October 27, 2006
Raising the bar at Michigan Tech

By Jess Myers

Unlike Notre Dame's football team, the hockey squad at Michigan Tech doesn't bother to touch the sign they see before hitting the ice for each game. But before every game they see three words that remind the Huskies of their mission, for the game ahead, and for their hockey program.

WCHA Notebook

Defenseman Lars Helminen and the Michigan Tech Huskies are off to a nice start this season following two wins at Vermont.

National TV Schedule

"Raise The Bar," reads the sign above the door that leads to the ice surface. With their best start in a decade in progress, the Huskies seem to be in the process of raising the bar for a fan base that's stayed loyal through a few rough seasons.

The Huskies may have sent a message to the college hockey world last weekend, traveling to Gutterson Fieldhouse at Vermont (a place Huskies coach Jamie Russell knows well from his time as an assistant at Cornell) and sweeping the nationally-ranked Catamounts. After having dismal starts to the past two seasons (Tech was 1-16-1 on New Years' Day 2005, and 4-17-1 on New Years' Day 2006), the Huskies 3-1-0 mark thus far is a nice change of pace.

"It's a real contrast to the previous two seasons when we were so young and really struggled before Christmas," said Russell, now in his fourth season as the head coach for his alma mater. "This year's team has been getting the win on Friday night, and then challenging themselves not to be satisfied with a split on Saturday night."

An example of the "raise the bar" attitude came in the Huskies physical play versus Vermont. In Friday's 4-3 overtime win, the visitors had 53 hits recorded. Russell challenged them to do even more hitting on Saturday, and the team responded with 59 hits in the first 40 minutes of a 2-1 win.

In contrast to the freshman-laden teams predicted to contend for the WCHA title, the Huskies are a more veteran club that is getting strong play from upperclassmen like senior defenseman Lars Helminen, whose goal last Friday was the game-winner. Russell says that in addition to solid goaltending from the tandem of Michael-Lee Teslak and Rob Nolan, the team's interchangeable offensive units have kept opponents off their game thus far.

"Honestly, I can't tell the difference between our first line and our fourth line most shifts," Russell said. "We don't really care about matchups with the other team because we're so balanced."

While coach and players can hear talk of a resurgence on campus and around town, and feel excitement building among the Huskies fan base, Russell is quick to caution anyone about prepping for home playoff games before Halloween.

"We've had a good start, but that's all it is – a start," Russell said, "We're totally focused on Alaska Anchorage right now and can't look any further down the road."

But the Huskies can look down the tunnel that leads to the ice sheet at MacInnes Student Ice Arena, and see three words that remind them, there's a bar to be raised out there.


Next Stop ... De-icer: The first big Rocky Mountain snowstorm of the season made for tricky travel on Thursday. With both Colorado College and Denver playing series in Minnesota (the Tigers in Minneapolis and the Pioneers in Duluth) and the white stuff heading for the Front Range, travel plans changed on the fly.

Wednesday night, with dire snow warnings all over the news in Colorado Springs, Tigers coach Scott Owens and his team boarded a bus for Denver and spent the night there. As predicted, heavy snow started pelting the area in the middle of the night, and folks in Denver woke up to bad travel conditions on Thursday morning.

The Pioneers made a slow trek to the airport and got out of town relatively unscathed, having dealt only with a flight delay. By mid-afternoon, they'd landed in the Twin Cities and were on board a Duluth-bound bus for their date with the Bulldogs.

"We barely made our flight, because traffic was really bad getting to the airport," said Denver coach George Gwozdecky. "What's normally a 35-minute drive took an hour and 20 minutes. We pushed away from the gate on time, but then with de-icing and other things, we were on the tarmac for more than an hour and a half before takeoff."

It wasn't as smooth for the Tigers, who slogged their way to Denver's airport unsure of their flight status. Forward Chad Rau, a Twin Cities native, had his journey to his hometown spread out over more than an hour as the Tigers crawled through traffic. The team spent the lunch hour awaiting word from Northwest Airlines as to if and when they could fly, and watching the snow fly outside the windows as their scheduled departure time came and went.

Then a fortuitous break in the weather, with the storm sliding to the south, opened up a window of opportunity, and the Tigers' eastbound plane was able to take off (after another hour of de-icing on the tarmac). Although significantly behind schedule, the team got to Minnesota without further incident.

Great Weekend Getaway
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Boston College at Wisconsin

Having seen Boston College and Wisconsin play in Milwaukee for the NCAA title last April, it's easy to view this as the marquee matchup in all of college hockey, at least for this weekend. But the Badgers are a very different club than the one you saw hoisting a trophy at the Bradley Center. Gone are four of the best players from last season (Joe Pavelski, Robbie Earl, Adam Burish and Tom Gilbert) and Mike Eaves' crew is still a long way from being perfectly healthy. On the other bench BC may be reeling just a bit after tumbling from the top spot in the polls via an unexpected home loss to Notre Dame last weekend. It's strange to see two clubs with this much talent searching for identity and even redemption in Madison this weekend.

While You're There: The renovated Camp Randall Stadium is always packed for football as the Badgers usually contend for the Big Ten title. If you can get a ticket to the game against Illinois on Saturday, grab it, and be prepared for hours of fun in a noisy sea of red. And definitely stick around for the Fifth Quarter, when the Badger Band takes over the field. A few hours later, they're expecting another 100,000 or so to converge on State Street for the town's infamous Halloween bash (new addition this year – a $5 admission charge). Locals say it's a combination of Mardi Gras and New Years' Eve, where the annual riot starts at bar time, and the usual blaming of out-of-towners for the trouble begins the following Monday.

Stick Salute

Yes, its only October, but Minnesota's power play is already putting up some scary numbers. In last weekend's "not really ever close" sweep at Ohio State, the Gophers' man-advantage unit scored eight goals (in 16 opportunities). If the WCHA officials ever start calling games "new NHL" style, that could be a very bad thing for Gopher opponents.

Bench Minor

For years we've wanted to see more games at Alaska Anchorage televised back to the Lower 48, but this season the Seawolf schedulers seem to have taken a step in the wrong direction. Friday night games in Anchorage now start at 7:37 p.m. Alaska time, meaning fans at Michigan Tech will have to stay up to 11:37 p.m. just to hear the first faceoff of their game on Jan. 19. Instead of going later, why not start some Saturday games at 4 p.m. Alaska time, so they'd be more attractive to TV folks in Minnesota, Wisconsin, etc., and perhaps give the UAA program some much needed exposure?


• In this election season, we took notice of the political ads running during Golden Gopher radio broadcasts. Former Minnesota coach Doug Woog has cut a number of spots plugging current Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's reelection bid. It makes hockey sense when you note that Pawlenty, a Republican, is a Minnesota grad, while his Democrat opponent, Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch, is a native Duluthian who graduated from UMD. Pawlenty, who trails in the polls, tried out for the varsity hockey team at South St. Paul High School when Woog was the head coach there, but the future chief executive was relegated to J.V.

• If history is any guide, St. Cloud State rookie forward Andreas Nodl may have a NHL career in his future, and not just because he's an Austria forward recruited by Bob Motzko (see also: Vanek, Thomas). In his first four collegiate games, Nodl leads the Huskies with three goals and five assists, marking the best start by a SCSU rookie since current Pittsburgh Penguin Ryan Malone had seven points in his first three games in 1999.

• North Dakota's trip to Minnesota State this weekend will be the team's first visit to Mankato in more than two years. The teams played five times last year (with the Siuox going 4-1) and all of the games were in Grand Forks.

• Denver redshirt freshman Brock Trotter's torrid scoring pace continues. You'll remember he had five points in his first five collegiate games last season before being lost for the year with a severed tendon. Through six games this season, Trotter leads the Pioneers with eight points, signaling that a point-per-game average is aiming too low for him.

• Special teams have been feast or famine for Minnesota Duluth in the season's first three weeks. The Bulldogs, despite allowing three shorthanded goals, have the league's top overall power play, and the league's worst penalty kill percentage. Knowing Bulldog goalie Alex Stalock's habit of straying from the crease and feeding the puck up ice, it sounds like a good power play, and the occasional shortie against, are going to be facts of life when he gets the nod in goal.

• It wouldn't be historic, but a win by Alaska Anchorage on Friday night at Michigan Tech would be a real rarity. In the Seawolves' 13 previous WCHA openers since they joined the league in 1993, they've gone 1-12-0. On Oct. 21, 1994, the Seawolves beat St. Cloud State 5-3 in Anchorage to begin WCHA play 1-0-0 for the only time in school history.

• It's no surprise that Travis Morin is leading Minnesota State offensively heading into the Mavericks home series with North Dakota this weekend. Morin, who takes a four-game point streak into the meetings with the Sioux, has 98 career points and is poised to become the 37th member of the Mavericks' Century Club.

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