November 13, 2003
North Dakota's Offense: It's All Happening

By Jess Myers

 WCHA Notebook

This week's schedule
National TV Schedule

Atlantic Hockey/CHA Notebook

If Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire ever writes a book on how to teach defensive hockey, don't expect to see Dean Blais in line at the book signing. The Fighting Sioux coach has seen a lot of teams playing a slow-down defensive game, and he's not impressed.

"I like a lot of offense, and I hate the defensive game," said Blais, whose team has averaged nearly six goals per game en route to a 6-1-0 mark and the No. 1 ranking in the country. "Defensive hockey is a lot of hard work. I love breakout patterns and odd-man rushes and those kinds of things. Offense is more fun."

If that's the case, then there's plenty of fun to be had inside Ralph Engelstad Arena these days. North Dakota is blessed with some of the most impressive young offensive talent in the country, and Blais is encouraged by the teamwork he saw last weekend as his team swept Minnesota 7-3 and 5-3.

"What's nice is that this team plays pretty much the same all through the top four lines," he said. "Different guys have stepped up every night. You see that when Zach Parise's line scores five goals on Friday, then gets shut out on Saturday but we still get guys scoring and get the win."

The offense coming out of Grand Forks is not a surprise. With the likes of Parise, Brandon Bochenski, Brady Murray, Quinn Fylling and Drew Stafford on the roster, anything less than offensive fireworks would have been a letdown. Defense and goaltending was supposed to be the problem for the Sioux. But does goaltending matter when you're scoring five or more per game?

"Not really," said Blais. "You can have a lot more flexibility on defense and in goal when you're out-gunning the other team. Jordan Parise doesn't have a great save percentage, but he's 4-0, and that's the stat that matters most."

Indeed, Jordan – Zach's older brother and a freshman – has numbers (3.03 GAA, .855 save percentage) that aren't going to win any individual awards, but he's been more than adequate when he's getting the goal support fans have seen so far.

But will the top ranking put a target on his team's back and get the rest of the college hockey world gunning for the Sioux? Blais isn't worried.

"We're used to it," said the coach, preparing his team for a weekend home series with No. 7 St. Cloud State. "A program like Minnesota, North Dakota, Michigan, Michigan State, Maine and New Hampshire is always a target. Besides, St. Cloud State is undefeated, and they're playing great defensive hockey right now. So we're kind of gunning for them."


Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Denver at Alaska Anchorage (Fri.-Sat.)
Although they might not admit it, both of these teams are in the "happy with a split" category after last weekend. For the Pioneers, beating their arch-rival Colorado College in Colorado Springs last Friday was huge for the simple fact that they hadn't won a regular season game versus the Tigers since Nov. 3, 2001. For the Seawolves, beating their arch-rival (at least according to the WCHA schedule-makers) MSU, Mankato last Saturday in Mankato was huge because they hadn't won a WCHA road game versus, well, anyone since Feb. 2, 2002. UAA coach John Hill, concerned with his lack of offense early, juggled some lines and orchestrated a victory. No, it's not the NCAA title, it's just one win. But when you've been in a coma for 20 months, blinking your eyes once is a big, big deal. The question now: Will that momentum carry over into this weekend, as the Seawolves host a top 10 team?

While You’re There: Southern Alaska's most notorious meat market, Chilkoot Charlies, gets a lot of attention (heck, it even has it's own web site). But we're partial to a quieter post-game gathering where one can solve all the world's problems on a cocktail napkin. During his reign as the WCHA's winningest coach, Jeff Sauer was always partial to a little place called Darwin's Theory. We'll follow the Dean anywhere.

Stick Salutes

To St. Cloud State goalie Adam Coole for his impressive homecoming last weekend. The Duluth native, and former UMD Bulldog, returned to the site of his greatest triumphs (as a state champion high schooler at Duluth East) and his greatest frustrations (as a struggling freshman and sophomore with the Bulldogs) and won twice, stopping 73 of the 78 shots he faced as the Huskies earned a sweep at the DECC. Score one for putting distractions aside and just playing hockey.

To Michigan Tech forward Chris Conner for being named the national player of the month for October. Not since Shawn Harrison claimed the WCHA scoring title for Tech in 1989 (with an underwhelming total of 46 points) has such an offensive force been seen wearing a home sweater at MacInnes Student Ice Arena. If the Huskies can find some defense and goaltending to match the talent of Conner and Colin Murphy, they might even see home playoff games in Houghton this March.

Bench Minor

To the cable and satellite television companies and Victory Sports One, for their inability to communicate thus far. Victory, a new sports channel based in Minnesota and owned by the Minnesota Twins, "launched" on Halloween weekend with big full-page ads in the Twin Cities newspapers hyping their coverage of the Twins, Golden Gopher basketball, St. Cloud State hockey, and MSU, Mankato hockey. But here's the rub: Victory is currently available on just a handful of small-town cable systems, and on neither of the two satellite providers (Dish Network and DirecTV). So if you want to watch Victory's coverage of St. Cloud State at North Dakota this weekend, you can't. OK, to be fair, Victory is available on cable in these Minnesota towns: Sauk Centre, Winona, Goodview, St. Charles, La Crescent, Houston, Rushford, Caledonia, St. Peter, Rosemount, Hibbing, Lakefield, Ruthton, Holland and Woodstock. But what's the point of having a sports network, if next to nobody can see it? Let's get this done, folks.

A Golden Opportunity – Those inclined to preach a gloom and doom forecast for Wisconsin hockey had better push the pause button. Bucky might not totally be "back" yet, but the last few weeks make it look like there's a resurgence underway on the Isthmus.

After struggling to a 1-3 start, the Badgers have rattled off four wins in a row, and are suddenly on something close to equal footing with their banged-up archrivals as they host Minnesota this weekend. The difference a few weeks can make was underscored by the offensive output in their October trip to St. Cloud State (two goals, as the Badgers were swept) versus the offense Wisconsin generated last weekend at Michigan Tech (14 goals, as the Badgers swept).

Called "underdogs" by some before they played in Houghton, the Badgers left little doubt about who was the alpha team on Friday night, opening up a 6-0 lead early in the second period en route to a 9-4 win. It was only the second nine-goal outburst by Wisconsin in Mike Eaves' tenure behind their bench. Interestingly enough, the Badgers won 9-5 in Houghton last season.

So with Minnesota coming to the Kohl Center this weekend, and Wisconsin suddenly with a better chance to grab a few points versus the defending national champs, Badger fans have reasons to believe that it may be time for a rally in Madison.

"It's a great opportunity for us. We're on an upward spiral of momentum, and the Gophers are fighting through some things right now," said Eaves. "But they're still the defending champs, and they'll come in here mad as hornets, so that's why it'll be a great weekend of hockey."

The Gophers are expecting an emotional series with a team on the rise.

"They're obviously an improved team," said Gophers coach Don Lucia. "They're having some success thanks in part to some good play from their blue line, with (Jeff) Likens and (Ryan) Suter and (Dan) Boeser back at full strength. And they'll certainly be excited to play us, with this being their first home WCHA series."


• Pucks met politics last Saturday night in Grand Forks when North Dakota Governor John Hoeven hosted Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty in a Ralph Engelstad Arena suite, and the pair of Republicans watched the Fighting Sioux beat the Gophers. At the rink's grand opening in 2001, Hoeven spoke at center ice before that Sioux-Gopher encounter and said that he had challenged then-Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura to a bet on the outcome. Ventura, who rarely watches hockey, declined Hoeven's offer of a wager and thereby lost out on some premium North Dakota bison steaks when the Gophers won the game. In sharp contrast to hockey-ignorant Ventura, Pawlenty is proving to be one of the more accomplished hockey jock sniffers in state history. On Veteran's Day, Pawlenty (who played j.v. hockey in high school) skated at the grand opening of a new arena in Sartell, Minn., and was on-ice at the Wild game that evening as the team honored Minnesota's soldiers.

• If you think the Colorado College Tigers aren't thankful for their current bye week, you haven't seen their list of injuries. Star sophomore Brett Sterling was one of three regulars missing from the roster last weekend when the Tigers salvaged a split with arch-rival Denver. Sterling was injured in October during CC's two-game series at Clarkson. He is slowly healing after breaking a bone between the thumb and the wrist in his right hand, and is expected back in the lineup in December. The latest addition to the CC injured list is senior wing and captain Colin Stuart, who separated a shoulder early in the second period in last Friday's 5-2 loss to Denver. The Tigers already were playing without Sterling and freshman center Brandon Polich, who suffered a lacerated spleen while skating against Alaska Fairbanks in October. Stuart and Polich are expected to be out for at least two more weeks.

• One of my most vivid memories of covering college hockey came in 1994, at the WCHA Final Five in Milwaukee. I remember sitting in the media dining room at the Bradley Center with some friends. A few tables away, back in the corner all by themselves, sat Frank Serratore (now the coach at Air Force) and Don Lucia, speaking in hushed tones. A few days earlier, Frank had been fired after four seasons at Denver. Don had just won the WCHA title as a rookie coach at Colorado College, only to see the Tigers upset by No. 10-seed Michigan Tech in the first round of the playoffs. I remember my head spinning at the thought of what they might be talking about at that moment in time. For some reason, I envision a similar hushed conversation in a corner of the room when current Tech coach Jamie Russell and MSU, Mankato coach Troy Jutting meet up prior to this weekend's series in Mankato. Both teams have offensive talent. Both teams are struggling to find their legs in this still-young season. And both teams are in trouble if those legs aren't found pronto.

Minnesota Duluth is quickly becoming a team known for getting the early jump on the competition. The Bulldogs have scored first in seven of their nine
games thus far this season, and have out-scored opponents 13-6 in the first period. Less encouraging is the way they've finished recently. In getting swept at home by St. Cloud State last weekend, the Bulldogs out-shot the Huskies 35-14 in the third period of both games, but were out-scored 4-3 in that stretch. By the way, if you're a Bulldog fan and you're ready to panic about the recent home losses, don't. The team's next four series (home-and-home vs. Bemidji State, at Union, vs. MSU, Mankato and at Michigan Tech) are a golden opportunity for UMD to regain some momentum and some confidence before their pre-Christmas showdown with top-ranked North Dakota.

• As if being without the service of Keith Ballard and Chris Harrington wasn't enough to deal with before a trip to Madison, Minnesota is now expecting freshman Ryan Potulny to miss four months with a knee injury. It was, by all accounts, a lousy homecoming for the Grand Forks native last weekend when he injured his knee late in the Gophers' 7-3 loss at North Dakota last Friday. After an MRI confirmed damage to the lateral collateral ligament in his left knee, Potulny was scheduled for surgery on Friday, Nov. 14. The younger brother of Gophers senior captain Grant, Ryan was leading the team with five assists. "He's still going to be an outstanding player for us," said Gopher coach Don Lucia in a statement released by the school. "We'll miss him for the bulk of this season, but this is just a short-term setback for what promises to be a great long-term career." On the "possible good news" front for Minnesota, Harrington was skating in practice recently and may return to the team's lineup for the Wisconsin series.

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

Send this to a friend

About Us | Advertiser Info | Site Map | Privacy Policy
© 2003 Inside College Hockey, Inc., All Rights Reserved