Early season statistics and standings, while providing no particular long-term value, can be fun to peruse nonetheless if only for the “what if?” factor they present.
Will Minnesota maintain its pace of 6.25 goals per game? Is Michigan Tech’s rise from the bottom of last season’s scoring defense (4.45 goals per game) to the top (1.75) sustainable? Do the .820 saves percentage and 4.43 goals against average of Minnesota-Duluth’s goaltending tandem of Kenny Reiter and Aaron Crandall indicate certain doom for the Bulldogs? Can Minnesota State hope to solve its scoring woes while serving a whopping 21.5 penalty minutes per game and going 0-for-17 on the power play?
Of course the answer to each of those questions is no, but they are just a few of the numbers orbiting the WCHA stat-o-sphere that stand out in the infancy of the 2011-12 season.
October can also often be a time for fans of programs perennially found at or near the bottom of the conference to get a taste of seeing their favorite teams in unusual positions in the standings. This year is no exception with Michigan Tech (4-0-0) and Alaska-Anchorage (3-0-1) joining the ranks of the undefeated in the early going, joining Minnesota (4-0-0) and Colorado College (2-0-0).
How did they get there?
Home sweeps of American International and Wisconsin have given Michigan Tech its first 4-0 start since 1974-75, when the Huskies last won the national title. Furthermore, Mel Pearson’s Huskies are riding their first four-game winning streak since a stretch from Oct. 14-26, 2007, spanning three series. That included wins over Lake Superior State and North Dakota sandwiching a sweep of Minnesota State.
Pearson told The Daily Mining Gazette‘s Stephen Anderson he wasn’t surprised to win both Wisconsin games but went on to caution his team against dwelling on short-term successes.
“I told people I expected to win two games this weekend — I really did,” Pearson said. “Our kids are working hard, there’s a lot of good things going on in our locker room and we see it every day as coaches. It doesn’t always go your way, and we were a couple bounces or a shot away from losing, but you know what, we won two games.
“We have to understand it’s not one weekend, one game, one month,” Pearson added. “To earn home ice and be a good team, you have to do it on a consistent basis, night in and night out. We have to now go out on the road and prove we can win on the road.”
Michigan Tech gets its chance to do just that when it travels to Bemidji this weekend to battle the Beavers at the Sanford Center.
Alaska-Anchorage won both Alaska preseason tournaments — its own Kendall Hockey Classic and the Brice Alaska Gold Rush in Fairbanks — for the first time in the four years since the BAGR debuted in 2008. In non-conference wins over St. Cloud State, Nebraska-Omaha and Mercyhurst and a tie with Clarkson, the Seawolves are averaging 38 shots on goal per game but are allowing just 23.5.
The Seawolves’ 3-0-1 record matches Alaska-Anchorage’s best start (2007-08) since Dave Shyiak took over the coaching reins at UAA in 2005.
It’s way too early to tell where these teams are headed with any certainty but their progress is definitely worth a closer look in the coming weeks and, quite possibly, beyond.
A little chin music
Junior center Rylan Schwartz scored three times to lead Colorado College to a 6-4 win over Bemidji State on Saturday night to complete the Tigers’ sweep of the visiting Beavers. While the hat trick may have been the first of Schwartz’s college career, the method by which he tallied the first goal may never be duplicated.
“It bounced off my chin and then shoulder and in,” Schwartz told Joe Paisley of the Colorado Springs Gazette, adding that it didn’t hurt “after I saw it go in.”
“When he plays like that we’re a better team,” Tigers coach Scott Owens said of Schwartz’s positioning on the play. “It’s funny how good things happen when you go to the net. That got him going, and then he scored two big-time goals.”
College puck fans ‘Like’ this
When Denver hosts Minnesota State on Saturday night at Magness Arena, fans across the country with Facebook accounts can follow along online. The game will be webcast live for free on the Pioneers’ official Facebook fan page beginning at 7:07 p.m. MDT as part of what Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock have proclaimed “University of Denver Pioneer Athletics Day”.
Problems between UMD’s pipes
Many thought Minnesota-Duluth’s most glaring issue to address this season was the scoring void from the loss of Justin Fontaine and Mike Connolly. That’s not the problem.
UMD has scored fewer than four goals just once so far this season and two-time All-American Jack Connolly has a good supporting cast up front with Travis Oleksuk and JT Brown. The problem, and the main reason the Bulldogs are 1-3 going into Week 3 of their national title defense, lies between the pipes.
Reiter was a dependable goaltender last season and got hot at the right time during UMD’s title run, but after three games, he appears to have gone stone cold. The senior has a save percentage of .834 and has given up 4.37 goals per game.
Reiter gets a pass for Friday’s performance, in which he allowed five goals to Minnesota. He saw 44 shots that night. Saturday, UMD put a lid on Minnesota’s scoring chances, holding the Gophers to 16 shots on Reiter. The Bulldogs put 50 on Kent Patterson, and that should be enough to win the game and so should four goals.
It’s probably time to throw backup Crandall into the game this weekend at Providence, although his numbers (.783 save percentage, 5.05 GAA) don’t exactly scream starting goalie either. Giving both Reiter and Crandall a start at Providence will give the Bulldogs a chance to start over and re-evaluate their goaltending situation.
Hudson to make 2011 debut?
Alex Hudson, Nebraska-Omaha’s leading returning scorer from 2010-11, may not be far from seeing his first ice time of the season.
According to the Omaha World-Herald‘s Rob White, Hudson skated with the team in practice last week and might be in the lineup against Alaska-Anchorage this weekend. Hudson missed the Mavericks’ first four games because of a violation of team rules.
Whether Hudson plays depends upon what shape he is in when UNO coach Dean Blais makes a decision.
“We’ll make that decision later in the week,” Blais told White. “It’s just like someone who has been injured for three weeks — it usually takes three weeks before they’re ready. Alex has been out for three weeks.”
Hudson’s 31 points (13 goals and 18 assists) ranked fourth among UNO’s scoring leaders last season. He had a goal and an assist in a split last February at Anchorage.
UND staying off the PK was key
Just like in 2010, Maine’s power play came alive last weekend against North Dakota. The Black Bears scored three times on eight power play chances, but the Fighting Sioux were in a much better position to win this time around. UND got a 3-1 win and a 3-3 tie.
Sure, Maine’s PP was 37.5 percent for the weekend but the main thing was that the Sioux gave the Black Bears only eight PP opportunities. It seemed like UND spent the whole weekend a man short when Maine swept the Sioux 7-3 and 4-2 last fall, a series in which the Black Bears went on the PP 19 times and scored five goals.
A star is born?
After skating in just 13 games and registering one assist in his rookie season, Minnesota sophomore defenseman Nate Schmidt is enjoying a breakout season of sorts. In just four games, Schmidt has posted six assists already this season.
Gophers coach Don Lucia praised Schmidt’s commitment over the summer, calling him the team’s most improved player.
“[Schmidt has] come back leaner, he’s probably seven or eight pounds lighter than he was a year ago, he just seems [like] a different player,” Lucia said at the team’s media luncheon earlier this month. “He seems much more confident, just the way he’s carrying himself on and off the ice.
“Last year was a struggle for him to get in our lineup on a consistent basis, whereas I think today he’s somebody that would certainly have to play himself out of our lineup,” added Lucia.
Players of the week
Here are the Red Baron WCHA Players of the Week:
Offensive: Rylan Schwartz, Colorado College junior forward
Schwartz collected a hat trick in CC’s 6-4 sweep-clinching win over Bemidji State on Saturday. Schwartz, a center, won 60 percent of his faceoffs and finished with a plus-1 plus/minus rating.
Defensive: Josh Robinson, Michigan Tech senior goaltender
Robinson stopped 44 of 47 shots in backstopping the Huskies to a pair of overtime wins over Wisconsin. On the season, Robinson is 3-0-0 with a 1.31 goals against average and a .950 save percentage.
Rookie: Kyle Rau, Minnesota freshman forward
The 5-foot-8, 173-pound Rau scored twice on Friday and netted the winner on Saturday to help the Gophers to a road sweep of Minnesota-Duluth. Rau has five points (4-1–5) in his first four collegiate games.
WCHA in the pros
Former Minnesota players Phil Kessel and Thomas Vanek have each been on scoring tears to begin the season. Both have recorded points in every game they played. Kessel leads the NHL in points (9) and Vanek is tied for second with eight. Vanek is also tied for the lead in goals with six.
Matt Read — Canadian hockey guru Bob McKenzie’s pick to win the Calder Trophy, the NHL’s rookie of the year — scored his second goal of the season Tuesday night. The former Bemidji State star has six points through five games.
Here is a full list of WCHA alumni actively listed on NHL rosters with their numbers through Tuesday:
Curtis Glencross F (CGY) 3-0–3 5 GP, Jay Beagle F (WAS) 0-0–0 2.
Matt Read F (PHI) 2-4–6 5 GP, Andrew Murray* F (SJS) 0-0–0 4.
Toby Peterson F (DAL) 0-0–0 3 GP, Jack Hillen D (NSH) 0-0–0 4, Richard Petiot F (TBL) 0-0–0 0, Mark Stuart D (WIN) 0-1–1 4.
Chris Butler D (CGY) 0-2–2 5 GP, Paul Stastny F (COL) 1-3–4 6, Patrick Wiercioch D (OTT) 0-0–0 0, Matt Carle D (PHI) 1-3–4 5, Tyler Bozak F (TOR) 0-3–3 4.
John Scott D (CHI) 0-0–0 2 GP, Andy Sutton D (EDM) 0-0–0 5.
Nick Leddy F (CHI) 1-1–2 5 GP, Erik Johnson D (COL) 0-5–5 6, Alex Goligoski D (DAL) 1-1–2 6, Keith Ballard D (VAN) 1-0–1 6, Thomas Vanek F (BUF) 4-4–8 5, Jordan Leopold D (BUF) 0-1–1 5, Kyle Okposo F (NYI) 0-1–1 4, Paul Martin D (PIT) 0-2–2 8, Phil Kessel F (TOR) 6-3–9 4, Blake Wheeler 0-1–1 4.
Alex Stalock G (SJS) 0 GP, Jason Garrison D (FLA) 2-0–2 5, Matt Niskinen D (PIT) 1-1–2 8, Jay Rosehill F (TOR) 0-0–0 1, Tim Stapleton F (WIN) 0-0–0 2.
Tim Jackman F (CGY) 0-0–0 5 GP, David Backes F (STL) 1-1–2 6, Ryan Carter F (FLA) 0-0–0 5.
Scott Parse* F (LAK) 0-0–2 2 GP, Greg Zanon* D (MIN) 1-0–1 6.
Jason Blake F (ANA) 0-0–0 3 GP, Matt Smaby F (ANA) 0-0–0 0 IR, Jonathan Toews F (CHI) 2-1–3 5, Mike Commodore (DET) 0-0–0 0 IR, Matt Greene (LAK) 0-0–0 5, Chris Porter F (STL) 0-0–0 2, T.J. Oshie F (STL) 0-2–2 6, Taylor Chorney D (STL) 0-0–0 0, Drew Stafford F (BUF) 3-2–5 5,
Matt Frattin F (TOR) 0-0–0 4.
St. Cloud State
Alex Gordon F (ANA) 0-1–1 5 GP, Matt Cullen F (MIN) 3-1–4 6, Andreas Nodl F (PHI) 0-0–0 4, Ryan Malone F (TBL) 1-2–3 6, Matt Hendricks F (WAS) 0-0–0
Rene Bourque F (CGY) 3-0–3 5 GP, Adam Burish F (DAL) 1-2–3 5, Jake Dowell F (DAL) 0-0–0 6, Tom Gilbert D (EDM) 1-1–2 5, Davis Drewiske D (LAK) 0-0–0 1, Dany Heatley F (MIN) 1-2–3 6, Blake Geoffrion F (NSH) 0-0–0 5, Craig Smith F (NSH) 2-2–4 5, Ryan Suter D (NSH) 2-1–3 5, Kyle Turris F (PHX) 0-0–0 0, Joe Pavelski F (SJS) 2-0–2 4, Brad Winchester F (SJS) 0-1–1 4, Brian Elliot G (STL) 1-0 .929 SV%, 2.25 GAA, Jamie McBain D (CAR) 0-1–1 3, Jack Skille F (FLA) 0-1–1 5, Derek Stepan F (NYR) 0-0–0 4, Ryan McDonagh D (NYR) 1-2–3 4, Jake Gardiner D (TOR) 0-0–0 2.
* — Indicates individual played at school during pre-WCHA years.