This Week in the WCHA: Feb. 28, 2008

Just two weekends left in the regular season and some things are shaping up — we know three teams who will have home ice. Still, a lot of the league continues to be jumbled together so it looks like everything will come down to the final weekend … with two teams — the Badgers and the Seawolves — sitting idle next week, waiting to see who they will end up facing in the playoffs.

How exciting is that?

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Andreas Vlassopoulos, CC.
Why: Helped his Tigers to a road sweep of Minnesota-Duluth by scoring four points (2g, 2a), had four shots on goal and garnered a +3 rating for the series.
Also Nominated: Rhett Rakhshani, DU.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Jase Weslosky, SCSU.
Why: Allowed just one goal, that on the power play while stopping 65 of 66 shots overall, for a weekend save percentage of .985 to help his Huskies sweep Michigan Tech.
Also Nominated: Jack Hillen, CC; Patrick Mullen, DU; Derek Peltier, UM.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Richard Bachman, CC.
Why: Stopped all 60 shots on goal he faced in a two-game road sweep of Minnesota-Duluth, making him the first goaltender in CC’s 70-year history to record back-to-back shutouts in a two-game road series.
Also Nominated: Tyler Bozak, DU; Patrick White, UM.

Sliver of Silver for Seawolves Fans

If you talk to Alaska Anchorage fans, it seems as though there aren’t many redeeming qualities about this season — just to look forward to next year’s incoming freshmen and the hope that springs anew each fall.

Still, there does seem to be one bright spot — however small — in sophomore goaltender Jon Olthuis. His stat line won’t put him anywhere near the top goaltenders (his .885 save percentage is 65th in the nation and his 2.92 goals against average is 52nd nationally), but it’s not for lack of trying.

I finally got to see the Seawolves in action this past weekend when they visited Denver and Olthuis had some spectacular saves both nights, including one cartwheel save in the second period Friday night — easily one of the — if not the — best saves I’ve personally seen all season.

“I thought he played very well last night, I wouldn’t fault him for any goals,” said coach Dave Shyiak after Saturday’s loss, retracting his statement concerning Denver’s first goal — one where the puck was bouncing a little. “All the other goals he didn’t have a chance on and he made some great saves and he made some great saves tonight.

“On a positive note, I thought he did well, held his composure and kept us in the game,” he continued. “Good goalies make good saves and I thought Jonny … made some good saves that kept us in it, to keep life in our team, and obviously that’s something to build on.”

Random Notes (and Commentary!) From Around the League

tUMD — For those of you heading to Duluth this weekend for the Bulldogs’ series against the Sioux, the team will hold a first-intermission ceremony commemorating the 1982-83 Bulldog team — the first ever to make the NCAA playoffs. This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the event.

UND — If you weren’t paying attention to the Sioux/Bemidji State game on Sunday, you may have missed something — that something being, of course, the end of goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux’s consecutive start streak.

On Saturday, the senior had his school-record 55th consecutive start. The streak was the third-longest in NCAA history and second-longest in WCHA history.

However, junior Aaron Walski got the nod on Sunday, ending the streak, getting his first career start and shutout. Walski had appeared in two games prior to Sunday’s 1-0 win.

WCHA — No matter what, fans of the WCHA will have something to cheer for during the Frozen Four. The NCAA announced the participants for the Frozen Four Skills Challenge and three WCHAers (on the men’s side) made the cut — CC’s Jimmy Kilpatrick and DU’s Andrew Thomas and Peter Mannino.

Since there were other players nominated, I’m wondering if the voters were of a Colorado nature and wanted to see some of the hometown boys in action just in case their teams didn’t make it.

Reader Mailbag

Apparently last week’s topic of players leaving early was a popular one as I got several e-mails about the subject, with everyone giving his or her own viewpoint. I would like to share an e-mail I got from Ryan Rintoul with the rest of you, as it makes a point I neglected to consider:

“I understand the frustration for fans, coaches and/or school administrations for players leaving early to propel their career to the next level. But the reality is that this opportunity to play college hockey at the D1 level is no different than any other opportunity in life; you make the most of it.

“Let me explain.

“If you are a Sophomore Engineering student at Tech and some high-end firm says “listen, I know you’re here for school but we think you are ready to contribute to our organization immediately — here’s $850,000 every year for the next 3 years to get you started and if you do well, like we think you will, you will make much more when we re-negotiate.” Good bye Tech!

“The problem is this never, ever happens. If it happened to the every day, higher-education-seeking students, the non-understanding folks on the periphery would see why (a rare few) players are eager to hang up their college jerseys and take on that challenge. Who wouldn’t?”

As an aside, from my days at Boston University, I worked with a guy at the radio station who did something along these lines — through connections, he had a chance at a radio gig back near home halfway through school. So, he left BU to pursue the job … though he did end up getting his degree while at the job.

The other thing I got a lot of mail about was the predictions — seems like a lot of people would like to be my Guest Predictor. Maybe that will be a contest prize next year …

Match-Ups By the Numbers

Another weird Saturday/Sunday series — this time between the Sioux and tBulldogs, but all 10 teams get into some game action.

No. 7 Denver @ Michigan Tech
Overall Records: DU — 21-10-1 (15-8-1 WCHA). MTU — 11-16-5 (7-13-4 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 105-80-18.
Top Scorers: DU — Tyler Bozak (15-14-29). MTU — Peter Rouleau (12-13-25).
Goaltenders: DU — Peter Mannino (31 gp, 20-10-1, 2.29 GAA, .918 sv %). MTU — Michael-Lee Teslak (18 gp, 5-7-4, 2.06 GAA, .921 sv %), Rob Nolan (17 gp, 6-9-1, 2.72 GAA, .895 sv %).

No. 17 Minnesota @ Alaska Anchorage
Overall Records: UM — 13-13-8 (7-11-6 WCHA). UAA — 7-18-7 (3-18-5 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 44-15-5.
Top Scorers: UM — Blake Wheeler (13-14-27). UAA — Kevin Clark (7-16-23).
Goaltenders: UM — Alex Kangas (20 gp, 6-6-8, 2.21 GAA, .922 sv %). UAA — Jon Olthuis (28 gp, 6-14-7, 2.93 GAA, .885 sv %).

No. 13 Wisconsin @ No. 12 St. Cloud State
Overall Records: UW — 14-13-7 (10-11-5 WCHA). SCSU — 16-13-3 (11-11-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 38-20-8.
Top Scorers: UW — Kyle Turris (11-19-28). SCSU — Ryan Lasch (21-23-44).
Goaltenders: UW — Shane Connelly (31 gp, 13-13-5, 2.41 GAA, .914 sv %). SCSU — Jase Weslosky (25 gp, 13-10, 2.21 GAA, .927 sv %).

No. 9 Minnesota State @ No. 4 Colorado College
Overall Records: MSU, M — 16-12-4 (10-10-4 WCHA). CC — 23-8-1 (18-5-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: CC leads the overall series, 22-9-1.
Top Scorers: MSU, M — Trevor Bruess (7-18-25). CC — Chad Rau (22-12-34).
Goaltenders: MSU, M — Mike Zacharias (29 gp, 15-9-4, 2.13 GAA, .921 sv %). CC — Richard Bachman (27 gp, 21-5-1, 1.71 GAA, .935 sv %).

No. 2 North Dakota @ No. 15 Minnesota-Duluth
Overall Records: UND — 21-8-2 (16-7-1 WCHA). tUMD — 12-12-6 (8-11-5 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 126-70-8.
Top Scorers: UND — T.J. Oshie (13-20-33). tUMD — MacGregor Sharp (6-10-16).
Goaltenders: UND — Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (30 gp, 20-8-2, 1.76 GAA, .931 sv %). tUMD — Alex Stalock (30 gp, 12-12-6, 2.28 GAA, .915 sv %).

Why Every Game Matters

As we near the final reaches of the season, when teams not only worry about their final conference standings, but also, somewhere in the back of their minds, they start thinking of the NCAA tournament and the chance to play on college hockey’s biggest stage, I’d like to share the wisdom of Pioneer coach George Gwozdecky of why teams shouldn’t overlook games — now, or ever.

“We talked to the guys this week about trying to remember 12 months ago, when we sat in that locker room after being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs and our fate was hinging on the outcome of many other games across the country — obviously the WCHA Final Five tournament, the CCHA tournament.

“We sat for three days, watching games and watching that RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) every time somebody got beat, somebody won, how it bumped us and moved us from one spot to the next. It was excruciatingly difficult from a high to a low to a high to a low, and finally the ultimate is we’re done, we’re out and finding out that we’re one win short …

“Any point in the season, we’re one win short and not only would that one additional win put us in, but it would put us in as a second seed. Knowing we would have been a second seed in the Western region here …”

And now you guys know why Denver has been so anxious to turn it around after its little slump the second half of the season.