January 27, 2005
A Tech of a Turnaround

By Jess Myers

WCHA Notebook

Colin Murphy, this week's INCH Player of the Week.

National TV Schedule
This week's schedule

Atlantic Hockey/CHA Notebook
CCHA Notebook
ECACHL Notebook
Hockey East Notebook

When the first significant snowfall of the winter hit Minneapolis/St. Paul last Friday afternoon, traffic in the city came to a virtual standstill. Nowhere was this point more evident at around 5:30 p.m. than on the Washington Avenue bridge between downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota campus, where the bus carrying the Michigan Tech Huskies was all but parked in gridlock for more than an hour.

While this would put some coaches into a panic, second-year Tech skipper Jamie Russell was amazingly calm, worried only that a late arrival by his team might mess up the evening’s TV broadcast. The thought of playing one of the top teams in the nation on the road was made somewhat easier by the sight of flakes drifting from the Midwestern sky.

“It felt like a home game with all the snow,” said Russell afterwards, apparently yearning for the home of the Huskies, where 100 inches or more of the white stuff in a winter is routine.

The team had less than half an hour between the time they finally arrived at Mariucci Arena and the drop of the puck. Minnesota officials were kind enough to start the game five minutes late to give the Huskies a little extra time, but Russell said the late arrival may have worked to his team’s advantage.

“We only had about 23 minutes to get our gear on and get out there,” he said. “It was a little like old time hockey – throw your gear on and get after it.”

Over the next 27 hours or so, the formerly lowly Huskies (winners of just one of their first 18 games) got after it to the tune of nine goals, two wins and the school’s first sweep at Minnesota in 34 years. Michigan Tech is now 4-1-0 since the start of 2005 heading into this weekend's home series against Colorado College.

Russell has nine freshmen on his roster this season, and said that the recent turnaround may be due to his young players getting some education in the ways of college hockey.

“Winning is a learning experience, and with a young team, you can’t just say ‘Go win,’ you’ve got to learn to win,” said the coach.

But in contrast to the Huskies’ wealth of young talent, it was two of the team’s prominent seniors who paved the way for the sweep at Minnesota. Senior forward Colin Murphy had a two goals and four assists over the weekend, while senior goaltender Cam Ellsworth had 76 saves in the series, including 11 crucial stops early in the Friday game when the Gophers came out of the chute like a team that hadn’t spent hours stuck in traffic.

“It was good to get through that storm,” said Murphy, recalling that the Huskies were being out-shot 11-2 at one point of the first period on Friday. “Our goalie made some big saves to keep us in the game. The start to our success was defense, and then we started to generate some offense on the rush.”

The 14 conference losses the team piled up early in the season are likely too big a hole to dig out of if the Huskies want home ice in the WCHA playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. But Russell has his freshmen learning, his seniors leading and a team gaining confidence by the day. With Colorado College, Minnesota State and Minnesota visiting Houghton late in the season, continued success by Tech could quickly anoint the Huskies as the team nobody wants to host in the playoffs.


The New Man-nino at DU:
A rookie playing for the defending national champions might be encouraged to keep his eyes open and mouth shut. Denver freshman goalie Peter Mannino, who has emerged as the Pioneers regular Saturday night netminder, is finding record-setting success by taking a bit different approach. He’s keeping his eyes open, and the goalmouth shut.

As Denver Post reporter Mike Chambers noted this week, Mannino was less than six minutes away from his third consecutive shutout (which would have been a school record) last Saturday at St. Cloud State when the Huskies Brock Hooton spoiled the party. The Pioneers won 6-1 anyway, and Mannino posted another school record in the rout, setting the Pioneers mark for consecutive shutout minutes with 178 minutes and 16 seconds without a goal allowed. That was nearly a full 20-minute period better than the old mark of 158:26 set by Wade Dubielewicz in 2002, when the Pioneers won their last MacNaughton Cup.

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Minnesota Duluth at Minnesota (Fri.-Sat.)
Two months ago this looked like a great series. Two weeks ago it looked meaningless. Then the Bulldogs soared (unbeaten in their last three, including a win and a tie at then-top-ranked Colorado College last weekend) and the Gophers swooned (losing twice at home to long-suffering Michigan Tech for the first time since 1971). Now, a sweep by the Bulldogs and the Duluthians would overtake Minnesota in the WCHA standings. The Gophers have much to prove, having lost their last four home games, and having fallen hard out of the top spot in the league and in the nation. The Bulldogs, who went 5-1 versus their archrivals last season, long ago put away hopes of winning the league title, but maintain a legitimate shot at home ice if their recent play is for real.

While You’re There: Last season, before the Bulldogs invaded Mariucci Arena in October (and won twice for just the second time in school history, signaling the start of what would be an exciting year), their most die-hard fans invaded Sally’s. The hard-charging members of the UMD Penalty Box didn’t leave this noisy Washington Avenue watering hole for the three-block walk to the rink until the bar bill had topped $400. One would think that the more superstitious members of the UMD fan base will be back at Sally’s on Friday afternoon, hoping to re-create the Mariucci magic.

Stick Salute

To the folks who buy Badger hockey tickets. Wisconsin athletic officials this week announced two more full sellouts of the 15,237-seat Kohl Center for games later this season, making it all but certain that Badger fans will break the NCAA record for average season attendance (they hold the current mark of 12,183, set in the 1998-99 season). There’s no question that the program lost a fair amount of atmosphere when the Badgers moved from the always-packed and raucous Dane County Coliseum to the Kohl Center, but full houses in one of the nation’s biggest college hockey buildings are going a long way toward making Madison an intimidating place to play once again.

Bench Minor
Minneapolis Edison is an inner-city hockey program run by a dedicated group of volunteers who are determined that former 1990 Mr. Hockey winner Joe Dziedzic (a standout at Minnesota for four years) will not be the last D-I player to come out of northeast Minneapolis. Their efforts have been hampered in the last month when some punk (or punks) twice robbed the program’s charity pull-tab operation in December, making off with more than $10,000 that would gone to fund youth hockey. We wish the Minneapolis police well in their efforts to apprehend the culprit, and hope that, once arrested, the thief’s sentence includes about a year of playing goalie with no pads, or helmet.

“Peter’s played very well, and you can see his confidence,” DU coach George Gwozdecky told the Post. “He’s developed into a real good second-game goaltender for us.”

Mannino is 9-2 this season and takes a six-game winning streak into this weekend’s home series with Alaska Anchorage. Gwozdecky said that Mannino’s fast development as a successful college goalie has been helped by watching sophomore Glenn Fisher play on Fridays, and observing how Fisher handles the other team’s top players.

“Since it’s Peter's first season, he’s been able to sit on Friday and scout the opponent," Gwozdecky said.


• In what has to be a rare occurrence in league history, road teams went 8-0-2 in WCHA play last weekend. Only Alaska Anchorage and Colorado College could do as much as muster a tie at home.

• Apparently, when Denver and Alaska Anchorage get together, they don’t want it to end. Heading into this weekend’s series at Magness Arena, the Seawolves have played the Pioneers 42 times previously and nearly one-fourth of those games have gone to overtime.

• When St. Cloud State hosts Sacred Heart this weekend, it will be a first on a few fronts. Not only have the Huskies and Pioneers never met on ice, it will be the first games St. Cloud State has ever played versus an Atlantic Hockey club and the first times that Sacred Heart has faced a WCHA team. OK, it’s not quite the 1972 Summit Series, but a first is a first, right?

North Dakota captain Matt Greene issued an apology to Sioux fans and will sit out this weekend’s home series with Bemidji State after running afoul of the law in a small northern Minnesota town. Greene was arrested in Warroad, Minn., early last Sunday morning after reportedly failing a breathalyzer test. Apparently, Greene and some Sioux teammates spent their weekend off doing some ice fishing on Lake of the Woods.

• It was a rough weekend for Colorado College last Friday and Saturday, as a tie and a loss to Minnesota Duluth knocked the Tigers out of the top spot in the national polls. But leading scorer Marty Sertich maintained his torrid offensive pace in the one-point weekend, recording a goal and four assists to maintain his hold atop the national scoring chart. Sertich has 45 points in 26 games, and leads the nation in average points per game with 1.73. Teammate Brett Sterling is second on the list with 40 points.

• The Minnesota State, Mankato, Mavericks have this weekend off, which means it’s a rare time that you won’t see leading scorer David Backes on the rink. Backes, who hasn't missed a game in his career at MSU, has skated through some notable bumps and bruises this season en route to a team-best 21 points in 20 games.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.

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