CC, Denver vie for bragging rights

Tim Nichols

If one WCHA series this weekend had to be labeled the “games of the week,” Colorado College-Denver would definitely be near the top of the list.
The undefeated Tigers are red hot after dismantling a previously hot Minnesota team; 7-1 and 6-1. The Pioneers (5-1-0, 3-1-0) have been playing solid hockey all season, with the exception of their home split with St. Cloud State over the weekend.
This promises to be a very emotional series, with state bragging rights on the line. But Colorado College coach Don Lucia said it’s just another weekend in the WCHA.
“These aren’t four-point games, they’re two,” Lucia said. “I’m not quite sure that it’s as big a rivalry as Minnesota-Wisconsin.”
Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky has a much different opinion of the series than his counterpart. The Tigers would like to be very businesslike in their approach, but Denver is hoping for a highly emotional series.
“I think emotion plays a very big part in this series, positively and negatively,” Gwozdecky said. “Positively, it can help a team that is not ranked as high be victorious. On the negative end, if you are too emotionally involved it can lead to problems in positional discipline and penalty problems.”
The Denver coach said the Tigers probably won’t bother with emotion, however, because they have an abundance of talent.
“I think Colorado College is the kind of team that has a wealth of talent,” Gwozdecky said. “On paper, they might be the most talented team in the country.”
“They have a very talented class built around the Swanson boys (Brian and Scott, no relation). I don’t know if any team — Minnesota or Denver — can match up evenly with them.”
Minnesota was clearly unable to compete man-for-man with the Tigers’ stacked roster last weekend. Colorado College exploited the inexperience and lack of speed in the Gophers’ defensemen and killed them in transition.
Don’t expect the game plan to change this weekend.
“We don’t really change our style at all,” Lucia said. “We want to play our style. They have big defensemen, we want to test their mobility.”
If Denver’s defensemen can’t take the heat, it could be another easy weekend for Lucia’s Colorado College squad.
The litmus test for the Pioneers, as it was for Minnesota, will be how Denver can handle the transition style of hockey that Colorado College likes to play.
“You can’t allow them into their transition game,” Gwozdecky said. “The majority of their scoring opportunities came off the rush, in the transitions game.”
He then chuckled and said, “But saying it and doing it are two different things.”

Bucky’s back on track
One of the teams that has struggled in the conference has been Wisconsin (3-4-0, 3-3-0). But with a sweep at always-hostile Minnesota-Duluth, and lowly Alaska-Anchorage coming to the Kohl Center, things seem to be looking up for the Badgers.
“We’ve been playing well,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer said. “We just finally started scoring goals. I think we got back on track.”
The problem with Wisconsin thus far has been its inability to put the puck in the net. The Badgers have averaged 2.33 goals per game so far. Alaska-Anchorage won’t help matters much as the Seawolves boast one of the stingiest defenses in the league, and one of the top goaltenders in senior Doug Teskey.
“We play Alaska, then go out to Denver,” Sauer said. “Hopefully we can win three out of the four.
“I was disappointed with the Minnesota weekend, we played well but didn’t score. We haven’t stopped the problem scoring-wise, but we’ve got a good chance to win a couple this week.”
Slapshots
ù Colorado College has five of the top six scorers in conference games. Denver’s senior winger James Patterson is the only non-Tiger in the bunch.
ù Colorado College senior Brian Swanson was named U.S. College Hockey Online’s Division I player of the week. Swanson, currently has eight goals and six assists to lead the conference.
ù If there is a chink in No. 1 North Dakota’s armor it is in the penalty category. The Sioux currently lead the conference in penalties with 170 minutes, averaging out to 42.50 minutes per game. Remember, though, a good majority of those penalties came in North Dakota’s thug-fest against Minnesota-Duluth on Oct. 31, when the Sioux collected 124 minutes in penalties and had five players ejected.