This Week in the WCHA: Nov. 23, 2006

Off the Top of My Head

• What a weekend for Alaska-Anchorage. Not only did the Seawolves sweep a top-five team, but the two wins gave them six on the year — matching the number they put up all of last year.

• Michigan Tech has to be pleased that it won’t have to make a trip to the state of Colorado again anytime soon. The Huskies have picked up three of their four losses in the Rocky Mountain state.

• It’s been so far, so good for St. Cloud goalie Jase Weslosky. Two games, two wins and one shutout.

Is Anchorage For Real?

The measuring stick really starts coming out around Thanksgiving weekends when trying to sort out contenders and pretenders in college hockey.

After surviving a four-game winless streak just a few short weeks ago, Alaska-Anchorage has not so quietly won four of its last five contests. That stretch includes a win over defending champion Wisconsin and two victories over North Dakota, another team in the Frozen Four just a year ago.

“It’s good. There’s still a lot of games ahead of us, but what I like about our group of guys is we’re entering and approaching every game like we can win it,” head coach Dave Shyiak said. “We’re not a team that has any dynamic or Hobey Baker-type candidates, but if we do everything like we’re supposed to do and follow our systems we’re a good hockey team.”

One of those key components is junior goaltender Nathan Lawson. Since giving up four goals in less than two games at Michigan Tech, Lawson has responded by giving up just 13 in his last six combined.

“He’d be the first one to tell you he wasn’t playing up to his standards early in the year,” Shyiak said. “After that weekend, he started getting back to his standards of play … and since then he’s been getting better and better.”

The head coach also said that Saturday may have been Lawson’s best outing of the year. He pointed to a stretch late in the 4-2 win where North Dakota was playing with a six-on-four advantage and got about seven shots at the goalie, who answered the bell on every one of them.

If he can stay consistent, this team could be pretty dangerous.

The Seawolves have also shown that they are going to be able to take advantage of the long road trip teams have to make when they come to Sullivan Arena. Three of their four losses have come on the road.

And 12 of their final 22 games come in Anchorage, another component that legitimizes the Seawolves as a contender to at least finish in the top half of the league standings — a goal that Shyiak laid out before the season began.

No Sweat(t)

That’s what it appeared to be for Colorado College rookie Billy Sweatt. After missing a couple of weekends due to a bout with mononucleosis, the freshman returned last weekend against Minnesota State and went right back to work.

He had two goals in CC’s Saturday-night win over the Mavericks, taking advantage of power-play opportunities.

The Tigers were hampered by injuries and illness, but with four straight wins under their belt and those big players back in the lineup, they appear to have their legs under them.

“We’ve been at home here for two or three weeks so that’s helped us,” head coach Scott Owens said. “I think we’ve got our feet under us because we’ve got some people back — (Jimmy) Kilpatrick, Sweatt and Nate Prosser — that helps.”

Kilpatrick and Scott McCulloch have really stepped up for the Tigers this year to get them to 7-4-1 and in a tie for fourth in the WCHA standings.

McCulloch leads the team in goals and points, notching 10 goals and three assists already. He had nine goals and 19 points in his first two seasons in Colorado Springs.

And Kilpatrick already has six goals of his own, despite missing two games. He had eight goals in his freshman campaign and seven a year ago, so he has almost reached those marks already as well.

“Those to and (Chad) Rau in particular have stepped forward,” Owens said. “Losing all the scoring we did, it was important that we have a couple guys step up. McCulloch’s been very steady for us all year. He’s in a really good rhythm and Kilpatrick’s a scorer.”

There is no better time than now for them to be healthy and in a good rhythm, either. The Tigers will has a daunting three-week span heading into holiday break. They have to play North Dakota, Denver and a hot Anchorage squad in succession over the next three weeks.

On a Roll, Individually

Not that either of them would ever show it, but could there possibly be two players in the WCHA more frustrated at this point than Minnesota State’s Travis Morin and Wisconsin’s Brian Elliott?

Morin has been absolutely solid leading the Mavericks. With seven goals and 10 assists, he is well on his way to matching his 42-point effort last season.

However, despite his efforts, his team has just three wins before Thanksgiving. MSU is just 53rd out of 59 teams in scoring defense, giving up 4.23 goals per game.

Elliott has the opposite problem. The Hobey Baker candidate’s numbers are not that far off from a year ago, but he has just four wins and has lost five in a row.

Wisconsin has the third-worst scoring offense in the country. At 1.86 goals per game, only American International and Merrimack are worse.

U Rah Rah

I enjoyed my first visit to Minnesota’s Mariucci Arena this weekend.

But the whole split student section bothered me a bit. I understand that it means a goaltender will get a barrage of criticism during every period, but when that barrage sounds awful because the two sections are nowhere close to being in sync, it kind of defeats the purpose.

Also, the trip further engrained my thoughts that every school should have a crew of cheerleaders who can skate.

Who’s In?

It sounds like North Dakota goaltender Philippe Lamoureux could be back in action this weekend.

The netminder has been out the past three series with a leg injury, but should be available this weekend against Colorado College.

Rookie Anthony Grieco had been solid starting in his place until he ran into the feisty Seawolves in Anchorage last weekend.

There is a little more uncertainty for Minnesota’s Tyler Hirsch, who did not practice on Tuesday.

Head coach Don Lucia sat him out against Wisconsin last weekend due to academic issues and said that’s where he’ll stay until he gets things squared away in the classroom.

A Look at the Pros

Former Denver teammates Paul Stastny and Matthew Carle are tied for third in NHL rookie scoring with 14 points.

Former North Dakota skater Drew Stafford has four points in his first nine games with the Buffalo Sabres.

Former WCHA stars Joe Pavelski and Brett Sterling lead all rookies in the AHL with 26 points this season.

In Other Words…

• WCHA Players of the Week were St. Cloud’s Andrew Gordon on offense, Denver’s Glenn Fisher and Anchorage’s Nathan Lawson on defense and Anchorage’s Josh Lunden for the rookies.

• Minnesota-Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin will be in search of his 100th win in his seventh season with the Bulldogs.

• Denver’s Fisher got his third career shutout last weekend against Michigan Tech. It was his second blanking in as many Fridays and his first against a team not named Wisconsin.

• Wisconsin should have sophomore forward Jack Skille back this weekend, who has been out since the third weekend of the season.

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