This Week in the WCHA: Feb. 12, 2009

According to the folks at USA Hockey, it’s Hockey Weekend Across America this weekend, which means get out and enjoy the game we all know and love.

Here at USCHO, on the other hand, it’s hockey day, every day — just the way I like it.

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Players of the Week: Rhett Rakhshani, DU and Jamie McBain, UW.
Why: Rakhshani scored four points (2g, 2a) to help his Pioneers split Minnesota Duluth. McBain also had two goals and two assists to help his Badgers sweep Minnesota.
Also Nominated: Tyler Johnson, CC; Ryan Lasch, SCSU.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Shane Connelly, UW.
Why: Stopped 76 of 82 total shots on goal to help his Badgers sweep Minnesota.
Also Nominated: Richard Bachman, CC; Tyler Ruegsegger, DU; Deron Cousens, MTU; Garrett Raboin, SCSU.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Mike Connolly, UMD.
Why: Scored two goals and had one assist to help his Bulldogs split Denver.
Also Nominated: Patrick Wiercioch, DU; Derek Stepan, UW.

Gophers: On the Descent?

The last time I seriously talked about Minnesota Golden Gophers — way back on November 27 — they were off to the best start in the WCHA and a number-one ranking.

Since then, things have changed a little. The Gophers are currently on their first four-game losing streak since the 2000-01 season, have dropped to 14th in the polls, are tied for sixth in the league and are even on the tournament bubble, tied for 13th in the PairWise Rankings. They’ve gone 4-6 since the break or, if you’d rather, 2-6 since the Dodge Holiday Classic.

So, what gives?

“Well, we’ve lost three one-goal games in the last three games and I think that 95% of the time we’re doing what’s right and the other five percent are costing us,” said coach Don Lucia, referencing this past weekend’s sweep by Wisconsin (3-2, 5-4) and a 3-1 loss to Minnesota State (the third goal was an empty-net goal; coaches refer to those games still as one-goal games).

“I don’t think we’ve had a lot of bounces lately with pucks going off rear ends and all that, but you’ve got to make your own luck too,” he continued. “Obviously we can’t give up five goals a night if we’re going to win games this time of year.”

There’s some thought that maybe the pressure of playing his first full season is getting to Alex Kangas, but Lucia scoffs at the idea.

“He’s had a lot of rest, so I think that’s a non-issue when I hear that,” he said. “We just had a week off two weeks ago and played two games the whole month of December.”

In fact, Lucia isn’t too worried about his team.

“This [past] weekend, I actually thought we played very well in so many areas of the game — our guys just didn’t get rewarded,” he said. “If we continue to play how we did this past weekend, I think we’ll be fine.”

Still, this weekend’s upcoming series with Alaska Anchorage is crucial — as is any series this time of year.

“They’ve won at Denver, they’ve won at North Dakota, they’ve won at Mankato, they’ve won at Tech,” said Lucia, speaking of this weekend’s opponent. “They’re a veteran team, they have good size [and] they play very defensively, so you’re going to have to grind it out and that has to be our mindset this weekend.”

In fact, that grind-it-out mentality is what the Gophers will carry with them the rest of the season.

“There’s no question. We need points. We lost an opportunity the last couple weeks to move up in the standings by losing and when you get swept, you’re going to move down,” he said, speaking the only direction he doesn’t want to move in.

CC/DU — Full of Love or Horror?

Traditionally, Colorado College and Denver always finish out their regular seasons against one another in a home-and-home series.

The two teams will still play each other to close out the regular season, but in a one-game series. That’s right, the series is split into two one-game stints — the first of which is on Friday the 13th.

Given the quirky nature of the weekend (Friday the 13th, Valentine’s Day, etc.), I asked the coaches about either the irony or aptness of Friday’s matchup. Is it ironic to have your rivalry series over the weekend of love? Or, on the other hand, is it more fitting that you play on Friday the 13th?

“I guess that is kind of ironic what with Valentine’s Day weekend, [though] I guess it would be even more ironic if the game was being played on Valentine’s Day, but I think it’s an interesting little slant to it; curious coincidence,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky.

“We look at it; it’s not the love way,” said his CC counterpart, Scott Owens. “We look at it as a crucial, single-game weekend that we just need to keep positive momentum going.”

One could think CC would look at the game from the horror story angle, given its lack of success on Fridays this season (3-5-6 on Fridays or, conversely, 3-6-6 on the first game of a series), but Owens isn’t thinking of that at all.

“It’s on a Friday and we haven’t had a ton of success on Fridays, but maybe the fact that it’s only a single game will have our guys’ attention more,” he said.

Gwozdecky agrees.

“I think this sounds the old cliché, but there are times where we’ve had more success leading into a series with CC and they’ve turned the tables on us and there are times where they’ve had more success leading into a series and we’ve turned the tables on them,” he said, also referring to DU’s success this season. “I don’t think what has occurred outside of these games will have any bearing on what happens Friday.”

Nor does Gwozdecky believe that the game being on Friday the 13th will matter as he might just possibly be the only non-superstitious guy in hockey.

“I guess if one is superstitious, then one has to be making sure they do all the things necessary to bring good luck to themselves on Friday, but I know for one I was involved as a player in Wisconsin with an extremely superstitious teammate who got to the point where he drove us nuts,” he said, not naming said teammate.

“I resolved at that point never to allow my hockey career to be ruled by superstitions so since then, I’ve kind of gone out of the way to make sure I don’t direct my game day or game planning around superstition.”

Matchups By the Numbers

Wisconsin is off (again) as is Minnesota Duluth. CC also plays the U.S. Under-18 Team on Sunday afternoon.

Alaska Anchorage @ No. 14 Minnesota
Overall Records: UAA — 12-12-4 (7-11-4 WCHA). UM — 12-9-5 (9-8-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 45-15-6.

Minnesota State @ No. 11 North Dakota
Overall Records: MSU, M — 13-13-3 (9-11-2 WCHA). UND — 16-11-3 (11-6-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 28-10-7.

No. 8 Denver @ No. 18 Colorado College
Overall Records: DU — 17-9-3 (13-7-2 WCHA). CC — 14-9-7 (10-8-4 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 152-106-11.

Michigan Tech @ St. Cloud State
Overall Records: MTU — 5-19-6 (1-15-6 WCHA). SCSU — 15-13-2 (10-11-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: SCSU leads the overall series, 46-24-5.

PairWise Watch

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

Right now, only Denver (t-6) is a lock. Minnesota Duluth (12) is most likely in, however, though it all comes down to how the tournaments would play out. Minnesota (t-13), Wisconsin (t-16) and North Dakota (t-16) are all on the bubble with Colorado College (19), St. Cloud State (t-20) and Minnesota State (24) rounding out the top 25.

Contest Time …

… but not here. Nope, the WCHA and the Xcel Energy Center have teamed up to host a Final Five contest. The contest, called the “Pick Your Final Five Sweepstakes,” gives you guys a chance to win packages to the 2010 Final Five by predicting the following:

• Which five teams will make this year’s tournament
• Which two teams will make the championship game
• Which team will ultimately win the Broadmoor trophy
• How many goals will be scored during the tournament

The contest, which started Monday, runs through 11:59pm on Thursday, March 5. The winner will be announced by noon the Sunday following the tournament (all times central). Click here for more information and to enter.

Odds and Ends

• DU suspended Patrick Mullen for his slash against UMD’s Mike Connolly. Mullen slashed Connolly, on an empty-net rush at the time, during the waning minutes of Saturday’s game. Mullen received five minutes for slashing and a 10-minute game misconduct on the play.

From the press release:

“A hockey player is responsible for his stick, [coach George] Gwozdecky said. “Patrick’s reckless action with his stick at the end of the Duluth game warrants a one-game suspension.”

Mullen, who will serve his one-game suspension at Colorado College on Friday, Feb. 13, will also be required to meet with WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod to discuss the incident.

Soon after, the WCHA released a statement of its own saying the league endorses the suspension.

• Congrats to UMD’s Andrew Carroll for being the WCHA’s only representative for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. The award honors the “complete student-athlete” and “encourages student-athletes to use their platform in college athletics to make a positive impact on their circle of influence.

• Also, now that the Vote for Hobey site is finally working for me, I can give you the WCHA candidates: UM’s Alex Kangas and Ryan Stoa, UMD’s Alex Stalock, Josh Meyer and Justin Fontaine, UW’s Brendan Smith, Jamie McBain and Ryan McDonagh, CC’s Chad Rau and Richard Bachman, UND’s Chay Genoway and SCSU’s Garrett Roe and Ryan Lasch.

• Besides Hockey Weekend Across America, it’s also Valentine’s Day on Saturday, so spend it with either whom you love or those you love — whether it be a significant other or your favorite hockey team. In my case, it’ll be working the day job and spending the rest of the evening with the significant other before going skiing on Sunday.

Enjoy your weekend, everybody.

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