This Week in the WCHA: Oct. 16, 2003

They Meet Again

Some thoughts this week, while deciding which was the better game: The 2000 North Dakota-Boston College championship game or the 2001 one.

  • Zach Parise and North Dakota fans everywhere both may have escaped major injuries last weekend. Parise’s strained medial collateral ligament might not sideline him for long. If it had, Sioux fans might have been the ones with the catastrophic, self-inflicted injuries.
  • For Alaska-Anchorage, the streak is dead. Long live the streak?
  • Welcome to the 2003-04 season, St. Cloud State. One exhibition and right into the WCHA schedule.
  • We’re glad the Minnesota offense got to Omaha last weekend. Sadly, it was a game and a half late.
  • Your feel-good story of last weekend: Wisconsin’s Dan Boeser, whose junior season was a disaster after battling cancer and a broken hand, started his senior season with an overtime winner against Nebraska-Omaha. It snapped a 42-game goalscoring drought.
  • And finally, we’ll go with the 2000 final in Providence. The 2001 title game didn’t really pick up until the last five minutes of the third period, whereas the first of back-to-back BC-UND deciders was on edge for most of the third period until the Sioux won it.

    Finding Common Ground

    St. Cloud State’s first true action of the season comes against WCHA foe Wisconsin this weekend. North Dakota’s first conference series is three weeks away.

    Coaches may never be comfortable with the amount of time they have to prepare their teams for the conference season, but for some this year, the process is especially rushed.

    This won’t be the last time coaches will be in a hurry to prepare, but it may be the last time there’s such a disparity in the differing amounts of time teams have to get ready.

    Starting next season, a common start date will be in effect, dictating when teams start practicing. It’s the Saturday of the 25th full weekend before the first round of the NCAA tournament. Next season, it counts out to Oct. 2.

    The rule is meeting with approval from WCHA coaches, who see it as a step in the right direction, yet not a cure-all.

    “Points in October count the same as points in February,” St. Cloud coach Craig Dahl said. “And certainly that’s the reality of the situation.”

    The Huskies are in a tough spot this season, but there’s no guarantee this situation won’t happen with the common start date. The only regulating the new system will do is fixing a start date for practice. It’s still possible that a team could be faced with a league game right off the bat.

    But evening out the gaps in starting dates is enough for some WCHA coaches.

    “I don’t think teams should be starting 10 days before other teams,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said.

    To open last season, Minnesota State played a Providence team that already had two games under its belt. It’s the same scenario this season.

    “Those first couple weekends, when everybody’s adjusting to the speed of the college game and picking it up, I think it is definitely a factor,” said Mavericks coach Troy Jutting, whose team opened practice on Oct. 6. “I think it’ll provide a little bit more even ground for those first couple of weekends, those first couple of series for everybody.”

    Colorado College coach Scott Owens predicted more teams would play exhibition games against Canadian schools under the new system. He also emphathized with Dahl: “It’d be tough to start league play already,” he said.

    Said Dahl: “Ideally, it would be really nice if we could have an exhibition game and a non-conference series to open the season. It gets everybody a chance to get some games under your belt and get things ironed out before points come up. But it just so happened with our schedule this year there was no way to do that.”

    Parise Possible

    Details on Parise’s injured knee are sketchy due to the new federal law that limits what can be said publicly about patients, but the North Dakota star has told the media there’s a chance he’ll play in this weekend’s featured non-conference series against Boston College.

    Parise, a sophomore who had 61 points in his rookie season, was injured in an exhibition game last Saturday.

    “I went down funny and heard a pop,” Parise told the Grand Forks Herald. “My knee pushed in funny. I don’t think it’s anything bad. We don’t know exactly what’s going on.”

    Signs later in the week pointed to Parise giving it a go on Friday night. It would add a little more spice to an early-season battle between the teams that squared off for the national titles in 2000 and 2001, with each winning one.

    Just Missing the Sweep

    Out of any number of ways of looking at Alaska-Anchorage’s collapse in the last half-minute of its series against Alaska-Fairbanks last weekend, coach John Hill prefers to play the balancing game.

    “Things,” he said,” have a way of evening out.”

    The Seawolves ended a 35-game winless streak by defeating the Nanooks on Friday in a game some might say they should have lost. So when Fairbanks scored three times in the last 28 seconds to erase a one-goal UAA lead and earn a split, it was a case of turnabout being fair play.

    It just didn’t seem fair for these long-suffering Seawolves.

    After the streak ended, Anchorage goaltender Chris King poignantly told the Anchorage Daily News, “It’s been so long since we won a game, I’m ready to cry.”

    A day later, the Seawolves had a 3-2 lead when they iced the puck, setting up Ryan Campbell’s tying goal on a rebound off the faceoff. (“At that point, I probably should have called timeout,” Hill said.) Ten seconds later, the Nanooks went ahead on a Seawolves defensive breakdown that allowed a 3-on-1. Fairbanks sealed things with an empty-net goal with one second left.

    Hill said his goal entering the weekend was the road standard — to win one game. “Obviously, being ahead the second game with 30 seconds left and losing doesn’t make it any easier to take, knowing that you had won on Friday,” he said.

    The Seawolves now can only hope history doesn’t repeat itself. They beat Fairbanks in the first game last season, but then started the 35-game winless streak.

    Late Arrival

    As the minutes and seconds ticked by and the goose egg stayed on Minnesota’s side of the scoreboard last weekend at the Maverick Stampede in Omaha, the apparent frustration from Gophers players grew to a boiling point.

    So it’s fortunate for the Gophers that Barry Tallackson finally got their first goal of the season, 97 minutes and 36 seconds into the weekend, heading off a potential crisis in just Game 2. It started a landslide that allowed Minnesota to save some face with a resounding victory over Nebraska-Omaha.

    But the damage to the Gophers’ pride had been done a day before, when Maine became the first team to shut out the two-time defending national champions since the 2001 WCHA Final Five, a stretch of 91 games.

    The lasting impact may be minimal — it may, in fact, steer Minnesota in the right direction and keep Gopher heads from getting too big — but, for a while, it seemed the champs were in offensive peril.

    Lucia said his players were too individualistic in the loss to Maine.

    “When we break down the last couple years, that’s usually the reason for it,” Lucia said. “One guy tries to do it himself and then he turns the puck over at the top of the circle and away they come at us in transition. When we’re playing well, we’re not doing that.”

    Lucia said he didn’t see that a day later, a sign that his players took the lessons to heart immediately, though a dip in the quality of the opponent also should be noted.

    The frustration continued into Saturday, but once Tallackson got things rolling, all appeared well with the Minnesota offense yet again.

    “Once that first one went in, it just seemed to relax everybody,” Lucia said. “I never dreamed we’d give up the first seven goals of the season, that’s for sure.”

    Still Looking

    In his one opportunity to see his team in a game situation before the WCHA opener, Dahl sat out some of his top St. Cloud State players to get a look at some younger players. In last Saturday’s 8-2 victory over St. Clair College of Ontario, the Huskies got a good look at their young defensemen, who impressed Dahl.

    Casey Borer had three points and was plus-3. Justin Fletcher had a goal and an assist, and Grant Clafton registered two points.

    “I really liked them,” Dahl said. “They moved the puck well and they see the ice well for rookies. I think they’re very underrated.”

    With Matt Hendricks and Peter Szabo sitting out, Mike Doyle got an opportunity to play the scoring role. He took advantage, scoring three times on four shots on goal.

    “It’s a really good thing to see, particularly since he worked so hard this summer,” Dahl said. “He put on 20 pounds, increased his strength significantly, and to see him get rewarded for that work obviously is good for his mental state.

    “Szabo didn’t play, but he’s looked good in practice. Those two guys are certainly going to have to join Hendricks as guys that are going to have to be go-to-type guys.”

    Dahl played all three of his goaltenders in the exhibition, with Jason Montgomery getting the start. He’ll get the start against Wisconsin on Friday, too, Dahl said.

    But the coach said he’ll also give Adam Coole and Tim Boron some time to prove themselves this season.

    “There’s no clear standout,” Dahl said. “They all do pretty well in practice, so I need to see them play in a game and give them a chance to play. As young as we’re going to be, and with them all being equal like they are, I think it’s imperative for me to give them all a chance to play early and let it come out in the wash, so to speak.”

    Watch the Rookies

    Minnesota State has no margin for error on defense this season, so Jutting and his staff are keeping a close eye on the progress of the three freshman defensemen who are expected to play regularly this season.

    They’ll have to be ready right off the bat, since Mavericks essentially are playing with only six defensemen because of season-ending shoulder injuries to Matt Paluczak and Jon Dubel. That puts freshmen Lucas Fransen, Chad Brownlee and Kyle Peto (he took a medical redshirt last season) to the test in an increased capacity.

    “Anytime you play three freshman defensemen in this league, you’re going to be a little nervous. At least I am,” Jutting said. “Not that I don’t think that they’re good players. But I do know how tough this league is and I do know what it’s like for freshman defensemen in this league. To have to play three basically every night, they’re going to have to learn and learn fast. And learn with their feet on the coals, not necessarily edge them into anything.”

    Jutting said he’s counting on seniors Aaron Forsythe and Nate Metcalf and junior Steven Johns to show the newcomers the ropes this season — and to do it quickly. The Mavericks have been notoriously slow starters in recent seasons, and they’re trying to avoid a similar fate this weekend at home against Providence.

    “I would like to get out of the blocks a little bit better than we have the last couple of years,” Jutting said. “It’s a big weekend for us in the sense that we are at home to start the season this year, which we have not been for the last couple of years. … I’d like to see us come out and see that we’re getting a decent understanding of the systems we’re trying to put in.”

    Line ‘Em Up

    Two exhibition games last weekend weren’t enough to determine a line chart for Colorado College, so the Tigers will continue experimenting with combinations in this weekend’s home series with Alaska-Fairbanks.

    Owens said he has a little more of a grasp of what to expect from his team after games against British Columbia and the U.S. Under-18 Team, but a lot of what he was looking at last weekend surrounded his young players and how they fared.

    The most pressing need for the Tigers, Owens said, is to firm up the line combinations and figure out who’ll play on the power-play units. CC scored on five of 13 advantages last weekend, but Owens isn’t fooling himself into believing that’ll be the case against stronger opponents.

    Brett Sterling came through with a hat trick against the U.S. team, but Owens said he also was impressed by a pair of freshmen. Left winger Scott Thauwald, a late addition to the team after Jamie Hoffman signed a pro baseball contract just before he was to start classes at CC, scored the Tigers’ fifth goal Saturday night. Centerman Brandon Polich also caught the coach’s eye despite not getting on the scoresheet.

    Instant connection

    Wisconsin’s much-heralded freshmen made an immediate impact in their first game. Forwards Andrew Joudrey and Robbie Earl earned assists on each other’s third-period goals in a season-opening overtime victory over Nebraska-Omaha.

    Of note was the Earl-Joudrey connection that provided the Badgers’ third goal. Earl raced for a puck behind the net and, without looking, found an open Joudrey in front.

    “He knew where I was going to be without even looking,” Joudrey said. “That’s a good sign that we can read each other already.”

    Said Earl: “Some people just have it.”

    Joudrey centers a line that is the only one untouched by coach Mike Eaves after last weekend. The right winger is Ryan MacMurchy.

    A Shot in the Arm

    Hill said he wasn’t alone in thinking the number of shots credited to Alaska-Fairbanks in a series against his Seawolves last weekend was slightly inflated. But that doesn’t hide the fact that Anchorage allowed a number of shots that won’t allow them to win many games this season.

    By official count, the Nanooks had 52 shots on goal last Friday and 53 last Saturday, making it quite a weekend of work for King and his goaltending counterpart, Kevin Reiter.

    Hill was happy that his team was able to keep most of the shots to the outside of the rink. But five of the six defensemen dressed for UAA last weekend were freshmen or sophomores, and Hill has admitted there will be some growing pains there.

    “We definitely need to lower the number of shots, because any time something is headed towards that net, it can go off a body, and there’s always a chance for rebounds,” Hill said. “So we need to do a better job.”

    In Other Words

    WCHA players of the week were Minnesota-Duluth’s Junior Lessard on offense, Alaska-Anchorage’s King on defense and Wisconsin’s Joudrey as the top rookie. … With Minnesota’s streak of not being shut out ending at 91 games last Friday, Minnesota-Duluth now holds the longest streak among WCHA teams at 85 games. … That long-awaited Seawolves victory last Friday was the 350th in program history. … UMD’s Lessard has a six-game scoring streak after a goal in each game at the Ice Breaker Invitational. … The Bulldogs’ Steve Czech (knee) and Tyler Brosz (triceps) picked up injuries last weekend. … Denver rookie Glenn Fisher stopped 19 of 21 shots he faced in a 6-2 victory over the U.S. Under-18 Team last Friday.