This Week in the WCHA: Oct. 23, 2003

The New Crowd

Some thoughts this week, while trying to figure out the last time Michigan Tech and Alaska-Anchorage were the talk of the league — for winning.

  • Winning the first four doesn’t compare to winning the last four, but for Denver, it’s a confirmation that the Pioneers should be improved this season.
  • Some things are just so unbelievable you have to go back and check them again. But yes, despite 10 power-play chances, North Dakota had just 18 total shots on goal last Saturday against Boston College.
  • So there’s St. Cloud State at the top of the WCHA standings. Now the Huskies play the other Huskies, who were picked ahead of St. Cloud by The Hockey News. Something tells us those tidbits might have St. Cloud somewhat fired up.
  • And finally, your WCHA players of the week: On offense, Colin Murphy of Tech; on defense, Kevin Reiter of Anchorage. Well deserved, too. Yes, this is the same WCHA.

    Starting Early

    The tip-off was the tic-tac-toe goal. St. Cloud State’s Brock Hooton, Ryan LaMere and Peter Szabo teamed up on a perfect passing play, setting up Szabo for an easy putaway.

    The indication was that the Huskies were playing well as a team in just their second game of the season. Keep in mind that this was a team that had lost significant offensive threats and a number of players from the dressing room, so coming together as a team may not have been expected so early.

    But perhaps the credit for St. Cloud State’s good first weekend and Alaska-Anchorage’s 3-1 start should go to something away from the rink. Both of those teams went on excursions outside of hockey in an effort to get the team to operate as a cohesive unit.

    The Huskies took a weekend off from preseason training and went camping. Along the way, they had some Survivor-esque challenges to do as groups. Some of the players who were the most vocal in objecting to a camping trip were converts, swept up in the team-building atmosphere.

    Camping also was part of the offseason for the Seawolves, who did something as a team once a week to get a jumpstart on jelling.

    It’s impossible to say whether there’s a direct relationship between those events and the good starts each team has had. But it is likely that the offseason teambuilding helped them avoid unforeseen team issues early in the season. Better to get those out of the way away from the rink.

    Craig Dahl’s Huskies seem to have adapted well, maybe in part due to the camping trip.

    “It’s a long season, we’ve got a lot of things to work on,” Dahl said after the Huskies completed a sweep of Wisconsin last Saturday, “but here’s what I liked: When I challenged our guys after the second period both nights to get their feet moving and stay together and lock it down, they did a really good job for this early in the year.

    “They really are a team mentality, that’s what they have. There’s not any individual standouts, really. You could say [captain Matt Hendricks], but he doesn’t have that mentality. He has a lunchbucket mentality.

    “I really like it. They’re fun to be around. They’re fun to coach. And they’re fun in practice. Winning helps, of course.”

    Over? Did You Say Over?

    You get one of these games every once in a while. It doesn’t make them any less astounding when they happen.

    Down three goals with just over two minutes remaining last Saturday night, Michigan Tech staged a rally for the ages that left the Huskies celebrating a remarkable victory over rival Northern Michigan. Nick Anderson cut the Wildcats’ lead to 6-4 with 2:05 left, setting up the Colin Murphy show.

    The junior scored his second goal of the game with 1:26 left to draw within one. He completed his hat trick with 28 seconds left and Cam Ellsworth pulled to force overtime. And he netted his fourth of the game and won it 2:58 into the extra session.

    In all fairness, it’s a game Tech should have won — if only because it held a 3-1 lead midway through the second period. You could say the Huskies should have won Friday night’s game in Marquette, too, having had overtime forced upon them by a goal with the NMU goalie pulled.

    “I’m happy for our guys,” said Huskies coach Jamie Russell, who should have no trouble remembering his first collegiate head coaching victory. “They deserved a better fate last night, and tonight, they never gave up. It’s one of those games that people will remember for an awful long time, I’m sure.”

    Making an Impression

    2-3-5.

    That’s what Dallas Steward lived with all offseason.

    2-3-5. Two goals, three assists, five points. That was his junior season.

    Then, he entered his senior year hearing his coach say he was going to be more of a role player.

    Apparently, he figured that role was to be a goalscorer.

    After a pair of goals in the Nye Frontier Classic last weekend, Steward sits atop the stats sheet for the 3-1 Seawolves with three goals and an assist for four points.

    He was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, making this already quite the turnaround from last season.

    Then again, it mirrors the Seawolves, who won their tournament for the first time since 1990 and are 3-1 for the first time since 1994-95.

    Another Milestone

    Denver’s victory over Northeastern last Saturday represented the 350th career coaching victory for George Gwozdecky and his 200th with the Pioneers.

    He’s 37th on the all-time coaching victories list, eight wins behind longtime Geneseo coach and secretary of the NCAA ice hockey rules committee Paul Duffy. Gwozdecky is 14th among active coaches in victories, trailing such WCHA coaches as Don Lucia (387) and Craig Dahl (384).

    Are You Hootie?

    Perhaps lost in the defensive success last weekend for St. Cloud State was the offensive play of right winger Hooton, one of those players from whom the Huskies are expecting more of a contribution this season.

    Hooton, a sophomore who had seven points in his first season in St. Cloud, assisted on all three Huskies goals last Saturday night.

    The Ottawa draft pick took a step down last season after earning a first-team spot in the Interior Division of the all-British Columbia Hockey League team in 2002. Dahl pointed him out before the season as a key to the Huskies’ offense, and Hooton is off to a good start.

    “Hootie’s such a big, strong, fast guy, I’d like to see him play with more jump,” Dahl said. “And I think he’s starting to learn that. But I think we’ll see better.”

    Back to the Drawing Board

    Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said this week he’s glad Quinnipiac had a strong weekend against Michigan before coming to the Kohl Center. The Bobcats’ one-goal losses at Yost might have given the Badgers players the message that, yes, they do have a series to play this weekend.

    And the Badgers have tried to shift the forward lines in an effort to draw more from a sputtering offense. At Wednesday’s practice, Rene Bourque, last season’s top scorer who has no goals through four games, lined up with freshmen Andrew Joudrey and Robbie Earl. The freshmen have been two of the more energetic and productive players for UW thus far.

    The Badgers were forced to use that combination last Saturday after Ryan MacMurchy, who normally plays the right side with Joudrey and Earl, was sent packing for a check from behind in the first period.

    MacMurchy, who was second in scoring last season and also hasn’t put a goal on the board yet this season, was the right wing with Adam Burish and Nick Licari in practice.

    “Right now, the worst thing that those two young men [Bourque and MacMurchy] could do for each other is just put pressure on themselves,” Eaves said. “The first rule of when you’re in a hole is stop digging. … Rene will score. Ryan will score. They just have to go back to make sure they’re working hard, they’re having fun, and take a look at, ‘Am I getting chances?’ And they are.”

    The two goals Wisconsin scored in its series against St. Cloud last weekend was the lowest total for a league-opening series in team history.

    Happy to Have It

    Is Kevin Ulanski making a run at the national scoring title?

    You wouldn’t have expected it from the Denver junior, but, with nine points after four games, Ulanski is the nation’s top scorer. He had a pair of two-point nights at the season-opening Lefty McFadden tournament and added a three-point game last Friday and another two points last Saturday against Northeastern.

    “I’m just plugging away, getting to the net,” Ulanski told the Denver Post. “Hopefully, this streak will continue.”

    In 70 career games before this season, Ulanski had 57 points. A good run the rest of the season would have him top that total in his junior year alone.

    No Shot

    It’s an event when North Dakota gets held to 18 shots on goal. Eyes popped when Colorado College held the Sioux to 20 shots in a WCHA Final Five semifinal game in 2001, but UND still won that game 2-1. And it had only four power-play attempts that afternoon.

    So with 10 power-play attempts last Saturday in a 2-1 loss to Boston College, how does one explain just 18 shots?

    “We had a hard time cycling and we had a hard time — obviously — on the power play,” UND coach Dean Blais told USCHO’s Patrick C. Miller. “They just pursued the puck everywhere. They didn’t allow us a chance to set up. We didn’t get shots off quick enough. They always got into our shooting lanes. There always seemed to be a leg or a body in front of the guys when they teed it up. That’s quickness, anticipation and experience.”

    That’s something, all right.

    Joy, Pain

    Minnesota will raise its second straight NCAA championship banner to the rafters of Mariucci Arena before its game against Minnesota-Duluth on Friday. On Saturday, the Gophers will honor the late Herb Brooks, who led Minnesota to its first three of five national titles.

    Like St. Cloud State, the Gophers will wear patches with “HB” on them, and a ceremony will be held during the first intermission.

    In Other Words

    The WCHA rookie of the week was North Dakota’s Drew Stafford, who has two game-winning goals in the Sioux’s first three games. … Wisconsin freshman goaltender Brian Elliott is expected to get his first career start this weekend. … Colorado College has won its home opener for six straight seasons. … This is the third time Denver has started the season 4-0. Both previous times, the Pioneers made the NCAA tournament. … Minnesota State’s Cole Bassett got a game disqualification for fighting last Saturday and will sit out Friday’s game at Bemidji State. …

    CC’s Brandon Polich is expected to be out until at least Thanksgiving with a lacerated spleen suffered last Friday. The Tigers are toying with the idea of putting winger Colin Stuart at center, coach Scott Owens told The Gazette of Colorado Springs. … Minnesota-Duluth’s Junior Lessard takes a six-game scoring streak into this weekend’s series at Minnesota. … Last weekend’s nonconference losses to Providence gave Minnesota State the same number of home losses this season as all of last season: two.

  • LEAVE A REPLY

    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here