November 5, 2003
St. Cloud State Marches In

By Jess Myers

 WCHA Notebook

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St. Cloud and the surrounding region in central Minnesota are heavily populated by German Catholics, meaning many St. Cloud State hockey fans attend Mass every Sunday. That’s fitting, because the wait for a new Pope may be shorter than the wait for the Huskies to fall from their position among the WCHA’s elite teams. Like Holy Father John Paul II, the Huskies just keep hanging in there, and making new believers in the process.

Picked by the league’s coaches (and this scribe) to finish eighth in the WCHA, the Huskies find themselves just a point out of first place in the league, with a 5-0-1 record and a place in the top-10 in one national poll. While happy about the start, Huskies coach Craig Dahl sounds ready to chant “over-rated” from the team bench.

“I know what our rating is, and I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said while preparing his club for this weekend’s series at Minnesota Duluth. After the date with the Bulldogs, SCSU goes to North Dakota for a pair. “We’ll certainly find out more about what’s going to happen over the course of the next two weeks.”

Dahl has a young team and has used a fluid lineup, giving near-equal playing time to three goalies and eight defensemen thus far. The result has been a quick jump in experience and some contributions from unexpected places.

“We’re getting scoring from four lines, and I’m playing eight defenseman because eight of them deserve to play,” Dahl said. “They’re all playing extremely well for this early in the year.”

While upperclassmen like Matt Hendricks and Peter Szabo were expected to lead the Huskies offense, it has instead been three freshmen defensemen (Casey Borer, Grant Clafton and Justin Fletcher) most impressing their coach, and men like Dave Ianazzo and Billy Hengen kick-starting the forwards.

“Dave’s gone from being a bit player to being a really gritty, tough forward, and that’s certainly helped,” Dahl said. “But for me the biggest surprise has been the play of the freshmen on defense. That’s as good a trio of rookies as I’ve seen in my 24 years.”

The Huskies have benefited from a lighter schedule in the first month. They’ve played six home games, sweeping Wisconsin and Princeton and earning a win and a tie versus Michigan Tech. The forthcoming road trips to Duluth and Grand Forks will likely teach fans much more about where St. Cloud State will fit in the league race.


The League's Longest Rivalry –
Rivalries are supposed to be based on two things: geography and history. Well, the strangest rivalry in the WCHA has a little of one and absolutely none of the other. But they’ll play the games anyway this weekend, when Alaska Anchorage visits Minnesota State, Mankato.

According to MapQuest, it’s 3,341 miles from Anchorage to Mankato (a brisk 79-hour drive for those of you with a lot of time and an Esso card). But according to the WCHA, the Seawolves and the Mavericks are archrivals. You see, a few years ago, the league paired each team with a designated “archrival.” Those pairs are guaranteed to meet four times per year (with two games in each team’s building). So, for example, Minnesota and Wisconsin are archrivals. Ditto for Denver and Colorado College. The league also paired Minnesota Duluth with Michigan Tech and St. Cloud State with North Dakota. The league’s two newest teams, the Mavs and the Seawolves, got lumped together, too.

But despite the three time zones and of distance and nine hours of flying time between them, the teams have developed something that feels a little bit like a rivalry.

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Minnesota at North Dakota (Fri.-Sat.)
Does one go with the hot team? That would be North Dakota, which is coming off posting 10 goals versus Yale. Or do you pick the desperate team. That’s Minnesota, which already has three WCHA losses and is at risk of seeing the MacNaughton Cup out of reach before Thanksgiving. The Gophers have never lost a game in the new Ralph, but their still uncertain goaltending situation will get its biggest test of the young season this weekend. As for the Sioux, goaltending was supposed to be an issue. But when you’re scoring a touchdown a game, it’s not.

While You’re There:The Red Pepper gets the headlines as the place to go post-game, but this writer has always been partial to crossing the Red River of the North and grabbing a burger and a beer at Whitey’s in East Grand Forks. Of course, the coolest bar in Greater Grand Forks is inside the arena, with a view of the rink to boot.

Stick Salutes
Minnesota forward Thomas Vanek gets the nod for his early season tour de force. The Gophers’ stumbling start has nothing to do with the play of last year’s Frozen Four MVP, who has been exceptional thus far. Against Denver he had three goals and an assist and scared the daylights out of the Pioneers every time he was on the ice. Even after a win in Mariucci, the Pioneers were ready to hand Vanek the Hobey. “If you forget to play his body, he’ll make you pay for it every time,” said coach George Gwozdecky. “And when that body gets going, with the speed and the strength that he has, he’s very, very difficult to stop.” Forward Connor James concurred: “You’ve got to make sure you know where he is when he’s on the ice. What can you say? He’s probably going to win the Hobey.”
Bench Minor

To Vanek, for his third period outburst Saturday. Whistled for high sticking at the end of a nearly three-minute shift, Vanek was sent to the box for two minutes, by himself, and ordered to feel shame. Instead, he had a full-blown conniption, slamming the door, throwing his helmet, stick and gloves, repeatedly yelling over the glass at referee Todd Anderson and even squirting a water bottle in the direction of the officials at one point. We understand that it was late in a close game, and the Gophers’ best player didn’t like the idea of an involuntary timeout with his team down by a goal, but another display like that is likely to earn a lot more than two minutes in penalties. Take it easy, big guy.

Special 10-Minute Misconduct

To North Dakota sophomore defenseman Matt Greene who in an interview with the Web site Hockey’s Future, didn’t exactly brag about his commitment to academics at the finest university in all of Grand Forks County.

Asked what he was studying at UND, Greene replied: “Right now I’m ‘undecided’ so it’s (laughs) pretty much a wash. I’m just playing hockey here.”

Funny, but some of us look at college hockey as something other than “major junior with bigger rinks, and cheerleaders.” Just a few blocks straight south of Engelstad Arena, at the corner of University and Centennial, is a place called Chester Fritz Library. It’s got books, periodicals, microfiche and a whole bunch of other cool stuff. Mr. Greene, you should check it out sometime before practice.

“We had played Anchorage a lot before we joined the league, and when we were a D-II program, so there’s a little bit of a rivalry just because we’ve played them so much,” said Mavericks coach Troy Jutting.

By contrast, Seawolves coach John Hill says he has a young enough team that’s just concerned with being competitive and hasn’t yet begun to concentrate on things like rivalries, real or imaginary.

“I don’t think that this series really feels like a rivalry for them yet, but in time I think it will as the players and the programs get to know each other better,” Hill said. “This is such a young team that they don’t seem concerned about who we play."

Speaking of youth, both coaches blame inexperience for their teams’ recent offensive woes. Jutting’s Mavs managed just one goal while getting swept at Colorado College last weekend, while the Seawolves have scored one goal in each of their past three games.

Hill says the big concern is that the youthful offense isn’t creating scoring opportunities and he’s juggling some lines in hopes of finding a spark. Jutting said his team’s offensive troubles have more to do with his defense.

“We’re playing defense really well, but one problem I’ve seen is that our young defensemen are still a little tentative with the puck,” said Jutting. “So they’re not moving the puck up ice as much, which has cut down on our scoring chances. It’s going to take us a little time.”


• USA Hockey has named nine WCHA alums to the American team which will compete in the 2003 Deutschland Cup. The four-team tournament, which includes squads from the United States, Germany, Switzerland and Canada, will be played this weekend (Nov. 7-9) in Hannover, Germany.

Named to the team were forwards Pat Mikesch (Michigan Tech), Jeff Panzer (North Dakota), Bryan Lundbohm (North Dakota), Erik Westrum (Minnesota) and Derek Plante (Minnesota Duluth) and defensemen Brett Hauer (Minnesota Duluth), Barry Richter (Wisconsin), Jeff Dessner (Wisconsin) and Dan Bjornlie (Wisconsin).

• During both games of last weekend’s Denver-Minnesota series, there was a regional switcheroo going on with the starting goalies. Denver senior Adam Berkhoel hails from the St. Paul suburb of Woodbury, Minn., while Minnesota freshman Kellen Briggs is from Colorado Springs. So when the Colorado kid (Briggs) made 25 saves to beat the Minnesota kid (Berkhoel) and the team from Colorado (Denver), some felt that turnabout was fair play.

“We always have Minnesota kids coming in and playing great against us here,” said Don Lucia. “For once, it’s nice to see a Colorado kid play well for us against a Colorado team.”

• In the “no good deed goes unpunished” category, Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves and company were rewarded for their home sweep of Quinnipiac by getting news that Badgers’ hockey tickets aren’t exactly a hot item on the Isthmus.

The Wisconsin State Journal recently reported that nearly 1,700 hockey season tickets were not renewed after last season’s club finished 10 games below .500. There are currently only 7,164 season tickets sold for Friday night games in the 14,385-seat Kohl Center. We’re a long way from the days when a sellout crowd of 8,664 was all but guaranteed every time the puck was dropped at the Dane County Coliseum.

• The decades-old rivalry between Denver and Colorado College is renewed this weekend, and while the Pioneers hold the historical edge (with a 141-94-8 mark versus CC since 1949), it’s the Tigers who’ve been dominant lately. CC has beaten Denver in the teams’ last six regular season meetings, and has gotten quite used to keeping the Gold Pan (the traveling trophy the series winner claims each season) safely tucked away in Colorado Springs. The Tigers' efforts will be hampered, however, with fireplug forward Brett Sterling out with an injury.

• Life was easier for Denver equipment manager Lee Greseth in the days when the Pioneers wore red and yellow. But team’s switch to crimson and gold a few years ago has created headaches when Greseth tries to buy gloves, pants, helmets and goalie pads in colors that match the team’s sweaters and socks.

The Phoenix Coyotes have unintentionally come to the Pioneers’ rescue this season by switching to brick red as their primary team color. Since equipment manufacturers generally follow the lead of NHL teams in picking what colors to offer for their products, there’s suddenly a lot more protective gear available in Coyotes’ red, which is close enough to Pioneers’ crimson to match. Suddenly, life’s a breeze in the world of Denver hockey fashion.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.

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