This Week in the WCHA: Jan. 15, 2009

It’s too early to say that the Sioux once again are starting their second-half surge, but the boys in green are 8-2 in their last 10 games. If anything, it’s only safe to say that you should never count UND out.

It’s said that Gopher coach Don Lucia should be back for this weekend’s series with St. Cloud. It’ll be interesting to see how the team responds if he’s back and see if last weekend was just a bump in the road. We’ll also see if Ryan Stoa is back and healthy, as he’s currently listed as questionable for the series. If he’s out, it will also be interesting to see how his injury affects the Gophers and the chemistry on that top line of Stoa, Jordan Schroeder and Jay Barriball.

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Players of the Week: Ryan Duncan, UND, and Jamie McBain, UW.
Why: Duncan scored two goals — including Saturday’s game-winner — to help his Sioux to a sweep of Minnesota. McBain scored four points (2g, 2a) to help his Badgers sweep Alaska Anchorage.
Also Nominated: Brian McMillin, CC; Jesse Martin, DU; Ryan Lasch, SCSU.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Jase Weslosky, SCSU.
Why: Stopped 57 of 61 shots on goal to help his Huskies sweep Minnesota Duluth.
Also Nominated: Brian Connelly, CC; J.P. Testwuide, DU; Geoff Kinrade, MTU; Brad Eidsness, UND.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Jason Gregoire, UND.
Why: Scored four points (3g, 1a) including Friday’s game-winning goal to help his Sioux sweep Minnesota.
Also Nominated: Nick Dineen, CC; Joe Colborne, DU.

Revisiting Last Season: CC

If you can remember way back to about this time last year, you’ll remember reading about the Colorado College Tigers and how two players were suspended for violating the student conduct code.

Derek Patrosso was able to return at the end of last season, but the other player involved — Cody Lampl — is finally back skating with the Tigers again.

“He hasn’t missed a beat coming back as far as the locker room or on the ice,” said coach Scott Owens. “He’s a little rusty, his timing’s a little off, he’s got to fine-tune some of his systems work, but his game is passion and hard-hitting and vocal and I thought he was really strong in that area [Saturday against MSU, M]. The other stuff will come with games.”

Revisiting This Season: MTU

Earlier this season, I talked with Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell about how his squad had been struggling to start off the year. At that point, not including exhibitions, his Huskies were 2-7-1.

Since then, the team hasn’t fared much better, going 3-10-1 since with all wins coming out of conference.

Back in November, Russell attributed it to two big things: lack of home ice and injuries.

While the first is changing soon — MTU finishes out the season with four of six weekends at home — the second issue is still plaguing the Husky locker room.

“We get some guys back and, well, now Malcolm Gwilliam’s done for the year, [Eric] Kattelus is done for the year, Mikael Lickteig’s done for the year,” said Russell. “We’ve had a lot of changes in our lineup. We’ve got nine freshmen on our roster and I think they’re starting to grow and understand what it takes to be successful at the college level.

“We have a real healthy dose of home games coming up. We’ve played a ton of road games with a young team where [since] we had so many injuries, all our younger players were really elevated on the depth chart.”

Those freshmen are starting to assimilate and adapt to the way things are. Combined with success over the holiday break, that continues to help keep Russell somewhat optimistic.

“Before Christmas, we got a point on the road at Duluth — we got a nice tie there — and then the next weekend we swept Northern Michigan. We got a split at the [Great Lakes Invitational], beat North Dakota [and] came in [to Denver] obviously looking for points,” said Russell. “I thought we went toe-to-toe with the number-five team in the country and each game came down to a bounce.

“I think we’re playing good hockey. It’s a pretty safe bet we’re going to be on the road for playoffs, but our goal right now is we want to be a team that nobody in the nation wants to face in March.”

Catching Up With St. Cloud State

As I said in the midseason report card “issue” of the column, St. Cloud State is a team I really can’t get a read on. It also doesn’t help that the Huskies are one of just two teams I haven’t yet seen this season (the other being the Seawolves).

So, to get the story, I went ahead and got a hold of coach Bob Motzko to try and get the lowdown on this year’s Husky squad.

“We’re a young hockey team with a lot of underclassmen playing in a lot of key roles,” he said. “[There’s] just not a lot of upperclassmen in numbers and I think that has kind of attributed to the fact that we’ve been a little inconsistent, but the good thing is, we’ve been good. We’ve been very good at times and then we throw a few stinkers in there.

“I think now, after half a season, we’ve got a measuring stick. We know where we have to try to be and try to maintain a level of play and I think what we’ve had has been expected and we’re trying to solidify ourselves at a higher level and we’ve attained it. We’ve gotten there on a handful of occasions and I think that’s the good thing. We know we’ve got a chance to be a pretty good hockey team.”

In other words, a lot of the Huskies’ yo-yo nature has been a result of the team’s 17 underclassmen.

“The other real key factor for us for a little bit of our inconsistencies is our D corps,” he said. “We play four first-year defensemen. We’ve had an injury to [senior] Dave Carlisle who’s been out for a handful of games for us now.

“We’re kind of waiting for that group to catch up and they’re coming, but their inexperience has showed in a handful of nights and that’s just part of the nature of it.”

Still, there have been many times where Motzko has liked how his team has performed despite its inconsistent nature.

“We’re definitely plowing through it and I thought at times in the first half — especially down the stretch — we liked where we were going as a hockey team. Up until the North Dakota series right before the break, we had gone on a 7-2 run and we liked the direction. Then, we did not have a very good weekend up in North Dakota.

“We didn’t have a break the first half and then at the end, we were on a six out of seven stretch on the road and we needed a break. The break came at a good time for us and we played very well out in the Florida tournament. We played really strong hockey and we only got a tie to show for it but I liked our effort and our direction. Now we start league play and we’ve got to get back to it.”

Matchups By the Numbers

Denver gets a weekend off to rest up for the stretch while Minnesota Duluth gets its last non-conference series out of the way.

No. 17 North Dakota @ Michigan Tech
Overall Records: UND — 13-10-1 (8-5-1 WCHA). MTU — 5-17-2 (1-13-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 133-90-8.

Alaska Anchorage @ Minnesota State
Overall Records: UAA — 7-9-2 (4-8-2 WCHA). MSU, M — 10-10-3 (6-8-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: MSU, M leads the overall series, 29-18-6.

St. Cloud State/No. 7 Minnesota (home-and-home)
Overall Records: SCSU — 12-9-1 (7-7-0 WCHA). UM — 10-5-5 (7-4-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 43-23-12.

No. 11 Colorado College @ No. 16 Wisconsin
Overall Records: CC — 12-7-5 (8-6-2 WCHA). UW — 12-9-3 (9-5-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 104-56-8.

Bemidji State @ Minnesota Duluth
Overall Records: BSU — 8-10-0 (4-2-0 WCHA). UMD — 9-7-6 (5-6-5).
Head-to-Head: UMD leads the overall series, 16-7-0.

More “It Seems Way Too Early For This …”

… but USCHO.com already has the early (and may I stress early) Bracketology out, as well as the PairWise Rankings (PWR) and Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). Who out of the WCHA would make it to the NCAA tournament were the season to end today?

All scenarios have only Minnesota and Denver in, though four teams — Colorado College, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Wisconsin — are right there on the bubble.

In other words, this second half is going to be exciting in terms of watching to see who will make it into the national tourney.

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