This Week in the WCHA: Jan. 8, 2009

A lot has happened since the last time we published, but the meat of the season is upon us. Therefore, no looking backward — only forward.

Onward we go …

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Chris VandeVelde, UND.
Why: Scored three goals and had four points to help his Fighting Sioux sweep non-conference foe Bemidji State.
Also Nominated: Jordan Baker, MTU; Patrick White, UM.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Aaron Ness, UM.
Why: Scored one goal and two assists to help Minnesota to the Dodge Holiday Classic title.
Also Nominated: Rob Nolan, MTU; Chay Genoway, UND.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Derek Stepan, UW.
Why: Had one assist during the Badgers’ championship run in the Badger Showdown as well as two goals and two assists in the Badgers’ non-conference series with Northern Michigan.
Also Nominated: Aaron Ness, UM; Brett Hextall, UND.

2009 IIHF World Junior Championship Roundup

Congratulations to the WCHAers who were chosen for and played in this year’s IIHF World Junior Championships.

Wisconsin’s Ryan McDonagh and Minnesota’s Cade Fairchild, Mike Hoeffel and Jordan Schroeder as well as the rest of Team USA earned fifth place. Special congratulations are in order for Wisconsin’s Cody Golubef, who won a gold medal as the only collegian on the Canadian team.

Seawolves: Rested or Rusty?

Thanks to the myriad holiday tournaments that take place the two weekends after Christmas, many of you were able to cheer on your teams throughout the long holiday break.

Some of you, however, were not so lucky, thanks to what your coach calls a “quirk in the schedule.”

I’m looking at you, Seawolf fans.

For the rest of you who may not have been paying attention, the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves take the ice this weekend for the first time in 34 days. They’ll be playing Wisconsin — the same team UAA faced the last time its players hit the ice way back on December 6.

The question is, will the Seawolves be refreshed, ready and raring to go or will they have to shake a lot of rust off their skates?

“Nobody knows until you can get on the ice and start playing some games, so time will tell,” said coach Dave Shyiak. “There’s nothing we can do about it other than deal with it and try and prepare our team the best to our ability. We’ve had the guys back and just want to try and get [them] into [their] best game conditioning as possible as far as getting [their] timing back and everything else, but you just prepare accordingly.”

Shyiak has no problem with the holiday break — in fact, it’s just the opposite — he just doesn’t like how long the WCHA gave them to rest up.

“I’m a big advocate of the student-athletes going home and taking a break with their family and friends to enjoy the holidays, but this was a bit of an extended break,” he said, commenting that “you don’t want to have it that long.

“A break is nice, but 35 days off is certainly a long time.”

Most teams had breaks of just shy of that — I figured the average was around 27 days — with the only team coming close to Anchorage’s long rest being Hockey East’s Providence College Friars, with 31.

Probably the biggest reason to wonder if that extra week will help or hinder is because the Seawolves were arguably the surprise team of the WCHA the first half of the season. Looking at the standings, UAA is in a familiar spot near the bottom. However, only nine points separate the Seawolves and league leader Denver.

As a result, Shyiak can hope his team used his rest period well. The Seawolves don’t get another weekend off until after the season’s over.

“I think there’s some points where our team played very well and we didn’t get the results we wanted in the first half, so first and foremost, we have to find a way to regain those lost points and stay consistent with our game plan,” he said.

“As you mentioned, we don’t have any breaks in the second half [so] we’ve got to maintain our focus every single day, make sure we’re getting rested and stick to our game plan,” he continued. “I’d like to see us score a bit more on the power play and get a little more consistency in net.

“If we can fine-tune those areas of the game and do what we’re doing right now, I think we’ll have some success.”

Matchups By the Numbers

Everyone’s playing everyone else for a fun, all-WCHA conference weekend.

No. 20 Minnesota Duluth @ St. Cloud State
Overall Records: UMD — 9-5-6 (5-4-5 WCHA). SCSU — 10-9-1 (5-7-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: SCSU leads the overall series, 50-37-5 (47-33-4 since joining DI).

Michigan Tech @ No. 5 Denver
Overall Records: MTU — 5-15-2 (1-11-2 WCHA). DU — 13-6-2 (9-4-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 108-81-8.

No. 17 Wisconsin @ Alaska Anchorage
Overall Records: UW — 10-9-3 (7-5-2 WCHA). UAA — 7-7-2 (4-6-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 40-13-9.

No. 3 Minnesota @ North Dakota
Overall Records: UM — 10-3-5 (7-2-3 WCHA). UND — 11-10-1 (6-5-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 137-122-12.

Minnesota State @ No. 10 Colorado College
Overall Records: MSU, M — 9-9-3 (5-7-2 WCHA). CC — 11-6-5 (7-5-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: CC leads the overall series, 24-11-1.

It Seems Way Too Early For This …

… but it’s already time to cast your vote for who you think should win the Hobey Baker this year. Head on over to www.hobeybaker.com, click on the “Vote for Hobey” icon and vote away.

Just make sure it’s working. When I checked it at around 4:15 p.m. Mountain time, the poll was unavailable.

A Final Note

Best wishes go out to Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, who missed last Friday’s Gopher game and will be missing their upcoming series with North Dakota due to an undetermined illness.

Get well soon, Coach.

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