This Week in the WCHA: Feb. 5, 2004

Going Hollywood

Some thoughts this week, while wondering how I’m going to feel about “Miracle” once I see it:

  • The poor start may have cost Minnesota a shot at the MacNaughton Cup, but the Gophers now are in a similar position as in seasons past: very dangerous.
  • Mark your calendars: Feb. 27-28. Minnesota-Duluth hosts North Dakota in the penultimate weekend of the regular season. Think that’ll be a doozy?
  • It has snowed in Houghton, Mich., every day for more than a month, but the Huskies faithful might get a brief break for Winter Carnival. No snow was predicted for Thursday, ending the streak at 33 days. We can’t even imagine that much snow.
  • And finally, I’m trying to give “Miracle” a fair shake. But I’m skeptical. The most positive thing we’ve heard so far is that Kurt Russell did a bang-up job portraying Herb Brooks. Without that, the movie would have nothing.

    Planning Ahead

    Michigan Tech has begun a $3 million endowment campaign, but coach Jamie Russell wants everyone to know it doesn’t mean the program is hurting for cash.

    The Hockey Enrichment Campaign, which is scheduled to run through August 2005, is in place to provide some minor luxuries to help the Huskies stay a top-notch organization in college hockey, Russell said.

    “Financially, our budget is in great shape in terms of our recruiting budget,” Russell said. “We have everything we need on a day-to-day basis, and financially we’re very stable that way. In order to keep the program moving forward, there’s things that every year we’d like.”

    The $3 million endowment would provide $60,000-$80,000 each year to supplement the team’s budget. Russell said there are items, like a $90,000 skating treadmill, that would be nice to have but can’t fit into the team’s present finances. Also, he mentioned the team’s trip to North Dakota on the last weekend of the regular season, an almost-500-mile trip that would be easier if the team could fly there — something that could happen with the endowment.

    “Little things like that, I think, would kind of make us first class and do everything the way it should be done,” Russell said.

    An anonymous donor has pledged to match up to $900,000 of donations, broken into three segments.

    “It’s important that we get participation from everyone in this campaign,” said John Rockwell, a former Huskies goaltender who is chair of the campaign. “And by everyone, not only am I talking about former players, but also our fans, including members of the business community. Any contribution helps, be it big or small.”

    It’s also part of Russell’s drive toward reuniting the Tech hockey alumni base.

    “I’ve really tried to connect a lot of the bridges with alums,” said Russell, a former Tech player himself. “We’ve got a very proud alumni base. The alums struggle with the fact that we haven’t had the success they’d like to see from a very proud Michigan Tech program that’s won three national championships. I’m certainly working with my staff to get Michigan Tech back into the national spotlight. It’s going to take some time, but I think we’re doing the right things and building a foundation to get Michigan Tech back to where it should be.”

    For more information on the campaign, go to

    Shooting for the Top

    As they return from a break to face five straight weeks of a battle for the MacNaughton Cup, the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs can’t afford to slip up much. They’ll get their chance at first place with a series against North Dakota two weeks from the end, but they need to keep pace to have a chance.

    Most thought UMD was going to be improved this season, but maybe not to this extent.

    “I’ll be very honest: Our goal going into the year was to get to the NCAA tournament, to take that next step,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “I think being a top-five team in this league gives you an opportunity there and to me if we finished higher, that’s certainly continued progress.”

    UMD goes into a series at Minnesota State this weekend in second place, three points behind the Sioux, and No. 5 in the PairWise Rankings. A spot in the NCAAs seems more likely than last season, when the Bulldogs finished fifth in the league but missed out on a low strength-of-schedule figure.

    “We’re in a position where certainly that is a realistic, attainable goal,” Sandelin said. “But at the same time, I don’t want to slide out of those top two, three spots. And that’s easier said than done when you look at who we’re playing down the stretch.”

    Sandelin said he’s worried about this weekend’s series against the Mavericks, maybe because of the weekend off and maybe because Mankato seems to have this ability to put up big numbers at times.

    Next weekend, the Bulldogs host Minnesota, then the season finishes up with a series at Colorado College, the home set with North Dakota and a trip to Wisconsin. There’s plenty to be worried about there.

    UMD is going to have to earn a top spot in the league, and considering it’s only 4-3 this season against the teams it will face down the stretch, it’s no gimme.

    Road Warriors

    Of St. Cloud State’s eight remaining WCHA contests, only two are at the National Hockey Center. That means, to keep their third-place spot, the Huskies are going to have to be road warriors the rest of the way.

    They have road series at Michigan Tech, Wisconsin and Minnesota left, to go with a home series against Colorado College.

    The Huskies are 5-5 on the road (7-5 away from home with two neutral-ice victories), so the road hasn’t been completely unkind to them. But it’ll be a challenge nonetheless.

    “The facts are, everybody’s playing everybody down the stretch,” St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl said. “Wisconsin’s got a tough schedule, we’ve got a tough schedule, CC and Denver have tough schedules, Duluth’s got a tough schedule. So everybody’s playing everybody else. The reality of the situation is, a game or two over .500 and you’re sitting pretty good. Our goal right now is to try to secure home ice.”

    The Huskies are three games over .500 in the WCHA at 10-7-3 and are tied with Minnesota and Wisconsin for third. That pack is six points ahead of sixth-place Alaska-Anchorage, so the top five is starting to shape up.

    The thing that has to shape up for St. Cloud is the defense. After earning a 4-1 victory at Anchorage on Jan. 17, the Huskies have allowed an average of six goals in their last three games.

    “We gave up 12 goals in two games against Mankato, and we played North Dakota four times and only gave up [10] goals in the entire four games. So obviously, we have some work to do defensively.”

    20 to Remember

    You’ve heard of 15 minutes of fame? How about 20?

    Minnesota’s Jerrid Reinholz had 20 minutes to remember last Saturday, when he scored the game-winning goal in a 3-2 victory over Wisconsin and then made a diving sweep to knock away a potential breakaway the other way, both in the third period.

    Reinholz was the trailer on the play and put in a pass from Garrett Smaagaard 3:11 into the third period to break a 2-2 tie.

    Then, with the Gophers still holding that lead with six minutes remaining, Reinholz dived from behind Wisconsin’s Tom Gilbert to knock the puck into the corner, preventing a breakaway.

    “We’ve talked about it all year: We need to have strong third periods,” Reinholz said. “It’s going to come down to the end of the season, and that’s what you’ve got to win, the third period.”

    Back Apart

    For the first time since Zach Parise returned to North Dakota from the World Junior Championship in early January, the Sioux center played alongside Brandon Bochenski in last weekend’s series against Denver.

    It was instant gold: Their line, which included left winger Brady Murray, accounted for 16 of the Sioux’s 31 shots and four of the six goals in a 6-1 victory on Friday.

    But don’t expect to see that trio together again this weekend. With the Sioux on the road, coach Dean Blais said he prefers to split apart Parise and Bochenski to not allow the opposing team to be able to key on one line.

    That’s OK with Bochenski.

    “There’s not really any one of us that’s carrying the team,” he said. “It’s a true team that we have.”

    The Dog Days

    Sandelin remembers what it was like for him as a player at this time of the season.

    “This time of the year, I think sometimes practices get monotonous,” he said.

    The Bulldogs scaled back their practice schedule in their bye week to alleviate some of those concerns.

    “Will it make a difference this weekend? It could both ways,” Sandelin said. “I get a little concerned, though. When you’re playing, you want to keep going. But I think you can make too much of the week off, too. I think it was good. They did what they normally do, but they had some days off.”

    Dahl didn’t give his players any time off last week, perhaps because of the poor defensive effort the weekend before against Minnesota State.

    “It’s the dog days,” Dahl said. “The reality of the situation is, it’s no different any year. The dog days come and teams that fight through it do well and teams who don’t fight through it slide off. … If your guys can buck up and knuckle down and show some mental toughness, then bingo, bango.”

    Change ‘Fighting’ to ‘Scoring’

    Big crowds are expected at the Kohl Center this weekend when North Dakota comes to town. Saturday’s game is a near-sellout in the 15,237-seat arena.

    Why are there always such big crowds when North Dakota comes to Madison? Blais thinks it still has to do with the epic battles the Badgers and the Sioux played in the early 1980s.

    “People still think we’re the mean, green fighting machine,” Blais said.

    End of the Ranked

    At least Michigan Tech can see the end in sight. Of one of the toughest stretches anyone has gone through this season, that is.

    This weekend’s Winter Carnival games against St. Cloud State mark Nos. 10 and 11 in a stretch of 11 straight games against ranked opponents. Tech is 2-7 in the first nine games of that stretch, with a win at Wisconsin on Jan. 10 and another at home against Colorado College last Saturday.

    In that win over the Tigers, Tech jumped out to a 3-0 lead before seeing CC claw back to within 3-2 after 20 minutes. But Brett Engelhardt scored a big goal 1:33 into the third to send the Huskies back on their way.

    “They responded extremely well,” Russell said. “We challenged them as a staff [after Friday’s 6-0 loss], and Saturday they responded in a great way, and we got a big win over Colorado College. We’re hoping that carries through with Winter Carnival and St. Cloud coming into town.”

    He Said It

    North Dakota’s Zach Parise:

    “Right now, we’re just getting into the important part of our schedule, these games that mean so much down the stretch for us. We’re really going to be tested to see what kind of team we really are now that something’s on the line.”

    In Other Words

    WCHA players of the week were North Dakota’s Zach Parise on offense, the Sioux’s Jordan Parise on defense and Alaska-Anchorage’s Nick Lowe as the top rookie. … It’s believed to be the first time brothers have won the offensive and defensive awards. … Lowe scored the first shorthanded goal for the Seawolves in over two years in last Saturday’s 5-3 victory over Minnesota State. Dallas Steward had the last one, on Jan. 18, 2002. …Last Saturday’s loss to Michigan Tech broke Colorado College’s 35-game unbeaten streak against the Huskies. They had been 28-0-7 vs. Tech. … Michigan Tech is 66-35-7 in Winter Carnival games since 1950. …

    Minnesota has won eight straight games against Wisconsin at Mariucci Arena. … Minnesota State scored three goals in the third period, including Brad Thompson’s winner with 38 seconds left, to rally for a victory over Alaska-Anchorage last Friday. … Curtis McElhinney earned his first WCHA road shutout of his career last Friday, but then allowed two goals on five shots in the first period a night later. … Denver captain Ryan Caldwell is one point away from joining the Pioneers’ top 10 for career points by a defenseman. He has 79 points in 142 games. … Saturday night’s Wisconsin-North Dakota game is scheduled to be webcast at