January 26, 2007
Minnesota's Newest Archrival?

By Jess Myers

There are fans of at least five WCHA teams (Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State, North Dakota, Minnesota State and Wisconsin) that consider the Minnesota Golden Gophers their archrivals. As long as Colorado College has a hockey team, you probably won't add Denver to the long list of Gopher archrivals anytime soon, but it was hard to tell that from what happened on the ice last weekend in Minneapolis.

WCHA Notebook

Players from Minnesota and Denver battled for two tough games last weekend, and there's a chance they could meet again later on this year. Here, Minnesota's Mike Carman (left) and Denver's Brandon Vossberg pursue a loose puck.

National TV Schedule

From the start of the series (which ended in a split after two one-goal games) there was an archrivals-like intensity and more than 150 penalty minutes between the Pioneers and Gophers. And when it was all over, there was already talk of a potential playoff meeting.

"I've got a feeling these teams are going to meet a few more times before this college hockey season is over," said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky, noting that the Gophers didn't come to Denver this season. "We have an off weekend a few weeks from now. Maybe they want to come out and play an exhibition series."

In addition to the hard hits and post-whistle rough stuff that referee Todd Anderson's crew dealt with, there was plenty to be heard on ice level between two teams that seem to have some suddenly bad blood.

"For whatever reason this weekend, there was more talking going than I can remember in five years," Minnesota coach Don Lucia. "I was really surprised. That helped escalate things."

Friday's 1-0 Denver win was decided on a goal that came after Minnesota's Jim O'Brien skated through the Pioneers' crease and may have made contact with netminder Glenn Fisher. Replays were inconclusive about the extent of the contact, but Fisher fell to the ice and drew a goaltender interference penalty. Denver scored the only goal on the ensuing man advantage. Lucia said afterward that Anderson could've called a dive on the play. Anger over that play may have come to fruition in the first period of Saturday's 5-4 Gophers win, when another collision in front of the Denver net touched off a melee that ended with nine players in the penalty box and two more (Denver's J.P. Testwuide and Minnesota's Ben Gordon) tossed for fighting.

After the series, Gwozdecky talked to reporters and failed to acknowledge the irony in comparing the two-game set to an event more suited to pay-per-view from Caesar's Palace.

"What people predicted about this series — at least the smart people — came true," he said. "There were two pretty good heavyweight fighters going at it shot for shot. It was a pretty good 15-rounder."

With these two clubs playing well and the players seemingly itching to see their newfound rivals soon, fans of intense college hockey have got to be pulling for a March rematch at the Final Five in St. Paul, and maybe again a week later at the NCAA Regional in Denver.


Ex-Pioneer Built For Speed: A few hours before he notched a short-handed goal in the YoungStars game (part of the NHL All-Star festivities held in Dallas) on Tuesday, Matt Carle took what may have been the ride of his life. The former Denver star and 2006 Hobey winner caught a helicopter lift to Texas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR track outside Fort Worth, and drove a regulation race car during a 20-lap run around the 1.5-mile track. According to speedway officials, Carle and the other NHLers participating in the event hit more than 150 mph a few times as they flew around the quad-oval.

"It was a blast," Carle told USA Today. "They said they used the same engines and cars as the Nextel Cup guys. The first couple laps, they put a restriction on us, but after that they turned us loose."

Kinda makes that fastest skater competition look pokey by comparison.

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St. Cloud State at Denver

They'll play the "guess who's the hotter team" games this weekend at Magness Arena when St. Cloud State visits Denver. The Huskies have taken over sole possession of second place in the WCHA and are 14-1-4 since Nov. 3. The Pioneers are on a one-game losing streak, but have gone 9-2-1 in their last dozen outings.

While You're There: If you're the type who heads outdoors as soon as hockey season is over, this is the right weekend to be in Denver. The Denver International Sportsmen's Show, which is Colorado's largest hunting, fishing, and outdoors event, runs through Sunday at the Colorado Convention Center. Sounds like the perfect time to plan that summer getaway in the Rockies.

Stick Salute

While many, including INCH, have talked up the talented rookies as being a key to St. Cloud State's strong season, it's erroneous to forget the wily veterans. Huskies junior forward Andrew Gordon and senior defenseman Justin Fletcher were named, respectively, the WCHA's offensive and defensive players of the week after they combined for 11 points in their team's sweep of Minnesota Duluth last weekend.

Bench Minor

In honor of Hockey Day in Minnesota last Saturday, ushers at Mariucci Arena gave out thousands of posters to fans upon entering the rink for the Gophers' game with Denver. In the second period, when Mike Vannelli completed his first career hat trick, hundreds of the posters (along with dozens of hats) rained down on the rink, thrown mostly by jubilant students. The litter prompted a five-minute break to clean the ice. Handing out freebie giveaways to fans before games is a dumb idea, for this very reason.


• Two former WCHA assistant coaches have been identified as applicants for the Alaska Anchorage coaching job that's held by Dave Shyiak but technically open due to U.S. immigration law. The Anchorage Daily News recently reported that former UAA assistant (and Iona head coach) Frank Bretti, and former Wisconsin assistant Troy Ward are two of the five people who submitted applications when the school was forced to post the job opening. Due to the fact that Shyiak is a Canadian citizen employed in the States on a temporary work permit, the school must receive a permanent labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor while Shyiak seeks permanent U.S. residency. In order to receive that certification, the school had to post the job and see if any qualified U.S. citizens applied. Since both Bretti and Ward have held college coaching jobs (Ward was also with Denver for a stint), one would think they may be considered qualified applicants, meaning that UAA may have a staffing mess on its hands.

• About 15 years ago, when the idea of WCHA membership for Alaska Anchorage was being kicked around, a friend at Colorado College told me that for the Tigers, it was sometimes easier to get to Anchorage than to Houghton for road games. Apparently, the Tigers no longer mind taking trips to Michigan Tech, at least not recently. Heading into this weekend's road series in Houghton, Colorado College is 16-1-5 in its last 22 games there.

• While it's unlikely we'll see Minnesota Duluth in the NCAA tournament this year, the Bulldogs might want to demand a post-season series with Lake Superior State to determine the champion of the world's largest freshwater lake. After beating Northern Michigan 4-2 at the DECC on Wednesday night, the Bulldogs are now 4-1-1 versus two of the other three teams on located Lake Superior, having beaten Northern home-and-home and going 2-1-1 against Michigan Tech. UMD's leading scorer, Mason Raymond, had a goal and two assists as the Bulldogs broke a 2-2 tie in the third for their ninth win of the season. Incidentally, the Bulldogs are 6-3-2 all-time versus Lake State, but the Lakers won their last meeting 4-3 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit during the 1993 NCAA tournament.

• Is Wisconsin is looking to shadow someone during this weekend's series with Minnesota State in Madison, Travis Morin would be the obvious choice. The Mavericks' leading scorer has put up 11 points in his past nine games and has moved into third place on the school's all-time scoring list in the Division I era. Minnesota State is the only WCHA school that has never been shut out by Wisconsin.

• Lars Helminen's recent hot streak comes at a good time for Michigan Tech, as the Huskies battle to get back into the race for home ice. Helminen's goal last Friday at Alaska Anchorage was his first since Oct. 20. He added two assists in the Huskies' 4-1 win in Anchorage last Saturday, giving him five points in three games.

• If North Dakota captain Chris Porter can stay healthy, and if the Fighting Sioux can win a few playoff games, he could make WCHA history. Porter, a senior, has played in 158 consecutive games and needs 14 more to become the league's all-time ironman. Currently Wisconsin's John Johannson (1980-84) and Colorado College's Calvin Elfring (1994-98) hold the record with 171 consecutive games played. With 10 regular season games and a minimum of two playoff games remaining on the Sioux schedule, they'll need to win at least two postseason games, and advance to the Final Five, for Porter to break the record.

• If the WCHA playoffs began today, Wisconsin would have to go on the road, but despite their current standing in the lower half of the league standings, there's optimism for a strong finish among many Badger fans. Wisconsin has played two fewer league games than fifth-place North Dakota (which the Badgers currently trail by a point) and four fewer league games than Alaska Anchorage, with which it is tied for sixth place. Eight of Wisconsin's 12 remaining league games are against teams at or below the Badgers in the standings.

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