This Week in the WCHA: Jan. 14, 2010

The league race is getting clearer at the same time it’s getting even more muddled. The gap between first and last (Denver, 23 points and Michigan Tech, four points) is as large as ever. However, the race for home ice is as tight as ever. Behold:

Denver, 23 points
Minnesota-Duluth, 21 points
St. Cloud State, 20 points
Colorado College, 19 points
North Dakota, 18 points
Wisconsin, 18 points

Minnesota (13 points), Minnesota State (11 points) and Alaska-Anchorage (nine points) aren’t even completely out of it yet, though it’s starting to look worse for them each week.

Red Baron WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Co-Offensive Players of the Week: Mike Connolly, UMD; Jason Gregoire, UND.
Why: Connolly scored five points (two goals, three assists) to help his Bulldogs sweep Colorado College. Gregoire scored four goals (two each night) to help his Sioux sweep Minnesota State.
Also Nominated: Tyler Ruegsegger, DU; Nick Larson, UM; Garrett Roe, SCSU.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Garrett Raboin, SCSU.
Why: Was a defensive force in the Huskies’ sweep of Michigan Tech, leading his team on special teams.
Also Nominated: Patrick Wiercioch, DU; Kenny Reiter, UMD; Derrick LaPoint, UND.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Corban Knight, UND.
Why: Scored two goals in the Sioux’s Friday victory over Minnesota State, before suffering an injury that kept him out of Saturday’s contest.
Also Nominated: No one.

Mythical Enemies

OK, so I doubt the mythical Seawolf actually had any encounters with Pioneers (particularly those Denver’s mascot is based on).

However, after two hard-fought games in Denver last weekend, the two teams started brawling at the end of Saturday’s contest, a 3-2 DU victory. While I wasn’t there and I can’t seem to find a video of the event (YouTube fails me. There’s one video of the brawl and you can’t tell that anything is going on), I’m presuming that the emotions from a tough series boiled over (as they often do).

That, and I noticed players jawing at each other during faceoffs and breaks in action during pretty much the entire game on Friday.

Anyway, several scrums broke out on the ice, players left the benches to join in on the fun and, long story short, the two teams combined for 103 minutes in penalties after the final buzzer (61 for UAA and 42 for DU) and 129 for the whole game and, due to the melee, the teams forwent the traditional post-game handshake. The officials (referees Brian Thul and Brett Klosowoski along with assistant referees Tim Swiader and Gary Pedigo) also reportedly took about 90 minutes going over the video repeatedly before they assessed the penalties.

From the Denver Post: “[Tyler] Ruegsegger took an unwelcome center-ice curtain call after the buzzer. After several fights broke out just after the whistle, Ruegsegger was stripped of his helmet and challenged by Chris Crowell in the neutral zone.

“Crowell, a fourth-line freshman winger, was believed to be one of two UAA players to come off the bench to join in on the shenanigans after the buzzer.”

From USCHO’s own Candace Horgan’s recap: “After the final horn, a scrum erupted with all five skaters getting into shoving matches. Two Seawolves came off the bench as well, including forward Chris Crowell, who punched Ruegsegger. [Anchorage’s] Crowell and Jared Tuton, as well as [Denver’s John] Ryder and William Wrenn, were assessed game disqualification penalties.”

In fact, a total of five game disqualification penalties were assessed, including two to the aforementioned Crowell. Crowell will miss his team’s next three games, while everyone else should miss just one, if I’m reading the NCAA’s rules (page HR-44) accurately.

As for the parties involved? Seawolves coach Dave Shyiak apparently had very little to say, according to Horgan. Ruegsegger and DU coach George Gwozdecky commented some; I’ll include their quotes here:

“First time I’ve been in something like that to be honest. … It’s a little scary, but at the same time you’re in it and you have to defend yourself. Sometimes you have to get a guy so your teammates don’t get double-teamed.” — Ruegsegger

“I think that happens maybe too often. … One team is frustrated and one team is excited. The only thing you worry about is what happened later on. You have players on the ice at the end of the game, that’s not the issue. When you have players come on the ice to go to their goaltender, nasty, ugly things can erupt that we don’t want to have happen. We’re glad that didn’t happen. Initially, what I saw is you had your group of players on the ice, and probably 15 seconds later a couple of their guys came on the ice and I don’t think they’re going out on the ice to be peacemakers. That’s when I decided, OK, I’ve had enough; I’m going to make sure first of all that our guys stay, then see if we can break it up.” — Gwozdecky

Silver Lining

I know several times this season we’ve mentioned, quite frankly, how bad the Gophers have been.

Well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Minnesota has put together a little run, going 7-2 in its last nine games. Granted, most of those wins have come over teams the Gophers should in theory beat — Michigan Tech, Harvard, Bowling Green, etc. The fact that they’re beating them, however, is a good thing, even if it’s taken near 50 shots each game.

Coach Don Lucia mentioned a few things that need to happen for the Gophers to continue to build on their success that were in the Star Tribune, namely, staying healthy.

“We have to stay healthy. We don’t have a lot of guys right now. Staying injury-free for the rest of the year is going to be really important for us,” he said. “Our power play scoring some goals is going to be important [as is] just getting to that three- or four-goal mark on a consistent basis as opposed to one or two too many times the first half of the season.”

Lucia is relatively happy with his goaltending, saying it’s been “solid,” and he’s content with Minnesota’s defensive play, “but improvement in our specialties and improvement in goal-scoring, and to continue to play well defensively will be the key.

“I see some growth right now, I really do,” he said. “We are going to the net better. We are becoming a better offensive team creating opportunities. Early in the season, we weren’t creating a whole lot of opportunities.”

Speaking of opportunities, Lucia and his Gophers will have a big one this weekend as North Dakota rolls into town, in an always exciting matchup. If the Gophers can continue working on the little things that have helped them improve, they could have the chance to show the rest of the league what they can do, even if it is against an injured Sioux squad.

Around the WCHA

MTU — The Huskies are apparently traveling to Germany this summer to play a little foreign puck. The team will play five games against various professional teams, which, I’m sure, will be a great experience for these guys. Playing hockey is awesome enough, but getting the chance to do it in another country? Always special.

Match-Ups By the Numbers

Everyone plays except for Denver, which gets one more weekend off.

Alaska-Anchorage @ Michigan Tech
Overall Records: UAA — 6-13-1 (4-11-1 WCHA). MTU — 3-18-1 (2-14-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: MTU leads the overall series, 24-23-10.

North Dakota @ Minnesota
Overall Records: UND — 12-6-4 (8-6-2 WCHA). UM — 11-10-1 (6-7-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 137-125-13.
Notes: UND is 4-0-1 in its last five visits to Mariucci.

Wisconsin @ Colorado College
Overall Records: UW — 12-5-3 (8-4-2 WCHA). CC — 12-7-3 (8-5-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 105-58-9.

Minnesota-Duluth @ Minnesota State
Overall Records: UMD — 14-7-1 (10-5-1 WCHA). MSU — 11-11-2 (5-10-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UMD leads the overall series, 17-14-5.

St. Cloud State @ Quinnipiac
Overall Records: SCSU — 12-7-3 (9-5-2 WCHA). QU — 13-7-1 (7-6-0 ECACHL).
Head-to-Head: This is the first meeting between the two teams.

Future WCHA Team Watch

Bemidji State had last weekend off and faces conference foe Niagara this weekend. Nebraska-Omaha split with Alaska at home and next travels to Lake Superior State for a pair of games.

No. 11 BSU: 14-4-2 overall, 1-3-0 vs. WCHA
UNO: 10-9-5 overall, 1-1-1 vs. WCHA

Rolling Along

Yes, the Fighting Sioux have started to maybe put together another second-half run. However, you’re not going to hear me talk to coach Dave Hakstol about it again this year. The last two he’s said it’s just coincidence and really, the runs have been indicative of bigger things.

Still, it’ll be fun to watch if the team can do it again, particularly with all the injuries the team keeps getting hit with.

Contributing: Candace Horgan


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