This Week in the WCHA: Jan. 24, 2008

We’re starting the stretch run of the season here and it is going to be a wild and crazy race to the finish line. As I type this, six teams are separated by seven points, making it a virtual guarantee that nothing will be decided until the final weekend of play.

Though it looked like Colorado College and Denver may have had the top spots in the league sewn up, I wouldn’t call that a lock just yet — both teams looked very beatable in this past weekend’s non-conference tilts. That, coupled with the possibility that the Fighting Sioux look like they’re about to start on a second-half run for the fourth straight year, says that nothing in this league is guaranteed until the finish.

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Michael Davies, UW.
Why: Scored three points (2 g, 1 a) in helping his Badgers take three points from the Seawolves last weekend, including the game-tying goal on Saturday.
Also Nominated: Andreas Vlassopoulos, CC.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Alex Stalock, tUMD.
Why: Stopped 62 of 65 shots on goal in tBulldogs’ weekend series with Minnesota for a .954 save percentage on the weekend.
Also Nominated: Brian Connelly, CC; Chay Genoway, UND.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Alex Kangas, UM.
Why: Stopped 43 of 45 shots on goal and had a .956 save percentage to help his Gophers take three points from Minnesota-Duluth.
Also Nominated: Stephen Schultz, CC; Matt Frattin, UND.

Random Notes (and Commentary!) From Around the League

MTU — Missed this when it was announced on the 14th, but the Huskies are part of a new blog on called “Breakout, Break In” that follows four teams — Michigan Tech, Bowling Green (CCHA), Northeastern (HEA) and Rensselaer (ECAC) as they try to make the NCAA tourney this year. The angle here is that while all have appeared in the national rankings at some point this season, none of the four has made the tourney in the last decade.

I checked it out on CSTV because hey, it’s hockey. While it’s kind of a pain to navigate to, it’s worth taking a look at for a bit of inside information about the teams, as it’s updated by assistant coaches of each of the teams.

SCSU — Marty Mjellei is nominated for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, which goes each year to “college hockey’s finest citizen.” If he becomes a finalist, we’ll know on Monday, Jan. 28. There are quite a few more WCHA players nominated, but they’re all over on the women’s side. Still, congrats to Marty for his work in the community to get recognized and nominated.

Reader Mailbag

I had something all ready to go here, saying something witty like, “Either the detractors quit reading this column or they thought the best punishment would be making me work through my vacation (I kid, I kid),” grumbling that it might (maybe) be the last time I decide to run a contest.

But no, Dave Krawczyk, Badger fan extraordinaire, had to go e-mail me a submission for the contest late Wednesday. Since he was the only entrant, he wins. So, congrats, Dave. If you’re coming to the WCHA Red Baron Final Five (tickets on sale now), let me know and I’ll buy you a drink or something.

But before we get to Dave’s winning submission, the rest of the mailbag.

A Sioux fan, “Anderson,” went to the DU/Wisconsin series as an impartial observer shortly after reading about my random adventure to the U.P. and enjoyed his time at Magness, with his one apparent gripe one I believe most of us have — schools that don’t show replays on the video screens (or at least ones of disputed calls/goals).

I also received an e-mail from Dwayne, a Badger fan, sharing his thoughts on the Incident. His are those of many, hoping that the disputed point (because who really knows what would have happened in overtime) doesn’t become a point of contention later on in the (post)season. He also did bring up one good point that I liked …

“What surprised me was the rush to make a decision. It was obvious Schmidt skimmed the video replay rather than look closely at the details of the play. Since there were clock problems earlier in the period, he should have taken his time to make sure the correct call was made. After all, the two teams weren’t finished with their series because another game was set to be played on Saturday. No one was going anywhere.”

We all know by this point that nothing will change, but I have a feeling this situation will remain on the minds of many for a long time …

Dave’s Winner: Turning the Corner

Fresh off a controversial split on a road trip in Denver against DU, Wisconsin continued its improved play on the road trip in Anchorage, Alaska. The Badgers play so far this season could most accurately be described as inconsistent, but appear to have turned the corner after the mid-point of the second period of the Friday game in Denver. They turned out a solid weekend of play that saw them scoring six goals and earning three points in league play. The Badgers dominated play at times on Friday and did a good job keeping a Seawolf team that was playing very inspired hockey trying to get points in a close game from getting the equalizer after taking the lead on a Matt Ford goal.

The game on Saturday had a much different story, with both teams capitalizing well on power play opportunities. Both teams converted three times on the power play in the game. UAA carried a two-goal lead into the third period and played on their heels trying to hold onto the lead the entire period. The Badgers seized this opportunity and got goals from assistant captain Ben Street and the game-tying goal from WCHA Offensive Player of the Week, Michael Davies, on the power play late in the third.

The story of the weekend was improved special teams and defensive play. The Badgers committed significantly fewer turnovers in the defensive and neutral zones and they protected the puck much closer to the standard that past seasons had caused a spectator to expect from them the past few seasons. They also tallied three or more power play goals in a game for the first time since the opening home series against Robert Morris with four power play goals each night.

The Badgers will look to continue their upward movement and more consistent play against archrival Minnesota this weekend in action at the Kohl Center that could help to resolve the current three-way tie for fifth place in the league.

Match-Ups By the Numbers

Four conference series this week, Minnesota-Duluth travels east and Denver gets a week off to try and regroup for the stretch run. And for you Gopher fans, I put in Kangas as well as Frazee for your goaltender stats.

No. 17 Minnesota @ No. 16 Wisconsin
Overall Records: UM — 12-10-4 (6-8-2 WCHA). UW — 10-10-4 (6-8-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 148-78-15.
Top Scorers: UM — Blake Wheeler (12-11-23). UW — Kyle Turris (9-15-24).
Goaltenders: UM — Jeff Frazee (14 gp, 6-7, 2.93 GAA, .890 sv %), Alex Kangas (12 gp, 5-3-4, 2.25 GAA, .920 sv %). UW — Shane Connelly (21 gp, 9-10-2, 2.61 GAA, .908 sv %).

Alaska-Anchorage @ No. 4 North Dakota
Overall Records: UAA — 6-10-6 (2-10-4 WCHA). UND — 14-8-1 (11-7 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 34-15-3.
Top Scorers: UAA — Kevin Clark (7-13-20). UND — Ryan Duncan (10-13-23).
Goaltenders: UAA — Jon Olthuis (21 gp, 5-10-6, 3.11 GAA, .880 sv %). UND — Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (23 gp, 14-8-1, 1.87 GAA, .929 sv %).

No. 13 St. Cloud State and Minnesota State (home and home)
Overall Records: SCSU — 11-10-3- (6-8-2 WCHA). MSU-M — 9-10-4 (3-9-4 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: MSU-M leads the overall series, 54-40-8.
Top Scorers: SCSU — Ryan Lasch (17-17-34). MSU-M — Trevor Bruess (5-11-16).
Goaltenders: SCSU — Jase Weslosky (18 gp, 8-8, 2.36 GAA, .922 sv %). MSU-M — Mike Zacharias (20 gp, 8-7-4, 2.13 GAA, .923 sv %).

No. 3 Colorado College @ Michigan Tech
Overall Records: CC — 18-6 (15-3 WCHA). MTU — 9-11-2 (5-8-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: CC leads the overall series, 84-70-10.
Top Scorers: CC — Chad Rau (19-11-30). MTU — Tyler Shelast (11-5-16), Peter Rouleau (8-8-16).
Goaltenders: CC — Richard Bachman (19 gp, 16-3, 1.58 GAA, .941 sv %). MTU — Rob Nolan (12 gp, 5-7, 2.75 GAA, .892 sv %), Michael-Lee Teslak (11 gp, 4-4-2, 1.72 GAA, .934 sv %).

No. 19 Minnesota-Duluth @ No. 15 Mass.-Lowell

Overall Records: tUMD — 8-8-6 (6-7-5 WCHA). UML — 11-6-4 (6-6-4 HE)
Head-to-Head: tUMD leads 7-2-1 in the overall series.
Top Scorers: tUMD — Jason Garrison (5-9-14). UML — Mark Roebothan (11-8-19).
Goaltenders: tUMD — Alex Stalock (22 gp, 8-8-6, 2.34 GAA, .914 sv %). UML — Nevin Hamilton (12 gp, 7-3-2, 2.38 GAA, .922 sv %).

Final Note from the Beach

Even though I’m in a land where college hockey (except for that inline stuff) is basically non-existent, I still manage to see reminders of the WCHA. While walking along the beach after breakfast Wednesday morning, I ran into some guy wearing a hat that had a very distinct logo — the University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolf. Thursday, I saw Michigan Tech, Wisconsin and Minnesota Golden Gophers t-shirts as well as a Fighting Sioux hockey hat.

I didn’t get to speak to any of them — so with the exception of the UND hat, I’m not sure whether or not any of them were college hockey fans, but it’s nice knowing that my “people,” so to speak, are everywhere.