As October draws to a close in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, 11 of the 12 league teams have played at least one conference series (SCSU has played six games with none counting in the league standings). Already, there are some clear trends starting to take hold, and as the holiday season approaches, it will be interesting to see whether these trends become mirages.
Here are three things I think, in no particular order, about the WCHA right now:
• Welcome back Minnesota. When the Gophers were raising banners and winning trophies during the early part of Don Lucia’s tenure, Minnesota was a fun team to watch. Their power play was nearly unstoppable, they scored four or five goals it seemed like every night and they had a physical presence that could slow an opponent’s momentum.In recent years, Minnesota has struggled to score, struggled to defend and was seemingly pushed all over the ice by teams like North Dakota. Finally, it seems, the style that won Lucia and the Gophers a pair of national championships a decade ago is back. Led by sophomores Erik Haula and Nick Bjugstad and freshman Kyle Rau, the Gophers have scored 35 goals over their first six games (13 more than the second best team in the league, UMD) at almost a six goal per game clip. It’s power play is scoring over 36 percent of the time, tops in the league, and the roster boasts monsters up front in Bjugstad and Zach Budish (Both 6-4) and on the back end in Seth Helgeson and Mark Alt (both are also 6-4). In goal, Kent Patterson has played every minute, stopping over 92 percent of shots faced and allowing just over two goals per contest. Obviously, it’s early. But if October is any indication, the mighty Minnesota Golden Gophers could be very much back in the picture.
• You gotta feel bad for Minnesota State. Already down six players because of injuries over the course of the opening two weeks, the Mavericks lost two more players while getting hammered by Denver over the weekend. And these aren’t just third or fourth line players the Mavs are missing either. Michael Dorr, Chase Grant and Eriah Hayes are expected to be among the team leaders in points. Tyler Elbrecht is the team’s captain and emotional leader. Max Gaede has the potential to be an impact freshman this season. Combined with suspect goaltending in all but one game (the season opener, a 1-0 win over RPI), the Mavericks have just one win in six tries to open the season. A weekend off could not have come at a better time for MSU, as the Mavericks will look to get healthy this weekend before heading to Houghton the first weekend in November.
• Reports of Michigan Tech’s rise as well as Wisconsin’s and Nebraska-Omaha’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Just one weekend after sweeping the Badgers, the Huskies traveled to Bemidji and lost twice. I didn’t expect Tech to sweep the Beavers, but a point or two on the road would have gone a long ways towards showing folks that perhaps Mel Pearson is the savior he appeared to be after two weeks. The Badgers, meanwhile, lacking in offense and in upperclassmen, welcomed North Dakota to the Kohl Center and duplicated what Minnesota did to UMD last weekend — gain four points in the standings despite getting outshot both nights (including a 42-15 deficit Saturday). Home cooking did the red Mavericks well too, as UNO avenged a nonconference loss to Anchorage in the Brice Alaska Goal Rush two weeks ago by sweeping the Seawolves in a pair of games that counted in the standings. Matt White and Terry Broadhurst are doing an adequate job of filling Alex Hudson’s skates right now, but the faster Hudson can get back up to speed (he was back in the line up this weekend), the better of UNO will be.
Be sure to check back later this week for my weekly power rankings and a look at action this weekend in the WCHA.