of a similar nature in previous employment as a hockey coach.” Specifics were not provided.
  • His status on the team was undermined by demotion, a reduction of playing time and a removal from games after he went public with the story.
  • Eaves’ conduct caused Leavitt to experience “mental harm and emotional distress.”

    The lawsuit also claims Richter failed and refused to fire Eaves “despite having been presented with overwhelming evidence that … Eaves frequently engages in violent, destructive and otherwise inappropriate behavior on a regular basis, has engaged in conduct indicative of mental instability, and is incompetent to perform as the head coach of a Division (I) college hockey program.”

    When approached by a reporter after the Badgers’ intrasquad game last Friday, Eaves said he hadn’t heard about the case and wouldn’t comment on it, other than to say he was surprised. At his weekly news conference on Monday, he said he has been asked by the school’s legal department not to comment on the subject.

    The athletic department issued a statement, saying it is “fully supportive” of Eaves.

    Eaves, Richter, Marra and the athletic department have 45 days after being served with the lawsuit to respond. A trial, if needed, probably wouldn’t start until next October at the earliest, lawyers for Leavitt said.

    The Way You Look Tonight

    The WCHA kicked around the idea of swapping jersey assignments in its meetings last season and over the summer, but is instead letting a new NCAA rule stand on its own.

    NCAA rules this season allow a visiting team to wear a light-colored jersey in the regular season only when the teams have agreed upon the switch in advance. Traditionally, the home team has worn the lighter jersey, but the NHL this season has flopped that.

    “We did talk about it,” McLeod said, “and we just said under the circumstances, let’s just leave it.”

    Setting the Tone

    Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota square off at least four more times this season.

    At least they won’t have to worry about exchanging pleasantries.

    The Bulldogs and the Sioux combined for 84 penalty minutes last Saturday, including game disqualifications to UMD’s Marco Peluso and North Dakota’s Mike Prpich for a second-period fight.

    “Our games with them, even last year, were very intense games,” Sandelin said. “Obviously, I don’t see it being any different the next four games.

    Those things happen,” he said of the fight. “It’s certainly not something you want in the game, but it happened and you move on.”

    Let It Ride

    Gwozdecky freely admits he didn’t get a whole lot done in the three days of practice for his Denver Pioneers before their first game of the season. There certainly wasn’t any time for a scouting report on their opponents in the Lefty McFadden Invitational.

    So the Pioneers just put it on the ice, and the results came back positive.

    Victories over Ohio State and St. Lawrence aren’t ones they’re going to hang their hats on this season, but they provided excellent feedback.

    “I think anytime you can put a little bit of success together back to back, you gain some confidence, you gain a little momentum,” Gwozdecky said. “There’s a little extra bounce in the step, and players look forward to practicing in preparation for the next series.”

    Some of the credit for Denver’s preparedness goes to those who directed the workouts before the coaches got involved. Over the summer and in captains’ practices in September, the seniors put in the workings of the system that would be taught by the coaches, making it easier to have something of a cohesive unit together for an early game.

    “We knew back in the spring this was going to happen, so we had a number of meetings with our team to prepare them,” Gwozdecky said. “The captains and seniors did a terrific job in the month of September. Really, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday of last week were spent just reviewing a couple of different coverages and some ideas as to how we wanted to approach the game on Friday and on Saturday.”

    In Other Words

    WCHA players of the week were Denver center Jeff Drummond on offense; Pioneers goaltender Adam Berkhoel on defense; and North Dakota goalie Jordan Parise as the top rookie. … For only the fifth time in program history, Alaska-Anchorage opens the season on the road. The Seawolves play a series at Alaska-Fairbanks this weekend. … Denver is 12th in this week’s USCHO.com poll, but the Pioneers received one first-place vote.

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