Sioux hockey says, We are the champions’

by Michael Rand

Although the playing of the song “We are the Champions” at Ralph Engelstad Arena following North Dakota’s 6-2 win on Saturday against Minnesota may have been a bit premature, the Sioux are definitely the favorites to win the WCHA following this weekend’s sweep.
Three teams — Minnesota, Colorado College and Wisconsin — are only three points behind UND, but the Sioux have a favorable schedule for the remaining eight league games.
North Dakota plays Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan and Alaska-Anchorage — teams with a combined WCHA record of 14-50-8 — before finishing the season against Denver.
Because of UND’s soft remaining schedule, the Gophers went into their series with the Sioux thinking that they needed a sweep to have a shot at the league title. Minnesota players weren’t conceding the title after Saturday’s loss, but they were in tune with reality.
“You heard them playing `We are the Champions,'” Gophers co-captain Casey Hankinson said. “That’s what they played like this weekend.”
Of the teams within striking distance, Minnesota and St. Cloud State have the easiest schedules. But both of those teams still have some tough games left and must essentially win the rest of their games.
Colorado College, which has won the last three WCHA titles, has series with Wisconsin, Denver, Minnesota and Alaska-Anchorage left, with five of those eight games coming on the road.
If North Dakota wins the WCHA championship, it would be the school’s first league title since 1987. In that season, the Sioux went 40-8 and defeated Michigan State 5-3 to win the NCAA championship.
No bull — just the dog
The situation was looking pretty good for Minnesota-Duluth in the middle of January. The Bulldogs had just beaten Colorado College on the road and appeared headed for an upper-half finish in the WCHA.
Since then, however, the Bulldogs have gone a chilly 0-3-1. In that span, the team was swept at home by Wisconsin and earned just one point on the road against lowly Michigan Tech. The Huskies snapped a school-record 19-game winless streak against UMD last weekend.
Now, instead of sitting comfortably in third or fourth place, the Bulldogs are way down in seventh, four points below sixth-place Denver. With series remaining against Denver, Minnesota and St. Cloud State, there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight.
UMD’s problem lately is coming from its opponents’ goaltenders. During the Bulldogs’ four-game slide, they have taken 167 shots but have scored only eight goals. Goalies Kirk Daubenspeck (Wisconsin) and Luciano Caravaggio (Michigan Tech) were named WCHA Defensive Players of the Week in succession after series with the Bulldogs.
ù Gophers goalie Steve DeBus dropped from second to seventh in league in goals against average after giving up 12 goals in the North Dakota series.
ù Alaska-Anchorage, which entered the season with a 25-game winless streak in WCHA road contests, is 4-7-3 away from home this year in league play.
ù Denver, which hosts UND in the final weekend of the season, is 7-0-3 in its last 10 home games.