Some thoughts this week, while debating whether the bigger battle in the last two weeks will be at the top of the standings or the bottom:
• It’s a bad time for injuries to cost teams some of their best players. Minnesota goaltender Kellen Briggs is out indefinitely — possibly for the rest of the season — with a hand injury. North Dakota’s Brady Murray is back on the shelf after re-injuring his shoulder last week. And Alaska-Anchorage’s Ales Parez is out for the season with a broken leg.
• Four teams are left vying for the final home-ice spot for the playoffs after Minnesota claimed the fourth one last week thanks to other teams’ losses. North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, Alaska-Anchorage — yes, Alaska-Anchorage — and St. Cloud State are still alive, but it looks like the Sioux’s spot to lose.
• From the “Where did the season go?” department: The Frozen Four semifinals are six weeks away.
• Denver at Minnesota State. It’s always going to make you think of the Mavericks’ seven-goal comeback of last season, isn’t it?
• Talking trivia: Steve Sertich, Marty Sertich’s father, was second on the 1973-74 Colorado College team with 61 points. Who led the Tigers that year with 31 goals and 79 points? Answer below.
• And finally, with Michigan Tech and Alaska-Anchorage — can we call both of those teams resurgent? — squaring off this weekend, the bottom half of the standings could look quite different by this time next week.
It’s no surprise to Scott Owens that Marty Sertich is handing a great season and Hobey Baker Award attention with a level head.
“He’s just so down to earth,” the Colorado College coach said of his junior center. “Their family, it’s a hockey family. He’s just dealing with it so well. He’s going out in the community and doing a bunch of stuff, too.”
Even after being held pointless last weekend at Wisconsin, Sertich still leads the nation with 58 points.
About all that attention?
“It’s just fun,” Sertich said. “I just take it in stride. Not too many people get a chance to do this, so I’m going to enjoy it.”
That’s the way to approach things when you’ve got the pressure of being the player to watch on one of the teams to watch. Luckily for him, he gets to share the spotlight with linemate Brett Sterling, who leads the nation with 27 goals.
And he got to see how the Hobey scrutiny works first-hand two years ago, when linemate Peter Sejna won the award. Sertich said he wasn’t able to draw too much from Sejna’s experience because Sejna kept to himself.
“I guess what I learned from him is to keep it in perspective,” Sertich said.
Said Owens: “I think he got exposed to what was going on with all the media. That year was a very special 30-win season, so he was able to see that as a wide-eyed freshman. I think he’s mostly drawn upon his own character, but having seen it a couple years ago certainly doesn’t hurt any.”
From a larger perspective, it says good things about CC that the smallest school in the WCHA can produce a Hobey winner and two years later have one of the favorites for the award.
“I just think we’re getting some of the right types of guys into our program,” Owens said. “We’re getting some good skilled players who are able to develop a little bit. We’re on a good run right now, and I’m hoping those two guys [Sertich and Sterling] will be there until the very end.”
It’s a longshot, but Alaska-Anchorage still has a chance at grabbing its first top-half finish since joining the league in 1993.
That would take a three-way tie between the Seawolves, North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth caused by UAA sweeping Michigan Tech this weekend in its final WCHA series; North Dakota losing all four of its final games, at home against Wisconsin this weekend and at St. Cloud State next weekend; and Minnesota-Duluth being swept at home by Wisconsin next weekend.
All three would then finish in the fifth spot with 23 points. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head play among the group, and the Seawolves beat the other two teams handily, with a 5-2-1 record this season against the Sioux and the Bulldogs. UND is 3-3 against the others and UMD is 1-4-1.
If St. Cloud State wins out by sweeping Minnesota and North Dakota in the next two weeks, it would have 24 points. If the Huskies take three points from the Gophers this weekend and all four from the Sioux, there’s a possibility of a four-way tie for fifth place, circumstances under which the Seawolves again would take the tiebreaker.
Interestingly enough, the first longshot scenario ties into another: Wisconsin winning the MacNaughton Cup outright.
Under the three-team-tiebreaker scenario, Wisconsin wins its last four games by sweeping North Dakota this weekend and Minnesota-Duluth next weekend, both on the road. If Denver split this weekend’s series at Minnesota State and the Pioneers and the Tigers split their season-ending home-and-home series next week, Wisconsin then would lead the pack with 41 points to 40 for both Denver and CC. The Pioneers-Tigers tiebreaker for second then would go to the team that allowed the fewest goals in the season series between the teams.
We didn’t say it was likely, just possible.
Can You Use That in a Sentence?
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves had a quick reply when asked after last Saturday’s game about his team’s recent troubles with the power play.
“Can you spell anemic?”
The Badgers held Colorado College’s Sertich and Sterling to one point between them in last weekend’s series, but still could only get a split. In a 2-1 loss, as was the case last Saturday, you tend to look at the special teams, and Wisconsin is having trouble there right now.
Just a month ago, the Badgers led the WCHA in power play at 24.3 percent. Now, they’re fifth at 20.9 percent after converting on only 9.3 percent of their chances in the last eight games.
That led Eaves to say of the troubles in last Saturday’s game: “I don’t know if a penalty has ever been declined in hockey, but I sure wish I could have thrown out a flag and say we’ll play 5-on-5. It was that tough.”
The Badgers’ power-play units have undergone some changes because of injuries, but they need to find their previous form in time for the playoffs.
“It’s a huge part of our game, and when we don’t get goals off our power play, it’s the difference in the game,” said Wisconsin forward Jake Dowell, a power-play regular. “If we could have got a couple [Saturday], we would have won this game. … Hopefully it’ll start clicking pretty soon.”
Patience Pays Off
Waiting for something good to happen couldn’t have been easy for Colorado College defenseman Brady Greco.
In front of around 30 friends and family members at the Kohl Center last Saturday, he hit a post and had an excellent chance snared by Wisconsin goaltender Bernd Brückler in the first period.
Greco, a junior from neighboring Middleton, Wis., finally put home his fourth goal of the season — and first since Nov. 20 — with a power-play shot that went in off the right post in the second period.
“You’ve just got to put your nose to the grindstone and take every opportunity you get and try your best,” Greco said. “I was a little frustrated in the first period when I clanged the post and ‘Brucks’ made a good save on me. I just came back and buried the opportunity I got in the second period. It felt real good.”
Reading between the lines, you can tell that Greco is familiar with the Wisconsin players — he called Brückler by his nickname. Greco spends his summers in the Madison area, sometimes sharing the same practice ice with Wisconsin players.
“It feels good to come home and play well against these guys,” Greco said.
With Briggs out indefinitely because of a hand injury suffered Monday, Minnesota will turn to senior backup Justin Johnson to lead them through at least this weekend.
Two years ago, Gophers goaltender Travis Weber had to sit out the WCHA Final Five after injuring a finger. His replacement was Johnson, who led the Gophers to the title and was named to the all-tournament team.
“It’ll help knowing that in the back of my mind,” Johnson told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, “but I’m not going to rest on it. I’m not going to say I’ve already done it so it’s no big deal. But I am going to use it as a confidence builder.”
Denver visits Minnesota State this weekend for the first time since the Mavericks pulled off an amazing comeback to beat the Pioneers last season.
On Dec. 20, 2003, Denver scored six times in the first period to take a 6-1 lead, then went up 7-1 in the second period before Minnesota State took over.
The Mavericks scored seven straight goals — three, including the game-winner, by Shane Joseph to pull out an improbable 8-7 victory.
Minnesota State went through all three of its goaltenders, with Jon Volp allowing four goals on eight shots in the first period and Kyle Nixon allowing three goals on seven shots before Chris Clark saved the day by saving all 13 shots he faced.
In Other Words
• League players of the week were Minnesota-Duluth’s Tim Stapleton on offense, Wisconsin’s Brückler on defense and Minnesota State’s Ryan Carter and North Dakota’s Rastislav Spirko as the top rookies.
• Brückler extended his lead as the active WCHA player with the most league weekly awards. He has 10, compared to seven by Minnesota’s Briggs and CC’s Sterling.
• Former Minnesota-Duluth and Michigan Tech coach Mike Sertich will receive the John “Snooks” Kelley Founders Award from the American Hockey Coaches Association at the annual convention in Naples, Fla., in April. The award honors a contribution to the overall growth and development of hockey in the United States.
• Minnesota-Duluth’s Stapleton had a goal and two assists last Friday and a goal and an assist a night later in the Bulldogs’ split at Denver.
• North Dakota hosts Wisconsin for matinee games on Saturday and Sunday because the Sioux are sharing Ralph Engelstad Arena with the state high school hockey tournament this weekend.
• Alaska-Anchorage is the only WCHA team that has not scored a shorthanded goal this season, while North Dakota is the only one that hasn’t allowed one.
• Michigan Tech’s Colin Murphy extended his point-scoring streak to a career-best 11 games last weekend. The senior has 51 points on the season.
• St. Cloud State’s Dave Iannazzo has a seven-game point-scoring streak and has 10 points in that span.
• CC departed from its traditional goaltending rotation last weekend because Curtis McElhinney had an injured back on Friday. Zaba started the first game; he traditionally starts the second game.
• Denver needs one win for its group of seniors to tie the school record for most wins by a class. The classes of 1961 and 1974 each won 103 games.
• Alaska-Anchorage and Minnesota State both close out the WCHA portion of their schedules this weekend.
• Minnesota State’s Brock Becker returned from a nine-game absence because of a broken foot to play in last Sunday’s exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 team. He’s expected to play against Denver this weekend.
• North Dakota’s power play has scored on 23.9 percent of its chances in the last eight games.
• Trivia answer: Doug Palazzari scored 79 points and was named an All-American for Colorado College in 1973-74.