This Week in the WCHA: Jan. 13, 2005

Some thoughts this week, while wondering what Colorado College had to do against Minnesota last weekend to convince the lone holdout to vote for the Tigers over the Gophers for the top spot in the poll:

• We know we haven’t heard the last of Minnesota, but with the race for the top spots in the WCHA expected to be razor-thin, CC now has an ace up its sleeve: the tiebreaker.

• You’ve heard of the show, “Best Week Ever.” If they were thinking about “Worst Week Ever,” you’d think Scott Sandelin would qualify. Not only did his Team USA squad miss out on a medal, he returned to Minnesota-Duluth in time for the Bulldogs to tie and lose to Alaska-Anchorage at home. Not really the worst week ever, but not good, either.

• At last, we get a glimpse at what Michigan Tech could be. The frustrating part for the Huskies and their fans is that series like last weekend’s at Denver pop up way too infrequently.

• Talking trivia: Colorado College had a 13-shot-on-goal advantage over Minnesota last Saturday. When’s the last time Minnesota was outshot by that many at Mariucci Arena? Answer below.

• And finally, short of taking out the trash at Mariucci Arena on their way out of the building, we’re not sure what else CC could have done last weekend. Well, 39 out of 40 voters ain’t bad.

Perfect Timing

It was good timing for Marty Sertich to be named the national player of the month for December. He just kept things going into January.

Last Friday, the Colorado College junior got the award from the Hockey Commissioners’ Association after registering six goals and 16 points in eight December games. A day later, he started working on January’s award, scoring the overtime winner that ended Minnesota’s home winning streak at 20 games.

“It’s fun to score an overtime goal,” Sertich told USCHO’s Scott [nl]Brown.

Sertich added another goal Sunday for a two-goal weekend and a 15-game point-scoring streak as the Tigers completed the sweep to take over the No. 1 ranking nationally and enter this week as the WCHA team with the fewest points lost, six.

Minnesota, meanwhile, has its first three-game losing streak since its abysmal start to the 2003-04 season.

Sign of Growth

Just down the road from the 1-vs.-2 clash last weekend, Wisconsin’s Ryan MacMurchy made a breakthrough — in a couple of ways.

First, the junior didn’t let a bad start to last Saturday night’s game at St. Cloud State ruin the whole night. That led to the second — a four-goal game that almost doubled his season’s goal production.

On one of his first shifts, MacMurchy fired a shot off the goalpost. He shortly thereafter took a penalty and, after being whistled for another infraction only 22 seconds after being freed from the penalty box, he let out a left-handed swipe at air as he took a seat again.

“I was angry,” MacMurchy said. “I’m an emotional player.”

Here’s where the sign of growth comes in. Instead of letting his game spiral downhill from there, MacMurchy made a change for the better.

“I just let it go,” MacMurchy said of the anger. “In the past, my game probably would have went right to crap. That’s one of my weaknesses and I’ve had to work on it in the summer and all year. … Good thing I’m getting better at it, I guess.”

The rough start got Badgers coach Mike Eaves’ attention, but he was quickly convinced by MacMurchy that everything was fine.

“That’s that edge that we talk about, the fine line between being in the ideal performance state and being over the edge,” Eaves said. “But he gathered himself very well. And what a lesson for him. A year ago, he may have gone the other way, but [Saturday night] he controlled himself and kept himself right in the game.”

The output raised MacMurchy’s season total to nine goals. He had produced 10- and 15-goal seasons for the Badgers in the past.

It was the first four-goal game by a Wisconsin player since Blaine Moore did it against Colorado College on March 13, 1993. But he could have scored six had the early shot gone in instead of off the post and if he hadn’t been robbed on the doorstep by St. Cloud goaltender Tim Boron in the second period.

Leaving Home

Michigan Tech plays a home game against Notre Dame at the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wis., next Tuesday night, marking the Huskies’ second game there in three seasons.

Two years ago, Tech hosted Wisconsin at the Resch Center, site of next season’s Midwest Regional. That game drew 8,744 fans.

Huskies coach Jamie Russell said he’s in favor of playing in Green Bay only every few seasons to avoid overexposure. And he doesn’t think his team should give away a game in Houghton to play the Badgers in Green Bay.

“It’s tough enough to win in this league without taking a home game and making it a road game,” Russell said. “I think Notre Dame’s a great fit. There’s a lot of Notre Dame alums that are very loyal, and I think we’re going to have a great crowd there as a precursor to the regional that’s going to be there.”

Back to School

Wisconsin’s Jake Dowell appeared to have the best return from the World Junior Championship of the six players who got back to their WCHA teams last weekend.

Dowell had four assists and was plus-3 against St. Cloud State. His Badgers teammate, defenseman Jeff Likens, did not score but was plus-2 for the series. St. Cloud’s Casey Borer was credited with an assist but was minus-1 for the series.

North Dakota’s Drew Stafford racked up a goal and two assists against Minnesota State. Minnesota defensemen Nate Hagemo and Alex Goligoski each had an assist, but Goligoski was minus-3 for the series against Colorado College.

Hagemo missed last Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury and is doubtful for Friday’s game against Minnesota State, the Star Tribune reported.

“He was in good shape until he went to the World Junior Championship, when he played a lot of games in a short period,” Gophers coach Don Lucia told the newspaper. “We can’t have this be an ongoing issue. We have to get him to where he isn’t in pain at the end of a game.”

Nothing Easy

The time has come and gone for St. Cloud State to just be happy with good efforts. Actually, it was before last weekend’s series against Wisconsin that freshman forward Andrew Gordon made that statement, so now it’s really past.

Last weekend’s sweep by the Badgers pushed the Huskies into sole possession of ninth place and snuffed out any momentum gained by good showings against Maine and Boston College.

“There comes a time where we’ve got to stop saying, ‘Yeah, we did all right, we played hard,'” Gordon said. “Playing hard’s only going to get you so far in this league. Playing hard’s going to get you a one-goal, two-goal loss every game. So we have to start bearing down around the net and make sure things happen for us. You’ve got to make your own breaks in this league; things are never going to come easy.”

The big issue for the Huskies continues to be the lack of offense they’re generating. But specifically, their power play has nearly vanished recently.

St. Cloud is ninth in the WCHA with a 14.7 percent conversion rate, but since the start of December, the Huskies are 4-for-46 in eight games. That figures out to a 8.7 percent success rate, and that figures not to yield much success.

“We just have to throw a lot more junk to the net,” said Gordon, who’s second on the team with eight goals — four on the power play. “The power play has just been rotten lately. We’re trying to work on getting a lot of quick shots, crashing the net, get some dirty goals — that’s how Minnesota beat us [in December]. Just a lot of shots to the net and crashing for rebounds, that’s what’s going to get wins, the dirty ones.”

Home Away From Home

It’s hard to argue with Minnesota State’s financial reasons for moving Friday night’s home game against Minnesota to the Xcel Energy Center. The Mavericks’ athletic department stands to make over $100,000 for the game, and as far as the health of the school’s sports go, that’s big money.

Establishments around the Midwest Wireless Civic Center in Mankato stand to lose a good chunk of change, however, considering that a Gophers game usually brings in upwards of 5,000 fans to the downtown area.

And there’s another complaint being raised: WCHA teams get only 14 home league games per season, but by playing the Mavericks just a few miles from its campus, Minnesota has something resembling a 15th.

“As an opposing coach in a battle with Minnesota, it doesn’t bother me that much,” Colorado College coach Scott Owens told the Star Tribune. “Mankato has got to do what it has got to do. It’s going to raise some eyebrows, but not from us. However, I am concerned about the precedent it might send down the road. Our league has to look at that as an issue.”

In Other Words

• League players of the week were Wisconsin’s MacMurchy on offense, Michigan Tech’s Cam Ellsworth on defense and Alaska-Anchorage goaltender Nathan Lawson as the top rookie.

• Alaska-Anchorage coach John Hill is expected to be back on the bench this weekend at Wisconsin. He missed last weekend’s series at Minnesota-Duluth while recovering from back surgery.

• Last weekend’s sweep of Minnesota came with a cost for Colorado College. Scott Thauwald suffered a season-ending ACL tear last Sunday, Owens said. The sophomore left winger had seven goals and nine points and played in all of CC’s first 22 games this season.

• Ellsworth and Minnesota State’s Steven Johns were nominees for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, but neither was selected as one of the five finalists.

• There were some notable goaltending performances last weekend, led by Ellsworth, who stopped 76 of 77 shots at Denver. Alaska-Anchorage’s Lawson made a career-high 44 saves Friday and 42 more on Saturday. Wisconsin’s Bernd Brückler claimed his seventh career shutout by blanking St. Cloud State Friday. Denver’s Peter Mannino earned his second straight shutout Saturday in a 1-0 victory over Tech.

• Freshman Andrew Thomas’ first collegiate goal was the only one Denver scored last weekend.

• North Dakota defenseman Nick Fuher registered his second career two-goal game last Friday and claimed his eighth career game-winning goal, the most by a UND defenseman.

• St. Cloud State defenseman Justin Fletcher injured a shoulder in practice last Thursday and missed the series against Wisconsin. He’s questionable at best for this weekend’s series at Minnesota-Duluth, according to the St. Cloud Times.

• Colorado College’s Brett Sterling became the 68th Tigers player to reach 100 career points with his first goal against Minnesota last Saturday.

• The 6-0 drubbing Wisconsin laid on St. Cloud State last Friday was the Huskies’ worst home shutout loss in their Division I history.

• Trivia answer: Jan. 28, 2000, when Minnesota State outshot the Gophers 42-27 but lost 3-2.