Three Things I Think, December 19: WCHA

Posted by: Nate Wells

Sometimes it isn’t easy to be a college hockey fan. As much as our passion for the sport bleeds through, few outsiders would know that and that’s disappointing. If the NHL is a niche sport in the United States then college hockey is a niche of a niche. You could say we’re the hockey fans of hockey.

So it is satisfying to see when fans of locked out teams check out games on NBC Sports Net and double viewership from last year. The same is true when Peter Richmond gives Sports Illustrated readers a chance to experience the passion of a North Dakota game and Grantland’s Katie Baker writes nearly 5000 words on the Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry at Mariucci Arena. The things WCHA fans experience on a weekly level that normally stay inside are  out there for the rest of the world to see.

It’s even more rewarding when college hockey polls make the bottom line of major sports networks or John Buccigross casually drops scores in the middle of a Sportscenter or to his 111,000 Twitter followers. Many of these things don’t mean much in the long run but as fans that aren’t used to any attention, the effort is appreciated. It’s much better than watching intermission reports that have nothing to do with college hockey.

Along with them and everyone who works hard day-in and day-out to bring more attention to college hockey, I’m thankful for this great sport we all love.

After the break, I continue to celebrate college hockey and the holiday season with bad puns. There’s also Bemidji State helping Denver crash to rock bottom, North Dakota rising to the top and thoughts on Minnesota State’s split with Nebraska-Omaha, but mostly bad holiday puns.

The FALL-alalala of Denver

The WCHA got a new leader this weekend when St. Cloud State swept Colorado College at home. Once again the Huskies were able to rely on scoring from their freshmen and overcame a two-goal deficit Friday to defeat the Tigers. It was the latest in what has been a tough stretch for Colorado College, who have won one game since Thanksgiving.

And that is still one more game than Denver.

With a winless streak now at eight games and top scorers Nick Shore (4 points in the last 8 games) and Chris Knowlton (5 points) struggling, the Pioneers now find themselves a point back from St. Cloud State. They are tied with North Dakota for second although UND has two games in hand. The latest team to outplay them was Bemidji State, who routed Denver 5-1 Saturday behind two goals from Jeff Jubinville.

Make no deal about it, this wasn’t a game where the Beavers scored a couple empty-net goals to pad the score. They deserve credit for jumping out to a five goal lead and putting DU’s defense – a strong point during their winning streak – on their heels before making them pay every time they smelled blood.

While the Pioneers were going to come back down to earth after a 7-1 start, few expected to see them crashing back to earth faster than the teddy bears thrown on the Sanford Arena ice Saturday night. They have, however, and with their second straight one-point weekend, Denver is now in need of another turnaround to ensure this season won’t be a giant disappointment.

Instead of eight crazy days, North Dakota has one Corban Knight…

…although I’m sure they would like more. And who wouldn’t? It isn’t a miracle that Knight leads both UND and the conference in scoring nor is the 13 game point streak he currently holds. The senior has scored 40 points each of the last two years and has been a pillar centering North Dakota’s top line.

However, he shined brighter than a menorah with his performance this past weekend against Michigan Tech. Knight, along with fellow senior Danny Kristo, scored six points against the Huskies and North Dakota dominated Michigan Tech in Houghton with 6-1 and 4-1 victories. Getting high-end performances from Knight and others throughout the second half will go far for a team that is 4-1-1 in their last six games.

O Little Town of Mankato

One of the topics in last week’s “3 Things I Think,” was whether or not Minnesota State was for real on the heels of a six-game winning streak against the three worst teams in the WCHA. After the final weekend of the season’s first half, I’m still not sure what to make of the Mavericks.

Nebraska-Omaha salvaged a split against their nickname cousins with a 5-1 Saturday win. This snapped Minnesota State’s seven-game winning streak and allowed Omaha to retain the traveling trophy between the two teams. However, it was Minnesota State that had the more impressive win of the weekend.

In Mike Hastings’ return to Omaha, his team scored six goals on their Nebraska counterparts en route to a 6-3 road win. The Mavericks from Mankato overcame a goal in the first minute from Matt White to eventually chase John Faulkner from the net. Although Minnesota State was unable to get their fourth straight sweep, they did see UNO head coach Dean Blais counter Saturday with a lineup that featured eight defensemen.

All of that is good and could be a sign of things to come for Hastings’ team. At the same time, this weekend doesn’t answer every question. Minnesota State was going to have their hands full with a team that is second in the nation in total offense (UNO averages 3.61 goals per game) but they are at their best when they play stifling defense in front of freshman Stephon Williams. Giving up eight goals in a weekend (albeit one was an empty-netter) after a stretch where teams only scored four in six games is not that.

 

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