This Week in the WCHA: Nov. 27, 2003

Double the Pleasure or Double the Pain?

Some thoughts this week, while kicking around the idea of a double College Hockey Showcase each season:

  • Our thoughts are with Norm Bazin and his family. Bazin was seriously injured in a car accident while on a recruiting trip last Thursday. As of the middle of this week, Bazin remained in critical condition and in intensive care.
  • Welcome back and thank you to North Dakota media relations director Dan Benson, who spent more than five months deployed in Kuwait and Iraq as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve. He returns to his job with the Sioux in a pretty good spot — No. 1 in the country.
  • Yes, that was Adam Berkhoel who gave up eight goals to North Dakota last Friday. In defense of the Denver goaltender, however, he faced 44 shots on goal. Very un-Pioneers-goalie-like, though.
  • And finally, Michigan coach Red Berenson mentioned this week that it would be interesting to extend the College Hockey Showcase to twice a season, one weekend at the WCHA teams and one weekend at the CCHA teams. It doesn’t sound close to happening yet, but the one thing that could sway the coaches to push it through is the extra opportunity to earn bonus points on the RPI.

    Tough Times

    At least publicly, Colorado College’s players and coaches have held up well in the last week despite tough times in their program.

    Bazin’s injury was announced to the players during the day last Friday, before they played Wisconsin in Madison. CC coach Scott Owens said he didn’t give his players the full report until after Friday’s game.

    “We had to go through it,” Owens said. “It was pretty glum in our meeting, but you know what, when they strapped on the skates, I thought they played pretty hard.”

    Owens said he got about 25 phone calls from coaches around the country last Saturday, with many of them making the correct-but-painful observation that it’s a wonder this doesn’t happen more often, considering the number of road trips coaches make.

    The Tigers got through the weekend with a pair of 2-2 ties against the Badgers. They were down 2-0 after 40 minutes Saturday night, but rallied behind a pair of Joey Crabb goals.

    “It was a little emotional [Friday] night,” Crabb said. “It’s a tough thing to go through, but hopefully everything works out. We know we’ve still got to focus on the job at hand. It’s great to come out with a point. We’re all thinking about coach, but we’ll be playing for him.”

    What Does This Mean?

    One has to wonder how to interpret the following quote from St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl, to USCHO’s Jayson Moy after the Huskies were swept by Rensselaer last weekend:

    “Things have a way of evening out over time,” Dahl said. “I have a saying that the cream always rises to the top, you have the half-and-half in the middle and the crud on the bottom, so that’s what will happen.”

    Before last weekend, the Huskies were the cream of the WCHA with an 8-1-1 record after splitting with North Dakota in Grand Forks.

    So where does that put St. Cloud now? Certainly not the crud, although letting leads slip away and getting beat in the third period twice last weekend was somewhat cruddy for Huskies fans.

    But take into consideration that Adam Coole, the goaltender who has reproved himself and is one of only two with perfect records this season (North Dakota’s Jordan Parise is the other), was out last weekend with a groin injury.

    So judging them on last weekend is about as good as, well, judging them on their overall start to the season. It’s only a piece of the picture.

    “We thought we’d be in a rebuilding year and we got a few bounces early and that got us off on the right foot,” Dahl said. “All my guys are thinking that we have a chance to win the league title, but realistically it’s a rebuilding year and when things don’t go your way you have to keep your head up, keep on trucking and keep trying to improve and stay positive.”


    Wisconsin defenseman Ryan Suter got some face time on this week, when the Web site’s Page 2 “Here’s Looking at You” feature put his mug alongside that of actor Sean Astin of “Rudy” and “Lord of the Rings” fame.

    Suter didn’t see the resemblance.

    Nearly Perfect

    Getting back to St. Cloud State for a moment: The Huskies are 23-0-1 all-time against Alaska-Anchorage at the National Hockey Center.

    But just keep reminding yourself that there are no gimmes here.

    Bad Start, Bad Finish

    We don’t want to beat a dead horse by mentioning again that Alaska-Anchorage is having trouble scoring goals, but the stat that shows the consequences is that, in 10 games, the Seawolves have scored only four first-period goals and just four in the third.

    If you can’t build a lead early or add onto it late, it’s tough to be consistently successful. Still, the Seawolves are 1-1-1 in their last three games and go to St. Cloud this weekend off a bye, so maybe they’re ready to shake out of it.

    Still the Captain

    Owens and the rest of the Colorado College team knew Colin Stuart wasn’t going to play at Wisconsin last weekend — he’s out with a shoulder injury.

    But Owens thought his young team still needed its captain, so Stuart came along for the ride.

    “If it wasn’t for the fact that we were young and fragile, we wouldn’t have brought him,” Owens said. “But we’re just in a situation where we need him. He biked, he stretched, he led the stretch in the locker room and the warmups and all those types of things. It’s very important for our young team.”

    Sophomore defenseman Mark Stuart has taken over wearing the “C” for his brother on the ice, but hasn’t needed to take over in the locker room yet.

    “He’s still been a big presence even though he’s hurt,” Crabb said. “And Mark Stuart, he’s stepped up awesome as a captain. And then even the younger guys and the older guys who aren’t captains, they’ve really stepped up and had a big leadership role. It’s been good.”

    Falling Off?

    The testament to Chris Conner’s start to the season is that the Michigan Tech forward has not scored in five games, yet he remains the nation’s leader in goals with 12.

    It’s probably no coincidence, though, that the Huskies are 0-4-1 in those last five games.

    The Energizer

    Keith Ballard’s return to the lineup after missing seven games with a knee injury appeared to be crucial to Minnesota.

    Ballard, the Gophers’ top defenseman, had two assists in a 6-2 victory over Michigan Tech that snapped a five-game winless streak. He scored his second goal of the season in a 3-0 victory a night later, which provided Minnesota’s first sweep of the season.

    Taking the Third

    Despite injury, illness and an emotional drain, Colorado College was able to regain its form as one of the best third-period teams in the WCHA last Saturday.

    And Crabb wasn’t surprised.

    “A lot of times whenever you’re hurt or sick, something, it almost seems like you buckle down even harder and you battle even harder because you know you’re a little down,” he said. “I wasn’t too surprised. We’ve got a lot of character.”

    The Tigers had outscored opponents 19-4 in the third period before last weekend, but Wisconsin scored the only two goals of the third period on Friday to earn a 2-2 tie.

    So when the Badgers had the Tigers down 2-0 on Saturday, CC knew what it had to do.

    “We’re a competitive team and we don’t like to lose,” Crabb said. “We just buckle down.”

    In the Rankings

    Twelve WCHA players, headed by North Dakota freshman Drew Stafford, made the list of college players in the NHL Central Scouting Service’s preliminary rankings.

    Stafford is the top-ranked collegian, although he would have to opt-in to the 2004 draft to be eligible. In doing so, he would lose his collegiate eligibility.

    Other WCHA players in the rankings: St. Cloud State defenseman Casey Borer, No. 9; Wisconsin forward Jake Dowell, No. 12; Wisconsin forward Robbie Earl, No. 13; Wisconsin defenseman Jeff Likens, No. 18; Wisconsin forward Mark Heatley, No. 29; and Michigan Tech’s Bryce Luker, No. 3 among goaltenders.

    Five other players were mentioned but not ranked because of limited viewing: Colorado College’s John Brunkhorst, Brian Salcido and Scott Thauwald; Denver’s J.D. Corbin; and Minnesota-Duluth’s Bryan McGregor. Salcido is the only defenseman in that group; the rest are forwards.

    In Other Words

    League players of the week were North Dakota’s Mike Prpich on offense, Minnesota’s Ballard on defense and CC goaltender Matt Zaba as the top rookie. … No, it was not a good weekend for Denver. The Pioneers were swept for the first time since February 2001 and allowed the more goals than any series since the 1991-92 season. … Michigan Tech defenseman John Scott got a game disqualification penalty last Friday after leaving the bench to join a scuffle after the final horn sounded. He sat out Saturday’s game. … Two reasons why Wisconsin fans wouldn’t want to see the College Hockey Showcase extended: 1-9 (the Badgers’ record against Michigan State in the CHS) and 1-8-1 (their record against Michigan). …

    The next three weeks could determine whether Minnesota-Duluth will be in the running for a high spot in the WCHA in the second half. The Bulldogs host Minnesota State this weekend before going to Michigan Tech and North Dakota to end the first half. UMD can put itself in a good position to make a run. … Minnesota State has gone six games without a power-play goal and hasn’t scored on its last 25 man-advantage chances. … Minnesota-Duluth center Evan Schwabe has 12 points this season, 10 ahead of his season total last year.