February 19, 2007
THE BIG STORY
Andreas Nodl and St. Cloud State can keep Minnesota
from clinching the WCHA regular-season title this
It seems most people in the college hockey
world — players, coaches, media, and fans alike
— focus on positioning for conference playoff
seeds and who's battling whom for NCAA Tournament berths.
As the producers of the weekly 4x4 feature, we don't
see anything inherently wrong with that. After all,
looking optimistically to the future is human nature.
Still, winning the league regular-season
title results in many of the same perks as capturing
the playoff championship — a crisp new banner
for the home rink's rafters, gaudy rings. Also, winning
a regular-season crown may be a truer test of a team's
strength, or at least its ability to play at a consistently
high level for an extended period of time. So before
we get all playoff-centric, pause with us as we identify
those teams sitting in their respective league's catbird
seat as the regular season winds down.
Notre Dame became the first team to clinch
a regular-season conference championship, sewing up
the top spot in the CCHA Friday by beating Alaska just
hours after its nearest competitors, Michigan and Michigan
State, had been doused by Lake Superior State and Western
Michigan, respectively. The Fighting Irish won their
first league championship of any kind in a fitting manner,
as senior goalie David Brown made 28 saves in a 1-0
shutout of the host Nanooks.
A couple time zones to the east in Colorado
Springs, Minnesota distanced itself from the rest of
the WCHA, sweeping Colorado College by identical 3-2
scores. In Madison, meantime, St. Cloud State mustered
just one point in its series with Wisconsin, losing
Friday and tying Saturday. The Golden Gophers could
hoist the MacNaughton Cup for the second year in a row
as soon as Friday in — ta da! —
St. Cloud, where the Huskies host Minnesota in the front
end of a home-and-home series.
On its surface, New Hampshire's loss and
tie against Boston University seems calamitous, but
it had little bearing on the Wildcats' quest for the
Hockey East title. Only the Terriers and Boston College
can catch UNH, but the 'Cats need only a combination of three
points through its wins and ties or BU/BC losses and
ties to close out the conference race there.
In the ECAC Hockey League, meanwhile,
St. Lawrence will win its first conference regular-season
crown since 2000 with a win against either Quinnipiac
or Princeton, or a loss to the same by travel partner
Clarkson. Atlantic Hockey frontrunner RIT is just one
point from locking up its first league championship
as a Division I member. Unfortunately for the upstart
Tigers, their season ends there — RIT is ineligible
for the circuit's postseason. Then, of course, there's
College Hockey America, with Bemidji State, free-falling
Niagara, and Robert Morris bunched at the top and Alabama-Huntsville
and Wayne State huddled below. The only thing we can
guarantee in this league is they'll finish the season
with five members.
Until they've been officially knocked
out of the playoffs, the Wisconsin Badgers hold the
title of national champions. Judging by the team's play
lately, it's quite apparent coach Mike Eaves's crew
isn't ready to relinquish that distinction just yet.
Since starting the season with a 4-9-2
record in its first 15 games, Wisconsin has regrouped
to put up a 10-6-1 mark over its last 17 contests. In
its win and tie against St. Cloud State at the Kohl
Center this past weekend, Bucky did things the old-fashioned
way, getting a typical effort in goal from senior Brian
Elliot (46 saves, 3 goals against), solid special teams
play (Wisconsin scored on three of its 10 power-play
chances while limiting the Huskies to one PPG in 11
opportunities), and exceptional contributions from senior
forwards Andrew Joudrey (three goals) and Ross Carlson
From the Who's Your Daddy? Dept.:
INCH CCHA scribe James Jahnke passed along the following
sentence from the preview sidebar that ran in Tuesday's
Lansing State Journal prior to Michigan State's
game that night at Ferris State:
The Bulldogs are playing for pride
and the chance to knock up the No. 6 team in the nation.
Guess that explains the Spartans' sluggishness
as of late. They're skating for two!
From the Higher Learning in Hershey
Dept.: Love this note from our friends with
the Washington Capitals who inform us that 14 players
with ties to college hockey have suited up for the club's
American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey this season.
Nice, but even more impressive is that all 14 represent
different institutions. The list:
Chris Bourque (Boston University), Marc
Busenberg (Connecticut), Trevor Byrne (Dartmouth), Donny
Grover (Northeastern), Matt Hendricks (St. Cloud State),
Jamie Hunt (Mercyhurst), Matt Koalska (Minnesota), Jeff
Pietrasiak (New Hampshire), Sasha Pokulok (Cornell),
Nolan Schaefer (Providence), David Steckel (Ohio State),
Matt Stefanishion (Ferris State), Stephen Werner (Massachusetts),
Kyle Wilson (Colgate)
Here's hoping the Caps bring seniors Andrew Joudrey
(Wisconsin) and Travis Morin (Minnesota State) to Hershey
for a late-season look once their college seasons have
Wins this past weekend that'll look good in March
Boston College has been pretty good, not
great, through the first four-plus months of the regular
season. And while many observers (INCH among them) predicted
greatness for the Eagles this season, it's been mainly
limited to short spurts such as the team's sweep of
Wisconsin in late October or, more recently, BC's two
wins against Maine in Chestnut Hill this past weekend.
Maybe twice beating a Black Bear team
that's had issues of its own during the season's second
half doesn't measure up to the textbook definition of
greatness. Still, for a BC squad that endured a heartbreaking
overtime loss to Boston University in last week's Beanpot
championship game, teetered on the edge of opening the
Hockey East playoffs on the road, and needed some big
wins to solidify its footing in terms of an NCAA Tournament
berth, it'll do.
Kudos to the Eagles' Nathan Gerbe, by
the way. He scored his team's lone goal in the 2-1 loss
to the Terriers at TD Banknorth Garden, then added three
goals and three assists in the Maine series. The sophomore
sparkplug leads BC with 17 goals and has eight markers
in his last nine outings.
IT HAPPENED IN ...
... Air Force Academy, Colo. (Friday):
Linemates Eric Ehn (1-3—4), Jeff Hajner (1-3—4),
and Andrew Ramsey (2-2—4) led Air Force to a 5-0
win against Canisius. Ben Worker made 21 saves for the
Falcons, snapping the team's five-game losing streak.
... Boston (Friday):
Northeastern freshman goaltender Brad Thiessen stopped
all 37 shots he faced in the Huskies' 3-0 win against
... Detroit (Friday):
Wayne State scored six goals on 15 shots over the first
31:10 of its 6-1 triumph over Niagara. Senior forward
Jason Bloomingburg had two goals and an assist for the
Warriors. The two teams would play to a 4-4 draw Saturday;
the tie extended Niagara's winless streak to four (0-3-1).
... Detroit (Sunday):
Senior forward T.J. Hensick scored twice — his
CCHA-best 52nd and 53rd points of the season —
and sophomore goaltender Billy Sauer made 35 saves in
Michigan's 3-1 win against Lake Superior State at Joe
... Grand Forks, N.D. (Friday-Saturday):
North Dakota ran its unbeaten streak to 11 games (8-0-3)
with a win and tie against visiting Minnesota Duluth.
Sophomore forward Ryan Duncan scored the game-tying
goal in Friday's 2-2 draw, then scored the only goal
in the Fighting Sioux's 1-0 win Saturday.
... Ithaca, N.Y. (Saturday): Forwards
Byron Bitz, Mark McCutcheon, and Ray Sawada each scored
twice in Cornell's 8-4 win against Princeton at Lynah
Rink. Bitz and Sawada each added two assists for the
Big Red, which won for the fifth time in its last seven
games against one loss and a tie.
... New Haven, Conn. (Sunday):
Dartmouth junior goaltender Mike Devine made 51 saves
and sophomore forward Rob Pritchard scored two goals
as the Big Green downed Yale, 3-2. Freshman forward
Sean Backman scored his 17th goal of the season on a
second-period penalty shot.