Looking back, WCHA coaches saw much of this coming

Well, it’s that time of year, once again, when we’ve finished the grind of the regular season and are ready for the playoffs. Before we go in depth, let’s see how we all did, shall we? (Here’s how the standings actually turned out.)

My picks

St. Cloud State's Oliver Lauridsen fires a shot during the third period. UNO beat St. Cloud State 3-0 Friday night at Qwest Center Omaha.  (Photo by Michelle Bishop) (Michelle Bishop)
Oliver Lauridsen and St. Cloud State didn't match the top-three predictions, but the Huskies are looking tough going into the playoffs (photo: Michelle Bishop).

1. North Dakota
2. St. Cloud State
3. Minnesota-Duluth
4. Minnesota
5. Denver
6. Wisconsin
7. Bemidji State
8. Minnesota State
9. Nebraska-Omaha
10. Colorado College
11. Alaska-Anchorage
12. Michigan Tech

Tyler’s picks
1. North Dakota
2. St. Cloud State
3. Minnesota-Duluth
4. Wisconsin
5. Colorado College
6. Denver
7. Minnesota
8. Bemidji State
9. Nebraska-Omaha
10. Minnesota State
11. Alaska-Anchorage
12. Michigan Tech

Coaches’ picks
1. North Dakota
2. St. Cloud State
3. Minnesota-Duluth
4. Denver
5. Minnesota
6. Colorado College
7. Wisconsin
8. Nebraska-Omaha
9. Bemidji State
10. Minnesota State
11. Alaska-Anchorage
12. Michigan Tech

Media picks
1. North Dakota
2. Minnesota-Duluth
3. St. Cloud State
4. Denver
5. Wisconsin
6. Minnesota
7. Colorado College
8. Bemidji State
9. Nebraska-Omaha
10. Minnesota State
11. Alaska-Anchorage
12. Michigan Tech

Obviously, the coaches did the best out of all of us, getting five of 12 right (UND, UM, CC, UW and MTU) while the rest of us just got first and 12th. Oops. UAA did a lot better than expected as did UNO (we so underestimated them).

Denver got home ice like we all thought … it was just higher in the standings. SCSU was probably the biggest league disappointment, though it has picked things up in the second half.

Personally, I was way off with the Tigers and both Mavericks. To be a little fairer to myself, in my notes at the beginning of the year, I had CC pegged from sixth to 10th and they did hit sixth, so go me. Maybe I just like the justification.

Anyway, time for our annual match-ups on ‘roids.

Matchups by the numbers: Steroid edition

1 vs. 12: Michigan Tech at No. 1 North Dakota

Records: MTU — 4-28-4 (2-24-2 WCHA). UND — 26-8-3 (21-6-1 WCHA).

Head to head: UND leads the overall series, 142-89-8.

Last meeting: UND swept, 6-1 and 11-2 last weekend.

Special teams: MTU — 16.0 percent power play (t-38th in nation), 74.8 percent penalty kill (57th in nation). UND — 23.4 percent power play (7th in nation), 84.9 percent penalty kill (10th in nation).

Streaks: MTU — five-game losing. UND — nine-game unbeaten.

Goaltending: MTU — Kevin Genoe (23 GP, 3.86 goals-against average, .888 save percentage), Josh Robinson (17 GP, 4.76 goals-against average, .880 save percentage). UND — Aaron Dell (33 GP, 1.95 goals-against average, .919 save percentage).

Leading scorer: MTU — Milos Gordic (15-6–21). UND — Matt Frattin (29-20–49).

In depth: Seeing what the Fighting Sioux did to the Huskies last weekend, we can suspect that this weekend might be much more of the same.

Making sure that doesn’t happen, then, is MTU coach Jamie Russell’s biggest task this week.

“Certainly the biggest challenge is just getting the guys over the hump,” he said. “That was the first time we played North Dakota and with such a young team, certainly, I think our guys gave them too much respect. They’re the No. 1 team in the country, obviously very talented, playing very well. But the biggest hump for us to get over right now is putting last weekend behind us, moving forward and clean slate going into the playoffs.”

For their part, the Sioux are taking the clean slate approach as well.

“Last weekend has no bearing on our preparation this week,” coach Dave Hakstol said at his weekly news conference. “This is playoff time. We’ve done a good job throughout the year of putting things where they belong. Weekends that are in the past are in the past.”

No matter what, though, the Huskies know the uphill battle they’re facing this weekend.

“We’ve got to work and compete every shift. We’ve got to make sure we have good puck management where we’re limiting our turnovers. We have to be better on specialty teams. We have to get good goaltending and the last thing is we’ve got to make sure we’re mentally strong and that we show good composure,” said Russell. “It’s one thing to be young, but you have to make simple plays at critical times and really do a better job of managing momentum.”

2 vs. 11: Minnesota State at No. 6 Denver

Records: MSU — 14-16-6 (8-16-4 WCHA). DU — 21-10-5 (17-8-3 WCHA).

Head to head: DU leads the overall series, 22-13-6.

Last meeting: DU took three points, 4-4 and 4-3, in mid-January.

Special teams: MSU — 14.0 percent power play (50th in nation), 81.9 percent penalty kill (28th in nation). DU — 17.9 percent power play (31st in nation), 86.1 percent penalty kill (7th in nation).

Streaks: MSU — three-game losing. DU — one-game winning.

Goaltending: MSU — Phil Cook (27 GP, 3.01 goals-against average, .904 save percentage). DU — Sam Brittain (27 GP, 2.28 goals-against average, .922 save percentage).

Leading scorer: MSU — Michael Dorr (12-13–25) and Kurt Davis (8-17–25). DU — Drew Shore (22-21–43).

In depth: The Mavericks are probably one of the toughest 11th-place teams you’ll see in the playoffs. In many respects, they were a team that just didn’t get as many breaks as they may have worked for.

The Pioneers, on the other hand, are a team their coach insists has had interesting perceptions around it.

“Everything is all about perception, and certainly when I look back five and a half months ago before the season began, there were many who felt that because of graduation, because of three of our top players turning pro, the very difficult first 10 games and obviously some of the injuries, we would certainly be in the bottom half of the league,” said coach George Gwozdecky. “I don’t think anybody envisioned us this year contending for the league title with one weekend to go.”

As it is, the Pioneers did and got close, earning the second-place spot and the right to play a team that Gwozdecky knows can make his team’s life miserable, despite going 3-0-1 against them during the year.

“They’re a team that plays well together,” he said. “I was very impressed in the four games we played against them and how positionally sound they were in their coverages, their self-discipline and how hard they play without taking penalties. That’s a tough team to play against and certainly we know the challenge we have ahead of us.”

3 vs. 10: Bemidji State at No. 12 Nebraska-Omaha

Records: BSU — 12-17-5 (8-15-5 WCHA). UNO — 21-13-2 (17-9-2 WCHA).

Head to head: UNO leads the overall series, 5-4-1.

Last meeting: BSU took three points, 2-2 and 3-2, in mid-January.

Special teams: BSU — 19.8 percent power play (18th in nation), 79.4 percent penalty kill (45th in nation). UNO — 18.0 percent power play (29th in nation), 83.7 percent penalty kill (20th in nation).

Streaks: BSU — four-game winless. UNO — one-game winning.

Goaltending: BSU — Dan Bakala (27 GP, 2.44 goals-against average, .918 save percentage). UNO — John Faulkner (36 GP, 2.49 goals-against average, .912 save percentage).

Leading scorer: BSU — Jordan George (15-17–32). UNO — Matt Ambroz (17-17–34) and Joey Martin (11-23–34).

In depth: For me, the best thing about this series is that no matter what happens, we’ll have one of the league newbies in the Final Five, which is pretty special.

“I think that’s really neat, I think it’s kind of cool,” said BSU coach Tom Serratore. “With us having that matchup with Omaha, that assures that so it’s great for one of the two programs, that’s for sure.”

The Beavers, even in their league position, are like every other bottom-half team in the league this year — you don’t want to fall asleep against them or take the night off because they will take advantage. That, and if they get the bounces, they’ll pounce on them like Serratore said they did this season against the Mavericks. The two league rookies played each other four times and BSU won the series, going 3-0-1. Can they do that again this weekend? Maybe, according to Serratore.

“Everything’s timing and sometimes you’re concerned about the law of averages, but they’re just a great team,” he said. “They’re doing things a little different than they were a couple months ago and we’re doing some things different.”

That, and he knows his team is going into a very tough road building for visiting teams.

“They’ve only lost three games at home this year. They’re good at home [and] they’ve had a great season,” he said. “They’ve got great balance up front — you don’t know their first line from their fourth line.”

4 vs. 9: St. Cloud State at No. 11 Minnesota-Duluth

Records: SCSU — 15-16-5 (11-13-4 WCHA). UMD — 20-9-6 (15-8-5 WCHA).

Head to head: SCSU leads the overall series, 54-36-7.

Last meeting: SCSU took three points, 8-2 and 3-3, in mid-February.

Special teams: SCSU — 18.4 percent power play (23rd in nation), 84.2 percent penalty kill (t-15th in nation). UMD — 21.9 percent power play (12th in nation), 81.8 percent penalty kill (30th in nation).

Streaks: SCSU — one-game losing. UMD — one-game losing.

Goaltending: SCSU — Mike Lee (29 GP, 2.82 goals-against average, .907 save percentage). UMD — Kenny Reiter (24 GP, 2.45 goals-against average, .910 save percentage).

Leading scorer: SCSU — Drew LeBlanc (13-26–39). UMD — Jack Connolly (13-38–51).

In depth: The Bulldogs have been fairly consistent all year, but have stumbled a tad down the stretch. Quotes like the one the Duluth News Tribune‘s Kevin Pates got from J.T. Brown last Saturday aren’t good for a team hitting the playoffs — “We have to learn to put two back-to-back games together. It’s disappointing when you don’t play your best.” To me, a quote like that should be something that’s spoken in October, not early March.

Combine that with the fact they’re playing a team that Gwozdecky called the hottest team in the country (or at least the West) in St. Cloud and, earlier this season, the best 11th-place team ever by CC’s Scott Owens, and, well, you’re going to get an interesting series.

“It’s a better feeling than we had the first half,” SCSU’s Bob Motzko said when asked about his team’s recent success. “We knew we were a better team than that. Have we turned a corner? I can’t answer that. I can just tell you we’re playing better hockey.”

Despite their recent hot streak, though, Motzko knows where the Huskies sit.

“We’re clearly the underdog — ninth place — and they’ve been a tremendous team from start to finish, just very consistent,” he said. “We’ve just been playing better hockey the second half and we’ve got our work cut out for us to go into their building and try to find a way to, at the very worst, split a series and get to Sunday.”

5 vs. 8: Alaska-Anchorage at No. 17 Minnesota

Records: UAA — 14-17-3 (12-14-2 WCHA). UM — 16-12-6 (13-10-5 WCHA).

Head to head: UM leads the overall series, 50-17-7.

Last meeting: The teams split, 5-1 UM and 1-0 UAA, in late January.

Special teams: UAA — 15.6 percent power play (43rd in nation), 84.2 percent penalty kill (t-15th in nation). UM — 21.5 percent power play (14th in nation), 77.2 percent penalty kill (53rd in nation).

Streaks: UAA — three-game winning. UM — seven-game unbeaten.

Goaltending: UAA — Rob Gunderson (22 GP, 2.78 goals-against average, .897 save percentage). UM — Kent Patterson (28 GP, 2.48 goals-against average, .921 save percentage).

Leading scorer: UAA — Tommy Grant (15-15–30). UM — Jacob Cepis (12-17–29).

In depth: This series will be an interesting one as the league upstart Seawolves try to make some history. UAA, as you probably know, has been to the Final Five only once before — in 2004, thanks to a three-game upset of Wisconsin. However, they’re playing the Gophers. For a little more head-to-head info between these two teams, UM is 10-1 against the Seawolves in the playoffs. That being said, UAA’s sole win was Minnesota’s only postseason loss at Mariucci — a 2-1 Seawolves victory on March 10, 2007.

This is this year, however, and in a tight league, anything can happen (even if it usually doesn’t).

“They’re a powerhouse program playing powerhouse hockey right now,” UAA coach Dave Shyiak said. “They’re on a very good run. They’ve got confidence and it seems like they’ve hit their stride the last eight to 10 games. Our challenge always when we play them is to try and take away their transition game and we have to take speed out of the equation.”

Shyiak has also been preparing his team for the playoffs the last few weeks, which has been fairly successful if you look at how the Seawolves have been doing.

“I think we only look at it one way at this time of the year: It really doesn’t matter who you’re playing and where you’re playing, you still have to play your best hockey to win and that’s been kind of our line of thinking here the last six weeks,” Shyiak said. “We’ve said to our guys we have to start playing playoff-type hockey and execute our game plans well and it’s no different right now. I thought we had to prove to ourselves that we could win on the road, which we did last weekend against Mankato.”

His Minnesota counterpart, Don Lucia, admits that UAA might have hit its stride — “They’ve obviously grasped the system they want to play right now,” he said — but he also knows that his freshmen and seniors have come together for him as well.

“Our seniors are playing well; any time I think you get to this time of the year, your seniors have to lead your team,” he said. “We’re kind of a senior-freshmen team and you can’t expect your freshmen to do it each and every night so the seniors have to come through this time of the season because we know this weekend if we don’t win, our season’s over.”

6 vs. 7: No. 19 Wisconsin at No. 16 Colorado College

Records: UW — 20-14-4 (12-13-3 WCHA). CC — 19-16-3 (13-13-2 WCHA).

Head to head: UW leads the overall series, 107-60-9.

Last meeting: The teams split, 3-2 CC and 3-1 UW, last weekend.

Special teams: UW — 22.3 percent power play (10th in nation), 80.4 percent penalty kill (40th in nation). CC — 21.6 percent power play (13th in nation), 81.0 percent penalty kill (37th in nation).

Streaks: UW — one-game winning. CC — one-game losing.

Goaltending: UW — Scott Gudmandson (27 GP, 2.20 goals-against average, .921 save percentage). CC — Joe Howe (29 GP, 3.04 goals-against average, .898 save percentage).

Leading scorer: UW — Justin Schultz (18-28–46). CC — Tyler Johnson (20-17–37).

In depth: The cool thing about this series is something that both coaches mentioned: Essentially, it’s a best-of-five series and the teams are 1-1. Granted, we know that UND and MTU are in the same technical five-game boat, but the circumstances are slightly different.

After the Tigers won last Friday and clinched home ice, the question was brought up to coach Scott Owens about the possibility of the two teams meeting again and he responded that he is “prepared for a marathon, but [is] glad it’s going to be at 6,200 feet.” With a few days reflection, he still agrees with what he said.

“I think it will be a marathon. I think these are two well-balanced teams. You kind of look at it as a best-of-five series and the series is at 1-1,” he said. “I would probably modify it by saying I’m glad we’re at home, in a sense that we’re in our building and our fans and we don’t have to turn around and travel back because that would have been difficult for us.”

Both coaches also noted the similarity of their teams.

“I think it’s going to be a good series,” said UW’s Mike Eaves. “I think both teams are very similar in their abilities to play with goaltending and such, power play, specialty teams and all those kinds of things, and I think it’ll come down to goaltending and special teams.”

“Two teams that are similar in a lot of ways, a lot of youth, some top end guys and a D corps that gets played a lot,” said Owens. “I think there are a lot of similarities between the two teams and I am looking for more of the same.”

WCHA players of the week

… Because I remembered y’all wanted to see them again.

Offensive player of the week: Matt Frattin, UND.

Defensive player of the week: Mike Lee, SCSU.

Co-rookies of the week: Chris Kamal, UAA, and Nick Bjugstad, UM.

18 COMMENTS

  1. North Dakota, Denver will make it to the Final 5, as should Minnesota. There should be at least one upset though. Wisconsin is the most likely team to prevail though on the road. SCSU and Bemidji State also have a good chance to pull off an upset.

    • I just have a hard time believing that BSU is gonna go to Omaha and beat them again there after going 1-0-1 there, and, 3-0-1 for the season against them. Coach Blais has been in this situation many times before (by that I mean coaching really important games) and I just think he’ll have the Mavericks ready. Serratore is wrong in saying they only lost 3 games at home all year (they actually lost 4, unless he was talking just conference games), but, even so, the Qwest Center is a tough place for opposing teams to play. You show up there and you’re gonna be playing in front of 8,000+ every night .I think BSU is gonna have UNO’s full attention.

    • Hope you aren’t a betting man.
      In your final 5 teams the brackets are:

      1. UND vs. winner of 4. CC/ 5. UM
      2. DU vs. winner of 3. UNO/ 6. SCSU

      So your outcome is not possible.

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