With three series sweeps, WCHA race tightens

Michael Rand

What was threatening to be an early-season runaway for North Dakota has turned into a six-team power struggle in the WCHA standings.
The Sioux still sit atop the league with a 6-2-0 record after being swept by the Gophers this weekend. But the two Minnesota wins created a three-way tie for second with Colorado College and Wisconsin, which also swept opponents this weekend.
The three teams tied for second entered the weekend six points behind UND but are now just two points back after improving their records to 5-3.
“We did our part,” Gophers coach Doug Woog said.
In addition to the top four teams, two others — Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State — are 3-2-1 and have played two fewer games than the front runners.
Wisconsin travels to Colorado College and North Dakota hosts St. Cloud State in two big series this weekend.
A little more power
Colorado College, which led the nation in power play efficiency last season by scoring on 86 of 263 chances (33 percent), may be creeping back to its old form.
The Tigers started out the season by going 0-for-10 on the power play in a split against the Gophers at Mariucci Arena. After the series was over, Colorado College coach Don Lucia said he was not worried about the unit’s lack of scoring.
After the drought reached 26 consecutive man advantages without a goal, however, there were a few more raised eyebrows.
But the Tigers have scored on seven of their last 30 chances (23.3 percent). Although that figure is nowhere near their astounding pace a year ago, it is at least respectable.
The Tigers cashed in on four of 14 opportunities in their sweep of Denver this weekend.
Youth is served
Even though Northern Michigan went 5-25-2 in the WCHA last year and is off to a 2-6 start in the league this year, it could be a dangerous team in the near future.
The Wildcats are going with a youth movement this season, relying heavily on new players. Freshmen have accounted for 14 of NMU’s 21 goals this season, including six of eight scored on the power play.
Of course, the rest of the teams in the WCHA won’t have a chance to see the Wildcats’ progress over the next few seasons. Northern Michigan, which is located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, announced before this season that it will rejoin the CCHA next year.
Injury report
Wisconsin captain Erik Raygor will undergo knee surgery this week and could be out for the season.
Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Jason Garatti, who had a season-ending knee injury at almost this exact point in the season last year, is expected to miss at least a month after breaking his hand Friday at St. Cloud State.
Backchecks
ù In addition to awarding Gophers junior Casey Hankinson offensive player of the week honors, the WCHA also recognized Badgers goalie Kirk Daubenspeck as the week’s top defensive player and Colorado College defenseman Dan Peters — a Cottage Grove, Minn., native — as the freshman of the week.
ù Jeff Sauer won his 368th game as Wisconsin’s head coach on Friday, passing Bob Johnson for most wins in the school’s history.
ù After being swept by Wisconsin this weekend, Northern Michigan is now 1-13-3 against the Badgers in the teams’ last 17 meetings.