Off The Top Of My Head
All right, brace yourselves. There is now less than one month until the final week of the WCHA regular season schedule and we have plenty yet to figure out: Will North Dakota hang on to the final home-ice spot? Will teams continue to beat up on each other and let Minnesota maintain its lead? And can Colorado College surprise some teams, start winning on the road and become a contender?
Tigers Waiting to Pounce?
If I thought that the WCHA was predictable, I might issue an apology here. Instead, I’ll just say, boy was I wrong about Colorado College this year.
Shame on me for letting coach Scott Owens convince me that his team would be nothing but mediocre this season.
Before the season, he said things like this: “Our goal really is to be … a good second-half team. We know we’re going to have some growing pains here initially. People are going to have to be patient, but we do think we have a pretty good group we can work with.”
And this: “The kind of year that we could experience, in terms of retooling a little bit, (the freshmen) are going to be given opportunities to develop.”
With comments like that, do you really blame me for predicting a seventh-place finish? No? Well how about if the Tigers had just lost badly in an exhibition to the University of Calgary before he made them?
All CC did after that was go 11-6-1 through the second week of December. While that record doesn’t jump off the page at you, it’s certainly respectable — just ask North Dakota or Wisconsin, who were expected to have a record similar to that, but fell below .500.
In fact, so far, they’ve had a better first half than second. The Tigers are just 5-4-1 since then.
In some ways, they remind me of last year’s St. Cloud State squad, one that was picked by some to finish seventh or eighth, but surprised people and nearly won the Final Five.
Last year’s season preview said it was time for goalie Bobby Goepfert to be a game-changer. He did that and much more, putting the team on his back.
This year, the Tigers’ preview was also looking for some veterans to step up, and they have.
And now they hold the keys to their destiny right in their own hands.
It won’t be easy.
Five of their last eight games are on the road, and their three home games come against Minnesota, twice, and Denver.
They start off the stretch at St. Cloud this weekend and they currently have a road record below the .500 mark.
But anything can happen in this league, we know that.
How CC finishes out a difficult schedule, with some difficult road series, will determine whether it ends up second in the league or fourth.
And there’s a big difference between those two spots.
With temperatures hovering right around 10 degrees and snow expected throughout the weekend, what better time for the Winter Carnival at Michigan Tech?
The Huskies grabbed just one point from Minnesota State last weekend, the Denver Pioneers are coming off a split, and considering the holiday weekend, this series could get, and always seems to be, interesting.
You just have to look back one year, when Tech took three points from eventual MacNaughton Cup champion Minnesota during Winter Carnival, to realize that this isn’t just any old weekend.
In fact, the Huskies hold a 4-2-0 record over Denver in Winter Carnival games as well, though none have come in the past 15 years.
Spoke Too Soon?
Maybe I plugged Minnesota State’s Travis Morin a little to soon.
Just a couple weeks back I called him the A-Rod of the WCHA, a player who stood out on the ice and on the stat sheet. He’s certainly got company in Minnesota-Duluth’s Mason Raymond, who leads the league in scoring (all games) and ranks among the league’s elite when counting just conference games.
He tallied four points in carrying Duluth to a 6-4 defeat at Denver last weekend.
Oh yeah, and he’s only a sophomore.
With still no clear-cut choice for Player of the Year, all we can do is wait and see, but why not include Morin and Mason among the candidates?
North Dakota Update
Updating a story from last week, three North Dakota hockey players who were involved at an incident at a local bar issued statements this week.
Robbie Bina, Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie all took full responsibility for their actions and apologized to the UND community.
As someone fresh out of college, I’m not going to sit here and admonish them, because everyone certainly makes their fair share of mistakes during that time.
Head coach Dave Hakstol said they would be reprimanded internally and there would be no further comments from anyone involved.
I say that is fine — it’s over and done with, they’ve apologized, let’s carry on.
My Final Predictions
This is what the final standings look like when I toss my guesses into the What-If Calculator.
UMN: 41 points
Feel free to toss in your predictions and email them to me. I’ll try to keep them on file and see who ends up closest when the season ends.
Here is a link to the calculator.
In Other Words
• WCHA Players of the Week were Minnesota’s Mike Howe on offense, CC’s Matt Zaba and Minnesota State’s Mike Zacharias on defense and Minnesota’s Jay Barriball for the rookies.
• If you’re wondering why it’s won just once in its last eight outings, Alaska-Anchorage has allowed a power-play goal in 13 consecutive games. The Seawolves have scored on the man-advantage just twice in their last eight contests.
• Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves is still searching for his 100th career win after three straight losses.