December 7 , 2006
Schedule Getting Tough For Sioux

By Jess Myers

Don't bother telling North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol about the great opportunity his team has versus a vulnerable Wisconsin team this weekend. He's not buying it.

"I'm not so sure that they're not quite a bit better than what their record indicates," Hakstol said, reflecting back on the spilt the team battled to in Madison back in October. That was before both rosters were beset by a rash of injuries that has fans wondering what the real Fighting Sioux look like, and when they'll be back to full health.

WCHA Notebook

North Dakota goalie Philippe Lamoureux was among those Sioux players stung by the injury bug.

National TV Schedule

Hakstol says his club is getting back closer to what they had in training camp, long before Jonathan Toews, Erik Fabian, and goaltender Philippe Lamoureux all missed significant time with a variety of ailments. Forward T.J. Oshie hasn't missed a game, but has been playing with a significant hand injury since the Sioux were swept by Maine in October, and has been limited to just three goals in 14 games. All of that medical news has limited the team's hunt for wins (they're currently 7-6-1) and identity.

"I don't think we've established ourselves with a team identity," Hakstol said. "We just haven't been a very consistent hockey team – and that's not looking strictly at wins and losses."

Hakstol praised the unsung play of defenseman Taylor Chorney and forward Brad Miller thus far. Miller, who hails from Alpharetta, Ga., and grew up playing roller hockey, quietly has the second-most goals for the Sioux this season with five (Ryan Duncan leads the team with nine). And the coach said beyond Wisconsin the Sioux will face more challenges in December, with Michigan Tech coming to town, three players leaving for the World Junior Championships (Chorney and Brian Lee are on Team USA and Toews is expected to crack Team Canada's roster), then a trip to the tournament at Dartmouth, where they'll face an Indian nickname protest as well as two on-ice foes. Hakstol welcomes the challenges.

"We still need to mature as a team and I think we're seeing some signs of that, so we look forward to the fact that we have an opportunity to go into a new environment," he said. "That's one way a team grows."


Okposo Goes Five-Hole ... On Himself: Minnesota rookie forward Kyle Okposo turned a few heads and spurred a few Internet video searches on Saturday, scoring the game-winner in his team's 2-1 victory in Mankato with a move that had Gopher fans gushing. Cutting across the front of the goalmouth in the first period, Okposo took a pass from Ryan Stoa, drew the puck back between his own skates, and flipped a rising shot that sailed over the glove of Mavericks goalie Mike Zacharias.

While the shot was a surprise to the netminder and all of the sellout crowd in attendance, careful scouting of Okposo's past games would've let you know that such a move exists and could be coming at any time. While watching the Minnesota Wild play the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night in his hometown, Okposo told INCH that last Saturday was the third time he's used that move in a game, and he's scored all three times.

"I've been doing that since I was little," Okposo said with a grin. "Fortunately for me it went in, because I was trying to go upstairs and didn't get all of it."

He scored on the same play once while playing for Des Moines in the USHL and again while at Shattuck-St. Mary's. While he's never missed, the move strikes some as hot-dogging just a bit, and has drawn some criticism from his own coaches in the past.

"Coach (Tom) Ward at Shattuck wasn't real happy the first time he saw me do that," Okposo said. "He kind of told me to leave that one in the bag."

With Okposo and four other Gophers heading to Sweden later this month to represent Team USA at the World Junior Championships, Okposo wouldn't reveal whether his signature move will make its international hockey debut soon.

"I doubt it, but we'll see," said Okposo with a sly grin, as if to say to opposing goalies, "you never know what's coming."

Cutting Tormey Out: Minnesota State goalie Dan Tormey has struggled in the first two months of his sophomore season, but seemed to be on the right track last Friday at Minnesota, holding the Gophers to one goal on 18 shots through half of their game.

"That's the best I've playing all year," Tormey said. "I was seeing the puck well and felt confident. It just seems that it's always the case that we can't catch a break."

Near the midway point of the game, Minnesota forward Blake Wheeler was knocked down and slid into the Mavericks' net skates first, opening up a gash in Tormey's glove hand. The prognosis was a severed tendon that required surgery. While Tormey skated off the rink with TV cameras picking up a significant amount of blood on his hand, he vowed a speedy return after the game.

"It's minor," Tormey said, despite having a significant bandage on his left hand. "I'll be back as soon as I can and keep kicking. They can't keep me down. I wanted to go back in and play, but they wouldn't let me."

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Wisconsin at North Dakota

It's looking like desperation time in Grand Forks, and not just for the Columbia Mall shoppers fighting hard to fill that holiday gift list. The Badgers visit the Fighting Sioux with plenty of long-term standings implications on the line. North Dakota is a game over .500, while the memories of Wisconsin's NCAA title are fading fast as the Badgers struggle. A sweep by either team would go a long way toward calming the troubled waters they experienced in November.

While You're There: Yes, it requires a drive from the rink all the way into another state (although it only takes 10 minutes), and yes, it'll be a little too chilly to sit on the riverfront patio, but when in Greater Grand Forks, we know of no better way to cap off an evening of college pucks than sipping a Blue Moon at the Blue Moose, just across the river in East Grand Forks.

Stick Salute

College hockey takes another step toward making video of every game available on Saturday as the University of Denver will offer a free webcast of the Pioneers' game with Minnesota State. If you can't get enough of the Pios and the Mavs from reading the box score, log on at 7 p.m. Mountain Time and enjoy.

Bench Minor

Last Friday, WCHA assistant referee Brad Shepherd called Minnesota State's R.J. Linder for checking from behind. Linder was tossed from the game, and Minnesota was given a five-minute power play, upon which the Gophers promptly scored. While the merits of the call itself are open for debate, it was bewildering to see Shepherd make the call from the opposite side of the rink, more than 100 feet away, while referee Jeff Albers was roughly 10 feet from the play. A call of that magnitude should be left to the guy with the closest perspective. Otherwise, why not just call the game from the pressbox?


• Michigan Tech has slipped a bit since the Huskies' surprising 5-1-0 start and holds a .500 record heading into this weekend's home series with Minnesota. One reason for the better start to the season (Tech was 2-13-1 at this time a year ago, and 1-14-1 two years ago) has been a lighter workload for goaltenders Michael-Lee Teslak and Rob Nolan. On average, the Huskies are giving up fewer than 22 shots per game this season, which is tops in the WCHA.

• Denver fans looking for a silver lining after last weekend's sweep by archrival Colorado College can take some heart that good things might be coming in April. The last time the Pioneers lost two consecutive games to the Tigers, in the opening round of the 2004 WCHA playoffs, Denver bounced back to win the NCAA title about a month later. Last Friday's win by the Tigers was their 100th all-time versus Denver and snapped a string in which the Pioneers were 6-0-1 versus CC.

• A win by Alaska Anchorage at Colorado College this weekend would be a rarity. The Seawolves have gone more than a decade since their first and only win in Colorado Springs – a 7-4 triumph on Nov. 30, 1996. UAA is 1-28-0 all-time in road games versus the Tigers, and has never won there since the opening of Colorado Springs World Arena in 1998. Although, sticklers for detail will point out that the Seawolves were officially the road team in their 4-1 win over CC in the opening game of the 2004 WCHA Final Five in St. Paul.

• How bad have things been for Minnesota Duluth lately? The Bulldogs 7-4 win at Alaska Anchorage last weekend was the program's first WCHA regular season road victory in nearly a full year. UMD last won a WCHA road game on Dec. 10, 2005, beating Colorado College 4-3 in Colorado Springs.

• They say winning cures all ills. Wisconsin, which snapped a six-game losing streak in its last outing, beating Michigan State 2-0, also saw several other unpleasant milestones go away in the victory. The Badgers power play broke a 0-for-16 streak in the game, while defenseman Jeff Likens snapped a 12-game streak without a point and forward Andrew Joudrey scored a goal for the first time in 10 games. Bewildered by their team's struggles in November, faithful Badger fans hope this is the start of a comeback.

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