North Dakota/Wisconsin: another rivalry will be missed

As much attention as the final WCHA series between North Dakota and Minnesota received two weeks ago, North Dakota versus Wisconsin arguably had a lot more flavor in its last series before the teams leave for new conferences.

UND and Wisconsin won’t play next season but the are slated to play four seasons after that.

UND/Minnesota had the build-up but UND/Wisconsin had unmatched physicality and emotion this weekend. Friday’s game ended in a 1-1 tie and UND won 4-1 Saturday.

Heavy hits – some dangerous and some hazardous that went uncalled – and jaw-jacking that got the benches, coaches and the first-row fans involved were all part of the weekend.

The shouting/shoving/wrestling match near the end of Saturday’s game, which resulted in 78 penalty minutes including six misconducts, reached its climax when the Badgers’ Michael Mersch left his bench to challenge a UND player and removed his gloves and helmet.

While held back by a linesman, UND’s Stephane Pattyn dropped his gloves and threw off his helmet in response.

Suspensions from the league are a real possibility.

More importantly, UND picked up three huge points andgot back in the win column for the first time since its 5-3 win against Colorado College on Jan. 12. UND had gone 0-2-3 since.

The key Saturday was taking a 2-0 lead in the first 13:24. Wisconsin overcame a two-goal deficit once all season; Oct. 27 in a 2-2 tie at Minnesota-Duluth. Clearly the Badgers don’t have the firepower to do it often.

Saturday’s game was Wisconsin’s first loss in the league since Nov. 24 against Minnesota State, snapping an 11-game WCHA unbeaten streak.

Denver gets four impressive road points

If Denver still planned to compete for the MacNaughton Cup, it needed to take the majority of points against UMD. The Pioneers swept the Bulldogs and went from seventh place to a third-place tie with Minnesota and North Dakota and only five points out of first place.

It was a statement that Denver’s hot start to the second half of the season wasn’t a fluke, that it can win on the road and that it still is a contender to finish at or near the top of the WCHA standings.

After a bad outing at St. Cloud State Jan. 18 in which he allowed four goals on 37 shots and was benched the following night, Denver goaltender Juho Olkinuora bounced back for a 26-save shutout Friday. It was Olkinuora’s second shutout since Christmas.

The Pioneers killed off 84.6 percent of their penalties against the Bulldogs’ top-10 power play. It will take comparable performances in the next six games before hosting last-place Alaska-Anchorage for the final weekend.

A home-and-home series that’s sure to be very competitive both nights against rival Colorado College is up next. After that, the Pioneers host No. 7 UND (the crowd will likely be close to bipartisan in Denver) and travel to No. 1 Minnesota.

UMD was 5-1 in its last six WCHA games and on a roll. That momentum is stalled with the Bulldogs five points out of sixth place and the last seed for home playoff ice.

Copley, Michigan Tech steal one in Omaha

Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox and Minnesota State’s Stephon Williams have been steady freshman netminders for most of the season. But since Christmas, Michigan Tech freshman Pheonix Copley is demanding his share of the spotlight.

Nebraska-Omaha, with the nation’s second-best offense, fired four goals past Copley on Friday, but he followed it up with a 36-save gem for a 2-1 overtime win.

The Huskies victory threw a wrinkle in the MacNaughton race, taking two points from second-place UNO (26 points) and allowing first-place SCSU (29 points) some separation from the pack.

Copley has allowed two goals or less with three shutouts in Tech’s eight games since Christmas but only had a 1-3-1 record in WCHA play to show for it. Those two points from Saturday’s win were sorely needed by Tech.