January 9, 2008
Splittsville, North Dakota

By Jess Myers

Unlike a few other WCHA schools, they don't offer "Friday only" or "Saturday only" partial season ticket packages at North Dakota. But if you have Fighting Sioux hockey tickets and split each weekend series with a friend, you may have seen either all wins or all losses this year.

WCHA Notebook

Splitting weekend series is something that North Dakota has done all season long. Splitting goaltending duties is the exact opposite. Jean-Philippe Lamoureux has played every minute between the pipes for North Dakota.

National TV Schedule

A 3-1 loss at Michigan Tech on Oct. 26, and a 6-0 win the next night, was the start of a stretch in which the Sioux have split eight consecutive weekend series en route to a 10-8-1 record. They're nationally ranked and in the thick of the fight for home ice in the WCHA, but for a team that started the year as the consensus pick to win the league title, contend for the NCAA crown and possibly capture a second consecutive Hobey, two games over .500 in January is dissatisfying, at best.

"Obviously, we're not happy with that pattern," said Sioux coach Dave Hakstol of the splits. "But within that up and down, win one, lose one streak, we're getting better."

On a team known for its offense, this season's keys to success start in goal for the Sioux, where the spotlight is shining brightly, and sometimes harshly, on Jean-Philippe Lamoureux. After an amazing start to his season, with shutouts in four of his first five games, Lamoureux has been human as of late.

When his backup, Anthony Grieco, left school earlier this season and the hockey program scrambled to find another goalie, some expressed concern about Lamoureux seeing too much ice time as the season wore on. Hakstol noted that with just two games per week, healthy goalies can handle the workload physically, but acknowledges that a mental health break may be in order for Lamoureux, who has played every minute of every Sioux game this season. In fact, the coach says don't be surprised if a game begins with junior Aaron Walski, and not Lamoureux, between the pipes soon.

"Aaron has worked hard in practice and has looked good, so we're all confident that he can go if needed," Hakstol said. "At some point and time in the second half, he'll get a start."

T.J. Oshie's most recent trouble away from the rink has quashed any realistic hopes of a second consecutive Sioux winning the Hobey ("We've got to do things better off the ice too," Hakstol said). And with Denver and Colorado College pulling away from the rest of the WCHA field in the race for the MacNaughton Cup, the coach acknowledges that barring a Pioneer or Tiger collapse, his team is playing for the bronze.

"We're in sole possession of third place, by a point, and obviously we want to hold onto that," Hakstol said, preparing for the rematch with Michgan Tech this weekend. "Quite honestly, beyond that we want to stay within ourselves, stay healthy and hold our position in the top five."

It sounds eerily similar to where the Sioux were 13 months ago, after a home series with Michigan Tech left Hakstol's team three games under .500. A 17-3-4 run followed and the Sioux were headed to the Frozen Four.

While it's unrealistic to expect a repeat of that history a year later, the talent is clearly there. Despite all of their first half ups and downs, one can't help but think that the Sioux are not too far away from putting it all together.


The Greatly-Anticipated Outdoors: Don't start searching eBay for tickets just yet, and unless you're going ice fishing, the long underwear can probably stay in the closet, but in the wake of the NHL's latest successful outdoor game, there's more talk of another outdoor contest (or two) coming to WCHA territory in the future.

A new 50,000-seat open-air football stadium is currently under construction across the street from Mariucci Arena, set to house Golden Gopher football starting in 2009. Athletic department officials there acknowledge that an outdoor hockey game is among the non-football events being considered for TCF Bank Stadium once it's open.

"It's something that we'll definitely explore," said Liz Eull, Minnesota's senior associate athletic director. "When it comes to programming that facility, because it's our facility, we'll have more opportunities to do those kinds of events."

There's been similar exploration of hockey games at INVESCO Field at Mile High in Denver as well, although nothing has come to fruition yet. Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky said folks from the Metro Denver Sports Commission envision a DU-Colorado College game preceding a Colorado Avalanche game at the 76,000-seat home of the Denver Broncos.

Among the challenges that have yet to be tackled for an outdoor game in Colorado to work are permission from the Broncos to use the field, and the fact that Denver gets 300 days of sunshine each year.

"As cold as it gets here, the sun is always shining, all winter, and that has a negative effect on ice," Gwozdecky said.

Jon Schmeider, the Denver sports commission's executive director, says that ice-making experts have assured them that a sheet inside the Broncos' facility is do-able, but would be expensive. He's envisioned a multiple-day winter festival in the community, with open skating, youth hockey, and games involving DU, the Avalanche and possibly the U.S. Women's Olympic Team on the temporary ice sheet. But Schmeider says the local NHL club is the key to making it happen.

"It's really on the Avs, and they've been hot and cold on the topic," Schmeider said. "We'd have to have the ice down for 10 days, so it would be much bigger than just an NHL game, but without the Avalanche it wouldn't work."

As recently as two years ago, Minnesota officials had explored a hockey game in a football stadium — albeit indoors — between Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth to be held at the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. According to Eull, the Gopher-Bulldog idea, which was originally envisioned as part of Hockey Day in Minnesota, didn't work for, "100 different reasons."

But with the new football stadium taking shape, and with the success of other outdoor college hockey events such as the Cold War in East Lansing and the Frozen Tundra Classic in Green Bay, Eull admits, "We'd like to look into doing something like that at the University of Minnesota."

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Minnesota State at
Minnesota Duluth (Fri.-Sat.)

Minnesota State was a dismal 3-6-1 on the last day of November, when a win and a tie in a home series with Minnesota Duluth started the Mavericks on a 6-1-2 run that has them in the fight for home ice. The Bulldogs, of course, want to return the favor this weekend when the Mavs come to the DECC for a pair.

While You're There: If you can't get enough of speed and spills on frozen surfaces, head to Sprit Mountain (just off the freeway west of Duluth) for the latest stop on the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association's Revolution Tour. The big fun is on Saturday afternoon with some of the nation's top snowboarders seeking the title in the halfpipe competition.

Stick Salute

Congratulations to former Badger defenseman Chris Chelios, who became the second-oldest player to see action in an NHL game earlier this week. Chelios, who turns 46 in a few weeks, is now second only to Gordie Howe (who was playing at 52) in pro hockey longevity.

Bench Minor

The WCHA teams that host their own holiday tournaments (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Denver and Michigan Tech) went a respectable 4-2-2 in tournament play, but only one of them (the Pioneers) managed to win their tournament. The Gophers and Badgers didn't even make their respective title games. Remember folks, success begins at home.


• If the ratings for high school hockey on FSN North were particularly high in the St. Cloud area this week, it's not a surprise. Northern Minnesota arch-rivals Warroad and Roseau squared off on Wednesday night in Roseau (the host Rams won 5-2) with three future Huskies playing significant roles. Warroad forward Bryce Ravndalen has committed to play for Bob Motzko next season, while Roseau goaltender Mike Lee and forward Nick Oliver are juniors who are headed to St. Cloud State two seasons from now.

• While the present is still uncertain, the future of the Alaska Anchorage blue line got a little brighter this week. Jeff Carlson, an offensive defenseman originally from Richfield, Minn., started school in Anchorage and will play for the Seawolves in the second half of the current season. Carlson had 39 points in 59 games for the NAHL's Southern Minnesota Express last season, and finished fourth offensively among defensemen in that league.

• On the topic of talented young defensemen, consider the case of Michigan Tech rookie Deron Cousens, who had a strong showing at both ends of the ice in the Huskies' two-game road sweep at Mercyhurst last weekend. Cousens, one of just two Huskies who has not had a trip to the penalty box this season, was been named WCHA Rookie of the Week after contributing three assists and earning a +4 plus-minus rating from his blueline
position in the sweep of the Lakers. It was an offensive outburst for Cousens, who entered the weekend in Erie with a goal and an assist in his college career.

• It's been a long voyage home for the league-leading Colorado College Tigers, who skate at World Arena this weekend for the first time in six weeks. The last time they entertained the locals was a 5-1 win over Denver on Nov. 23. Including exhibition games, the Tigers are 9-0-0 at home this season, and will play 11 of their final 16 regular season games there.

• Looking for its first road sweep in nearly two years, Minnesota State returns to familiar surroundings this weekend when the Mavs play two at the DECC. The last time Minnesota State swept a series in another team's barn was Jan. 27-28, 2006, when Troy Jutting and company won 5-4 and 7-1 in Duluth.

• Some who follow Denver closely point to special teams play as perhaps the Pioneers' only spot of inconsistency on an otherwise very solid team. If that's the case, DU fans can't be happy to have Wisconsin coming to town this weekend. The Badgers are just 1-3-2 in their last six games, but have killed 18 of their opponents' past 19 power plays.

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