This Week in the WCHA: Jan. 6, 2005

Some thoughts this week, while trying to think whether there’s a better way to open the second half of the WCHA season than with a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup:

• You’ve got to think not getting at least one victory out of your own tournament, against a field that ranked last among the eight holiday tournaments in terms of combined winning percentage, would be pretty embarrassing. Now we’ll have to see what Wisconsin does with that around its neck.

• Over the break, Alaska-Anchorage coach John Hill dismissed forward Brett Arcand-Kootenay, who was allegedly punched by teammate Lee Green in the team’s locker room before the season, from the squad for what the coach told the Anchorage Daily News was repeated violations of team policies. Perhaps a move like that will bring the Seawolves even closer together.

• Here’s to shootouts in holiday tournaments, but not in championship games. Let ’em play when there’s a title on the line. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that we’re a little scared about what might happen if the NHL goes to shootouts when/if it returns. Hold your ground, college coaches.

• Figure this one out: Denver leads the nation in scoring offense, but it doesn’t have a single player in the top 20 nationally in points. The answer: balance. The Pioneers have seven players with 18 or more points after 19 games. No other WCHA team has more than three.

• Sign of the week: A day after coveted recruit Phil Kessel scored a hat trick for the United States in a World Junior Championship quarterfinal, someone at the Ralph had this to say: “WWPKD?” As in, what would Phil Kessel do? We know a couple of WCHA teams who are interested in the answer as it pertains to next season.

• Talking trivia: The games between No. 2 Colorado College and No. 1 Minnesota will be the latest in a season between the nation’s top two teams since the poll started in October 1997. In what holiday tournament did the previous latest game take place? Answer below.

• And finally, considering not only that CC-Minnesota is 1-vs.-2 but that it’s also a series between the teams tied for the fewest points lost in the league (six), no, we can’t think of a better way yet.

Hobey Pair

Hobey Baker Award candidates must come in twos at Colorado College. Two years ago, it was Peter Sejna and Tom Preissing and now, it looks like Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling are bona fide contenders for the award.

At least that’s based on each’s first-half production. In helping the Tigers to a 16-3-1 record and a No. 2 ranking nationally, Sertich has scored a nation’s-best 36 points. Sterling is right behind with 33.

So mentioning the word Hobey in Colorado Springs isn’t out of line.

“We have not mentioned that word around here at all, but I think when you look at their points and you look at the success the team’s having, I think they’ve got to be guys that’ll be considered,” CC coach Scott Owens said. “Just the way it’s playing out, it’s pretty impressive. It’s equal goals and assists, and it’s game-winning goals (five) for Brett. There’s a lot of good things that are thrown in there. And up until this point, the team has had some success.”

The Tigers’ junior forward duo has a chance to make more of an impression this weekend at top-ranked Minnesota. They combined for a goal and five assists in the teams’ split in Colorado Springs earlier this season, but if they could make a big splash this weekend it would go a long way in their candidacy.

In a field of players where no one has really leapt out as the best player in college hockey, Sertich and Sterling have made their contributions quietly.

“There’s no doubt that just the consistency with which they’ve been able to put up points has been impressive,” Owens said. “It’s been 5-on-5 and power play. We’ll see how it all continues. We’ve been playing freshmen on that wing as well, so if we had an upperclassmen, too, they possibly could be doing a little bit better.”

Let that statement sink in for a while.

Opposing Viewpoints

Both Wisconsin and St. Cloud State finished second in a holiday tournament, both by winning a shootout after a tie in the semifinals and then losing in the championship game.

But the outlook for each team is vastly different after the last two games. For Wisconsin, it was time to go back to square one after a pair of shocking performances in the Badger Hockey Showdown.

For St. Cloud, the shootout victory over Maine and the double-overtime loss to Boston College was a sign of improvement.

“We’re kind of knocking on the door,” Huskies coach Craig Dahl said. “We don’t score enough, but our goaltending is good and we play pretty good systems and we work really hard.”

The Huskies still have a long way to go to pull out of the depths of the WCHA, but a number of people are pointing to Dahl’s team as one to watch in the second half of the season.

Meanwhile, you’d think Wisconsin’s tie against Yale — a team that had just one victory entering the game — would have been enough of a wake-up call, but the Badgers again didn’t play well the next night against Ferris State in the championship game, and the Bulldogs became the first visiting team to win two straight Showdown championships.

“If we had any grand illusions of what kind of team we are, we talked about it after the game [Saturday night], the fact that being a good team or being a good player and just being average is a very fine line, and if you don’t pay attention to details, if you forget how you got to be a good team or a good player, i.e., work hard every day, be right on the edge every day, then you lose that edge,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said.

“And as individual players and as a team, we lost that edge. We didn’t get it back before we played [last] weekend. So this week will be a reminder of that. I hope this past weekend was also like a wake-up call. And it’s one of the hardest things to deal with in athletics, is the chapter on success. We were a pretty successful team in the first half, and now we’ve got to try to understand what got us there. And we had people that just didn’t realize that, and it was a real cruel wake-up call this past weekend.”

Turning to Trees

After getting off to a slow start this season, Denver freshman forward Paul Stastny has turned things on of late.

He was named the MVP of the Denver Cup after registering a pair of three-point nights. That just continued a recent trend — he has at least a point in his last 10 games and has seven goals and 16 points in that span.

Not bad, considering he started the season with just a goal and two points in his first eight games.

And all this, according to the Denver Post has come with Stastny using a wooden stick modeled after the one his father, NHL hall of famer Peter Stastny, used in his career. He’s the only Denver player to use a wooden stick.

“The classics always work, so I just stick with what works,” Stastny told the newspaper.

End of the Line

The Arcand-Kootenay saga at Alaska-Anchorage apparently goes deeper than just the preseason fight with Green in the team’s locker room.

Seawolves senior Jimmy Dahl told the Anchorage Daily News that some players asked Hill to kick Arcand-Kootenay off the team after last season.

The final straw for Arcand-Kootenay, who had been suspended for two games for an undisclosed violation of team rules while on a November road trip, was when Arcand-Kootenay didn’t join the team following a 7-2 loss to Colorado College on Dec. 11, the newspaper reported.

“Everyone deserves a second chance,” Dahl told the Daily News. “But it turned into a third chance and fourth chance, and at some point you have to pull the plug. It’s definitely a good thing. Coach is trying to put the team in the right direction, and we want to go in the right direction, and we couldn’t do that with Kootenay on the team.”

By the Numbers

It’s only been a month and a half since the last No. 1-vs.-No. 2 matchup in college hockey, but here’s a refresher on how these things have gone down:

In the 10 previous meetings since the start of the poll, the No. 1 team is 4-3-3. However, the No. 1 team has hosted only two of those games and is 0-2.

But easily the most impressive — and probably the most daunting — stat going into this weekend’s Minnesota-Colorado College series is the Gophers’ 20-game home winning streak.

That’s a figure of which the Tigers certainly will take notice, but it’s important to note that CC has had no part in that streak, so it might not mean as much to it as to other teams.

“I think any time you put together a streak like that, it’s impressive,” Owens said. “They’re playing well everywhere, but especially at home. They’re due, too, at some point. It’s a big surface and hopefully we can get in there and play the game we want to play.”

If the Tigers can, expect a series similar to the one the teams played at CC in early December. The Tigers won the first night before the Gophers rallied to claim a split.

“Our series with them here in the Springs was outstanding,” Owens said. “Hopefully it’ll match that same intensity and quality of play.”

Shutting Down Shootouts

It should be noted that WCHA teams played in four shootouts in the holiday tournament season and won them all. Don’t think that makes league coaches any more fans of the shootout format.

St. Cloud State, Wisconsin, Minnesota State and Colorado College all won a shootout, with CC’s victory coming after the championship game of the Ohio Hockey Classic against Ohio State.

But the idea of shootouts in regular-season games isn’t very appealing to any of the four WCHA coaches who had to go through one in the last week.

“For tournaments like this, I think it’s fine,” Eaves said after his team’s shootout victory over Yale. “It’s not league play, it’s a tournament. It’s very entertaining for the fans, and ultimately they’ll walk out of here with a buzz and excited about what they saw. They stood for the whole thing. But when it comes to championships and league playoffs, it’s something that I hope never comes to the game.”

The talk of the NHL going to a shootout format doesn’t appear to have the coaches worried about its introduction into the college game.

“I’m sure the reason the NHL is putting it in is it would be a fan-friendly thing,” Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting said. “Maybe it’s a good thing for college to be fan-friendly, too. But it’s tough if you lose games that way. Maybe if you got one point for the tie and if you won the shootout you got two points, that would be one thing. But to decide a winner and a loser, I don’t think that’s any way to do it.”

CC’s Owens and St. Cloud’s Dahl had interesting stories about picking their five shooters. Owens used freshmen James Brannigan and Jimmy Kilpatrick because both played last season in the United States Hockey League, which breaks ties with shootouts.

Dahl threw sophomore defensemen Justin Fletcher and Grant Clafton in the mix after learning from experience.

“The reason I had the two defenseman was because we do a shootout [in practice] every Thursday and they always score,” Dahl said. “So I thought, ‘You know what? If I ever get into a shootout, I’m going to use them.’ Sure enough, we did down there and they were the first two guys I put down.”

Fletcher ended up scoring the winning goal in the Huskies’ shootout victory over Maine.

Out of Commission

Alaska-Anchorage coach Hill won’t make this weekend’s trip to Minnesota-Duluth as he continues to recover from disk fusion surgery in his back on Dec. 14.

He appointed assistant Jack Kowal the acting head coach. It was Hill’s third back surgery.

Statistically Speaking

In a telling statistic, only two Team USA players were in the plus category in plus-minus at the World Junior Championship. Defenseman Brian Lee, a North Dakota recruit, was plus-2, while forward Ryan Callahan was plus-1.

The Americans, coached by Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin, finished fourth a year after winning the gold medal. Here’s how the U.S. players from WCHA teams fared:

• North Dakota forward Drew Stafford led the Americans with five goals and nine points, but was minus-3.

• Wisconsin defenseman Jeff Likens had four assists and was minus-1.

• St. Cloud State defenseman Casey Borer had no points in six games and was even.

• Minnesota defenseman Alex Goligoski had an assist and was minus-2.

• Wisconsin forward Jake Dowell had three assists and was minus-1.

• Minnesota defenseman Nate Hagemo had no points and was minus-3.

In Other Words

• League players of the week were Colorado College’s Sterling on offense, Minnesota goaltender Kellen Briggs and St. Cloud State goaltender Tim Boron sharing the defensive honor and Denver’s Stastny as the top rookie.

• Tim Stapleton became the first Minnesota-Duluth junior in eight years to reach the 100-point mark for his career with an assist on Dec. 18. He has 37 goals and 63 assists in 105 career games.

• Denver has the nation’s longest unbeaten streak at nine games (8-0-1).

• Minnesota’s 2-1 loss at Boston University on Monday was the 700th game in the career of coach Don Lucia, who has a 429-222-49 record in his 18th season.

• It has been seven games since Alaska-Anchorage last scored more than two goals. Included in that stretch is a four-game home losing streak in which the Seawolves have scored just five goals while allowing 21.

• A power-play goal in each game of the Great Lakes Invitational gave Michigan Tech’s Tyler Shelast eight power-play goals for the season, the third-highest total in the nation.

• Pioneers forward Jon Foster collected his first collegiate hat trick against Air Force in the Denver Cup, pushing his team-leading and career-high goals total to 14.

• Minnesota-Duluth is halfway through a school-record eight-game homestand and was 1-2-1 in the first four games, with a split against North Dakota and a tie and overtime loss against Denver.

• St. Cloud State’s 2-1, double-overtime loss to Boston College in the championship game of the Florida College Classic was the longest game in the Huskies’ Division I history. The game lasted 80 minutes, 59 seconds.

• North Dakota has lost only one time in the last 10 seasons in the first game back from the holiday break. That was in the 2000-01 season, when the Sioux lost to Boston University in the first round of the Badger Hockey Showdown.

• Wisconsin forward Joe Pavelski is on a seven-game point-scoring streak.

• Minnesota-Duluth forward Justin Williams is mired in a career-long 14-game scoreless streak.

• Trivia answer: The Great Lakes Invitational. No. 1 Michigan State beat No. 2 Boston College 4-1 on Dec. 29, 2000.