February Collapse? What Are You Talking About?
An amnesiac that frequents Magness Arena would
have no reason to fret when the calendar is flipped to February,
because they'd have no recall of the past two seasons. Only
if a friend reminded said amnesiac that the Pioneers closed
the 2005-06 season going 3-5-1, and missing an NCAA invite
(despite being the two-time defending national champs),
and that the Pioneers ended the 2006-07 campaign on a 1-6-2
run, would worry maybe start to creep in.
Rhett Rakhshani is one of the Pioneers that must puck
up his scoring pace following the professional departure
of teammate Brock Trotter.
There are no amnesiacs in the Pioneers locker
room. And after last Friday's lifeless 5-1 loss at Minnesota
State, there were many players clear in the knowledge that
a bad trend may be starting again, and the time to stop
it is now.
"For a guy like me who's a senior and
who's been around in very similar situations the past two
years at the same time, it's something that's definitely
raised my eyebrows before tonight," said captain Andrew
Thomas of the recent struggles. "We try to emphasize
that to the team, and it's starting to set in for them.
I hope it's a wakeup call."
Adding to the uncertainty about where the
Pioneers will end up in the next six weeks is the sudden
loss of two of the team's top four offensive players –
one for now, and one for good. Sophomore forward Tyler Ruegsegger
will miss the series with Minnesota after suffering an injury
to a stomach muscle. He missed practice most of the week,
as did sophomore forward Brock Trotter – the team's
leading scorer, who
INCH learned on Thursday will not be returning.
Trotter didn't make the trip to Minnesota
State, and on Thursday agreed to a three-year free agent
contract with the Montreal Canadiens. While the school would
not disclose why he left college during the season, as early
as a week ago, teammates were talking about Trotter as if
he was gone.
"Definitely we're going to miss him.
We're missing him this weekend. But we've got plenty of
good players in that locker room," said Rhett Rakhshani
after the Friday game in Mankato. "We've a great team
that can stick together. That's not the problem. It definitely
just comes down to work ethic. Other guys need to step up.
Every single person in the locker room needs to step up
and we need to start working harder."
Thomas added that without Trotter's point-per-game
offense, the Pioneers would move forward.
"Brock would be the first one to tell
you, we play for the jersey and not for one guy, and one
guy doesn't make up our team," Thomas said. "We've
always done so well because of our chemistry, and how we
put things together from goaltender to defense to offense.
It's a trickle effect, and right now there's a dam in the
way and it's not getting all the way through to the team.
We have to figure out a way to break that down."
Between winning the Denver Cup in December
and last weekend's trip to southern Minnesota, the Pioneers
had as many weekends off (two) as college hockey series
(two) and their coach said the extended breaks may have
hurt the momentum of a team that was 17-4-0 less than a
month ago. Coach George Gwozdecky said that every year is
a new team, and what happened in past years has little bearing
on the 2007-08 Pioneers.
"If this was the same team as last year
and two years ago, there would be a little more concern,
but it's completely different," he said. "What
I'm more concerned about is how we've played over the last
month. We haven't played a lot of games ever since we got
our team back together after the Christmas break. We have
not been the same team. It's a concern, it's a puzzle, and
we've got to figure it out."
Asked if the absence of Trotter made a big
difference after the Friday night game at Minnesota State,
Gwozdecky said that notable ex-Pioneers now skating in the
NHL wouldn't have been enough to prevent the 5-1 train wreck.
"If we would've had Paul Stastny and
Matt Carle I don't know if it would've made a big difference,"
he said. "That's a performance that we're not very
proud of, that's for sure."
He added that the loss of players, for many
reasons, happens, and a reaction to adversity will be required
if the Pioneers have designs on a WCHA crown and a chance
to play in the Frozen Four in their backyard.
"There's an adjustment but everybody
has their challenges with guys getting hurt or being out
of the lineup for whatever reason," Gwozdecky said.
"That's all fine to make those excuses, but the bottom
line is whoever's in the lineup, you've got to compete."
SEEN AND HEARD IN THE WCHA
Hobey's Night Off: Mariucci
Arena in Minneapolis has one of the most spacious and functional
pressboxes in college hockey. And having spent most of one
game there, 2007 Hobey Baker winner Ryan Duncan is OK if
he never visits again.
Just six seconds into North Dakota's 1-1 overtime
tie at Minnesota last Saturday, the diminutive Duncan was
tossed for checking from behind, after taking Minnesota's
Jay Barriball into the boards in the neutral zone.
"We were both battling for the puck and
he was in a vulnerable position. I should've let up a little
bit as he was turning," Duncan said. "I guess
it could've gone either way, but they made the right call.
I haven't seen the replay, but I've heard it looks pretty
vicious. He was a couple feet away from the boards, so thankfully
he didn't get hurt."
Duncan said he was a peewee the last time
he recalls getting tossed from a game. With the teams battling
hit-for-hit, shot-for-shot for 65 minutes, being a spectator
"It's more nerve-wracking than playing
in the game. I want to be out there helping my team and
contributing," Duncan said. "As a hockey player
you want to be in pressure situations with high intensity.
I was on the edge of my seat the whole game wanting to be
out there. But my teammates kind of bailed me out."
North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol admitted losing
offensive force of Duncan's caliber so early in the game
hurt his team.
"That wouldn't be part of the game plan
if you drew it up that way, let's put it that way,"
Hakstol said. "But it was the right call and you just
have to adjust from there. Plays and calls like that happen."
As for the view from up top as opposed to
from the ice or from the bench, Duncan poked fun at his
5-foot-6 frame in saying he doesn't want another night in
the pressbox anytime soon.
"I'm not tall enough to see over the
bleachers there, so hopefully next time I'll be on the ice,"
he said with a smile.
Great Weekend Getaway
at Michigan Tech
(Fri.-Sat.) Wisconsin (2-5-3 on the road) visits Michigan
Tech (.500 at home) this weekend, with the Huskies
needing a sweep to pull even with the Badgers in the
race for the final home ice slot. With six of the
next eight games at home, this is the last, best chance
for Tech to make a run.
Since 1922, Michigan
Tech's Winter Carnival has been THE big cold-weather
weekend in the Copper Country (think Mardi Gras with
more layers of clothing). This year is no exception,
with the normal plethora of snow sculptures, broomball,
music and parties a-plenty. After the Saturday afternoon
hockey game, make sure to catch the torchlight parade
and fireworks over Portage Lake.
at Minnesota State last weekend, where concerns about
student fan behavior were addressed not by older season
ticket holders or athletic department officials, but
by the student-athletes themselves. Before Friday's
game with Denver, Mavericks senior defenseman R.J.
Linder used the Alltel Center's public address system
to praise his fellow students for their support, while
asking them, in effect, to keep it clean and to be
a good reflection on the school and the community.
In place of any profanity directed at the Pioneers
that night, we heard an amusing "Air Force Rejects"
of the shenanigans in the handshake line, and focus
just on this: Blake Wheeler's ill-advised retaliation
penalty late in Saturday's 1-1 tie with North Dakota
cost his Golden Gopher team an overtime power play.
"Blake lost his cool a little bit tonight,"
Gopher coach Don Lucia said.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• It will be a bit of a reunion weekend
when St. Cloud State visits Colorado College this weekend.
Husky assistant coaches Eric Rud and Mike Gibbons both worked
behind the bench at CC at one point in their careers. Rud
played four seasons for the Tigers, winning WCHA Defensive
Player of the Year honors in 1996 and '97. Rud and Minnesota's
Jordan Leopold (2001 and '02) are the only players to receive
that honor twice.
• If Minnesota Duluth manages to get
home ice and an invite to the NCAA tournament this season,
the Bulldogs may look back on last Saturday's gut-check
win at Wisconsin as a key reason why. Playing without key
defenseman Jason Garrison (who suffered a broken ankle in
the Friday night game at Wisconsin) and senior captain Matt
McKnight (out with the flu), the Bulldogs won 2-1 in overtime,
quieting a red-clad crowd of more than 15,000 when Jordan
Fulton scored on the only shot of the extra session. McKnight
will be back next weekend when the Bulldogs travel to Michigan
Tech, but Garrison is expected out 4-6 weeks, which means
he could be back for the WCHA playoffs.
• Congrats to former Minnesota coach
Doug Woog, who has been honored by the American Hockey Coaches
Association with the John MacInnes Award. Named for another
former WCHA coach, the MacInnes is presented to an individual
who shows "a great concern for amateur hockey and youth
programs." A former All-American on the ice, Woog coached
the Gophers to a 389-187-40 (.664) record in 14 seasons.
• With the best record in the WCHA and
their sights clearly set on another MacNaughton Cup, these
are the best of times for Colorado College fans. As further
proof, the sweep of Clarkson last weekend pushed the Tigers'
record to 20-7-1 and marked the 13th time in the last 15
seasons that CC has notched 20 or more wins.
• Alaska Anchorage's 4-0 shutout of
Michigan Tech last Friday was goaltender Jon Olthuis' first
blanking in 37 collegiate starts, and the Seawolves' first
shutout in more than two years. On Dec. 10, 2005, Seawolf
goalie Nathan Lawson stopped all 37 Denver shots he faced
in a 3-0 road win.
• When Robbie Earl (Maple Leafs) and
Curtis Joseph (Flames) made NHL game appearances last week,
they became the 17th and 18th former Badgers to see action
at the highest level of pro hockey this season. Not just
"happy to be here" Earl jumped into the fray right
away, getting the first assist on the game-winner as the
Leafs beat Ottawa -- home of ex-Badgers Dany Heatley and
Brian Elliott. Other Badgers who have seen time on NHL rosters
this season are: Brian Rafalski (Red Wings), Steve Reinprecht
(Coyotes), Ryan Suter (Predators), Joe Pavelski (Sharks),
Tom Gilbert (Oilers), Rene Bourque (Blackhawks), Andy Wozniewski
(Maple Leafs), Chris Chelios (Red Wings), Jack Skille (Blackhawks),
Adam Burish (Blackhawks), David Tanabe (Hurricanes), Jake
Dowell (Blackhawks), Sean Hill (Wild), and Brad Winchester
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Jess Myers can be reached