This Week in the WCHA: Nov. 30, 2006

Off the Top of My Head

• It’s a great time to be a fan of the WCHA. The league currently boasts three of the nation’s top five unbeaten streaks thanks to Minnesota (14), Denver (7) and St. Cloud State (7).

• Speaking of which, how goofy is the College Hockey Showcase? Michigan and Michigan State dominated the annual Thanksgiving tradition for the first decade or so of its existence, but Minnesota and Wisconsin have really turned things around against those Big Ten foes the last few years.

Power Up

Every team loves going on the man-advantage, but no league has loved it more than the WCHA this season.

Five conference teams are among the nation’s top 10 on the power play.

Success on the power play usually breeds success in the win column, which is the case for most of the teams.

Colorado College (2nd in the country at 24.4 percent), St. Cloud (3rd, 23.9), North Dakota (5th, 23.0) and Minnesota (9th, 21.8) are all in the upper half of the league standings entering the month of December.

Oh yeah, and then there is Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs sport Division I’s sixth best power play at 22.8 percent, but are just 1-7-2 in league games and have lost six of their last eight overall.

The problem for Duluth is that, while it has its success on the power play, it hasn’t had much elsewhere. The Bulldogs have 18 power-play goals through 13 games. But they have scored just 13 goals without the advantage and have given up four shorthanded.

The result is that UMD has the eighth-worst offense in the country and has a lot of work to do in the WCHA standings.

Another result of great power plays within the league is that the situation breeds some pretty weak penalty-kill numbers.

In fact, three of the country’s worst 10 teams on the penalty kill come from the WCHA, including some of the best power-play teams, Duluth and North Dakota.

While the Bulldogs and Sioux have scored 18 and 17 power-play goals, respectively, they have also given up 16 and 17 at the other end.

And Minnesota State has the fourth-worst penalty kill in the country at just 74.7 percent.

Sibling Rivalry

Maybe they aren’t the Manning brothers and they won’t be playing in front of a live audience on NBC, but this weekend should provide similar sentiments in Colorado when brothers J.P. and Mike Testwuide square off against each other.

If you thought the Colorado College/Denver rivalry was big, it’s about to get a whole lot feistier.

The two wingers — J.P., a sophomore at Denver, and Mike, a freshman at CC — grew up playing together for most of their lives, but will line up on opposite ends for the home-and-home series.

And anyone who watched Peyton and Eli Manning play head-to-head earlier this season knows that their parents got almost as much airtime as the players did.

While Janet and Paul Testwuide may not be broadcast across the country, they will go through the same emotions. The upcoming matchup prompted a friend of the family to make a patchwork jersey — half Denver and half Colorado College.

Undoubtedly nervous, the parents seem to have the right idea heading into the weekend.

“We’re excited, because we can’t lose,” Janet told the Denver Post. “We’re going to win the game, one way or the other.”

Speaking Of Which…

Speaking of brotherly rivals, the score wasn’t settled between Kurtis and Brent Kisio last week.

Kurtis, a senior at Minnesota State, and Brent, a senior at Nebraska-Omaha, squared off last Tuesday, but fought to a 4-4 draw.

Brent scored in the first period, his first tally in two years, but it wasn’t enough to beat his brother, something that has never happened at the collegiate level.

Zajac Has A Knack

North Dakota forward Darcy Zajac may have the loudest four points in all of college hockey.

While 0.33 points per game — he is 4-0–4 in 12 games in this, his freshman season — does not sound like much, consider how those goals have come.

In his first game in a Sioux uniform, Zajac wasted little time in getting his name in the box score. He scored twice in the third period against Quinnipiac in a 6-1 victory to open the season.

He has just two more goals since then, but they sure have been big.

His third goal of the year came at Wisconsin, where his hard work paid off in the form of a game-winning goal in overtime.

Then, last weekend against Colorado College, an early Saturday-night goal had many thinking the Sioux were bound for their fourth straight loss. But rather than hang his head, the rookie responded with a goal of his own just 1:19 later, sparking UND to a three-goal period and 5-2 victory.

A Little Change of Pace

Non-conference action always allows a team to tinker with its lineup a little bit and give a player who hadn’t been playing a chance to get some ice time.

That situation paid off for all parties when sophomore goalie Shane Connelly got the start Saturday night for Wisconsin. With Wisconsin marred by a six-game losing streak, head coach Mike Eaves gave senior All-American Brian Elliott the night off.

Connelly, who was thrust into action last season when Elliott was out a month due to injury, picked up where he left off. He stopped all 19 shots that got through to him to earn his second career shutout.

“It doesn’t matter who’s in goal, we just needed to get a win,” Eaves said.

A Look At The NHL

When the NHL season began, just four of last year’s WCHA early exits had landed on rosters within the league. Now through November, seven have played at least one NHL game and three of them are in the top 10 in rookie scoring.

Paul Stastny leads the group and is third in rookie scoring, posting 6-13–19 through 24 games. Former teammate at Denver Matthew Carle is fifth among rookies with 3-12–15 through 26 games. Former North Dakota forward Travis Zajac is 5-7–12 through 21 games, including eight points in the month of November. Former Gopher Phil Kessel has five goals and three assists for eight points in 22 games.

Those four players have been playing at the NHL level since the season began.

Former North Dakota forward Drew Stafford has now played 11 games for Buffalo and has one goal and three assists.

Former Badger Joe Pavelski had an exciting Thanksgiving weekend. He was called up by San Jose and scored his first NHL goal, all in a matter of 24 hours. He already has three goals in his first four games.

And former Gopher Ryan Potulny has found his way into the Flyers’ lineup twice, but has yet to score a point.

In Other Words

• WCHA players of the week were St. Cloud’s Dan Kronick on offense, St. Cloud’s Bobby Goepfert and Minnesota’s Mike Vannelli on defense and Minnesota’s Jim O’Brien for the rookies.

• Alaska-Anchorage is off to its hottest start since it joined the WCHA in 1993.

• Speaking of which, Minnesota’s 12-1-2 start is the program’s best through 15 games since 1939-40.

• If Minnesota-Duluth is going to find its feet, it is going to have to do so on the road. The Bulldogs play just one more game at home in 2006.

• Michigan Tech has given up just 20 goals through its first 12 games. Astoundingly, last year at this point the Huskies had surrendered 49 goals.

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