Three Things I Think, January 16: WCHA

Posted by: Nate Wells

For the second time in two weeks a head coach lambasted WCHA officials. Whether it’s Dave Shyiak, who played college hockey in the WCHA at Northern Michigan in addition to coaching, an outsider like Cornell’s Mike Schafer or whoever speaks their mind next week, this seems to be picking up. I don’t know if it’s because this is the final year before college realignment takes place or the line between protecting player safety and letting them play grows smaller, but it seems like officials have become more of a scapegoat this season from people other than fans.

After the break, this week’s “3 Things” discusses the growth of Johnny nicknames in sports, Nebraska-Omaha’s troubles in Denver and my thoughts on the Minnesota-North Dakota series.

Johnny ____ nicknames have jumped the shark

The Wisconsin Badgers, once left for dead, extended their unbeaten streak to ten this weekend against Minnesota State. They did more than return the favor on the Mavericks, who swept Wisconsin in Madison back in November, with a pair of exciting games* that ended the same. Two overtime classics, two overtime winners by John Ramage.

Credit to the Badgers captain for being clutch, but can we stop the “Johnny Overtime” nickname that popped up this weekend before it fully takes over? After giving Johnny Manziel a nickname that sounds like a legendary cartoon character with “Johnny Football” and Johnny Gaudreau getting the hockey version of it from Boston College fans, it’s getting to the point where “Johnny _____” nicknames are spreading like wildfire. Not all nicknames are created equally; today’s “Johnny Overtime” is tomorrow’s “Johnny Benchwarmer.”

I understand Wisconsin winning in overtime is a rarity – the Badgers hadn’t (stats) – and John Ramage was only the third UW player in history to score two OT winners in a single weekend. His accomplishment this weekend will be remembered by Badger fans longer than any nickname.

*I’d be remiss to mention that Minnesota State’s Stephon Williams spent time in the penalty box Friday. Yes, the goalie. That’s how crazy things were down in Mankato.

Nebraska-Omaha may wish they had more wins in Denver than you and I at the end of the season

One of the great things with the WCHA’s two newest teams, Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha, only having 3 seasons of conference play under them is that the few times makes for fun nuggets from a stats perspective. While other programs like Minnesota-Duluth and Michigan Tech have played each other over 200 times, the Mavericks just hit double digits this weekend for trips to Denver.

Unfortunately they’re still looking for their first win.

Despite Josh Archibald continuing to find the net, Nebraska-Omaha took one point in two games and are now 0-8-2 on the road against the Pioneers. It’s a big two points for Denver, who got three points from freshman Quentin Shore, and brings their solid non-conference play back into the WCHA following an eight-game winless streak. More importantly they have a leg up on the Mavericks in the tight race for the MacNaughton. Both teams are tied with 20 points, one more than North Dakota and Minnesota (who each have two games in hand), and first and eighth are separated by four points. Having that separation (as well as a win and tie over another bubble team in the Pairwise) will help Denver at the end of the season.

Minnesota vs. North Dakota one last time…until next time

This weekend features the last WCHA regular season series between Minnesota and North Dakota, which for my money is the best rivalry in college hockey. Obviously that’s subjective – I’m sure there are people reading this right now who disagree – but as someone who has grown up enjoying and looking forward to this series, it represents everything that I like about the sport.

Boston has four teams playing for a Beanpot, Colorado fights over a Gold Pan and the state of Michigan battles over the GLI.  Minnesota and North Dakota don’t need to fight for a trophy when bragging rights will do.

(And make no mistake, the key word is fight. Last year’s series in Grand Forks ended with Gopher forward Kyle Rau and UND’s Ben Blood beginning the second line brawl in recent years.)

Unfortunately the side effect of North Dakota’s nickname battle and full non-conference schedules mean that this is the last time the two schools will play each other in the regular season until 2016-2017. The Gophers will head to the Big Ten and the team-formerly-known-as-the-Fighting-Sioux is one of the charter NCHC members. Both coaches have mentioned getting the series resumed at the “first available opportunity,” though.

As big as the rivalry – my favorite college hockey rivalry – is, I’ll be okay until then. Yes, losing this series temporarily is the biggest stumbling block in realignment for both North Dakota and the Gophers. But I’m also happy to see the number of non-conference games increase and more chances for trips out East. A common complaint for Minnesota given the low number of NC series they had between the Mariucci Classic and the old College Hockey Showcase is that they never travel to Hockey East country.

Having that variety while keeping the important in-state rivalries will be nice, even if it’s not the historical bloodbath fans, players and everyone involved look forward to with Minnesota-North Dakota.

I’d like to think the couple years off will only intensify the rivalry (or even better, making any potential playoff game that much better). Looking at articles some of the articles and opinions that have come out on both sides, I have no doubt it will.

Until the next last time…

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