Don’t read too much into early WCHA results

Of the teams picked to finish in the top five of the WCHA Preseason Media Poll, none of them came away with two wins in the first weekend of the regular season. Not to say these games aren’t relevant, but it’s not reason to change opinions about teams at this point of the season.

In a addition to winning one game, three teams — No. 2 North Dakota, No. 6 Denver and No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth — all tied. No. 15 Wisconsin fell 4-3 to No. 10 Boston University but perhaps the biggest shocker happened at the Mutual of Omaha Stampede in Omaha, where unranked Clarkson upset then-No. 4 St. Cloud State on Saturday. UW and SCSU also won games this weekend.

St. Cloud State's Drew LeBlanc knocks Rochester Institute of Technology's Andrew Favot off his skates last Friday (photo: Michelle Bishop).

Early season losses and slow starts are a trend for teams around the WCHA, but it’s often these teams that are in the mix by the end of the season. This is especially true for the Huskies, who fell seven spots to No. 11 in the Poll.

SCSU is 8-10-4 in the first two weekends of each of the six seasons under Bob Motzko but the Huskies have reached four WCHA Final Fives with three NCAA tournament berths and have never finished lower than sixth in the WCHA standings during their coach’s tenure.

The only time the Huskies failed to advance past the WCHA first round under Motzko: the 2008-09 season, when SCSU started the season 2-0. Coaches and players might spout cliches like “marathon not a sprint” or “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” but they’re right.

The nation’s runner-up a year ago was Wisconsin, which started the season 1-2-1, including a loss and a tie at home to Colorado College. CC was on fire with a 10-2-1 record to start the 2009-10 season but finished 9-15-3 and ended the season without a Final Five appearance.

Two seasons ago, UND started with three straight losses and 3-6 after nine games but got hot in the second half and won the MacNaughton Cup. It’s always easy to get down on teams early in the season, though history has taught us not to anoint the hot starters or write off the late bloomers.

Barriball is back

Jay Barriball led Minnesota in scoring with 43 points his freshman year in 2006-07 but injuries kept him from putting up big numbers the past few seasons. A knee injury kept him from suiting up past the fifth game in 2009-10.

The senior received a medical redshirt and enters the 2010-09 season as the oldest player on the roster at 23 years old (he’s a day older than Minnesota goalie Alex Kangas) but more importantly, he’s healthy.

It didn’t take Barriball much time to ignite the offense like old times in this weekend’s season-opening series against Massachusetts. He scored a natural hat trick — three straight goals by one player — in the first 19:10 of Saturday’s 5-4 win. Barriball had a goal and an assist the night before to lead the Gophers (2-0) past the Minutemen 5-4.

“We can project him to be one of our top scorers this year,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “He can play in any situation. We have our first-line wing back and that’s nice to have especially since he’s a little bit older. I don’t think his knee is bothering him when he skates anymore.”

Derek’s debut

He helped Team USA win an IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal and led Wisconsin in scoring with 54 points in 2009-10. How about a hat trick for Derek Stepan in his NHL debut?

Stepan took three shots against Buffalo on Saturday and all three beat Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller. The rookie center was inches away from a fourth goal in the closing minutes but his shot at an empty net rang off the post.