November 15, 2007
Goalies Have Been Great in the WCHA

By Jess Myers

Remember roughly one month ago, when folks were fretting about how the WCHA would survive without top-notch netminders like Matt Zaba, Brian Elliott and Bobby Goepfert? That was a long time ago.

WCHA Notebook

Shane Connolly's acrobatic save last weekend was just one sign of the spectacular goaltending in the WCHA.

National TV Schedule

Remember a few years ago, when Adam Hauser backstopped his team to the NCAA title and the general thinking was that great goaltending didn’t matter as much as it once did? That was a long, long time ago.

It’s definitely still early in the college hockey season and yet everywhere you turn in the WCHA, it seems like a different goaltender is making a case for why his game — and in turn, his team — is the real thing.

“We’re seeing another group of good young goalies, and hearing from guys who have either been in the shadows of are just getting their first taste of college hockey,” said Colorado College coach Scott Owens.

It’s not limited to one area or one or two teams. It’s a trend that encompasses the big schools (Wisconsin) the small schools (Colorado College), the NHL factories (North Dakota), the up-and-comers (Michigan Tech) and those trying to re-gain past glories (Denver and Minnesota Duluth).

And people are paying attention. In Colorado Springs, where the Tigers are the big hockey show in this growing community of a half-million, the media have discovered rookie goalie Richard Bachman (he of the 5-1-0 start and the .950 save percentage). Owens went as far as to limit media access to his top goalie this week, giving the youngster a break from the relentless interview requests so he could concentrate on school and the hockey tasks ahead.

Ironically, it’s the fact that Bachman plays nothing like a rookie that has made him so successful thus far.

“Richard is an older freshman, but he’s still getting exposed to the league for the first time,” said Owens. “You watch him play and he looks like a veteran goalie. He’s very composed and he gives confidence to everyone else with the way he slows things down.”

In sharp contract to Bachman’s slowdown game is the aggressive goaltending practiced by Minnesota Duluth sophomore Alex Stalock, who seems to be finding his place this season after a rookie campaign in which he was thrown into the WCHA fire and struggled to meet the lofty expectations placed on his shoulders. Stalock is above .500 and anchoring a nationally ranked team so far this season. Most significantly, even he admits his aggressive “handle the puck like a third defenseman” game is evolving.

“I still play the puck quite a bit, but my coach and I have talked, and have agreed that nights when I play a more calm game, I play better,” said Stalock, who has turned in a 43-save shutout of Denver this season. “For me it helps to be in control, which means not always going for the home run pass, but going for little chip-outs that can start the play.”

Last weekend’s series in Madison was perhaps the premiere goalie matchup of the season thus far, with Wisconsin’s Shane Connelly staring down North Dakota’s Jean-Philippe Lamoureux. Connelly got the shutout on Friday (his first of the season), holding off the Fighting Sioux and their 25 third period shots. Lamoureux, he of the four shutouts in nine starts, was one save away from his fifth whitewash on Saturday, but had to settle for a 3-1 win when the Badgers’ Matt Ford scored with less than three minutes to play.

“It was kind of nice that we ruined it for him there,” said Connelly of his opponent’s near-shutout. Despite the loss, Connelly had the video highlight of the week, reaching back with his stick into the gaping goalmouth and swatting a sure Brad Miller goal out of mid-air, then tumbling out of the way. It was a strikingly similar save to one he made two years ago, reaching back with his stick to swat the puck away after a Paul Stastny shot deflected off two Badgers and seemed bound for the back of the net.

“Flying through the air makes it look a little more acrobatic,” Connelly said. “Actually, that’s just me trying to get out of the way of the puck. I don’t want to make the big save, then knock in the rebound myself.”

For goalies like Connelly the hard-fought weekend was just the latest salvo in a tight league with lots of talent between the pipes.

“There are a ton of great goalies in our league right now,” he said. “With the offenses so even, I definitely think goaltending is going to be the biggest factor in the league race.”

“Of course, I may be a little biased,” Connelly added, with a chuckle.


Wistful Huskies: It’s not known what was playing on Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell’s iPod as the Huskies bussed to Duluth on Thursday, but a country tune by Little Texas called “What Might Have Been” would be an appropriate soundtrack.

Russell and the Huskies found out earlier in the week that sought-after recruit Casey Pierro-Zabotel, who had spent the fall trying to gain academic eligibility, had been denied NCAA clearance to play. Rather than stick it out in the academic world, Pierro-Zabotel signed a contract with Vancouver in the Western Hockey League, thereby negating his college eligibility. It was a real blow to the Huskies and their fans, who had hoped to add the budding offensive start to their roster in December, prior to the Great Lakes Invitational.

“It was going to be a very different situation for us, adding a player to our roster going into the GLI,” Russell said. “We had gone over some of our offensive systems with Casey and weren’t really set on whether we’d use him at center or wing, but it’s all a moot point now.”

Pierro-Zabotel had scored 27 points in 17 games for the Merritt Centennials of the British Columbia Hockey League. He was picked in the third round of the NHL draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins last summer.

Russell said the team has no plans to bring in a replacement this season, but said that Pierro-Zabotel’s departure may mean he’ll recruit one more forward for the class that will come to Houghton in the fall of 2008.

Great Weekend Getaway
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Alaska Anchorage at Minnesota (Fri.-Sat.)
Alaska Anchorage re-wrote history last March, when Luke Beaverson’s overtime goal made the Seawolves the first visiting team to win a WCHA playoff game at Mariucci Arena. Minnesota eventually won the series, but one thinks there will be a better feeling among the Alaskans when they return to Minneapolis this weekend for a two-game set. As for the Gophers, there’s a need to prove that the 0-4 league start was a fluke, and last weekend’s nine-goal outburst versus Minnesota State is more of what’s to be expected.

While You're There: If you miss the days when players like Mark Parrish (St. Cloud State), Wyatt Smith (Minnesota), Paul Stastny (Denver) and Jeff Finger (St. Cloud State) were toiling in the college ranks, and want to check out your seats for the WCHA Final Five, catch the Avalanche visiting the Wild on Sunday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. There’s talk that ex-Badger Sean Hill will make his Wild debut, having served a 20-game NHL suspension, but don’t expect to see injured former Gopher Jordan Leopold back in an Avs sweater just yet.

Stick Salute

There’s no snow on the ground in St. Cloud yet, and there’s no sign of the sophomore jinx in the Huskies locker room, as forward Ryan Lasch’s offensive tear continues. Lasch, an all-rookie selection in the WCHA last year, was named the WCHA offensive player of the week for the second consecutive week, after his three goals were key in the Huskies’ sweep at Michigan Tech last weekend.

Bench Minor

While we appreciate the passion and emotion of college hockey, when a game ends with coaches yelling profanities at one another on the ice, we’ve crossed a line. Without naming names, here’s urging the men who wear ties and stand behind the benches to leave the chirping to the guys with sticks and helmets.


• How good has Denver’s defense and goaltending been thus far? The Pioneers have allowed one or fewer goals in all six of their wins, and have not allowed a power-play goal in their last five games, going a perfect 24-for-24 with a man in the box.

• After sitting out both of last weekend’s games with St. Cloud State with back pain, Michigan Tech goaltender Michael-Lee Teslak made the trip to this weekend’s series at Minnesota Duluth and is questionable to play, according to his coach. The pair of losses to St. Cloud State marked the first time Rob Nolan has started back-to-back games for Tech.

• The Minnesota State hockey road crew is packing bags and getting hotel keys again this weekend, as the Mavericks visit Denver. The two-game road set concludes a hellish schedule stretch which has had the Mavs wearing the dark sweaters for nine of their first 10 games this season. Although thus far the road has been kinder than home for Minnesota State, which is 3-3-1 overall as the visitor, but 0-1-0 in the only home game – last Friday’s 4-3 loss to Minnesota in Mankato.

• It’s not surprising to see North Dakota’s T.J. Oshie atop the team’s goal-scoring list with six so far, and three of those have been game-winners. Oshie got the game-winner on Saturday in Madison when the Sioux bested Wisconsin 3-1 and now has 14 career game-winners, which places him third in the school record books. He needs one more to tie Brandon Bochenski for second place and is shooting for the school record of 18, set by Mark Taylor between 1976 and 1980.

• While the news about Pierro-Zabotel has been a downer for Michigan Tech fans, there’s encouraging news to pass along about Huskies coach Jamie Russell’s oldest son. After spending nearly two weeks in a Milwaukee hospital with a serious bacterial infection, Ben Russell, 9, returned home last week in time for the Huskies’ series with St. Cloud State. Ben attended the team’s practice last Thursday and was a special guest at the team’s pre-game meal on Friday. According to his father, Ben is getting stronger by the day and has been buoyed by the support the family has gotten from so many friends and fans throughout the college hockey world. “Please pass on our thanks to everyone who has cared so deeply,” said the elder Russell in an email to INCH this week.

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