This Week in the WCHA: Oct. 16, 2008

As much as we’d like to try and predict how the WCHA is going to turn out, we’re never accurate given how competitive the league is and about a million other factors. I’d like to think I have as good a shot as any with my names-out-of-a-hat method, but the season throws us all curveballs that screw up our hopes of perfection.

Even though it’s early, we have a perfect example so far in the North Dakota Fighting Sioux: Yeah, their goaltending situation is questionable, but they have enough firepower and history to still find their way to the top of the league and back into the NCAAs, right?

Sioux fans hope so, but if this past weekend’s Ice Breaker Invitational (contested for valuable PairWise Ranking points) is any indication, it may be a longer year for them than anyone could have expected. Losing two straight to start the season for the first time since 1994-95 doesn’t help. Still, Sioux fans (and fans of all WCHA teams) need only remember that last year’s NCAA champion, Boston College, was below .500 at Thanksgiving last year.

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: John Swanson, SCSU.
Why: Scored four goals and one assist to help the Huskies to a two-game sweep of Mercyhurst.
Also Nominated: Chad Rau, CC; Patrick Mullen, DU; MacGregor Sharp, UMD; Mick Berge, MSU, M.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Alex Stalock, UMD.
Why: Helped the Bulldogs go 1-0-1 against Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State, including a 29-save shutout against NMU.
Also Nominated: Brian Connelly, CC; Patrick Wiercioch, DU; Drew Dobson, MTU; Kurt Davis, MSU, M; Garrett Raboin, SCSU.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Luke Salazar, DU.
Why: Scored two goals and had one assist to help the Pioneers to beat Notre Dame in the annual U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.
Also Nominated: Gabe Guentzel, CC; Alex MacLeod, MTU; Mike Connolly, UMD; Mike Louwerse, MSU, M; Jared Festler, SCSU.

Rules: Fun Stuff To Know …

… kinda. If you read my league preview (and if you didn’t, you should go look), you’ll notice that I went into rule changes a bit. These rules are one of the reasons why you may have noticed your favorite team taking a few too many trips to the box (or, conversely, earning a few more power plays than normal).

I was going to go further in depth about the rules in this column, but given I’ve already had some questions and comments about my descriptions, I figure I’ll do the next best thing — direct you to the NCAA’s website, then where to go to find the rulebook.

I’d advise this anyway on general principle, as I feel an informed fan is a better fan. Plus, it gives you a basis for the stuff you’re going to yell at the referee anyway. After reading this, you can know for sure that he blew that call you’re unhappy about.

So. Go to Click on “Winter Sports” on the blue sidebar and then click on “Ice Hockey (M).” Once on the ice hockey page, scroll down to the “Rules and Officiating Web Page” link and click on it. From that page, you can watch a video on the new rules (recommended), view and/or download the rulebook and order your own rulebook, if you so desire.

Random Notes (and Commentary!) From Around the League

UAA — There are plenty of tournaments and related events every year (selected examples include: Ice Breaker, Denver Cup, Great Lakes Invitational, Dodge Classic, etc.) and it looks like there’s a new one up in Alaska this year. The Seawolves are taking part in the inaugural Brice Alaska Goal Rush hosted by Alaska (Fairbanks).

I guess the Nanooks wanted their own tournament to go along with the Kendall Hockey Classic.

Reader Mailbag: Offseason Edition

I got a few e-mails over the summer (what, don’t you people know it’s the offseason?) and there were a few that I somehow didn’t get to even though I meant to. One was from Craig Abbott, who wondered which WCHA team had the most players in the NHL.

I wasn’t sure if he meant all-time or not, so I went with all-time for bragging rights and used the main resource I had available — the 2008 WCHA Men’s Yearbook (which, by the way, is for the 2007-08 season).

The Yearbook lists every WCHAer who has ever played in the NHL up through the 2006-07 season (so the start of last year’s NHL season). Therefore, this won’t include such players as Jonathan Toews and Kyle Okposo. When I get this year’s Yearbook, I’ll edit up through last year … and maybe through this year. We’ll see.

As one might expect, the Golden Gophers win with 76 total players to have played in the NHL up through the end of the 2006-07 season. The grand tally is:

1st: UM, 76
2nd: UND, 68
t-3rd: DU, 54
t-3rd: UW, 54
5th: UMD, 37
6th: MTU, 35
7th: CC, 20
8th: SCSU, 10
9th: MSU, M, 5
10th: UAA, 2

The list also included players from Michigan, Notre Dame and Northern Michigan when those teams were in the conference.

Matchups By the Numbers

It’s hockey season and the start of conference play — just the thing to warm our hearts as the weather starts to turn. I knew there was a reason I loved autumn …

No. 20 Wisconsin @ No. 4 Denver
Overall Records: UW — 0-2-0 (0-0-0 WCHA). DU — 1-0-0 (0-0-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 70-51-9.

DU/UW in depth:

There’s been more than a little talk about this series, especially given what happened when these two faced off in the last regular season. I’m not going to go into detail, but instead will only mention that the referee who worked that series is no longer a member of the WCHA officiating staff.

I’ve seen some people discuss how intense this series might be because of that incident in January, but there are a few other things to keep in mind.

“They ended our season last year and we remember that,” said Pioneer coach George Gwozdecky, in reference to last year’s Midwest Regional, where the Badgers beat DU 6-2.

However, both coaches know that what happened last year is in the past — and know they need to keep it that way.

“In our business, like most businesses, if you’re not in the present moment you’re not going to be as effective and if we’re living in the past, then our energies are diluted in the present,” said Badger coach Mike Eaves. “All our energies are going into preparation for the team this year.”

As for last January? Gwozdecky no doubt remembers the incident, but chooses to remember it for the positives that came out of it.

“The league dealt with it, they’ve improved in the issues of evaluating goals and video replay, they’ve made more of an emphasis on it [and] we’ve got two officials on the ice this year as opposed to one,” he said, alluding to a few of the rule changes. “I think everything’s a big plus.”

No. 13 North Dakota @ No. 15 Minnesota State
Overall Records: UND — 0-2-0 (0-0-0 WCHA). MSU, M — 2-0-0 (0-0-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 28-9-7.

No. 9 Minnesota @ No. 12 St. Cloud State
Overall Records: UM — 0-0-0 (0-0-0 WCHA). SCSU — 2-0-0 (0-0-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 41-23-12.

Michigan Tech @ No. 3 Colorado College
Overall Records: MTU — 1-1-0 (0-0-0 WCHA). CC — 2-0-0 (0-0-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: CC leads the overall series, 84-71-11.

Western Michigan @ Minnesota Duluth
Overall Records: WMU — 1-1-0 (0-0-0 CCHA). UMD — 1-0-1 (0-0-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: This is the first time the teams have ever faced each other.

Maine and Mercyhurst vs. Alaska Anchorage @ Fairbanks
Overall Records: Maine — 0-0-0 (0-0-0 HEA). MC — 0-2-0 (0-0-0 AHA). UAA — 1-1-0 (0-0-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UAA and Maine are tied in the overall series, 2-2-1. UAA leads the overall series with MC, 2-0-0.

Odds and Ends

Yep, I’m ba-a-a-ack. Thanks for sticking with me (sort of) for my first year of this column-writing thing last year. I hope you’ll stick around for another season.

I’m going to keep a few things the same and kind of want to change some things around. I kind of like how the Hockey East column has had ongoing trivia questions and am toying with the idea of doing that, but with the prize of Guest Predictor for the ol’ sidebar. I had a lot of people request a chance to do predictions, so I figured this would be a fun way to do it.

What do you, oh (sometimes) faithful readers, think?

On a Personal Note

My column this year will be dedicated to a former professor of mine from Boston University, noted hockey and sports writer Jack Falla, who passed away a few weeks ago. He was a mentor in many ways and he will be missed.

Falla covered the NHL for a few years for Sports Illustrated and wrote several hockey books, most notably Home Ice: Reflections on Backyard Rinks and Frozen Ponds, which, if you’ve never read it, I highly suggest. He also helped me get one of my first gigs out of college and gave me a lot of advice for this column, too.

R.I.P., Jack.