Kessel likely to decide this week

The top 2006 NHL Draft prospect could decide on a school as early as today.

Ben Goessling

The Phil Kessel saga appears to finally be nearing its end.

All indications point to the U.S. National Under-18 Team forward choosing a college this week. Scott Monaghan, USA National Team Development Program operations director, said an announcement could come as soon as today or Wednesday, and Kessel’s mother, Kathy Kessel, said the decision should come this week.

Phil Kessel, a Verona, Wis., native, is projected by most scouting services as the top U.S.-born player eligible for the 2006 NHL Draft.

He is publicly considering Boston University, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and it is believed Minnesota and Wisconsin are the top two contenders for his services.

Rankings looking up

After Minnesota’s men’s hockey team swept St. Cloud State during the weekend and recorded its first win at Mariucci Arena in four weeks, the Gophers received a substantial bump in both the national polls and PairWise Rankings.

Minnesota moved up three spots to ninth in the U.S. College Hockey Online Poll and jumped into a tie for fourth with Cornell in the PairWise – a system that mimics the NCAA Tournament selection process.

Minnesota currently has the tiebreaker with Cornell, meaning it is in good shape for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Gophers also have an outside shot at third place in the WCHA standings. They can take the spot from Wisconsin if they sweep Michigan Tech this weekend and Wisconsin earns one or no points at Minnesota-Duluth.

Johnson passes first test

After assuming the starting role when goaltender Kellen Briggs broke a bone in the pinky finger of his left hand, Justin Johnson got off to a solid start during the weekend against St. Cloud State.

He made 35 saves in Friday’s 5-4 win and stopped 23 shots during a 4-1 victory Saturday, earning a nomination for WCHA defensive player of the week.

Johnson, whose career has included two failed attempts to win the starting job, said last week that he wanted to make sure he had his teammates’ confidence.

But the senior said he isn’t completely satisfied in that regard yet.

“I did a little bit (to get their confidence), but I’m not finished yet,” he said. “I’ve got to bear down more. I had a couple mental lapses. But you have to be happy with it. We got the win, and when you put your head on the pillow, that’s all that matters.”

Lucia feels for Dahl

With St. Cloud State lingering in ninth place in the WCHA standings and on the verge of missing the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight year, some Huskies fans are calling for the firing of coach Craig Dahl.

Gophers coach Don Lucia hasn’t been in Dahl’s shoes but nonetheless said the Huskies’ fans must have more patience.

“It’s the unfortunate times we live in,” he said. “Everybody wants you to win every year, and they don’t realize that this league is so good, if you lose good players, you’re not going to win all the time.”

Clash in the Rockies

When Minnesota State-Mankato forced a split with Denver during the weekend, it set up a winner-take-all showdown between Denver and Colorado College this week.

The two teams are tied for first place in the WCHA entering the last week of the regular season and split their first home-and-home series, meaning one team will have to take three points in this week’s home-and-home to win the MacNaughton Cup outright.

The series starts Thursday night at Colorado College before moving Friday to Denver.