This Week in the WCHA: Feb. 26, 2009

Two weekends left until we put another WCHA regular season in the books.

When the season began in October, this all seemed so far away, but here it is, having crept up on us like a serious case of spring fever. Although the spring fever could just be me, given that it’s been in the 60s here in Colorado the past few days.

Two weekends left. That’s all we have until the playoffs, which, I might add, are finally starting to become clearer. The 10-point gap between first and ninth is finally starting to vanish and the playoff picture is sort-of-kind-of starting to take shape. More on that later, though.

Now, onward we go …

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Chris VandeVelde, UND.
Why: Scored his first career hat trick on Saturday to help his Sioux sweep Alaska Anchorage.
Also Nominated: Eric Walsky, CC; Tyler Ruegsegger, DU.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Marc Cheverie, DU.
Why: Stopped 77 of 80 shots, had one shutout and one assist to help his Pioneers to a road sweep of Wisconsin.
Also Nominated: Nate Prosser, CC; Alex Stalock, UMD; Jake Marto, UND.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Patrick Wiercioch, DU.
Why: Had five points (1g, 4a) and contributed strong defensive play to help his Pioneers sweep Wisconsin.
Also Nominated: Brad Eidsness, UND.

Sioux: Guaranteed at Home

It’s surprising to think that, given where the North Dakota Fighting Sioux were around the holidays, they’re they only team that has guaranteed themselves home ice in the playoffs and have a very good shot at winning the league title right out.

Though for some it was inevitable that the Sioux would eventually right the ship coach Dave Hakstol had no idea until Saturday.

“To me, it started to look a little bit inevitable maybe last Saturday morning,” he said at the team’s weekly press conference. “Beyond that, the race for the top five for us was extremely tight [and] for everybody else, still is extremely tight. We’re the only ones to lock up home ice and that’s by virtue of a tiebreaker over St. Cloud. So, with four games to go, that leaves an awful lot of things on the table to be decided.”

Even though the Sioux have managed to more than salvage their season, the plan is to stick to the same methods that have gotten them out of the hole that Hakstol has continually said they dug themselves into.

“With the start that we had this year, we’ve been trying to scratch and claw our way [through]. You can compare it to the playoffs, you can compare it to fighting for your life; whatever you want to compare it to, we’ve been there since before Christmas,” he said.

“We’ve slipped a couple of times, but for the most part, we’ve been able to scratch and claw our way forward so we’ve been there for quite some time and we need to stay there in that same mode.”

If they do, the Sioux will continue rolling along, quite possibly into a MacNaughton Cup victory.

“Every weekend we’ve made some progress,” said Hakstol. “We locked up home ice last weekend and moved forward a little bit. We’ll try and do the same thing this weekend.”

Gophers Summed Up

Saturday night’s loss to Colorado College was the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ sixth in eight games. The weekend was also the fourth time the Gophers have been swept this season and the third in that aforementioned eight-game stretch.

In any case, according to head coach Don Lucia, Saturday’s game summed up the team’s recent history.

“I feel bad for our guys; it’s kind of how it’s gone,” he said after the game. “It seems like one night our support plays well and then the next night our top end plays well and then the next night our goalie plays well, but it just doesn’t seem to be all three phases happening the same night at the same time.

“Tonight is a good example. I mean, our guys played hard, they played well, but you outshoot somebody two-to-one, you probably out-chanced them … it’s kind of how it’s gone for us.”

Playoffs: What We Know (mostly. kind of. sort of.)

With just two weekends left in the regular season, I finally gathered up enough courage to delve into this … well, at least a little bit. It’s still all very confusing thanks to the parity of the league. Anyway, here we go:

• No matter what, MTU is finishing 10th.
• UAA will be on the road and can finish no higher than eighth.
• Everyone else still technically has a shot at home ice if the cards fall in their favor.
• CC can clinch home ice this weekend with a sweep.
• DU either needs one point or for UMD to lose/tie, and will then have clinched home ice.
• UND already has clinched home ice.
• If all goes ridiculously right for UW and CC, both teams still have an outside shot at winning the league. Still, odds are against that happening. UMD could in theory share the MacNaughton Cup, but cannot, for playoff purposes, finish higher than second because it loses the tiebreaker with DU.
• Odds are for either DU or UND winning the MacNaughton Cup. If DU gets swept and UND gets three points, the Sioux win outright. If UND sweeps and DU gets no more than two points, the Sioux will get at least a share of the title.

Matchups By the Numbers

Alaska Anchorage plays a home-and-home non-conference series with Alaska (Fairbanks) and Michigan Tech is the last team to get a weekend off before the playoffs start.

No. 14 Minnesota Duluth @ No. 18 Minnesota
Overall Records: UMD — 16-9-7 (10-8-6 WCHA). UM — 13-11-6 (10-10-4 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 126-67-12.

No. 16 Wisconsin @ Minnesota State
Overall Records: UW — 16-13-3 (13-9-2 WCHA). MSU, M — 13-15-4 (9-13-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 15-12-3.

No. 19 St. Cloud State @ No. 5 Denver
Overall Records: SCSU — 17-13-2 (12-11-1 WCHA). DU — 19-9-4 (15-7-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 35-29-4.

Alaska Anchorage and Alaska (home-and-home)
Overall Records: UAA — 10-15-5 (7-14-5 WCHA). UA(F) — 15-11-6 (13-10-5-3 CCHA).
Head-to-Head: UAA leads the overall series, 78-48-11.
Random Notes: The series will determine who keeps the Alaska Airlines Governor’s Cup. The Seawolves are the defending champions.

No. 13 Colorado College @ No. 8 North Dakota
Overall Records: CC — 16-9-8 (12-8-5 WCHA). UND — 20-11-3 (15-6-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 130-75-9.

PairWise Watch

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

Denver (t-4th) is all but a lock. If the tournaments were to go down the way they in theory should, North Dakota (11th) and Minnesota Duluth (13th) would be in. Colorado College (16th) and Wisconsin (t-17th) are on the bubble while Minnesota (19th) and St. Cloud State (20th) still need some help.

Odds and Ends

• In case you missed it, CC’s sweep of Minnesota this past weekend was its first sweep of calendar year 2009 and first since October 17-18, when the Tigers swept Michigan Tech at home. On the season, the defending league champs have a total of just three sweeps — Alabama Huntsville, Michigan Tech and Minnesota. On the other hand, CC has also not been swept yet this season.

• Following up on last week, MTU did match the WCHA record for most ties in league play with seven thanks to their 2-2 draw with Minnesota Duluth on Saturday. The Huskies are the seventh team to record seven ties, which also marks a new school record for ties in a season.

• A few St. Cloud State notes on former Huskies — Joe Jensen and Casey Borer were among those injured in the Albany River Rats bus accident last week, while Marty Mjelleli was named an assistant head coach and scout for the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers.

• If UND goaltender Brad Eidsness plays in both Sioux games this weekend, he will break the school record for most games in a row by a freshman goalie. Eidsness’s streak will then be at 33 to surpass Peter Wasleovich’s record, set back in 1973-74.

• The league announced the recipients of the WCHA Scholar-Athlete Award late last week, so I thought I’d recognize those guys this week. There were 69 total recipients spread between the men’s and women’s leagues. The recipients by school for the men are:

• UAA — Nils Backstrom, Brian Bales, Jon Olthuis, Luka Vidmar
• CC — Jake Gannon, Ryan Lowery, Brian McMillin, Scott McCulloch, Bill Sweatt
• DU — Marc Cheverie, Brian Gifford, Matt Glasser, Dustin Jackson, Chris Nutini, Kyle Ostrow, Tyler Ruegsegger
• MTU — Derek Kitti, Bennett Royer, Mike VanWagner, Eli Vlaisavljevich
• UMD — Rob Bordson, Matt Greer, Kenny Reiter, Kyle Schmidt
• MSU, M — Trevor Bruess, Nick Canzanello, Rylan Galiardi, Austin Lee, Andrew Sackrison, Dan Tormey
• UND — Chay Genoway
• SCSU — Jon Ammerman, Brent Borgen, Nick Oslund, Garrett Raboin, Brian Volpei
• UW — Ryan Jeffery

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