This Week in the WCHA: Nov. 17, 2005

First things first:

• Emotions ran high after Wisconsin’s Adam Burish hit Colorado College’s Scott Thauwald at the horn at the end of last Saturday’s game. It’s too bad, too, because that incident overshadowed a series of skill and tenacity.

• On paper, it seems like a different Minnesota State team out there the last two weeks. In reality, however, it’s the same team with the confidence of having a goaltender stopping shots behind it.

• Think Minnesota had some aggression to let out last Friday? The 9-0 victory over Alaska-Anchorage made it seem that way. Now the Gophers square off against their first ranked opponent of the season when they play Denver this weekend.

• Speaking of that Gophers-Pioneers series, both teams have won half of their games so far — not exactly the position we thought we’d be seeing from these teams by this point.

Hot-Button Hit

WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod expressed his disappointment in Burish in a letter he drafted to the Wisconsin captain to detail his punishment for the hit on Thauwald.

Late in Saturday’s game, which the Badgers won 3-0, Thauwald was nearing Wisconsin’s Robbie Earl by the boards. Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said Burish was trying to protect his linemate from a potential check from Thauwald, although the CC junior appeared to slow up just before Burish crashed into him, sending him into the boards.

Thauwald needed help getting off the ice while some scuffles broke out during the postgame handshakes. The Gazette of Colorado Springs reported this week that Thauwald, who had returned only a week earlier from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last season, had the same injury and is out for the rest of the season.

Burish was handed a five-minute penalty for excessive roughness and a game disqualification, meaning he’s out for Saturday’s home game against Minnesota State. McLeod and WCHA supervisor of officials Greg Shepherd reviewed the incident this week but decided against adding any games to the penalty.

“I told him I was very disappointed in his uncalled-for actions, that the young man was hurt pretty bad and probably out for the season,” McLeod said. “I did tell him that in the letter, but as far as any further disqualifications, we decided against it.”

Burish must write a letter of apology to Thauwald and one to the CC team as well as discuss with Eaves the progressive punishments he is subject to for future DQs. He also was put on notice that last Saturday’s incident will be weighed if a disciplinary hearing is needed in the future.

One of the reasons there was no additional on-ice penalty, McLeod said, was the precedent already set in that area. The most recent example of league punishment was a one-game suspension given to Denver’s Geoff Paukovich for his check from behind on North Dakota’s Robbie Bina at last season’s Final Five. The Pioneers doubled that penalty on their own.

A league suspension to Denver’s Max Bull in November 2002 also came up. Bull received a warning from the league after a knee-on-knee hit caused an injury, then received a two-game suspension the next week after taking checking-from-behind and checking-the-goaltender penalties. That suspension later was halved by the WCHA’s executive committee.

“It’s never an apples-and-apples deal,” McLeod said. “You’re always comparing apples and oranges a bit. Greg and I did review some of the past actions we took and thought that it didn’t rise to that level of what amounts to a two-game suspension.”

McLeod said he didn’t think the hit was a violent action on Burish’s part. “But the end result was pretty devastating,” he said.

Brett Sterling, Thauwald’s CC teammate, made no mistake of his thoughts on the hit after Saturday’s game.

“It was a total cheap shot,” Sterling said. “Everybody saw what happened. The puck’s not there and it was a bad hit. They need to take a look at it and review it. But I’m not going to say anything more than that because I’m not going to stir the pot.”

A day before he was told to by the league, Burish said he would apologize to Thauwald and wish him a speedy recovery.

“I know people may look at it as a dirty hit,” Burish said. “People that may not know me might think, ‘Look at that one incident.’ Maybe it was their first time at a Wisconsin game and they see me do something like that and obviously a normal person would think, ‘Wow what a dirty player he is,’ or something like that. But I think the guys that know me, the people who know me know that when I did that I wasn’t trying to hurt the kid.”

By the way, the Tigers host the Badgers on Jan. 13 and 14.

Trivial Matters

Since the start of last season, Wisconsin has held Colorado College’s Marty Sertich without a point in two series. How many other teams have kept the Hobey Baker Award winner off the scoresheet for an entire series since the start of the 2004-05 season? Answer below.

The Contest Winner

After the first six games of the season, Minnesota State was sitting with a save percentage of .842.

“You aren’t going to beat anybody with 84 percent,” Mavericks coach Troy Jutting said, and he was right. His team was 0-6. “I had to try something.”

That something, he told his three goaltenders then, was charting every shot during the week of practice leading up to a series at Alaska-Anchorage two weeks ago. Junior Chris Clark and freshmen Dan Tormey and Mike Zacharias, who each played in two of the first six games, were on the spot, and the one who stopped the most shots would get the start.

An interesting concept, yes, but as Jutting said, he had to try something. The Mavericks had been burned for seven goals in a game twice in the first six contests, not allowing much defensive confidence to be built.

And the interesting concept has produced interesting results. Tormey won the contest and has gone four games without a loss since. The most recent success was a shutout victory over Denver last Saturday to complete a three-point weekend against the Pioneers.

“It was a case where early on I thought we played very well against Minnesota, just gave up goals we can’t give up,” Jutting said. “But now our goaltending — and it’s only been four games — but it’s been much better and as a result our record is a lot different in the last four games than it was in the first six.”

The Mavericks are 2-0-2 in their last four games going into a series Saturday and Sunday at Wisconsin. In that unbeaten run, Tormey’s save percentage is .942, and his job has been made easier by a decrease in the number of shots allowed.

Whereas opponents were averaging nearly 34 shots per game over the first six games, they averaged 26 in the last four. The Pioneers got just one shot on goal in the first period last Saturday.

The series against Denver showed the Mavericks they can compete in the WCHA.

“There’s no question it’s helped out our confidence, but our team didn’t lose confidence in themselves,” Jutting said. “Even after six games and we hadn’t won, it wasn’t like kids were hanging their heads. I think they knew that if things got going, they had a chance to be a decent hockey team.

“I think with Dan’s play, everybody else gets more confident, too, because you’re not looking and saying ‘We can’t allow them to get any shots on us.’ We’re able to play a lot freer in terms of being confident that if we do give up some shots, our goaltender will be there to help us out.”

Bouncing Back

Losing 9-0 to Minnesota last Friday — the largest shutout defeat in program history — had to be an embarrassing experience for Alaska-Anchorage. But there’s something laudable in the fact that the Seawolves came right back the next night and played with some perseverance.

They led the Gophers 3-1 after two periods last Saturday before being steamrolled in the third period to lose 4-3. Minnesota outshot UAA 14-2 in the three-goal third.

“Every team has to find itself, dig down, learn how to win,” Seawolves forward Charlie Kronschnabel told the Anchorage Daily News. “It’s a learning process, and we’re in it. We don’t have the answers to anything right now, and we’ve got to start finding them, one by one.”

Forward Shea Hamilton told the paper: “We knew there was only one way to go after [Friday] night — up. There’s no way we could play any worse. We played great [Saturday] and it just falls apart right in front of us.”

Some Good, Some Bad

Before a 7-0 loss to St. Cloud State last Saturday, Michigan Tech had played three straight games that were at one point tied 2-2. Tech lost the first two at Denver before pulling one out last Friday, a 3-2 overtime victory.

“At Denver, I felt — sign of a young team — we didn’t make very good decisions with the puck,” Huskies coach Jamie Russell said. “We weren’t real patient, particularly playing on the road. Denver capitalized and we weren’t able to turn the corner. Friday night against St. Cloud we were very thorough, we were patient, we were smart with the puck, we took our chances as they came and Taggart Desmet and Chris Conner made a great play in overtime to get us a big win, an emotional win, a much-needed win.”

In that 7-0 loss a night later, Tech killed four of its own power plays by taking penalties and it allowed four power-play goals. That was a breakthrough of sorts for St. Cloud State, which had scored only five power-play goals all season to that point.

And it magnified how much Michigan Tech misses defenseman John Scott, who this weekend will serve the final two games of a team-issued, 14-game suspension for his offseason arrest.

“The guy’s got a wingspan from here to Mackinac Bridge,” Russell said of the 6-foot-7 Scott. “He’s just got such a reach and covers a lot of area. He’s a great penalty killer and we sorely miss that right now.”

The Huskies are last the WCHA in penalty killing at 73.6 percent.

In Other Words

• League players of the week were Minnesota’s Ryan Potulny on offense, Wisconsin goaltender Brian Elliott on defense and Gophers forward Phil Kessel and Minnesota State goaltender Dan Tormey as the top rookies.

• Wisconsin has tied a school record by allowing two goals or fewer in 10 straight games. Badgers junior goaltender Brian Elliott has gone 14 starts without allowing more than two goals.

• Denver’s forward depth took some more hits last weekend. Gabe Gauthier (knee), J.D. Corbin (foot) and Julian Marcuzzi (hip) missed last Saturday’s game against Minnesota State. Their status for this weekend’s series against Minnesota is unknown.

• Minnesota forward Danny Irmen, who hasn’t played since breaking a finger in the season opener, is likely to play one of the two games against Denver this weekend, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

• Plans are in the works for a Feb. 10, 2007, doubleheader at the Metrodome in Minneapolis — Minnesota playing Minnesota-Duluth in men’s hockey and the Gophers playing Bemidji State in women’s hockey — the Duluth News Tribune reported.

• North Dakota’s Drew Stafford scored his first career hat trick last Friday against Minnesota-Duluth.

• Minnesota goaltender Kellen Briggs picked up his ninth career shutout last Friday, breaking a tie with Adam Hauser atop the Gophers’ career shutout list.

• Colorado College is 0-for-11 on the power play over its last three games.

• Minnesota-Duluth’s Tim Stapleton has a six-game point-scoring streak, two short of his career best.

• Denver sophomore Ryan Dingle has scored at least one goal in seven of his team’s 10 games this season.

• Trivia answer: None.

Final Word

The sellout crowd of 15,237 last Saturday at the Kohl Center was Wisconsin’s 12th since moving to the building in 1998. But the impressive part about it was that it came on the same day as a Badgers football game down the road, when typically UW sports fans’ minds are elsewhere. That’s a pretty good statement for the program.