This Week in the WCHA: Nov. 8, 2007

We’ve finally completed our first full weekend of WCHA action (well, save for Minnesota State’s weekend against Alabama-Huntsville, of course) and at the end of it, we’ve got some surprises.

Granted, it’s still early (how many times have I said that so far?), but by this point in the season, who would have expected Michigan Tech to be at the top of the league and Minnesota at the bottom, with North Dakota somewhere in the middle? The crazy part is, the rest of the season will probably be as wild and, well, crazy as it has been to this point.

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Ryan Lasch, St. Cloud State

Why: Scored five points (3g, 2a), had eight shots on goal and was a +1 during the Huskies’ weekend series with Alaska-Anchorage.
Also Nominated: Bill Sweatt, CC; Rhett Rakhshani, DU; Mick Berge, MSU-M; Ryan Duncan, UND; Kyle Klubertanz, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Peter Mannino, Denver

Why: Stopped 68 of 70 shots for a .971 save percentage in the Pioneers’ first sweep of Minnesota since December 1994, earning his first two career wins over the Gophers.
Also Nominated: Kris Fredheim, CC; Drew Dobson, MTU; Brian Kilburg, MSU-M; Robbie Bina, UND; Aaron Brocklehurst, SCSU.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Tyler Bozak, Denver

Why: Scored five points against the Gophers, including two shorthanded goals and his first collegiate hat trick, as well as sporting a 68.4 winning percentage on faceoffs, 10 hits and two blocked shots.
Also Nominated: Richard Bachman, CC; Kurt Davis, MSU-M; Cody Goloubef, UW.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Gophers?

Fact: The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers are off to their worst start in the WCHA since the WCHA has existed.

Fiction: Head coach Don Lucia is concerned.

The Gophers are off to an 0-4 start in conference play — their worst since the advent of the WCHA in 1959-60 and their worst since they went 0-5 to start the 1956-57 season in the old Western Intercollegiate Hockey League when, weirdly enough, they also suffered their first four losses to Denver and Colorado College.

The most obvious problems are the offense — tied for 44th in the nation, averaging 2.12 goals/game — and the power play, which is the 10th worst in the nation, functioning at a measly 7.5% success rate (3-for-40). While one can’t really predict power-play success, Lucia thought his offense would be fine during the WCHA preseason teleconference call. Of course, the rest of us agreed with him, given that the Gophers had a good nucleus coming back that would continue to develop.

Obviously, real life throws a few wrenches into the mix.

“[Our offense has] obviously been a big problem so far within the league,” said Lucia, adding that his league competition so far has been top-notch. “I think it’s a combination of we can do things better, but we’ve also played good teams with very sharp goaltenders.”

When asked if he was worried, Lucia chuckled and (as I imagined) shook his head, before explaining what his team needs to do to turn things around.

“I think if we can get some of our top-end guys to start scoring, [that] will translate into more success on the power play, so I think those are obviously issues we have to get better at,” he said. “I think we have to play better as a five-man unit on the rink. I think there’s been too much of four players watching one — the puck carrier — play and not enough support for the puck carrier.”

Reader Mailbag

Not much to report here this week, though after perusing the work of my fellow columnists, I noticed that Scott Weighart and Dave Hendrickson of the Hockey East column run a contest. The idea intrigues me and I may run one myself. Stay here for updates — a definitive announcement will come around the holiday season.

Match-Ups By the Numbers

Only four series this week folks, but, as always, they should be good ones.

No. 15 Minnesota-Duluth @ No. 9 Colorado College

Shockingly, the Bulldogs didn’t move anywhere in the polls after their weekend off, though the Tigers didn’t move either after their split up in Grand Forks, getting a loss with Drew O’Connell and a win with Richard Bachman. As of press time, coach Scott Owens still hadn’t decided who was playing what nights this weekend. Since it’s at home, Bachman might actually get two starts. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs lost defenseman Evan Oberg to injury during practice and will be without the freshman until January. However, Michael Gergen, who missed the Denver series with an ankle injury, returns to the line-up.

Overall Records: tUMD is 4-1-1 (3-1 WCHA). CC is 3-3 (3-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: CC leads overall, 77-71-5. tUMD has the edge at the World Arena, 6-7-1.
Top Scorers: tUMD — MacGregor Sharp (2-3-5). CC — Bill Sweatt (4-3-7).
Goaltenders: tUMD — Alex Stalock (6 gp, 4-1-1, 1.65 GAA, .937 sv %). CC — Richard Bachman (4 gp, 3-1, 1.49 GAA, .950 sv %).

No. 3 North Dakota @ No. 10 Wisconsin

The Fighting Sioux continue to slowly slide in the polls, slipping down another spot to No. 3 after a split with CC — which really isn’t a cause for worry since the Sioux typically take half a season to get going anyway. Much like CC, the Badgers stayed put thanks to a split with Michigan Tech. The game features the nation’s top-scoring defense (UND — 1.29 goals allowed per game) and the nation’s second-highest scoring offense (UW — 4.67 goals scored per game) as well as the nation’s top power play unit (Badgers, 34.4%).

Overall Records: UND is 4-2-1 (2-2 WCHA). UW is 4-2 (1-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads overall, 79-56-10 and at the Kohl Center, 10-4.
Top Scorers: UND — Ryan Duncan (3-5-8). UW — Kyle Turris (5-8-13).
Goaltenders: UND — Jean-Phillippe Lamoureux (7 gp, 4-2-1, 1.06 GAA, .958 sv %). UW — Shane Connelly (5 gp, 3-2, 2.60 GAA, .897 sv %).

No. 17 St. Cloud State @ No. 13 Michigan Tech

It’s the battle of the Huskies in Houghton. The Minnesota version of the Huskies rose two spots this week after earning three points from the Seawolves, while the state of Michigan’s Huskies stayed put after a split with Wisconsin. St. Cloud currently holds a five-game unbeaten streak against Tech. On a completely random note, the teams are also the least-penalized in the WCHA — St. Cloud averages 10.2 minutes per game while Tech averages 14 minutes per game.

Overall Records: SCSU is 4-2-2 (1-2-1 WCHA). MTU is 5-3 (4-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: SCSU leads overall, 25-42-2 and in Houghton, 18-16-2 (including before MTU was D-1).
Top Scorers: SCSU — Garrett Roe (6-7-13) and Ryan Lasch (5-8-13). MTU — Drew Dobson (1-7-8).
Goaltenders: SCSU — Jase Weslosky (5 gp, 3-2, 1.81 GAA, .935 sv %). MTU — Michael-Lee Teslak (6 gp, 3-2, 1.70 GAA, .937 sv %).

No. 14 Minnesota vs. Minnesota State Home-and-Home

Predictably, the Gophers continue to fall in the polls, down six spots this week after being swept by Denver. The Mavericks, on the other hand, still aren’t ranked, but are moving up in the world of polls, edging into the “Others Receiving Votes” category with four after their sweep of Alabama-Huntsville. The Gophers still haven’t won a game in the WCHA while the Mavericks haven’t beaten the Gophers in 16 tries. Also — before anyone asks about the records, there’s a discrepancy. Riddle me this — the Gophers led the series 20-2-4 going into last season, went 3-0-1 and thus now somehow lead 24-2-4 — how does this happen?

Overall Records: UM is 4-4 (0-4 WCHA). MSU-M is 3-2-1 (1-2-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: Gophers lead 23-2-5, 14-1 as visitors and 9-1-5 as the home squad.
Top Scorers: UM — Blake Wheeler (4-2-6). MSU-M — Trevor Bruess (1-4-5).
Goaltenders: UM — Jeff Frazee (6 gp, 3-3, 2.82 GAA, .903 sv %). MSU-M — Mike Zacharias (5 gp, 2-1-1, 1.47 GAA, .943 sv %).

No. 5 Denver and Alaska-Anchorage

Both teams get to rest up with bye weeks. Denver moved up two spots in the poll after sweeping the Gophers while the Seawolves are still in the “Others Receiving Votes” category, but might not be for much longer. UAA went from 39 votes down to six after a one-point weekend in St. Cloud.

Overall Records: DU is 6-2 (3-1 WCHA). UAA is 3-2-3 (0-2-2 WCHA).
Top Scorers: DU — Brock Trotter (4-6-10). UAA — Kevin Clark (4-6-10).
Goaltenders: DU — Peter Mannino (8 gp, 6-2, 1.52 GAA, .940 sv %). UAA — Jon Olthuis (7 gp, 2-2-3, 3.05 GAA, .872 sv %).

Mavericks Giving Back

If you were in the Mankato area Thursday, you might have gotten your order filled by the Maverick hockey team. The players took part in “Skaters as Waiters,” a fundraiser for Campus Kitchen Mankato, a non-profit organization that helps prepare and deliver meals for families around the city. Several players served as waiters and bartenders at Junker’s Bar and Grill in North Mankato from 5-8 p.m. CST.