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Woods wants to wrap Alaska career on high note after completing cancer battle

 (Paul McCarthy)
Alaska captain and Fairbanks native Justin Woods celebrates a goal earlier this season (photo: Paul McCarthy).

Justin Woods didn’t know if he was ever going to play another game on defense for his hometown Alaska (Fairbanks) Nanooks.

He didn’t even know when or if he’d get to go back to his home state after he heard one of the most troubling words anyone can ever hear, especially someone in his early 20s.

Cancer. The dreaded big “C” itself.

Woods was diagnosed prior to his sophomore season with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, and redshirted the entire 2014-15 campaign while undergoing treatment and convalescence at the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle.

“It was an emotional time for me,” he admitted in mid-November. “There was a lot going on, and I had to just focus on what was important, which was getting better and having a positive attitude.”

It took a while, to be sure.

“I was diagnosed in April 2014, and didn’t get back until Feb. 2015,” he added. of the time from when he first learned he had cancer until the point he was declared cancer-free to return to Alaska.

Ewing’s Sarcoma has popped up intermittently in the sports world over the last decade. NFL linebacker Mark Herzlich missed the 2009 season at Boston College and went undrafted due to his diagnosis, but later won Super Bowl XLVI as a member of the New York Giants. More recently, former Providence College hockey forward Drew Brown passed away on Nov. 11 at age 25 following a long fight with the disease.

Woods said he didn’t speak to anyone waging the same exact battle he was—but he did get a pick-me up in Seattle from someone who plied the same winter trade.

“My mom contacted Jordin Tootoo,” said Woods of the veteran NHL player, who is now with the Chicago Blackhawks. “He got back to me and told me to stay positive. He told me he had my back, and if I needed anything, I could call him. It was pretty cool.”

Woods bided his time in Washington, waiting for the day when he could return to both his hometown and the school he grew up rooting for as a boy. He also got an impromptu visit from his Nanooks teammates, when they were headed back to Alaska from Minnesota that December.

“They were actually coming from Mankato, and were ranked in the top 20,” said Woods. “We talked and explored the Ronald McDonald House, and it was a really cool experience to have them with me.”

Ultimately, he was cleared to go back home and resume his hockey career, after also being honored with the Harris Shelton Spirit of Competition Award from Nanook Athletics that year.

“There are people who were not as lucky as me with their treatment,” said Woods. “I was blessed and lucky to play again, and it was nice to get back and put on the skates.”

“He’s more than just a local boy, and his story is more than inspiring,” said Bruce Cech, the longtime radio “Voice of the Nanooks” about Woods and his fight.

“He has won the battle with cancer, and now he gets to battle every weekend playing the game he loves the most,” added Cech.

Woods formally returned to the ice at the Patty Ice Arena on Alaska’s campus in Sept. 2015, making an emotional homecoming at the Nanooks’ annual Blue and Gold Game intrasquad scrimmage.

“I got a standing ovation,” recalled Woods, who was also one of the dozen on-ice starters in that contest. “My teammates and the Fairbanks community all supported me, and it was amazing.”

Besides skating for the Nanooks, he went on to graduate in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. He is currently studying Homeland Security and Emergency Management as a graduate student, while Alaska attempts to get back to its winning ways of 2013-14 and 2014-15.

“We have all watched how hard he works and how he hard he’s fought to get his game back, and it’s unbelievable,” said Nanooks coach Lance West. “He approaches everything with such a positive attitude and energy, and it’s rubbed off on all of us.”

Woods, 23, now has another prominent and more benevolent “C” in his life — that of the captain’s “C” he sports on his game jerseys in his final year of NCAA eligibility.

A Fairbanks native, he played almost all his formative hockey in his hometown, and his local tenure included stints with West Valley High School and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the North American Hockey League. He then spent one season in Nebraska, just prior to joining the Nanooks, with the USHL’s Lincoln Stars.

UAF T&I 2017-2018“I always watched them (UAF) growing up,” admitted Woods. “I’d go to games, and thought it would be cool to play for the Nanooks. I was a big fan, and when I got offered, I knew it was good for me.”

An all-around blueliner, the 6-foot-1, 214-pound Woods has seemingly become a goal-scoring machine this season. He tallied eight goals over his previous three college campaigns, but had already collected six scores following a 3-2 loss to Bemidji State on Nov. 4 that completed a personal three-game goal-scoring streak.

“There’s no secret,” he laughed, about his newfound scoring prowess. “I’m working hard and shooting more, and my teammates do a good job of getting me the puck.”

His best game statistically so far this season came in a two-goal, one-assist effort in a 6-2 rout of in-state nemesis Alaska Anchorage on Oct. 20. For his career, that gave him six goals and five assists altogether against the rival Seawolves.

“Growing up, I always played against Anchorage teams,” recalled Woods. “We hated each other, and you always wanted to beat them.”

Such feelings towards Alaska’s biggest city and its teams have persisted at the college level.

“It’s a fun atmosphere, and it’s not just in the rink—it’s both communities,” he said. “It’s a really cool experience, and it’s fun to play them (UAA).”

Woods, who notched three points in a two-game set with Michigan Tech on Nov. 24-25 at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks, put up seven goals and 11 points overall in his first 16 contests this season. In 113 career games with the Nanooks to that post-Thanksgiving point, he had registered 16 goals and 38 points with 93 penalty minutes.

“Justin has been outstanding for us, not just on the ice, but in every aspect of our program,” remarked West. “He has been a leader, a role model and mentor for our players, and also the community of Fairbanks.”

Now in his last season in Blue and Gold, Woods would like to help the Nanooks to another Governors Cup victory against UAA, plus a WCHA playoff berth and perhaps even Alaska’s first selection to the NCAA tournament since 2010.

“Those are the goals,” he laughed.

Besides earning his master’s degree, his other personal objective is to turn pro after his college hockey days are done.

“I do want to play pro,” said Woods. “I want to finish strong, and put myself in a position to play professionally.”

Wherever he goes to get paid for playing, It’ll have to be somewhere in the Lower 48, Canada or Europe, what with the demise of the ECHL’s Alaska Aces earlier this year. There were also public fears last year that with Alaska’s bleak state budget situation, the Nanook and Seawolf hockey programs might be consolidated or even eliminated. The players, though, continued with their business as usual.

“We didn’t pay much attention,” said Woods. “I think we’ll be fine. Nanook Hockey has been good for the Fairbanks community. It does good things, and does a lot of community service, and if it was gone the area would change. Nanook Hockey is really good for Fairbanks.”

So is No. 8 for the Nanooks, at least for one more half-year, even more so with all he has been through both on and off the ice.

“What’s really special is you can see how his journey has taught others to appreciate their opportunity,” said West. “Just being around him inspires you to embrace and enjoy what you’re doing, no matter how hard it is or how hard you have to work for it.”

Clarkson’s Jones, Mercyhurst’s Gotkin join Nov. 28 USCHO Live!

Our scheduled guests on the Tuesday, November 28, edition of USCHO Live! are Clarkson coach Casey Jones, whose Golden Knights are at No. 3 in this week’s USCHO.com men’s hockey poll after winning the Friendship Four title in Belfast last weekend, and Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin, whose Lakers gave Wisconsin its first loss against an Atlantic Hockey opponent in a weekend split against the Badgers. Join us for the conversation and information, Tuesday, November 14, at 8 p.m. EST using the player below or listen using the Spreaker Radio app for iOSAndroid or Windows phone.

Be part of the conversation! Send your tweets to @USCHO or your emails to [email protected]. Each episode of USCHO Live! features a look at news around NCAA hockey, a look ahead at upcoming games and events, and conversation with people who coach, administer and play college hockey, and journalists who cover the sport.

About the hosts

Jim Connelly is a senior writer at USCHO.com and has been with the site since 1999. He is based in Boston and regularly covers Hockey East. He began with USCHO.com as the correspondent covering the MAAC, which nowadays is known as Atlantic Hockey. Each week during the season, he co-writes “Tuesday Morning Quarterback.” Jim is the winner of the 2012 Joe Concannon award. He a former color analyst for UMass-Lowell hockey’s radio network and studio analyst for NESN.

Ed Trefzger has been part of USCHO since 1999 and now serves as a senior writer and director of technology. He is the radio play-by-play voice for Rochester Institute of Technology hockey on the RIT Tigers Sports Network, and has been involved with the broadcasts as a producer, studio host, and color commentator since their inception. He is the owner and president of broadcasting company Dansville Media, and was general manager of the former Rochester, N.Y., sports radio station 97.5 The Team.

Three Things November 28

Here is what we learned this past weekend in the WCHA:

1. Non-conference struggles continued for the WCHA. The league went 1-6 in non-conference tilts, with Bemidji State picking up the only win against Princeton last Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

2. Michigan Tech is taking care of it’s own business, but it’s going to need some outside help to climb into the top tier of the WCHA standings. With a sweep this weekend the Huskies are tied for second and one point Minnesota State in the conference standings, but they’ve also played four more games than both Bowling Green and Minnesota State.

3. Mitch Maloney had a big weekend for Ferris State. The senior led the NCAA with four goals and five points last weekend in a road split in Alabama.

TMQ: Talking this week’s D-I men’s poll, Friendship Four, Mike Folga

 (William Cherry)
Friendship Four champion Clarkson moved to No. 3 in this week’s USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll (photo: William Cherry).

Each week during the season, we look at the big events and big games around Division I men’s college hockey in Tuesday Morning Quarterback.

Paula: Jimmy, after a week of very light conference play, a whole bunch of nonconference games and some top teams with byes, I find the poll this week to be very interesting.

Confession time: I’m the sole voter who put Notre Dame at the top, based on their nine-game win streak and their decisive victory over Minnesota Saturday night — and because they are undefeated in a conference that I see as much improved this season. Minnesota didn’t drop too far in the polls after being swept by Notre Dame, which says something about the perceived strength of both teams.

Given that Denver didn’t play, perhaps I shouldn’t have penalized the Pioneers. Also, I waffled about putting St. Cloud on top because the Huskies have just two losses, but they also sat out this past weekend. It’s a tricky thing for me and you and I have talked about the nature of the poll a lot, about what it really measures. This past weekend, I thought that Notre Dame was the best team in the country. That may not be fair and it may change next week, of course.

I’m really interested in what you think about gauging the top teams in weeks like this. I’m also interested in hearing about the Friendship Four.

Jim: I have always been of the ilk that if a team is off for a week, it’s not fair to said team unless another team does something rather amazing.

For me, I did feel that Notre Dame’s sweep of Minnesota was pretty impressive and I actually placed them in the second spot on my ballot. I didn’t feel it was fair, though, to push them past Denver as the Pioneers already took three out of four points from the Irish in South Bend earlier this season.

Is that fair rationale? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s why you and I aren’t the sole voters in this poll. We need many other rationales to get a solid sample size of perception.

The other topic you mentioned was the Friendship Four, which continues to impress me in terms of the success of the event. Once again, the four games (all separate admission tickets) drew more than 5,000 fans per game, something that just blows my mind. We’re taking a sport – college hockey – and placing it in an area that has one professional hockey team in the entire combined countries of Northern Ireland and Ireland.

And yet, the demand is there for the fans.

On top of that, the experience for the teams sounds like it was once again very positive. Teams are certainly talking with other teams that have traveled to Belfast in the past and are refining the overall experience to make it top-notch for the student athlete.

Obviously, this is an event that Hockey East and the ECAC own, but I wouldn’t be surprised if other conferences tried to find a similar international destination to replicate such an event.

Paula: I am glad to hear that the event is so well received and so well attended – and that this is such a good experience for student-athletes who get to participate.

I would love to see more NCAA D-I events played internationally. The fact that this does so well in the British Isles is incredible; I can only imagine how well a D-I tournament would be received in countries where more professional hockey is played. Based on how the IIHF World Junior Championship is attended in Europe and Russia, I think a small tournament like the Friendship Four would do well in such places – although I am sure that travel itself would be an issue for some programs.

All of this talk reminds me that this coming week is the fullest schedule remaining in the first half of the season. There is a lot of hockey on tap for the following week, but not much the weekend of Dec. 15 and nothing, of course, the week after that because of the Christmas holiday. Then we have midseason tournaments.

Who is surprising you the most as the first half comes to a close, Jimmy? Who’s emerging that you find interesting? And are you at the point yet where you’re looking forward to any of the midseason tournaments?

Close to home, I’m most surprised by Michigan State. It’s not just that the Spartans are getting a boost out of new coach Danton Cole, but Michigan State is playing smarter hockey week by week, and goaltender John Lethemon gets stronger as the season progresses. Michigan State has seven wins so far, which equals the total number the Spartans had for all of last season.

I’m surprised, too, by Western Michigan. The Broncos went 6-2-0 in November and swept Denver in the process. I don’t know why I’m surprised by WMU, except that I saw them earlier in the season and thought they didn’t look prepared. They also had a slow start.

It’s hard not to be excited about the emergence of Boston College after the Eagles’ slow start. A 7-0-1 November is impressive.

Jim: There are a number of teams that impress me for various reasons.

You mentioned Boston College for getting hot after a slow start. Throw Union in that category as well. After beginning 0-5, the Dutchmen are 8-1-1 including taking a win and a tie on the road at North Dakota this past weekend.

Obviously, Clarkson stands out for their performance. Probably a bit expected, but a perfect 8-0 in November was impressive.

There’s also Massachusetts, a five-win team a season ago, which improved to 7-6-0 this weekend with a sweep of Quinnipiac.

Then there are teams like Maine, which I had almost no expectations for, yet still have put together quality wins against teams like Boston University and UMass Lowell. And Mercyhurst, which is a .500 team, but has posted non-league wins against teams like Wisconsin, Penn State and Ferris State.

As for holiday tournaments, I always look forward to these events, but am somewhat disappointed by how few there are this year. Vermont, Dartmouth and Robert Morris will all host their annual events (I’m been to all three in recent years – all very well-run events). The newcomer this year is Arizona State’s tournament, which will be played in Las Vegas at the home of the NHL’s Golden Knights. I’m personally excited for that one as I’ll be in attendance.

But that’s the whole schedule of tournaments. I miss tournaments like those in the past in Minnesota and Wisconsin. And even though the attendance was never impressive, teams seemed to love going to Estero, Fla., each season for the Everblades Classic. All of those are missing from this year’s docket.

A Tip of the Cap…

Paula: … to Wisconsin-Stevens Point equipment manager Todd Bialas, who filled in for Mercyhurst equipment manager Mike Folga when the Lakers traveled to play Wisconsin in Madison. Recovering from surgery, Folga wasn’t able to make the trip and Mercyhurst found itself in need of someone skilled, and at practically the last minute too. Judging by Mercyhurst’s split on the weekend and James Anderson’s third-period goal for the Lakers in Sunday’s game, it’s clear that Bialas did an outstanding job.

Jim: Certainly a noble move. Mike Folga is one of the ultimate good guys in college hockey. He’s also probably one of the few college equipment managers to have a Stanley Cup ring having served on the staff of the New York Rangers back in 1994. I’m not sure how serious Folga’s surgery was, but we certainly wish him a speedy recovery and a quick return behind the Mercyhurst bench.

WCHA announces one-game suspension to Alaska’s Weiss for head contact penalty against Michigan Tech

The WCHA announced Monday a one-game suspension to Alaska junior defenseman Jack Weiss.

The suspension is a result of Weiss’ game misconduct infraction for contact to the head, which occurred at the 19:59 mark of the third period in Alaska’s game on Saturday, Nov. 25, against Michigan Tech.

Upon review, the hit was delivered in a manner that warranted the suspension.

Alaska’s next scheduled game is Friday, Dec. 1, at Lake Superior State. Weiss would be eligible to return for the Nanooks’ Saturday, Dec. 2 game at LSSU.

East wrap: Nov. 26

Hope the thanksgiving holiday weekend was enjoyable for all! There was some great hockey played over the weekend, with some dramatic holiday tournament action as well as some intriguing nonconference matchups to spice up the weekend. Hosting and winning the tournament seemed to be a challenge, as only two teams successfully defended their home ice by hoisting the trophy. That continues to show the depth and breadth of talent across D-III. Here are some of the highlights from the past weekend.

CCC
Endicott and Salem State tangled in a nonconference, backyard brawl that became a one-sided affair early. The Gulls put up a 10-spot in the 10-4 win over the Vikings. Josh Bowes and Logan Day scored two goals apiece, and Jason Kalinowski added a goal and two assists for Endicott, which moved to 7-1-0 on the season.

The Suffolk Rams won the PAL/Stovepipe Tournament with a 3-2 win over Southern New Hampshire. Goalie Michael Levine was key to the Rams success as he recorded 48 saves in the opening round win over Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Joseph Mortillaro scored twice, including one short-handed goal before Brian Brooks scored the ultimate game-winner.

In the championship game, the Rams won in dramatic fashion as Mortillaro scored with just 13 seconds remaining in regulation to break the 2-2 tie and give the Rams the win and the tournament title.

MASCAC
The Steve Hoar Memorial Invitational tournament featured the Fitchburg State Falcons in the championship game against Becker. The host Hawks were coached by the late Steve Hoar, so the motivation to win had to be high in the Becker locker room. Fitchburg State earned a berth in the final with a 4-1 win over Stonehill. Tyler Warila led the way with a pair of goals in the opening round win. Becker downed Bryn Athyn by a 5-1 score, with five different players scoring for the Hawks.

In the championship game, Becker jumped out to an early 2-0 lead behind two goals from Macgregor Howey, but that apparently woke up the Falcons. Four unanswered goals in the second half of the period gave Fitchburg State a 4-2 lead, and they never looked back. Dean Zerby, Tyler Warila, and Sascha Figi each scored a pair of goals on the way to an 8-3 championship win.

Last Tuesday night, the Worcester State Lancers moved to 7-0-0 on the season with a 2-1 road win at St. Anselm College. The Lancers, who are atop the conference standings, have been very opportunistic with the power play, as evidenced by the two extra-man goals against the Hawks. Nick Patullo and Bryan Green scored in the second period, and that was enough for goalie Josh Reinstein, who made 22 saves in picking up his sixth win of the season.

NE-10
Assumption downed Johnson & Wales prior to Thanksgiving by a 3-1 score. The Greyhounds outshot the Wildcats by a wide 55-35 margin, but could only net goals from Brian Farrell, Cam Laughlin, and Tommy Mahoney. Goalie Mike Rockwell was stellar for the visitors, making 52 saves in the losing effort.

NEHC
Massachusetts-Boston traveled to Maine to play in the Bowdoin/Colby Face-off Tournament. The Beacons, led by Nolan Redler’s two goals, downed the host Mules by a 5-1 score, with goalie Bailey MacBurnie making 35 stops in the win.

On Sunday, MacBurnie did one better, stopping all 26 shots he faced to earn the shutout in the 4-0 win over the Polar Bears. Colin Larkin scored a pair of goals to reach 10 in the team’s first 10 games, and the Beacons won the tournament with a 2-0-0 record while outscoring their opponents 9-1.

Joe Osaka’s two goals led New England College to a 5-1 nonconference win over Wentworth on Saturday. The win moved the Pilgrims to 6-4-0 overall on the season.

NESCAC
Hamilton played in the Skidmore Invitational and won the tournament with a 3-1 win over Canton followed by a 4-1 win over the host Thoroughbreds. Rory Gagnon scored all three goals in the opening round win, while the line of Brandon Willett, Jason Brochu, and Neil Conway combined for two goals and seven points in the 4-1 championship game win. Evan Buitenhuis stopped 35 of 36 shots to earn his first win of the season.

Trinity played a pair of nonconference games and proved they could win the close ones as well as blow-out an opponent. On Saturday, second-period goals from Ryan Pfeffer and Andy Chugg were all Alex Morin needed to down a tough Plymouth State team, 2-1. On Sunday, the game was less stressful for coach Matt Greason as his team put up 11 goals to beat Franklin Pierce. Eric Benshadle scored three goals in the third period to earn a hat trick, while 13 Bantams picked up points in the decisive win.

Williams remained unbeaten as the Ephs took on an always tough Babson squad on Saturday in Williamstown. After a scoreless first period, the Ephs struck for three goals in the second period off the sticks of David Italiano, CJ Shugart, and Colby Cretella. Despite outshooting the hosts, the Beavers could only manage a goal from Josh Beck before the second period ended. Shugart scored his second of the game into an empty net to seal the 4-1 win and 3-0 start for coach Mike Monti.

SUNYAC
Plattsburgh headed to the Primelink Great Northern Shootout with a 2-4-0 record and defending national champion Norwich looming in the opening round game. The Cardinals surrendered a first-period goal to the Cadets’ Payton Baldillez, but tied it in the second period on a short-handed goal by Ayrton Valente late in the second period. The momentum created by the late goal carried over into the third period, where goals by Cam Owens, Pat Egan, and Antoine Desnoyers gave Plattsburgh a big 4-1 win over Norwich.

On Saturday, Plattsburgh faced a Lawrence team that had defeated the hosts from Middlebury, 6-3. The Cardinals wasted no time in setting the tone against the visitors from the west as Pat Egan and Cam Owens scored 34 seconds apart in the first period and Cole Stallard added a third goal for a 3-0 first-period lead. The second period was scoreless, but Plattsburgh’s Lawson Fenton had to work hard to keep it that way, making 14 saves.

The teams exchanged goals early in the third period, but an extra-attacker goal in the final 70 seconds wasn’t enough to derail the Cardinals’ win and hoisting of the championship trophy.

Cortland was the winner of the Binghamton Devils Tournament over the weekend following wins over Framingham State and Amherst. The Red Dragons downed the Rams by a 6-3 score in the opening round before beating the Mammoths 4-1 behind two goals from Scott Donohue and 23 saves from Drew Weigman.

UCHC
Utica hosted Johnson & Wales and Salve Regina over the weekend in nonconference action. On Friday, Dalton Carter’s two goals and two assists led a 9-0 rout over the Wildcats. The confident Pioneers carried that momentum into Saturday and downed a tough Salve Regina squad, 3-1. Two power-play goals from Carter and Kyle Lajeunesse combined with Anthony McVeigh’s short-handed goal were enough for Patrik Virtanen, who stopped 33 of 34 shots in the win. Seahawk Jack Billings picked up his 10th goal of the season in the loss.

Game of the Week
As the host school of a holiday tournament, it is special to win the event in front of your home fans, so when the Castleton Spartans found themselves down a goal in the first 20 seconds and trailing 3-0 after the first period to a strong Brockport team, there had to be some doubt it was going to happen.

Tim Kielich got the visitors on the board early and added his second of the game on a power play just six minutes later. Aidan Verbeke added another power-play goal before the midway mark of the period, but that is all Ryan Mulder and his mates would give up for the game.

In the second period, Ryan Ng scored just 27 seconds after the opening faceoff and Ryan O’Toole scored less than three minutes later to pull the Spartans within one goal after 40 minutes of play.

The third period saw the hosts level the score on a goal by Matt Bloomer. The power-play goal was Castleton’s only conversion in seven chances, but momentum had shifted. Trevor Hanna scored what proved to be the game-winning goal with just over four minutes remaining in regulation to make the score 4-3, and Ryan Mulder stopped all eight Brockport shots in the third to seal the championship game win.

Three Biscuits
Rory Gagnon, Hamilton: The Continentals forward scored all three goals in registering a hat trick in Hamilton’s 3-1 win over Canton in the opening round of the Skidmore Invitational.

Ryan Mulder, Castleton: He shut the door on Brockport over the final two periods, making 16 saves and backing the host Spartans to 4-3 win in the championship game of the WYSB Catamount Radio Invitational.

Michael Levine, Suffolk: Levine stopped 48 of 50 shots as the Rams downed Massachusetts-Dartmouth 3-2 in the opening round of the PAL/Stovepipe Tournament at Southern New Hampshire. Levine also stopped 28 of 30 in the championship round game against SNHU to secure the 3-2 win and tournament championship.

Playing for any kind of hardware is always a strong motivation to play at your best, and for many teams this weekend, hoisting the trophy showed they were definitely on the right track and playing some very good hockey. That is a big step forward as the weeks and games remaining in the first half begin to wind down.

Three Things: Bentley Takes Flight

It seemed like each week featured some other team breaking out of its shell. Someone had the perfect weekend of hockey and banked four points while providing glimpses into a program’s identity. Everyone had their day, except, it seemed, Bentley.

Until now.

Bentley swept Robert Morris this weekend by playing a complete weekend of hockey. The Falcons outscored the Colonials, 9-4, with two very different types of victories. They led the entire way on Friday after Connor Brassard scored seven minutes into the first period, taking a 2-0 lead late in the frame when Drew Callin did the same. Bentley salted the game away with a third goal early in the final period before surrendering a power-play goal.

On Saturday, the Falcons won in very different fashion. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period but surrendered the next three goals, including an early third period strike, to fall behind 3-2. They rallied for three straight to take a 5-3 lead, adding an empty net goal en route to a 6-3 win.

The win brought with it a resurgence of Bentley’s special teams unit. The Falcons are historically one of the best power play units in the league, and they scored four extra attacker goals on the weekend. The penalty kill unit, which entered as one of the worst in the nation at 70%, found its groove and prevented the Colonials from scoring on all but two of their 11 chances on the weekend.

Four points had an added bonus of vaulting the Falcons back into the thick of the league race from tenth place. They now sit in eighth and are within striking distance of sixth place. They sit one point behind AIC for seventh place with a game at the Yellow Jackets on the horizon on Friday. The two teams split their first two meetings with a pair of ties.

Bentley will meet UMass-Lowell in a non-conference game on Tuesday before then.

Resounding Points

Air Force entered Saturday’s game against Sacred Heart in need of points to avoid falling too far behind the rest of the league. The preseason favorite to win it all, the Falcons were in the bottom three in the league after recording only one point in its last four games.

The Falcons responded, though, with a three point weekend that could have been better. A 3-3 tie on Friday saw Sacred Heart claw back from a 3-1 deficit in the third period with under three minutes remaining, but Air Force rallied from down two goals in the second period to score five unanswered on Sunday.

The points kept pace with the rest of the league. Air Force is still in ninth place, but, like Bentley, they remain in striking distance of the teams in front of them. A huge opportunity awaits this weekend with Niagara traveling to Colorado.

Splitting It Up

As expected, AIC and Niagara proved itself as the underrated series of the weekend. The teams fought to a split in Springfield as both delivered and absorbed blows from the opposing roster.

Niagara struck first with a 3-1 victory on Friday afternoon. After taking a 1-0 first period lead, the Purple Eagles made it two in the third period. The insurance goal wound up necessary after AIC scored a minute later.

The Yellow Jackets fell behind 1-0 in the first period again on Saturday but scored four unanswered goals, including two by Jared Pike, to roll through for the two points. It marked Niagara’s second loss of the season in conference and held the Purps back from pushing into second place

Three impressive performances from three B1G teams

This Big Ten season is more interesting with each passing weekend. There were three series B1G series Friday and Saturday. Here are my takeaways.

First, Notre Dame is mighty impressive.

With a home sweep of No. 6 Minnesota, No. 4 Notre Dame improved to 12-3-1, extended its current win streak to nine games, remained undefeated (6-0-0) in Big Ten play, and solidified its position atop the Big Ten standings with 18 points to Minnesota’s 11. I don’t care how early in the conference season it is and how much hockey there remains to be played. The Fighting Irish will be hard to catch as the season progresses.

Notre Dame’s 1-0 win over Minnesota Friday night was made all the more impressive by sophomore Cale Morris’s performance in net. Morris stopped all 40 shots he faced for his fourth career shutout — all this season — and his second shutout in as many games. The Fighting Irish were limited to 23 shots in that game; the following night, they were still outshot, 42-35, but their additional offensive press resulted in a 5-2 win and the Irish just took it to the Gophers in the third period, peppering Eric Schierhorn with 17 shots, limiting the Gophers to five, and scoring two unanswered goals to take that game outright.

Second, these aren’t last year’s Buckeyes.

No. 15 Ohio State swept No. 17 Michigan in Ann Arbor with a 3-2 win Friday and 5-1 win Saturday. Through 14 games this season, the Buckeyes have allowed just 1.93 goals per game, second in the nation; in 2016-2017, Ohio State finished 30th in the nation with 2.90 goals against per game. In the series against Michigan, it was clear that Ohio State has committed to total team defense this season. The Buckeyes were more protective of the puck in both their own end and on offense, committing far few turnovers than they have in the past.

The addition of senior goaltender, Sean Romeo, is another reason the Buckeyes are so stingy this season. Romeo was especially impressive in the third period of Saturday’s game. After Ohio State had limited Michigan to 13 shots through the first two periods and led 3-1 going into the third, the Wolverines turned up the heat and did all they could to salvage something from the weekend and Romeo was having none of it. Michigan put 21 shots on Romeo in the third and limited Ohio State to five, but the Buckeyes still scored two goals and Romeo allowed none — even with over a minute of a Michigan five-on-three power play.

Third, these definitely are not last year’s Spartans.

While Michigan State may have some way to go in rebuilding its program, the Spartans are playing smart hockey, playing to the best of their ability and learning from game to game. On Friday, the Spartans got shellacked by the Nittany Lions on the road, 7-2, a game Penn State led 4-1 after the first period and during which the Nittany Lions were never really threatened.

Saturday, though, was a different story. After a scoreless first period, Penn State found the net 12:57 in the second, but by the 17:44 mark of that period, Michigan State led 2-1. Penn State evened the score at 19:26 in the third with the extra attacker, but the Spartans came out of that game with two points, having taken the extra point in the shootout. Sophomore John Lethemon was a big part of that. He replaced senior Ed Minney in net Friday night, and Saturday Lethemon stopped 41-of-43 as the Nittany Lions outshot the Spartans 43-23.

Michigan State has been swept just once this season, on the road against Minnesota. With an overall record of 7-6-1, the Spartans have now equaled the total number of wins they earned in the 2016-2017 season. Definitely not last year’s Michigan State team.

UMass shines, Hockey East rebounds, but BU falls

These are the three things I think I learned this week.

1. How ’bout them Minutemen?

I’m stunned.

Yes, I believe Massachusetts coach Greg Carvel has the program moving in the right direction for long-term success. But if you asked me a few weeks ago about the short term outlook for the Minutemen, especially against a perennial power like Quinnipiac, I’d have bet the ranch against them.

I’d have lost the ranch.

UMass didn’t just salvage a split in this weekend’s home-and-home. The Minutemen swept.

And if you want to dismiss that as a one-week aberration–too much turkey for the Bobcats?–then look again at the previous week’s results. A week ago, UMass split with 10th-ranked Providence.

Kudos to the Minutemen, now 7-6-0 overall on the season.

2. Finally, a good non-conference weekend!

Jim Connelly and I have beat the drum (or perhaps a dead horse) about Hockey East’s poor non-conference record so far this year. So now it’s time to give credit where credit is due.

With only a single conference game–Providence – Maine in the Friendship Four first round–this weekend was a big one for the league and it turned in a strong performance. It went 6-2-1, a significant shot in the arm for its chances of getting extra teams into the NCAA tournament.

Ironically, the two losses came from two teams expected to help carry the league, Providence in the Friendship Four championship game, and Boston University in its Madison Square Garden match-up with Cornell.

Speaking of which…

3. BU was the only team to play this week and not emerge with at least a single point.

The Terriers played only a single game, and they did mount a late-game charge to close a 4-1 deficit to 4-3, but the results are the results.

They fell to 6-8-1.

Unbelievable.

Rankings roundup: How the top 20 fared, Nov. 24-26

 (William Cherry)
Clarkson captured the 2017 Friendship Four tournament title Thanksgiving weekend with wins over RPI and Providence (photo: William Cherry).

Here is a rundown of how the top 20 teams in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll of Nov. 20 fared over the Nov. 24-26 weekend.

No. 1 Denver – did not play

No. 2 St. Cloud State – did not play

No. 3 North Dakota – lost to, tied Union

No. 4 Notre Dame – swept No. 6 Minnesota

No. 5 Clarkson – defeated Rensselaer, defeated No. 10 Providence

No. 6 Minnesota – swept by No. 4 Notre Dame

No. 7 Cornell – defeated Niagara, defeated No. 19 Boston University

No. 8 Minnesota State – lost to No. 16 Minnesota Duluth

No. 9 Wisconsin – split with Mercyhurst

No. 10 Providence – defeated Maine, lost to No. 5 Clarkson

No. 11 Western Michigan – split with No. 18 Colgate

No. 12 Northeastern – did not play

No. 13 New Hampshire – defeated Yale

No. 14 Boston College – tied Harvard

No. 15 Ohio State – swept No. 17 Michigan

No. 16 Minnesota Duluth – defeated No. 8 Minnesota State

No. 17 Michigan – swept by No. 15 Ohio State

No. 18 Colgate – split with No. 11 Western Michigan

No. 19 Boston University – lost to No. 7 Cornell

No. 19 UMass Lowell – did not play

Weekend wrap: Nov. 26

No. 3 Elmira vs. No. 6 Middlebury
This one was close until midway through the second. Elmira opened the scoring with a goal from Shannon Strawinski and Jessica Young tied it up for Middlebury, but Emma Crocker scored two straight and Kristin Chivers sealed the win for Elmira.

No. 4 Adrian at No. 2 Plattsburgh
A single power-play goal with :07 to go in the first was the difference-maker in this one as Plattsburgh’s Courtney Moriarty gave them the 1-0 win. Plattsburgh outshot Adrian, 35-28. The teams were a combined 1-10 on the power play.

No. 4 Adrian at No. 6 Middlebury
Jessica Young and Katherine Jackson had Middlebury up 2-0 just a minute into the second, but Adrian came charging back. Second-period power-play goals from Rose Krasofsky and Tory Harshman tied the game, and Brooke Schembri scored a power-play goal with 55 seconds left in overtime to earn the win for Adrian.

No. 3 Elmira at No. 2 Plattsburgh
Katie Granato and Louisa Lippiatt Durnell had Elmira up 2-0 in the first before Courtney Moriarty closed the gap for Plattsburgh. Mackenzie Millen evened the score for the Cardinals just 30 seconds into the second, but Kristin Chivers responded with the game-winning goal two minutes later. Maddie Evangelous added an empty-netter at the end of the third to ice the 4-2 win for Elmira. Plattsburgh outshot Elmira, 64-24, in the loss.

No. 10 Hamilton at Utica
This game was scoreless for more than 45 minutes before Utica broke it open. Colby Begis, Elizabeth Dohner, and Taylor Osowski each scored in the final period to earn the 3-0 win for Utica.

A look back at the past weekend

ECAC Hockey had several impressive non-conference wins this weekend, highlighted by Clarkson’s win in the Friendship Four tournament in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The Golden Knights beat Rensselaer Friday in a non-conference game between the two teams and then defeated Providence 4-2 Saturday to win the Belpot Trohpy. It’s the first time an ECAC Hockey team has won the tournament in its three years of existence.

Clarkson goalie Jake Kielly, who stopped 42 of 44 shots that he saw on the weekend, took home the inaugural Mayor Marty Walsh MVP trophy named for the Boston mayor who was part of making this overseas college hockey championship possible

Union also had a good weekend, traveling to No. 3 North Dakota and beating the Fighting Hawks 4-1 Friday before playing to a 2-2 tie Saturday.

The Dutchmen are 8-1-1 since a 0-5 start, including 5-1 in league play. There were some questions surrounding Union, who lost a lot of important players last summer, entering the year, but the Dutchmen are quickly starting to look like contenders in ECAC Hockey this season.

Cornell breaks Red Hot Hockey Slump

For the first time in six tries, Cornell won a Red Hot Hockey matchup at Madison Square Garden. The Big Red held off Boston University 4-3 Saturday night. The win pushed Cornell’s record to 9-1, its best start since the 2002-03 season, when the Big Red made the Frozen Four.

Along with Clarkson and Union, Cornell appears to be one of the teams to beat in the league. The Big Red closes out its pre-holiday break schedule with a two-game series at Miami next weekend.

Struggles Continue in Connecticut

It wasn’t long ago that Yale and Quinnipiac were among the teams to beat in the league. However, it’s been a rough go of it for the Bulldogs and Bobcats lately.

Quinnipiac won its first two conference games of the season last weekend, but was swept by Massachusetts in a home-and-home series this weekend. The two losses to the Minutemen dropped the Bobcats’ record to 5-7-1. It’s still early, but the Bobcats haven’t finished with an overall losing record since the 1995-96 season, when QU was playing as a Division-II independent.

Yale was shutout for the second straight game against New Hampshire on Saturday, extending the Bulldogs’ losing streak to four games. That stretch has dropped Yale’s record to 3-6.

Three things: Nov. 26

Omaha happy to be home
Entering the weekend, Omaha was a game under .500 at 4-5-1, and had played eight of first 10 games on the road. Being home seems to agree with the Mavericks, who swept Northern Michigan 4-3 and 4-1 to remain undefeated at home at 3-0-1. Evan Weninger started both games in net, making 27 saves Friday and 25 Saturday, including robbing a late attempt by the Wildcats to tie the game Friday on a point-blank opportunity. Zach Jordan and Luke Nogard scored in each game, and Tristan Keck had a hand in the first Omaha goal in each, scoring first Friday and assisting on the first goal Saturday.

One impressive thing Friday was how Omaha rallied. After Keck scored, Northern Michigan scored at 8:53 of the first, and a Joseph Nardi goal 1:17 into the second gave the Wildcats the lead, but Omaha rallied with three straight goals in the second, the last coming from Nogard at 18:47 and proving to be the game-winner.

Omaha’s penalty kills was effective, killing all 13 Northern Michigan power plays on the weekend.

If home is where the Mavericks like to be, they have an opportunity to build momentum, as every game in December is at home, including a series with suddenly hot Union after the Christmas break.

Miami wins battle of Ohio
Facing off against Bowling Green in a home-and-home, Miami emerged with a win and tie to win their only series against an Ohio team this season. Friday, Grant Hutton’s two goals 37 seconds apart at the end of the second proved the difference, as they came shortly after Bowling Green had rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie it 3-3. Hutton also assisted on Josh Melnick’s goal at 2:59 of the second. Kiefer Sherwood had a goal and two assists, while Louie Belpedio, Grant Frederic, and Conor Lemirande each had two assists. Ryan Larkin made 11 saves in the win, as the Miami defense proved adept at keeping Bowling Green from generating much offense.

Saturday, it looked like Miami was headed for the win, but an extra-attacker goal by Alec Rauhauser with 38 seconds left in the game gained Bowling Green a tie. Belpedio had an assist on Melnick’s goal at 6:32 of the second, and scored on a power play at 13:09 to give Miami a lead that it almost took for the win. Larkin was tested more, making 24 saves in the tie. Miami dominated the OT, making four shots, but was unable to score. The RedHawks are now at .500 on the year, which coupled with Omaha’s sweep means that every NCHC team is at least .500 or better on the season.

Power outage for North Dakota
North Dakota struggled on the weekend, only managing to get a tie in its series with Union. Friday, Union got two goals in the first period, with Sebastian Vidmar’s power-play tally at 14:16 standing up as the game-winner. It came off a rebound after Peter Thome made a turnover up the boards after coming out of his net to try to play the puck. North Dakota got one back in the third from Christian Wolanin, but a breakaway goal by Vas Kalias just 52 seconds later killed any momentum the Fighting Hawks might have generated.

A poor few minutes early in the third forced North Dakota to have to rally and earn a tie Saturday. A goal by Colton Poolman at 14:01 of the first held up through two periods, but Union struck for two goals 22 seconds apart in the third period to take a lead. Brett Supinski tied it with a backhand goal that was started by a turnover by North Dakota’s Casey Johnson near the Union blue line that sent Vidmar racing up ice. He passed it Supinski as Johnson raced back, and Supinski cut back in the slot and beat Thome with a backhand. On the ensuing faceoff, a turnover on an errant pass by Ludvig Hoff in the neutral zone was intercepted by Cole Maier, who skated in and fired two shots that were blocked before Ryan Scarfo picked it up in just outside the crease and backhanded it past Thome. Cole Smith got called for interference at 14:20 of the third, but Union was unable to capitalize, and Shane Gersich tied it when he picked up a rebound after a three-on-two that had Rhett Gardner firing a shot from the left circle. The goal was even-strength, as the penalty had just ended as Gersich got the puck in.

North Dakota dominated in the extra session, registering four shots to none by Union, but the Fighting Hawks were unable to get the game-winner.

Weekend wrap: Nov. 26

MIAC

Tommies notch a road win
St. Thomas’ search for its first road win of the season is over. The Tommies defeated Wisconsin-Superior, 2-1, Friday night behind a 32-save performance from Benjamin Myers.

Cullen Wilcox scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period. Derek Olmschenk scored the other goal for the Tommies, who improved to 3-3-1 on the season thanks to their second one-goal win. St. Thomas is 1-1 on the road this season.

Losing streak over for the Cardinals
St. Mary’s capped off its weekend series against Lake Forest with a 4-2 victory. The Cardinals had been mired in a five-game losing streak, which included a 6-3 loss to Lake Forest Friday night in the series opener. The losses were part of an overall winless streak of six games.

Five times during that streak, the Cardinals had allowed five or more goals, but on Saturday, they were the team with an offense that was clicking.

Two third-period goals proved to be the difference as the Cardinals improved to 3-6-1. Jack Stang scored the go-ahead goal with under two minutes to play, and Michael Cimba punched in an empty-netter a minute later to seal the deal.

Al Rogers made his first collegiate start and racked up 37 saves. Ben Owen paced the offense with a goal and two assists. Austin Arnold finished with two assists as well.

The Cardinals trailed 1-0 after one period, but were all tied up at 2-2 heading into the third. St. Mary’s took 41 shots compared to 39 by the Forresters.

NCHA

Showdown ends in a tie
The Milwaukee School of Engineering squared off with Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the Pointers’ own tournament Friday night and skated to a 2-2 tie.

Clint Garris came through with the game-tying goal to force overtime. Neither team scored in the extra session, but the Raiders lost in the shootout that determined who would play for the championship of the tournament.

Brett Wagner scored the other goal for MSOE, and Rock Boynton made 42 saves in his second consecutive start. He was particularly tough in the overtime period, stopping four shots in pressure-packed moments.

MSOE finished off the weekend with a 3-1 win over Wisconsin-Stout Saturday in the consolation game of the tournament, improving to 6-1-1 on the year. The Raiders are unbeaten in their last four games. Boynton earned another win and is still unbeaten as a goalie. Eric Tien, Nick Reamon, and Nate Rogers all scored goals.

Prime time win for Vikings
Lawrence competed in the semifinals of the Primelink Great Northern Shootout Friday and knocked off Middlebury, 6-3. The Vikings scored four times in the final period to ice the win.

Six different players scored for the Vikings, with Nick Felan putting his team in front for good at 4-3. Evan Cline came through with 24 saves. Lawrence finished with a 36-27 advantage of shots as it won its third game of the season. Lane King tallied a goal and an assist.

The Vikings played against Plattsburgh State in the title game of the tourney and fell 4-2. Austin Frank and King both scored goals in the loss as Lawrence fell to 3-5.

Felan and Frank both earned spots on the all-tournament team.

Kelley shines for Bulldogs
In Adrian’s 3-1 win over Trine Saturday night, Bulldogs goalie Dillon Kelley notched his second win of the season and improved to 11-1 in his career. He hasn’t lost a game since 2016.

It was a big night for Taylor McCloy as well, who dished out two assists and pushed his career total to 50. His effort helped the Bulldogs push their record to 6-1. Adrian has won all three meetings against Trine this season.

Adrian has outscored Trine 17-5 in the three meetings and also extended its streak of killing power plays to 13 this season.

WIAC

Title time for the Pointers
Tanner Karty was on top of his game once again and his goal and two assists helped lift Wis.-Stevens Point to a 6-2 win over Aurora in the championship game of its holiday tourney.

The Pointers were coming off a 2-2 tie with MSOE and got rolling early to take a 3-2 lead after one period of play.

Teammate Willem Nong-Lambert also stepped up in a big way, scoring a goal and dishing out two assists as well. Logan Fredericks and Kelly O’Brien both came up with a goal and an assist.

Connor Ryckman started in goal and nearly matched his career best in saves, tallying 24. He was one off the mark.

The Pointers are 6-3-1 on the year and are unbeaten in their last two games.

Yellow Jackets sting Saints
Wisconsin-Superior survived a rivalry game battle with St. Scholastica Saturday, earning a 2-1 win over the Saints at home.

The Yellow Jackets scored twice in the first period and never looked back as they won for the third time this season.

Wis.-Superior held a 30-23 advantage in shot, and Liam Blais and Jake Hamilton both scored for the Yellow Jackets. Daniel Litchke assisted on both of the goals as Wis.-Superior won for the third time in five games.

Blugolds roll past Lions
Wisconsin-Eau Claire cruised to a 5-1 win over Finlandia Saturday night.

Scott Munro made quite the impression for the Blugolds, scoring a goal and an assist. He finished with a plus-4 rating in what was only the ninth game of his career.

David Johnson made his first start in goal and stopped 18 shots as he helped the Blugolds improve to 6-3 on the year. Prior to Saturday, Johnson, who is a sophomore, had played in only one game in his career, and that was last season.

The win for Wis.-Eau Claire was its second consecutive and marked the third time in four games it has scored at least four goals in a game.

Weekend wrap: Nov. 26

No. 1 Wisconsin vs. Northeastern
The Huskies put an end to Wisconsin’s undefeated season with a 3-2 win at the DI in DC event. The Badgers looked flat early on, and Northeastern used that opportunity to take a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from McKenna Brand and Tori Sullivan. Sam Cogan cut the lead for the Badgers before the end of the second, but Codie Cross scored the game-winner halfway through the third. A late extra-attacker goal by Abby Roque was not enough for the Badgers.

No. 1 Wisconsin vs. Boston University
Wisconsin bounced back in the second game of the weekend series with a 4-2 win over Boston University. Victoria Bach scored twice for the Terriers, including one just 32 seconds into the game, but three straight from the Badgers from Baylee Wellhausen, Mikaela Gardner, and Alexis Mauermann put Wisconsin ahead for good.

No. 2 Colgate vs. Minnesota Duluth
The Bulldogs showed flashes of last year’s NCAA tournament team with a decisive 4-1 win over Colgate. Naomi Rogge, Sydney Brodt, Ashton Bell, and Lynn Astrup put UMD up before Bailey Larson scored the Raiders’ lone goal.

No. 2 Colgate vs. RIT
Colgate responded with a decisive 6-1 win in the Windjammer Classic consolation game. Shelby Perry had two goals and an assist, and Shae Labbe added a goal and an assist. Kendall Cornine was the lone goal-scorer for RIT.

No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Robert Morris
On Friday, the Buckeyes scored four first-period goals en route to a 7-3 win over the Colonials. Tatum Skaggs tallied a hat trick and Ohio State scored four power-play goals in the win. Aneta Ledlova, Anjelica Diffendal, and Brittany Howard scored for Robert Morris. On Saturday, the teams traded goals before RMU took the 3-2 win with an overtime goal by Brittany Howard. Julianna Iafallo opened the scoring for OSU before Lexi Templeman responded for Robert Morris. Emma Maltais gave the Buckeyes the lead after the second, but Howard equalized in the third before scoring the game-winner.

No. 6 Minnesota vs. Lindenwood
On Friday, Lindenwood got on the board first thanks to a goal just three minutes into the second from Hannah Alt, but Minnesota’s Alex Woken responded with two of her own to give the Gophers the lead heading into the final frame. Olivia Knowles’ third-period goal iced the win for Minnesota. On Saturday, Sydney Baldwin and Cara Piazza had Minnesota up 2-0 after the first. Taylor Girard and Cierra Paisley tied it up for Lindenwood before Olivia Knowles put the Gophers back on top after two periods. Girard added a penalty-shot goal for the Lions in the third period to force overtime. The Gophers were on the man-advantage in the extra period and Knowles scored 50 seconds in to earn the Gophers the win and the sweep.

No. 8 Cornell vs No. 10 Providence
All the scoring on Friday took place in the second period. Madlynne Mills gave Cornell the 1-0 lead four minutes in, and that held for more than 10 minutes. Christina Putigna equalized for Providence, but Kristin O’Neill put Cornell ahead for good just 1:14 after that. Cornell took the first game 2-1. On Saturday, the teams traded goals through the first and second before Mills put Cornell up 3-2. O’Neill’s third-period goal secured the 4-2 win and weekend sweep for the Big Red. Maureen Murphy and Brooke Boquist scored for Providence in the loss.

Gallery: Union at No. 3 North Dakota

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Gallery: 2017 Friendship Four in Belfast – Day 2

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Gallery: 2017 Friendship Four in Belfast – Day 1

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Belated Thanksgiving shout-outs from the WCHA

wcha-new-logoThanks to a slight scheduling snafu and some family build-up, this column is coming to you later that originally scheduled.

For that I beg your forgiveness, dear reader.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at what each of the WCHA teams have to be thankful in the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Alabama Huntsville: Home games

When you spend the first five weeks on the road playing on home ice is a bit more special. Winning is even nicer and the Chargers have started to turn Alabama into a more difficult road trip for opponents.

Alaska Anchorage: Overtime and shootouts

The Seawolves have made the most of the added time in overtime and in shootout and have come away with three straight wins after regulation. Next step? Picking up that game-winning goal in the third period.

Alaska: Steven Jandric

The freshman left winger leads Alaska with 10 assists and 11 points.

Bemidji State: Gerry Fitzgerald and Kyle Bauman

The senior duo have been the catalysts for the Beavers offense, and that’s been crucial with their normally stingy defense needing to catch up

Bowling Green: Freshmen scoring

The Falcons are in the WCHA title hunt thanks to the rise of their freshman on both offense and defense.

Ferris State: Bob Daniels

The longest-tenured coach in the WCHA with 25 seasons at Ferris State.

Lake Superior State: J.T. Henke

The senior is one of the best passers in the WCHA and with 14 assists, he’s leading the league.

Michigan Tech: Joe Shawhan

A first-year head coach, Shawhan has stepped in well and helped maintain high expectations in Houghton.

Minnesota State: C.J. Suess and Zeb Knutson

The seniors have combined for more than 30 points this season and are leading a title-contending team.

Northern Michigan: Goaltending

The Wildcats have gotten strong performances from both Atte Tolvanen and Mathias Israelsson.

Players of the Week

Northern Michigan senior Robbie Payne (Offensive), Bowling Green sophomore Alec Rauhauser (Defensive), Alaska Anchorage senior Olivier Mantha (Goaltender) and Alabama Huntsville freshman forward Christian Rajic (Rookie) picked up honors this week.

Darwitz and Hamline building slowly, seeing results

Xilly Lang of Hamline (Hamline Athletics)
Assistant captain Xilly Lang of Hamline (Hamline Athletics)

When Natalie Darwitz took over the helm at Hamline University, the Pipers had just finished with a 6-17-2 record. There have been signs of potential from the Pipers in the past, but for the most part, Hamline had a reputation and it wasn’t one Darwitz wants to see repeated. She and her staff have been fighting a two-pronged attack, she said — building a program and fighting perceptions — and neither is easy.

“When you’ve been known as the Bad News Bears for so long, even though you improve, some people still look at you that way,” said Darwitz. “So we still fight that stigma (especially with recruiting). I want to come in and set the bar high. If no one’s going to set it high, being mediocre is going to be OK. And that’s not OK with us. We’re slowly starting to gain attention and respect from our opponents … I think we’re really on the right track, and I think people are finally starting to take us seriously.”

It’s been just three years for the new staff, who took over just before the 2015-16 season started, and it’s just her second year with players that they recruited, but the new structure appears to be working for Hamline. In the time she’s been at Hamline, the Pipers have won three more games each year, finishing 2016-17 at 12-13-1. Already this year, they’ve got wins over Wisconsin-Superior and, just last week, upset no. 5 Gustavus Adolphus.

More than the win, Darwitz loved that her team was still upset about losing the second game to the Gusties in practice on Monday. They were edgy and wanting to improve. That, she said, was a major sign that Hamline is heading in the right direction.

Neither coaching nor moving from high school to college was on Darwitz’s radar, but she’s very happy having settled with Hamline. The prospect of being able to put down roots, share her knowledge, and create something meaningful appealed to her. As with any program rebuild, the process has been a slow but steady one. Changing the status quo and getting buy-in — from the players, from the university, and from the fans — can be difficult.

Hiring Darwitz was a big sign the university is invested in improving the program, as are yet unfinalized talks with the Minnesota Wild to be able to use their new practice facility for both men’s and women’s Hamline hockey games. The facility would be a significant improvement over the Ramsey County Rink they use now.

Improved coaching, improved facilities — that just leaves improvement on the ice. In order to create an environment where players are invested in the program and interested in being a part of the turnaround — whether or not they’ll be around to benefit from the work they put in — means creating a completely new culture for Hamline women’s hockey.

“It’s all about team culture,” Darwitz said.” Darwitz said. “We want them to see the fruits of their labor. We think we have a group this year to make a run at things. We’re flying under the radar right now. We want to keep progressing every single game.”

The coaching staff has put almost all the emphasis on the players and their experience and very little emphasis on the final results. As a staff, they are challenging the players to be their best on and off the ice, giving them a positive and meaningful experience and believing in them enough to push them and ask for more than the players thought they were capable of. That support from the staff creates not only better players, but better people. And the results come naturally after that.

It’s a short season and it’s broken up quite a bit by holidays and exams, so Darwitz makes comparisons to the student-athletes’ academic lives. Monday through Thursday is where they study. They put in the time and do the learning so that they are ready for the exams — Friday and Saturday’s games. It’s time to show off the work they’re putting in during the week and how much they’ve improved.

Darwitz tends to shy away from anything she thinks might be too much of a hockey or coaching cliché. She’s not interested in painting a team motto on the wall or having her team subscribe to pillars of behavior. Instead, she wants to create a situation where the locker room comes first, where it’s a full team mentality and that mentality is second nature, and where there’s an authenticity to the beliefs and actions.

“If I genuinely care about every single one of my 25 players and my staff and every player can go around the locker room and say the exact same thing, that I genuinely care about you and have the best interest for you, it’s not about me, it’s about us, then we’re going to be successful,” she said. “If they’re all supporting each other, if they’re all buying in, we’re going to be a better product on the ice. If we have some egos and we don’t have leadership, I think it’s going to be a long season. … It’s grasping that, though. It’s easy to say it, but grasping it makes a huge difference.”

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