January 12, 2007
Players Apply Lessons Learned at World Juniors

By Jess Myers

By the time pucks are dropping on Friday night, the sleep patterns should be back to normal, and the faint aura of herring and lesfe will likely have faded from the taste buds of the players. But for those 12 WCHA skaters who made the trek to Sweden and back for the World Juniors, returning with medals (most bronze, one gold), the effect on their collegiate game remains to be seen.

WCHA Notebook

Jack Skille made some good friends on the Gopher team while they were playing at the World Junior Championship,

National TV Schedule

The conventional wisdom is they'll be tapped out, and will take some time to be back to full strength.

"It was an emotionally draining experience, especially after we lost the first two and every game was do-or-die, so it will be interesting to see how they respond back in the college environment," said Team USA coach Ron Rolston. "But they're all elite players and situations like this are things they'll have to deal with, especially if they're going to play at the next level."

Nowhere is the "just back from Leksand" theme going to be more prevalent this weekend than in Madison, where Minnesota (and five Team USA veterans) faces Wisconsin (home to a trio of bronze medalists). The trip to Scandinavia was a breakout of sorts for Golden Gophers sophomore goaltender Jeff Frazee, who silenced many critics with a stellar performance between the pipes for the Americans. He says the WJC experience made him a better player.

"I definitely think it'll help me out now that we're all back with our schools," Frazee said. "I took some things back that I think will help my game mentally and some changes in the way I approach the game."

Frazee's coach said the goalie seems to shine on the international stage, and understands that solid play from him and top goalie Kellen Briggs are the keys to maintaining their on-ice success in March and April.

"I hope we can get good defense and goaltending the rest of the way, because that's going to hold the key for us," said Don Lucia, acknowledging that the 2006 upset loss to Holy Cross is still fresh in many minds. "When you get to the end of the year, you need a goalie who's going to give up two goals or less facing 25 to 30 shots. We weren't as strong as we needed to be there at the end of last season, and I think you saw that in the way the season ended."

In the shadow of the Wisconsin State Capitol, some of those in red are also looking forward to a less-friendly reunion with the guys they called teammates a week ago.

"This weekend is going to be great," said Badgers forward Jack Skille. "Getting to know those guys over the past three weeks has been fun, and it's going to be great playing against them."

Like Frazee, Skille says the trip to Sweden was about hockey education more than medals, especially when the international lessons are applied on WCHA ice.

"When you get to play at that level for three weeks, it really magnifies what you need to work on and it's a good reminder of how you need to keep your feet moving on the open ice," said Skille, who said he hasn't yet shown his medal to his Wisconsin teammates. "I keep forgetting to bring it to the rink. Of course, we've got a couple of guys on this team who have gold medals, so they're probably not too impressed."


Pondering Bemidji State's Future: An interesting rumor to come out of the college hockey world in recent weeks has folks at Bemidji State quietly but forcefully pushing for WCHA membership (or at least to be considered for WCHA membership) in the near future. The league has placed a firm moratorium on further expansion, so it's unlikely that games versus the Beavers will count in the league standings next year (or for at minimum a few years thereafter).

"We haven't applied for membership because we can't until the moratorium is lifted, and we don't know if that's going to happen," said Beavers coach Tom Serratore. "There's got to be a motion to lift it and a second and we don't know what the chances of that are."

While perhaps not making a lot of friends in WCHA circles, Serratore's club is making a strong case on the ice that they would be competitive in the league right away. The Beavers are 5-1-0 versus WCHA team this year, with sweeps of Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State, and could further improve that record this weekend when they visit a Michigan Tech team that has not maintained its hot start.

"We're playing pretty well," Serratore said, just before boarding a Houghton-bound bus on Thursday. "We've gotten a lot of breaks in those games and a lot of bounces have gone our way all season, and we're also a pretty good hockey team."

Great Weekend Getaway
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Colorado College at Minnesota Duluth (Fri.-Sat.)
The big-timers will tell you that Madison is the place to be this weekend, but we see a slightly more interesting match up happening six hours north of the Kohl Center. Colorado College visits Minnesota Duluth with the Tigers battling to stay in the top half of the league standings and the Bulldogs battling to salvage their season.

While You're There: The sad lack of snow has forced the weekend's big snowboarding event at Spirit Mountain to be rescheduled for February. Instead we suggest a walk along the lake (usually unbearably cold in normal January weather), a stop at the Marine Museum, then a trip a few blocks up the hill for a great Sammy's Pizza before heading to the DECC.

Stick Salute

A weekend spent watching youth hockey in small-town Minnesota provided an opportunity to see the Husky Productions telecast of last Saturday's game between St. Cloud State and Alaska Anchorage. While the Huskies have gone a dozen games without a loss, the student-produced television coverage is almost as impressive, with great camera work and insightful (if unpolished) commentary. Good work folks, the fans everywhere from Kasson to Kelliher appreciate it..

Bench Minor

Home ice advantage is supposedly a big thing in college hockey, but that's not the case in the WCHA this season. As of this week, the team in the white (or occasionally gold, in the case of Minnesota and Alaska Anchorage) sweater is 35-33-8, meaning road teams are just two games under .500. What's the point of the loud music, the rowdy students and the laser shows if they don't help the home club win?


• When the ref's arm goes up, it can only mean bad things for Alaska Anchorage lately. The Seawolves have surrendered at least one power play goal in seven consecutive games and have been held scoreless on the power play in three of their last five games.

• A 21-save outing by Colorado College goaltender Matt Zaba this weekend would move him ahead of Tim Frame (1977-81) and into fourth place on the school's career saves chart.

• Some great Canadians have skated for North Dakota over the years, but Jonathan Toews made history for his home country last week. In winning gold for Team Canada in their final game versus Russia, Toews became the first Fighting Sioux to claim two gold medals. Toews, who was named to the WJC all-tournament team, also got the top prize with Team Canada last year in Vancouver. With all of those accolades, we'll let one little on-air f-bomb slide.

• How good are the youngsters at Denver? Through the Pioneers first 24 games (15 of them wins), freshmen have accounted for 49 percent of the team's scoring points. Leading that group of young guns is redshirt freshman Brock Trotter, who has 25 points thus far.

• A nice tip of the cap to young hockey players this weekend in Houghton, where Saturday night's contest with Bemidji State has been designated Junior Hockey Night. All local junior hockey players who wear their sweaters to the game can get a ticket for $3.

• There's good news and more good news among the goaltending ranks at Minnesota State. Mavericks sophomore goalie Dan Tormey, who suffered a severed tendon during a game at Minnesota in December, got the cast off his hand recently and may return to the ice soon. In his place, fellow soph Mike Zacharias is doing good things in the Mavs net, stopping 127 of the last 136 shots he's faced for a .920 saves percentage in the past five games.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. Jess Myers can be reached at jess@insidecollegehockey.com.