This Week in the WCHA: Feb. 17, 2005

Some thoughts this week, while still trying to measure the impact of Alaska-Anchorage’s win and tie at Minnesota last weekend:

• Guess we can add the Seawolves to the list of teams you don’t want to face in the first round. Oh, wait — they were already there.

• If you haven’t yet, check out Scott Weighart’s story on Michigan Tech’s Colin Murphy. Apparently, being soft-spoken doesn’t have to carry over to the ice.

• With the NHL season canceled this week, maybe we won’t have to see Colorado College’s Marty Sertich or Brett Sterling — or any of the WCHA’s other non-senior stars — leave before their eligibility is up this offseason. Novel concept, eh?

• Last weekend’s Wisconsin-Denver series was just good hockey. Should be the same for CC-Wisconsin this weekend and CC-Denver on the final weekend. And that’s how a MacNaughton Cup should be decided.

• Talking trivia: Wisconsin is averaging 12,615 fans for its home games this season — a figure that is better than last season’s home averages of which two NHL teams? Answer below.

• And finally, what the Seawolves did to the Gophers has you waiting to see which team is going to fall next, doesn’t it?

Put That on the Wall

Think John DeCaro might have those box scores framed?

The ones that say 57 saves and a win and 51 saves and a tie, both at Minnesota?

DeCaro, the Alaska-Anchorage junior goaltender who was a late replacement for Nathan Lawson last weekend in Minneapolis, came up with the series of a lifetime. There he is, right on the USCHO.com front page as the national defensive player of the week.

And it was a well-deserved honor. DeCaro filled in for Lawson, who suffered a groin injury in practice last Tuesday. Only Friday morning did DeCaro find out he would be playing.

“[DeCaro] was unreal,” Lawson told the Anchorage Daily News. “He was on his game, which was huge for us. He’s been working hard. He never gets down. I’m happy for the guy.”

But don’t forget about Martin Stuchlik, either. The Seawolves’ leading scorer improved his goal total from five to eight last Saturday in helping UAA get a 5-5 tie. He capped the hat trick by scoring with 7.1 seconds remaining in regulation to even the game for good.

His three goals were scored on four shots on goal.

No Sneak Attack

The perception is that last year’s Denver team won the national championship with defense. Things like that tend to get fed when you win the regional final and national final, both by 1-0 scores.

But the Pioneers were eighth in the nation in scoring offense and 22nd in scoring defense, making that a bit of a misnomer.

Now that Denver is leading the nation in offense this season and is 21st in defense, it looks like not much has changed. Just the way the Pioneers like it.

“We didn’t really change much with our game plan,” Pioneers defenseman Matt Carle said. “We’re just focused on working hard together. Our scoring has been up this year, and I couldn’t really tell you why. Our offense is just clicking together and a lot of guys are getting used to playing with each other now.”

Carle is one of the many reasons the Pioneers have upped their scoring. He’s one of two defensemen and one of seven Denver players with over 20 points. Defenseman Brett Skinner leads the team with 27 assists.

That punch from the blue line is just another offensive angle opponents have to watch.

“We’re a pretty good transition team, so when us defensemen get a chance to jump up into the play, we definitely try to take advantage of it,” Carle said. “It’s something coach [George] Gwozdecky harps on and lets us do.”

The one thing that is different about the Pioneers this season is their ranking. Denver is No. 1 in the USCHO.com/CSTV poll this week for the first time since Nov. 4, 2002. Last year, they made their tournament run as a the lowest second seed. This season, they have a good chance at a No. 1 seed.

“I don’t think we really wanted to sneak under the radar last year — that wasn’t a plan or anything,” Carle said. “We like where we’re sitting at now, but it’s all about where you’re at at the end of the year. Right now, we’re just focused on getting into the tournament, and who knows what can happen when you get there.”

From experience, the Pioneers know.

Back for the Stretch

North Dakota will have star forward Brady Murray back for its run at a NCAA tournament bid.

The Sioux, who are tied for ninth in the PairWise Rankings, likely will need some wins down the stretch to stay in a tournament position. Murray, who has been out since Jan. 14 with a shoulder injury, figures big into those plans.

Murray has been limited to 17 games this season because of injuries, including a knee injury that caused him to miss eight first-half games. But he’ll be back in the lineup this weekend — wearing a shoulder harness and a knee brace, the Grand Forks Herald reported — as the Sioux play at Alaska-Anchorage.

Murray, last season’s WCHA rookie of the year with 46 points — over a point per game — has just six goals and 13 points this season.

Holding On

Craig Dahl is keeping a simple goal for his St. Cloud State team in the final three weeks of the season: Get some wins and move up some spots in the standings.

The 10th-place Huskies have two games in hand on the four teams ahead of them in the standings, but they’ll need more performances like last Friday’s at Colorado College to climb the ladder. The Huskies’ 4-3 overtime victory at CC was their second straight WCHA win but only their third since the break.

With home-and-home series against Minnesota State and Minnesota before the final series against North Dakota at home, the Huskies have four home-ice chances to get some wins. But they haven’t won a WCHA home game since Nov. 26.

Still, Dahl is taking the long-range view of things, hoping that his younger players can take something out of the experience and apply it to the coming seasons. It would be a disappointment if they didn’t.

“Playing against the other team’s top line, we’ve got two freshmen and a junior [Matt Hartman, Nate Dey and Brock Hooton], and you can’t help but get better when you’re put into that type of situation because it forces you to improve quicker,” Dahl said.

And the coach has been pleased that he hasn’t lost the team.

“With our situation, our attitude has been tremendous all year, the kids get along well, they practice hard and we’ve kept them upbeat,” Dahl said. “One of the freshmen’s parents said, ‘I keep asking him, how’s it going? And he keeps saying it’s going great, I’m having fun.’

“And dad says, ‘I keep waiting for him to say losing [stinks] so I ask him what about the losing? Well, I don’t like that, but I like everything else.’ So I like to hear that. It means that things are good.”

Caught Shorthanded

Of Chris Conner’s 25 goals last season for Michigan Tech, a national high eight came while the Huskies were shorthanded.

This season, Conner has 12 goals — none shorthanded. As a team, the Huskies have only three SHGs this season, one each by Brandon Schwartz, Jimmy Kerr and Ryan Markham.

Kerr’s shorthanded goal came last Saturday and was his second goal of the night, bringing the Huskies into a 2-2 tie with Minnesota State. Schwartz and Murphy took over from there, giving Tech a 4-2 victory and its first Winter Carnival championship since 2001.

Goal = Win

When Joe Jensen scores, things are going good for St. Cloud State.

Not that the junior doesn’t score often, but the Huskies are 8-0 this season when Jensen gets a goal. The latest was last Friday, when Jensen scored with 13 seconds left in overtime for a 4-3 victory over Colorado College.

“He works so darn hard all the time, and he’s always around the puck,” Dahl said. “This year, when we’ve needed that big goal and he’s been able to come through with it, for some reason we’ve won. He’s a hard-working kid and he’s a good kid, he’s got a nice shot.”

In Other Words

• League players of the week were Alaska-Anchorage’s Stuchlik on offense, the Seawolves’ DeCaro on defense and Michigan Tech’s Kerr as the top rookie.

• Denver had its eight-game winning streak snapped last Saturday with a tie against Wisconsin, but that run marks the longest winning streak by a WCHA team this season.

• Michigan Tech is 7-3-1 in 2005.

• Minnesota State goaltender Chris Clark has a 2.11 goals against average and a .935 save percentage in his last four appearances, but he’s only 1-1-2 in that time.

• Minnesota has won just once in its last eight home games (1-6-1).

• Trivia answer: Wisconsin’s attendance average is better than last season’s average of the Carolina Hurricanes (12,171) and Pittsburgh Penguins (11,871).

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