This Week in the WCHA: Feb. 11, 2010

Thanks to some late-season bye weeks and non-conference match-ups, we saw a bit of a shake-up in the league standings last weekend. The gap has grown significantly between first and last (21 points) and even between first and sixth (10 points).

Still, things remain close in some ways. Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State now share the league lead (29 points), with Denver trailing just one point behind. Wisconsin and Colorado College round out the rest of the teams currently sitting pretty for home ice, with 25 points — four behind the top of the league.

Teams six through eight are a point apart (North Dakota, sixth with 19 points and Minnesota and Alaska-Anchorage each with 18), with the gap between eighth and ninth continuing to grow (now five points).

With four teams having byes this week, it’ll be interesting to see what the league picture will be on Monday.

Red Baron WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Co-Offensive Players of the Week: Eric Kattelus, MTU; Ryan Lasch, SCSU.
Why: Kattelus scored four points (one goal, three assist) and was the Winter Carnival MVP in helping his Huskies split with Minnesota-Duluth. Lasch had three goals and three assists to help his Huskies earn three points from Alaska-Anchorage.
Also Nominated: Mike Testwuide, CC; Anthony Maiani, DU; Brendan Smith, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Mike Lee, SCSU.
Why: Made 33 saves en route to his and his team’s first shutout of the season in a 6-0 blanking of Alaska-Anchorage on Saturday.
Also Nominated: Joe Howe, CC; Marc Cheverie, DU.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Rylan Schwartz, CC.
Why: Had three assists, including ones on both game-winning goals, in the Tigers’ two non-conference wins over Air Force and Mercyhurst.
Also Nominated: Adam Murray, DU.

Climbing a Mountain

For most of the season, we talked about the Gophers’ woes and how much they were struggling.

Then, around early December, whatever Don Lucia was trying to do to help fix his team started to work. After going 5-8-1 through November, the team has reversed those numbers, going 8-5-1 through the end of January.

One could argue that a few things happened for this turnaround. First off, the Gophers started off the season with a rough schedule and things started to get easier in December, with the first two series of that month coming against Minnesota State and Michigan Tech, the current league bottom-dwellers.

Secondly, the Gophers were able to activate Bowling Green transfer Jacob Cepis, who has performed well for the U, scoring 11 points in the 10 games he has played so far.

While the team has hit another rough patch, going 1-3 in its last four (and facing arguably better competition again), the mood around the team is more confident than it has been all year, as evidenced by Lucia’s comments on his weekly radio show.

“We still have that opportunity [to make home ice],” he said. “Obviously, we are going to have to get some points this weekend against Denver. If we get a couple points, then all of a sudden you are only five back of [home ice and CC] and you have them in your own building for two games.”

Lucia is confident that his team can at least overtake North Dakota, only a point ahead and start a gap between the Gophers and the Seawolves, with whom they are currently tied. He also mentions CC and not Wisconsin because not only are the Tigers coming to Mariucci next weekend (like he said), but they’re idle this weekend and will be in the same position in league come Monday. Depending on how the Gophers do that weekend, well, the league race suddenly gets more interesting and Lucia intends on making sure that happens.

“You still want to continue to play well and to finish as strong as you possibly can,” he said. “And then whether you are home or on the road, you are going to have to win that first round matchup no matter where you are. The fortunate thing for us is, we have played pretty well on the road all year long (6-5-1, as compared to 7-8-1 at home).

“I still think with eight games left, we can still do some damage, and that’s our goal,” he said.

With still about a third of the team’s league schedule remaining, it certainly is possible, though it won’t be easy. The Gophers finish out the season against four of the league’s current top-five teams: Denver, CC, Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin, and many of those teams are playing very well right now.

Not Looking for Love …

… but not looking for revenge either. This weekend, the Sioux face off against St. Cloud State. Last time these two teams met, almost exactly three months ago, SCSU’s Aaron Marvin took out UND’s Chay Genoway with a hit from behind (watch it here). Marvin got a one-game suspension and Genoway is still suffering the effects from the injury, hasn’t played since and probably won’t be back this year.

It’s been a topic of discussion this week among both fan bases, with the UND side arguing it was a dirty hit and the SCSU side saying Sioux fans should really just get over it.

Among all the arguing are feelings that the Sioux want revenge for what happened and that the series will get ugly.

According to the actual UND team, however, they’re just focusing on the games at hand and, more importantly, the chance for some crucial league points.

“There are times you want to retaliate and do something back, but this team is bigger than that, bigger than those moments now and we need to get rolling and get on the right track and winning these games is more important than retaliating at this moment,” said senior Darcy Zajac.

“We’re not going to focus too much on the incident with Chay,” said freshman Joe Gleason. “The whole thing with Chay is upsetting, we miss him and he wishes more than anything he could get back here with us, but our goal as a team is four points and we’re going to do whatever we can to get that done.”

There are a few things the team can do; most notably, try to fix its power play, which is currently in an 0-for-30 drought.

“You have to score power-play goals,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “You don’t necessarily win games on specialty teams, but your specialty teams have to be a bit part of giving you a chance to win, so that’s obviously an area we have to get clicking.”

Hakstol also wants to find a way to get more scoring.

“There’s a difference of one goal a game, whether it’s give one less goal up or score one more goal. Over a long span, when you look statistically, that’s a big difference,” he said. “I think we need to get a little more scoring out of different areas of our lineup. But in saying that, you can’t just wave a magic wand and all of a sudden have that start happening.

“A combination of hard work and creating our own luck will make the difference for us offensively.”

Around the WCHA

One thing that somehow didn’t make it into the column was the mention of the three WCHAers who are finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award — DU’s Rhett Rakhshani, MTU’s Eli Vlaisavljevich and SCSU’s Garrett Raboin.

The award, which is an acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, focuses on the student-athlete as a whole, choosing players who have notable achievements in four areas: the classroom, character, the community and in competition.

The league has also announced its list of this year’s scholar-athletes. 39 total players from the men’s side earned the honor, with Denver leading the list with eight players and Minnesota bringing up the rear with nobody. The numerical breakdown:

DU: 8
MTU: 2
UW: 1
UM: 0

UW: Sophomore Matt Thurber was suspended from the team this week after violating the UW Department of Athletics’ Student-Athlete Discipline Policy. While the school did not disclose what he did, the policy dictates immediate suspension if the player has violated any laws related to drugs, violence or gambling. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act also prohibits the school from revealing any other information on the case.

While suspended, he’ll still officially be on the team roster, though he is barred from practices and games.

Matchups by the Numbers

Not too much hockey this weekend; only six games total.

North Dakota @ St. Cloud State
Overall Records: UND — 13-10-5 (8-9-3 WCHA). SCSU — 18-8-4 (13-6-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 51-28-10.

Minnesota @ Denver
Overall Records: UM — 13-13-2 (8-10-2 WCHA). DU — 18-6-4 (12-4-4 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 91-68-12.

Minnesota State @ Wisconsin
Overall Records: MSU — 12-14-2 (6-13-1 WCHA). UW — 16-7-4 (11-6-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 18-14-4.

Future WCHA Team Watch

After having the weekend off, Bemidji State travels to Pennsylvania for a pair of games against Robert Morris. Nebraska-Omaha, meanwhile, took three points and a shootout win from Ohio State last weekend and next hosts Michigan at home.

No. 5 BSU: 18-6-2 overall, 3-3-0 vs. WCHA
UNO: 14-12-6 overall, 1-1-1 vs. WCHA

Chocolate Celebration

I’m a big holiday person.

Well, I should amend that to I’m a big major holiday person. Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day … you get the picture.

I also like Valentine’s Day, even though I’m not the biggest fan of chocolate and I hate the way the diamond industry tries to guilt men into buying their women really ugly necklaces and other assorted jewelry just so they won’t have to sleep on the couch.

I liked the holiday even when in my happily single days, all the way back to when I thought boys had cooties and back up to the present day, now happily engaged.

I get the whole “Single’s Awareness Day” thing, but no one ever said you had to like all aspects of something. Just pick and choose what you like out of the holiday. Like pink and red? Awesome, all that crap is available for you to get right now. Like chocolate? Perfect excuse to go pick some up.

Besides, when you boil it down, this “Hallmark Holiday” is all about love. I figure, even if we don’t have a special someone in our lives, there’s nothing wrong with spreading some love around to someone else in your life, even if it’s just a random coworker or some oft-forgotten family member.

So spread the love, people, and Happy Valentine’s Day (on Sunday).


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