December Could Lead to Long Postseason
On the long flight home from Sweden last month,
with a gold medal draped around his neck, one likes to picture
North Dakota forward Jonathan Toews listening to an iPod
as Air Canada jetted the two-time World Junior Championship
winner and his teammates west. Although we don’t know
his musical tastes, a certain classic selection from Counting
Crows would have perfectly summed up the last months of
2006 and Toews’ hopes for a better 2007 on the ice.
celebrations will be the norm, if North Dakota maintains
its current form.
"It's been a long December and there's
reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the
One month later, 2007 has already been a time
of glory for the Fighting Sioux sophomore, and the memories
of the frustrations of November and December are fading
fast for North Dakota's army of fans. Toews, who was the
second pick overall in last summer's NHL draft, put up a
hat trick in North Dakota's second game of the season (a
4-2 win over Quinnipiac). He scored just one goal in the
team's next 14 games, and missed three outings due to injury.
The talk of Toews and linemate T.J. Oshie being the next
dynamic offensive duo in college hockey was pretty much
forgotten when Toews headed to Scandinavia with Team Canada
just before the holidays.
In the six games he's played for North Dakota
since returning to the lineup in a Jan. 12 home contest
versus Alaska Anchorage, Toews has a dozen points –
five of them in the two-game sweep at Minnesota last weekend.
The second-half resurgence has mirrored the fortunes of
this team, as North Dakota is 8-1-1 in its last 10 and is
solidly back in the race for home ice.
"We're just having more fun coming to
the rink everyday," Toews said, alluding to the time
not so long ago when North Dakota headed into the holiday
break with a 7-10-1 mark. "It's tough when you work
so hard all week long and you don't see results. Your mind
tends to want to give up after a while. Now that we are
seeing results, it's easy to come to work everyday."
North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol doesn't dwell
on the negatives of the early part of the season, and when
asked about Toews says that his star player won't make excuses
about the rough first half.
"I'm pretty proud of the young man,"
Hakstol said after North Dakota's 5-3 win in Minneapolis
last Friday. "He never uses a crutch when things don't
Asked about Toews' struggles early in the
season, Hakstol stays mum.
"That's up to Jonathan to talk about,"
said the coach.
For his part, Toews seems to have grown as
a player from living through the sophomore slump and has
emerged more thankful for the goal-scoring good times he's
"I take the offensive opportunities as
they come," he said. "It was tough to come by
goals in the first half of the season and it was discouraging.
But things started clicking for me at Christmastime. I hope
I can just carry that into the rest of the season."
SEEN AND HEARD IN THE WCHA
The next great Wisconsin goalie?:
When Wisconsin goaltender Brian Elliott missed a month last
season due to injury, freshman Shane Connelly was forced
into emergency duty. Connelly, who hails from Cheltenham,
Pa., went 3-5-0 for the Badgers, but gave way to Elliott
when the first-string goalie was healthy again.
But after beating Minnesota State 4-1 last
Saturday, Connelly is 3-0-1 with shutouts of Michigan State
and Providence this season, prompting some to speculate
whether Badgers coach Mike Eaves might consider rotating
Elliott and Connelly in the latter stages of this season.
At his Monday press briefing this week, Eaves said that
they hope to continue to gradually work Connelly into the
lineup more, as they did with Elliott two years ago.
"What we're doing with Shane this year
is very similar to what we did with Brian his second year,"
Eaves said. "We look at the schedule. We try to put
him in positions that we think that he can be successful.
And that's what we did with Brian his second year and we're
doing with Shane, so it's kind of this process that we're
Eaves acknowledged that Connelly looks to
be getting more confidence and that his positional play
is improving. That likely comes not only from experience
and maturity but from his work with renowned Badgers goalie
coach Bill Howard. And even though his rookie season ended
with a losing record, Eaves thinks the emergency duties
Connelly had last January and February will make him a better
goaltender in the long run.
"I think last year accelerated his process
of growing as a goaltender," Eaves said. "I think
of one game in particular and that's at Lambeau Field, playing
outside in front of 41,000. That's a pretty pressure-packed,
unique situation. It was a big game for us, and he was the
winning goaltender. So last year and being forced to play
accelerated his growth as a goaltender."
As has been the history of the goalie factory
in Madison, the only thing Badgers fans like more than having
one good netminder is having two of them to choose from.
Great Weekend Getaway
at Colorado College
There are points and pride on the line when Wisconsin
visits Colorado College for a two game set this weekend.
The Badgers currently are in sixth place, trailing
the fourth-place Tigers by four points and fifth-place
North Dakota (off this weekend) by three. If there
are to be home playoff games at the Kohl Center this
season, the push to reach the league's upper half
has got to start right now. The Tigers are 1-3-1 in
their last five, and need to heat up to hold off the
hard-charging teams nipping their heels.
While You're There: It's only 70
miles between Colorado Springs and Denver, making
it easy enough to head north on Saturday morning and
catch the 1 p.m. game between the Avalanche and Oilers
at the Pepsi Center. Watch a Hobey winner (Minnesota
alum Jordan Leopold of the Avs) face a Hobey runner-up
(UMass-Lowell alum Dwayne Roloson of the Oil) and
check out your seats for next month's NCAA West Regional
(or the 2008 Frozen). Even if there's a shootout,
you should be able to get back to C-Springs in plenty
of time for the Tigers-Badgers rematch. Or, if you
want to make it a six-team weekend, stop at Magness
Arena for Denver and Minnesota Duluth.
In a nice
reminder that "student" is listed first
in the term "student-athlete," the WCHA
this week issued its annual list of scholar athletes,
honoring those hockey players who have maintained
a 3.5 GPA or better for the past two semesters. The
award recognized 20 men (11 of them repeat honorees
from last year) who are excelling in the classroom
as well as on the ice.
schools (Minnesota Duluth and Wisconsin) combined
to place no men's players on the scholar athlete list.
While balancing athletics and academics can be a challenge,
especially when frequent travel is factored in, it's
disappointing to see no Badgers or Bulldogs honored
for their schoolwork.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• With all of the recent talk at the
University of Minnesota surrounding North Dakota's nickname
and logo, it was a bit of a surprise that some are still
OK with selling a likeness that U of M higher-ups have labeled
"hostile and abusive." To recap, the U of M has
decreed that it will not play North Dakota in any sport
other than hockey (despite the work of athletic director
Joel Maturi to get the ban rescinded or at least loosened)
due to the controversy over the Fighting Sioux nickname
and the team's Indian head logo. That made it all the more
interesting to see Fighting Sioux shirts and hockey sweaters
(complete with the logo that some have deemed offensive)
for sale at merchandise stands inside Mariucci Arena last
weekend. Perhaps in Minneapolis the logo has now been labeled
"hostile, abusive, and profitable."
• While documenting the resurgence of
Toews and Oshie on the ice for North Dakota, we also learned
of some recent trouble for the duo off the ice. According
to a Grand Forks Herald report, Toews and Oshie (who are
both under 21) were recently cited for "minor not allowed
on liquor premises" after police caught them in a Grand
Forks bar. Hakstol wouldn't comment, saying only that the
matter would be handled internally. The players are scheduled
to appear in municipal court on Feb. 12.
• Considering the two programs' historical
success rates, it's surprising to note that when Minnesota
went 6-0-0 versus Alaska Anchorage last season (the teams
met four times in the regular season and twice in the playoffs)
it was the first time either team has swept the season series
from the other. If statistics mean anything, scoring is
clearly the key for the Seawolves this weekend. They are
1-32-0 all-time versus Minnesota when scoring two or fewer
• With the game on the line, it would
make sense for the Denver Pioneers to get the puck to Geoff
Paukovich. The junior forward has just six goals in 30 games
this season, but four of those goals have been game-winners.
• This has got to be a good omen for
Michigan Tech fans hoping for a solid finish to a promising
season: Last weekend's win and tie versus Colorado College
marked the first time the Huskies had taken at least three
points in a regular season series with the Tigers since
January 1993. That season ended with the Huskies getting
home ice in the WCHA playoffs and making a trip to the WCHA
• Minnesota Duluth enters this weekend's
series at Denver in 10th place in the WCHA, but may consider
much longer bus rides as a route to success. After beating
Northern Michigan twice this season, the Bulldogs are now
7-1-1 in their last nine games versus CCHA teams. The lone
loss in that stretch was a 4-1 setback at the hands of Ohio
State in Columbus over the holidays.
• Here's a good example of statistics
contradicting one another: Minnesota State leads the WCHA
in penalties, and the Mavericks have the league's least-successful
penalty kill. But since a 6-4 win at St. Cloud State on
Jan. 12, the Mavericks have killed the last 27 consecutive
power plays for their opponents. That streak could seemingly
be extended this weekend when the Mavs host Michigan Tech.
According to the stats sheet, the Huskies have the league's
least-effective power play.
• After two crowds of 15,000-plus at
the Kohl Center last weekend, Wisconsin is averaging 14,388
tickets sold over the course of 16 home dates. That's a
better average attendance than seven NHL teams (Coyotes,
Bruins, Devils, Capitals, Blackhawks, Islanders, and Blues).
• It's been a long time since WCHA teams
regularly traveled to road games via train. But it's been
less than a week since WCHA coaches traveled to road games
that way. In order to avoid the rush hour freeway traffic
in Denver last weekend, St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko
and assistant coach Eric Rud used the Mile High City's light
rail transit system to travel from their downtown Denver
hotel to both of the Huskies' games at Magness Arena. For
you mass transit/hockey buffs, it should be noted that the
Huskies are 1-1 with their coaches getting to the rink via
the strap-hanger route.
of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.
Jess Myers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.