Off the Top of My Head
• Talk about a topsy-turvy Friday. The “underdogs” of all four series between WCHA teams last Friday took at least a point. The nature of the league never ceases to amaze me.
• While there are only three league series on the docket for this weekend, they are three very interesting series. Denver needs some points at Minnesota to tighten the gap, Anchorage and Tech battle it out to try and remain in contention for home ice and an upstart Duluth team takes on St. Cloud, which had a hiccup last week.
A Rough Day to Be Streaking
While Friday night was rough for any team in the WCHA (except Denver), it was particularly troublesome for Minnesota and St. Cloud State, which saw the nation’s top two unbeaten streaks fall.
The Gophers traveled to archrival Wisconsin with a 22-game unbeaten stretch, the longest in school history, but Minnesota native Ross Carlson — playing in what could be his last series ever against the Gophers — brought the streak to an end with two goals Friday in night in a 2-1 Badger victory.
“We’re not even thinking about [the streak any more],” Minnesota’s Brian Schack said after that contest. “We’re just looking to come out and get a win tomorrow. We were going to lose eventually.”
Schack and the Gophers did just as he said, and shook off the loss. Thanks to another great effort by a Minnesota netminder — this time Jeff Frazee — the nation’s top-ranked team remained just that by avenging the loss with a 1-0 win at the Kohl Center in the series finale.
The same could not be said for St. Cloud. The Huskies held the nation’s longest winning streak at 12 games and second-longest unbeaten streak at 15, but were upended against Minnesota State after the Mavericks scored five goals in the final 16 minutes of Friday’s game.
One night later, the Huskies had to settle for a tie, this time in a writer’s nightmare, another 0-0 contest in the WCHA.
“It was a bad, bad game for us,” said St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko told USCHO’s Tom Reale. “It was bad, but some things were leading up to it this week. We lost our focus during practice and had a mental flatness all night. The power play was as horrendous tonight as it was all week.”
After last weekend, there is no team in Division I with a double-digit unbeaten streak. In fact, Clarkson (at nine games) is the only team that can boast a streak of more than five.
In sports, it is often said that to win your league, you have to take care of business at home, and steal some games on the road.
North Dakota has been making it tougher on itself by struggling at home. The Sioux have a better record on the road this year than at home, and whether that was on their minds at all or not on Saturday, they decided to take a stand.
Apparently agitated by Anchorage goalie Nathan Lawson and his pregame routine before Friday night’s tie between the two teams, four UND players made sure he didn’t get out of hand on Saturday.
Later, they made sure the Seawolves knew they weren’t going to back down in their own barn as Rylan Kaip got the gate for fighting with UAA’s Chad Anderson.
While it could probably be done without grabbing a disqualification, a little feistiness at home could be just what North Dakota needed as it hits the home stretch.
The Sioux have two home series left — their first two series of February — and they will need the points from those games.
Last Chance to Catch Minnesota?
The Denver Pioneers have to be licking their chops heading to Minnesota this weekend.
Teams generally get up a little more for the nation’s top-ranked team anyways, but this is probably Denver’s last chance to make a charge at the top of the standings — even if coach George Gwozdecky has openly said that he doesn’t think anyone will catch the Gophers.
All of that said, it certainly won’t be easy.
Sure, Minnesota has scored just three goals in its last three games, but the Gophers have only given up two in that span and are 2-1-0.
A lot of eyes will be on this series this weekend.
Too Early to Be Thinking About Player of the Year?
Yeah, you’re right, it probably is, but I’m going to go there anyways, as I begin my first installment of my nominees.
The first has been the most intriguing situation in my mind, because I can’t help but wonder how many votes Travis Morin will get.
If it truly goes to the Player of the Year, he should be a shoo-in. But if voters think of it more as an MVP award, we could have a pre-Yankees Alex Rodriguez situation on our hands. The age-old question was whether Rodriguez could win the award even though his team never made the playoffs.
Minnesota State’s Morin is tied for the league lead with 20 points in WCHA play, first overall in the league with 31 points in all regular-season games and ranks tied for third in the country with three shorthanded goals.
And he has done all of that without having his right-hand man, David Backes, beside him. Many wondered what Morin would do after Backes, Ryan Carter and Kyle Peto all left the team early after last season.
He has answered the bell better than anyone probably imagined.
Sure, Minnesota State is tied for seventh in the league with 13 points, but Morin has proven that he is among the WCHA’s elite.
And while this isn’t the MVP award, even if it’s viewed as that, Rodriguez won the AL award with the Rangers in 2003.
In Other Words
• WCHA Players of the Week were North Dakota’s Ryan Duncan on offense, UND’s Robbie Bina on defense and Denver’s Tyler Ruegsegger for the rookies.
• Wisconsin’s Andrew Joudrey is among five finalists for the annual Hockey Humanitarian Award.
• Anchorage’s Anderson also received a game disqualification for his fight with Kaip last weekend. It was his second and by rule he will be forced to sit out both games of this weekend’s series with Michigan Tech.
• St. Cloud State senior Dan Kronick, a Minnesota-Duluth transfer, is looking for another big weekend against his former squad. All he’s done against the Bulldogs in five games against them in his career is net 10 points and two weekly conference awards.