October 15, 2002
West Notebook

Who needs a bandwagon when you've got a bus? Not Denver, which won the Maverick Stampede

By Mike Eidelbes

The road trip – a time-honored tradition in which college buddies build camaraderie by getting into a vehicle, driving far, far away and taking part in a shared experience. Thanks to his team’s showing in last weekend’s Maverick Stampede, Denver’s George Gwozdecky has become the Eric “Otter” Stratton of college hockey coaches.

George Gwozdecky
Read this week's East Notebook.

In an attempt to build unity, the Pioneers boarded a charter coach Wednesday evening and embarked on the 540-mile trip to Omaha. They not only came back a tighter unit – “We have good chemistry on this team,“ says senior forward Kevin Doell – but they also returned to the Mile High City early Sunday morning with two impressive wins in tow.

“With Omaha being not so far away, we decided 'Hey, let’s bus instead,'” said Gwozdecky. “I would have to give the credit to (assistant coaches) Steve (Miller) and Seth (Appert). The good thing was that it coincided with the new rule in the WCHA that, if you play a non-league opponent, you can travel your entire roster.”

The Pioneers solidified their status as worthy national championship contenders, winning the Maverick Stampede by downing two CCHA foes. The defending MacNaughton and Broadmoor Cup champions opened the tournament with a dominating 5-0 win over Michigan State, outshooting the Spartans by a 35-21 margin.

Denver then posted a 3-2 victory over the host Mavericks Saturday, with sophomore Luke Fulghum tallying the game-winning goal with 1:25 left in regulation after picking off an errant UNO clearing attempt. The Pioneers owned the shot advantage in the championship game, 41-18.

The keys to Denver’s success – solid goaltending from the duo of Hobey Baker Award candidate Wade Dubielewicz and Adam Berkhoel and an up-tempo style of play that forced opponents to commit turnovers and leading, in turn, to quality scoring chances.

Things People Say

“What I see (on his team) is a bigger ego than a bigger workload, and I don’t mean that too negative. But if your workload isn’t your No. 1 talent, good teams will make you look foolish.” – Michigan State head coach Rick Comley, after the Spartans were drubbed by Denver Friday in Omaha.

“I tell everyone that Joel Maturi has three things going for him he‘s an (Iron) Ranger, he‘s Italian and he graduated from Notre Dame.” – Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, introducing the school’s new director of athletics at the team’s media day earlier this month. Lucia, as you may have guessed, also falls into all three categories.

“I was already working on my list of the five guys I'd have take our shots in the shootout.” – North Dakota head coach Dean Blais, after his team’s overtime win against Michigan in Buffalo Saturday.

“When we followed that plan, we were pretty effective,” said Gwozdecky, who noted the team‘s biggest challenge on the weekend was responding to the physical pounding Nebraska-Omaha administered to the Pioneers in the first period Saturday, disrupting the game‘s flow in the process. “As always at this time of year, there are areas that we need to work on. But we saw some things that are going to be trademarks of our team this year, most notably our movement and speed up and down the ice.”

Gwozdecky’s bunch is a veteran unit – only three skaters in the lineup for the season opener have less than 30 games of collegiate experience. Still, he really didn’t know what to expect from his team heading into the weekend.

“We had no idea how our team was going to perform,” Gwozdecky said. “We really didn’t have any game experience or anything to go on to say, “This team needs work here, or this team is good here. But we were able to experience some pretty good challenges and succeed in those experiences.”

At this rate, Gwozdecky may want to book a Buffalo-bound bus in April.

50-50 DEBUT

Two coaches new to high-profile programs endured similar starts last weekend. Rick Comley of Michigan State and Wisconsin’s Mike Eaves were on the wrong end of lopsided losses Friday, but salvaged the weekend with one-goal victories Saturday.

Comley, who left Northern Michigan to fill the vacancy created when Ron Mason was named MSU’s athletics director, was less than pleased with Friday’s 5-0 loss to Denver in the first round of the Maverick Stampede in Omaha. State then earned a tougher-than-expected 2-1 win over Colgate Saturday. The bright spot on the weekend – the play of inexperienced goaltenders Justin Tobe, a freshman, and sophomore Matt Migliaccio.

“It’s the last of our concerns as we try and pull this thing together,” said Comley, whose priorities are addressing a dearth of team speed and carelessness with the puck. “Both goalies played well.”

In Madison, Eaves’ Badgers gave up five unanswered goals in a 5-1 loss to Rensselaer in the first round of the IceBreaker Invitational. Wisconsin recovered the next night, however, downing a tough Northern Michigan squad by a 4-3 score in the tournament’s third-place game. Junior Rene Bourque scored the game-winning goal with a little more than a minute left in regulation.

Three Great Weekend Getaways
1. Michigan State at Northern Michigan
Rick Comley can earn his 600th career win as a head coach in Marquette this weekend. Ironically, he would accomplish the feat behind the Michigan State bench instead of with the host Wildcats. It’s an important early-season CCHA series – thanks to the league’s cluster scheduling format, the Spartans and Wildcats will meet four times this year. Walt Kyle, meanwhile, makes his regular-season debut at the Berry Events Center. The guess here is that Comley won’t reach the milestone this weekend. In fact, he’ll be fortunate to get one step closer.
While You're There: Check out Up Front and Company, one of Marquette's newest spots for postgame entertainment. With its wood and stone interior, it's got a trendy feel. They've got live music most weekends and last year's Thursday night special – $2 pints of Labatt's draughts – is the best deal in the CCHA.

2. Nye Frontier Classic – The annual event, hosted by Alaska Anchorage, features an intriguing first-round contest between Maine and Colorado College. Iona and the Seawolves are the other teams taking part in this year’s tournament. Worth the trip just to see Alaska Anchorage fans launch semi-frozen fish on the ice following their team’s first goal.

3. Miami at Nebraska-Omaha – There’s a general lack of scintillating matches in the CHA, CCHA or WCHA this weekend – the Minnesota-New Hampshire and Denver-in-Beantown series are out east, so I can’t recommend them due to geography – so this is pretty much the best of the rest. Miami has struggled mightily in Omaha, including back-to-back shutouts at the Civic Auditorium last season, so we’ll know more about the RedHawks mettle following this two-game set.

“In an overall view it was a step in the right direction,” said Eaves of the weekend. “I think that perhaps the biggest thing is that it will energize the team to continue to working hard. The pieces are starting to come together a little bit, but it is still far off.”


It’s hard to imagine a freshman starting his college career any better than Western Michigan forward Vince Bellissimo. The Toronto, Ont., product was named the CCHA Rookie of the Week after scoring two goals, including the game-winner, in the Broncos’ season-opening 7-6 win against Bowling Green Friday and addiung another game-winning goal and an assist in the team’s 3-2 victory over the visiting Falcons the following night.

But then there’s forward Zach Parise of North Dakota.

An Inside College Hockey.com preseason all-rookie team selection and the choice of WCHA coaches as the favorite to win the league’s Newcomer of the Year honor, Parise led the Fighting Sioux to the Xerox Punch Imlach College Hockey Showcase championship over the weekend. He scored three goals and an assist in North Dakota’s opening-round win against Canisius, then picked up two goals and two assists in his team’s overtime victory against Michigan.

“I was really nervous before the game, but then (sophomore linemate Brandon) Bochenski asked me if I had ever played a game before. He said, ‘Well, this is the same thing. Just go out and play another game.'"


Ben Tharp was no different than any other kid growing up in Minnesota.

“It’s everyone’s dream to play for the Gophers,” said the Hastings, Minn., native. “I think if I would’ve passed that up I would’ve regretted it.”

So Tharp, along with high school teammates Jeff Taffe and Dan Welch, signed a letter of intent with Minnesota. The defenseman posted respectable numbers in two seasons with the Gophers – 12 assists in 32 games as a freshman and four goals and four assists in 38 games as a sophomore. But something wasn’t right.

“It wasn’t a good fit for me personally,” said Tharp.

He’s getting a second chance at a school with a rink smaller than some of the arenas at which he played in high school. Miami’s Goggin Ice Arena only has room for a couple thousand fans, but there’s no place Tharp would rather be. A member of the United States Hockey League’s Chicago Steel last season, he signed with the RedHawks in the fall after coming away impressed by head coach Enrico Blasi and his staff.

“The coaching aspect is one of the reasons why I came here,” said Tharp, who scored nine goals and 18 assists for the Steel in 2001-02. “All three of the coaches are really easy to talk to. I really felt they wanted me to come here and help me out.”

Tharp, in return, has helped his coaches. Even though he’s in his first year at Miami, he provides much-needed experience for a team that boasts nine freshmen on its roster. And he’s off to a good start with two assists and a +3 plus-minus rating in four games. The RedHawks, picked to finish 10th in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in both the coaches and media preseason polls, are off to a 3-1-0 start, but enter a difficult four-game stretch against Nebraska-Omaha and Northern Michigan.

“I learned a lot about the defensive part of the game last year playing in Chicago,” the 6-foot, 175-pound junior explained. “You can be one of the premier players in the (CCHA) just by playing good position and playing good defense.”

He’s happy to be back in the collegiate ranks – “I couldn’t even explain the feelings I had” during his first game in a Miami sweater vs. Air Force Oct. 4 – and he’s even happier about being in Oxford.

Says Tharp, “I definitely don’t have any regrets about leaving Minnesota.”


• Potulny shelved – Minnesota forward Grant Potulny, who will always be part of Golden Gopher hockey lore thanks to his overtime winner in the 2002 NCAA championship game, is expected to miss six weeks after breaking his leg in the second period of Saturday’s 7-2 win against Ohio State in the Hall of Fame Game in St. Paul. The Grand Forks, N.D., native is Minnesota’s leading active goal scorer with 37 goals in 87 games.

• Burnes is, too – Michigan defenseman Andy Burnes is sidelined for three weeks with mononucleosis. You may remember the Wolverines' Mike Cammalleri was sidelined for a couple months last season due to the ailment. Michigan State freshman forward Colton Fretter has also had his collegiate debut delayed thanks to mono. He could see his first action as soon as this weekend's series at Northern Michigan.

• At least one of our staff members could win a medal – Congratulations to former Wisconsin coach and current Inside College Hockey.com columnist Jeff Sauer, who will serve as an assistant coach on the U.S. entry in the 2003 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships, which take place Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Sydney and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

• Tom Terrific – Joining play-by-play announcer Paul Braun in the television booth for Wisconsin games this season is Tom Sagissor. Sagissor, a four-year letterwinner from 1986 to 1990, was loved by Badger Nation and loathed in every other WCHA rink, especially after junior and senior seasons during which he racked up 119 and 122 penalty minutes, respectively. He could play a little, too, scoring 19 goals and 27 assists in 1989-90 en route to a national title.

• Charger challenge – Since we’ve got Badgers on the brain, Wisconsin hosts Alabama-Huntsville this weekend. The Chargers’ first three series of the season? At Wisconsin, at Denver, at Minnesota.

• Galactic border patrol – Lake Superior State’s 18-hour trip to Maine for the Black Bear Classic was extended by more than 90 minutes when the team’s bus was held up at the U.S.-Canadian border. Seems one of the team’s Canadian players was without the proper paperwork.

• Dad’s day – Those expecting Red Berenson to step down as Michigan bench boss in the near future may want to take this into consideration – the 62-year-old coach skipped Saturday’s game against North Dakota in Buffalo to fly to Saskatchewan, where his dad was celebrating his 90th birthday in Regina.

• And maybe Soundgarden is classic rock – The Wolverines are sporting new uniforms this season. According to sports information director Paul Thomas, the look is a throwback to sweaters Michigan wore in the early-to-mid 1990’s. I propose a new rule: if kids in junior high can remember when the team wore the original jerseys, it can’t be considered a throwback. And while we’re on the subject, let me be the first to lobby for Western Michigan to don those gaudy brown-and-yellow uniforms from a few years back.

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

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