This Week in the WCHA: Feb. 5, 2009

As the season slowly begins to wind down, it’s only natural we keep getting some exciting hockey games, right?

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Kael Mouillierat, MSU, M.
Why: Scored two goals and had one assist, including Friday’s game-winner to help his Mavericks to their first ever sweep of Minnesota.
Also Nominated: Andrew Kozek, UND.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Players of the Week: Alex Stalock, UMD and Mike Zacharias, MSU, M.
Why: Stalock stopped 61 of 64 shots and pitched a shutout to help his Bulldogs split Wisconsin. Zacharias, on the other hand, stopped 57 of 60 shots to help his Mavericks earn their first ever sweep over Minnesota.
Also Nominated: Trevor Hunt, UAA; Chay Genoway, UND; David Carlisle, SCSU.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Curtis Leinweber, UAA.
Why: Played both positions and scored the game-winning overtime goal on Saturday night to help his Seawolves split a road series against Denver.
Also Nominated: Mike Louwerse, MSU, M; Mario Lamoureux, UND.

On the Other End of the Spectrum

Last week, we talked about how the North Dakota Fighting Sioux always seem to turn it on in the second half under coach Dave Hakstol.

On the flip side of the coin, if you look at the numbers, it appears that the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves under Dave Shyiak falter in the second half.

The numbers have been bad enough for the Seawolves where their record is concerned, but here are their first halves under Shyiak (not including exhibitions):

2005-06 — 5-14-1
2006-07 — 10-8-2
2007-08 — 6-7-5
2008-09 — 7-7-2

Here are the second halves (not including playoffs):

2005-06 — 1-11-2
2006-07 — 2-12-1
2007-08 — 1-12-3
2008-09 — (in progress) 2-4-2

Except for Shyiak’s first year, the first halves have been relatively respectable. However, why does the team go downhill? Much like his same first-named counterpart in Grand Forks, Shyiak thinks that it’s just a myth.

“Everybody talks about that, the casual fan looks at it that way but if you really look at it, you’re a hockey person and you look at it, we’re in a lot of those games,” he said, particularly of last season. “We were the youngest team in the league last year so we really didn’t have those difference-makers.

“Right now, we’ve exceeded that as far as wins and points in the second half.”

This year, if the Seawolves slide, it could be blamed in part on their long break between games (previously mentioned in this space). Still, Shyiak doesn’t want to use the break as an excuse.

“I don’t like to use that as an excuse — 30 days off,” he said. “Our travel’s our travel, it is what it is and you just deal with it. Like I said, last year, we didn’t get the results we wanted, but we were in a lot of those games and when we needed a difference-maker to score a goal, we didn’t get it, we didn’t get that timely save and now, we’ve exceeded that.

“[Saturday’s overtime win over Denver] is two points we have to build upon and forget about what’s happened [in the past].”

And the WCHA Follows …

Just six days after we all saw ugliness rear its head in the CCHA in Michigan, we saw some ugliness in our own league Friday night in Mankato, though it didn’t get nearly the coverage — at least nationally.

From what I gathered, the game was an intense battle with two distinct hits/incidents amidst the deluge of Maverick goals. Late in the second period, MSU’s Trevor Bruess hit UM’s Tony Lucia with a forearm/elbow, giving the Gopher a concussion and getting 15 minutes in penalties in return — five for excessive roughness and a 10 minute game disqualification (therefore earning a suspension).

Later in the game, six other players — three per side — were all called for roughing minors.

About seven minutes into the third is when everything else went down. The long version of the hit on YouTube is now a private video that, if you have an account, you can view. Otherwise, you can search “schack boe hit” and get the short version.

In any case, MSU’s Channing Boe checked UM’s Jay Barriball from behind into one of the benches. As the official’s arm was up, signifying the call, the play went into the far corner along that same side. The camera then quickly panned back to a point right around the hashmarks where a scuffle broke out.

In the midst of the scuffle, UM’s Brian Schack and Boe appeared off to the left, almost falling out of the pile. Boe’s helmet was off and Schack was punching Boe in the head. Boe left the ice on a stretcher for somehow breaking his ankle in the midst of the scrum — what is, as we know now, a season-ending injury.

That one incident garnered 48 minutes of penalties doled out at the 7:26 mark. Among them are the original five-minute major and game misconduct that Boe was going to receive for checking Barriball from behind. Barriball and Kevin Wehrs from Minnesota both received double-minors for roughing, as did MSU’s Jerad Stewart and James Gaulrapp. Schack was given two minutes for instigating, five for fighting and a game disqualification, sitting him out for Saturday.

According to the myriad of game stories written about the game, neither coach apparently had much to say afterwards.

From the Mankato Free Press‘s Shane Frederick’s blog:

“Emotions were running pretty high,” Mavericks junior forward Rylan Galiardi said. “Hockey is a pretty intense sport. I think teams were just trying to protect each other, protect their teammates. No one wants to see guys get hurt.”

Later:

“The hits we had tonight, I don’t know if that’s part of hockey, but it was tonight,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. Later, he added, “That didn’t look like college hockey out there to me.”

About the physical play in general, [Mavericks coach Troy] Jutting said, “Those were two proud hockey teams out there. I thought both teams played pretty physical tonight for the most part.”

From the St. Paul Pioneer Press‘s Bruce Brothers:

Asked about the game turning ugly — this was the first meeting between the teams at the Alltel Center since Gophers forward Tommy Pohl suffered a fractured skull during that WCHA playoff series in March — Jutting said, “No comment.”

There has been a lot of discourse on what happened among fans, ranging the gamut from “Pfft, whatever, the Mavericks are just goons anyway though still not as bad as the Sioux,” to “Man, that was as bad as Bertuzzi/Moore. Why hasn’t Schack been kicked out of the league yet?”

If I may quickly deviate, I’d like to mention I am a Colorado Avalanche fan (hey, I’m from Denver). Therefore, I know about what happened between Steve Moore and Todd Bertuzzi. While at first glance, Schack punching Boe in the head from behind is vaguely reminiscent of the hit (found here on YouTube), it is not nearly as vicious. Bad, yes. That heinous? No.

Besides news of the league reviewing Friday’s game to see if it warranted any more suspensions (nothing yet, which almost certainly means nothing else will come out of it), a few interesting quotes surfaced — particularly from Lucia.

In an article published late Sunday night on Boe’s status, Frederick included a Lucia quote from before Saturday’s contest:

Before the game, Don Lucia appeared to defend Schack, telling Fox Sports North, “I think it’s about time someone stood up for a teammate like what happened (Friday) night. … If we’re not going to enforce the rules then we’re going to have to recruit players that will protect our teammates.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s Roman Augustoviz had some quotes on his blog that Lucia made on his radio show:

“That’s not the way we like to play,” Lucia said, “but in some of our kids’ defense, Brian Schack included — and I’ve said it, at some point, we got to protect our own players too. Brian did that and that’s to his credit.

“Now I am going to sit down with Brian about what happened on Friday night because I did think he did cross the line a little bit on Friday night. I am going to talk to him about that and show him video of the play because you don’t want to be in a situation where somebody is vulnerable and they can get hurt.

“There were some vicious hits. The elbowing, the five minute majors, the disqualifications, the checks from behind. It shouldn’t be part of the game. Especially — you don’t see it very often where the team that is winning like that is initiating some of the things that went on.”

I both agree and disagree with Lucia on a few of his points. I do agree that scrums and the like shouldn’t be part of the game given the high risk of injury — however, I’ve played the game. I know stuff can happen. I personally think that players should be able to have a rational mind about things on the ice … but maybe here it’s just a case of male and female brains functioning differently.

Checking from behind has also been a problem, but what is the league/sport supposed to do? Go back to the mite-level way of doing things and sew little red stop signs on the back of everyone’s jersey?

However, I disagree with Lucia suggesting that since this stuff is going to happen, teams may as well recruit the college hockey version of enforcers. I could get into it and point out some examples of where this has failed miserably around the league, but I don’t want to open up that can of worms. Besides, I’m sure that all of you can recall your own examples.

Bottom line, Boe shouldn’t have checked Barriball from behind, nor should have Bruess elbowed Lucia. However, since Boe hit Barriball, it does not condone what Schack did in retribution. Punching some guy in the back of the head outside of a sport which actually allows it (which college hockey obviously is not) is never right, regardless of the circumstances.

Oh Yeah, that Maverick Sweep Was a First

One thing not lost in the shuffle and, indeed, the high point of the weekend was that it was the Mavericks’ first-ever sweep of the Gophers in 40 (41, depending on whom you ask) games.

Matchups By the Numbers

Both Minnesota State and North Dakota get the weekend off.

No. 16 Wisconsin @ No. 9 Minnesota
Overall Records: UW — 14-11-3 (11-7-2 WCHA). UM — 12-7-5 (9-6-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 150-79-18.
Random Note: Minnesota will be honoring its 1979 championship team during Saturday’s game.

No. 18 Colorado College @ Michigan Tech
Overall Records: CC — 13-9-6 (9-8-3 WCHA). MTU — 5-18-5 (1-14-5 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: CC leads the overall series, 88-68-10.

No. 6 Denver @ No. 17 Minnesota Duluth
Overall Records: DU — 16-8-3 (12-6-2 WCHA). UMD — 14-8-6 (8-7-5 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 103-69-9.
Random Note: Friday’s game will be televised nationally on NHL Network.

St. Cloud State @ Alaska Anchorage
Overall Records: SCSU — 14-12-2 (9-10-1 WCHA). UAA — 9-11-4 (6-10-4 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: SCSU leads the overall series, 43-12-5.

PairWise Watch

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

Denver (t-7th), Minnesota (t-7th) and Minnesota Duluth (13th) would all most likely be in, though the Bulldogs are almost bubble-licious. North Dakota (14th) could in theory be in, but too many things could happen to knock the Fighting Sioux out.

Wisconsin (17th), St. Cloud State (t-18th), Colorado College (20th) and Minnesota State (24th) round out the WCHA teams in the top 25.

Keep Casting Those Ballots

Besides voting for Hobey, you can also vote for whom you’d like to see participate in the Skills Competition portion of the Frozen Four. Unlike voting for Hobey, your vote actually matters here.

The WCHAers on the ballot are Minnesota’s Justin Bostrom, Wisconsin’s Tom Gorowsky, Denver’s Patrick Mullen, Colorado College’s Chad Rau, Minnesota Duluth’s MacGregor Sharp and St. Cloud’s John Swanson.

To vote, head on over to the Skills Challenge web page.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here