This Week in the WCHA: March 13, 2008

We’re talkin’ ’bout playoffs this week.

While I have a lot to say this week, I think Denver’s George Gwozdecky sums it up best — “The first round playoffs are going to be as close and competitive as they’ve ever been in this format.”

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Chad Rau, CC.
Why: Scored two goals and one assist to help his Tigers clinch the MacNaughton Cup as well as sweep archrival Denver last weekend. Rau also had eight shots on goal and was a plus-3.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Players of the Week: Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, UND; Jase Weslosky, SCSU.
Why: Both goaltenders played their way to overtime ties against the other last weekend. Lamoureux stopped 48 of 51 shots on goal in the series for a .941 save percentage on the weekend while Weslosky stopped 57 of 60 for .950.
Also Nominated: Jack Hillen, CC; Geoff Kinrade, MTU; Alex Stalock, UMD.

Random Notes (and Commentary!) From Around the League

CC — Congratulations on winning the Gold Pan this year — you deserved it.

UM — Congratulations on winning the DQ Cup. Though, with all I’ve heard about it being a curse, maybe I should offer my condolences …

Reader Mailbag

There ended up being quite a bit of discussion on the penalty-minute thing, so I did some more research — look at the end of the column for that.

I did, however, get some e-mails from still-bitter Badger fans about the no-goal incident in Denver earlier this year. Given how close the WCHA has been this year and how close the final standings were, I’m not surprised — Wisconsin could well have gotten home ice had the outcome of that game been different.

Still, guys? I know you’re upset, but one game does not a season make. I know it’s easy to look at that one particular incident, but the Badgers had a lot of other very close conference games. Win any one of those and you can forget about Denver (or try to).

Match-Ups By the Numbers … on Steroids

Since the match-ups this week are a little more important, I’ve tweaked how I normally do this section.

Alaska Anchorage @ No. 3 Colorado College; 10 vs. 1

Records After Regular Season: UAA — 7-19-8 (3-19-6 WCHA). CC — 26-9-1 (21-6-1 WCHA).
Overall Head-to-Head: CC leads, 43-11-3.
Playoff Head-to-Head: CC leads, 6-1.
Regular Season Head-to-Head: CC won the series, 4-0.
Top Scorers: UAA — Josh Lunden (13-11-24). CC — Chad Rau (27-13-40).
Goaltenders: UAA — Jon Olthuis (30 gp, 6-15-8, 2.89 GAA, .886 sv %). CC — Richard Bachman (30 gp, 23-6-1, 1.77 GAA, .934 sv %).

Random Notes: Both goaltenders can (literally) stand on their heads to make saves. I’ve seen both turn cartwheels in the crease to stop a puck. CC’s top line of Rau, Bill Sweatt and Mike Testwuide can be deadly and defenseman Jack Hillen is one of the best in the nation. CC may be getting back forward Derek Patrosso for this series.

Coaches’ Thoughts: “I think we’re going up against the best team in the country,” said Seawolves’ coach Dave Shyiak. “[CC is a] very talented, very fast hockey team; don’t have many weaknesses to their game. Obviously we have to be good in all three zones and be smart with the puck.

“But CC right now to us is not only the best team in the league, but probably the best team in the country and obviously that will be a challenge for us.”

“UAA has not had a lot of success winning games the second half of the year, but they’re always a dangerous team this time of year,” said Tigers’ coach Scott Owens. “They’re a good playoff team, their history has been such the last four years (4-7 in playoffs), their style of play goes hand in hand with playoff-type hockey and I know it’s going to be a difficult task.

“They’re physical, they’re hardworking; they just haven’t scored a lot this half of the year.”

Michigan Tech @ No. 2 North Dakota; 9 vs. 2

Records After Regular Season: MTU — 13-18-5 (9-15-4 WCHA). UND — 23-8-4 (18-7-3 WCHA).
Overall Head-to-Head: UND leads, 131-88-8.
Playoff Head-to-Head: UND leads, 10-8-2.
Regular Season Head-to-Head: UND won the series, 3-1.
Top Scorers: MTU — Peter Rouleau (12-16-28). UND — T.J. Oshie (14-21-35).
Goaltenders: MTU — Michael-Lee Teslak (22 gp, 7-9-4, 2.14 GAA, .920 sv %). UND — Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (24 gp, 22-8-4, 1.66 GAA, .934 sv %).

Random Notes: Some Tech fans mused last week during Friday’s game that Teslak may have mailed it in after supposedly announcing he was going pro after the season ended thanks to the wonder that is Facebook … but then Tech put in a better performance on Saturday, earning the split. The question is, which Teslak will show up?

As for the Sioux, Evan Trupp is out with a broken leg, Chay Genoway may play and everyone’s hoping Oshie just had the flu last week and is not more seriously injured. The Grand Forks Herald reports that both Genoway and Oshie have been on the ice this week.

Coaches’ Thoughts: “It’s certainly going to be challenging,” said Huskies’ coach Jamie Russell. “The team hasn’t lost in [17] games and [is] a highly-ranked team that doesn’t have a lot of weakness; strong defensively, very good goaltending, high-skill offensive talent, a team that plays physical.

“We won a playoff series on the road last year. We have had success in that building — we were able to sweep North Dakota in Grand Forks last season — so we need to be aware of what North Dakota does, but our focus needs to be on playing good, solid Michigan Tech hockey.

“We’re going to have to play a great weekend of hockey,” he continued. “We’re a good team defensively, we’ve got good goaltending — we’re a tough team to play against.”

No. 18 Minnesota-Duluth @ No. 8 Denver; 8 vs. 3

Records After Regular Season: tUMD — 13-15-6 (9-14-5 WCHA). DU — 22-12-1 (16-11-1).
Overall Head-to-Head: DU leads, 99-69-9.
Playoff Head-to-Head: DU leads, 12-7-2.
Regular Season Head-to-Head: The two teams split, 1-1.
Top Scorers: tUMD — MacGregor Sharp (7-10-17). DU — Tyler Bozak (15-15-30).
Goaltenders: tUMD — Alex Stalock (34 gp, 13-15-6, 2.28 GAA, .917 sv %). DU — Peter Mannino (25 gp, 21-13-1, 2.31 GAA, .914 sv %).

Random Notes: Even though Denver leads Duluth in terms of the playoffs and overall, tBulldogs have done better as of late. That, and the Pioneers have had some issues making the Final Five since their title runs.

It also depends what Pioneers’ team shows up. No one on the inside will make excuses, but everyone wonders what life would be like if Brock Trotter were still around.

Also, it looks like Jason Garrison may return for tDogs.

Coaches’ Thoughts: “I think this series, along with two other series, are going to be extremely competitive,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky.

“I think we’re one of those three series that’s going to be very competitive. Duluth is, I’ve got to hand it to them — they did a great job last Saturday night, playing their archrival on their archrival’s home ice and winning a big, big game. I think their goaltending is very strong and they’ve probably had some issues creating offense just like we have had, so I think this series is going to be very even, very competitive.”

No. 15 Minnesota @ No. 10 Minnesota State; 7 vs. 4

Records After Regular Season: UM — 15-14-9 (9-12-7 WCHA). MSU, M — 18-14-4 (12-12-4 WCHA).
Overall Head-to-Head: UM leads, 25-2-5.
Playoff Head-to-Head: UM leads, 4-0.
Regular Season Head-to-Head: UM swept the season series, 2-0.
Top Scorers: UM — Blake Wheeler (15-17-32). MSU, M — Trevor Bruess (8-20-28).
Goaltenders: UM — Alex Kangas (24 gp, 8-7-9, 2.13 GAA, .923 sv %). MSU, M — Mike Zacharias (33 gp, 17-11-4, 2.21 GAA, .920 sv %).

Random Notes: The Gophers have been an enigma for much of this season. Everyone picked them in the top of the league given historical precedent — it’s rare to see Goldy struggle. Still, Lucia knew that the loss of over 100 points on the blue line would hurt — and it has, especially when the team lost Kyle Okposo to early departure and Ryan Stoa to injury early on. However, they’re never a team to count out, especially since they’ve been playing better down the stretch.

The Mavericks, meanwhile, seem to be cooling marginally since they went on their seven-game winning streak. They’ve still been one of the hottest teams in the WCHA in the second half and I’m sure they’d like to continue on that path. They’ve also done better than any of us predicted. I’ll admit it — I had them finishing eighth.

Coaches’ Thoughts: “They’ve obviously had a great year and they’re a balanced team, good goaltender and they’re not the type of team you can key on any one player,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “They’re the type of team where a different guy seems to chip in every night.

“We’re good enough to beat anybody and anybody’s good enough to beat us and for us; obviously goaltending’s important this time of the season. We’ve been better lately because our specialty teams have been better and that’s obviously important this time of the season.

“We’ve had good success against Mankato and hopefully that will continue this weekend.”

“They’re playing well right now and I think it’s like any other playoff series,” said Mavericks’ coach Troy Jutting. “The team that gets the goaltending and the team that takes advantage of the bounces they get will be successful. Obviously it’s an important weekend for both hockey teams with where both teams are in the PairWise right now.”

No. 13 Wisconsin @ No. 9 St. Cloud State; 6 vs. 5

Records After Regular Season: UW — 15-14-7 (11-12-5 WCHA). SCSU — 17-14-5 (12-12-4 WCHA).
Overall Head-to-Head: UW leads, 39-21-8.
Playoff Head-to-Head: SCSU leads, 4-3.
Regular Season Head-to-Head: UW won the series, 3-1.
Top Scorers: UW — Kyle Turris (11-20-31). SCSU — Ryan Lasch (23-25-48).
Goaltenders: UW — Shane Connelly (33 gp, 14-14-5, 2.39 GAA, .914 sv %). SCSU — Jase Weslosky (29 gp, 14-11-2, 2.14 GAA, .929 sv %).

Random Notes: The Badgers get to face the last team they faced in the regular season — the St. Cloud State Huskies. They’ve been off and on all season (as evidenced by their record); with the better play arguably coming in the season A.D. (After Denver). They’ve also had a week off to rest while the Huskies are coming off a tough series with North Dakota — rest which might be to their advantage.

St. Cloud, after a few disappointing months, also has had a good run to end the season, particularly the last month, going 6-2-2 since the start of February. Having the league’s leading scorers doesn’t hurt, either, in Lasch, Garrett Roe (41 points) and Andreas Nodl (41 points).

Coaches’ Thoughts: “I think if you read some of their comments last weekend, they felt that they were playing better without the puck,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves in his weekly press conference. “They felt that way themselves, which is usually the case as you go into the second half of the year; you get used to the way you want to play. When you start losing some games and you’re giving up chances, the coach is going to make you aware of those things.

“Bobby Motzko is a smart man. He understands their strength lies in their ability with the puck with some of their guys, but if they want to be a championship-caliber team, they’re going to have to learn to play better with the puck and their own comments were they felt they were doing that.”

“No matter what, you want home-ice advantage,” said St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko, before admitting, “I don’t know if it’s an advantage or not in our league.

“It sets up a pretty even series; our two records are almost identical. We’ve played four times this year and though we’re one and three in those games, every game was one goal, we had a couple third period leads that we let evaporate early in the year and the numbers kind of play out very similar so we’re probably looking at one monster of a battle this weekend for both squads.

“It’s going to come down to the smallest of errors and the smallest of successes for someone to find two wins.”

On Brawling, Fighting and General Mischief — Redux

As I mentioned earlier, this topic generated a lot of interest so I decided to research it a bit further … and went through every conference game box score from the 2005-2006 season. That season had the largest number of penalty minutes the league has had in the past six years — a whopping 5,343.

Of course, you need the breakdown:

• 13 fighting majors with corresponding game disqualifications
• Five extra game DQs (for cross-checking, kneeing, etc.)
• 71 total five-minute majors
• 96 total 10-minute penalties
• 40 double-minors for roughing
• 390 total roughing minors
• 60 unsportsmanlike conduct minors
• 31 penalties given at the ending mark of a period
• 5,343 total penalties

Of course, we need to do the percentage game again. Fighting (plus game disqualifications) goes up and down as the years go by, apparently. The percentage varies from 3.6 percent two years ago to 6.6 last year to 2.0 this year. Two years ago, one also saw a few extra game disqualifications called for various stuff.

The number of penalties called after a final buzzer keeps going up — 31 to 42 to 59 — as does the percentage of roughing calls — 14.6 percent to 15.2 to 17.6 — and the percentage of unsportsmanlike conduct calls — 2.2 to 3.0 to 4.5. However, the percentage of double-minors for roughing varies — 3.0 percent to 2.6 to 4.0, as does the percentage of plain old 10-minute misconducts — 14.6 to 11.5 to 13.1.

In case you’re playing along, the final numbers for this year were …

• six fighting majors with corresponding game disqualifications
• 32 total five-minute majors
• 64 total 10-minute penalties doled out (misconducts, game misconducts, DQs)
• 44 double-minors for roughing
• 388 total roughing minors
• 99 unsportsmanlike conduct minors
• 59 penalties given at the ending mark of a period (20:00 or 5:00 in the case of overtime)
• 4414 total penalty minutes

Besides the discussion on the column’s thread in the Fan Forum, I got one e-mail I’d like to share from Mark Fjelde:

“From your box score comparisons, you could also conclude that the games were called tighter last year (hence, more PIMs), which ought to minimize the number of times emotions go beyond the boiling point; therefore, fewer fights. Stated differently, the reduction in penalties this year could mean greater frustration over clutching, grabbing, borderline checks, etc., which in turn leads to more fighting.”

Okay, but why, when penalty minutes go down, do fights vary? That point makes sense with roughing calls, unsportsmanlike conduct calls and calls after the final buzzer of a game/period, though.

That Should Be Good

I think you have enough to read this week now.