After this past weekend, every team in the WCHA has played at least one game that’s counted in the standings. Most, including an Alaska Gold Rush contest between Alaska-Anchorage and part of North Dakota, have been non-conference yet there was something sweet about the way the conference kicked off the last season as we know it.
The single opening series last weekend was between two teams in Michigan Tech and Minnesota who go back to the original 1951 founding of the league. They have a history that heated up in the 1970s with both teams being national title contenders and with the uncertainty of the future, the Gophers going up to Houghton may be a thing of the past. While the rivalry may have cooled off since, having a series between the home of the MacNaughton Cup and the team currently holding it is a good treat for fans who like tradition.
And fortunately for fans who like good competitive hockey (the two teams split) and highlight-reel goals, Michigan Tech’s Alex Petan set the bar high for WCHA goal of the year Friday.
(h/t CJ Fogler)
As Erik Haula goes, so do the Golden Gophers
Minnesota head coach Don Lucia became only the 8th coach in college hockey to win 600 games on Saturday. It’s a feel-good milestone for Lucia – especially given the challenges in recent years he has faced on and off the ice – but one that likely won’t get its full attention until the season winds down and there is time to reflect on his longevity.
Recently, the Gophers winning and junior Erik Haula scoring has gone hand in hand with one another. Haula scored his third goal of the season in Lucia’s 600th win and the only game which he failed to score so far has been the lone loss for the 3-1 Gophers. While that’s a cool little stat like “Andrej Sustr is on pace to be the tallest player in college hockey history to score a point per game,” that seems fit for early season sports talk hyperbole, Haula scoring and Minnesota winning isn’t anything new.
The Gophers have been a remarkable 15-1-1 over the last two years when the Minnesota Wild draft pick scores a goal and his hot streaks at the beginning and end of last season mirror Minnesota’s own. Sometimes it is easy to forget how Haula has played behind the giant shadow of Nick Bjugstad (he’d be fighting Wisconsin’s Mark Zengerle for who had the quietest 49/50 point season last year if that was allowed in college hockey) but his offensive prowess continues to shine through in Minnesota wins.
The hat industry picked up in Colorado
Speaking of players who quietly put up 40 points last season, Denver junior Nick Shore notched a hat trick in the Pioneers’ 5-2 win over Air Force Saturday. It was an impressive start for both Shore, who is the main man up front with Jason Zucker, Beau Bennett and Brother Drew all leaving for the NHL pros, and Denver, who scored ten goals against UMass-Lowell and Air Force en route to being one of two teams in the WCHA to sweep their weekend (St. Cloud State against Alabama-Huntsville was the other). Honestly it’s too bad Denver and Michigan Tech is not on television because after how both played that has passed Minnesota Duluth-Wisconsin as the series I’m looking most forward to this weekend.
So it was a good start for Nick Shore this weekend yet despite all that, he didn’t have the most impressive performance against Air Force. That non-existent award goes to Colorado College’s Anthony Hamburg after the senior forward scored four goals in the Tigers’ 6-2 win Friday over the Falcons.
Now Air Force isn’t a top-five team like Denver or even #11 UMass-Lowell, who beat CC 3-1 Saturday, but they have been kings of Atlantic Hockey. Seeing both in-state rivals (who each entered the season looking for offense) having a player score a hat trick on them is a nice surprise.
Nic Kerdiles’ saga ending shows off the good and bad of college hockey
Much to the delight of everyone who doesn’t have to play Wisconsin, freshman Nic Kerdiles finally has closure with the NCAA over a potential amateur violation for receiving improper benefits. Kerdiles had his appeal heard this past Thursday and on Friday the season-long suspension was reduced to ten games. With the two games the Badgers have already played being included in his suspension, the second round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in June will be eligible to return November 30th against Denver.
He’ll be there too. Although there was plenty of speculation Kerdiles could still leave Wisconsin and go play for Kelowna of the WHL (who hold his rights) immediately, Nic put that to rest Monday when he re-affirmed his commitment to the Badgers.
It’s great to see a player of Nic’s caliber make that statement. College hockey oftentimes fights an uphill battle with Canadian juniors because the bureaucracy of the NCAA can hurt a sport which has its own rules and league competition compared to college football and basketball. Those sports don’t have to worry about players being drafted by pro teams before they step foot on campus. Their players don’t have to worry about being an amateur athlete while having an adviser in name only who acts as an agent to other players.
Kerdiles ended up paying for his misunderstanding but it’s a situation which more and more players find themselves in as they get drafted. Hopefully it’s one that advisers and players learn from in the future. To me, however, the lesson that is taken away is one of character. Not everyone would accept and abide by a suspension that doesn’t hold their feet to the fire and plenty of players would head to Kelowna in order to further develop. More than anything, Kerdiles re-affirming his commitment to the Badgers shows what kind of person he is and will become.
Follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate