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.
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.
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
"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.
SEEN AND HEARD IN THE WCHA
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
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
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.
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.
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.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• 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