This Week in the WCHA: Oct. 19, 2006

Allow me to introduce myself.

Those of you who came here expecting to see Todd Milewski’s usual weekly WCHA column, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but he has passed the baton.

If you are an avid reader of the site, you may remember me as the arena reporter for Wisconsin for the past few seasons. If you just like coming here for Todd’s weekly columns, don’t give up on me just yet.

I’ve had a chance to get to know Todd well over the past couple of years and I read his work on a regular basis. To be honest, he knows more about college hockey than I — or most of humanity — will probably ever know. But being around him, I know what the expectations are around here and I feel I have a good knowledge of the WCHA. Hopefully that will reflect in my weekly columns.

In short, my goal for now is for a seamless transition, where the only difference between last year’s column and this year’s is the name at the top of the page. In time, hopefully I can take things to a new level and if there is something you would like to see here, feel free to contact me.

Thank you in advance for your support and readership and I’m looking forward to working for all of you.

Now on with the show.

Bitten By The Injury Bug

It was no surprise that the main focus during the WCHA preseason teleconference was on the early exits of so many players to the professional ranks. But if there was a 1-A to those sentiments, it was that teams really could not afford to lose any veterans to injuries this year.

It did not take long for a couple of teams to start feeling the effects of early-season losses.

Not only did North Dakota ruin Wisconsin’s national-championship banner ceremony with an overtime win on Friday, but the Sioux added injury to insult. In the game, the Badgers lost forwards Ross Carlson and Jack Skille along with defenseman Kyle Klubertanz.

Those three players were the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-best returning scorers from a year ago, which sounds bad enough until you realize that the team was already without its top five scorers.

With that said, the Badgers came back on Saturday night and persevered. Who got the lone goal, the game-winner in a 1-0 dogfight? None other than Jake Dowell, the team’s ninth-leading scorer from the 2005-06 campaign, and also the team’s leading returner in Saturday night’s lineup.

“There’s a silver lining there,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “It forced us almost to play at a higher level and everybody felt that and that could end up to be a very beneficial thing for us.”

“If we can compete against a team like North Dakota with who we had in the lineup, then we can compete against anybody. And I think the guys feel that same way.”

And UW is not the only team that will suffer without some key players this weekend. Denver lost senior forward J.D. Corbin during Monday’s practice. He fractured his right fibula and underwent surgery to repair damaged ligaments and is expected to miss the majority of the season.

“We’ll see a little bit more of what kind of effect it has on our team when we play this weekend,” Denver head coach George Gwozdecky said. “I don’t think we have anybody who can step in and play the exact role that J.D. has because there is no one that has the skating ability that J.D. has.

“This is a difficult challenge for our team and a difficult challenge even more so for J.D.”

Corbin had three assists in his first four games this year and was the team’s number-three returning scorer after a 20-point effort last year.

“I know that he’ll work hard and the surgery was successful, and we look forward to having him back hopefully sometime in the second half of the season.”

‘I Would Walk 500 Miles And I Would Walk 500 More’

Okay, so maybe they weren’t walking, but a 500-mile excursion is exactly what Minnesota State and Notre Dame embarked on last weekend when they split a home-and-home series.

The Mavericks went the 525 miles to South Bend only to be crushed 6-1 at the hands of the Irish Thursday. The teams then both made the trip back to Mankato, where MSU salvaged a split with a 3-2 overtime victory.

That makes for quite a long weekend to start your season.

The Mavericks will do it again this weekend, though on a much smaller scale. In fact, they won’t have to leave the state to play their second straight home-and-home series as they open league play with St. Cloud State.

While the different scheduling may seem more of a hassle than it is worth, MSU has to be glad that it was already able to buck one recent trend. Minnesota State’s victory over the Irish marked its first regular-season October victory since October 24, 2003.

If the Mavericks get a win or two against the Huskies this weekend, maybe they should consider playing all of their October games on a home-and-home basis.

Battle For The Governor’s Cup

Coming off of a title-winning weekend at home in the Nye Frontier Classic, the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves are looking to use that momentum to jump out to an early lead for the Alaska Airlines Governor’s Cup this weekend.

“It’s a very heated rivalry. It’s always said, it doesn’t really matter what the records are, the games are generally tight,” Anchorage head coach Dave Shyiak said. “It’s comparable to all the (big) rivalries, whether it’s Michigan/Michigan State, Minnesota/Wisconsin, BC/BU. It’s the same, if not more.”

UAA heads on the road to Fairbanks looking to grab valuable early points in its quest for its first Governor’s Cup in six years.

Both teams will come in with some confidence after opening their seasons with successful weekends. The Seawolves beat Merrimack 6-2 before tying Nebraska-Omaha and then beating the Mavericks in a shootout.

Alaska, meanwhile, is coming off 3-0 and 8-4 victories over Air Force.

“We’re hoping (this year) can be different, we’re very confident and we’re playing real well right now,” Shyiak said. “So are they … it’s going to be a tight matchup and it’s going to bring the best out of both teams.

“Ultimately we want to bring the Governor’s Cup back to Anchorage.”

The Seawolves got some momentum, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Yes, Alaska-Anchorage has nearly one-eighth of the goals it had all of last year through two games this season — including six in the season opener alone.

But the Seawolves won their opener last year, scoring six goals in their first game against Rensselaer. It was one of just six wins on the year and one of just four times they scored four goals or more.

Picking On The Rookie

Imagine you are a freshman trying to acclimate yourself to the lineup of the NCAA national champions. On top of learning new strategies and the new lingo to go along with them, you are starting your first semester of classes at college.

Sounds like a lot to deal with, right?

Well, things got even stickier for Wisconsin’s Blake Geoffrion last month. He came out of one of his new classes and got ready to hop on his moped and head home. Only he didn’t have his keys.

After a quick search brought no results, he left his moped and decided to make the walk so he wasn’t late for practice. He returned to the building later to check with the janitor in hopes to find his keys. Instead, he found his moped had gone missing.

He reported the moped stolen and the next day when he went to the library, there was his moped, stripped of its license plate.

The police checked the registration number and it indeed matched Geoffrion’s.

This was no senior prank, though the details of the event are pretty hazy. A Wisconsin football player was initially picked up in connection with the incident, but no formal charges have been filed in the case. That is fine with Geoffrion.

“I didn’t want to press charges or anything like that,” he said. “We don’t really know the details of the story and things were kind of shaky. I have my moped back and that’s the only thing I wanted.

“It was another thing that I had to go through, but everyone always says adversity makes you better.”

In The Pros

With so many players leaving the league early this year, I will help you keep track of those players who are now playing at the next level.

Please note that all statistics include games through Wednesday.

Of the 16 forwards and defensemen who left the WCHA early last year, four of them have opened the season on NHL rosters: Matt Carle, Paul Stastny, Phil Kessel and Travis Zajac.

Carle leads the way among those four, and is second in NHL rookie scoring with two goals and four assists through six games with the Sharks. Stastny is tied for fourth with four points. Zajac and Kessel each have two.

Ten of the players who left early are currently playing in the AHL. Former Wisconsin center Joe Pavelski is second among rookies and seventh in league scoring with two goals and six assists in five games for the Worcester Sharks.

Drew Stafford, Kris Chucko and Ryan Carter are all tied for eighth among rookies with four points this year.

In Other Words

• WCHA Players of the Week were Duluth’s MacGregor Sharp on offense, Anchorage’s Luke Beaverson and Duluth’s Matt Niskanen on defense and St. Cloud State’s Andreas Nodl for the rookies.

• The league is off to a hot start in nonconference games. The WCHA posted a .594 winning percentage last year against out-of-league foes. Through two weekends this year, league teams are 13-4-4, for a winning percentage of .714.

• Not that it wasn’t expected, but the WCHA statistical leaders are full of youth. Six of the top nine scorers are underclassmen and there are no seniors in that group. In fact, no senior has more than three points.

• North Dakota will face its second straight foe that reached the 2006 Frozen Four when it hosts Maine this weekend. The Black Bears have not beaten the Sioux since Oct. 20, 2001.

• It’s hard not to be impressed at Minnesota-Duluth’s power play numbers — 7-of-14 through two games — until you see the number of short-handed goals allowed. The Bulldogs scored seven times on the man-advantage, but Massachusetts-Lowell also scored three times on Duluth power plays.

• The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the new No. 26 is fitting in just fine. Gopher fans lamented that Phil Kessel, who wore the number last year, stayed for just one season, but the new No. 26, Jay Barriball, already has four goals and one assist in three games to lead the team in scoring.

• Colorado College will face its third weekend of nonconference action when it hosts New Hampshire this weekend. The Tigers are fine with that … they are 27-3-3 against non-league opponents in the last four years.