This Week in the WCHA: Jan. 31, 2008

This conference can’t ever be nice and predictable, can it? Six teams remain separated by three points and the Fighting Sioux are edging the Colorado duo for league superiority.

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Co-Offensive Players of the Week: Jimmy Kerr, MTU and Jason Wiley, MSU-M.
Why: Kerr had four points (1g, 3a), seven shots on goal and was a +2 to help his Huskies become the first WCHA team to take three points from Colorado College all season. Wiley, on the other hand, also had four points (2g, 2a) as well as five shots on goal and was a +3 as his Mavericks swept their home-and-home series with St. Cloud State.
Also Nominated: T.J. Oshie, UND.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Alex Stalock, tUMD.
Why: Let in just one goal, stopping 49 of 50 shots for a .980 saves percentage, in his Bulldogs’ non-conference road sweep of then-No. 15 Mass.-Lowell. This is the third time he’s won the weekly honor.
Also Nominated: Jack Hillen, CC; John Schwarz, MTU; Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, UND; Shane Connelly, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Patrick Johnson, UW.
Why: Scored one goal and assisted on two others, had four shots on goal and was a +3 in his Badgers’ three-point weekend over Minnesota.
Also Nominated: Stephen Schultz, CC; Bennett Royer, MTU; Andrew Sackrison, MSU-M.

Keeping Up With the Pros — Monthly Drive-By

Shh, if you don’t like it, just scroll down a bit. You only have to deal with this once a month. As a side note, though, go Mavericks and Badgers.

NHL: Dany Heatley, UW — 25-31-56, t-15th overall.
AHL: Grant Stevenson, MSU-M — 24-27-51, 5th overall.
ECHL: Travis Morin, MSU-M — 20-27-47, 9th overall.
IHL: Tab Lardner, MTU — 29-24-53, 2nd overall.
CHL: Alex Leavitt, UW — 25-44-69, 1st overall.

Random Notes (and Commentary!) From Around the League

MTU — You can tell it’s Hobey season — the Huskies have started encouraging their fans to vote for junior goaltender Michael-Lee Teslak in fan balloting at for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award.

Speaking of WCHA “Vote for Hobey” candidates, there are a few — some that make sense and some that don’t. I mean, CC’s Richard Bachman is awesome, but he is only a freshman. He’s got a couple years to try for this award. Still, a sophomore won it last year, so who knows?

The rest of the “candidates” in alphabetical order: UND’s Ryan Duncan (last year’s winner); UND’s Jean-Philippe Lamoureux; SCSU’s Ryan Lasch; DU’s Peter Mannino; UW’s Jamie McBain; tUMD’s Josh Meyers; SCSU’s Andreas Nodl; UND’s T.J. Oshie; CC’s Chad Rau; SCSU’s Garrett Roe; tUMD’s Alex Stalock; UW’s Ben Street; DU’s Brock Trotter; UW’s Kyle Turris; UM’s Blake Wheeler; MSU-M’s Mike Zacharias.

MSU-M — We’ve got more promos at Mankato this weekend. Get to the arena early on Friday for the game against Denver (first 1,000 fans early) and you’ll get a free MSU stress puck, courtesy of MSU Security.

Since I’m a puck collector, if any of you out there want to pick one up for me, I’ll buy you a beer (or pretzel or something if you don’t drink) … probably at the WCHA Red Baron Final Five or at the Frozen Four.

I also got a press release in my e-mail box late in the day from the Mavericks — “Minnesota State has launched a campaign aimed at improving the game-day experience for fans attending Maverick athletic events that will combine increased communication about expectations for fan behavior with strengthened enforcement of university policies.”

Basically, Maverick fans, if you swear, cut it out. This isn’t that surprising — several schools have tried to up the sportsmanship level and curb the vulgarity, if you will — most notably Boston University after the 2006 NCAA Regional. From the sounds of things, the “fan sportsmanship” issue was a big one at the 2008 NCAA Convention, so be prepared for your school to be next …

Reader Mailbag

In perusing the comments to this here column on the USCHO Fan Forum, I came across something by poster SJHovey, dispelling the “facts” behind the supposed post-holiday break surge UND has put together every year under coach Dave Hakstol.

I talked to the Sioux’s sports information director in terms of hockey, Dan Benson, about the myths and the facts and he thinks that if the Sioux have played better in the second half, it’s all part of the team understanding roles.

“We’ve always had decent second halves,” he said. “I think what part of it is, is roles — people learn what their role is and then they’ve seemed to gel; find some combos as far as lines and stuff that have worked well so they’ve managed to play hard and have some success with that.”

Granted, I don’t think that is specific to the Sioux — in theory, shouldn’t every team have good second halves if that were the result? Still, Benson thinks that if the team does “surge” this year, it’ll just be a result of what should have happened earlier.

“I know the coaches felt that we played pretty well all year long,” he said. “We lost a couple close ones and played well; now we’ve had a good bounce of the puck here and there … overall it’s been fairly consistent all year long; we’ve just managed to win some games.

“I feel this team will play well the rest of the season,” he continued. “It seems like as a whole they’ve played well and we’ll see where that leads us — a lot of tough teams in the WCHA — you don’t know where things are going to end up.

“As far as a surge, of course all of us connected with the team certainly hope we’ll finish strong.”

I also received a few other e-mails. One, from Ray Schaper, involves the Hobey candidate process — “… there are four elements to meet the criteria and I keep seeing people listed as possible recipients that clearly DO NOT meet them.” He then mentions the Fighting Sioux’s T.J. Oshie, a player listed on the “Vote for Hobey” Web site — and a player who has been arrested twice within the past year — and wonders why he’s even up there.

To that, I can only respond that, Ray, don’t take the fan voting phase that seriously. The fan vote only counts for 1% of the final vote — virtually nothing. I’m pretty sure they just toss up a whole bunch of people with good numbers for the fan vote and actually consider the true criteria of the award when it gets to the final 10 candidates and the Hobey Hat Trick.

I also got an e-mail from David Roberts asking what Wisconsin needs to do to make it into the tourney outside of stealing the autobid from winning the WCHA Red Baron Final Five and if the Badgers hosting the regional makes them a more appealing choice as an at-large bid.

Well, I’m no PairWise genius (I leave that up to Jayson Moy), but the Badgers are tied for 13th right now with Northeastern. For them to make it into the tourney guaranteed, I would say the Badgers should aim to make it up to 10th to be completely safe in case all the conferences end up having autobids that aren’t already high enough up in the rankings (unlikely, but you never know).

For them to do that, they need to put together a strong final month. The Badgers have the advantage of playing in the Best Conference in College Hockey where nine of the 10 teams are in the top 25 of the PairWise, which will help them out given any tie-breakers. As for hosting a regional, that should not play a role, since the committee goes by the numbers when picking at-large teams.

What do you say, faithful readers?

Match-Ups By the Numbers

Four conference series again this week, as well as our last non-conference tilt of the season, as Clarkson comes out to the unfriendly confines of World Arena, where the Tigers are unbeaten so far this season.

Michigan Tech @ Alaska-Anchorage
Overall Records: MTU — 10-11-3 (6-8-2 WCHA). UAA — 6-12-6 (2-12-4 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: MTU leads the overall series, 23-21-7.
Top Scorers: MTU — Peter Rouleau (9-10-19). UAA — Kevin Clark (7-13-20).
Goaltenders: MTU — Rob Nolan (13 gp, 6-7, 2.69 GAA, .897 sv %), Michael-Lee Teslak (12 gp, 4-4-3, 1.73 GAA, .934 sv %). UAA — Jon Olthuis (22 gp, 5-10-6, 3.04 GAA, .881 sv %).

No. 3 North Dakota @ No. 18 Minnesota
Overall Records: UND — 16-8-1 (13-7 WCHA). UM — 12-11-5 (6-9-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 137-121-11.
Top Scorers: UND — T.J. Oshie (12-14-26), Ryan Duncan (10-16-26). UM — Blake Wheeler (13-12-25).
Goaltenders: UND — Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (25 gp, 16-8-1, 1.80 GAA, .932 sv %). UM — Jeff Frazee (14 gp, 6-7, 2.93 GAA, .890 sv %), Alex Kangas (14 gp, 5-4-5, 2.28 GAA, .918 sv %).

No. 4 Denver @ Minnesota State
Overall Records: DU — 18-6 (12-4 WCHA). MSU-M — 11-10-4 (5-9-4 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 14-11-4.
Top Scorers: DU — Brock Trotter (13-18-31). MSU-M — Trevor Bruess (6-14-20).
Goaltenders: DU — Peter Mannino (23 gp, 17-6, 2.09 GAA, .922 sv %). MSU-M — Mike Zacharias (22 gp, 10-7-4, 2.21 GAA, .919 sv %).

No. 12 Minnesota-Duluth @ No. 11 Wisconsin
Overall Records: tUMD — 10-8-6 (6-7-5 WCHA). UW — 11-10-5 (7-8-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 83-54-12.
Top Scorers: tUMD — Nick Kemp (7-7-14), Jason Garrison (5-9-14). UW — Kyle Turris (10-16-26).
Goaltenders: tUMD — Alex Stalock (24 gp, 10-8-6, 2.18 GAA, .919 sv %). UW — Shane Connelly (23 gp, 10-10-3, 2.50 GAA, .912 sv %).

No. 10 Clarkson @ No. 6 Colorado College
Overall Records: CU — 15-7-2 (10-3-1 ECAC). CC — 18-7-1 (15-4-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: CC leads the overall series, 7-0-1.
Top Scorers: CU — Steve Zalewski (15-7-22), Chris D’Alvise (8-14-22). CC — Chad Rau (19-11-30).
Goaltenders: CU — David Leggio (23 gp, 15-6-2, 2.07 GAA, .926 sv %). CC — Richard Bachman (21gp, 16-4-1, 1.76 GAA, .934 sv %).

I’m Trying Here

I know that the last few weeks have been a bit lacking in terms of actual content and quotes and what-have-you. In my defense, I try — it’s just that I’m busy and the people I try to get in contact with make me look lazy. I have tons of things I want to put in here every week that end up getting scrapped because I don’t have the supporting quotes or comments.

Since I’m based out of Colorado, I’d also prefer not to do stuff printed solely about the Colorado teams, just because I have the easiest access to their coaches/staff/players … even if it does add a bit more to this here space of Internet every week.