This Week in the NCHA/MCHA: Nov. 19, 2009

Another week brings another installment of the USCHO.com Division III men’s poll and in what is, as usual, no real shock, NCHA teams are all over the place.

Five in all grace this week’s edition, and once again St. Norbert is most newsworthy. The Green Knights two game sweep over the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point not only kept them in the top spot, but in the process they also sucked all the first place votes away from Plattsburgh and Oswego, neither of which lost last weekend. The Green Knights now lay claim to 16 of the 20 top tallies.

Two of the first place votes not going to St. Norbert were claimed by Adrian, and the Bulldogs remain in the five spot following a weekend sweep of Northland.

A three point weekend kicked UW-River Falls up two spots to sixth, and St. Scholastica, Stout and Superior fall into Nos. 8, 9, and 14, respectively. Interestingly, St. Scholastica’s two spot jump was enough to leapfrog Stout even though the two played to a pair of draws last week.

This is the second week in a row that three MCHA teams have received votes, but after a 0-2 weekend the Milwaukee School of Engineering is no longer one of them. With two wins over those same Raiders, Marian snuck in with three tallies and in the process became the fourth MCHA team to receive votes this season. Lawrence lost to Superior but picked up a single vote and is still hanging on.

What does all this mean? Not much, but it’s pretty impressive that 10 of the 15 NCHA and MCHA teams have received votes at some point this season.

Objects In Your Mirror…

One glance at the MCHA standings and everything looks pretty much in order. Adrian is undefeated and at the top while the five teams (Lawrence, Lake Forest, MSOE, Finlandia and Marian) that follow are those that were expected to battle it out for second through sixth this season.

A second glance, however, reveals one peculiarity: Marian is 2-2 and tied for fifth with Finlandia. Marian was picked second in the preseason coaches’ poll so seeing it in the bottom half the league is a little surprising…or is it?

The Sabres were roughed up in Adrian on opening weekend and came out on the short end of 4-1 and 9-1 drubbings. So while the 0-2 start wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, losing to Adrian early isn’t a relative setback considering the Bulldogs have yet to be beaten by any other MCHA team.

“It gave us an idea of where we were at and what we needed to work on,” said head coach Jasen Wise. “Any time you play Adrian it’s a great measuring stick to see where you’re as far as the national radar goes. If you have weaknesses they will expose them.”

Things didn’t get much easier for the Sabres last weekend as they faced a home-and-home series with MSOE, the preseason fourth place selection by the MCHA coaches.

When the weekend concluded, the Sabres had scored 3-1 and 4-3 wins. Wise was especially pleased considering MSOE took three of four in the series last year and, like Marian, is expected to be in the hunt for playoff home ice. It was the first weekend sweep over MSOE by Marian since January of 2008.

On Friday, the Sabres were outshot 26-11 through two periods but tallied twice in the third period to break a 1-1 deadlock and score the 3-1 win. A bit more experienced than they have been the past few years, Wise thinks it paid off late in Friday’s contest.

“I don’t know if we would have won it last year,” Wise said. “Based on last year [MSOE] probably would have won that. It’s definitely not the way we want to start out a game. They outplayed us for the first period and a half to two periods.”

Saturday was a different story as the Sabres tallied three times in the opening 10 minutes and led 3-1 after the first period. They extended the lead to 4-1 midway through the second and held on for the 4-3 win.

“We didn’t change anything from a tactical standpoint,” Wise said. “We just talked about coming out and matching the third period intensity from Friday’s game. We ended things well on Friday and we wanted to carry that over.”

A bright spot on the weekend was the play of freshman netminder Alex Bjerk. He turned back 62 of 66 spots on the weekend, and performed admirably all season.

“He’s played excellent. I thought we hung him out to dry a little bit in the second game with Adrian. We didn’t help him out at all in that game, but aside from that he’s kept us in some games. His job is to give us an opportunity to win and he’s done that,” Wise said.

While the Sabres stand at 2-2, there is no doubt they aren’t flying under the radar on anyone in the MCHA. Adrian and MSOE are two of the top teams in the league and Marian will not see either again in the regular season.

“In a way it’s kind of nice. The big thing is that we got the sweep over MSOE. It would have been nice to get at least a split with Adrian, but any time you face teams like [MSOE and Adrian] you have to prepare all week for them. You better be on your game and do everything well in order to get the win.”

Up next, Marian hosts a two game set with aforementioned Finlandia, who also stands at 2-2 in MCHA play. The Sabres went 4-0 against the Lions a year ago.

“They are big games and we have to beat them,” Wise said. “If we want playoff home ice and want to compete for a conference title we have to win games at home. It’s a great opportunity to play them at home and try to get the two wins.”

Sorry, Stout

If one were to look at the Fan Forum this week, it is obvious one of the hot topics is what went down near the end of last Saturday’s Stout-St. Scholastica game in Duluth. For those who are not yet aware, here are the basics of it:

In the final minute of overtime in a 1-1 game, Stout forward Joel Gaulrapp and St. Scholastica goaltender Zach Kleiman made contact. Both hit the ice, and as Gaulrapp and Kleiman both got up and struggle to rejoin the play, the Blue Devils hold the zone at the near left point and ultimately work the puck to forward Derek Hanson in the low slot. Hanson patiently waits and beats Kleiman short side to give Stout the 2-1 conference win. Or not.

The Stout celebration ensued and the Blue Devils lined up for the postgame handshake, but citing possible goaltender interference the goal was nearly immediately protested by the Saints.

After a lengthy meeting with the Saints’ bench, and with both coaches standing at center ice, the officials had about a two minute conference of their own near the scorer’s table. The ultimate decision? Man in the crease, no goal. The final 44.7 seconds of overtime played out and the game ended in a 1-1 tie.

As expected, everyone has an opinion of what went down, and as usual those opinions often seem to hinge on which team one happens to support. The difference between the usual issues with officiating and this instance, however, is that video of the “incident” has been posted publicly.

If you haven’t seen it, here it is. Video is courtesy of Stout radio broadcaster Matt Kaskavitch.

UW-Stout’s Overtime Goal At CSS (Called Back) from Matthew Kaskavitch on Vimeo.

Well, what does everyone think? I was at this game, and regardless of what side of the fence one falls on here, two main issues arise with the call. The first is whether it was even the correct call and the second is the image portrayed by the long delay between the goal itself and the eventual ruling. I have my opinions on each, but as it’s a moot point now I shall let you all draw your own conclusions.

Did I say it’s moot? Why yes I did. Despite some fans believing that Stout might be able to protest and retroactively be awarded a point for the win, I’m here to tell you that’s not going to happen.

There is no existing NCHA bylaw that allows for a game to be formally protested, and the concept of a protest is succinctly addressed in the 2008-10 NCAA Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey Rules and Interpretations.

Rule 6 — Section 39

Section 39. Protests are not recognized or allowed.

It can’t get much simpler than that, so while the merits and procedure of the call itself will no doubt continue to be discussed, the fact of the matter is that the game was a tie and will remain so. It’s certainly conceivable the league could issue a statement admitting an improper call was made, but no matter what happens to that end, the outcome of the game will not be changed.

For better or worse, perhaps, but it means that at this point the only thing the Blue Devils can do is prepare for this weekend’s home series against Stevens Point.

Missing the Point?

Speaking of the Pointers, they are thus far an example of how playing in the deepest league in the nation can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the league is as high profile as it gets in Division III, but on the other there are no easy games.

Through the first month of the season, the Pointers’ strong core group of returning players and a highly touted recruiting class have yet to pay dividends when it comes to the win column.

“Obviously it wasn’t the start we were looking for but it is what it is. It’s where we are at right now but we have to get out of it,” said head coach Wil Nichol of his tea’s 2-5 start.

The Pointers defeated Northland and Bethel in non-conference action and suffered a non-league setback at the hands of Hamline. Of more consequence is that Stevens Point has been swept in both NCHA series it has played this year, falling 4-2 and 2-1 to St. Scholastica at home three weeks ago and dropping 9-3 and 2-0 decisions at league-leading St. Norbert last weekend. The Pointers are the only team in the NCHA without a point this season.

“We don’t talk about being 0-4, we talk about 14 league games being left and there are plenty of points there to go get,” Nichol said.

“As a coaching staff we’ve seen it all. We’ve seen a Friday night at St. Norbert’s where we didn’t do a lot right. We’ve seen a couple losses where we feel a bounce of the puck goes the other way and we get a win.”

The Pointers’ roster features 19 underclassmen and though Nichol has been relatively pleased with their overall level of play, the inexperience has shone through at times — non more than last Friday at St. Norbert.

Trailing by only one entering the final period, the Pointers conceded five third period power-play goals, two of them coming with the Green Knights playing with a five-on-three advantage.

“You can’t keep going to the well. It’s just something we can’t do. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot, be it with penalties or with turnovers,” he said.

Stevens Point is currently averaging 28.4 penalty minutes in the game, second most in the NCHA.

“We don’t help ourselves when we take undisciplined penalties. We adjusted last weekend from Friday to Saturday, not just with the penalties but also on the penalty kill,” Nichol said.

In the 2-0 loss on Saturday, the Pointers held the Green Knights scoreless on six chances with the extra man.

Stevens Point could realistically be facing a 0-6 start in conference play as this week they must hit the road for a series at Stout, and Dunn County Arena has been a house of horrors for the Pointers over the past few seasons.

They are 1-7-0 at Dunn over the past four seasons, and are 1-10-1 overall against the Blue Devils over that same span. Nonetheless, Nichol remains upbeat.

“We’re not trying to focus on what’s happened other than to learn from it, rather we are trying to focus on a very good Stout team,” he said.

“We have 19 freshman and sophomores who don’t know about that and don’t care about that. Stout has a very good team right now and always plays well in their rink so our focus is simply to go in there and do anything and everything we can to get a win on Friday night.”

The Pointers were a popular dark horse pick in the NCHA this season, but if they want to play that role they will need to avoid falling into too deep of a hole.

“I’m proud of our guys, whether it’s the freshman or our seniors. I think the young guys are finding out what every player who is new to this league finds out, and that’s that this is the best league in Division III hockey,” Nichol said.

“This is the best of the best and they’ve found that out by playing two excellent teams [St. Norbert and St. Scholastica] right out of the gate.”

Truly, there is no better way to gain experience than trial by fire, and though the losses thus far have been tough to stomach, Nichol no less views them as invaluable learning experiences that he hopes will pay dividends sooner rather than later.

“Life is about choices and that’s what we’ve talked to our guys about,” he said. “How we handle this right now is our choice and it’s a life lesson. The world has kind of knocked us down to our knees, but we’ve got to get up together. If we’re able to get up and get through this together, it’s one of those things that can really unify a team and a program.

“I hate to lose more than anybody, but everything happens for a reason and this is a test for us.”

Tasty Travels

Before delving into this week’s culinary goodness, something was brought to my attention so I need to clarify. I originally stated establishments would be rated on a 1-5 puck scale, but when handing Luigi’s a 3.5 puck rating a week ago I was thinking four was the max. As a result, it’s going to remain at 1-4. Consider a rough guide this:

1: Poor
2: Decent
3: Very Good
4: Absolutely Outstanding

Ok, with that out of the way, this weekend brings us to Anchor Bar and Grill in Superior, Wisconsin. Located at 413 Tower Ave. on Superior’s north end at the southern tip of the Blatnik Bridge, Anchor has long been a favorite of Superior locals and in-the-know visitors alike.

The dimly lit tavern offers the expected (well, if you’re from Wisconsin): a bar and some tables. The décor is almost exclusively maritime themed, and the odd collection of nets, gyroscopes and vintage ship signs fits the image of the Twin Ports perfectly.

As far as the food, Anchor is known as having one of the best bar burgers around. As a result, I had to bypass the one pound “Gallybuster” and dial up the signature 2/3 lb. Anchor staple: the Anchor Burger.

Like the establishment itself, there was nothing fancy about this burger. A two-patty burger with cheese, lettuce and tomato, its simplicity need not be mistaken for a lack of quality. The thing is darn good and it’s tough to even figure out why. Because of that, it’s not even worth trying to figure out; it’s only worth eating.

Anchor offers up a variety of burgers for those with different tastes, but it’s a stop I recommend. The service was not the most impressive and sure it isn’t coal-fired steak, but that’s not what Anchor is about. It’s about serving a good bar burger and in that regard it’s awfully tough to top.
Also economical, the 2/3lb namesake, fries and a 34 oz. Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest ran me all of $9. Nothing to shake a stick at! A slight ratings ding for the service, but it’s easy to understand that when locals want a bar burger there’s a reason they flock to Anchor.

Anchor Bar and Grill receives: 3.0 pucks.

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