This Week in the WCHA: Feb. 21, 2008

Funny, isn’t it, how a weekend following a day for love portrayed little, particularly up in Grand Forks and here at column home base, where I got pasted in predictions by my significant other.

Oh, and apparently CC didn’t have the last non-conference tilt a few weeks ago, as the Sioux take on Bemidji this weekend and the WCHA Mavericks (MSU, M) take on the CCHA Mavericks (Nebraska-Omaha) next weekend. Oops.

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Peter Rouleau, MTU and Andrew Kozek, MTU.
Why: Rouleau had a hat trick as well as two assists for a career-high five points in Friday’s game against Minnesota-Duluth. Kozek, on the other hand, had six points (4g, 2a) in the Sioux’s sweep over Denver last weekend.
Also Nominated: Geoff Irwin, MSU.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Chay Genoway, UND.
Why: Had four points, a +3 rating, eight shots on goal, no penalties and helped hold Denver under 20 shots on goal both nights in the Sioux’s sweep of the Pioneers.
Also Nominated: Eli Vlaisavljevich, MTU; Jase Weslosky, SCSU.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Aaron Marvin, SCSU.
Why: Had three assists, was a +2 and had two shots on goal in the Huskies’ sweep over Alaska Anchorage.
Also Nominated: Eric Kattelus, MTU; Evan Trupp, UND.

“New” Rivals …

Given a certain incident that happened in the WCHA Red Baron Final Five a few years ago, I don’t want to say that Denver and North Dakota are “new” rivals, per se, but this past weekend solidified that each school picked up a new worst enemy. Thanks to a scrum at the end of the second period, both schools had players disqualified for fighting (Denver will be missing Brandon Vossberg and J.P. Testwuide on Friday, while the Sioux will be without the services of Kyle Radke for the entire weekend).

“It’s a situation that both teams were crossing paths and … I guess there are varying accounts of who bumped into who or whatever,” said Fighting Sioux associate head coach Cary Eades, who was behind the bench in place of the suspended Dave Hakstol. “Thank goodness, I think both teams showed pretty good restraint in not escalating the incident into a giant situation.”

Maybe that restraint is keeping the rivalry on a short leash. Pioneer head coach George Gwozdecky would prefer for such an incident to not happen again.

“I think what occurred last Saturday night during that game I do not condone,” he said. “I’m glad the league has decided to step in and give supplementary discipline to those involved and hopefully this type of action will not occur again.

“This is not something I like for college hockey.”

And Traditional Ones …

We have another rivalry weekend this weekend with the Badgers and Gophers facing off, which is always a good time. The two teams last played each other in late January, when Wisconsin swept the Gophers at the Kohl Center. Now, it’s Minnesota’s turn to host, as the Gophers face the Badgers coming off a bye week.

Still, even though it is such a big series, the coaches are treating it as big for one reason and one reason only — league points.

“Whether we’re playing Wisconsin or whoever is kind of irrelevant; we have to find a way to win games,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “Whether it’s 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, 5-4 — doesn’t matter. We have to try to find a way to win a game and for us obviously, we have to find a way to score some goals.”

“We know the things they do well and we have to go out and play like we have on the road here in the second half in order for us to get points,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves in his weekly press conference. “Nothing has changed for us in terms of that mindset of going out and getting points.”

Random Notes (and Commentary!) From Around the League

WCHA — Officially this came out last Thursday, but I couldn’t squash it in. In any case, the WCHA announced the WCHA Scholar-Athlete Award recipients for this year. There are a lot of them so I don’t want to list everybody, but I do want to say congratulations to the University of Minnesota-Duluth for having eight recipients — the most of any school.

After that, Michigan Tech has six, Colorado College and Denver each have five, St. Cloud State and Minnesota State each have three, Minnesota has two and Alaska Anchorage, North Dakota and Wisconsin each have one.

For those who are unaware of this award, this is the third season it’s been given; it goes to players who have been at the school for at least one year and have a 3.5 grade point average (on a 4.0 scale) for the previous semesters/quarters.

In short, these guys put the student in student-athlete.

Reader Mailbag

I didn’t get much in the ol’ mailbag this week except for a long e-mail from Bill Denning, a Tech fan living in Texas.

Most of what he sent was comments regarding things in past columns, but he did ask my thoughts on the early pro signings the league has had this year — most notably, Denver’s Brock Trotter and Minnesota’s Kyle Okposo.

First, his thoughts:

IMO there should be an agreement between the NCAA and all professional sports that no “student athlete” can be signed to a professional contract until his or her eligibility is up.

If their only goal is to play pro hockey, they should do that straight away out of high school; if they agree to play for a college team, completing their education should be their primary focus, not increasing their signing bonus. This should apply to all sports … no college player with eligibility remaining should be able to sign a professional contract.

There has actually been a lot of talk circulating about this among the WCHA and its fans. Commissioner Bruce McLeod even went to the NHL’s general managers meetings to try and talk to the league for a solution to the problem.

McLeod, in an article in last week’s Minneapolis Star Tribune, said as much. “We have to come up with some kind of a deterrent — you can’t sign after July 15 or you can’t sign until after your sophomore year,” he said.

If there were to be such a rule implemented, it would have to be negotiated into the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, a possibly tricky task given seemingly endless factors.

McLeod noted one factor as the general managers not understanding the difference between say, the NCAA and Canadian major juniors, and how the NCAA has a pesky little thing known as an “educational component.” That, and NHL clubs can take players from major juniors, bring them up for training camp and a few games of the regular season and then send them back down for more conditioning. Under NCAA regulations, that isn’t allowed.

So that all being said, my thoughts? Ideally, I’d like the situation that Bill brought up — where once a player signs that letter of intent, he’s in college for the long haul. However, if that were the case, college hockey would miss out on a lot of great players who wouldn’t want to make that commitment. Sure, it sucks seeing someone like Jonathan Toews, for example, stay only two years, but realistically, if hockey doesn’t work out for him, he can always go back to school.

But. If he wants to leave, fine. I just think he should do it after the season or the school year is over and not mid-season. I also think players shouldn’t be able to jump after a certain point in the summer — like McLeod’s July 15 date — given the mad scramble coaches and programs have to go through to find replacements.

Match-Ups By the Numbers

Minnesota State gets a small break and North Dakota has a Saturday-Sunday non-conference series with Bemidji State.

No. 4 Colorado College @ No. 13 Minnesota-Duluth
Overall Records: CC — 21-8-1 (16-5-1 WCHA). tUMD — 12-10-6 (8-9-5 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: CC leads the overall series, 79-71-5.
Top Scorers: CC — Chad Rau (19-12-31). tUMD — MacGregor Sharp (6-10-16).
Goaltenders: CC — Richard Bachman (25 gp, 19-5-1, 1.84 GAA, .929 sv %). tUMD — Alex Stalock (28 gp, 12-10-6, 2.20 GAA, .918 sv %).

Michigan Tech @ No. 16 St. Cloud State
Overall Records: MTU — 11-14-5 (7-11-4 WCHA). SCSU — 14-13-3 (9-11-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: SCSU leads the overall series, 44-25-5.
Top Scorers: MTU — Peter Rouleau (12-13-25). SCSU — Ryan Lasch (20-21-41).
Goaltenders: MTU — Michael-Lee Teslak (16 gp, 5-6-4, 1.93 GAA, .926 sv %), Rob Nolan (16 gp, 6-8-1, 2.68 GAA, .896 sv %). SCSU — Jase Weslosky (23 gp, 11-10, 2.37 GAA, .921 sv %).

Alaska Anchorage @ No. 8 Denver
Overall Records: UAA — 7-16-7 (3-16-5 WCHA). DU — 19-10-1 (13-8-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 34-13-5.
Top Scorers: UAA — Kevin Clark (7-16-23). DU — Tyler Bozak (14-13-27).
Goaltenders: UAA — Jon Olthuis (26 gp, 6-12-7, 2.87 GAA, .884 sv %). DU — Peter Mannino (29 gp, 18-10-1, 2.28 GAA, .916 sv %).

No. 10 Wisconsin @ Minnesota
Overall Records: UW — 14-12-6 (10-10-4 WCHA). UM — 12-13-7 (6-11-5 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 148-79-16
Top Scorers: UW — Kyle Turris (11-18-29). UM — Blake Wheeler (13-13-26).
Goaltenders: UW — Shane Connelly (29 gp, 13-12-4, 2.32 GAA, .917 sv %). UM — Alex Kangas (18 gp, 5-6-7, 2.14 GAA, .923 sv %).

Bemidji State @ No. 2 North Dakota
Overall Records: BSU — 14-13-3 (11-4-3 CHA). UND — 19-8-2 (16-7-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 13-1-1.
Top Scorers: BSU — Matt Read (8-15-23). UND — Ryan Duncan (11-19-30).
Goaltenders: BSU — Matt Climie (22 gp, 12-6-3, 1.95 GAA, .921 sv %). UND — Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (29 gp, 19-8-2, 1.78 GAA, .930 sv %).

Late Non-Conference Tilts

I understand why teams schedule non-conference games — they help out with that pesky PairWise thing that helps teams get into the NCAA tournament at the end of the year. I also get why most teams schedule them at the beginning of the season — no matter how important those non-conference wins may be, ultimately, how one does in conference is even more vital.

Still, that didn’t keep me from pondering why exactly teams would schedule non-conference opponents so late in the season. While talking to Fighting Sioux associate head coach Cary Eades regarding other stuff, I asked him about the scheduling, given that his team plays a non-conference opponent this weekend in Bemidji State.

“We had a weekend off just two weeks ago, so you don’t want to go two out of three weekends not playing,” said Eades. “It’s not for league points but it has a great impact on the PairWise.

“The WCHA does their main scheduling and we schedule in and out [of that].”

So, there you have it. Non-conference games this late in the season are just a result of a league scheduling quirk which gives some teams their multiple bye weeks late in the season.