March 8, 2007
Turning the Calendar Turns Things Around

By Jess Myers

Who knew how important a hyphen could be? It seems like just an insignificant bit of punctuation, so useless that the WCHA's two formerly-hyphenated teams (they play in Anchorage and Duluth) have done away with the minus sign altogether. But on Jan. 1, when the hyphen arrived and the 2006 campaign became known as "2006-07," nearly everything we'd accepted as gospel about the WCHA in October, November and December, changed.


Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell and his Huskies were contenders for a top-five spot in the WCHA standings, and home ice in the playoffs.

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As folks were donning party hats and heading out to New Years' Eve parties, Alaska Anchorage was above .500, Minnesota was all but unbeatable with Tyler Hirsch looking like a good comeback story, Kyle Okposo had scored 15 goals in his first three months of college hockey, North Dakota was a mess, Bobby Goepfert had equipment issues and Wisconsin was struggling to score.

Since then the Seawolves have gone into a tailspin, Minnesota has played .500 hockey after tossing Hirsch off the team (although the Gophers did still manage to wrap up the WCHA title), Okposo has just two goals in the second half, North Dakota has played like the team to beat in the conference and in the nation, Goepfert has put on an MVP-quality show while leading the Huskies to the DQ Cup and Wisconsin — well, OK, some things didn't change all that much.

Fatigue and injuries are usually the reasons why teams look so different in the second half of the season. In the case of the WCHA, it seemed like the simple tossing out of the 2006 calendar and hanging the 2007 model from that nail on the kitchen wall made all the difference.

What does that mean for the playoffs? Well, it's not a new year, but it's definitely a new season (one that will come to an end after just two games for at least three teams), so your guess is as good as ours.


Picked by many to win the league title in the preseason, North Dakota struggled through injuries and inconsistency and was a humble crew when the Fighting Sioux headed east for a holiday tournament. Since that sojourn to New Hampshire in late December, the Sioux are 12-2-4, having taken three points from a visit to resurgent St. Cloud State and having swept Minnesota in Minneapolis. In the trio of Ryan Duncan, Jonathan Toews, and T.J. Oshie, they have the league's (and perhaps the nation's) most lethal top line, and in Philippe Lamoureux they have an experienced goaltender who has notched three shutouts since Jan. 13. North Dakota headed to St. Paul as the third seed last March and won the WCHA playoff title. If you head to that Vegas casino built by the guy who's name is on NoDak's home rink and are one to place a wager, the Fighting Sioux are looking like a good bet.

WCHA First Round Matchups
No. 10 Alaska Anchorage at No. 1 Minnesota
UM: 26-8-3 (18-7-3 WCHA)
UAA: 12-19-3 (8-19-1)
Season Series: UM leads 2-0
Seawolf Fact: Since joining the league, Alaska Anchorage is the only WCHA team to have never hosted a first-round playoff series.
Gopher Fact: Minnesota is 24-0-0 in WCHA playoff games at home since Mariucci Arena opened in 1993.
How UAA Wins: With key sources of offense (which is already in short supply) injured, the Seawolves have to keep Minnesota off the board for as long as possible.
How UM Wins: It sounds simple, but keep an eye on the clock and don't quit playing until it reads "0:00.0" in the third period. Getting a full 60-minute effort out of the Gophers has been elusive in recent weeks.

No. 9 Minnesota Duluth at No. 2 St. Cloud State
SCSU: 20-7-7 (14-7-7 WCHA)
UMD: 12-19-5 (8-16-4)
Season Series: St. Cloud State leads 4-0-0
Bulldog Fact: The last time Minnesota Duluth visited St. Cloud State, for a 6-5 Huskies win on Jan. 20, Mason Raymond assisted on all five of his team's goals, finishing one helper shy of the school's single-game record.
Husky Fact: This is the third time in the past six seasons that the Huskies have met the Bulldogs in the first round of the playoffs. In 2002 St. Cloud State swept a series at the National Hockey Center, and the next season the Bulldogs won two of three at the DECC.
How UMD Wins: A year ago, the Bulldogs rode the efforts of an unheralded goaltender to a first-round upset of second-seeded Denver. Josh Johnson has played well down the stretch, and once again is the key to the Bulldogs' hopes.
How SCSU Wins: Make sure their two key freshmen, Andreas Nodl and Ryan Lasch, aren't awed by their first trip to the college hockey playoffs. Treat this series like any other home games.

No. 8 Minnesota State at No. 3 North Dakota
UND: 19-12-5 (13-10-5 WCHA)
MSU: 13-17-6 (10-13-5)
Season Series: UND leads 3-0-1
Maverick Fact: Minnesota State is making its 10th appearance in the WCHA playoffs and has advanced to the Final Five twice, having beaten Alaska Anchorage in 2000 and Wisconsin in 2003.
Fighting Sioux Fact: In four games versus the Mavericks this season, North Dakota scored 25 goals, including scoring eight twice.
How MSU Wins: There were five game disqualifications between these two teams when they met once earlier this season, which might give one an indication of the Mavs' game plan: muscle the North Dakota forwards anytime they consider touching the puck.
How UND Wins: The Sioux need to get the second and third lines more involved in the offense, to prevent an early exit should that amazing top line get shadowed and shut down.

No. 7 Wisconsin at No. 4 Denver
DU: 21-13-4 (13-11-4 WCHA)
UW: 15-17-4 (12-13-3)
Season Series: DU leads 3-1
Badger Fact: In 36 trips to the WCHA playoffs, this is just the fifth time that the Badgers have gone on the road for the first round.
Pioneer Fact: Denver is hosting a first round WCHA playoff series for the fourth consecutive season, but the Pioneers were upset at home in 2004 and 2006.
How UW Wins: A trip to the postseason, even if it's on road, may re-kindle those magical feelings of last spring, when Bucky ended up alone on top of the mountain.
How DU Wins: If the Pioneers score early, and erase any notion the Badger defenders have of lulling the opposition to sleep and winning 2-0, they make it hard to rally.

No. 6 Michigan Tech at No. 5 Colorado College
CC: 17-15-4 (13-12-3 WCHA)
MTU: 16-15-5 (11-12-5)
Season Series: CC leads 2-1-1
Husky Fact: Since the Xcel Energy Center opened in 2000, the Huskies are the only one of the WCHA's 10 teams to have never played a game there.
Tiger Fact: Since 10th-place MTU upset the WCHA champion Tigers in the opening round of the 1994 WCHA playoffs, CC is 34-3-6 in 43 games overall against Tech and a perfect 16-0-0 all-time versus the Huskies at Colorado Springs World Arena.
How MTU Wins: The Huskies usually play great defense, and we suspect they will again this weekend, so the key is to find someone (anyone!) who can score goals.
How CC Wins: Recently, the Tigers have looked like two very different teams depending on whether they're wearing the home or road sweaters. So enjoy the comforts of home this weekend.


It used to be great fun for Minnesota fans to head across town to St. Paul and watch their beloved Golden Gophers play at the Xcel Energy Center. Today, the fear is that those days may be done, and the site of Don Lucia's greatest glory (the 2002 NCAA title) may be a cold, unwelcoming place for Minnesota and its fans. The Gophers have lost five consecutive games in St. Paul, but anyone expecting the two-time regular season champs to be a Final Five pushover may be mistaken. After the embarrassing 0-3 end to last season's playoffs, one would expect that Minnesota will be determined and formidable, with an army of fans at its back.


G – Bobby Goepfert, St. Cloud State
His numbers are amazing, as Goepfert has finished in the top three in all of the league's important goaltending categories. But the most important numbers to Husky fans are wins – namely the 15 he had in the regular season and the two or more that they're hoping for in the NCAA playoffs.

D – Alex Goligoski, Minnesota
The one consistent thing the Gophers have been able to count on in an otherwise inconsistent second half has been the league's best puck-controlling and offense-generating defenseman. It's what we expect from the cradle of Ballard, Martin and Leopold.

D – Taylor Chorney, North Dakota
Playing alongside guys with more hype, bigger names and more potential flash, this second-generation Fighting Sioux has been the league's most solid defensive defenseman and, with 23 points, hasn't shown many offensive shortcomings either.

F – Mason Raymond, Minnesota Duluth
The best player on the league's most underachieving team, Raymond has been the key cog in one of the WCHA's most feared power play units and led the circuit in assists with 29. If he spends another year in Duluth, the future will be much more promising for the Bulldogs.

F – Ryan Duncan, North Dakota
His two linemates, when healthy, have been brilliant for stretches, but Duncan has done it all season, scoring dozens of goals with an ability to shoot with accuracy from below the circles and find gaps that goalies don't know exist. It's been 20 years since NoDak's first and only Hobey winner. We might be looking at the next one here.

F – Andrew Gordon, St. Cloud State
As one of only three WCHA players to score 20 or more goals this season (Duncan and Denver's Ryan Dingle were the others) this junior is clearly the straw that stirs the Huskies. We'd bet a few Washington Capitals fans have visions of Gordon on a line with a Russian kid they call "AO" sometime soon.


Jamie Russell, Michigan Tech. A solid case could be made for Bob Motzko in this spot. Motzko won a share of the award last year, and has done great things with a good club. But we give the nod to the other Huskies coach in the WCHA for leading his alma mater from the depths of the league (where they've had a long-term lease since the early days of the Clinton White House) to the brink of home ice. The Huskies have been solid on defense and in goal all season, but offensively they've been lacking, making Russell's work that much more impressive. Houghton can be hard to get to, and the rink is intimate with decades of history and fans right on top of you. It shouldn't be a fun place to play. Under the leadership of a former Tech defenseman, trips to the Keweenaw are becoming no fun for visitors once again.


Bobby Goepfert, St. Cloud State senior goaltender. After an uncharacteristic slow start (he was 1-3-3 in mid November), blamed in part on a new set of pads that were eventually sent back to the factory, the Huskies senior goaltender has fans in Central Minnesota wondering how good their teams might have been if the Long Islander had spent four years in black and red, instead of just two. He heads into the playoffs leading the league in saves percentage (.930) and is the biggest reason why the Huskies have allowed opponents fewer than 80 goals, total this season. The forwards have been great, but without this kid in goal, it would have been a longer, colder winter in Stearns County.


Brock Trotter, Denver forward. With all due respect to the likes of Jay Barriball, Andreas Nodl and Ryan Lasch, who all had impressive debuts, if you apply the same criteria as the most valuable player award to this one (namely, which player meant the most to his team), the redshirt freshman for the Pioneers is a clear choice. Sidelined after six stellar games last season, Trotter bounced back from a scary sliced tendon to lead Denver offensively with 39 points in 38 games. On a team where rookies accounted for 137 points (48 percent of the team's offense), no rookie was more vital to his team's success than Trotter.


Ryan Duncan, North Dakota sophomore forward. There was plenty written and said in the preseason about the offensive abilities of Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie, and about that pair being the key to the Fighting Sioux offense this season. While those two have been outstanding when healthy, the "other guy" on North Dakota's top line became the seventh Fighting Sioux player to win a WCHA scoring title, leading the league in goals (27) and points (49) while keying a second-half resurgence that has many calling the Sioux the team to beat in March and April.

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