This Week in the WCHA: Nov. 18, 2004

Some thoughts this week, while wondering where Nate Raduns’ goggles were while the St. Cloud State sophomore was on the badminton court.

• You thought things were bad with North Dakota already? Think how bad it would have been if the Sioux had been shut out in back-to-back games for the first time in program history. It was seven minutes away from happening last weekend at Wisconsin.

• So much for that national ranking for Alaska-Anchorage. And the rollercoaster continues.

• Through 32 league games this season, the home team is 24-7-1, including 8-0 last weekend. You know things are leaning that direction when Denver and Colorado College hold home ice in their rivalry.

• He has only three goals so far this season, but we can now say with a good degree of certainty that North Dakota’s Drew Stafford is the best player to come out of the street hockey games in the alley between 63rd and 64th streets in Wauwatosa, Wis. Come to think of it, it wasn’t that close a race and isn’t a surprise considering Stafford was about eight years younger and still playing better than us … er, them.

• And finally, Raduns was injured last week when he was hit in the eye with a shuttlecock while playing badminton during gym class, according to the St. Cloud Times. Is there really any more to say about that? And don’t laugh at Raduns getting credit for playing badminton. Plenty of people take badminton in college. Some even beat a future NFL player in that class and base their entire athletic career around that accomplishment. Ahem.

Stick to It

Apparently, you can find an entry for stick-to-itiveness in a dictionary. Alaska-Anchorage coach John Hill applies the term to his team.

Seems to fit. After all, there have been a lot of times when the Seawolves could have lost their way since the end of last season but haven’t done so.

The big question is how many more twists can UAA stand? Since the last time the Seawolves played Wisconsin, there have been a multitude of ups and downs for the program.

Earning the school’s first trip to the Final Five after beating the Badgers in the playoffs — big up. Losing key players Curtis Glencross and Chris Fournier in the offseason — down. The promise that was left over for this season despite the personnel losses — up. The locker-room fight that left Lee Green suspended and Brett Arcand-Kootenay injured — way down. The team’s start to the season in the wake of that, including a No. 15 ranking last week — up. The sweep at the hands of Minnesota State last weekend with the ranking — down again.

Throw in the injuries that leave the Seawolves barely able to field a full forward lineup, and what a doozy of an eight-month span it has been.

“I think they’ve responded through some adversity in a very positive way,” UAA coach John Hill said. “Quite frankly, we weren’t good enough to be ranked 15th in the nation. We knew that as a staff. but by beating Duluth the two games, I guess with our record standing 5-2-1, people thought we were.

“We know that with our inexperience and our youthfulness, we’re going to have some ups and downs this year. One of the major concerns is becoming consistent as a hockey team. We played good hockey for three games and then it fell apart for two games [at Minnesota State]. We never know what we’re going to get from game to game, but we know this much: We’re happy with our effort and our attitude.”

The latest addition to the saga of the Seawolves was a pair of two-game suspensions handed down, to Arcand-Kootenay and Daron Underwood, for conduct detrimental to the team on last weekend’s road trip. Hill said he was just delivering a punishment decided upon by the team’s leaders.

Underwood will sit out this weekend’s series against Wisconsin, while Arcand-Kootenay will miss next weekend’s series at North Dakota.

Through all of this, UAA has managed to start 4-1-1 at home and 3-0 against ranked opponents. That seems to be a credit to their, well, stick-to-itiveness.

“I think we’ve got a very close group of players,” Hill said. “They pull for each other, they support each other. When you put character at the top of your list when you go out and do recruiting, you’re going to be able to weather the storms because you’ll do it together. You find out a lot about the people that are with you. I think our players realized that we weren’t going to be able to get any sympathy or make any excuses, so we had to find a way to try to have some success.”

Hurting for Goals

Maybe North Dakota captain Matt Greene knows a thing or two about foreshadowing. Before last weekend’s series against Wisconsin, the junior defenseman had this to say about the Sioux:

“We’re not going to be in any shootouts. We’re going to be a two-, three-goal if we’re playing well type of team. So defensively, we’ve got to step it up. That’s been an adjustment, but we’ve always been a pretty sound defensive team. But you can’t make mistakes. Last year, with that lineup the way it was, if you make a mistake here or there it’s not going to cost you a game. Here, it is. You’ve got to eliminate all mistakes out of your game defensively.”

Without the big-name scorers of last season — Brandon Bochenski and Zach Parise — and with Brady Murray out injured, the Sioux were punchless last weekend at Wisconsin. The Badgers shut them out for the first time since 1982 on Friday, then almost did it again on Saturday before UND scored two late goals in a 5-2 loss.

So here are the Sioux, last in the WCHA in scoring (2.25 goals per game) and on the power play (11.4 percent).

The curious thing is that, when you watch the Sioux, you see individual offensive talents. Putting it together appears to be the challenge.

“It’s just a matter of working through it,” Stafford said before the series. “As soon as we get those bounces, I just have a feeling the floodgates are going to open up.”

On the Bright Side

Michigan Tech is at the bottom of the standings, but take a look at the league statistics for all games.

Your points leader: Michigan Tech’s Colin Murphy. Your leader in power-play points: Michigan Tech’s Lars Helminen, with Murphy second. Your co-leader in power-play goals: Michigan Tech’s Tyler Shelast. Your leader in defenseman scoring: Helminen.

Leading the league in that many categories and being in last place don’t seem to go hand in hand, but that’s where the Huskies are right now. While they build week to week and hope the pieces start to fit together in players’ minds, they at least have the stats to point to.

Consolation? Maybe not. Building block? Maybe.

If Tech can get more from its defense, the Huskies could start to make strides.

Right now, the offense starts with Murphy, who had 15 goals and 32 points last season, but seems poised to better those numbers with 18 points already this year. He has 10 assists on the power play.

“He’s doing a great job on the power play,” Tech coach Jamie Russell said. “He’s very different from Chris Conner. Where Chris [uses] his speed and his explosiveness and breaking a guy down 1-on-1, Colin is very different. He slows the game down to his pace. He hangs onto the puck. He’s got great vision. He draws people to him. He has a great knack for finding the open guy.

“I encourage him to shoot the puck more because I think he’s got one of the best shots in college hockey. He’s got a great release.”

Of Shelast’s five power-play goals, four have been off assists by Murphy.

“He’s gotten everything from hard work,” Russell said of Shelast, a freshman. “He’s a kid that day in, day out, works his [butt] off. On the power play, he does a lot of the dirty work. He wins battles, comes up with loose pucks and pays the price in front of the net. 5-on-5, he’s physical, he’s strong on the puck. It’s not real pretty, but he gets the job done.”

So it goes for the Huskies.

Back to Brückler

It looks like Wisconsin has its All-American goaltender back.

Bernd Brückler, who struggled in the first few weeks of the season, has bounced back with good efforts the last two weeks to appear more like the player who steadied the Badgers for most of last season.

“I feel a lot better than at the start of the season,” said Brückler, who made 23 saves in a shutout of North Dakota last Friday. “For whatever reason, I had a rough start again this year, similar to what I did last year. The bounces weren’t really going my way at the beginning and I also didn’t feel as comfortable. Now, I feel a lot more comfortable and we’re really communicating better back there.”

Badgers coach Mike Eaves said he has a mental checklist for determining whether Brückler is on his game on a nightly basis. Is he standing up to make saves? Is he controlling rebounds? Is he decisive in moving the puck?

When Brückler is playing well, the answer to all three is yes. They were resounding yes’s last weekend.

“The only way you can get your confidence back is by doing it during the course of a game,” Eaves said. “As a hitter gets confidence by hitting balls in the game, a goalie’s got to get his confidence by stopping the puck during games. He was working hard in practice, but it’s a feeling.

“It’s interesting watching the World Series, they talked about Pedro Martinez and his ability to pitch. The other teams know, if they can get to him early, he’s not the same pitcher as he is in the later innings. What is that? That’s a confidence. He’s one of the best in the game, and he still has to establish it game in and game out. It’s the same way for a goaltender or a goalscorer. It’s a feeling you get, and it’ll be that way for the rest of their lives.”

Holding it Together

Denver’s first goal against Colorado College last Friday night didn’t just get the Pioneers back into the game. It opened the floodgates.

The Pioneers outshot CC 25-4 in the third period, but got only one goal out of the madness thanks to Tigers goaltender Curtis McElhinney.

“It’s ‘Katy, bar the door’ here, they got after it pretty good,” CC coach Scott Owens said of that third period. “We didn’t help ourselves with a couple penalties, but McElhinney stood in there strong and battled and really did shut them down. The last few years, we have not given up a lot of shots, but this was pretty overwhelming and he stood up to the test. …

“Sold-out building, pressure, arch-rival coming at us in waves, [he] really shut the door.”

That was only one of two significant happenings in that game for the Tigers. Leading 1-0 after one period, CC pushed its lead with goals by John Brunkhorst and Scott McCulloch.

In other words, neither Brett Sterling nor Marty Sertich provided the key goal for the Tigers.

“It’s very welcome because it’s been a little bit concerning,” Owens said. “We’ve got to continue to get better at all facets of our game, but really work on getting the scoring spread out.”

On a Roll

It’s a little early to think that everything is fixed in Mankato, but Minnesota State is on a four-game winning streak and looks to push that to six in time for a bye week.

What a turnaround that would be. Alabama-Huntsville is in town to face the Mavericks this weekend, with MSU holding a chance of getting above .500 for the first time this season.

After allowing 28 goals in the first six games, the Mavericks have allowed only five over the last four. Defense was always going to be the key for Minnesota State, and each week that goes by has hammered home that point.

But against Alaska-Anchorage last week, the Mavericks started to see some variety in scoring. They’ve had David Backes leading things, but Travis Morin scored four times last weekend — a hat trick Friday night — and Ryan Carter added a pair of goals in Saturday’s game.

Confidence? Yeah, it seems like the Mavericks have that.

“I think we’re going to roll from here on out,” Carter told USCHO’s Dusty Sedars after last Saturday’s game.

In the Rankings

The preliminary draft rankings by NHL’s Central Scouting Service came out with little fanfare this week, and six WCHA players — three of them from Denver — are among the top 30 collegiate skaters.

Denver defenseman Andrew Thomas is No. 7; Minnesota defenseman Nate Hagemo is No. 10; Pioneers forward Paul Stastny is No. 15; St. Cloud State forward Nate Dey is No. 19; Wisconsin defenseman Jeff Likens is No. 23; and Denver forward Tom May is No. 26.

Michigan Tech’s Bryce Luker is fifth of five goaltenders ranked.

Colorado College defensemen Brian Salcido and Jack Hillen, North Dakota defenseman Kyle Radke and St. Cloud State forward Sean Garrity were included in a pool of players who have had limited viewing.

In Other Words

• League players of the week were Minnesota State’s Morin on offense, Wisconsin’s Brückler on defense and North Dakota goaltender Philippe Lamoureux as the top rookie.

• An aside to a note we brought you last week: Minnesota-Duluth, which returns from a bye week to host Brown, has just two goals in its last 37 power-play chances, but the Bulldogs still lead the league with a 28.2 percent success rate in league games.

• Not only did St. Cloud State record an eye-popping 95 shots on goal last weekend against Michigan Tech, the Huskies set a team record with 27 shots on goal in the second period last Saturday. They scored three times in the period.

• Colorado College will go over the million mark in attendance at the World Arena on Friday. The Tigers’ all-time attendance at the facility, which opened in 1997, is 999,836.

• North Dakota has two shutouts against this season, the first time that has happened since 1993-94.

• Minnesota takes a five-game winning streak into Denver this weekend.

• Michigan Tech is in the middle of a five-game road stretch. All of those games are on Olympic-size ice sheets.

• Alaska-Anchorage was just 1-for-15 on the power play last weekend (0-2) after going 6-for-24 in the four games previous (3-1).

• Denver registered 90 shots on goal last weekend against Colorado College, including 48 in a 6-3 victory last Saturday.

• Michigan Tech’s Helminen has a six-game point-scoring streak.