This Week in the WCHA: Oct. 29, 2009

It’s Halloween week here and although that really means nothing in the world of college hockey, it happens to be one of my personal favorite holidays. So, please excuse the Halloween-y touches and the probably excessive use of Halloween hyperbole sprinkled throughout.

Red Baron WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Bill Sweatt, CC.
Why: Scored seven points (1g, 7a) to help his Tigers sweep visiting Michigan Tech.
Also Nominated: Rhett Rakhshani, DU; Jared Festler, SCSU; Brendan Smith, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Marc Cheverie, DU.
Why: Had back-to-back shutouts to help Denver sweep Minnesota.
Also Nominated: Bryce Christianson, UAA; Gabe Guentzel, CC; Brendan Smith, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Rylan Schwartz, CC.
Why: Scored both game-winning goals in CC’s sweep of MTU.
Also Nominated: Drew Shore, DU; Aaron Dell, UND; Ben Hanowski, SCSU.

Denver’s Shocking Weekend

Although the Pioneers were picked to finish first in the league this season by an almost unanimous margin, their season start hadn’t been that impressive, splitting two non-conference series.

However, this past weekend against Minnesota, Denver showed why it was picked to finish at the top of the pile. The Pioneers pitched back-to-back shutouts of the Gophers, accomplishing a feat that hadn’t been done since 1930. In the process, coach George Gwozdecky also picked up his 500th career victory (350th at Denver).

“It was a real important weekend for us,” Gwozdecky said. “Anytime [the Gophers] threatened, any time that crowd wanted to get loud, Marc Cheverie was there to slam the door.”

Minnesota’s Ghastly Start

(OK, maybe not ghastly, but again, Halloween week.)

In any case, the Golden Gophers are winless in their first four games (0-3-1), their worst start in 10 years. At times, the team has looked unmotivated and the current strategy for teams looking to beat the Gophers seems to be contain Jordan Schroeder and the rest will be easy.

Coach Don Lucia admits the team is having some problems, but doesn’t seem to be all that worried about the Gophers’ future.

“Obviously, [our struggles are] from the offensive end,” he said. “Defensively, we’ve only given up five even-up goals in four games, so from that standpoint, it’s been a real positive. It’s the offense that’s been a little bit surprising. We were very good on our special teams a year ago and that’s been a cause of our struggles early on this season.

“We’ve obviously played two real good teams to start out and that’s part of it,” he continued. “Both North Dakota and Denver are good penalty killing teams. They have good goaltenders and we’ve made some poor decisions with the puck as far as not taking care of it like we need to and we’ve just got to give it some time, but that’s the fun part; you’ve got to try to figure it out.”

Despite the slow start, Lucia says that motivating his team isn’t hard to do and that as the season progresses, his team will figure it out. The first step, though, will be applying lessons learned during the week to the weekend’s games.

“From an offensive standpoint, some of the things we’ve worked on in practice, [the players] aren’t doing in games so we have to transfer what we’re doing in practice into the game and I think once we start to do that, then we’ll make a step as a team.”

Horrifying Majors

Last Saturday night in Mankato, we saw the Badgers take back-to-back checking-from-behind penalties, one resulting in a game disqualification (and, with that, an automatic game suspension) for freshman Craig Smith.

Checking-from-behind calls aren’t seen often and are taught against by coaches, but occasionally, things happen, particularly early in the season.

“We hadn’t taken penalties like that,” Badgers coach Mike Eaves said. “And the fact that two happened, within five minutes of each other, is really unusual. We do drills along those lines. And, shame on us coaches for not doing that particular drill that we have for that particular situation. But, both players (Smith and Ryan McDonagh) felt terrible, I mean absolutely almost sick to their stomach, because they knew the impact it had on the game. So hey, you know what? Let’s see if we’re intelligent young men, we learned our lesson and moved forward.”

Smith, in particular, was suspended for an extra game by the university and will therefore miss the entire series against New Hampshire.

Match-Ups By the Numbers

Most of the teams get the tricky task of trying to win a hockey game this weekend … except for North Dakota and Colorado College, who get the treat of a bye week.

St. Cloud State @ Michigan Tech
Overall Records: SCSU — 2-2-2 (1-0-1 WCHA). MTU — 1-3-0 (0-2-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: SCSU leads the overall series, 48-25-5.

Alaska-Anchorage @ Minnesota
Overall Records: UAA — 3-3-0 (1-1-0 WCHA). UM — 0-3-1 (0-3-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 46-15-7.

Minnesota State @ Denver
Overall Records: MSU, M — 3-3-0 (1-3-0 WCHA). DU — 4-2-0 (2-0-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 16-13-4.

Wisconsin vs. New Hampshire
Overall Records: UW — 1-2-1 (1-2-1 WCHA). UNH — 2-2-1 (2-0-0 HEA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 14-3-0.

Minnesota-Duluth vs. Clarkson
Overall Records: UMD — 3-2-1 (2-1-1 WCHA). CU — 3-2-0 (0-0-0 ECAC).
Head-to-Head: The overall series is tied, 2-2.

Future WCHA Team Watch

Nebraska-Omaha had a bye last week, so not much has changed in its world. The Mavericks do, however, open up CCHA play with Bowling Green this weekend. Bemidji State, on the other hand, took three of four points from Northern Michigan while up in Marquette. The Beavers stay on the road, traveling to a conference series with Alabama-Huntsville.

BSU: 3-0-1 overall, 0-0-0 vs. WCHA
UNO: 3-0-1 overall, 0-0-0 vs. WCHA

For the Procrastinators

As Halloween is on Saturday, I thought I’d help you out with a couple last minute WCHA-related costume ideas … just in case you’re scrambling to find something.*

• Goldy with a giant fork sticking out of him — perfect for disillusioned Gopher fans and/or Gopher haters (also substitute your team’s mascot if you’re ALREADY convinced your season’s over).

• Your interpretation of an actual Seawolf.

• Find some tinfoil and transform yourself into either the MacNaughton Cup or the Broadmoor Trophy.

• A jelly doughnut … that is, Denver’s logo as of a couple years ago.

• Find a friend, a bald cap and a toupee — go as Frank Mazzocco and Doug Woog.

• Also with a friend — one of you dress up like Bucky Badger and the other as Joe Finley; fight randomly throughout the night.

• Is your favorite player the most penalized on your team? Wear your team’s jersey, stick his name on the back and take some cardboard to make a penalty box around you (also good for Duluth fans in general).

• An old standby — find a referee’s jersey and put the name of your most favored (or, most likely, hated) official on the back. Bonus points if you track down a photo and add facial hair if applicable.

• Find a really snazzy suit in coordinating colors but mismatched textures (example: deep purple diagonally striped tie, a white shirt that’s got some sort of texture to it, pinstriped navy suit) and go as George Gwozdecky (especially good for dressing up at the office tomorrow).

• Your favorite stereotype of any team’s fan base (that is, drunken hick for MTU, UAA, MSU, M and/or SCSU; drunken arrogant prep for UM, just a drunkard for UMD, etc.).

I think that’s a good enough start, although if you’re creative enough, I’m sure you can think of other possibilities on your own (I had a few more, but they weren’t printable).

* The author is not responsible for anything that may happen while wearing one of the above costumes … particularly if it’s actually at a game this Saturday.

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