This Week in the WCHA: Oct. 21, 2004

20 Minutes of Fury

Some thoughts this week, while debating whether there’s a good situation to start the third period against Minnesota-Duluth:

• So you think there’ll be only two meetings between Minnesota and North Dakota this season? We don’t believe it.

• Wisconsin 8, Mercyhurst 0: Apparently, there is an “O” in Wisconsin, after all. We’ll see if it’s a trend or a rare occurrence.

• Minnesota State got only one point out of its series with North Dakota last weekend, but its defense scored points by holding the Sioux to four goals, total. In the same series last year, the Mavericks allowed 16 goals.

• And finally, the Bulldogs have outscored opponents 9-1 in the third period in four games this season. So far, they’ve earned a tie, sealed a win, broken a tie and overcome a two-goal deficit with their play in the final period. So, no, apparently there’s no comfortable feeling for a UMD opponent going into the final 20 minutes.

Replay’s the Rage

The WCHA enters a new age — at least a trial new age — this weekend when Denver hosts St. Cloud State. It’ll be the official debut of the replay system that is being used as an experiment in league games at Denver and Colorado College.

It could have come a week earlier for the Pioneers. Coach George Gwozdecky told the Denver Post that two of three goals his team had waved off last weekend would have counted if replay had been available at the rinks at Boston College and Northeastern.

This will be a replay system unlike the now-familiar NCAA system. The WCHA experiment will use the same criteria for reviewing a play as in the NCAA tournament, except that coaches can’t request a review.

But the referee, not an assigned replay judge, will be the one making the call after watching the play on a monitor near the ice. The league has purchased equipment to be used along with some pre-existing furnishings at Magness Arena and the Colorado Springs World Arena. A camera will be located in the rafters above each goal, with its lens fixed on the goal line.

“It’s to make the league the best,” said Greg Shepherd, the WCHA supervisor of officials. “It’s the best the way it is, but it’s to make it even better. Hopefully someday in the near future, we’ll be able to do this at all our venues to help the referees out. They’re not always perfect, and we all know that. Even with goal judges, we do miss things. This is to help us out to make sure for the players and the teams and the coaches that we do get things right.”

The effort at the trial run, which initially met with some resistance from the NCAA a year ago, has been popular around the league.

“I give our league credit for making it happen to at least investigate it and see how it goes,” CC coach Scott Owens said. “I am pretty excited about it. If it helps even get one call right in a game, then it’s definitely worthwhile without disrupting the game.”

Said Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting: “All everybody wants — coaches, referees, everybody around the league — is to do the best job we can at getting it right. We might go through some growing pains this first year with how it all operates and how it all runs — and not that we have a big problem with it anyways, but if it helps us get things right all the time or most of the time, I don’t think it can hurt.

“It may take some patience with the fans until we can get all the bugs worked out, but I do think it’s a good thing. If the fans will have some patience with it and everybody will view it as a little bit of a learning process, I think it’s going to be very good for the league.”

Minnesota coach Don Lucia said a goal is too important to not get the call right, but he has one concern with the system.

“The only thing I’m not 100 percent comfortable with is, you go to look at a replay and the toe’s in the crease and they disallow the goal, when it’s not being done around the league,” Lucia said. “I’m 100 percent in favor of getting it right, but I guess if I had my way, it would be, you’re going to look at replay where the goal crossed the line or not or whether it was high sticking. You’re not going to go look at replay and see something else that you weren’t going to look at.”

Raise the Banners

Denver not only will raise its 2004 national championship banner on Saturday, it will put new banners for the school’s first five national championships in the rafters of Magness Arena.

Representatives of each of the school’s six championship teams — from 1958, 1960, 1961, 1968, 1969 and 2004 — will do the honors.

“It’s a little bit different to all of a sudden stop and once again celebrate the accomplishment of last year’s team,” Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky said, noting that his team is already three games into the new season. “It’s something that I think everybody is going to be looking forward to.”

Better Foot?

Minnesota knows it can recover from a bad league start. That doesn’t mean it wants to be anywhere near that position again.

The Gophers left Madison 1-6-1 in November last season and ended up 15-12-1. But that was harder than it sounds. They’re looking for a little better start to the league season when they visit North Dakota this weekend.

“It’s a long climb back and it doesn’t leave yourself much room for error,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “We’re obviously hoping we can get off to a better start than what we did a year ago, and I think we can be and will be a dangerous team the second half of the season as the freshmen gain experience and get comfortable playing in the WCHA.”

Getting them that experience has been more difficult than anticipated. Because much of the three games the Gophers have played have been on special teams, the Gophers’ 10 rookies haven’t been able to get on the ice as much as the coaches would like.

“I think the most frustrating thing I come away with is we have a couple of our freshman forwards that didn’t hardly play last weekend, didn’t play the amount of minutes we’d like to give them because they weren’t on the power play or kill penalties,” Lucia said. “We’re going to have to include those guys on the penalty kill and maybe even to where we take some guys that have been doing it the last few years off it so they can get ice time and continue to develop. We have a young team in so many areas that we have to develop our roster and players.”

Those who get to play this weekend will have a great opportunity to see what it’s like on the road in the WCHA. The Gophers go to Grand Forks for the only regular-season meeting between Minnesota and North Dakota. It’s the first time since the 1947-48 season that the Sioux don’t play at Minnesota.

“Last year, we went up to North Dakota and got swept, and got beat pretty handily each night,” Lucia said of 7-3 and 5-3 losses. “Yet, we were able to beat them at the end of the year in the Final Five. It’s October. You obviously want to go up and try to win, but we still want to worry about just trying to become a better hockey team at this stage.

“I’m looking forward to throwing our young guys in the environment they’re going to be faced with. It’s going to help them grow, because they won’t see a more difficult environment the rest of the year.”

Early Presence

With 10 of them on the roster, you had to figure a freshman was going to make an impact for St. Cloud State. Why not you, Andrew Gordon?

“I didn’t expect this much this fast, to be honest,” Gordon told the St. Cloud Times. “I expected to ease in and sort of be in and out for a couple of games to get the feel for it. I didn’t expect to be starting my home opener. But I’ve just got to keep a level head about it. I’m hot right now, but I’ve got to take the highs with the lows.”

Gordon has a goal in each of his last three games to help answer the call for goals early this season for the Huskies.

Talking Tickets

It stands to reason that Minnesota and Denver, the teams that play in the WCHA’s two biggest markets, would have average ticket prices near the top of the league as well.

They do — Minnesota’s is tops, while Denver’s is third.

But the school squeezed between the Gophers and the Pioneers on that list is North Dakota. The Sioux have the second-highest average single-game ticket price in the WCHA, despite Grand Forks being second from the bottom of WCHA cities in per capita personal income.

Another surprise: St. Cloud State, which draws from an immediate area that ranks just above Grand Forks in income, has the fourth-highest average ticket price in the league.

Here’s the full list of average ticket prices for the 2004-05 season, considering only single-game adult tickets: 1, Minnesota, $28.06; 2, North Dakota, $24.35; 3, Denver, $23.53; 4, St. Cloud State, $19.33; 5, Wisconsin, $18; 6, Minnesota-Duluth, $16.58; 7, Minnesota State, $16.57; 8, Colorado College, $15; 9, Alaska-Anchorage, $13.02; 10, Michigan Tech, $8.53.

Wisconsin is the only school that holds a constant ticket price throughout the season. North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth charge different amounts for different teams. Minnesota and Alaska-Anchorage charge more for in-season tournaments. Denver and Colorado College charge an extra $5 for games against each other, while Michigan Tech adds $3 for games against Northern Michigan and its Winter Carnival series.

Minnesota State adds $6 for the Minnesota series, and until the week before that series, tickets are only sold as part of a package with a later series against Denver.

Commendable Effort

It seems that referees are in the worst position of anyone this season in college hockey. They’re being told to call things by the book — in essence, telling them they weren’t calling the game right before — and held to it. On the other side, the fans aren’t going to like all the penalties that get called.

Yet out of what could be a trying year for officials, you get some good stories. Scott Zelkin, a former NHL referee back for his second stint in the WCHA, earned high marks last weekend for taking the unrequired step of getting to the Kohl Center early Saturday to talk to both coaching staffs about the calls made in Friday night’s game.

“That’s Scott as a person,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “He wants to do a good job, and he wants to get better. The fact that he watched the tape is the norm; the fact that he took time to talk to both coaches — because this is a growing process for everybody. We all have to work together to get a better product. This was a positive step this weekend.”

In this time of change, such an action can only help smooth things around college hockey. Referees are required to watch the tape of the first game of a series before the second one. Maybe what Zelkin did should be added to the responsibilities.

“I don’t think it’s expected of the referees,” Eaves said. “I think it’s going to be case by case, what the referee’s comfortable with. Scott was very comfortable doing what he did and I think it was a big help for both coaches, the peace of mind, and then you were able to share that with your team. It’s still part of the education process in terms of we’re going to have to — we’ll learn more this weekend about if they’re going to stay with what they’ve called.”

Lockout Bonus

Denver is expecting a pair of sellouts this weekend as it makes its home debut and raises its national championship banners Saturday night.

Credit the national title for some of that, but it’s important to remember that Denver is one of the cities affected by the NHL lockout. Gwozdecky noted that Pioneers season ticket sales jumped in May and June because of the championship, then again in August and early September during the World Cup.

“At least initially, we will benefit from this lockout by having most of our games, if not all of our games, sold out here,” Gwozdecky said. “We have benefited from not only the national title we have won, but the fact that at this point in time the [NHL] owners have not come to an agreement with the players.”

One Down

Alaska-Anchorage can thank a pair of freshmen for getting Goal No. 1 out of the way. Forward Shea Hamilton scored a pair of goals and goaltender Nathan Lawson made 36 saves as the Seawolves knocked off Minnesota to win the Nye Frontier Classic.

UAA coach John Hill has consistently said that his team has three goals: win the Frontier Classic, win the Governor’s Cup series with Alaska-Fairbanks and get to the Final Five.

The Seawolves get a chance to make a run at the second aim this weekend when they host Fairbanks. The teams conclude the series in Fairbanks March 4 and 5.

An Update

Minnesota State senior forward Adam Gerlach and his family finished second on last weekend’s episode of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

Gerlach, wife Brye and son Joey were sent to the filming of the show in the summer after a tape they had submitted of Joey’s reactions to changing lights was selected.

In Other Words

• League players of the week were Minnesota-Duluth’s Evan Schwabe on offense, Alaska-Anchorage’s Lawson on defense and the Seawolves’ Hamilton as the top rookie.

• Here are the seven games involving WCHA teams that count toward the Commissioners’ Cup Series, a battle among the six Division I conferences: North Dakota at Boston College on Oct. 29; Northern Michigan at Michigan Tech on Nov. 4; Brown at Minnesota-Duluth on Nov. 20; Massachusetts at Denver on Nov. 27; Ohio State vs. Colorado College at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, on Dec. 30; Minnesota at Boston University on Jan. 3; and Wisconsin at Notre Dame on Jan. 21.

• Minnesota voted senior defenseman Judd Stevens its captain this week.

• Minnesota-Duluth’s 3-0-1 start is the school’s best since the Bulldogs started 8-0 in 1989.

• Wisconsin is 2-0 for the first time since the 2000-01 team opened 7-0. You might remember that after winning the first seven games that season, the Badgers then lost their next five and eight of their next nine.

• Michigan Tech senior Colin Murphy became the 59th member of Michigan Tech’s century club with his 100th career point on a goal against Minnesota-Duluth last Friday.

• Alaska-Anchorage’s 3-2 victory over Minnesota last Saturday was just its second in its last 14 games against the Gophers.

• North Dakota freshman Phillippe Lamoureux stopped 29 of 30 shots and earned his first collegiate victory last Saturday at Minnesota State.

• Colorado College is 32-3-2 in games against non-WCHA teams since the start of the 2000-01 season. The Tigers get a chance to up that mark with games against Air Force and Quinnipiac this weekend.

• Denver scored three power-play goals against Northeastern last Saturday. That’s also the number of shorthanded goals the Pioneers have allowed this season.

• Minnesota goaltender Kellen Briggs improved to 20-0 in his career when he saves 90 percent or more of the shots he sees.

• Minnesota State wore throwback jerseys last Friday night to celebrate the school’s 1980 Division II national championship team.