First things first:
• So which is worse, the bad press from Minnesota’s subpar start to the season or the bad press from the shocking — shocking! — reports of underage Gophers players being at a bar and some of them drinking alcohol? I’m guessing that being 3-3-2 doesn’t rank at the top of the list of concerns right now.
• That bit of news this week is overshadowing the leadup to what should be one of the best series of the early part of the schedule. No. 5 Wisconsin hosts No. 1 Colorado College, and we’ll get a good perspective on both teams this weekend.
• It also overshadows Minnesota assistant coach John Hill’s first series against Alaska-Anchorage since resigning as the Seawolves’ head coach in the offseason. He probably has a pretty good scouting report ready, even though he won’t even be in the building for the games.
Allegations Shake Gophers
If you didn’t contribute one of the 32,000-plus views of the USCHO.com Fan Forum thread or see the footage or hear about it some other way, here’s the news of the week:
A Minneapolis TV station this week aired reports, including hidden-camera footage, showing underage Minnesota hockey players in a campus-area bar. Some of them were drinking, and there also were claims that Gophers players were allowed to enter the bar without ID checks or paying the cover charge.
The first report was aired by Twin Cities station KMSP on Sunday. On Wednesday, Gophers personnel made their first comments on the issue, with coach Don Lucia saying he was “disappointed and concerned with the choices that some of our student-athletes made in connection with recent reports of underage drinking.”
His statement went on to say the situation would be handled internally and made no mention of possible punishments.
The station’s report, detailed on its Web site, said over the course of a two-month investigation, eight underage players were filmed inside Blarney Pub and Grill. Those inside the bar were identified as R.J. Anderson, Justin Bostrom, Kris Chucko, Phil Kessel, Jeff Frazee, Alex Goligoski, Evan Kaufmann and Derek Peltier. Chucko, Frazee, Goligoski and Kaufmann were identified in the report as either drinking alcohol or holding a container of alcohol.
Further reports by the station, again as detailed on its Web site, showed underage players entering the bar without paying the $3 cover charge.
None of the pictures is especially flattering to Minnesota’s hockey program and athletic department, but the waiver of the cover charge might end up being troublesome in terms of NCAA rules, which prohibit players from accepting unadvertised discounts or cash equivalents.
Gophers players were made off-limits to the media this week, but before that order, captain Gino Guyer told the St. Paul Pioneer Press: “If anything, it’s going to make us stronger. “We’re in each other’s corners all the way.”
North Dakota has allowed 15 goals in its last three games, the most it has allowed since 2001, when it gave up 19 goals in a span that covered a game against Wisconsin and two against which WCHA team? Answer below.
Well Done, Schedule-Makers
There often are complaints about the WCHA’s scheduling, so here’s a compliment: Kudos to the league for scheduling four straight weekends with five league series early in the season.
This is week three of that stretch, and it makes a difference in that no team will be way behind another in terms of games played by Thanksgiving.
Last season, it took until Dec. 3-4 to get a weekend where all 10 league teams were in action against league opponents, and there were only three of those weekends for the entire season.
After Thanksgiving this season, there are five more weekends with five WCHA series, and after Jan. 7, there is only one non-conference game on the schedule for any league team — Wisconsin’s game against Ohio State at Lambeau Field on Feb. 11. With every game down the stretch counting for points, that should make things that much more exciting.
A Shot of Confidence
Minnesota-Duluth forward Andrew Carroll went six games without even a point at the start of this, his freshman season. That’s not uncommon for rookies, but considering he led the USHL with 32 goals last season, he was feeling frustrated.
He found a great time to break through. Carroll scored once in the Bulldogs’ tie with Minnesota last Friday and twice in their victory a night later.
“He wasn’t down, he just thought he could chip in,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “But the kid works. He’s the last guy off the ice all the time, last guy out of the weight room. It was nice to see the puck go in. They weren’t the prettiest goals but you take that any time you as a player expect to score and you’re not. And obviously they were big goals.
“Those are the things: They get one and they feel a little bit better about themselves and maybe they’re not pressing as much. I think a lot of guys were, maybe our older guys trying to take the burden, which is understandable.”
Since starting the season 0-4 with 18 goals allowed in that span, the Bulldogs are 2-0-2 with 10 goals allowed in their last four games. Sandelin noted that better play out of goaltender Isaac Reichmuth gave everybody on the team a shot of confidence they now carry into a home series against North Dakota.
“I thought this weekend some of our young guys showed a lot of poise,” Sandelin said. “We got scrambling in the third period when Minnesota was coming pretty good. But that’s where Isaac came through. He’s probably one of the biggest differences, with his play.”
Those youngsters — 10 freshman played for UMD in last Saturday’s game — have make some improvements recently, too. There’s still a ways to go, however, and Sandelin is being patient.
“I said hey, let’s look at this thing at Christmastime because there’s going to be so many ups and downs,” Sandelin said. “I like the fact that the last two weekends we’ve played four or five pretty good periods and we’ve done a lot of good things. You look at performance, obviously. The win at Tech [two weeks ago] obviously helps when you go 0-4, to boost the attitude and the confidence.”
Speaking of freshmen, between Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota this weekend, the teams could put a combined 20 rookies on the ice, based on their lineups from their last games.
Wisconsin’s road sweep of North Dakota last weekend was special for the team’s seniors considering they were embarrassed at Engelstad Arena in their freshman season — also coach Mike Eaves’ first season — but Eaves doesn’t expect any kind of hangover from that in this week’s series against Colorado College.
“Last weekend, having the opportunity to win up there was just satisfying for the seniors,” Eaves said. “I mean, they were there the first year when we got spanked and the fact that they went in there, it wasn’t like a bunch of giddy kids. It was like, ‘We deserve this, we’ve paid dues to get this. This is our fourth year and we hadn’t won up there, and they’ve come through the whole process of working to get to that point to be able to win up there. And so I think being satisfied is more of the way that they’re looking at it and looking forward to the next step.”
Reality Check From Behind
Here’s some evidence for anyone who thinks the new mandate that all checking-from-behind penalties must be a major with at least a game misconduct is too harsh:
Last Friday, there were seven checking-from-behind calls, with at least one in each league game except the St. Cloud State-Colorado College contest.
The intent of the rule change makes sense: Most would agree that hits from behind near the boards are dangerous and need to be eliminated from the game. But there are those who think the mandatory major penalty leads to too much special-teams play.
As an aside, there was an eighth major penalty called last Friday, to Denver’s Andrew Thomas. The sophomore defenseman was called for a rare head-butting penalty, which also drew a game disqualification.
In Other Words
• League players of the week were Denver’s Ryan Dingle on offense, goaltenders Brian Elliott of Wisconsin and Reichmuth of Minnesota-Duluth as the co-defensive winners and Minnesota State goaltender Dan Tormey as the top rookie.
• Colorado College’s Brett Sterling was named the national player of the month for October by CSTV and the Hockey Commissioners’ Association.
• Former Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer is leading the U.S. national select team in the TUI Nations Cup in Germany this week.
• Denver’s Dingle scored twice in each game against Michigan Tech last weekend, including the game-winning goal both nights.
• CC winger Scott Thauwald returned last Saturday from a knee injury suffered in January and scored a goal in his first game back.
• Alaska-Anchorage has played from behind in all eight of its games this season. The Seawolves have allowed the opening goal of the game each time.
• David Backes and Ryan Carter each had a four-point night against Alaska-Anchorage last Friday. Backes had two goals; Carter had one.
• Tony Lucia, the Minnesota coach’s son, has verbally committed to play for the Gophers starting in 2007, according to Twin Cities media reports.
• Guyer’s next point for Minnesota will be the 100th of his career.
• Trivia answer: Minnesota State.
Underage drinking — and its potentially lethal consequences — is something that needs to be addressed on campuses everywhere, so here’s hoping everyone can make some good out of Minnesota’s current situation. And not just about not getting caught.