When he coached Wisconsin, Jeff Sauer used
to say that certain WCHA series later in the season were
chances for his team to “permanently put them (meaning that
weekend’s opponent) in our rear-view mirror” with a sweep.
Mike Eaves’ fourth edition of the Badgers
heads to Colorado Springs this weekend with a five point
lead over second place Colorado College. While top-ranked
Wisconsin may be thinking about putting the Tigers in their
rear-view mirror with a sweep, the high-scoring Tigers are
sending a different message. It goes something like, “objects
in mirror may be closer than they appear.”
“We’re only five points back, and we’d be
one point back with a sweep,” said Brett Sterling, the WCHA’s
leading scorer with 37 points thus far. “I don’t think anything
has been won by anybody in the first half.”
On the Badger side, sizzling first halves
have given way to “barely above .500” second halves the
last two years running. Last season the Badgers were 13-5-0
when carolers were serenading Madison, and just 10-9-4 after
the holiday break.
“Last year was a lesson about how teams get
better in the second half,” said Wisconsin captain Tom Gilbert.
“Teams are definitely going to be gunning for us again this
Both teams had last weekend off, and Wisconsin
starts a stretch in Colorado Springs that could potentially
have them playing 11 consecutive weekends without a break.
Regardless of the what the schedule says, the Badgers’ surprising
one first half WCHA loss has them steeped in the knowledge
that there are no breaks in the season.
“No matter how good one team is playing, if
your opponent comes to play and plays hard, it’s a coin
flip,” Gilbert said. “We learned that against Michigan Tech.
Points are all that matter, regardless of who you’re playing.”
Wisconsin beat and tied CC in Madison in November,
but Sterling feels the Tigers are playing better hockey
now than they were before Thanksgiving. Their 12-goal weekend
at the Great Lakes Invitational may be a testament to that.
This time, the prospect of facing the Tigers’ seemingly
endless offense in a hostile environment has the Badgers
thinking that getting into a track meet with CC is not a
“They’re so creative and quick, we’ve got
to be physical and take the body,” Gilbert said. “We’re
going to come out and try to slow them down by hitting.”
Sterling warns that it’s not wise to discount
the Tigers’ ability to play a physical game as well.
“People always say we’ve got a small team,
but I think we can play a physical game if we need to,”
Sterling said, noting that this series is the first of a
six-game stretch that has them facing Wisconsin at home,
traveling to Minnesota and hosting North Dakota. “This is
definitely a huge start to the second half of the year and
the start of a huge stretch for us.”
AND HEARD IN THE WCHA
Great Weekend Getaway
at Colorado College
(Fri-Sat) January in Colorado means all 28 lifts running
and a 71 inch base of packed powder at Breckenridge.
Of course, the real fun is to be had 110 miles down
the road from Summit County at Colorado Springs World
Arena, where Colorado College hosts Wisconsin and
the last real drama in the race for the MacNaughton
Cup may be happening. “They might be the one
team that can catch Wisconsin,” said Don Lucia
of his former employer. “But they have to win
both games this weekend.”
While You’re There: We polled
our friends at USA Hockey about where they go in Colorado
Springs during their brief hiatus back in the states
between the time they spent in Vancouver for the World
Junior Championships and the time they’ll spend
in Torino for the Olympics. They steered us downtown,
to the century-old Cheyenne Building and Phantom
Canyon Brewing Company. When the folks who brought
us the Miracle on Ice recommend a place, who are we
Smart move by the higher-ups at St.
Cloud State, removing the “interim”
tag from head coach Bob Motzko’s title.
Picked by some (including us) to finish last in the
WCHA after he took over the Huskies with just weeks
to go before their first game, Motzko has instead
coached the team to an above-.500 mark in his four
months at the helm of his alma mater.
WCHA coaches have expressed concern
in the past about getting their players’ heads
back into the college game upon returning from playing
in the World Junior Championships. No such trouble
for North Dakota’s Jonathan Toews,
a Team Canada gold medalist. Just 44 seconds into
Friday’s game at Alaska Anchorage (and just
hours after Toews and three teammates had gotten off
the plane from Vancouver), Toews took a tripping minor.
Wild About Harry: It would
be easy to joke that because Chris Harrington’s played
so well recently for Minnesota, the league office decided
to give him a day off. In reality, Harrington was named
the WCHA’s defensive player of the week roughly 24
hours after being given a game disqualification for a scrap
with Niagara’s Jason Williamson late in the Gophers’
7-1 win on Saturday.
There was initially talk that the officials
might downgrade the penalty to a game misconduct before
signing the score sheet, as neither Harrington or Williamson
appeared to throw punches in their otherwise impressive
tussle. But referee Pete Friesema let the original call
stand, meaning Harrington will miss Friday’s home
game with North Dakota.
The player of the week honor capped a comeback
of sorts for Harrington, a senior, who had five assists
in the sweep of Niagara and has played better defensively
in the past month after considerable struggles as a junior
and earlier this season. When Wisconsin won twice at Mariucci
Arena in early December, observers watched the Badger forwards
repeatedly get the puck a center ice and veer toward Harrington’s
side of the rink, hoping to capitalize on his perceived
defensive weaknesses. A month later, Harrington’s
coach says the struggles versus Wisconsin were an exception
to the better play he’s seen recently.
“There’s been a really strong
turnaround in the last couple of months, especially on the
road,” said Don Lucia, whose team is on a six-game
winning streak. “Chris has really played well defensively
and he’s got close to 20 points now as a defenseman.”
Taking Harrington’s family history into
account (his father, John, won a gold medal for Team USA
in 1980) and his solid play as a freshman and sophomore,
18 months ago it was easy to view Harrington as the heir
apparent to Jordan Leopold, Paul Martin and Keith Ballard
as the next great Minnesota defenseman. Lucia feels those
comparisons aren’t fair, and may have put undue pressure
to do spectacular things on Harrington.
“Chris is not at that level,”
Lucia said. “He’s a good college hockey player,
but comparing him to those guys who are all going to play
15 years or more in the NHL, it’s probably unfair
to put that on anybody.”
So instead of trying to make the highlight
reel every night, Harrington has reverted to a simpler game
that has him doing what his coaches expect defensively,
and stepping up for the occasional offensive gem. In last
Friday’s 5-2 win over Niagara, the Gophers led 1-0
and were killing a penalty when Harrington picked off a
Purple Eagles pass, keying a 2-on-1 shorthanded breakaway.
He carried the puck deep into the Niagara zone before firing
a cross-ice pass to Ryan Stoa for an easy tap-in goal.
Lucia figures it was plays like that helping
earn Harrington the player of the week honor.
“I know he wasn’t named
that for being the best fighter,” said Lucia, still
smarting from the Saturday night call. “Maybe they
thought he was an impressive wrestler.”
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• When Alaska Anchorage forward Shea
Hamilton scored a power play goal just 1:22 into the Seawolves’
5-3 win over North Dakota last Friday, it snapped an 0-for-19
man-advantage streak. Heading into this weekend’s
series at Minnesota State Mankato, the Seawolves are 1-for-27
on the power play in their last five games.
• In losing to Princeton and Ferris
State in the Denver Cup, the Pioneers finished 3-5-0 in
non-conference play this season. That would normally be
a bad sign for a team looking to win its third consecutive
NCAA title. Of course, that would be forgetting that the
team’s 8-0 mark in the past two NCAA tournaments includes
a 4-0 mark versus WCHA teams.
• It’s looking like a potential
turning point weekend for both teams as Michigan Tech visits
Minnesota Duluth. Last season, the Huskies solidified their
surprising second half in Duluth by sweeping the Bulldogs,
and simultaneously ended UMD’s hopes of a return to
the NCAAs. The Bulldogs are currently two games under .500
and just one win out of the last WCHA home playoff spot
with the Huskies coming back to the DECC. For a pair of
teams currently in the lower half of the league standings,
there are four pretty big points on the line.
• MSU Mankato junior David Backes will
play in his 100th game on Friday when the Mavs host Alaska
Anchoarge, and has already topped the century mark on the
score sheet with 102 career points.
of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.