Of the nearly 60 college hockey programs on
the D-I level, there’s only one that’s produced
a Hobey Baker winner on a sub-.500 team. Chris Marinucci
of Minnesota Duluth won the nation’s top individual
honor notching 61 points in 38 games for a 1994 Bulldogs
team that finished 14-21-3, and in seventh place in the
Duluth sophomore defenseman Matt Niskanen ranks tied
for fourth among NCAA defensemen in scoring with 28
It’s 13 years later and the Bulldogs
are struggling again, heading into the final four games
of the regular season sitting 10th in a 10-team league,
eight games below the .500 mark. But that doesn’t
mean there aren’t silver linings to be found among
the dark clouds that have rolled in over Lake Superior and
taken up residence in the Bulldog hockey world this season.
While no one expects the Hobey to visit UMD for the fifth
time come April, the Bulldog roster boasts two impressive
talents that have the fan base already optimistic for the
playoffs — maybe even next season.
Sophomore wing Mason Raymond is among the
league’s top scorers with 38 points. And with the
Bulldogs boasting the league’s most efficient power
play, it’s no surprise to see Raymond leading the
circuit in man-advantage points with 24. Guarding the blue
line for the UMD power play is sophomore defenseman Matt
Niskanen, who's currently tied for fourth among all rearguards
on the NCAA scoring charts.
“They’re certainly getting a lot
of attention,” said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin,
referencing the media, and opponents’ best lines giving
that pair a lot of coverage.
While Raymond’s game thrives on open
ice, Sandelin feels that the DECC’s travel-size playing
surface has helped his best forward get better.
“Mase has speed and that ability to
create space,” Sandelin said. “He loves playing
on the big sheet, but I think playing here makes him a better
player. In our rink there’s not a lot of room, but
he’s learned to play and separate himself in those
Niskanen, who was picked by Dallas in the
first round of the 2005 NHL draft, has 23 points on the
power play this season — second only to Raymond in
“He’s obviously the quarterback
of our power play,” Sandelin said. “He’s
so conscious about defense – maybe even over-conscious.
Ask him about his points and he’s more concerned about
After a disastrous 4-13-3 start, the Bulldogs
are one game over .500 since Dec. 30. And after upsetting
second-seed Denver in last season's WCHA playoffs, the players
eye the postseason with similar intentions.
“It’s definitely been a new season
in the second half,” Raymond said. “There’s
an all-around better feeling in the dressing room and we
know that on any given night, we can play with anyone.”
AND HEARD IN THE WCHA
Long, uncertain road ahead for the
Beavers: Any Bemidji State fans expecting a quick
answer to the question of future WCHA membership had better
have patience. League commissioner Bruce McLeod told INCH
this week that he had no inkling BSU president Jon Quistgaard
would issue an ultimatum tying the future of the school's
hockey program to joining the WCHA, and the process for
possible conference expansion means that under a best-case
scenario, the Beavers won’t even get a yes or no answer
until April 2008, at the earliest.
“We haven’t received an official
application for league membership from Bemidji State, but
I knew it might be a possibility,” McLeod said.
The WCHA has a standing committee dealing
with structure, and last month McLeod instructed the committee
to explore the general idea of expansion — not with
Bemidji State or any other specific school in mind. The
committee will deliver a report on potential expansion at
the league meetings in April.
According to McLeod, those meetings would
provide the first opportunity for a motion to lift the league’s
current moratorium on expansion. If a motion is made and
a majority of league members approve lifting it, Bemidji
State could apply for membership in January 2008 and would
likely get an answer in April 2008. Since league schedules
are set two years in advance, October 2010 appears to be
the first opportunity any new league member would be able
to play conference games in the WCHA.
A quick check of opinions around the league
finds many who don’t think the Beavers' chances of
WCHA membership are very good. McLeod is waiting for the
report from the structure committee, but noted the fact
that the Bemidji State women’s team (the BSU women
play in the WCHA) does not give the men an advantage in
their quest to join the league. Another unconfirmed rumor
floated around WCHA circles recently had league members
making quiet overtures to folks at Nebraska-Omaha, perhaps
looking for a geographic partner to give the league 12 teams
in case Bemidji State’s quest is successful.
McLeod said that among the factors considered
when looking at a potential new member a lack of NCAA violations,
full staffing of assistant coaches, offering 18 scholarships,
and having a building with at least 4,000 seats. The Beavers’
current on-campus rink isn’t that big, but a new downtown
events center is in the planning stages and could potentially
accomodate that many fans.
Great Weekend Getaway
Dakota at Denver
Among the teams currently in the top half of the WCHA,
this is clearly a hot and cold battle. The Sioux have
won 10 games since Jan. 1 and are making a push to
pass the Pioneers and grab a top-three spot. DU will
be well rested following last weekend's bye, but must
overcome the inconsistency that’s led to a 2-4-1
mark over the past month.
While You're There: Looking for
future Tigers and Pioneers? Head over to the Denver
Coliseum for the Colorado State High School Hockey
Championships. Top-seed Ralston plays Cheyenne Mountain
in one Friday semifinal while second-seed Air Academy
faces Aspen. The winners will meet in the title game
at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
A shout-out to league-wide parity,
and numerology, this week. For the first time since
Minnesota State came aboard in 1999 to give the WCHA
10 teams, all 10 of them have gotten at least 10 wins
in the same season
For nearly 20 years, we’ve had to correct people and say,
“It’s the University of Denver, not ‘Denver
University,’ even though that’s what their
initials would have you believe.” Frankly, we’re
tired of it. So to the folks at Magness Arena, we
say this: “If you want people to get
your name right, stop calling yourselves 'DU.'"
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• With a win against
visiting Michigan Tech Friday, Wisconsin can reach the .500
mark for the first time since Nov. 4, when a loss at Alaska
Anchorage dropped them to 4-4-2.
• St. Cloud State rookie forward Andreas
Nodl, who's scored 40 points in 30 games this season, is
now just two points shy of the school scoring record for
a freshman. Matt Cullen, who currently skates for the NHL’s
New York Rangers, set the mark of 41 in the 1995-96 season.
• After missing 19 games due to a cut
on his left hand suffered during a game at the Minnesota
on Dec. 1, Minnesota State sophomore netminder Dan Tormey
played the third period of last Saturday’s 6-1 loss
at Alaska Anchorage. Tormey, a member of last year’s
WCHA All-Rookie Team, stopped 10 of 11 Seawolf shots in
• More than one Minnesota fan must be
hoping that the Golden Gophers get an invite to the NCAA
West Regional in Denver next month. After last weekend’s
sweep at Colorado College, the Gophers have not lost a game
in the state of Colorado since falling to the Tigers in
Colorado Springs on Dec. 3, 2004. Their last loss in Denver
was a few weeks earlier, on Nov. 20, 2004.
• Michigan Tech, which is 5-2-3 in its
last 10 games, still has an outside shot at home ice if
the Huskies can win their last four games (two at home with
Wisconsin and two at Minnesota) and get some help. The Huskies
last hosted a playoff series in 1993, beating St. Cloud
State twice to advance to the WCHA Final Five.
• Good news, bad news: Last Saturday’s
power play goal by Colorado College junior wing Scott McCulloch
was his team-leading 16th of the season, but was also his
first goal in 13 games.
• With last Saturday’s
home win over Minnesota State, Alaska Anchorage clinched
a winning record (9-8-1) at Sullivan Arena for the first
time since the 2001-02 season.
of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.
Jess Myers can be reached at email@example.com.