This Week in the WCHA: Nov. 29, 2007

Two months into the season and who’d’ve thunk that the Seawolves would be tied with the Badgers and the Gophers would be struggling to get league wins? North Dakota’s also middle-of-the-pack — much lower than they were predicted, but that’s just par for the course for the Fighting Sioux under Dave Hakstol in the first half of the season.

Of course, we still have about three months until the end of the season which means the coaches still think it’s “early” and, good for the rest of us, there’s still plenty of hockey left to play.

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Chad Rau, Colorado College (again).
Why: Led all conference players over the weekend with four points in the Tigers’ split with the University of Denver — a hat trick on Friday and an assist on Saturday.
Also Nominated: Tyler Ruegsegger, DU; Ben Street, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: John Swanson, St. Cloud State.
Why: Was a plus-three, had one goal and two assists and helped his Huskies kill off 15 of 16 Clarkson power plays in the series against the Golden Knights.
Also Nominated: Nate Prosser, CC; Alex Kangas, UM.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Richard Bachman, Colorado College.
Why: Stopped 52 of 56 Pioneer shots in the weekend series with Denver as well as helped CC prevent the Pioneers from getting a power play goal on the weekend.
Also Nominated: Alex Kangas, UM; Ryan McDonagh, UW.

SCSU — Filling the Holes

At the beginning of the season, St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said his team probably had the most questions coming into this season. It was easy to see why — the team lost its star goaltender, Bobby Goepfert, and basically turned over the entire defensive corps.

However, two months into the season, and it looks like the Huskies have had no problem answering those questions. If you count and keep DU and CC as the favorites for the top-two in the league, St. Cloud State looks to be an early contender for third — and home ice — not in the latter half of the league like I (and the other pundits) thought way back in late September. (Even though they’re there currently. Need I continue to stress that it’s still early, people?)

Granted, I haven’t seen the Huskies play yet this season (don’t worry — I will), but the current numbers speak for themselves:

• Ryan Lasch and Garrett Roe are tops in the WCHA (second in the nation) in scoring with 20 points.
• Lasch has the most goals in the WCHA (10) and is seventh in the nation.
• Roe is tied with most assists in the league (11) and is tied for sixth nationally.
• Roe has the most power play points in the WCHA (16) as well as the most power play goals in the league (6), good enough to be tied for fourth overall.
• Aaron Brocklehurst leads all WCHA defensemen in scoring with 12 points, good enough to be tied for second nationally.
• Roe is leading super-frosh Kyle Turris and the rest of the rookies in the nation with 20 points (Turris only has 15)
• Jase Weslosky, Goepfert’s replacement, is third in goals against average (1.67), good enough for eighth nationally, second/sixth in save percentage (.940) and third/tied for 13th in winning percentage (.667).
• The Huskies have the top scoring offense in the league (fourth nationally), averaging 3.75 goals per game; the third scoring defense (ninth nationally), allowing 2.08 goals per game, is the least penalized team in the league (four teams average the same amount and only two teams average fewer), averaging 11 minutes a game and have the best power play (sixth nationally), with a 24.1% success rate.

Motzko stresses that it’s still early — and his team has only played six league games as compared to 10 like most of the league — but is nonetheless happy with how things have turned out so far.

“Jase has done a tremendous job and we’re not going to say it’s a surprise,” said Motzko, noting his more than adequate job filling in for Goepfert last season. “[Goaltending] was just one big hole to fill and he’s done an outstanding job doing that.”

“A couple of our guys that were kind of [defensive] anchors last year came back — Matt Stephenson and Garrett Raboin — have just been so solid for us,” said Motzko. “The big thing that has really changed our D corps is we switched John Swanson from forward to defense … he’s got a chance to be awful special back there if he continues to utilize his talent like he does.”

Offensively, the Huskies have been getting contribution all over, from their back line (Aaron Brocklehurst) to having two solid offensive lines and some top offensive talent.

“We felt we had an awful good offensive player with Garrett [Roe] coming in,” said Motzko. “It’s almost been every single night he finds a way to find the scoresheet.

“Ryan [Lasch] has just picked it up from where he was a year ago,” he continued. “From the top of the circle in, I have not seen many better than this guy.

“We’ve had such balance with two lines and that’s been Nate Dey and [Andreas] Nodl — it can’t get overlooked how strong they’ve been and I think that’s the key. We kinda have two number one lines that we throw out there — it’s hard to defend two lines like that.”

As the Pendulum Swings

If you’ve ever watched (or listened) to a hockey game with announcers, you know they always talk about momentum swings — and typically after a goal, big hit or big save (or, if it’s the minors/pros, a fight).

Sometimes — okay, often times — nothing actually happens. Oh, okay, so Goalie A made the big save to keep Team A in it, and sure, maybe Team A got an odd-man rush out of it. However, Team B happened to pick off the centering pass and oh, look at that, Player B deked Goalie A out of his shorts and put his (or her) team up by two.

However, sometimes those momentum swings really do happen — as was the case for the University of Denver Pioneers last Saturday against Colorado College.

“Sometimes you’re really looking forward to getting into intermission and sometimes you’re not, depending on how things are going,” said DU head coach George Gwozdecky. “Tonight was one of those games where I was thinking, ‘If we could just hang on to get to that first intermission only down one …’.”

He continued on a bit later, saying how “it’s just amazing to me to see how psychologically this game works.

“The Tigers score early and for the rest of the period — and probably early in the second — we just seemed to be just a little bit slow, a little bit short at plays and CC on the other side just seems to be a lot more in control being able to make plays and having us on our heels and being able to penetrate into the offensive zone and being able to stand players up and able to defend plays a lot easier.

“We get that first goal and all of a sudden there’s just that huge, enthusiastic swing for us where, all of a sudden, our guys are now a lot more excited and we’re back in the game, so to speak, and from that point on, the whole thing changes. Now all of a sudden, we’re the ones who are making the plays and [are] a lot more aggressive and we’ve got our opponent on [their] heels and at that point you’re saying, ‘Well, okay, I don’t want intermission to get here — I want to keep playing’.”

Random Recruiting News

Michigan Tech inked four players for next season and two for the 2009-10 season. Seth Soley (Omaha Lancers/USHL), Brett Olson (Waterloo Black Hawks/USHL), Ricky Doriott (Sioux City Musketeers/USHL) and Bryce Reddick (Cowichan Valley Capitals/BCHL) will join the squad next season with Evan Witt (Vernon Vipers/BCHL) and Jacob Johnstone (Green Bay Gamblers/USHL) following the year after.

Match-Ups By the Numbers

Everybody is playing this weekend and for the first time all year, all 10 WCHA teams are playing each other. Here are the numbers:

No. 10 St. Cloud State @ No. 13 Wisconsin
Poll Movement: SCSU — stayed put after splitting with Clarkson. UW — down one after earning one point at the College Hockey Showcase.
Overall Records: SCSU — 7-3-2 (3-2-1 WCHA). UW — 5-6-1 (2-4 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series 36-20-8.
Top Scorers: SCSU — Ryan Lasch (10-10-20) and Garrett Roe (9-11-20). UW — Kyle Turris (5-10-15).
Goaltenders: SCSU — Jase Weslosky (9 gp, 6-3, 1.67 GAA, .940 sv %). UW — Shane Connelly (10 gp, 4-6, 2.91 GAA, .899 sv %).

No. 20 Michigan Tech @ No. 14 Minnesota
Poll Movement: MTU — down one after being idle. UM — down one after earning one point at the College Hockey Showcase.
Overall Records: MTU — 5-6-1 (4-5-1 WCHA). UM — 7-6-1 (3-5 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series 163-74-13.
Top Scorers: MTU — Tyler Shelast (7-2-9) and Drew Dobson (1-8-9). UM — Blake Wheeler (5-6-11) and Ben Gordon (4-7-11).
Goaltenders: MTU — Michael-Lee Teslak (8 gp, 3-3-1, 1.63 GAA, .939 sv %). UM — Jeff Frazee (10 gp, 5-5, 2.90 GAA, .893 sv %).

No. 4 Colorado College @ Alaska-Anchorage
Poll Movement: CC — stayed put after splitting with DU. UAA — went from receiving five votes to three after being idle.
Overall Records: CC — 8-4 (8-2 WCHA). UAA — 4-3-3 (1-3-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: CC leads the all-time series 41-11-3.
Top Scorers: CC — Chad Rau (9-6-15). UAA — Kevin Clark (5-6-11).
Goaltenders: CC — Richard Bachman (10 gp, 8-2, 1.70 GAA, .944 sv %). UAA — Jon Olthuis (9 gp, 3-3-3, 2.93 GAA, .888 sv %).

Minnesota State @ No. 12 Minnesota-Duluth.
Poll Movement: MSU-M — still out of the polls completely. tUMD — up three after splitting with UND.
Overall Records: MSU-M — 3-6-1 (1-6-1 WCHA). tUMD — 6-4-2 (5-4-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: MSU-M leads the overall series 12-11-3.
Top Scorers: MSU-M — Mick Berge (6-2-8). tUMD — Josh Meyers (4-5-9).
Goaltenders: MSU-M — Mike Zacharias (7 gp, 2-3-1, 1.93 GAA, .926 sv %). tUMD — Alex Stalock (12 gp, 6-4-2, 2.33 GAA, .915 sv %).

No. 8 North Dakota @ No. 3 Denver
Poll Movement: UND — down two after splitting with tUMD. DU — stayed put after splitting with CC.
Overall Records: UND — 6-4-1 (4-4 WCHA). DU — 9-3 (6-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series 125-108-7.
Top Scorers: UND — T.J. Oshie (7-4-11), Ryan Duncan (3-8-11) and Robbie Bina (0-11-11). DU — Brock Trotter (6-8-14).
Goaltenders: UND — Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (11 gp, 6-4-1, 1.61 GAA, .933 sv %). DU — Peter Mannino (12 gp, 9-3, 1.68 GAA, .935 sv %).

As Always …

… it’s been a pleasure. See you next week.