the frenzy surrounding North Dakota freshman forward Zach
Parise this season –
and he deserves the attention –
it's hard to believe that Minnesota's Thomas Vanek, one
of the most ballyhooed Gopher recruits in recent memory,
has managed to fly under the radar, relatively speaking.
Thomas Vanek has scored 12 goals, most among NCAA Division
I freshmen. (photo courtesy University of Minnesota)
6-foot-2, 207-pound wing from Graz, Austria, was projected
by some experts to be a first-round pick had he opted in
to the 2002 National Hockey League Entry Draft, and will
most likely be chosen in the first round this year. And
while Parise has grabbed his share of headlines by scoring
29 points in his first 14 games, Vanek has shown he deserves
some time in the spotlight as well.
example, the rookie wing notched the second hat trick of
his young career by scoring the Gophers' last three goals
in a 5-5 tie against Michigan State at Mariucci Arena last
Friday. Following the game, Vanek downplayed his accomplishments.
was on my side," he said.
consider himself lucky, but he's good, too. With 12 goals
and 11 assists for 23 points, Vanek joins Parise as the
only freshmen in the nation with more than 20 points.
one of those kids, you don't notice him a lot until the
puck is on his stick," Michigan State coach Rick Comley
said. The Spartan bench boss must have noticed Vanek quite
a bit, considering he launched an astounding 15 shots on
goal that night.
there are some deficiencies in Vanek's game –
no one will mistake him for Bob Gainey, for example. But
with his remarkable combination of offensive skills, skating
ability and size, Vanek has successfully kept opponents,
such as MSU senior defenseman Brad Fast, guessing.
uses his size well and he uses his speed well," Fast
said. "Whenever he's on the ice, we're very aware of
where he is and our positioning out there. He's dangerous"
has been especially dangerous as of late. Nine of his goals
and eight of his assists came in the month of November.
And he scores in clutch situations –
witness his eight third-period tallies. Not suprisingly,
the scoring splurge has coincided with a change in personnel.
Coach Don Lucia put Vanek on a line with juniors Troy Riddle
and Matt Koalska in late October, and the trio has jelled.
played about 10 games together now, so that definitely helps,"
Vanek said. "With Riddle, we've got a lot of speed
outside and that helps me and Matt. And Matt is a great
passer. I'm just the third guy, I guess."
third guy. Should he continue scoring goals at his current
pace, Vanek would break the single-season school record
for markers by a freshman. The guy who currently owns that
mark? The legendary John Mayasich, who scored 32 goals during
the 1951-52 campaign. Pretty good company.
WOLVERINES GETTING DEFENSIVE
Let's play a little word association game.
phrases come to your mind when I say "University of
forwards. Mobile, offensive-minded defensemen. Explosive
power play. One of the nation's best defenses. Stifling
last two don't seem like they belong, right? If you ask
the Wolverines' opponents, however, they'll tell you the
team's defense and penalty kill should be at the top of
lost a good friend, hockey lost a good friend, and
so did the state and the University of North Dakota."
Reg Morelli, an All-American at North Dakota in
1960 and member of the school's 1959 NCAA championship
team, on the passing of Ralph Engelstad.
something that we've been plagued with this year –
giving up leads, which is something that is uncharacteristic
of Spartan hockey in the last few years. Fortunately
for us, we showed a lot more emotion out there and
showed that we can play." –
Michigan State senior defenseman Brad Fast, following
the tie at Minnesota.
you think it would hurt us if we pulled our goalie?"
Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire, when asked
by a reporter if Colorado missed forward Peter Forsberg,
who left halfway through the Nov. 29 game in St. Paul
due to an injury.
coach Red Berenson hasn't stolen a few pages from Ron Mason's
playbook after his counterpart at Michigan State retired.
The Wolverines are still third in the CCHA in scoring, averaging
just under four goals a game.
the team's defense and penalty kill have been sensational.
The Maize and Blue lead the CCHA and rank third nationally
in scoring defense, allowing 1.79 goals per game. Michigan
leads the country in penalty killing –
a spot usually reserved for their rivals up the road in
East Lansing –
and have vanquished 77 of 81opponent power plays for a 95.1%
put a lot of emphasis on blocking shots, denying shots,
discouraging shots and also anticipation," said Berenson,
whose team held Wisconsin and Minnesota to a total of two
goals in a pair of wins last weekend. "If we're doing
a good job, we're keeping teams off balance and not letting
them get quite what they are looking for."
feels that putting forth a quality defensive effort starts
by establishing an attitude with his charges. So far, the
team has been on the same page.
is buying into the system," says freshman goaltender
Al Montoya. "The defensive unit coverage has been great.
I'll make the save and I know I won't have to worry about
a second or third shot because the defensemen are there
to clear the rebounds and take care of the stuff in front
of the net."
has played a big role in Michigan's defensive prowess. The
Glenview, Ill., native, who won't turn 18 until February,
leads the CCHA with a 1.80 goals against average and ranks
second in the league with a .934 saves percentage. He's
also one of three netminders with a nation's best 11 wins.
come in and had to be the difference in a couple of games
and that's surprised some people," Berenson said. "He's
getting good support, but there's no question he has earned
the confidence of our team."
the strong showing, Berenson acknowledges his team can't
maintain its current level of defensive success. For example,
the Wolverines come into this weekend's series at Northern
Michigan with more shorthanded goals for (six) than power
play goals against (five).
an element of luck involved," Berenson said. "We've
had pucks hit posts or skates that might have otherwise
gone in. But we do have confidence."
Engelstad may have been college hockey's version of Al Davis.
People either admired him or loathed him. There was no middle
ground. And you always knew where he stood on an issue.
had a lot of friends, and probably an equal number of enemies,"
North Dakota coach Dean Blais said. "He either liked
you or wouldn't talk to you."
week's startling news that the former North Dakota goaltender
and the school's largest benefactor died of lung cancer
at age 72 in Las Vegas gave the college hockey world an
opportunity to reflect on Engelstad's contributions and
who amassed a fortune through real estate ventures and casinos,
is probably best known for three acts. One was the donation
of $104 million for construction of North Dakota's state-of-the-art
Ralph Engelstad Arena. The facility, which accomodates more
than 11,000 fans for hockey, opened last year just a short
distance from the Sioux's former home, also named Ralph
is full of its ups and downs in business and personally,"
Engelstad said when announcing his intentions to build a
new arena for North Dakota in 1998. "I have experienced
both, but I have been very fortunate to land on the upper
side more times than on the bottom, and it is my desire
to share a portion of my good fortune with the UND hockey
also vigilant supporter of the Fighting Sioux nickname,
which has been targeted for change by a number of groups.
Two years ago, with the new arena already under construction,
Engelstad threatened to pull the plug on the project if
the state's Board of Higher Education voted to remove the
nickname and sent a letter to UND President Charles Kupchella
declaring his intentions. One day after receiving the letter,
the board voted unanimously to retain the nickname.
had spent $30 million on the arena at the time," Blais
said. "But he didn't compromise with anyone."
his most notorious incident occurred in 1989, when Engelstad
was fined $1.5 million by the Nevada Gaming Commission for
holding parties commemorating the birthday of Adolph Hitler
at his Las Vegas casino and collecting Nazi memoribilia.
He issued a public apology, but UND was criticized for its
continued relationship with Engelstad.
contributions didn't end with the Fighting Sioux hockey
team. He received numerous citations for his work with disabled
people, including twice being named Employer of the Year
by the Nevada Governor's Committee on Employment of People
with Disabilities and earning the National Employer of the
Year award from President Bush and the national Committee
on Employment of People With Disabilities in 1991.
honoring Engelstad will take place at North Dakota's game
against St. Cloud State in Grand Forks Saturday. Among the
tributes will be the retirement of jersey number 23, which
the Thief River Falls, Minn., native wore as a Fighting
Sioux goaltender from 1948-50.
FROM TODAY'S HEADLINES
Great Weekend Getaways
Denver vs. Colorado College: Games between
these two rivals are always tense, emotional affairs.
But with both teams ranked in the top six of all three
national polls and the Pioneers trailing the front-running
Tigers by just two points in the WCHA standings, the
drama of these two contests increases exponentially.
a home-and-home set, with Friday's game at Magness
Arena in Denver and Saturday's finale down at the
Colorado Springs World Arena. The Tigers have fared
well in the Mile High City, winning five of their
last six as the visitor in this series. Denver, on
the other hand, hasn't found Colorado College to be
gracious hosts. The Pies have won two of the last
three meetings between the two teams at World Arena.
Prior to Feb. 10, 2001, when DU beat CC by a 3-2 margin,
coach George Gwozdecky 's Pioneers were 0-13-2 against
the Tigers in the Springs.
you're there: As a former resident of the Denver area,
I've got an inherent bias toward the entertainment
possibilities that abound in the Mile High City. That's
not to say I haven't had a good time in Colorado Springs...on
second thought, I haven't. Never mind.
if you're in Denver, here are some options for occupying
yourself before or after the game. First, the Coors
Brewery tour in nearby Golden is always fun. It's
free, plus you get three beers at the end, so it's
definitely worth the price of admission.
area between Coors Field and Pepsi Arena, known as
Lower Downtown (or LoDo for short), is teeming with
bars and restaurants. A personal favorite is Swanky's.
Located about 100 yards from Coors Field, it features
really cheap beer (I think a 22-ounce Pabst draft
is like a buck), a great shuffleboard table and nice
variety in the jukebox. Nearby is the Denver Chop
House, the best restaurant in the city in my opinion.
Don't pass up the mashed potatoes...they are fantastic.
the Campus Lounge is located approximately halfway
between the DU campus and the Cherry Creek area on
University Boulevard. Owned by former Pioneer All-American
Jim Wiste, you never know who you'll see in the place
– I've spotted Herb Brooks, Peter McNab, Chris
Drury, Shjon Podein and Stephane Yelle, just to name
a few. If you're really nice to the bartenders, they
might let you watch one of the Don Cherry Rock-em,
Sock-em Hockey videos they've got stashed behind the
bar on the big screen.
2. Minnesota at Wisconsin: Sure,
the Badgers are a little down, but this is one of
those classic "throw out the records" series.
Besides, if you're a fan of sports talk show host
Jim Rome, he's bringing Tour Stop 29 to Dane County
or whatever it's called these days –
Saturday. Among his guests are Barry Alvarez, Fuzzy
Thurston and Jerry Kramer. What, no Jeff Sauer?
Miami at Ohio State: Since we already used
the BCS joke in Sunday's Power Rankings, we'll give
it to you straight. Miami has 12 wins, tied for the
most in the nation. Ohio State had last week off to
recuperate after being swept at Ferris State. No word
if OSU students plan to burn some smaller items c
an ottoman or a shopping cart, perhaps – as
a practice run for the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 3.
in the skies: Coming soon to a WCHA arena near
you – instant replay?
happen, commissioner Bruce McLeod told Kevin Pates of the
Duluth News-Tribune last week. In fact, the WCHA could vote
on the matter as soon as next month. Should the measure
be approved, the league would have to petition the NCAA
in order to bring instant replace in on a one-year trial
need to decide under what circumstances video replays would
be used and what would be the mechanics involved,"
says the league would most likely use its contingency fund
to pay for installation in each of the conference's rinks.
Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin, a member of the WCHA
executive committee, says all the conference's coaches are
in favor of the proposal.
against the world: Seven WCHA standouts and three
skaters from CCHA schools are among the 22 players named
to the U.S. National Junior Team that will compete in the
2003 World Junior Championships in Halifax and Sydney, Nova
Scotia, Dec. 26-Jan. 5.
the CCHA contingent are Michigan sophomore forwards Eric
Nystrom and Dwight Helminen. They're joined by Ohio State
freshman forward Ryan Kesler.
the WCHA are three players from North Dakota – defensemen
Matt Greene and Matt Jones and forward Zach Parise. Minnesota
forwards Gino Guyer and Barry Tallackson were also named
to the squad as were Colorado College forward Brett Sterling
and teammate Mark Stuart. Serving as assistant coaches to
U.S. bench boss Lou Vairo are former University of Wisconsin
head coach and Inside College Hockey columnist Jeff Sauer,
ex-Michigan Tech letterwinner and current Boston College
assistant Ron Rolston, and Mike Hastings, who played for
St. Cloud State from 1986-88 and is now head coach of the
USHL's River City Lancers.
U.S. team begins play against defending champion Russia.
Back: Wisconsin defenseman Dan Boeser sees his
first action against WCHA foes this weekend as the Badgers
welcome Minnesota to the Kohl Center for two games. The
junior from Savage, Minn., was in the lineup for the season
opener despite undergoing 20 radiation treatments in September
after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins B-cell lymphoma.
But he was sidelined after breaking his left hand vs. Alabama-Huntsville
Oct. 18, bringing to an end a streak of 83 consecutives
games. Boeser, who missed nine games with the injury, played
in both of Wisconsin's College Hockey Showcase games last
Potter: Michigan State defenseman Corey Potter
will be sidelined for four to six weeks after breaking his
collarbone in Friday's 5-5 tie with Minnesota in Minneapolis.
The freshman from Okemos, Mich., had two goals and an even
plus-minus rating in 11 games with the Spartans this season.
His injury leaves MSU with just six healthy defensemen.
chatter: Alabama-Huntsville has recovered from
its 0-6-0 start against Minnesota, Wisconsin and Denver
to go 4-1-1 in its last six games – all against league
foes. One of the keys to the Chargers' recent success has
been the play of freshman goaltender Scott Munroe, who has
three wins in three starts against CHA opponents, including
a 56-save effort vs. Niagara last weekend...Findlay is 4-0-0
against MAAC opponents this season and 1-6-1 against everyone
else. The Oilers play MAAC team Bentley this weekend and
can move above the .500 mark with a sweep...Air Force hosts
its annual tournament Friday and Saturday, and a main component
of the event is the Toy Trick. Fans who bring a new stuffed
toy, wrapped in plastic, to any of the games at Cadet Ice
Arena get a free child's admission. When Air Force scores
its first goal, the toys are thrown on the ice, collected
and distributed to kids at Colorado Springs-area hospitals
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT...
Your life probably won't change by reading these notes,
but it might
Ellis, host of Fox Sports Net Detroit's Spartan Sports Zone,
brought up this interesting point in connection with the
College Hockey Showcase. Minnesota and Michigan play for
the Mariucci-Renfrew Coaches Trophy, while Minnesota and
Michigan State play for the Mariucci-Bessone Coaches Trophy.
So why is Wisconsin left out of the mix? Ellis, a native
of Calumet, Mich., and a long-time Michigan Tech fan, proposes
MSU and Wisconsin compete for the Mason-Sauer Coaches
Trophy annually. No argument here.
of the Badgers, Kevin Allenspach of the St. Cloud Times
reports that Wisconsin has received a verbal commitment
for the 2005-06 season from 15-year-old Jack Skille,
a 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore forward at Verona (Wis.) High
School. The son Lee Skille, a letterwinner at Wisconsin
in the '70s, Jack Skille led his conference in scoring last
season as a freshman. He's planning to join the U.S. National
Team Development Program in Ann Arbor next year.
an interesting commercial last week while spending the night
in Rockford, Ill. The spot, promoting the Rockford Icehogs
of the United Hockey League, was a parody of The
Blair Witch Project and featured three players
– including former Gopher defenseman Nick Angell –
wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. The 30-second piece
ended by touting The Bell Witch Project, a nod to Rockford
head coach Scott Bell, another Minnesota alum.
latest in the series of first-person accounts written
by CCHA players appears on the league's
web site. The most recent installment is penned by Michigan
State senior Troy Ferguson. The 5-foot-9, 165 pound foward
talks about his experiences at the NCAA Foundation Leadership
Conference in May.
Not to dwell on the subject, but here's an acknowledgement
to the University of North Dakota and their plans for a
tribute to Ralph Engelstad at Saturday's game vs. St. Cloud
State. In addition to the ceremonies, advertisements normally
shown on the arena's video screens during breaks in action
will be replaced by vignettes looking back on Engelstad's
alma mater, St. Thomas, for avenging a loss in last year's
NCAA Division III Tournament with a 2-1 win against defending
national champion Wisconsin-Superior Saturday. Zach Sikich,
a transfer from Air Force, made 34 saves for the Tommies.
Gopher, who fell while walking atop the dasher boards in
front of one of the team benches at Friday's Minnesota-Michigan
State game. Goldy more or less wishboned himself on the
boards, if you get my drift. That'll leave a mark.
guy sitting next to me in the Xcel Energy Center press box
during last Friday's Minnesota-Colorado game. I don't know
what his affiliation was, but he repeatedly pulled out a
video camera and started taping portions the game. My guess
is he didn't have the expressed written consent of NHL commissioner
WEEK'S NHL TRANSACTIONS
Bruins: Assigned forwards Lee Goren (North Dakota)
and Andy Hilbert (Michigan) to Providence of the American
Blackhawks: Recalled forward Peter White (Michigan
State) from Philadelphia of the American Hockey League;
assigned forward Garry Valk (North Dakota) to Norfolk of
the American Hockey League.
Blue Jackets: Recalled defenseman Duvie Wescott
(St. Cloud State) from Syracuse of the American Hockey League;
assigned Westcott to Syracuse.
Predators: Assigned forward Ryan Kraft (Minnesota)
to Milwaukee of the American Hockey League.
Jose Sharks: Fired assistant coach Rich Preston
PRO TRANSACTION OF THE WEEK
Sea Wolves (ECHL): Released goaltender Chuck Thuss