February 22, 2007
Quietly Making Noise

By Jess Myers

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 WCHA.

WCHA Notebook

Minnesota Duluth sophomore defenseman Matt Niskanen ranks tied for fourth among NCAA defensemen in scoring with 28 points.

National TV Schedule

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 tight areas.”

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 the WCHA.

“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 his plus-minus.”

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.”


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.

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North 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.

Stick Salute

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

Bench Minor

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.'"


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 his return.

• 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.

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