The WCHA needed a big weekend to salvage it’s at-large hopes for the NCAA Tournament in March. And while it posted a winning record thanks to a late-Saturday rally, a 7-4-1 record on the weekend isn’t exactly what was needed.
What’s truly disappointing is what could have been for the league this weekend. Denver blew a two-goal lead Friday in a 3-2 loss. Minnesota State blew a 3-2 lead late in the third period Friday, allowing two goals in 1:16 in a 4-3 loss. CC had a two-goal lead Saturday and tied. A 10-2-0 record this weekend would have been an unquestioned success. A 7-4-1 record? Not so much.
George Gwozdecky’s decision to send Jason Zucker home to Las Vegas following the World Junior Championships proved especially costly. In all my years of covering college hockey, which admittedly isn’t that long, I have never seen a more arrogant move than sending perhaps your best player home for the weekend. It’s not that Zucker isn’t worthy of getting a night off — if you want to scratch him Friday night, I can get on board with that. But telling him not to even show up? What kind of message are you sending your team about the opponent (the Chargers had one win entering the weekend)? More importantly, what kind of message are you sending your opponent? I’m a fan of Gwozdecky, and I think he’s a fantastic coach — but he absolutely got what he deserved Friday night.
Minnesota played both Kyle Rau and Nick Bjugstad Saturday in Minneapolis, and according to coach Don Lucia, there was no doubt about it. Rau and Bjugstad were both Zucker teammates in Edmonton last week, so they were on the same schedule. Lucia is choosing to send his players home for a couple of days early this week.
Colorado College rested Jaden Schwartz Friday night and took it in the shorts against Cornell, but Schwartz — a Canadian — didn’t arrive in Colorado until Friday afternoon. He played tonight, scoring two goals and adding an assist in a 3-3 tie, apparently no worse for the wear.
Gwozdecky’s decision to play a man down could eventually cost the Pioneers. Will a loss to Alabama-Huntsville affect his team in the WCHA playoffs? Probably not. But at 18th in the Pairwise, DU has it’s work cut out for it if it wants to get into at-large territory, especially with the WCHA’s mediocre RPI.
One more thought — Minnesota Duluth… Wow. This team just keeps on ticking. I watched a good portion of Friday’s game at Western Michigan and I continue to be impressed with the ability of this team to put the pedal down. The Bulldogs lost a ton of talent over the course of the offseason: Mike Connolly, Justin Fontaine, Justin Faulk, Mike Montgomery, Kyle Schmidt, yet guys like Jack Connolly and Travis Oleksuk continue to get better and better. Watching this team, you can tell they are the defending champions. They never panic, they never look out of sorts and no situation looks too big. Sweeping Western Michigan in Kalamazoo is no simple task, but the Bulldogs almost made it look easy. More on them later this week…
Have a great Sunday, folks!