12 , 2003
Survival of the Fittest
Colorado College captain Tom Preissing
leads NCAA defensemen in scoring with 20 goals and
44 points (photo courtesy Casey Gibson/ Colorado College
weekend tickets: Visit ticketmaster.com
Round Series Previews
6 St. Cloud State at
SCSU: 16-13-5 (12-11-5)
UMD: 18-13-5 (14-10-4)
Season series: Tied, 2-2-0
Husky Fact: St. Cloud State is the
only WCHA team to receive an invite to the NCAA tournament
the past three years in a row.
Bulldog Fact: This is the second
consecutive year that the Bulldogs and Huskies have
met in the WCHA’s first round. Minnesota-Duluth
lost twice last season at St. Cloud State in the first
How St. Cloud State Wins: Ride a
hot goalie. Jason Montgomery tuned up for the postseason
stopping 40 of 41 as the Huskies tied Minnesota. He’ll
need to be that good to beat the Bulldogs.
How Minnesota-Duluth Wins: Score
goals. The Bulldogs' goaltending and defense are solid,
but inconsistent. Rookie forwards Tim Stapleton and
T.J. Caig know the way to St. Paul better than goalies
Issac Reichmuth and Rob Anderson.
7 Denver at No. 4 North Dakota
DU: 20-12-6 (11-11-6)
UND: 24-9-5 (14-9-5)
Season series: DU won, 1-0-1
Pioneer Fact: Denver is the second
consecutive defending MacNaughton Cup champion to end
up on the road for the playoffs the next year.
Fighting Sioux Fact: North Dakota was
18-1-1 on New Years’ Day and ranked No. 1 in the
nation. Since then, the Sioux have gone 6-8-4.
How Denver Wins: Learn to play with
a lead. The Pioneers head into the playoffs on a 0-3-1
streak and have blown leads of three, three and two
goals in three of those four games.
How North Dakota Wins: Get the swagger
back. In two months, the nation’s most feared
team has been taken down quite a few pegs. If they play
like the high-scoring unit that was 10-0-0 in non-conference
games, there will be a spot available in the NCAA field.
8 Wisconsin at
No. 3 Minnesota State, Mankato
UW: 13-21-4 (7-17-4)
MSU: 18-8-10 (15-6-7)
Season series: MSU won, 1-0-1
Badger Fact: This was Wisconsin’s
worst finish in the WCHA since the 1979-80 season, when
the Badgers landed in ninth place. The next year, the
Badgers won the 1980-81 NCAA title.
Maverick Fact: In four seasons as a
full member of the WCHA, the Mavericks have now hosted
two league playoff series. They are 2-0-0 lifetime in
WCHA home playoff games.
How Wisconsin Wins: Put the distractions
aside and simply play hockey. This has been a nightmare
of a season on and off the ice for the Badgers. There
is likely more than one player who just wants it over.
How Minnesota State, Mankato Wins:
Don’t choke. The Mavericks have lost just once
since Dec. 13. If they can learn to handle prosperity,
they should be playing in St. Paul on March 21.
9 Michigan Tech at No. 2 Minnesota
MTU: 10-22-4 (7-18-3)
UM: 20-8-9 (15-6-7)
Season series: UM won, 3-0-1
Husky Fact: Michigan Tech will be on
the road for the playoffs for the tenth consecutive
Golden Gopher Fact: Minnesota has never
lost a WCHA first-round playoff game at home since moving
to the new Mariucci Arena for the 1993-94 season.
How Michigan Tech Wins: Goalie Cam
Ellsworth has been brilliant at times this season, and
might steal a game. But the nine goals Tech allowed
in their last regular season series are a bad sign.
How Minnesota Wins: Get used to home
cooking. With the first round, WCHA Final Five and NCAA
West Regional in the Twin Cities, the Gophers can get
to Buffalo without leaving home for a month.
10 Alaska Anchoarge at
No. 1 Colorado College
UAA: 1-26-7 (0-22-6)
CC: 26-5-5 (19-4-5)
Season series: CC won, 2-0-0
Seawolf Fact: Alaska Anchorage is
the first team to finish a WCHA campaign without a
win since Colorado College went 0-18-0 (0-23-0 overall)
Tiger Fact: After going 35 seasons
without a MacNaughton Cup (1958 to 1993), Colorado
College has now won four WCHA regular season titles
in the past decade.
How Alaska Anchorage Wins: Rarely
has a team – even a tenth seed – brought
so little talent or momentum into a first round series.
The Seawolves' only hope is CC forfeiting the series
to rest up for the NCAAs.
How Colorado College Wins: The Tigers
are better at every position and enter the playoffs
having won five of their last six. CC’s freshmen
could win this series by themselves.
look at the most recent Pairwise Rankings shows that two
of the top 19 teams in the nation will be going on the road
for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. In some leagues
that would be considered a travesty. In the WCHA, they call
of the league’s 10 teams have legitimate changes to
make the NCAA’s field of 16. But only five will still
be playing in a week, and only five are expected to be picked
for the national playoffs, making the first round a literal
fight for survival.
enough, league champ Colorado College has got to be considered
a dark horse in the WCHA playoffs. It’s not that the
Tigers can’t win a league playoff title, it’s
just that they never have. And after arch-rival Denver charged
to the regular season and playoff titles a year ago, only
to fall short of the Frozen Four in the NCAAs, the Tigers
might not want to win the Final Five.
it’s defending national champ Minnesota who has captured
the league’s attention as the playoffs begin. Like
last season, the Gophers seem to be saving their best for
last, as a late push propelled them into second place in
the regular season. Most importantly, coach Don Lucia is
talking “mental toughness” which is the key
in March and April.
the playoffs in their own backyard, and the memories of
last spring to provide incentive, the thinking in the west
is that it’ll be hard to stop a stampede of Gophers.
them, look for CC, Minnesota State, Manakto, and the survivors
of the NoDak-Denver and UMD-St. Cloud State series to make
the NCAA tournament.
7, the Minnesota Golden Gophers rode a bus 68 miles to St.
Cloud for their longest road trip in more than a month,
and won 5-3 at St. Cloud State. Between now and the day
teams leave for Buffalo, the defending NCAA champs have
the first round of the WCHA playoffs at Mariucci Arena,
the WCHA Final Five at the Xcel Energy Center (a staggering
eight miles from their campus), and the NCAA West Regional
back at Mariucci. Even if the Gophers weren’t the
second seed in the league playoffs and weren’t playing
some of their best hockey of the season, they’d still
have to be considered a favorite. The fact that Don Lucia
has proven he knows how to win it all just makes them a
more fearsome opponent in March.
of the most renowned trophies in college sports, the MacNaughton
Cup has suddenly become the award
nobody wants to win. Indeed, North Dakota in 1997 was the
last team to follow a WCHA regular season title
with an NCAA title in the same season. With that said, 2003
Cup champ Colorado College has a combination of steady goaltending
and eye-popping offense that makes the Tigers a legitimate
threat for the WCHA Final Five crown and the NCAA title.
Yes, CC has a historical habit of getting the Final Five
lodged in their throats (the school has never won an outright
WCHA playoff crown) but a favorable schedule might mean
that March, which came in like a lion, will go out like
– Travis Weber, Minnesota: On a team
that lacked consistent goaltending all the way to the NCAA
title last year, this sophomore makes you wonder if the
Gophers would have needed overtime with him in goal last
– Tom Preissing, Colorado College: This
converted high school forward plays stellar defense, and
added goal scoring to the mix this year, making him hockey’s
version of a five-tool infielder.
– Paul Martin, Minnesota: Hasn’t
completely filled the big skates left by Hobey winner Jordan
Leopold, but has shown impressive defensive leadership and
added nearly 30 assists. Gopher forwards just love tipping
Martin’s blue line blasts past opposing goalies.
– Grant Stevenson, Minnesota State, Mankato:
In early December, the Mavericks were clearly also-rans
in the WCHA race. Then Stevenson (and linemate Shane Joseph)
caught fire offensively, and the result was two months without
a loss and a second-place finish.
– Brandon Bochenski, North Dakota: Some
scoffed last season when he was picked as WCHA Rookie of
the Year from a field perceived as weak. If a league-leading
32 goals is Bochenski’s version of the sophomore jinx,
Sioux season tickets might be a good investment in these
troubled economic times.
– Peter Sejna, Colorado College: This
is a story that can be adequately told with numbers alone:
31 goals, 41 assists, an average of two points per game,
and 31 consecutive games with at least one point. In any
language, that’s award-winning stuff.
of the Year
Jutting, in his third year as the head coach at Minnesota
State, Mankato, has quietly become the George W. Bush of
WCHA skippers. There’s plenty of off-the-record grumbling
about Jutting’s perceived lack of coaching skill,
and he’s clearly not as polished or media savvy as
the likes of Don Lucia, Craig Dahl or even Mike Sertich.
But if the past season is any indication, this life-long
Maverick (who played for MSU and was a longtime assistant
coach under program founder Don Brose) knows how to keep
stringing improbable wins and ties together. As someone
who picked the surprising Mavs for the WCHA cellar knows,
predict Jutting’s downfall at your own peril.
of the Year
for a moment what Sergei Fedorov might have looked like
playing for North Dakota, or what a freshman named Jaromir
Jagr might have done skating for Wisconsin for one season.
Now you have a pretty good idea how lucky college hockey
fans have been to have Peter Sejna skating for Colorado
College the past three seasons. This European sensation
could easily have taken the money and run to the NHL after
an spectacular freshman year, but has stayed long enough
to win a title for the Tigers. Stopping Sejna will be every
opponent’s playoff goal.
of the Year
rookie forward Thomas Vanek may be the state’s best
Austrian import since the wiener schnitzel at the Black
Forest Inn in Minneapolis. He was highly touted upon arrival,
and since he started moving his feet more consistently (after
a much-rumored run-in with a teammate at a practice), has
emerged as one of the league's rare forwards who can completely
take over a game. North Dakota freshman Zach Parise may
have more flash, but one can see a player like Vanek carrying
his mates deeper into the playoffs.
College defenseman Tom Preissing had 16 career goals entering
his senior campaign. He scored 20 this year, a school record
for a rearguard, and provided that quick-release long range
sniper power that makes CC dangerous from anywhere inside
the red line. Everyone knew Peter Sejna and Noah Clarke
would score goals. But what caused more than one scribe
(including this one) to pick the Tigers for a lower-echelon
finish in the league standings was the perceived lack of
other offensive sources. So much for perceptions.