This Week in the WCHA: Feb. 18, 2010

From all outward appearances, it looks as though things are becoming clearer in terms of the league picture.

However, one has to keep in mind that four teams were off last week, kind of screwing with the numbers. In any case, things have started to spread out as much as they’ve bunched up.

The gap between first and fifth is now larger (seven points), but the gap between first and fourth is still tight (three points). Fifth and sixth are separated by four points and seventh is only another three points behind.

With everyone playing this weekend, the picture might be back to “normal” next weekend.

Red Baron WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Co-Offensive Players of the Week: Blake Geoffrion, UW; Chris VandeVelde, UND.
Why: Geoffrion scored a career-high seven points (three goals, four assists) to help his Badgers sweep Minnesota State. VandeVelde scored six points (two goals, four assists) and had his first four-point game of his career to help his Sioux split St. Cloud State.
Also Nominated: Joe Colborne, DU.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Marc Cheverie, DU
Why: Earned this award for the fourth time for stopping 76 of 78 shots on goal to help his Pioneers sweep Minnesota.
Also Nominated: Jake Marto, UND.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Corban Knight, UND.
Why: Had the first four-point series of his career, scoring two points each night (goal, assist; two assists) in his Sioux’s split with St. Cloud State.
Also Nominated: No one.

Seawolves Surprise

We’ve talked about a few surprise teams so far this season, ranging from Colorado College (who knew it would be so good?) to Minnesota-Duluth (ditto) to Minnesota (who thought it would be so bad?).

However, another team that’s slowly been putting together a good season for its standards has been Alaska-Anchorage, and it has done so mostly in the second half of the season. After going 6-12 before the break, the team has gone 4-4-2 since restarting play in January. The team’s 4-3-1 record in January is the best it’s done in that month since Dave Shyiak has been at the helm.

There are a few things Shyiak attributes his team’s success to and the main one is the team’s senior leadership — the team has seven seniors, the most since the 2002-03 season.

“Right from the get go, I liked our seniors and I liked our leaders and I liked our leadership group,” said Shyiak. “I think if you had to segment it out … they’ve really matured as a group and how to lead this group and extend our message from the coaching staff on to the rest of the team.”

One of those messages took place during the midseason break; another one of the things Shyiak attributes his team’s success to.

“We had a good, obviously extended, break for 30 days. We brought the guys in, the captains in, and said, this is how we have to play in order to win and have success,” he said. “You certainly have got to give them credit; they’ve gotten everyone to buy in and be on the same page and we’re all on the bus together.”

As a result, it has translated into some “W’s.”

“We’re doing what we need to do to win games and if we don’t … we can’t deviate from our game plan,” he said. “We are who we are and we have to play a certain way to have success and those guys, like I’ve said, have done a great job and they’ve really brought it together in the second half here.”

So, what does Anchorage need to do to continue with its success? According to Shyiak, it’s simple — keep its focus the same.

“Our focus [now] is no different than it was starting with the first game of the season: We’ve got to enter into every weekend to try to get points, no matter who we’re playing, at home or on the road and we can’t look ahead,” he said. “We’ve just got to concentrate on who we’re playing on Friday, prepare for it, do the best we can, see what happens with the outcome and prepare for the next night.

“I tell our guys, don’t worry about the standings, that’ll take care of itself. Let’s just focus on winning a hockey game on Friday night.”

SCSU/UND Redux

Last week, a lot of the focus was on the Sioux/Huskies series and the possibility for Sioux revenge on Aaron Marvin for his hit on UND captain Chay Genoway earlier this season.

Well, the Sioux waited until Saturday, but they did, in more ways than one. UND’s Mario Lamoureux attempted to throw down with Marvin early on and, more importantly for UND, it won the game, 8-1, in what could be called a statement game.

Marvin, post-game, spoke with class in understanding what the Sioux wanted to do.

“I respect that they wanted to come this weekend and play for Chay,” he told media after the game. “They definitely did that today.

“Who knows whether this is the end of it or not? They’re reacting the same way we would if one of our players got hurt.”

Which, of course, is true … even though the team wouldn’t say as much before the series (obviously).

“That whole situation has been brewing up since the last time we played them,” said the instigator, Lamoureux. “I don’t think that’s a secret. I knew the situation coming into this weekend. I was ready for it. I went to the draw and he said, yeah, we were gonna go.”

However, there’s talk that this may not be the end of the bad blood between the two teams.

“I don’t think it’s fully done,” Lamoureux added, regarding the feud with Marvin. “I think he knew there would be some type of altercation this weekend. He was willing to drop the gloves and he manned up, which is good to see.”

As a result of the various altercations, both Lamoureux and St. Cloud’s Chris Hepp — who jumped off the bench to join a third-period fray — were each suspended for one game. Lamoureux’s suspension “is a result of violating the WCHA Code of Conduct/Sportsmanship Rules,” according to the league’s release, probably in reference to his four total minors and two misconducts (half in the first and half in the third). Hepp’s suspension, meanwhile, “is based on a violation of NCAA playing rules,” and undoubtedly because he left the bench to scrum.

However, some good did come out of the game, and it’s the good Sioux coach Dave Hakstol was hoping for last week — the Sioux not only went on a scoring spree, they more importantly broke their power-play slump, scoring four power-play goals.

Playoffs: What We Know

As you could probably infer from the column lead-ins lately, the playoff picture is still a muddled mess for the most part. However, we do know a few things:

• Minnesota can finish no higher than third.

• Anchorage can finish no higher than fifth.

• Minnesota State can finish no higher than a tie for fifth.

• Michigan Tech can finish no higher than sixth.

Everyone else in theory can still finish first. Even North Dakota, currently 11 points behind league-leading Denver, could get first if it wins out and everyone else loses out (not possible, but y’know).

Around the WCHA

MSU: The Mavericks will celebrate 40 years of men’s hockey at Saturday’s game.

Matchups By the Numbers

With the Olympics and all 10 teams playing this weekend, you have the possibility of getting into hockey overload.

Alaska-Anchorage @ Minnesota State
Overall Records: UAA — 10-16-2 (8-14-2 WCHA). MSU — 12-16-2 (6-15-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: MSU leads the overall series, 31-20-6 or 29-19-7, depending on whom you ask.

Minnesota-Duluth @ North Dakota
Overall Records: UMD — 18-11-1 (14-7-1 WCHA). UND — 14-11-5 (9-10-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 126-70-8.

Colorado College @ Minnesota
Overall Records: CC — 17-10-3 (11-8-3 WCHA). UM — 13-15-2 (8-12-2 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 156-84-7.

St. Cloud State @ Wisconsin
Overall Records: SCSU — 19-9-4 (14-7-3 WCHA). UW — 18-7-4 (13-6-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 41-25-8.

Michigan Tech @ Denver
Overall Records: MTU — 5-22-1 (4-18-0 WCHA). DU — 20-6-4 (14-4-4 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 110-81-18 or 111-82-18, depending on whom you ask.

Future WCHA Team Watch

Bemidji State split with conference foe Robert Morris and next hosts Niagara for a weekend. Nebraska-Omaha swept Michigan and now travels to league-winner Miami for a pair of games.

No. 9 BSU: 19-7-2 overall, 3-3-0 vs. WCHA
UNO: 16-12-6 overall, 1-1-1 vs. WCHA

By the Dawn’s Early Light

(Yes, this is my vague reference to the Olympics and Canada’s “With Glowing Hearts” slogan.)

Like many of you probably have been/are, I’ve been watching the Olympics, whether it be skiing, snowboarding, figure skating, curling or yes, hockey. The Games are awesome in getting one excited about sports one would normally not care about (who knew I could get so excited about Nordic combined skiing?), just due to some hidden depth of patriotism.

Others of us get excited in other ways … just take for example Wisconsin. The Wisconsin State Journal had a bit about how Mike Eaves turned what would typically be a fun practice anyway into the Mock Olympics. Apparently, when the team showed up to practice, it was divided in half and then participated in various skill drills. The teams had a tie-breaker drill to determine the winner, and, well, I’ll quote Andy Baggot directly for the rest.

When the red team was declared the winner, a good-natured debate about the rules ensued. In addition to a challenge to the scoring system, one white team player grumbled that one red team player didn’t take part in the relay. There was also a joking claim about the need for drug testing.

At the end of the relay, members of the red team took off their helmets at center ice and some began to warble the National Anthem. Eaves then placed a gold medal — cut from yellow construction paper and adorned with the Motion W and strings — around the neck of each winner.

It was mentioned to junior winger Patrick Johnson that he could put his gold medal alongside the one his father, Mark, won with Team USA in the 1980 Olympics.

“Mine’s way better,” Patrick said. “It has a ‘W’ on it.”

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