This Week in the WCHA: March 4, 2010

Look at that date. March. We’re finally nearing spring, which means warmer weather and more sun. The cold, dreary days of winter are finally coming to a close.

More importantly, we’re now in the last week of the regular season and just one month away from the end of college hockey.

So, let’s do this thing, shall we?

Red Baron WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Rhett Rakhshani, DU.

Why: Had five points (the most out of any league player last weekend) to help his Pioneers sweep Minnesota State.

Also Nominated: Brad Malone, UND; Andy Bohmbach, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Brad Eidsness, UND.

Why: Stopped 53 of 57 shots, including blanking CC’s power play, the best in the league, to help his Sioux sweep the Tigers.

Also Nominated: Patrick Wiercioch, DU; Alex Kangas, UM; Brady Hjelle, UMD.

Red Baron WCHA Co-Rookies of the Week: Matt Donovan, DU; Danny Kristo, UND.

Why: Donovan was a defensive force with 10 hits and four blocked shots to help his Pioneers sweep the Mavericks. Kristo scored two goals, both of them at crucial times, to help his Sioux sweep CC.

Also Nominated: No one.

Still Suffering the Fallout

We’ve had several new developments this past week regarding the case of one Aaron Marvin.

It came down from the league that Marvin will be suspended for three games as a result of his open-ice hit on Wisconsin center Blake Geoffrion. He will miss this weekend’s series against Minnesota State and the first game of St. Cloud State’s home playoff series next weekend.

However, as always, there’s a bit more to the story.

• Geoffrion, who has been cleared to play this weekend, holds no ill will toward Marvin, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. Geoffrion, who has played with Marvin in the past in USA Hockey festivals and camps, told the newspaper that “he didn’t intentionally hit me in the head … he’s a good kid. I know he didn’t mean to hit me on purpose.”

• Marvin’s suspension had the potential to be longer. A lot longer. As we all know, the league took a long time to hand down the suspension in the first place. St. Cloud was notified last Friday that a “potential violation” was forthcoming and the league didn’t announce its final decision until Monday.

Part of the delay was in part because St. Cloud had a bye week this past week, so the league could take longer to dole out a punishment. However, the final reprimand may have taken longer due to an appeals process.

According to Bruce Ciskie, a sports journalist (and blogger), radio personality and the radio voice of UMD hockey, among other things, Marvin’s suspension was supposed to be longer. Ciskie quotes an unnamed source apparently close to the deliberations that the WCHA’s original punishment would have suspended Marvin up through the first round of the playoffs and perhaps even the Final Five (Ciskie says his source wasn’t clear on the amount of playoff time Marvin would be out). However, the current three-game ban came as a result of St. Cloud appealing the initial decision.

IF Ciskie’s source is right, it makes me wonder a few things. Why would the league want to suspend Marvin for so long? Granted, his hit on Geoffrion was a second offense, so to speak, so a longer suspension was warranted based on that fact alone. However, a potential eight-game suspension seems a little severe, particularly for a hit that Geoffrion’s own coach said shouldn’t have been penalized if it weren’t for the NCAA’s head-hitting emphasis.

But to suspend the kid throughout the entire league tournament? Was that thought meant as a way of protecting the rest of the league’s top talent, as Marvin, intentionally or not (I’m not arguing either way because I just don’t know what was in his head) took out two of the league’s best players? (And yes, I realize that’s the tinfoil hat argument.)

I don’t want to discredit Ciskie in anyway, but Kevin Allenspach of the St. Cloud Times wrote something that made me think again:

“The league announced the suspension after discussions with St. Cloud State officials and the WCHA Executive Committee. McLeod said last week that SCSU had been notified of the league’s intention on Feb. 21 but was appealing the decision. That appeal was denied.”

From that, it makes me think St. Cloud just appealed the suspension in general; not that there was a double appeal.

The other reason why I might be hesitant to think Marvin’s initial suspension was for a potential eight games is this other fact mentioned by Allenspach:

“In 16 seasons as WCHA commissioner, McLeod said this is the first occasion he’s had to suspend a player for more than one game. There have been other players previously suspended multiple games, McLeod said, but they were according to penalties mandated in the NCAA rule book or through supplementary discipline administered by a school and not the league.”

Sixteen years and the first time McLeod breaks tradition he’s going to suspend a kid for that long? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

That fact brings up a separate and unrelated question of mine as well. In 16 years, absolutely nothing has warranted a suspension beyond something from the rule book? Color me cynical, but I find that hard to believe.

Fans, Prepare Retractions

Though Marvin’s hit on Geoffrion caused most of the hullabaloo the weekend it happened, there was another hit that raised a smaller firestorm — UND’s Corban Knight on UMD’s Mike Connolly.

While many argued for discipline on that hit as well, Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald blogged Friday that “word is that the WCHA has requested video of a Corban Knight hit on Duluth’s Mike Connolly from last week to use as an example that a textbook clean hit can still result in an injury.”

Knowledge is Sometimes Useless

… at least when it comes to knowing your playoff opponent before the final weekend. With their sweep of Minnesota State last weekend, the Pioneers clinched their 12th MacNaughton Cup and, by default, learned they’d be playing Michigan Tech in the first round of the playoffs.

However, this knowledge means nothing, as the Pioneers still have to close out the regular season with an important rivalry series with CC.

“You probably think about it in your spare time, but all of our work this week, is preparation for our next game,” Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky said. “No matter what time of year, you never spend any time contemplating or talking about or preparing practice for your opponent two or three weeks down the road.”

For the coaches and teams, there’s no advantage; it’s just nice for the rest of us to know.

Playoffs: What We Know

Denver and Michigan Tech will be playing each other in the first round.

Wisconsin can finish as high as second or as low as fourth.

St. Cloud State can finish as high as second or as low as fifth.

Minnesota-Duluth can finish as high as second or as low as fourth.

North Dakota can finish as high as third or as low as fifth.

Colorado College will finish either sixth or seventh, and will be on the road for the second time in coach Scott Owens’ 11-year tenure.

Minnesota will finish either sixth or seventh.

Alaska-Anchorage will finish either eighth or ninth.

Minnesota State will finish either eighth or ninth.

Around the WCHA

UAA: Though reprimanded by the school earlier this week, coach Dave Shyiak will be behind the bench this weekend when his Seawolves host Minnesota-Duluth. Shyiak earned a minor and a game misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct last Saturday against Alaska.

Shyiak was penalized after he threw a water bottle on to the ice and then stepped off the bench on to the ice to argue with the officials; the argument was most likely triggered after no call was made as UAA’s Tommy Grant was taken down on a short-handed breakaway.

DU: The finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian Award are out and Denver’s Brandon Vossberg made the cut after his second nomination. The HHA “is awarded annually to college hockey’s finest citizen and seeks to recognize college hockey players … who give back to their community in the true humanitarian spirit.”

Vossberg is a three-time recipient of his team’s Most Active in Community Service Award. Before DU, he volunteered his time at various organizations including Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and bagged groceries as a charity fundraiser. At DU, his community volunteering hasn’t stopped, focusing on local Denver organizations, most of which help out the city’s youth.

Matchups by the Numbers

It’s the final weekend of the regular season, which means everyone’s playing everyone.

Minnesota-Duluth @ Alaska-Anchorage

Overall Records: UMD — 19-14-1 (15-10-1 WCHA). UAA — 10-20-2 (8-16-2 WCHA).

Head-to-Head: UMD leads the overall series, 37-18-12.

Wisconsin @ Minnesota

Overall Records: UW — 21-8-4 (16-7-3 WCHA). UM — 16-16-2 (11-13-2 WCHA).

Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 151-82-18.

Notes: The teams are playing at the Target Center on Friday. … UM leads the Badgers at the Target Center, 6-1.

Colorado College and Denver Home and Home

Overall Records: CC — 17-14-3 (11-12-3 WCHA). DU — 24-6-4 (18-4-4 WCHA).

Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 153-106-14.

St. Cloud State and Minnesota State Home and Home

Overall Records: SCSU — 20-10-4 (15-8-3 WCHA). MSU — 14-18-2 (8-17-1 WCHA).

Head-to-Head: MSU leads the overall series, 57-42-9.

Michigan Tech @ North Dakota

Overall Records: MTU — 5-26-1 (4-22-0 WCHA). UND — 18-11-5 (13-10-3 WCHA).

Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 138-89-8.

Future WCHA Team Watch

Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha split their series in a preview of next season. The Beavers next head to Alabama-Huntsville for a pair of games while the Mavericks host Bowling Green in the first round of the CCHA tournament.

No. 8 BSU: 22-8-2 overall, 4-4-0 vs. WCHA

UNO: 18-14-6 overall, 2-2-1 vs. WCHA

MacNaughton Cup > Frozen Four

George Gwozdecky, on his team’s MacNaughton Cup victory: “This is probably the most difficult college hockey title to win. It may not be the biggest; obviously the Frozen Four would be considered the biggest, but this is probably the most difficult one to win and is certainly a feather in your cap if you can win it, especially if you consider how competitive this league is.”

Olympic Pride

Like most hockey fans, I watched the USA-Canada gold medal game last Sunday. It was a good game, regardless of whether you were a hockey fan. While I was disappointed the U.S. didn’t win gold, I was proud anyway, given that no one expected the Americans to even medal.

The Olympics were fun to watch in general, particularly the hockey, because of all the former collegians playing.

It was also very cool to learn from the WCHA’s Web site that all 12 former WCHAers on the men’s side won medals (two golds, nine silvers and one bronze). So, congratulations to all of you. You represented your countries well and with pride, and it was a fun time watching all of you compete.

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