Numbers suggest Minnesota-Duluth’s offense is top heavy, but Bulldogs dispute it

A look at the top of the WCHA scoring race finds three Minnesota-Duluth players in the top two spots with Jack Connolly leading the way with 42 points (16-26–42) and Travis Oleksuk (14-21–35) and J.T. Brown (17-18–35) tied for second with Denver’s Drew Shore.

Oleksuk, however, said there is much more to the Bulldogs’ offense.

“I like our team because we’re deep,” Oleksuk said. “We’ve got guys on the third and fourth lines who are putting in a lot of goals. It’s not just our top three, I think it’s our team as a whole. Everyone pitches in and knows their role and is playing it really well right now.”

Oleksuk has picked a great time to get in a groove with the postseason starting next week. Oleksuk is currently enjoying a personal high eight-game point-scoring streak in which he has accumulated 15 points (5-10–15).

“It’s that time of year every hockey player dreams of playing,” said Oleksuk. “Playoffs are right around the corner and, just like anyone else, you want to start playing your best hockey going into the playoffs.”

The second-place Bulldogs still have an outside chance at passing Minnesota for the MacNaughton Cup but, according to Oleksuk, the conference title is not at the forefront of the Bulldogs’ minds.

“Obviously, for us to win [the MacNaughton Cup] we need a little help from another team [Wisconsin] so we’re just going to focus on our job,” said Oleksuk. “That’s going to St. Cloud and trying to take four points from them and then whatever else happens happens.

“If we won the league that would be great but, obviously, in the end it’s winning that NCAA title and that’s what I’d say our main goal is.”

MSU-Moorhead not adding hockey

The Fargo Forum reported Monday that Minnesota State-Moorhead could not raise the funds needed to start a Division I hockey program. University president Edna Mora Szymanski said fundraising fell short of the $37 million goal, citing the struggling economy as a primary reason.

When the WCHA splits up after next season, four teams will remain in the conference and five will come over from the CCHA. Six current WCHA teams will leave for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, and Minnesota and Wisconsin will leave to form the Big Ten. That leaves the WCHA with nine teams, and commissioner Bruce McLeod has stated the league wants to get to 10 teams.

Wisconsin-Green Bay quickly shot down rumors that it was interested in starting a program. Alabama-Huntsville, an independent for the last two seasons after the dissolution of the CHA, is still on the lookout for conference affiliation.

Big hit crackdown

There has been a lot more focus for league and national officials in recent seasons on contact to the head, big hits and their consequences for the players on both the giving and receiving ends of the check.

Everyone knows that, and now players are having to change the way they play the body. Even when players believe their check was clean without intent to injure and away from the head, they often find themselves in the penalty box and sometimes in the locker room early.

That was the case last Friday when North Dakota’s Andrew MacWilliam threw a massive check on Denver’s Matt Tabrum early in UND’s 4-3 win. MacWilliam sat in the box for a minute while officials conferred and dealt him a game misconduct. MacWilliam argued his case.

On video, it appears MacWilliam’s shoulder and elbow dug into Tabrum’s high chest and sent him flying backward. Longtime NHL referee Kerry Fraser provided the color commentary for Friday’s game on the NBC Sports Network and said the initial contact was clean and away from Tabrum’s head. Tabrum was in Saturday’s lineup.

Denver’s diaper dandy defensemen

The Grand Forks Herald‘s Brad Schlossman did some digging last weekend and found that Denver freshman defenseman Joey LaLeggia’s 27 points in WCHA games after the North Dakota series were the most by a rookie defenseman in at least 12 seasons. LaLeggia has 11 goals and 25 assists in all games for 36 points, second most in Division I for scoring by defensemen. Only Justin Schultz of Wisconsin has more points (15-27–42).

Bjugstad recovering from injury

The Star Tribune reported Wednesday that the WCHA’s leading goal scorer, Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad, is still recovering from an injury he suffered in the second period of last Saturday’s win at Nebraska-Omaha.

He didn’t practice Tuesday, the Star Tribune‘ Roman Augustoviz reported, but Gophers coach Don Lucia said Tuesday on KFAN Radio that he is hopeful Bjugstad will play this weekend against Wisconsin.

“As long as he keeps progressing over the course of the week, there’s no reason he can’t come back and play this weekend,” Lucia said.

That kind of optimism four days before the opening game of the series usually means the player will get back in the lineup. Bjugstad, a sophomore, has 23 goals this season.

Nick Larson, returning from a broken wrist that has kept him out since mid-January, filled in on Minnesota’s top line, centering Kyle Rau and Zach Budish.

Between the dots …

Short-handed goals by Jayson Megna and Matt White for Nebraska-Omaha last weekend against Minnesota gave the Mavericks a WCHA-leading nine shorties this season. The team record is 10, set in 2004-05 and duplicated the following year. … White’s goal tied him with the Gophers’ Nate Condon for the conference lead with four short-handed goals. … Junior forward Danny Kristo’s penalty shot goal for North Dakota last Friday in Denver was the Fighting Sioux’s first successful penalty shot since Drew Stafford beat Maine’s Jimmy Howard in coach Dave Hakstol’s debut behind the UND bench on Oct. 8, 2004. … Kristo wasn’t done with milestones, however, as the following night he recorded an assist to become the 83rd North Dakota player to reach 100 points in his career. …

Junior center Rylan Schwartz of Colorado College scored a goal in each game last weekend in Duluth, giving him a team-leading 22 goals on the year. After scoring just 12 times in his first 77 games for the Tigers, Schwartz has lit the lamp 26 times in his last 34 games. … Younger brother Jaden Schwartz was held off the score sheet by the Bulldogs on Saturday, marking just the third time that has happened in 26 appearances this season. … In handing Bemidji State its first home sweep of the season last weekend Wisconsin extended its lead in the all-time series between the teams to 5-0. The Badgers are the only WCHA team the Beavers have yet to defeat since joining the league last season. …

In falling to Alaska 3-1 on Saturday, Alaska-Anchorage went to a shootout with the Nanooks to decide the Governor’s Cup title. Alaska won it 3-2. The title has been decided via shootout five teams in the history of the trophy, with the Nanooks winning four times. … Sitting just one point out of a tie for fifth place in the conference, Michigan Tech has a chance to finish higher than sixth place for the first time since the Huskies placed fourth in the WCHA in 1992-93. … Not surprisingly, MTU’s home attendance has seen a boost this season. Michigan Tech’s 17-game average of 2,933 is a 25 percent increase over last season and amounts to roughly 15 percent of the local area population. …

With a three-point weekend at UNO (2 goals, 1 assist) Minnesota forward Kyle Rau is on a seven-game point streak with three goals and six assists in that stretch. With a point against Wisconsin on Friday, Rau will match the team-high eight-game streak he had earlier in the season. … The St. Cloud State defensive tandem of Andrew Prochno and Nick Jensen has combined for 53 points this season. The Huskies’ all-time leaders in that regard at the Division I level are Bret Hedican (48) and John Tharaldson (14), who teamed up for 62 points in the 1990-91 season.