February 10, 2005
The Road Less Traveled

By Jess Myers

WCHA Notebook

WCHA road teams were 7-2-1 last weekend, when Gabe Gauthier and his Denver teammates swept North Dakota in Grand Forks.

National TV Schedule
This week's schedule

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

The WCHA is known to have some of the more impressive rinks in college hockey. So why does it seem like none of the home teams like playing in them all of a sudden? With Michigan Tech winning twice in Duluth last weekend, and Denver hauling four points home from North Dakota, WCHA host teams were a combined 2-7-1 on the weekend. And that was an improvement from a weekend in mid January, when road teams went 8-0-2.

In a game where home ice advantage used to mean something, the recent numbers are puzzling at best. Michigan Tech, for example, has won one home game all season, but has won six of its last seven games played away from MacInnes Student Ice Arena. St. Cloud State hasn’t won a WCHA home game since Thanksgiving weekend, but is 3-3-0 in its last six road games.

In these strange days when the wearing of white sweaters seems to cause teams trouble, we’re reminded of Air Force coach Frank Serratore who, while he was coaching Denver in the 1990s, said he preferred to take his team on the road. Serratore claimed that getting away from campus and having to work as a cooperative unit in a hostile rink was how winning teams were built.

“There’s a lot of truth in that,” said Colorado College coach Scott Owens, whose team holds the top spot in the league. The Tigers haven’t lost a road game since Nov. 13, but went 0-1-1 in their last home series. “On the road there are fewer distractions, and you can focus in on hockey. But you still have to go on some long trips and play in a hostile environment.”

St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl notes that the records of the teams the Huskies have hosted recently has a lot to do with the “winning on the road” trend.

“Let’s look at who we’ve played at home,” said Dahl, noting that his team is 0-5-0 after visits by Minnesota, Wisconsin and Denver. “They’re all top 10 teams in the country, and we’re not ready to be a top 10 team. So it’s not like we’ve lost to chicken little.”

Gophers coach Don Lucia, whose team is 1-5-0 in its last six home games, says the recent road success looks more like a quirk and less like a trend, noting that with top teams like Denver and Colorado College at home this weekend, things could change quickly.

“Games do start to tighten up this time of year,” he said. “All things being equal, you’re still going to want to be playing at home.”


Minnesota 'Beanpot' still an issue for debate:
Since the Xcel Energy Center opened in 2000, there’s been plenty of talk about the arena hosting some kind of holiday tournament or even a Minnesota version of Boston’s famed Beanpot ('The Hotdish' perhaps?). With the Hub’s four teams squaring off again this week, and with Minnesota State, Mankato officials announcing that their one-game stint at the X (a 9-6 loss to Minnesota in January) earned $148,000 for the school’s athletic coffers, talk has been rekindled about a February play-in featuring some combination of Minnesota’s five Division I teams.

Officials from the arena and the Minnesota Wild will only say that they’re exploring many options for future sports events at the rink. Others in the know seem ready to drop the puck on the first such tournament right away.

“It’d be very interesting, and I’m sure it would draw well,” said St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl. “A tournament like that would be huge.”

But even an optimist like Dahl admits that logistically there would be challenges that the Boston teams don’t face. Most notably, while all four Boston teams are a relatively short T ride from the FleetCenter, it’s five or six hours round trip from Duluth to the X, and can take eight to 10 hours to drive from Bemidji to St. Paul and back.

Another hurdle is logistics, as schedules are already tight, and some potential participants would be unwilling to trade a home game for a neutral site game in St. Paul.

“The big question is how do you incorporate it into the schedule?” asked Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “We can’t give up any more home games, and the other teams would have to look at revenues and see what kind of guarantee they could get.”

Moreover, Lucia notes that currently, games at the X (where his team has won two WCHA tournaments and a NCAA title) are special occasions for WCHA fans, and he fears that too many games there might take some luster off the venue.

“It’s special to go to the X, and the more games you play there, you lose some of that,” he said. “It’s clearly a league issue, but I think we have to guard against that special feeling eroding somewhat. I have a sensitivity toward not taking anything away from the Final Five.”

In other words, don’t mark a Minnesota Beanpot down on your calendar for February 2006 just yet.

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Wisconsin at Denver (Fri.-Sat.)
While we love the history and tradition of Michigan Tech’s annual Winter Carnival weekend, we’ve got to look west to the matchup between Wisconsin and Denver. The race for the MacNaughton Cup is realistically down to three teams, and these are two of them. With the Badgers losing last Saturday, they’re in desperate need of a sweep at Magness Arena. If the Pioneers can win one or both of these, the league office might be wise to ship the Cup to an undetermined locale in Colorado, as we could have a two-team race on our hands by Sunday.

While You’re There: If you weren’t able to make it to the Big Easy for Mardi Gras, head to Swanky’s at 1938 Blake Street instead. They've got the Fat Tuesday-style frozen drink machines and you even get beads with every one you order. And Bucky fans will like it because it doubles as a Packer bar with cheap Old Style on tap. They serve very good Cajun-style grub, featuring a spicy corn casserole that is outstanding. For a great bargain, try the nightly crawfish boil for eleven bucks. Look for the INCH crew to spend plenty of quality time here when they’re in town for the 2008 Frozen Four.

Stick Salute

After turning away 90-plus shots last weekend as his team swept at Minnesota Duluth, we wonder if Michigan Tech goalie Cam Ellsworth is worried about the four shots he missed. We have a feeling that the four points that came back to Houghton on the team bus were more important to Ellsworth and company, who are quickly becoming the league’s official “team nobody wants to host in the playoffs.”

Bench Minor
Last Friday, we learned that the DECC doesn’t administer a spelling test before hiring employees to staff the home of the Bulldogs. The sign below, hung on the door to the Michigan Tech locker room, provided proof. “Huskeys?" Isn’t that a Nebraska football team?


Rookie forward Shea Hamilton made Alaska Anchorage history last Friday in the Seawolves 4-3 home win over St. Cloud State. Hamilton became the first player in the 26 seasons of varsity hockey at UAA to score on a penalty shot. The Seawolves hadn’t even attempted a penalty shot in more than a decade. For you trivia buffs, Paul Williams failed the team’s previous penalty shot attempt, versus Northern Michigan on Nov. 13, 1993.

Michigan Tech’s sweep at the DECC last weekend marked the first time the Huskies had won a pair at Minnesota Duluth since October 1988. Of course, trend watchers will note that every time a Democrat from Massachusetts runs for president and loses, the Huskies are unbeatable in Duluth.

• Number-crunchers are having an easy time diagnosing the problems Minnesota Duluth is having scoring goals (and winning games) in 2004-05. Last season, the trio of Tyler Brosz, T.J. Caig and Luke Stauffacher combined for 109 points. Through the Bulldogs’ first 30 games this season, that group has amassed just 18 points.

• David Backes rightfully gets the lion’s share of attention from Minnesota State, Mankato’s opponents and fans, but shutting down another sophomore forward may be the key to beating the Mavericks. Thus far, the Mavs are 9-3-4 in games where Travis Morin records a point, but 0-11-1 in games where Morin fails to crack the score sheet.

North Dakota may be in great need of this weekend’s bye, as first-year Fighting Sioux coach Dave Hakstol finds himself in uncomfortably familiar territory for rookie skippers. The Sioux have lost their last five consecutive WCHA games, marking their first five-game conference losing streak since the 1994-95 campaign. There was a rookie coach named Dean Blais behind the Sioux bench that season.

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

Send this to a friend

About Us | Advertiser Info | Site Map | Privacy Policy
© 2002-2005 Inside College Hockey, Inc., All Rights Reserved