March 10, 2004
A Full House

By Jess Myers


North Dakota's Brandon Bochenski shared the WCHA scoring title with Junior Lessard of UMD.
(Photo by UND Athletics Photographer Scott Gaddini)

WCHA Tournament Brackets
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CCHA Tournament Preview
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For the second year in a row, a WCHA team might have a week off to prepare for the NCAA tournament. That is to say that the 10-team league is a good bet to get five teams among the NCAA’s field of 16, and any first-round upsets might mean a team (as St. Cloud State did last year) making the NCAA Tournament without playing in the WCHA Final Five.

But that’s still a few weeks away. Here and now, we’re face with a first round of the WCHA Playoffs that’s looking like what your local classic hits radio station might call an “instant rematch weekend.” First-round combatants Minnesota and St. Cloud State played each other last weekend. Ditto for Denver and Colorado College. Ditto again for Michigan Tech and North Dakota. Wisconsin and Alaska Anchorage might get a sense of déjà vu too, as they played one another two weeks ago in Anchorage.

If familiarity truly breeds contempt, then WCHA officials might have their hands full.

One has to feel for Michigan Tech, as not only do they have to face the league champs on the road for the second weekend in a row, the Huskies have to do it on a 12-day diet of room service food. Rather than bus 10 hours home to Houghton just to do it all over again this weekend, the Huskies spent the week in a Grand Forks hotel.

Eastern North Dakota is home to a great shopping mall, some fun restaurants, some of the nicest people you’ll ever want to meet, and the most luxurious hockey arena in the world, but spending 12 days there would be a little much under any circumstances. To spend 12 days in a North Dakota hotel just waiting to have your season ended at the hands of the nation’s top team seems like a cruel joke.

 First-Round Matchups

No. 10 Michigan Tech at No. 1 North Dakota
8-23-5 (6-19-3)
UND: 26-6-3 (20-5-3)
Season series: UND won, 4-0-0

Husky Fact: The Long And Winding Road. The last WCHA playoff game at MacInnes Student Ice Arena was a 6-5 Tech win over St. Cloud State on March 13, 1993.
Fighting Sioux Fact: These Are Days. North Dakota has now won five WCHA titles (and two NCAA titles) in the past eight years.

How Michigan Tech Wins: Michigan Tech pulled off one of the bigger upsets in WCHA history 11 years ago, beating league champ CC in the first round. The school’s first Hobey finalist (goalie Jamie Ram) was on that team, and their likely second Hobey finalist (Chris Conner) is playing now. History repeating itself? Don’t bet on it.
How North Dakota Wins: Get it over early. While Michigan Tech was no match for the Sioux last weekend, the Huskies showed that they can hang around and be pesky for 20 minutes or so. A good dose of first period offense would put out any pesky Tech fires right away.

No. 9 Minnesota State, Mankato at No. 2 Minnesota Duluth
9-22-5 (6-18-4)
UMD: 23-10-4 (19-7-2)
Season series: UMD won, 3-0-1

Maverick Fact: Next Time I Fall. The Mavericks ninth-place finish is their worst showing since joining the WCHA in 1999. Their previous low was seventh in 2001.
Bulldog Fact: Getting Better. The Bulldogs are 14-2-2 in 2004, and are playoff hosts in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1985 and ’86.

How Minnesota State, Mankato Wins: The Mavs got a taste of their own bitter pills last weekend, scoring nine vs. Nebraska-Omaha after surrendering goals by the truckload in February. They’ll need lot of offense to stay close versus the Bulldogs.
How Minnesota Duluth Wins: Last weekend’s win and tie in Madison showed that the Bulldogs’ struggles versus North Dakota were a “one weekend only” show. They’re better than Mankato at nearly every position. They just need to play their own game and not let the visitors dictate.

No. 8 Alaska Anchorage at No. 3 Wisconsin
11-19-3 (7-18-3)
UW: 20-10-8 (14-7-7)
Season series: UW won, 2-0-0

Seawolf Fact: Fly Me To The Moon. Alaska Anchorage will be the only WCHA team traveling via airplane to its first round playoff series.
Badger Fact: Saturday Night’s Alright. After failing to have an advance sellout during the first five seasons at the Kohl Center, each of the rink’s 15,237 seats has been sold for Bucky’s last three Saturday night home games.

How Alaska Anchorage Wins: It’s no secret that for the Seawolves to have a chance to win, they have to score more goals. Recent power outages by the likes of Curtis Glencross and Chris Fournier are bad signs, especially versus the Badgers über-talented defense.
How Wisconsin Wins: The team with the hotter goalie generally wins in the playoffs. With that in mind, the Badgers are in a good spot (hey, Madison’s ALWAYS a good spot to be, but we digress) as national player of the month Bernd Brückler has been “der mann” all season.

No. 7 Colorado College at No. 4 Denver
18-15-3 (11-15-2)
DU: 23-10-5 (13-10-5)
Season series: DU won, 3-1-0

Tiger Fact: Feels Like The First Time. Colorado College will be playoff visitors this season for the first time since 1993. In their string of 10 straight years with home ice, the Tigers were upset in the first round twice (’94 by Michigan Tech and ’00 by Minnesota).
Pioneer Fact: I Remember You. The last time Denver hosted their Front Range rivals in a WCHA playoff series was 1987, when the Tigers won 4-2 and 3-2 at DU Arena to take the two-game, total-goals series 7-4.

How Colorado College Wins: After losing twice to the Pioneers last weekend, Scott Owens told the Rocky Mountain News that his team was looking forward to being the visitors. “The way this season has gone, being on the road might not be such a bad idea,” he said. “When you are 6-8 in the WCHA in your building, being on the road is not a big thing.”
How Denver Wins: The Pioneers had to overcome some big obstacles to climb back into the upper half of the WCHA in the past month. With offensive sparkplug Connor James lost to a broken leg, they’ve got another big mountain to climb. But Colorado guys know all about climbing mountains, right?

No. 6 St. Cloud State at No. 5 Minnesota
18-14-4 (12-12-4)
UM: 22-13-3 (15-12-1)
Season series: UM won, 2-0-0

Husky Fact: Cold As Ice. The Huskies enter the playoffs on a season-worst five-game losing streak. Their last five-game drought came early in the 1999-2000 season.
Golden Gopher Fact: Home Sweet Home. The Gophers are 16-0 in WCHA playoff games at the new Mariucci Arena since moving into the building at the start of the 1993-94 season.

How St. Cloud State Wins: The Huskies couldn’t find “momentum” in the dictionary right now, and are on the road in the playoffs for the second straight season, but their optimism hasn’t waned. They need to play like they’re facing their archrivals. Of course, they are.
How Minnesota Wins: The Gophers have a been a “good news, bad news” outfit for a month. This week the good news of Ryan Potulny’s return was met by the bad news of Garrett Smaagaard being lost for the season. They need two more games of good news.


The only question mark that was supposed to hold North Dakota back was goaltending. And indeed, when the Fighting Sioux did struggle at times this season, it was due to shaky play between the pipes and the short leash upon which Dean Blais routinely keeps his goalies. In the last two weeks, that question mark has become an exclamation point, as junior Jake Brandt picked the right time to get hot, and North Dakota fans get to look at the MacNaughton Cup in their rink’s lobby as a result. With the offense giving opposing goalies nightmares, the team’s “one-and-done” performances in the WCHA Final Five and in the NCAA playoffs from last year aren’t likely to be repeated.


Minnesota Duluth was 0-5 versus North Dakota this season, including four losses in conference play, and finished three points behind the Sioux in the race for the WCHA title. The Bulldogs – even those that aren’t math majors – are smart enough to figure out that a win in just one of those four conference meetings with North Dakota would’ve meant that the Cup would be spending the summer on the shore of Lake Superior. Scott Sandelin’s team is as deep (if not as talented) as the Sioux offensively, and has one of the better goalies in college hockey. Add to that the notion of “unfinished business” not only from this year’s regular season but from last year’s playoffs as well, and there could be a pretty good rematch to be had in St. Paul.


G – Bernd Brückler, Wisconsin
The only thing flashy about this Austrian import is his helmet’s paint job. But his steady, sometimes stellar, play meant lots of wins and a hockey resurgence in Madison.

D – Keith Ballard, Minnesota
Perhaps the nation’s best offensive defenseman, Ballard battled injuries and used his rocket of a shot from the blue line to keep the often-uneven Gophers afloat this year.

D – Ryan Caldwell, Denver
On a team that features three of the nation’s best defensemen, Caldwell was the best offensively and defensively as the Pioneers made a late-season charge up the WCHA ladder.

F – Junior Lessard, Minnesota Duluth
The fiery redhead turned in his best season after surviving nearly drowning over the summer. It would be fitting to call his the comeback story of the year, both on the water and on the frozen water.

F – Brandon Bochenski, North Dakota
The promotional materials being sent out of Grand Forks say that “Bo Knows Hockey.” And as a result of his 50 points and his WCHA title this year, hockey fans certainly know Bo.

F – Zach Parise, North Dakota
Critics say that for all his skill and speed, Parise is too small to be an impact player in the NHL. Can it be a coincidence that the New Jersey Devils plucked Parise in the first round after watching Paul Kariya in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals?


With a tip of the cap to Mike Eaves for the job he’s done in cleaning up the mess that the Wisconsin program was at the end of last season, we’ve got to give the nod to Minnesota Duluth’s Scott Sandelin. In four seasons at the helm of the Good Ship Bulldog, Sandelin’s teams have gone from 10th to 9th to 5th to 2nd in the WCHA, and he’s a lock to lead UMD to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 11 years a few weeks from now. From the start, Sandelin didn’t shy away from making the tough decisions, like cutting several scholarship players recruited by his predecessor, or saying “buh-bye” to hometown favorite Adam Coole after that’s goalie’s disastrous sophomore season. The result has been an impressive renaissance for a once-proud hockey program.


Minnesota Duluth had designs on winning the WCHA title until approximately 7:42 p.m. on Friday, February 27. It was at that moment on the ice of the DECC in Duluth that the Brandon Bochenski Show began. Bochenski, a senior from suburban Minneapolis, had only one of his league-leading 50 points in that night’s decisive 4-1 North Dakota win. But he controlled the play and handled the puck so deftly, that the once-rowdy crowd of Duluthians sat in stunned silence and awe, able only to murmur something that we swear sounded like “we’re gonna need a bigger boat.” The storied North Dakota hockey program has seven NCAA title banners but only one Hobey trophy (given to Tony Hrkac in 1987) on record. Bochenski has a good shot at doubling the number of Hobeys in Grand Forks.


When Los Angeles Kings coach Andy Murray skipped this year’s NHL All-Star game to go watch college hockey in Madison, it wasn’t a big surprise. Sure, Murray had a bit more of a rooting interest than most in cheering for his son, North Dakota rookie sensation Brady Murray. But the elder Murray certainly wasn’t the first or last person to travel long distances to see the younger Murray play. Skating alongside Zach Parise for much of the season, Brady led the league’s freshmen in scoring with better than a point per game on average, and led the WCHA in game-winning goals with six. He’s gotten used to being away from his father for long stretches, but there may be a reunion of sorts if Brady’s offensive production continues. He was picked by (this will surprise you) the Los Angeles Kings in last summer’s NHL draft.


In giving this award to Chris Conner, who racked up a league-best 25 goals (including an amazing eight short-handed goals – just two shy of the NCAA single-season record) while his team landed in the WCHA cellar, we’re reminded of Minnesota Duluth forward Chris Marinucci. A decade ago, Marinucci became the first and only Hobey Baker winner to play on a losing team. Marinucci’s teammate Chris Sittlow summed up the star’s value to the seventh-place Bulldogs that year by saying, “Without Nooch, we would’ve been a LOT worse.” We shudder to think how dismal things might have been in Houghton this winter without the Wizard from Westland on the Huskies’ roster.

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