This Week in the WCHA: Oct. 14, 2004

Isn’t That Delay of Game?

Some thoughts this week, while — oh, wait; there’s a penalty. Some thoughts — another call. Some — ah, forget it.

• Let’s get the eye-popping averages from the first 24 college hockey games of the season out of the way first: 22.29 penalties for 47.79 minutes, 18 power plays, 2.71 power-play goals and a penalty every 2 minutes, 42 seconds. Use the back of the scoresheet if you have to.

• Not meaning to be picky, but North Dakota was 1-for-1 on penalty shots in overtime last weekend and St. Cloud State couldn’t score once in five tries in a shootout? At least it doesn’t count as a loss.

• Minnesota might not have the caliber of team it has featured in recent years, but the great equalizer might be the power play. The Gophers always find quality players for that role, and with more power plays on the way, they could outgun a lot of teams.

• Slightly off topic: NHL defenseman Chris Chelios, a former Wisconsin player, is training with the U.S. bobsled team as a brakeman. With the lockout, the current members of the Canadian curling team had better watch their backs.

• And finally, is this really the face college hockey wants to show when there most certainly will be more attention paid this season? The intent of the crackdown on stick fouls, et cetera, is good. Unfortunately, to make progress, the game is going to have to look bad for a while with all the penalties. And that probably won’t do much to convert NHL fans to college fans.

No 5-on-5 Until April

First-year WCHA coach Jamie Russell listened to the directive at the league meetings last season. It was contact to the head that was then being pushed as the major emphasis for the season.

“Coming into the WCHA, I sat in the meetings: ‘Hey, we’re really cracking down,'” Russell said. “So I came back to the team and said, ‘Hey, guys, it sounds like they’re really going to call it tight so you can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ By the second game, they’re turning around, looking at me, saying, ‘Did you go to the right league meetings?'”

That’s the thing about points of emphasis. The rules committee can put whatever it wants in that page in the rule book, but the first thing asked will be, how long will it last this year? The release of an open letter to the college hockey community was the first indication that they meant business.

“I know you say we’ve heard this before, that you’re going to call penalties and it lasts for two months then it stops and gets back to the way it was,” WCHA supervisor of officials Greg Shepherd said. “That’s not what’s going to happen. … We’re going to go all the way through April.”

That remains to be seen, but if the game opens up, there’s one WCHA player who immediately comes to mind as a beneficiary.

Michigan Tech’s Chris Conner scored 25 goals last season, and spent most of it with another player living in his sweater. Although Conner finished last season in a scoring slump, with only two goals in his last 11 games, there’s little doubt he’ll be able to be even more creative with the puck if he’s unimpeded.

“There were some games where he was checked pretty closely, and if they call the game like they say they’re going to call it, it’s going to be an exciting year for Chris Conner,” Russell said. “I think he’s the most exciting player in college hockey, no question in my mind. I think it’s just going to open things up for him even more.”

Who To Go To?

You want a definition of a go-to player? How about this: Your team has a penalty shot in overtime and the coach can pick anyone to take it.

So who’s North Dakota’s go-to player? Right now, it looks like Drew Stafford, and last Friday night he showed why.

Presented with that rare opportunity, the sophomore calmly fired the puck past the stick of Maine’s Jimmy Howard to give the Sioux a 4-3 victory.

Sioux coach Dave Hakstol said it was an easy choice to pick Stafford, and it’ll probably be an easy way to remember his first victory as the head coach. It was UND’s only successful penalty shot in the last 25 years.

“He’s got a great touch around the net, but things change when you jump into a pressure situation like that,” Hakstol said of Stafford. “The building and the fans around him were going crazy, and Drew stepped up and made a big play for us in a pressure situation. I was real happy for him. … That’s something he can continue to build on.”

North Dakota’s 3-1 victory on Saturday gave it a sweep — the first by a non-Hockey East team in Orono since 1985.

“They were both good, hard-working wins,” Hakstol said. “You’ve got to keep everything in perspective. It was the first weekend of the year and we had a lot of things go right for us. That’s what it takes to win games on the road. You have to work hard and you have to get some breaks, and both of those things happened for us. It was a real good starting place for us.”

And while the Sioux got the expected good weekend from Stafford, Brady Murray and Ratistav Spirko, Hakstol was quick to point out solid performances by seniors Quinn Fylling and Rory McMahon. The big-time scorers may be young, but UND has some older leadership, too.

“Rory scored our first goal of the weekend; Quinn scored our last goal of the weekend,” Hakstol said. “They were both big goals, and in between, those two guys didn’t take a minute off during the weekend. They did everything that was asked of them, and certainly I know their teammates would recognize that.”

America, This is You

You can bet Minnesota State players will be tuned into “America’s Funniest Home Videos” on ABC Sunday night.

(Apparently, that show is still on TV. Who knew?)

Mavericks forward Adam Gerlach, his wife Brye and son Joey will appear on the show after they sent in a video of Joey’s odd reactions to changing light levels.

Gerlach, a senior, had to sign a confidentiality agreement not to disclose how the show turns out when ABC flew him and his family to New York for the taping this summer.

Another interesting note on Gerlach: He was considering not coming back to the team this season. But two weeks before school started, he decided he’d return for his final season.

Not a bad decision, judging from his productivity in the Mavericks’ 5-2 exhibition victory over Calgary last Saturday. He scored a pair of goals — one shorthanded — and hit the crossbar on another attempt. He had four goals in 31 games last season.

Working Through the Issues

You can imagine how badly the Alaska-Anchorage players want to get on the ice and play some games early this season.

After a preseason of turmoil after the Lee Green-Brett Arcand-Kootenay incident, the start of the season would be a welcome diversion.

But for five players, the start won’t come at the Nye Frontier Classic this weekend in Anchorage. Charlie Kronschnabel has a broken foot; Martin Stuchlik hasn’t been cleared to play after being hit by a car in his native Czech Republic this summer; Eric Walsky has a high ankle sprain; Arcand-Kootenay is out with the broken jaw suffered in the incident with Green; and Green is suspended.

“It’s a little bittersweet for us because we have some good hockey players who are out injured,” UAA coach John Hill said of this weekend’s festivities. “But we are the defending champions, and I think our guys are practicing like a team that’s hungry to repeat and win its own tournament.”

The most pressing issue out of the injuries is that four of the team’s five centers are unavailable. To cover things, defenseman Matt Hanson, a former center, is playing up front.

“We think Matt may be a better center than he is a defenseman,” Hill said. “The other thing that happens is you end up putting some line combinations together that you hadn’t really thought of out of necessity, and all of a sudden three guys click. And you go, ‘Wow, we may be onto something here.’ So there is a silver lining.”

Something to Prove?

The statement is based solely on the results of one game, but it sure looks like Minnesota’s Ryan Potulny has something to prove this season.

Like, maybe, that he would have been a big factor for the Gophers even last season, among all their stars, if a knee injury hadn’t have sidelined him for most of the season.

Potulny had a hat trick against Denver last Saturday, a welcome sign for a team that needs big-game performers to develop in the wake of significant losses.

Potulny credited luck. If that’s the kind of luck Minnesota’s going to get this season, it’ll be just fine.


Outside North Dakota, the coaching changes were few around the WCHA in the offseason.

And even at UND, only one new person was added to the coaching staff when Dean Blais left for a job with Columbus of the NHL. When Hakstol moved up to coach, he bumped Brad Berry into his old position as the associate head coach and added former Sioux standout Cary Eades as the assistant coach.

Mark Maroste, who was endorsed by outgoing coach Mike Sertich before Russell was hired at Michigan Tech, is out as an assistant with the Huskies, replaced by former Huskies forward Pat Mikesch.

Russell, who also added former Tech and NHL player Randy McKay as a volunteer assistant, didn’t have to look for another assistant after Ian Kallay decided not to pursue the assistant opening at North Dakota, his alma mater.

“I was ecstatic,” Russell said. “I was very nervous this summer, but I was ecstatic when he told me he wanted to stay on and see this thing through.”

Colorado College added Eric Rud to its coaching staff as an interim assistant coach to fill in for Norm Bazin. Bazin, who will spend the season as a volunteer assistant, is still recovering from a serious car accident last November and wanted the Tigers to have a full-time recruiting coordinator.

And Wisconsin added former Badgers defenseman Mark Osiecki as an assistant, replacing Mark LeRose, whose interim contract expired.

Tested Early

If last Saturday’s game against Minnesota wasn’t enough of a measuring stick for Denver, don’t worry. They’ve got another one this weekend.

The defending national champs head back to Boston this weekend for nonconference games against No. 2 Boston College and Northeastern. Denver was somewhat humbled in a 5-2 loss to the now-No. 5 Gophers at the Xcel Energy Center, but coach George Gwozdecky vowed before the season that a few knocks early wouldn’t derail his team.

“We’ve got some terrific tests right out of the chute, and I like it,” Gwozdecky said. “We’re going to get a chance right off the bat to see where we sit at this time of year. At the same point in time, if things don’t go the way we want them to, it’s still a long season. We found out that last year.”

Three games under .500 in the WCHA at a bye week in January last season, the Pioneers found a way to regroup to claim a top-five spot.

“The biggest thing I think you have to realize is patience and understanding. This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Gwozdecky said. “You want to win every game possible, but don’t get too excited or don’t be too forlorn if things don’t go well in October or November or even December because things can change pretty rapidly.”

Another Option

Minnesota-Duluth sophomore goaltender Josh Johnson has started off well in his drive to be a complement to starter Isaac Reichmuth this season.

Johnson stopped 27 of 28 shots in a 4-1 victory over Notre Dame last Friday, continuing on a theme started late last season.

In his final two starts last year, he stopped 29 of 30 shots in a victory at Wisconsin, then stepped in and won the third-place game at the Final Five with a 25-save effort against Alaska-Anchorage.

Reichmuth undoubtedly will be the goalie of record for most of the season, but having Johnson give him a little nudge every once in a while won’t hurt.

Honoring Herb

St. Cloud State will officially dedicate the renamed Herb Brooks Way outside the National Hockey Center on Saturday.

Brooks, the longtime Minnesota coach, led the Huskies during the 1986-87 season and was a major player in acquiring money to build SCSU’s arena as well as getting the team to Division I.

The city of St. Cloud approved the name change of 13th Street South near the rink earlier this year. Brooks died in a car accident last year.

In Other Words

• League players of the week were North Dakota’s Stafford on offense, Minnesota goaltender Kellen Briggs on defense and Sioux forward Spirko as the top rookie.

• St. Cloud State shooters were 0-for-5 in a penalty shootout against St. Lawrence at the Icebreaker last Saturday, but at least they can take solace in knowing the team was 20-for-20 in penalty killing.

• Watch out for that shot from the blue line. Defenseman Mark Stuart won Colorado College’s fastest shot competition last week at 95 mph.

• Denver got a pregame speech from Bill Goldthorpe last Saturday. Goldthorpe, a friend of Gwozdecky’s, was the inspiration for the Ogie Oglethorpe character in “Slap Shot.”

• With a win and tie at Notre Dame last weekend, Minnesota-Duluth is 10-2-3 in its last 15 games away from the DECC. The only losses were to Minnesota at the Final Five last season and to Denver at the Frozen Four.

• With its campus rink unavailable because of repairs, Alaska-Anchorage will be forced to practice from 6:30 to 8 a.m. next week. “We get used to dealing with a little bit of adversity because of all the travel delays we’ve encountered over the years,” Hill said. “It’s just something you roll with.”

• Wisconsin won’t be Suter-less for long. Garrett Suter, 17, has given the Badgers a verbal commitment for next season. The in-your-face defenseman will be the fifth member of his family to play for the Badgers, joining father Bob, brother Ryan and uncles Gary and John. All are defensemen.