This Week in the WCHA: Nov. 4, 2004

Votes Are In, But Who Wants to Win?

Some thoughts this week, while thanking our lucky stars that election season, with its incessant game of dueling advertisements, is over:

• Believe in the curse of No. 1 yet? Minnesota-Duluth is the most recent victim, with a loss and a tie against Vermont last weekend.

• North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State played non-conference opponents last weekend. They were a combined 2-2-2. The Huskies had the wins. Didn’t see that coming.

• Big rivalry weekend ahead. Minnesota-Wisconsin. Michigan Tech-Northern Michigan. Minnesota State-Bemidji State. Minnesota State-Bemidji State? Well, the coaches, Troy Jutting and Tom Serratore, were once college roommates, so there’s that, anyway.

• Best Halloween costume of the weekend at the Kohl Center: Matt Foley, the Chris Farley motivational speaker character. The guy had the outfit and mannerisms down cold.

• And finally, nice job getting out the vote. But do you realize what you’ve done?

Power Surge

One power-play goal — in a loss, no less — shows how far Wisconsin has come with its special teams. And how far the Badgers have come with the power play is a big reason why they’re averaging five goals per game early this season.

In the second period of a 5-3 loss to Denver last Saturday, the Badgers worked the perimeter perfectly, with each Wisconsin player on the ice touching the puck before Jake Dowell found Ryan MacMurchy in the slot for a one-timer and a goal.

“I don’t get excited very much on the bench, but Saturday night’s power-play goal, I pumped my fist in the air,” Badgers coach Mike Eaves said. “You don’t see a finer goal. That’s the kind of goal that Bob Johnson used to come into the locker room if we got beat 7-1 and the first thing he’d say was, ‘That was the best power-play goal I’ve ever seen in my life.’ That was that type of goal.”

Wisconsin ranked 44th of 58 Division I teams in power-play conversions last season at 15.6 percent. This season, it’s sixth nationally at 25.5 percent.

“It’s been a factor for us, and we can get better,” Eaves said.

The Badgers, who have the second-most power plays per game in the WCHA (8.5), have had at least one power-play goal in each game.

It’s not hard to make a connection between the rise in power-play efficiency and the rise in overall offense. The Badgers averaged 2.86 goals per game last season but are averaging five goals per game early this season.

But now the Badgers will have to change things up with freshman forward Matt Auffrey out four to six weeks with a broken bone in his right wrist. Captain Adam Burish is expected to take his spot on a power-play unit.

As an aside, here’s the WCHA rankings of power plays per game: 1, Denver, 9.14; 2, Wisconsin, 8.5; 3, St. Cloud State, 8.13; 4, Minnesota-Duluth and Colorado College, 7.75; 6, Minnesota State and Michigan Tech, 7.17; 8, Minnesota, 7.14; 9, North Dakota, 6; 10, Alaska-Anchorage, 5.83.

View to a Kill

Speaking of special teams, St. Cloud State’s league-leading 94.1 percent penalty kill is impressive on its own, but consider that the Huskies have to kill the second-highest average number of penalties per game in the league, and it’s outstanding.

In eight games, St. Cloud has killed 64 of 68 penalties, which shakes out to 8.5 shorthanded situations a game.

“It takes good goaltending, and your defensemen have to be playing well, and your forwards have to be getting in those shot lanes,” Huskies coach Craig Dahl said. “So it’s a total [effort]. My hat’s off to them. We’re using eight forwards on the penalty kill and six defensemen, and both goaltenders are at 92 percent [saves].”

Here’s the WCHA rankings of opponents power plays per game: 1, Minnesota-Duluth, 8.88; 2, St. Cloud State, 8.5; 3, North Dakota, 7.88; 4, Denver, 7.71; 5, Minnesota, 7.43; 6, Alaska-Anchorage and Wisconsin, 7.17; 8, Colorado College, 7; 9, Minnesota State, 6.83; 10, Michigan Tech, 6.5.

Road to Recovery

The Lee Green/Brett Arcand-Kootenay incident at Alaska-Anchorage will always linger, but it appears it’s starting to fade away.

Green was arrested and faces charges for allegedly punching Arcand-Kootenay in the team’s locker room before the season. Both have returned to the Seawolves — Green after serving a suspension that also included him losing his captaincy; and Arcand-Kootenay after recovering from a broken jaw.

The Anchorage Daily News reported this week of one sign that things are progressing in the mending of the relationship between the players. After the Seawolves beat Michigan Tech last Saturday, Green and Arcand-Kootenay tapped each other on the helmet, just as the rest of the team did.

No one said it would be an easy recovery.

“I’m not going to lie, at first it was hard,” Arcand-Kootenay told the Daily News. “But it’s getting a lot easier. It’s just [about] growing up. If it takes getting along, let’s get along. There’s no hard feelings on either of our parts.”

Green told the newspaper: “We’re past that. I think both of us understand I made a mistake and we have to move past it, not just for us, but for the team. We’re fine. That was a split-second in our lives when something bad happened. We treat each other the same as we always have.”

Turning it Around

After St. Cloud State tied St. Lawrence, beat Ohio State and split with Northern Michigan — all teams that now are ranked in the top 15 — it was a surprise to Dahl that his team got swept at Denver two weeks ago.

But it wasn’t a backbreaker, as evidenced by the Huskies’ 17-goal output last weekend. St. Cloud beat Princeton 7-2, then blasted Yale 10-0.

“I don’t think our players were too down about it,” Dahl said of the Denver weekend. “It’s early in the year, teams get swept. That happens. We just had a good week of practice and tried to go out there and get better because we’re so young. I don’t think anybody on our team expected the scores to be like that, not with the way we’ve been. We’ve been killing penalties well, but our power play was struggling.

“We went 7-for-15 on the power play. Sure, we felt better about it, but my whole theory is it’s a long, long season. It’s never as good as you think it is, it’s never as bad as you think it is. Just keep playing and enjoy yourself through the tough times.”

Into the Briggs

It’s easy to look at Minnesota averaging four goals a game and to assume that’s where the Gophers’ success has come from this season.

But the real story early has been the play of sophomore goaltender Kellen Briggs, who has started 5-1 with a 1.66 goals against average and a stellar .940 save percentage.

“I think that’s the single biggest factor why we’re 5-2 right now,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “When you’re sitting with a goalie with a 94 save percentage, you’re going to win a lot of games. That’s why all of a sudden we’ve only been giving up two goals a game or less and I think we’ve given up less than one 5-on-5 goal a game. I’ve always said you can’t play great defense without great goaltending.”

The Gophers are sixth in the nation in defense thanks to that goaltending.

“He looks better, too,” Lucia said of Briggs, who has earned three straight victories and allowed four goals in doing so. “Sometimes goalies can go through a stretch where they’re making saves but they don’t necessarily look good. But to me, he looks very in control on top of the crease and is making the saves look easier this year.

“That’s to be expected. He’s worked hard with Robb [Stauber, the Gophers’ goalie coach] over the last year, and he worked very hard over the summer and came back in great shape. He’s always been a very confident kid and is a player that can play a lot of minutes.”

Consistent Trouble

The goaltending situation at Michigan Tech has to be getting increasingly frustrating for coach Jamie Russell.

Russell, who playfully said after a game recently that he’s open to suggestions on how to handle an inconsistent group of netminders, is still in the same situation.

Sophomore Bryce Luker had two good games in a row, including the victory last Friday against Alaska-Anchorage, but then allowed four goals on 20 shots in the first 30 minutes of a 5-4 loss on Saturday.

Russell then turned to freshman Kevin Hachey, who ended up being the hard-luck loser because the only goal he allowed was No. 5, one more than the Huskies ended up scoring.

“It was a good situation to put him in as a freshman,” Russell told the Daily Mining Gazette. “He doesn’t have to think about a start where he is getting nervous and now he has some game experience under his belt. I thought he played very well [and] made some good saves.”

Luker continues to have the best save percentage of the three-man goaltending team that includes senior Cam Ellsworth. Luker is at .889, while Hachey starts at .857 and Ellsworth is at .833. When it comes down to it, none of those figures is good enough to give the Huskies a chance.

Tech can hope for better when its series with U.P. rival Northern Michigan begins this week. The Huskies host Thursday before the scene shifts to Marquette on Saturday.

The teams meet again in February, when the winner of the Ramada Cup will be crowned.

No Power

Looking for a reason for Minnesota-Duluth’s stunning loss and tie to Vermont last weekend?

How about 0-for-15? That was the Bulldogs’ power-play total for the weekend, and with 3-2 and 2-2 games, one goal here or there could have saved some face.

“We haven’t played a full 60 minutes yet and we’re disappointed with the entire weekend,” forward Evan Schwabe told the Duluth News Tribune.

Missing Murray

North Dakota is going to be without one of its top scoring threats.

Forward Brady Murray was spotted by the Grand Forks Herald wearing a brace on his left leg after last Saturday’s tie at Northeastern.

Murray, who had a 19-goal freshman season and has two goals early this campaign, is expected to be out for a few weeks.

That’s not an good sign for a team that, while it has shown encouraging signs at times, hasn’t fully broken out offensively.

Meanwhile, the North Dakota defense figures to get tested in the next two weeks. Colorado College (No. 2 in the WCHA in scoring) is in Grand Forks this weekend, and the Sioux travel to Wisconsin (No. 1 in scoring) next week.

North Dakota is sixth in the league in defense, allowing an average of 2.88 goals per game. The Sioux have given up 14 goals in the last three games.

Spreading Out the Offense

Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling have predictably been responsible for Colorado College’s game-winning goals, but it’s the spread of scorers that has been the best offensive sign early this season.

Take the Tigers’ last two games. Two weeks ago, seven different CC players scored at least one goal and 15 players collected a point in victories over Air Force and Quinnipiac.

A big contributor has been the Tigers’ defense. Lee Sweatt, Mark Stuart, Brady Greco and Richard Petiot have scored from the blue line in CC’s first four games.

Guyer’s Slow Start

Good thing that Minnesota is scoring enough goals early this season. Otherwise, the heat would be on junior Gino Guyer.

Guyer, who was the top returning scorer entering the season, has only two assists this season after seven games. Both came in last weekend’s sweep of Minnesota State.

Lucia told him not to worry.

“The good thing is Gino’s getting some scoring chances, and that’s what I told these guys: If you’re not getting scoring chances, that’s one thing, and then you should be concerned,” Lucia said. “But if you’re getting chances, that’s all you can ask for. They’ll eventually go in. When guys start the year, they want to get off to great starts. He got a point each game last weekend, so now hopefully he can keep going.”

In Other Words

• League players of the week were St. Cloud State’s Billy Hengen on offense, Minnesota’s Briggs on defense and Denver goaltender Peter Mannino as the top rookie.

• Detroit Red Wings radio announcer Ken Kal will perform the PA duties for Michigan Tech’s game against Northern Michigan Thursday night in Houghton. He’ll fill in for Mitch Lake, who’s ill.

• Minnesota defenseman Nate Hagemo spent Friday night in a Minneapolis hospital and didn’t attend Saturday’s game after suffering a neck injury. Lucia said the Gophers aren’t counting on him to play this weekend against Wisconsin.

• Here’s painting yourself into a corner: Minnesota-Duluth spent over half of the first period shorthanded last Friday after defensemen Jay Rosehill and Neil Petruic each got major penalties and game misconducts. Both were for checking from behind, and they came 4:16 apart. Vermont scored twice in Petruic’s penalty to take a 2-0 lead in a game it won 3-2. By the way, UMD leads the league in penalty minutes, averaging 27.6 per game.

• Denver had what may have been a goal by Luke Fulghum not counted in its 6-3 loss to Wisconsin last Friday. Fulghum’s shot hit either the crossbar or the post in the back of the net and came out. Because the Pioneers weren’t at home or at Colorado College, there was no instant replay available to referee Randy Schmidt. TV replays weren’t very helpful, anyway.

• There are some impressive streaks on the line this weekend. Minnesota carries a school-record 13-game home winning streak into its series against Wisconsin, while Minnesota-Duluth is unbeaten in its last 10 road league games, also a school record.

• Hachey, the Michigan Tech freshman goaltender, collected his first collegiate assist before he recorded his first save.

• St. Cloud State’s Hengen recorded eight points last weekend, including a goal and four assists at Princeton. He added two goals and an assist a night later at Yale.

• Minnesota State’s Adam Gerlach will miss several weeks after hernia surgery.

• Alaska-Anchorage’s Shea Hamilton is out for up to 12 weeks with a broken wrist suffered two weeks ago.

• Wisconsin’s Joe Pavelski had at least two points in each of the Badgers’ first five games. They won all five. He was held scoreless in last Saturday’s game. They lost. Coincidence?

• The third time was the charm for Denver freshman Peter Stastny last Saturday. After hitting the post twice against Wisconsin, he finally got his first collegiate goal.

• Kris Chucko’s disputed overtime goal against Minnesota State last Saturday — it went in off his skate — was Minnesota’s first OT winner since Thomas Vanek won the 2003 Frozen Four semifinal matchup against Michigan with a sharp-angle shot from the left side.

• Minnesota State sophomore David Backes has a goal in four straight games.

• Wisconsin and Minnesota are playing for the Border Battle Cup, which goes to the winner of the all-sports competition between the schools. Forty points are up for grabs in each sport in which the schools compete, to be divided by the number of games they play against each other. Each hockey game is worth 10 points. Going into a weekend that also includes a Wisconsin-Minnesota football game, the Gophers lead 60-20.