The WCHA’s return to league play

With each Nebraska-Omaha loss, that hot start seems more and more distant. UNO was 9-2-1 at Thanksgiving but has gone 3-6-1 since the start of December starting when it was swept at Bemidji State.

UNO’s slide came full circle when it picked up only a point in a home series against the Beavers this weekend. UNO has endured a scoring drought over this 10-game stretch, averaging just 2.3 goals per game. The only time UNO scored more than three goals was against last-place Michigan Tech (a 5-2 win on Dec. .

UNO had one of the top offenses in the country before December but have fallen to 18th in scoring offense with 3.32 goals per game. Line mates Matt Ambroz (six goals, five assists) and Joey Martin (two goals, seven assists) have done their part offensively in the past 10 games.

Injuries hampered UNO over this stretch, most notably is Terry Broadhurst’s thumb injury that has kept him out since Dec. 18. Broadhurst is UNO’s fourth-highest scorer with 19 points.

The Omaha World-Herald’s Chad Purcell said in his story Sunday that Broadhurst “probably won’t return for the North Dakota series.” Purcell tweeted Tuesday “depending how practice goes” Tuesday and Wednesday, Broadhurst could be back this weekend.

UNO began the season on the outskirts of the polls but rose to No. 4 in November. It’s not like the schedule before the slide was easy. UNO swept No. 13 Minnesota and beat No. 4 Michigan, both on the road. UNO split with No. 8 UND at home.

The last 10 games have been the easiest part of UNO’s schedule based on the quality of opponents. No. 20 Colorado College was the only ranked opponent on the schedule since UND.

UNO’s second-half schedule might be as tough as the first half, which will make it even harder for UNO to receive an at-large berth to a regional. UNO is on the bubble, tied for 14th in the PairWise right now.

After a trip to Grand Forks, N.D. to face the No. 2 Sioux this weekend, UNO has three straight home series. UNO heads to Alaska-Anchorage in late February and Anchorage hasn’t been the easiest place for WCHA teams to play this season. The regular season concludes with a home series against Denver and a trip to Minnesota-Duluth.

Thoughts on the UND/Minnesota scrum
It’s beginning to seem like there has to be some kind of payback due after every single big check thrown at any level of hockey these days.
Brad Malone’s massive check on Minnesota defenseman Kevin Wehrs was clean. Unnecessary, but not dirty. I’m not for retaliation after every big hit but I think the Minnesota players did the right thing to get behind Wehrs, Friday at UND.

The Gophers have become a doormat when it comes down to grit and many questioned whether Minnesota could stand up to UND’s physical play. The Sioux still dominated the physical aspect of Friday’s game like it does most games, but the Gophers, at least, showed emotion in the scrum that followed the second period.

And at game’s end, the Gophers had the edge on the scoreboard where it counts.

If UND had beaten Minnesota, Friday night, the Sioux would be the top team in the Polls. No. 1 Yale lost 3-2 to Brown and No. 3 Boston College fell 4-1 to Maine, Sunday. With Yale, UND and BC losing this weekend, nothing changed in the top three.

It’s arguable UND is the best team in the country anyway. The Sioux have the depth to deal with injuries like no other team. UND has played through injuries and illness all season and kept a 10-game unbeaten streak going with Derek Forbort and Brock Nelson at World Juniors.

The WCHA is a much “tougher” league compared to the ECAC, which Yale plays in and the Sioux has played a much more challenging nonconference schedule.

Maine and Notre Dame alone make for a more difficult nonconference slate than Yale’s nonconference platter of Colorado College, Air Force and a list of East Coast mid-majors.

The biggest challenge Yale faces from now until the playoffs is when the Bulldogs go to No. 12 Union and No. 14 Rensselear Jan. 28-29. Otherwise, Yale might be at the top for a long time to come.

DU/MSU could’ve went either way
Every time Denver plays Minnesota State, Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky always seems to be very impressed by MSU. DU escaped Mankato with three points this weekend, needing third-period comebacks on both nights to earn points.

“[MSU] is a terrific team and they deserve to be one of the hottest teams in the country,” Gwozdecky said after Friday’s game. “I’m sure we’ll see them when the postseason begins as well.”

Justin Jokinen’s goal with 1:47 left was seemingly the game winner but Kyle Ostrow tied the game 31 seconds later at 1:16 and the game ended in a 4-4 tie. The following night, MSU took a 3-1 lead into the third period but everyone knew it would need another goal to get the win.

Despite odd-man rushes and point-blank shots MSU couldn’t get the fourth goal. The Pioneers scored two goals near the midpoint of the third period and won the game on a Dustin Jackson overtime goal.

The Pioneers were 1:16 and half a period away from being swept in Mankato. Instead, DU gained three points, jumped two spots to No. 4 in the Poll and kept pace with UND and UMD to remain in second place in the WCHA.

DU also put a dent in MSU’s hot stretch going back to their last meeting in November. MSU quietly became one of the nation’s hottest teams with six nonconference wins and a home sweep of Minnesota.

Freshman Chase Grant of MSU scored twice with two assists and DU’s top freshman Jason Zucker scored two goals with an assist this weekend but the WCHA Rookie of the Week went to Alaska-Anchorage’s Rob Gunderson.

The freshman allowed two CC goals all weekend although he needed to make just 38 saves.

Jaden Schwartz’s return to the Tigers lineup can’t come soon enough. CC did alright without him while he was at World Juniors but the Tigers could score a lot more goals with him back. He’s not expected to return until February, hopefully in time for the Denver series Feb. 4-5. It’s likely he’ll miss the weekend before when CC hosts UND.