This Week in the WCHA: Feb. 9, 2006

First things first:

• While Wisconsin is freezing its you-know-what off at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Denver and Minnesota will have the chance this weekend to do what seemed impossible a short time ago — knock the Badgers out of first place in the WCHA.

• The roar of the crowd inside the DECC last Friday wasn’t the only way one could tell Duluth still loves Brett Hull, whose jersey was retired by the school. The high volume of requests for his time in the day he was there made it quite clear.

• The way the No. 1 label has affected teams lately, Minnesota may have been better off declining the honor.

Putting the Frozen in Frozen Tundra

It could be cold on the ice surface at Lambeau Field late Saturday afternoon — and all signs suggest it’ll be cold, just like you’d expect from Green Bay in February — but Wisconsin winger Ryan MacMurchy will at least be able to say he’s played in worse.

Like, say, minus-40. Really.

MacMurchy had that experience about 10 years ago in an exhibition Peewee game on an outdoor rink a small town in Saskatchewan.

“After going through that,” MacMurchy said, “nothing will be that cold.”

The forecast for Wisconsin’s 3 p.m. Saturday game against Ohio State calls for a chance of flurries with a daytime high of 23 degrees. By the third period, the temperature should be in the teens.

The Badgers and the Buckeyes will be battling not only each other but the unique elements of the wind and, in all likelihood, frozen feet.

Wisconsin players have plans to cope with the cold. They’ll wear extra layers of athletic undergarments and will take advantage of hand and foot warmers if needed.

It sounds a lot like what they’d do to play in the backyard as kids.

“We all grew up playing on outdoor rinks in the freezing cold, playing for eight hours when we were kids,” MacMurchy said. “It’ll be fine. I don’t think the weather’s going to be too much of a factor, and if it is that makes it a little tougher and a little better of an experience.”

For more on the Frozen Tundra Classic see USCHO’s coverage.

Trivial Matters

Denver defenseman Matt Carle leads the WCHA with 32 points in conference games. Name the two defensemen who have led the league or tied for the league lead in that category at the end of a season. Answer below.

Set For Seven

Scott Owens is set to be the Colorado College coach through at least the 2012-13 season.

Owens got a contract extension from the school this week that provides seven seasons after this one.

“It’s a nice commitment from them, and, likewise, it’s pretty much an indication of where I want to be,” Owens said. “This is home, and I’ve put in roots, and this is the program I want to be a part of and continue to be a part of. I’m pleased we were able to get it done in the time frame that we did.”

In six-plus seasons at CC, Owens has a 171-87-19 record. He recently became the school’s all-time wins leader.

The program has had two Hobey Baker Award winners in the past three seasons — Peter Sejna in 2003 and Marty Sertich last season — indicating the overall health of things.

Carnival Time

It’s Winter Carnival time in Houghton, and Michigan Tech goes into this year’s event with an unbeaten streak in Carnival games for the first time in four years.

The Huskies ended a six-game Winter Carnival losing streak last season by tying and defeating Minnesota State.

This season, top-ranked Minnesota comes to the festivities for the first time since 1998, when the Huskies swept a pair of games, both 5-3.

Overall, Michigan Tech is 67-37-8 in Winter Carnival games.

If Minnesota players feel a bit cheated this week, they have a reason. Before their series against Colorado College three weeks ago, assistant coach John Hill said if the Gophers won their next four games, a stretch that also included a pair at Wisconsin, he’d get them on a chartered plane to Houghton instead of a bus.

The players held up their end of the bargain, but they’re still on the bus this week. Apparently, budget concerns overruled Hill’s deal.

Opportunities Lost

Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting has been around hockey for a long time, but even he was taken aback by what happened in his game last Saturday against Michigan Tech.

The Mavericks allowed only six even-strength shots on goal — just 13 shots on goal total — while putting 40 shots on the Huskies’ net, only to lose 3-2.

It points to a problem Jutting sees with his team. In the three victories that preceded that game, the Mavericks scored 16 goals. Last Saturday, they couldn’t buy a goal.

It’s a matter of making the most of opportunities, and on some nights, it’s not there.

“We just have not taken advantage of our scoring opportunities,” Jutting said. “We’ve been playing very well, been playing hard, been getting our opportunities, just not taking advantage of our scoring opportunities.”

Junior David Backes has only one goal in his last 12 games, an even-strength goal in the third period of a 5-2 victory over Nebraska-Omaha on Jan. 3.

He did, however, have nine shots on goal in Saturday’s loss.

“So he’s not playing poorly; it’s just not going in the net,” Jutting said. “To have him and Ryan Carter have 17 shots on net between the two of them on Saturday night and not a goal with the quality of chances that they had, it’s just one of those things. It just wasn’t meant to be Saturday night.

“My concern is it wasn’t a one-night occurrence this season. It’s happened to us on five or six nights that if you looked at the game and didn’t know the score, you’d probably say Mankato won that game.”

If that’s the case, justice for the Mavericks would be getting some of those bounces during the stretch run.

“Hopefully everybody gets their due,” Jutting said, “and ours is coming.”

Stay Four

Hull has some advice for today’s college players who start right after high school: stay in school.

Speaking before his jersey was retired by Minnesota-Duluth last Friday, Hull said it’s better for players to develop today in college than in the minor leagues.

Hull, who recently retired after a 20-year NHL career in which he scored 741 goals, third-most in NHL history, left UMD after two seasons and spent most of the next season in the minors.

“I came to college a year late, so I was really a junior age,” he said. “That was one of the decisions I had to take into account. But if you come right out of high school, I would recommend everyone playing the full four years.”

Hull said he has been working with the Dallas Stars and has an interest in working with former UMD star Junior Lessard, who is playing with the team’s AHL farm club in Iowa. In those discussions with Stars general manager Doug Armstrong, the subject of developing a player’s game in the minors came up.

“We started talking about the minors, and it’s not a real pleasant place to develop,” Hull said. “It’s more run as a business now, as opposed to when I came out, it was a development league. If you were a top prospect, you were being groomed. And now, it’s ‘We need you to succeed,’ and it’s almost like old roller derby. Every night, there’s a gimmick and the owners are taking you to the malls. You have no time and there are 10-, 12-hour bus rides.

“The extra years you’d get here developing as a person, as a student and as a player, I think is a much better place to be than riding the buses and getting beat down in the minor league system.”

Among other subjects, Hull also discussed:

• His decision to play for Mike Sertich at UMD:

“That’s the reason I came, Coach Sertich and the program he had put together. It was a real skating-type program he had going, and I basically was told if I was ever going to try to play pro, I was going to have to develop my skating a little better. I like small towns. I like the small-town atmosphere and the attitude of the people. This is such a beautiful city with so many great people that I’ve met and made friends with. I was fortunate that I was lucky enough to have a chance to come here, but then that I was smart enough to be able to make that right decision.”

• And his breakout series on Feb. 8-9, 1985, at Wisconsin when he scored a pair of hat tricks:

“I think it was fairly early in my freshman season, and I had struggled adapting to the speed of the game that I wasn’t used to. I remember Gary Suter broke Tom Herzig’s jaw early in the first period of the first game, and Sertie put me out there on the power play. I guess I kind of knew where to go, but it was easy when you’ve got [Norm] Maciver, [Bill] Watson and [Matt] Christensen and [Jim] Johnson out there feeding you the puck. I could always shoot it, so if I could get open I knew I would get it and be able to do something with it. It was a lot of fun, and I think that weekend, those two games were really the beginning of my ability to have the confidence in myself to be able to go and continue on, not only through UMD but through my pro career as well.”

That’s Finished

One could tell the weight had been lifted from the Minnesota-Duluth shoulders.

The Bulldogs frustrated Wisconsin last Saturday to end a seven-game losing streak and a nine-game WCHA skid, and picked up only their second league home victory of the season.

It was smiles all around on the Bulldogs’ side of the DECC, and justifiably so because they played an intelligent game and were opportunistic on the power play (3-for-6).

“It’s a big relief, you know?” Sandelin said after Saturday’s game.

Sterling Slump?

Colorado College senior Brett Sterling doesn’t have a goal in his last five games. As if that’s not uncommon enough, he’s stuck on 99 career goals.

He told the Denver Post this week that being the fifth CC player to reach the century mark for goals isn’t as important as getting back on track.

“People are making a far bigger deal than I think it is,” Sterling told the newspaper. “Yeah, it’s going to be great if I get it, it’ll be an honor. But at the same time I just need to get my shot down. It’s an accuracy thing right now, and that’s all I’m focused on.”

The Tigers were 20 minutes away from a sixth straight loss last Saturday before Joey Crabb and Chad Rau scored 69 seconds apart to give CC a 3-2 victory over North Dakota.

The losing streak, which started with a home sweep by Wisconsin, was starting to eat at the Tigers.

“The problem is, it just starts to affect your psyche, and we needed to put a stop to that,” Owens said. “We had played OK in a couple of those games we lost, but we didn’t get breaks and we weren’t winning. It’s a combination of needing the points, stopping the bleeding, helping the RPI and, at the same time, rewarding our guys for playing well. It was key for us.”

In Other Words

• League players of the week were St. Cloud State’s Matt Hartman on offense, Michigan Tech goaltender Michael-Lee Teslak on defense and Minnesota-Duluth forward Nick Kemp as the top rookie.

• Minnesota forward Danny Irmen was named the national player of the month for January by CSTV and the Hockey Commissioners’ Association. He had seven goals and seven assists in the month.

• The Stanley Cup and the Green Bay Packers’ three Super Bowl trophies will be available for pictures on Friday and Saturday in the Lambeau Field Atrium. Friday’s viewing is from 5 to 10 p.m. and is open to the public. Saturday’s viewing is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is only for game ticket holders.

• With its loss at Colorado College last Saturday, North Dakota fell to 36-2-3 over the past two seasons when taking a lead into the third period.

• St. Cloud State has three consecutive WCHA sweeps for the first time since the 2001-02 season.

• Alaska-Anchorage’s winless streak is at a season-high nine games (0-7-2).

• Denver’s eight-game road winning streak is the longest in program history.

• Trivia answer: Minnesota’s Lou Nanne (32 points in 1962-63) and Minnesota’s Mike Crowley (42 points in 1996-97).