This Week in the WCHA: Jan. 22, 2009

Well, as we get closer to the end, the league standings are finally starting to come into focus. A little. Now, 18 points — a seemingly-insurmountable gap — separate first (Denver) from 10th (Michigan Tech).

However, the race for home ice is as thick as ever. Four points separate first from the two teams tied for fourth (23 points to 20) and spots six through nine (16 down to 12 points) are up for grabs as well.

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Mike Hoeffel, UM.
Why: Scored three goals and one assist to help his Gophers sweep St. Cloud State.
Also Nominated: Brian McMillin, CC; Matt Frattin, UND; Ryan Lasch, SCSU; John Mitchell, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Jake Marto, UND.
Why: Scored three goals and was a force on the blue line to help his Sioux take three points from Michigan Tech.
Also Nominated: Kris Fredheim, CC.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Aaron Ness, UM.
Why: Had four assists and helped the Gophers’ penalty kill shut down St. Cloud State in UM’s sweep last weekend.
Also Nominated: David Civitarese, CC; Brad Eidsness, UND.

WCHA — Soon, Plus Two?

As you may have read last week, the WCHA’s member teams unanimously voted to lift the moratorium on league expansion. The lifting of the ban will remain in effect until March 31, 2009.

Basically, what this means is that the league could, in theory, be gaining a member team (or two) soon.

For a team to join the WCHA, it needs a 75% majority vote (so eight of 10 teams). Each school gets one vote and, interestingly, the vote is cast not by the coaches or the athletic director, but by the faculty athletic representatives for each school.

“I think it was an idea that the schools, faculty reps, athletic directors and coaches all agreed upon that it was a good time to lift the moratorium and explore opportunities for perhaps expansion,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky. “I don’t think it definitely means that the league is going to expand, but I think it gives opportunities for schools like Bemidji and anybody else that’s interested to be able to apply and present their university and their hockey program to the WCHA to see if it’s a good fit.”

The thought is that the moratorium was lifted primarily for the sake of Bemidji State, which has been knocking on the league door for quite some time. That, combined with the tenuous future of the CHA, makes for a logical time to make the change.

“Obviously Bemidji needs to get a home,” said Gwozdecky, who noted that the school has contacted him for help lobbying its case. “I think that, as far as their interest, I think they’re a very viable program. They have a long, long history of a commitment to hockey at their university [and] they’ve had a lot of success.”

“I think that Minnesota’s been front and center in their support for Bemidji,” said Gopher head coach Don Lucia. “Our stance as an institution is Bemidji is a program that we don’t want to go away and that’s why we’ve helped lead the charge to address this issue.

“They don’t have a league to play in any more and it has to be addressed.”

However, the question that next arises is, besides Bemidji, who else would join? The consensus among the league coaches is that if the WCHA is going to expand, it needs to expand by at least two teams to keep from an odd number like 11 due to scheduling issues.

“11 would be extremely difficult for developing a type of schedule that would please everybody,” said Gwozdecky. “12 would be much more workable.”

Geographical fits would obviously be Air Force (AHA) and Nebraska-Omaha (CCHA), but neither school is said to be interested.

Northern Michigan is rumored to have expressed interest, which could in theory work well for a few reasons. The main ones, of course, are their rivalry with WCHA member Michigan Tech and the fact that NMU was once in the WCHA, leaving after the 1996-97 season.

Another question is, should the league expand at all? Alaska Anchorage’s Dave Shyiak doesn’t really think so.

“I like the league the way it is right now,” he said, adding, “it’s really up to the league to take care of that. We’ve got people in place to make decisions and whatever they feel is best for the league I’m going to trust their better judgment.”

Even Lucia thinks the league is fine the way it is now, but the need to keep Bemidji afloat trumps the current situation.

Minnesota State’s Troy Jutting, on the other hand, is just for the growth of the game we all love so much.

“Any growth that can happen in college hockey I think is a great thing,” he said. “I won’t make the decisions on whether any of that stuff happens in terms of adding teams or not, but I am, overall, for the growth of college hockey. So, if we can help the growth of college hockey, I think that’s a great thing.”

Keep in mind that just because the moratorium has been lifted doesn’t automatically mean that Bemidji or any other team will join the league. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how this pans out in late April at the league’s spring meeting.

Matchups By the Numbers

Minnesota and Wisconsin get to rest up for the stretch ahead.

No. 4 Denver @ No. 15 North Dakota
Overall Records: DU — 15-6-2 (11-4-1 WCHA). UND — 14-10-2 (9-5-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 128-110-7.

Michigan Tech @ Alaska Anchorage
Overall Records: MTU — 5-18-3 (1-14-3 WCHA). UAA — 8-10-2 (5-9-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: MTU leads the overall series, 24-23-8.

Minnesota State @ No. 17 Minnesota Duluth
Overall Records: MSU, M — 11-11-3 (7-9-2 WCHA). UMD — 11-7-6 (5-6-5 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: The series is either tied, 12-12-5 or MSU, M leads, 14-13-5, depending on which school you talk to.

St. Cloud State @ No. 13 Colorado College
Overall Records: SCSU — 12-11-1 (7-9-0 WCHA). CC — 13-8-5 (9-7-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: CC leads the overall series, 40-29-4.

PairWise Watch

Who from the WCHA would be in the tournament if the season were to end today?

Minnesota (PWR No. 4) and Denver (No. 8) would definitely be in. Minnesota Duluth, at 13, could be on the outside looking in and North Dakota and Wisconsin are right on the bubble at t-15 and 17, respectively. Colorado College (t-19) and St. Cloud State (24) also are in the running in the PWR top 25.

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