This Week in the WCHA: Oct. 30, 2008

It’s Halloween week and I’m coming up with nothing scary for you, except my self-deprecating style.

Hey, it’s the way I write — scariest of all, perhaps?

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Ryan Stoa, UM.
Why: Scored three goals over two games to help his Gophers take three of four points from Wisconsin.
Also Nominated: Paul Crowder, UAA; Chad Rau, CC; Kyle Ostrow, DU; Justin Fontaine, UMD.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Alex Kangas, UM.
Why: Had four shutout periods and stopped 54 of 58 total shots on goal to help Minnesota take three of four points from Wisconsin.
Also Nominated: Richard Bachman, CC.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Luke Salazar, DU.
Why: Had two assists in Denver’s non-conference split against Ohio State.
Also Nominated: Tim Hall, CC.

CC — On the Right Track?

As you all recall, Colorado College was pretty much a unanimous pick to repeat as league regular-season champion. Right now, even though it’s early, the Tigers are doing a pretty good job to retain their crown. One reason to think that is their penalty killing. When Clarkson sent Saturday’s game into overtime with a power-play tally, it was the first power-play goal that the Tigers had let in this season, dropping their penalty-killing success rate to 97.7% — second in the nation.

No small feat, considering the increase in penalties this year.

“Well, I mean it’s really been the key to our early success [since] it seems like we’ve been shorthanded a lot,” said coach Scott Owens. “We’re trying different forwards, we’ve been rotating a few more people through.”

He also pinpoints his team’s success on the PK with a few things.

“I think it’s a combination of things. One, Richard [Bachman]’s been very, very strong in goal. Secondly, we’ve been able to rotate fresh bodies through and have good energy and be aggressive and three, I think it’s still early in the year and some teams are still working on their power plays.

“It’s been a huge part of the game, especially when we’re not scoring much.”

That last bit is important as the apparent lack of offense on CC’s part — one thing the Tigers don’t have going for them, and one that may prove hurtful down the stretch. Last year, the Tigers were ninth in the nation in offense, averaging 3.32 goals per game.

This year, despite a lot of high-powered offensive players such as Chad Rau and Bill Sweatt, the Tigers are averaging only 2.5 goals per game — a number quite a bit down from their in-state rival and opponent this weekend, Denver, which is averaging a nation-leading 4.8 goals per game.

“[I’m] still a little bit concerned, but it’s still pretty early. [We’re] still trying to work our line combinations so we’ve been experimenting with some different things. Our top line has been giving us production; it’s just our secondary scoring and a little bit from the blueline, so I’m a little concerned. But it’s still end of October, early November and we’re getting chances, getting grade-A scoring chances, we’re getting quite a few shots, but we’re not getting a lot to go in.

“That’s something I’m confident we’ll continue to work through and get better at because the track record is there for a lot more scoring than two and a half goals per game.”

Penalty Crackdown: The Reactions

Mike, a frequent e-mailer, e-mailed me something he’d like to see in the column that I was thinking about anyway. Given space and personal time, I’m going to split it into two parts.

First, here’s his e-mail:

“Do a comparison of the current season to last season after a month and see where we’re at in terms of penalties/offense. I’m sure a lot of people are going to be wondering if the new approach is working as intended. It’d be also interesting to see how the coaches are reacting to it after seeing it for a few games.”

This week, I’ll give a few reactions and next week the numbers.

First, as you read in the section above on CC, Owens brought up a good point in that it’s early and teams are still trying to figure things out. Thanks to the (probable) rise in penalties and man-advantages and disadvantages, teams are having to add another power-play unit and/or another penalty-killing unit just to get fresh bodies on the ice and not be tired out by the time the third period on Saturday rolls around.

Denver’s George Gwozdecky is helping his team adjust to the new system by “penalizing” the players in practice.

“The only way you can break habits is by practicing the proper way,” said Gwozdecky. “If they get back to their old habits in practice, we’ll blow it down, we’ll whistle it and we’ll penalize them. Now obviously they don’t serve a penalty in practice, but they get penalized by having to do skates, challenging skates and things like that so that hopefully, they start to realize that hey, they’re being held accountable.

“They’re held accountable in a game, they’re going to be held accountable in practice.”

Minnesota’s Don Lucia, on the other hand, isn’t really doing anything differently.

“I think it’s a combination,” he said. “I think the referees will get more comfortable with what they’re calling and I think the players will get more comfortable with what’s going to be called. So I just think it’s going to take some time for everybody to figure out what’s going to be called and what should be called, and for the players to adjust accordingly.”

However, Lucia has tried to emphasize the new rules since the beginning of the year anyway.

“One thing that we’ve done is … from Friday to Saturday, we’ve cut our penalties in half both games,” he said.

State of Minnesota Hockey Showcase

Last year around the Final Five, the WCHA announced the inaugural State of Minnesota Hockey Showcase — a one-day event featuring the WCHA’s four teams from Minnesota in a doubleheader event at the Xcel Energy Center to take place Saturday, November 1.

Well, that Saturday is this Saturday and all four coaches are gearing up for the event, but not as much as one would think given that the games all count as WCHA regular-season contests — just played at a much bigger, “neutral site” arena.

Even though I can’t be there, I for one am interested to see how it works in terms of generating revenue and fan interest. Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State, Mankato were the two schools that spearheaded the event and will split the gate proceeds along with the league.

Curious because though the scheduling should work out to host this event again two years from now, it might not happen at all next year due to scheduling conflicts. Also, I’m thinking if they don’t get the gate numbers they’d like, the Showcase may just end up being a one-year thing.

Reader Mailbag: Say Goodbye

Like I thought it might, the shootout pondering generated e-mail, and the consensus seems to be a resounding “NAY.”

Here are a few select responses:

Mike from Minnesota: “As for the shootout, it’s a stupid idea that individualizes what is supposed to be a team game.”

Tim “from” Madison: “Shootouts are a bad idea. It’s a way of deciding a game based on one very small dimension” … “Have each team take a power play until someone ends up ahead. [That] would at least incorporate a team effort and in that it’s much less arbitrary than a shootout” … “A defensive team that battles a flashy offensive team to 2-2 at the end of regulation is at an unfair disadvantage in a shootout.”

Matchups By the Numbers

All 10 teams play this weekend, some thanks to the State of Minnesota Hockey Showcase.

No. 12 Minnesota State @ No. 5 Minnesota; UM vs. MSU, M in Showcase
Overall Records: MSU, M — 3-1-0 (1-1-0 WCHA). UM — 3-0-1 (3-0-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 28-3-5.

Alaska Anchorage @ Michigan Tech
Overall Records: UAA — 4-1-1 (1-0-1 WCHA). MTU — 1-3-0 (0-2-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: MTU leads the overall series, 23-22-8.

Wisconsin @ No. 18 North Dakota
Overall Records: UW — 0-5-1 (0-3-1 WCHA). UND — 1-3-0 (1-1-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 80-58-10.

No. 1 Colorado College and No. 4 Denver (home-and-home)
Overall Records: CC — 4-0-2 (2-0-0 WCHA). DU — 4-1-0 (2-0-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 152-105-10.

No. 19 St. Cloud State vs. Minnesota Duluth in Showcase
Overall Records: SCSU — 3-3-0 (0-2-0 WCHA). UMD — 3-1-2 (0-1-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: SCSU leads the overall series, 50-35-5.

Odds and Ends

I got a few responses regarding the quinella — mostly to do with horse racing terms. However, lest you forget, this is a hockey column and therefore, I was thinking of a quinella in terms of the sport of hockey.

According to Total Hockey, the official encyclopedia of the National Hockey League, first edition, page 619:

Quinella — scoring every type of goal in a single game: even-strength, power play, shorthanded, penalty shot and empty net; Mario Lemieux accomplished this feat on New Year’s Eve 1988 versus New Jersey.