This Week in the WCHA: March 6, 2008

Here we are, everybody — the final season of the regular season. We’ve got playoff spots to be decided with everybody except Wisconsin and Alaska Anchorage having a hand in their final fate.

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Jack Hillen, CC.
Why: Became the top scoring defenseman in the WCHA and in the nation with two goals and two assists in the Tigers’ 5-2 victory against Minnesota State last Friday.
Also Nominated: Kael Mouillierat, MSU; Chris VandeVelde, UND; Michael Davies, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, UND.
Why: Helped the Sioux team to a road sweep of Minnesota-Duluth last weekend, stopping 50 of 51 shots for a .980 series save percentage.
Also Nominated: Michael-Lee Teslak, MTU; Peter Mannino, DU; Derek Peltier, UM.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Alex Kangas, UM.
Why: Aided the Gophers in getting three points from Alaska Anchorage last weekend and staying in the hunt for playoff home ice, stopping 26 shots in each game for a .945 series save percentage.
Also Nominated: Richard Bachman, CC.

Keeping Up With the Pros — Monthly Drive-By

This is the last time you get this feature mentioning the top-scoring former-WCHAer in each of the main professional leagues. Rejoice.

NHL: Dany Heatley, UW — 31-38-69, 16th overall.
AHL: Grant Stevenson, MSU, M — 25-37-62, fourth overall.
ECHL: Travis Morin, MSU, M — 29-36-65, t-fourth overall.
IHL: Tab Lardner, MTU — 32-33-65, second overall.
CHL: Alex Leavitt, UW — 30-66-96, first overall.

On Brawling, Fighting and General Mischief

With all the brawls and handshake lines screwed up this year — most recently last weekend between St. Cloud State and Wisconsin — it made me wonder about what was going on in the league. If, for instance, this has been par for the course or if there actually have been more extracurricular activities this year than in years past.

“It definitely is,” said league commissioner Bruce McLeod, “but it’s really kind of part of something else … the rhetoric regarding chosen officials’ calls, issues like these post-game things. We had a handshake thing in Minnesota and we didn’t even get to a handshake at St. Cloud last weekend … just in general, the rhetoric about officiating is way up.”

McLeod then went on to compare said rhetoric to the mid- to late-1980s. “People are leaving the rinks talking about officiating and not about the games anymore.”

He also mentioned — and I got this from talking with a few other coaches as well — that it’s not contained to this league.

“It’s not just in the WCHA either,” he said, mentioning discussions with other league commissioners. “Supervisors wanting to quit in the middle of the year, ‘I can’t take this any more,’ and that type of thing, so it is definitely happening and kind of a phenomenon that’s not particular to the WCHA.

“But the question is, why is this happening?”

That question, of course, is the big one here.

“Everyone says, ah, the WCHA, the league’s so tight. Well, it’s been tight before,” he said. “Or you can say, ah, officiating’s not that good. Well, I’ve been around long enough to know that … officiating does have some good years, it goes up a little bit and maybe the next year’s not quite as bad.”

McLeod discussed the officiating, mentioning some of the errors made this year — particularly those in St. Cloud and in Denver. He also was a little surprised that penalties actually went down this year, given that the league went with the two-referee, two-linesman system for around 70 games — more than any other conference. In ruminating about other possibilities, he mentioned the lack of scoring and how it seems now that every goal, every call or non-call, is now crucial to the outcome of the game.

In short, it’s an unanswerable question … until you look deeper into the actual numbers. I went through the box scores of every league contest over the past two years and found the following:

This year we’ve had …

• six fighting majors with corresponding game disqualifications
• 32 total five-minute majors
• 60 total 10-minute penalties doled out (misconducts, game misconducts, DQs)
• 36 double-minors for roughing
• 366 total roughing minors
• 98 unsportsmanlike conduct minors
• 59 penalties given at the ending mark of a period (20:00 or 5:00 in the case of overtime)
• 4,117 total penalty minutes

Last year we had …

• 22 fighting majors with corresponding game disqualifications
• 52 total five-minute majors
• 77 total 10-minute penalties
• 33 double-minors for roughing
• 379 total roughing minors
• 74 unsportsmanlike conduct minors
• 42 penalties given at the ending mark of a period
• 4,982 total penalty minutes.

Given that total penalty minutes went down, I looked at the percentage game to see if the perception equals reality. That is, have there really been more skirmishes this year than last year?

2.2 percent of penalty minutes this year have been because of fights (counting fighting majors and the corresponding game DQs). Last year, 6.6 percent of penalties were due to fights — a considerably higher number. If you factor out the brawl between Colorado College and Alaska Anchorage which accounted for half the fighting minutes, it goes down to 3.4 percent — still higher than it is this year. Going through the box scores, the frequency of skirmishes seems to be similar, which makes me think the perception may just be to increased exposure and discourse.

A few things have gone up, however. The number of penalties after the final buzzer of a period (or game) has gone up — everything that happened in the second period of the Denver/North Dakota game happened after the buzzer. There has been a higher percentage of roughing calls in general — 17.8 to 15.2, a higher percentage of double-minors for roughing — .035 to .026 and we’ve had more unsportsmanlike conduct calls — 4.8 to 3.0. The percent of 10-minute misconducts (not disqualifications — misconducts or game misconducts) has also gone up — 13.3 to 11.5.

What does this all mean? Several coaches I spoke with said there’s a need for the league to fix things internally to stop the melees, and McLeod agreed with that. Again, though, the question becomes one of how. You can’t stop emotions from boiling over during the course of a period or of a game or of a series. Despite the penalty of missing a game, players still fight, although it is rare.

Personally, I think part of it comes down to a lack of respect. Off-ice incidents have gone up as have concerns about the character of players. Penalty minutes are on track to be the lowest they’ve been in five or six years, but misconduct and unsportsmanlike conduct calls are up.

The NCAA is trying to get team fan bases to treat opposing players, coaches and fans with respect — which is all well and good, don’t get me wrong. However, maybe they should focus more on the players themselves …

State Bragging Rights in Colorado …

With home ice locked up, the two Colorado-based teams can focus a little more on the Gold Pan and for state bragging rights. Colorado College holds it now and can retain it by getting at least two points, while Denver needs three or more to win it back.

“Obviously we know we need to win this darn thing outright because they hold it right now so we’re going to do everything we can to win the series,” said DU head coach George Gwozdecky. “That’s what we’re focusing on and … at the same point, continue to improve over the course of our last few games and see if we can be playing well going into the postseason.”

The Tigers obviously want to retain the authentic mining utensil, but for a different purpose. If they win the one game they need to clinch the Gold Pan, they also clinch a share of the MacNaughton Trophy for the league’s best record.

“It’s Denver and it’s the last weekend of the year — there’s almost always something at stake,” said CC coach Scott Owens. “This time it’s the Gold Pan, it’s the MacNaughton Cup for us, it’s the possibility of being in the top band of the PairWise.

“We weren’t able to close it out Saturday against a very good Mankato team and now we’ve got to find a way to win a game this weekend.”

… As Well as in Minnesota

Perhaps lost in the mix is also the DQ Cup, which will either be won by Minnesota or Minnesota-Duluth this weekend for Minnesota state bragging rights. The Gophers currently lead in the standings, with a 3-1-2 record and a .667 winning percentage. However, if the Bulldogs can sweep, they can easily overtake the Gophers, with a 3-2-3 record and a .563 winning percentage.

Random Notes (and Commentary!) From Around the League

DU — Props to goaltender Peter Mannino for breaking a 39-year-old DU record for career shutouts. His 1-0 shutout of Michigan Tech on Friday was his 14th — eclipsing the previous record of 13 held by Gerry Powers.

Reader Mailbag

Pretty much all the e-mails I received this week were regarding league tiebreakers and playoff possibilities and the like. I know several of you have e-mailed me regarding NCAA possibilities; if your team is on the bubble, its fate is extremely volatile. If you’d like said team to get in, hope it wins — the PairWise and RPI for your favorite group of hockey players is dependent on a lot of factors.

I do advise you, however, to read Jayson Moy’s Bracketology columns, as he is the site’s expert on the matter.

As for league tiebreakers for seeding, they are as follows:

a) If two or more teams are tied, head-to-head competition during the regular (conference) season will be used to break the tie.
b) If two or more teams are still tied after (a), the highest seed will go to the team with the most WCHA (conference) wins during the regular season.
c) If two or more teams played a four-game series during the regular season and the teams have the same win-loss records for those series and the same number of WCHA wins, the team having the least number of goals scored against it in the four-game series shall have the higher rank. If two or more teams played a two-game series during the regular season proceed to tie-breaker d).
d) If two or more teams are still tied after applying the provisions of (a), (b) and (c), the team having the greatest `winning margin’ during the regular season will have the higher rank. Winning margin = WCHA goals for during the regular season minus WCHA goals against.
e) Games played against WCHA opponents in holiday tournaments will not be counted in the determinations.

Match-Ups By the Numbers

I present to you the numbers for the last regular-season series.

No. 7 Denver and No. 5 Colorado College (home-and-home)
Overall Records: DU — 22-11-1 (16-9-1 WCHA). CC — 24-9-1 (19-6-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 152-103-10.
Top Scorers: DU — Tyler Bozak (15-14-29). CC — Chad Rau (25-12-37).
Goaltenders: DU — Peter Mannino (33 gp, 21-11-1, 2.16 GAA, .919 sv %). CC — Richard Bachman (29 gp, 22-6-1, 1.76 GAA, .934 sv %).

No. 11 St. Cloud State @ No. 1 North Dakota
Overall Records: SCSU — 17-14-3 (12-12-2 WCHA). UND — 23-8-2 (18-7-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 47-26-8.
Top Scorers: SCSU — Ryan Lasch (22-24-46). UND — T.J. Oshie (14-21-35).
Goaltenders: SCSU — Jase Weslosky (27 gp, 14-11, 2.20 GAA, .928 sv %). UND — Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (32 gp, 22-8-2, 1.68 GAA, .934 sv %).

Michigan Tech @ No. 9 Minnesota State
Overall Records: MTU — 12-17-5 (8-14-4 WCHA). MSU, M — 17-13-4 (11-11-4 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: MSU, M leads the overall series, 17-11-3.
Top Scorers: MTU — Peter Rouleau (12-14-26). MSU, M — Trevor Bruess (7-18-25).
Goaltenders: MTU — Michael-Lee Teslak (20 gp, 6-8-4, 1.95 GAA, .926 sv %). MSU, M — Mike Zacharias (31 gp, 16-10-4, 2.18 GAA, .919 sv %).

No. 18 Minnesota-Duluth @ No. 14 Minnesota
Overall Records: tUMD — 12-14-6 (8-13-5 WCHA). UM — 14-13-9 (8-11-7 WCHA).
Top Scorers: tUMD — MacGregor Sharp (7-10-17). UM — Blake Wheeler (13-16-29).
Goaltenders: tUMD — Alex Stalock (32 gp, 12-14-6, 2.26 GAA, .918 sv %). UM — Alex Kangas (22 gp, 7-6-9, 2.14 GAA, .924 sv %).

Playoffs: What We Know

• Colorado College, North Dakota and Denver have all clinched home ice.
• Alaska Anchorage, Michigan Tech and Minnesota-Duluth are all heading on the road, no matter what.
• Everyone else (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Minnesota State, St. Cloud State) is separated by four points and fighting for the last two home playoff spots … and will end up playing each other next weekend.
• Both CC and UND still have a shot at first place and the aforementioned tiebreakers (probably up to tiebreaker number three) will be used.
• Whichever of those two teams does get first will face the Seawolves.
• UND can finish no lower than second.

A special thank-you to Brandon Geist for his help in digging through old boxscores.