This Week in the WCHA: Dec. 3, 2009

Hope your Thanksgiving went well and you didn’t overstuff yourself. Also hope that the leftovers are slowly being expunged from your fridges (almost gone over here …).

The point spread between first and last in the league jumped up a bit to 11 (15 points for the two Colorado schools sharing first and four for Tech).

Red Baron WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Co-Offensive Players of the Week: Zach Harrison, MSU; Derek Stepan, UW.
Why: Harrison scored five points (2 goals, 3 assists) in his Mavericks’ sweep of Michigan Tech. Stepan had a six-point weekend in the College Hockey Showcase (2 goals, 4 assists), five of which came in the Badgers’ victory over Michigan State.
Also Nominated: Stephen Schultz, CC; Jesse Martin, DU; Danny Kristo, UND.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Brendan Smith, UW.
Why: Scored four points (2 goals, 2 assists) and helped the Badgers limit their opponents to two-even strength goals during the College Hockey Showcase.
Also Nominated: Joe Howe, CC; Kent Patterson, UM; Ben Youds, MSU; Brad Malone, UND.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Danny Kristo, UND.
Why: Scored four points (3 goals, 1 assist) in the Subway Holiday Classic, earning most valuable player honors as his Sioux beat Ohio State and tied Miami.
Also Nominated: William Rapuzzi, CC; Chris Knowlton, DU; Austin Lee, MSU; David Eddy, SCSU.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving …

… at least when it comes to St. Cloud State. The Huskies are a team currently in the league’s muddled middle, sitting in a three-way tie for fourth along with North Dakota and Wisconsin at 5-4-1. Overall, they’re 6-6-2. Just by looking at those stats, one might think the Huskies are a mediocre team.

One would be wrong. Before their series with the Fighting Sioux three weeks ago, Sioux coach Dave Hakstol said the Huskies were a better team than what their record indicated. Watching the Huskies against Denver last Friday night (their loss in the split weekend), I would have to agree. The Huskies are a fast team with obvious talent (guys like Ryan Lasch and Garrett Roe come to mind), with up-and-coming goaltending in Mike Lee and Dan Dunn.

So, what’s the reason for the record? First of all, one can partly blame the Huskies’ schedule.

“We’ve had a pretty tough schedule,” said coach Bob Motzko. “We’re on a stretch right now of two home games in six weeks and playing all the best teams and it started with Miami.”

Along with the RedHawks, the current No. 1 team in the nation, the Huskies have also faced Minnesota-Duluth (No. 12), North Dakota (No. 3), Wisconsin (No. 16) and Denver (No. 2), as well as Union and Michigan Tech.

Another factor possibly determining the Huskies’ record is their lack of definability.

“We’re not an old team, we’re not a young team; we’re the team in transition,” Motzko said.

However, Motzko has seen enough out of his team to be optimistic for the rest of the season.

“We’re getting better, we’re hanging right in there,” he said. “If we can continue to get better [and] crawl through this, I like us the second half of the year.”

Around the WCHA

We’re starting to get the preliminary results of players who have been invited to camps for the World Junior Championship, and the WCHA has quite a few among its current and future players. Current players are: Matt Donovan (DU; USA), Jake Gardiner (UW; USA), Danny Kristo (UND; USA), Mike Lee (SCSU; USA), Dylan Olsen (UMD; CAN), John Ramage (UW; USA), Jordan Schroeder (UM; USA), Derek Stepan (UW; USA) and Patrick Wiercioch (DU; CAN).

CC: Just like the Mavericks, the Tigers have also debuted new jerseys this season. Pardon the bad photo; I took it at the game way high up in the World Arena press box and I haven’t been able to find a better shot yet. You can also find a rendered version of it here.

MTU: An interesting thing to note is that the Huskies are the only team in the league who have not yet played an overtime game. This is interesting, given that Tech tied the WCHA record for most ties in a season last year with seven.

UM: The Gophers received some welcome news this week: Freshman defenseman Nick Leddy, who suffered a broken jaw against Alaska-Anchorage at the end of October, might be cleared to play this weekend against Minnesota State.

UND: Though the return of senior defenseman and captain Chay Genoway’s status is still uncertain, it appears as if the Sioux are finally starting to adjust to life after Chay, according to a comment on Grand Forks Herald writer Brad Schlossman’s blog: “One of the subjects of discussion in the press box was that UND finally seems to be used to playing without Genoway. It took a while to adjust, but the Sioux played solid hockey against two good teams this weekend.”

The team itself hasn’t commented as such, but Hakstol mentioned a return to normality, at least where practice is concerned, in Saturday’s post-game interview.

“I thought we took a real good step back to where we need to be this week,” he said. “Honestly, most importantly, the last six days we got back to playing and practicing like we expect.”

Match-Ups By the Numbers

We’ve got all 10 WCHA teams in action against each other for the second time (of five) all year. This is also the last time we hear from UAA until January — it gets the rest of the month off.

#3 North Dakota @ #12 Minnesota-Duluth
Overall Records: UND — 8-4-2 (5-4-1 WCHA). UMD — 9-4-1 (6-3-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 128-72-9. (or 125-69-8, depending on whom you ask).
Notes: The series features the two WCHA champions from last season (UND was the regular season champion and UMD was the playoff champion).

#2 Denver and #6 Colorado College Home and Home
Overall Records: DU — 9-4-1 (7-2-1 WCHA). CC — 10-3-1 (7-2-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 152-106-13.
Notes: CC has lost once in the last 13 games between these two teams (7-1-5). … DU has not won since Nov. 24, 2007. … The series is also a battle for first place in the league.

Minnesota State and Minnesota Home and Home
Overall Records: MSU — 6-7-1 (4-7-1 WCHA). UM — 5-8-1 (3-6-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 28-5-6.
Notes: MSU has won only twice at Mariucci. … In the last 14 meetings, the teams have played seven one-goal games and have had tied twice.

Michigan Tech @ #16 Wisconsin
Overall Records: MTU — 3-9-0 (2-8-0 WCHA). UW — 8-5-1 (5-4-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 91-48-9.
Notes: The two teams have never tied at the Kohl Center. … MTU was the first WCHA team to win at the Kohl.

#20 St. Cloud State @ Alaska-Anchorage
Overall Records: SCSU — 6-6-2 (5-4-1 WCHA). UAA — 6-10-0 (4-8-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: SCSU leads the overall series, 44-13-5.
Notes: UAA has won only once in the last 10 meetings, which was the last time these two teams met. … The Seawolves haven’t swept the Huskies since 1988. … The last nine UAA victories have been in Anchorage.

Future WCHA Team Watch

The BSU Beavers proved their worth last Friday, beating the (still) No. 1 team in the country in Miami before losing to Ohio State in overtime at the Subway Holiday Classic. Bemidji next faces Niagara at home. Nebraska-Omaha swept Western Michigan and travels to Ferris State this weekend.

#5 BSU: 11-2-1 overall, 1-1-0 vs. WCHA
#18 UNO: 7-4-3 overall, 0-0-0 vs. WCHA

It’s Too Early … Wait …

… I probably shouldn’t be saying that anymore as we’re nearing the holiday break and the midway point of the season.

In any case, while we may not want to think about the PairWise yet, we might want to get our mid-March plans down, as tickets for the WCHA Red Baron Final Five go on sale Monday. For those of you who typically wait until your team does or doesn’t make it, I would advise go. Go anyway. For those of you outside Minnesota (and even the Twin Cities), I understand it’s a haul (trust me, I drive out every year — it’s a long 13 hours), but the atmosphere is totally worth it.

Besides, at heart, aren’t we all (WCHA) (college) hockey fans anyway?

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