When it came time for the top two teams in last season’s WCHA standings to wipe the slate clean and start over before this season, some doubted if Denver and Wisconsin would be able to find the offensive firepower they needed to retain prominence atop the league.
Without 50-point scorer and Hobey Baker Award semifinalist Rhett Rakhshani, the Pioneers have found a new player to get them on the scoreboard and he is sophomore Drew Shore. Shore finished ninth on the team in scoring with 19 points last season but already has 24 this season. He eclipsed his 2009-10 point total with a hat trick against Lake Superior State Nov. 26. Shore has 13 goals and 11 assists through 18 games making him the WCHA’s top goal scorer in all games.
Shore scored the game winner in Friday’s 5-4 overtime win at Minnesota-Duluth and assisted on DU’s only goal in a 2-1 loss Saturday. The loss to UMD snapped a seven-game win streak that shot the Pioneers up to third place in the WCHA.
“After struggling in my freshman season, I got off to a really good start and I’ve done a good job maintaining that and hopefully I can keep it going for the second half,” Shore said. “I’m playing with great players and that makes everything a lot easier.”
It’s the kind of production the Pioneers expected from leading returning scorer and senior Anthony Maiani, who finished fourth on the team with 34 points last season. Not that Maiani has been a disappointment. He has 18 points in 18 games but the fact that the sophomore Shore has virtually come out of nowhere to help a team many thought would struggle is more impressive.
Maiani, Kyle Ostrow and Jesse Martin were the only returning players on last season’s roster that ranked in the top eight in scoring. Martin’s season ended eight games into the year when he fractured a vertebra in a nasty collision with Brad Malone at North Dakota. Ostrow has 10 points in 18 games.
Shore relishes his new responsibility as DU’s top scorer.
“We graduated our top three offensive players so we knew if we wanted to win that role had to be filled,” Shore said. “That’s the role I like to play and when all those great players left I knew I had to step up.”
Freshman Jason Zucker is another name that has sprouted up in the DU scoring department. He’s tied with Maiani for second on the team in points with 18 and is right behind Shore in goals (12).
Zucker’s 12 goals are most by any freshman in the country and his 18 points are seventh most in freshmen scoring.
They’re also relying on a new face to help replace offensive output in Madison, too. The Badgers lost more than 200 total points to outgoing players from the nation’s third-best offense (3.98 goals per game) but freshman Mark Zengerle came to the rescue with a team-leading 24 points and his 21 assists are most in the WCHA. The Rochester, N.Y., native assisted on two goals in UW’s 3-1 win Saturday to help the Badgers salvage a split at Alaska-Anchorage.
The Badgers are struggling to keep their collective head above water with an 8-7-3 record overall and a 4-6-2 record in WCHA play. It’s the spot in the standings many predicted the Badgers to be in but it has to give Mike Eaves loads of optimism for the future to see a freshman lead the offense that’s missing so much.
Obviously, DU goaltender Sam Brittain is a huge reason the Pioneers are back near the top of the league. Don’t forget the 18-year-old freshman has the daunting task of meeting 2009-10 WCHA Player of the Year, Marc Cheverie’s void. Brittain has the nation’s 11th-best goals against average (2.08) and the eighth-best save percentage (.929).
“Sam Brittain has given us a chance to win every game,” Shore said. ”When he plays the way he’s been playing, it makes it a lot easier for us to win.”
On the attack or between the pipes, the keys to continued success in the WCHA are the contributions of the young guys that come in and fill big shoes. You know the cliche: “Don’t rebuild, reload’.