This Week in the WCHA: Nov. 19, 2009

I think I’m going to start using this area as the number of points which separate first and 10 in the league given this year is going to undoubtedly be as close as last year.

Right now that number is 10. League leader Colorado College has 13 points while last place Minnesota State has only three.

Red Baron WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Justin Fontaine, UMD.
Why: Scored five points in the Bulldogs split with Michigan Tech, including four goals in Saturday’s 8-1 victory.
Also Nominated: David Toews, UND; Ryan Lasch, SCSU; Ben Street, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Dan Dunn, SCSU.
Why: Made a career-high 47 saves to help his Huskies beat North Dakota Saturday and earn the weekend split.
Also Nominated: Nate Prosser, CC; Brady Lamb, UMD; Brad Eidsness, UND; Cody Golubef, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Joe Howe, CC.
Why: Stopped 59 of 62 shots and earned his first collegiate shut-out to help his Tigers sweep Minnesota State.
Also Nominated: Craig Smith, UW.

The Case of Pioneers v. Fighting Sioux

This weekend’s series between No. 2 North Dakota and No. 3 Denver should be one of the marquee match-ups for the weekend and, indeed, probably still will be. However, I can’t help but think that the injuries plaguing both teams might dull a bit of the luster this series has. On the flip side, however, said injuries might make this series that much more interesting.

The Fighting Sioux are without senior captain Chay Genoway, out indefinitely thanks to a hit from behind by SCSU’s Aaron Marvin.

At the Sioux’s weekly press conference, coach Dave Hakstol refused to talk about Genoway, particularly in regard to his status.

“[There’s] no change from what I said after the game [Saturday] night,” he said. “I don’t mean to be difficult, but that’s the simple fact; that’s where we’re at.”

The Pioneers, on the other hand, have two big variables in sophomore defenseman Patrick Wiercioch and junior goaltender Marc Cheverie. Wiercioch sprained his medial collateral ligament in his right knee against Anchorage and his return is uncertain. From the sounds of things, Wiercioch could possibly play, but it appears the Pioneers don’t want to rush his return, according to the Denver Post‘s Mike Chambers.

Cheverie, on the other hand, could be the team’s wild card. As you probably know by now, Cheverie has been out for what will be three weeks this weekend with an injured leg, thanks to being sliced by a skate a few weeks ago against Minnesota State. Most prognoses had him coming back in four weeks; Cheverie himself wanted to be back in three, for this series.

From Chambers’ blog:

“Chevy … told me he feels 100 percent and is good to go. … DU coach George Gwozdecky said team doctors remain in control and will continue to monitor the wound after each practice. “Once they clear him to play, it will be in our hands,” Gwoz said. Translation: If the doctors clear him to play, he will play.”

Denver will have freshman defenseman Matt Donovan back, though. Donovan didn’t practice last week thanks to a broken finger, but, according to Chambers, is ready to go for this weekend.

Regardless of the injury X-factors, the series should be at the very least interesting, given the history between these two teams, particularly over the last few years.

“Two things make this an interesting series,” Gwozdecky told the Post. “First, we’re playing against a longtime rival. Secondly, they’re two points ahead of us [in the WCHA] and they have a terrific team.”

The series might also have future repercussions down the road in the season, but the teams aren’t trying to focus on that aspect.

“It’s about one weekend,” said Hakstol. “We don’t want to be too ominous about what this weekend is about. It’s going to be two good teams going at it very hard, I can tell you that. It’ll be great college hockey. Where it will all shake out as far as important weekends as we get to mid-, late-March, I guess we’ll have to see.”

When it comes to this series, I think Denver’s Rhett Rakhshani probably phrased it best in a clip that’s on DU’s Web site that was undoubtedly filmed before the season:

“Crimson Creatures, Pioneer Nation, or just your Denver fanatic: Please join us Nov. 20 and 21 as we take on the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, or whatever name they might have for this upcoming season. It’s going to be a fun weekend filled with great hockey, great skill and competitiveness, and maybe if you’re lucky, our coach will walk across the ice to the penalty box. Hope to see you guys there on the 20th and 21st.”

Around the WCHA

UAA: The Wisconsin State Journal‘s Andy Baggot had an interesting quote from Seawolves coach Dave Shyiak regarding the officiating in this past weekend’s series between the two teams. The Seawolves had 24 penalties for 51 minutes over the weekend, and, in general, five WCHA teams are in the top 10 nationally when it comes to penalty minutes.

“Personally, I really struggle with the way the game is being called in this era,” Shyiak said after Saturday’s game. “I don’t think it’s good for the fans. I don’t think it’s good for the players.

“It’s not the [officials’] fault. They’re being told to officiate this way. I guess the best [way] to describe it is [the officials] are on egg shells because hits along the boards, contact to the head, every little thing is being called. In my opinion, it’s taken away from the beauty of the game.”

CC: The Tigers keep rolling, as evidenced by their first-place standing in the conference as well as their No. 7 ranking in the polls. Coach Scott Owens is happy, but knows that tougher times are still ahead.

“It’s good for confidence and it’s good to get some recognition nationally,” he told the Colorado Springs Gazette, “but it doesn’t really matter at all. What counts is the RPI and PairWise in mid-January.”

He also stressed the need for those crucial league points, as the difficulty of the Tigers’ schedule goes to 11 after the holiday break, when the team sees Duluth, North Dakota and Minnesota for the first time as well as Wisconsin and Denver for Round 2.

UM: Remember how last week we talked about the Gophers’ abysmal power play? Well, things are improving in that respect for Minnesota — the team scored two power play goals each night, making the team now 6-for-48 on the PP and tied for 45th in the country (as opposed to the 56th they were last week).

“We weren’t doing so well on the PP and now we are kind of clicking,” sophomore Jordan Schroeder told the Star Tribune after Sunday’s game. “It’s a positive thing to take out of the game tonight. Definitely we have some other things to work on and move forward.”

MSU, M: The Mavericks unveiled a new, third jersey Saturday night against CC that have a retro-type look as well as a patch honoring 40 years of Maverick hockey. Head over to Shane Frederick’s blog for a picture.

Match-Ups By the Numbers

Colorado College gets the non-conference opponent this week while Michigan Tech gets to rest up.

#15 Wisconsin @ St. Cloud State
Overall Records: UW — 6-3-1 (4-3-1 WCHA). SCSU — 4-4-2 (3-2-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 40-24-8.

#2 North Dakota @ #3 Denver
Overall Records: UND — 7-2-1 (5-2-1 WCHA). DU — 6-3-1 (4-1-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 129-110-8.

Minnesota State @ Alaska-Anchorage
Overall Records: MSU, M — 3-6-1 (1-6-1 WCHA). UAA — 4-8-0 (2-6-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: MSU, M leads the overall series, 30-19-6.

#20 Minnesota-Duluth @ Minnesota
Overall Records: UMD — 7-4-1 (4-3-1 WCHA). UM — 4-5-1 (3-4-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 127-68-13.

#7 Colorado College vs. Robert Morris
Overall Records: CC — 7-2-1 (6-1-1 WCHA). RMU — 3-6-1 (1-2-1 CHA).
Head-to-Head: This will be the first meeting between the two teams.

Future WCHA Team Watch

Bemidji State split with in-state and future conference foe Minnesota last weekend and hosts current conference opponent Alabama-Huntsville this weekend. Nebraska-Omaha split with Lake Superior State and travels to the U.P. to play former WCHA member Northern Michigan this weekend.

#8 BSU: 8-1-1 overall, 1-1-0 vs. WCHA
#12 UNO: 5-2-3 overall, 0-0-0 vs. WCHA

It should also be mentioned that BSU’s win over Minnesota was its first ever over the Gophers, and a big win in terms of the program, according to Beavers coach Tom Serratore.

“It’s a monumental win,” he said after Sunday’s 6-2 victory. “This is Minnesota pride on ice. It’s a great program. Any time you can win in this building you take it. It’s a very difficult place to play.”

It’s Apparently Never Too Early

Here we are in November and already people are thinking of March and, more specifically, April.

First at SiouxSports.com and now here at USCHO and a few other places, the PairWise Rankings, usually not out until late January/early February, has already made its first appearance.

If we played the NCAA tournament now and said screw you to the conference tournaments, taking just the top 16 teams, we’d see five WCHA squads — UND (fifth in the uber-early PWR), CC (seventh), UW (eighth), Denver (10th) and UMD (12th).

Silly me, I thought seeing Starbucks and the malls put out their Christmas decorations this past Tuesday was way too early. On this time frame, they’re late … which is a scary thought.

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