2007-08 WCHA Hockey Mid-Season Report
Like it has been for a few of us in
the college hockey world, it’s been a rough
December for the Minnesota Duluth
Bulldogs, who have recently endured a recent 0-2-2
streak to fall to .500 at the break. But that’s
actually not a bad mark for a team with not much in
the way of go-to offense, and for which expectations
were mighty low (INCH had them pegged for eighth in
the league). The team has pulled off a few notable
wins (at Denver and at North Dakota) and spent more
than a month ranked nationally via solid defense and
the goaltending everyone expected from Alex Stalock
a year ago. The Bulldogs are currently third in the
WCHA and aren’t likely to finish that high,
but may be building toward something good this year
and in the future.
When you tell people in St. Cloud that
a rookie is from Virginia, they smile, because they
know Iron Rangers play great hockey. When you explain
that he’s not from Virginia, Minn., but from
the suburbs of Washington, D.C., they give you a puzzled
look, because they don’t expect anything other
than bad traffic and bureaucracy to come out of the
Beltway. Then they watch Garrett Roe
move the puck, shoot the puck, and light the lamp,
and they smile. The rookie forward has recorded points
in 14 consecutive games, and leads all D-I rookies
with 1.47 points per game.
BEST NEW FACE
With well-deserved nods to Roe and Denver’s
Tyler Bozak, no newcomer has meant more to his team
thus far than goalie Richard Bachman
has to Colorado College. Goaltending was supposed
to be a question mark for the Tigers, but with Bachman
between the pipes, it has been an exclamation point.
In eight of his collegiate 12 starts, Bachman has
allowed one goal or fewer, and he's already been named
the league’s rookie of the week three times.
We’re always cautious about how young goalies
will fare over the course of a full season (after
seeing a few youngsters hit a big wall on or around
Jan. 15) but for now the sun is shining brightly off
the snow-capped peaks outside Bachman’s new
WHAT HAPPENED TO…
|Minnesota State's Mike
Zacharias has a sterling 1.94 GAA and a .929 save
percentage. But we haven't mentioned him yet.
How does he figure in to the mid-season report?
A more appropriate question would be,
“What hasn’t happened to Minnesota
since last season ended?” It was expected that
the Gophers would take their lumps this year, having
suffered a rash of early departures and facing the
future with a very young defensive corps. The optimist
will note that the Gophers head to the break above
.500 (9-8-1) after upsetting North Dakota their last
time out. But uncharacteristic home losses that have
fans grumbling, and the unexpected losses of Ryan
Stoa (to a season-ending knee injury) and Kyle Okposo
(to a collegiate career-ending pro contract) leave
very, very little margin for error for a team that’s
struggled offensively. Opportunities abound for young
players to step up and fill those voids. If they don’t,
the Gophers may spend Easter weekend watching the
WCHA Final Five on TV.
The first half of the regular season
has gone surprisingly true to form in the WCHA, with
parity abounding and no great or awful teams identifying
themselves yet. At one time, Alaska Anchorage’s
4-2 win at Minnesota in November would’ve been
a huge upset, but in fact it was the Seawolves' second
win in their previous four games in Minneapolis. Instead,
we’ll give a nod to the stars of tomorrow and
note the USA Under-18 Team’s 2-1 win
at Minnesota Duluth last weekend, fueled
by 31 saves by Joe Cannata. It marked the first time
a WCHA team has ever lost to the U-18s.
TOUGHEST ROAD OUT
In November, having just survived back-to-back
trips to North Dakota and New Hampshire, Colorado
College coach Scott Owens breathed a bit
of a sigh of relief. His team logged trips to Anchorage,
St. Cloud and Denver in the first half, too. The holiday
break comes with the Tigers atop the WCHA standings
and looking to stay that way, thanks to a favorable
second-half schedule. After a trip to Wisconsin (which
will be missing key players due to World Juniors)
in early January, the Tigers are at home for 11 of
their final 16 games.
TOUGHEST ROAD IN
Folks in the Minnesota
program like to say that in the WCHA, they’re
everybody’s archrival — and in the case
of five of the other nine teams, they’re right.
With that in mind, and considering the struggles the
Gophers have had already this season, January and
February could be particularly cold in Minneapolis.
After a home date with St. Cloud State on Jan. 11,
Minnesota is on the visitors’ side of the scoreboard
for nine of its final 15 games — a slate that
includes trips to St. Cloud, Denver, Anchorage, and
Duluth. This is looking like one of those rare seasons
where the Gophers have a WCHA playoff road trip, too.
A few years ago, the season-ending home-and-home
affair between Colorado College and Denver
ended with both teams getting a chance to hoist the
MacNaughton Cup. With the teams atop the league standings
at the break and winning in similar style, there’s
no reason to think that the league title won’t
be up for grabs between these two when they meet again
on March 7 in Denver and the next night in Colorado
BIGGEST QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Is Shane Connelly Wisconsin’s
next great goaltender? This far into his
first season as the Badgers’ top netminder,
the answer is no. Or at least, not yet. Connelly has
been good in stretches, but not good enough consistently
for a team that looked solid in October, struggled
in November, and played better in December. The team’s
success doesn’t rest entirely on his shoulders,
but if the Badgers want to get back to the NCAA tournament,
Connelly is going to have to be better than the 4-5-1
conference record he’s put up so far.
Is there more to Michigan Tech
than defense? The Huskies have been somewhat
less than the breakout team we predicted in the preseason
— and that their 4-1-0 start led us to believe
— but veterans have Tech scoring at a better
clip than we expected. The defense and goaltending
have been as good as advertised, and the team’s
four top-scoring forwards are a junior and three seniors,
proving that maybe there’s something to the
theory that experience matters in college hockey.
Still, Tyler Shelast is the only Husky with double-digits
in points, meaning greater output is needed if Tech
wants to host playoff games in March.
BIGGEST QUESTIONS REMAINING
Are backup goaltenders an endangered
species? The days of the goalie tandem look
numbered league-wide, as one person is getting the
lion’s share of the starts nearly everywhere.
Alex Kangas has seen a little bit of duty behind Jeff
Frazee at Minnesota, and Rob Nolan rotated with Michael-Lee
Teslak at Michigan Tech for a little while, but on
most WCHA teams goaltending is a one-man show. Add
to that the scary eye injury suffered by Alaska Anchorage
backup Matthew Gordon (while riding the bench), and
North Dakota backup Anthony Grieco’s decision
to leave school after just over a year, and the goaltending
job opportunities are looking sparse.
Will a Colorado-based team be
playing “home” games at the Frozen Four?
The hot starts by Denver and Colorado College are
a marketer’s dream for the folks selling the
Frozen Four, which will be held in the Mile High City
in April. While we won’t go so far as to predict
the Tigers-Pioneers semifinal we saw in Columbus a
few years ago, the current WCHA standings (not to
mention the good season Air Force is having) give
Colorado hockey folks high hopes that there will be
plenty of local rooting interest at the Pepsi Center
when the nation’s top teams gather there for
the season’s final three games.
First Half All-WCHA Team
all due respect to guys wearing green, black and
crimson, this Mav's great numbers have meant the
most to his team's successes.
recovery from a potential career-ending neck injury
and his leadership of the Sioux defense make for
a heart-warming holiday story.
leads the Bulldogs in offense and all WCHA defensemen
in goals, and is an impressive plus-11 on a team
that doesn't score much.
St. Cloud State
been held without a point just three times this
season, and has 10 multi-point games while leading
the WCHA in scoring.
heads into the break on a 10-game scoring streak
and has a point in 14 of the Tigers' 16 games
|How did we know it
would be another good year for Trotter? How about
the goal he scored six seconds into the Pioneers'
game with Maine on Oct. 12?