This Week In The NCHA and MCHA: Jan. 26, 2007

I normally use my introduction to recap the movement of NCHA and MCHA teams in the Division III poll. From now on I’ll do the same, though I’ll be using the PairWise Rankings (PWR), the first edition of which just came out this week. The PWR seek to mimic the NCAA selection criteria so when it comes to speculating on tournament hopes, it’s the best tool we have.

As expected, the NCHA is poised to get a minimum of two teams into the NCAA field as they currently have four of the top eight ranked teams in the nation. UW-Stout leads the pack and checks in at #2 overall. The Blue Devils are closely followed by St. Norbert at #3 and UW-River Falls at #5. UW-Superior is back at #8 but as of now is certainly in the picture when it comes to NCAA Tournament talk.

MCHA teams fair respectively well in the National PWR as MSOE lands at #20 and Finlandia at #22. Lawrence also cracks the poll at #34, placing it in the top half of teams in the nation. Due to the MCHA not having an autobid to the NCAA Tournament, no one in the league will be a serious contender for the tournament, but the placement of two teams in the top 25 is merely another positive sign for a league that continues to improve.

With three more weeks of play in the NCHA and four in the MCHA there is a lot of hockey yet to be played, and the PWR is sure to shuffle itself around somewhat. It also must be noted that “record against ranked teams” is not currently included in the poll, though it should only help the NCHA teams in contention. For now at least it speaks well of the NCHA that it boasts four teams who have positioned themselves for possible tournament entry.

Let’s Go Streaking

Last weekend saw two notable streaks come to an end, as well as one player tie a NCAA Division III career record.

The most notable streak to fall was the one I usually refer to as my “favorite streak in all of college hockey”. Prior to last Friday, St. Norbert had gone a ridiculous 247 games without losing when leading after two periods. The Green Knights’ last loss when leading after two periods came way back in 1995. Carrying a 240-0-7 record since then when leading going into the third, the Green Knights were finally cracked. A 2-1 lead after forty minutes would not be enough as St. Scholastica would score twice in the third period to claim a 3-2 win.

That wasn’t the only streak that the Saints were able to end last Friday. Prior to last weekend’s meeting, St. Scholastica had gone 31 straight games without defeating the Green Knights. Over that span the Saints were 0-30-1, with their last win coming on Jan. 12, 1996.

Continuing with the Saints, they will have an opportunity to snap another dubious streak this weekend as they host UW-Stevens Point on Saturday night. St. Scholastica has gone a remarkable 0-41-3 against the Pointers since defeating them early in the 1986-87 season.

Speaking of the Pointers, they are 0-6-1 in their last seven road games. The last time the Pointers had a seven game road winless streak was in 1983-84, their third season as a varsity program.

Though not technically a streak, St. Norbert junior goaltender Kyle Jones shutout UW-Superior 3-0 last Saturday, marking the 13th career shutout for the North Delta, B.C. native and tying him with former St. John’s goalie Adam Hanna for the all-time NCAA Division III lead. Jones has a dandy 56-7-5 record over his two plus years in the Green Knight net.

This Week in the MCHA

A little over a week ago Finlandia was able to remain one point back of MSOE in the standings as they earned a road split with the Raiders. A week later however, the Raiders are back on top by three points as Marian claimed their second split of the season against the Lions. Meanwhile, Lawrence kept up their winning ways with a sweep of Northland while MSOE once again did their part by picking up a sweep over UM-Crookston. As Marian battles to get back in the race after a slow conference start, they will be looking to play spoiler this week as it’s their turn to take another shot at MSOE.

The two met earlier this season with the Raiders coming away with three points. The Sabres are winless in their last five against the Raiders, but have recently split with Finlandia and Lawrence proving they are capable of defeating anyone in the league. Additionally, the Sabres came away with a tie early this season at MSOE which will bolster the Sabres’ confidence as any time a MCHA team can get a point at the Kern Center it’s considered a moral victory. Marian finds themselves eight points back in the conference standings and it’s due to their inability to pick up sweeps over MSOE, Lawrence and Finlandia. If the Sabres wish to move up in the standings, they are going to need sweeps but it sure won’t come easy against a Raider team that as usual ranks at or near the top of the conference in just about everything.

The hottest team in the MCHA right now may be Lawrence. Since a surprising sweep of St. Olaf over break, the Vikings have won three of four in league play and also knocked off NCHA foe Lake Forest. If the Vikings look to continue the impressive start to their second half, the Golden Eagles of UM-Crookston will pose a significant challenge. Earlier this season, Crookston took three points from the Vikings while outshooting them both nights. Bus legs may have played a factor as it’s about a nine hour trip from Appleton, WI to Crookston, MN. In what is good news for the Vikings, this time it’s the Golden Eagles who have to make the trip. The Vikings have slowly been working their way up the standings, as well as the conference statistical rankings. If they wish to continue to do so they will need to fare better against Crookston than they did the first time around.

The final series of the weekend finds Northland traveling to Finlandia. Northland still is winless in MCHA play and will once again enter the weekend as prohibitive underdogs. One bright spot for the Lumberjacks remains the goaltending of freshman Bo Storozuk (0-16-1, 4.61, .907), who despite facing more than twice as many shots as any other goaltender in the league – many of them high quality – still is maintaining a save percentage of over 90%. Northland is bound to get a win at some point this season, but it will be quite the challenge this week against a Finlandia team eager to keep pace with MSOE.

This Week’s MCHA Schedule

Friday, Jan. 26
UM-Crookston @ Lawrence
MSOE @ Marian

Saturday, Jan. 27
UM-Crookston @ Lawrence
MSOE @ Marian
Northland @ Finlandia

Sunday, Jan. 28
Northland @ Finlandia

This Week in the NCHA

St. Norbert has won the NCHA regular season title for each of the past five seasons, but with only six conference games remaining the Green Knights find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Currently four points back of UW-Stout for the conference lead and three back of UW-River Falls for second, St. Norbert faces both this weekend in games that are must-wins if the Knights have any plans on winning a sixth straight conference crown.

The Green Knights saw their hole get a little deeper last weekend as although they shutout perennial rival UW-Superior, they fell victim to a dangerous St. Scholastica team in a game that head coach Tim Coghlin says was not a fluke by any stretch.

“They played us very hard and deserved the points they got,” he said. “One thing I’ve said is that they are a team that’s just waiting to explode. They have sort of hovered around .500 this season but they are very dangerous. If they keep it up this weekend we may have a five team race very quickly.”

When it comes to this weekend for St. Norbert, it’s clear that UW-River Falls and UW-Stout are both very formidable foes. Both are ranked in the top five nationally and both have already had a measure of success against the Green Knights this season. In fact, when the Green Knights hit the road earlier this season to take on these same two teams, they managed only one point by way of a tie against the Blue Devils. In a league that is as competitive as everyone thought it would be, Coghlin is just happy the Green Knights can still see the top of the conference.

“This is a new look for us,” he said. “Right now I think we are fortunate just to be in the hunt.”

Being behind in the standings is forcing St. Norbert to take things one game at a time, and up first are the third-ranked Falcons, a team that already has beaten the Green Knights once this season.

“Our focus right now is on our Friday opponent,” Coghlin said. “River is a very talented group. They had the most returning players in the league and Bucchino is very talented in the pipes. They have a solid defensive core and the most explosive group of forwards in the league.”

Explosive might be an understatement as everyone knows St. Norbert scores a lot of points, but River Falls top forward line is led by junior Tyler Dahl (11-28-39), who has scored a full ten points more than anyone on the Green Knights.

As far as their earlier meeting, he added, “I thought that was one of the best games played all season – we played well and we still lost so that tells you how good they are.”

Things don’t get any easier on Saturday as St. Norbert plays host to conference-leading UW-Stout. Some people are refusing to believe in the Blue Devils, but according to Coghlin they are quite formidable and in first place for a reason.

“They have earned every point,” he said. “Every team in this league plays the same schedule and they are on top. The point we earned at Stout we didn’t deserve and the total credit for that goes to Stout. They played us very hard and very efficiently.”

Though it’s impossible to take anything away from St. Norbert as their track record speaks for itself, it’s almost a refreshing change to see them with their backs to the wall this time around. Though the Green Knights look to be positioned for another NCAA Tournament berth, that’s not something Coghlin is worried about right now.

“Our focus right now is to get to the second spot (in the NCHA) and get home ice for the second round of the playoffs. River Falls and Stout have earned their positions and they are in control right now. I think it comes down to these two teams to see who is going to win the league, and right now we are just focused on getting as high of a seed as we can.”

As mentioned, if St. Norbert looks on moving up in the conference standings and claiming yet another conference crown they will need a big weekend and must certainly fare better against the Blue Devils and Falcons than they did the first time around, something Coghlin knows all to well.

“Last time we played these guys we only got one point — and that’s not acceptable.”

This Week’s NCHA Schedule

Friday, Jan. 26
UW-Eau Claire at St. Scholastica
UW-River Falls at St. Norbert
UW-Stevens Point at UW-Superior
UW-Stout at Lake Forest

Saturday, Jan. 27
UW-Eau Claire at UW-Superior
UW-River Falls at Lake Forest
UW-Stevens Point at St. Scholastica
UW-Stout at St. Norbert