This Week in the WCHA: Nov. 5, 2009

Well, we’re three weeks in and the two Colorado schools are leading the pack, with CC being the relative surprise.

Red Baron WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Tony Lucia, UM.
Why: Scored five points (3g, 2a) including two shorthanded goals, to help his Gophers sweep Alaska-Anchorage.
Also Nominated: Jesse Martin, DU; Rob Bordson, UMD; Brendan Smith, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Brendan Smith, UW.
Why: Had strong play on both ends of the ice, including picking up four assists, a plus-3 rating and four blocked shots to help his Badgers sweep New Hampshire.
Also Nominated: Patrick Wiercioch, DU; Alex Kangas, UM.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: John Ramage, UW.
Why: Scored two goals and had one assist to help his Badgers sweep UNH.
Also Nominated: Adam Murray, DU; Eriah Hayes, MSU, M.

Paging a Doctor to the Locker Room

Two weeks ago, I touched briefly on Alaska-Anchorage’s injury situation. While fairly grim for Seawolf fans, it’s nothing compared to what some of the other teams are facing around the league.

Here are a few of the many instances of teams who have been hit by injuries, going alphabetically by team.

Alaska Anchorage: As mentioned earlier and more extensively discussed in an earlier column, the Seawolves started the season without seniors Nils Backstrom and Trevor Hunt and lost junior Luka Vidmar as well.

Colorado College: The Tigers have had several injured players this season. Senior Mike Testwuide missed time with a concussion, freshman William Rapuzzi suffered a lower-body injury that kept him on crutches for a while and senior Dan Quilico is out with a sprained wrist.

The worst injury for the squad, however, for a myriad of reasons, has to be losing senior Andreas Vlassopoulos to a season- and most likely career-ending knee injury. Vlassopoulos, if you recall, also sat out the 2005-06 season, also due to a knee injury and one that caused over a year of rehabilitation.

Denver: The Pioneers briefly lost sophomore Joe Colborne to a broken index finger, but, more importantly, are currently without junior goaltender Marc Cheverie. Cheverie sustained a deep gash to his left leg in Friday’s game against Mankato and is expected to be out for several weeks.

Michigan Tech: Compared to last year, Tech’s gotten off easy.

Minnesota: While Cheverie going down hurts Denver, it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as the two major injuries the Gophers have had — freshman Nick Leddy and senior Jay Barriball.

Leddy went down last weekend against Anchorage thanks to an arm to his head in what, to coach Don Lucia, first appeared to be a legal, clean, open-ice hit. While there is some controversy over that now, the fact remains that Leddy’s jaw was broken and he’ll be out most likely until after the Christmas break.

Barriball, on the other hand, is done for the year, after bumping knees with someone in practice this past Tuesday. His loss hurts the Gophers tremendously as he’s currently tied for second in the team’s scoring lead and was third last year behind Ryan Stoa and Jordan Schroeder. Barriball is eligible for a medical redshirt, however, so we’ll probably see him again next year.

Minnesota State: Senior Geoff Irwin is out due to an upper-body injury sustained two weeks ago against Wisconsin and several other players, including freshman Tyler Pitlick, have also sat time out due to injury.

Minnesota-Duluth: The Bulldogs lost second-leading scorer, junior Justin Fontaine, to an upper-body injury late in Friday’s game against Clarkson. Fontaine joined sophomores Scott Kishel (concussion) and Travis Oleksuk (knee sprain) on the injured list.

North Dakota: If the Sioux have had large injuries, coach Dave Hakstol hasn’t been saying anything. In the Sioux’s weekly press conference last Wednesday, Hakstol talked about a few injured players, but didn’t mention any names.

St. Cloud State: The Huskies have had a few injuries (freshman David Eddy, sprained ankle; sophomore Sam Zabkowicz, headaches; sophomore Travis Novak, bruised shoulder), but are looking good compared to the rest of the league.

Wisconsin: The Badgers have seemed to have been blessed so far, as I couldn’t track down an injury for them.

Diving Right In

Despite it still being technically early in the season (and trust me, I hate sounding like a broken record), several of the freshmen around the league have gotten off to great starts, jumping right into the fire and performing admirably.

On five of the 10 teams, at least one freshman (and, in the Mavericks’ case, two) is top-three in team scoring and five teams also have given freshman goaltenders extensive playing time.

I talked a little about CC’s freshman goaltender Joe Howe a few weeks ago so I won’t regurgitate that information here, but also worth noting is Rylan Schwartz, third on the team with seven points.

Denver is stacked pretty deep offensively, but the Pioneers have seen good things out of several of their freshmen, most notably defenseman Matt Donovan and forward Drew Shore. However, they’ve also seen flashes of brilliance from goaltender Adam Murray — and will need to see more now that he’s been propelled into the No. 1 position due to Cheverie’s injury.

“I think he’s doing a nice job [so far],” said DU coach George Gwozdecky. “We’re happy with his progress.”

For Michigan Tech, defenseman Steven Seigo has made an immediate impact.

“He’s doing well,” said coach Jamie Russell. “Our freshmen had high expectations for coming in and he’s starting to make progress on the defensive side of the puck.”

The Huskies are also platooning a rookie netminder in Kevin Genoe.

“There’s a question for freshmen goalies whether they can start back-to-back games at this level,” said Russell, referring to the SCSU series, “and he answered the question well.”

The Mavericks are also platooning a freshman goaltender in Kevin Murdock and have had two standouts offensively in the form of Eriah Hayes and Tyler Pitlick.

“I’ve been very pleased,” said coach Troy Jutting. “I’m surprised at how early they’ve been able to contribute to our team … how quickly they’ve been able to do it and, more with Tyler, being that he just turned 18 on Sunday. [He was] a 17-year-old kid for his first four series of college hockey and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how fast he’s been able to contribute.”

St. Cloud State has perhaps the smallest freshman class out of everyone, with only four players, one of whom has missed the entire season thus far thanks to a sprained ankle), but his classmates have been shining through, starting with goaltender Mike Lee.

“Mike Lee has just been outstanding for us. We’ve only got eight games under our belt and he’s played five of the eight games and given us a chance to win every game. He’s got excellent numbers,” said coach Bob Motzko. “He’s been everything that we’ve hoped for and we just keep giving him games right now and give him experience and we’re very pleased with [him].”

While defenseman Taylor Johnson has just cracked the line-up, Motzko is pleased what he’s seen out of forward Ben Hanowski.

“Ben Hanowski has been a real nice addition to our forward group … and just keeps growing and getting better,” said Motzko. “He’s been showing signs of rapid improvement every day and it looks like he’s got a chance to be a real offensive threat for us in the future.”

The last freshman who has cracked the top three in team scoring on his respective team is Wisconsin’s John Ramage, the current league rookie of the week.

Match-Ups By the Numbers

The two “States” — Minnesota and St. Cloud — get the weekend off.

North Dakota @ Michigan Tech
Overall Records: UND — 4-1-1 (2-1-1 WCHA). MTU — 2-4-0 (1-3-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 136-89-8.

Denver @ Alaska Anchorage
Overall Records: DU — 5-2-1 (3-0-1 WCHA). UAA — 3-5-0 (1-3-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 39-14-5.

Minnesota @ Wisconsin
Overall Records: UM — 2-3-1 (2-3-1 WCHA). UW — 3-2-1 (1-2-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 150-81-18.

Minnesota-Duluth @ Colorado College
Overall Records: UMD — 5-2-1 (2-1-1 WCHA). CC — 4-1-1 (3-0-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: CC leads the overall series, 81-74-6.

Future WCHA Team Watch

Bemidji State took two 2-1 overtime games from Alabama-Huntsville last weekend to remain undefeated and host Robert Morris this weekend. Nebraska-Omaha, which cracked the top 10 this week at No. 10, took four of six points from Bowling Green — losing in a controversial shootout on Friday — and travel to play Michigan State this weekend.

BSU: 5-0-1 overall, 0-0-0 vs. WCHA
UNO: 4-0-2 overall, 0-0-0 vs. WCHA

Again With the Early, But …

Last year at this time, Michigan Tech was in an identical boat, with a 2-4 overall record, 1-3 in conference. However, the Huskies were facing a lot of injuries, particularly one to Malcolm Gwilliam.

Even though this season’s incarnation of the Huskies has the same record, things appear to be looking up. Gwilliam has five goals in six games and Russell is optimistic.

“We’re a young team, but I’m happy with our progress,” he said.

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