Rich get richer in WCHA weekend

Austin Cumblad

 

While a battered Minnesota team took a week off, Western Collegiate Hockey Association marched on with five conference series that suggested college hockeyâÄôs most competitive league is becoming increasingly stratified into a quartet of elite teams, a couple bottom-dwellers and a muddled middle.

And like any good hierarchy, the top four beat up on the rest over the weekend, combining to go 7-0-1. Top-ranked Minnesota Duluth, No. 8 North Dakota and No. 13 Denver swept, and No. 4 Nebraska Omaha took three points from St. Cloud State. Omaha is still unbeaten in its first year in the WCHA.

Meanwhile, Alaska Anchorage got its first league win of the season against Bemidji State but lost the next night to remain at the bottom of the standings with Michigan Tech.

Michigan Tech (3-4-2 overall, 1-4-1 WCHA) at No. 1 Minnesota Duluth (9-1-2, 6-1-1)

The Bulldogs entered the weekend ranked No. 2 in the country, but a sweep of the Huskies vaulted them above Boston University in the polls. UMD is 6-0-0 at home, its best start at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center since the 1995-96 season.

But the DECCâÄôs days are numbered. On Dec. 30, the Bulldogs move to their new home at $80 million Amsoil Arena. The grand opening will feature UMD and North Dakota in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

The transition leaves only one more series at the DECC for the Bulldogs, against Denver on Dec. 3 and 4. One has to believe that an already bittersweet moment will be even more difficult if UMD manages to compile an 8-0-0 record at the place it has called home since 1966 immediately before moving to a shiny new arena.

No. 8 North Dakota (7-4-1, 6-2-0) at No. 15 Wisconsin (6-4-2, 3-3-2)

The Badgers are three points outside the WCHAâÄôs top four, but the gap seemed much larger when the Fighting Sioux came to the Kohl Center and dished Wisconsin its first two home losses of the season, 1-0 and 4-2.

Not only was it the first time the Badgers were shut out this year, it was also the first time they failed to score fewer than two goals. North DakotaâÄôs Aaron Dell needed to make only 16 saves in his first shutout of the year.

Then on Saturday, bookended the SiouxâÄôs four-goal night with his team-leading ninth and 10th goals. Again Dell faced 16 shots and turned away 14. With the sweep, North Dakota moved to second place in the WCHA.

No. 4 Nebraska Omaha (8-1-1, 5-0-1) at St. Cloud State (4-6-2, 2-3-1)

When UNO showed up at Mariucci Arena on Oct. 15 for its first-ever WCHA series and promptly swept the Gophers, the obvious question was: How good are the Mavericks?

The answer thus far has been emphatic: pretty darn good.

The Mavericks remain the only unbeaten team in the league after taking three points from the Huskies with a 3-0 win and a 4-4 tie. They also moved up to 4th in both major national polls, the highest ranking in program history.

How high can UNO go? We should learn quickly, North Dakota comes to Omaha next week.

Minnesota State (2-6-4, 2-6-2) at No. 15 Denver (6-4-2, 5-2-1)

Denver needed a late power play goal Friday to eke out a 3-2 win, but jumped out early Saturday and pulled away for a 6-1 drubbing.

Pioneers senior Anthony Maiani passed the century mark for career points with his first two goals and eighth assist of the season Saturday.

In other Denver news, senior Jesse Martin, who suffered three fractures to the C2 vertebrae on his neck against North Dakota on Oct. 30, returned to Colorado on Monday after spending the past two weeks recovering in the Twin Cities. He underwent successful surgery Nov. 8 and has since walked; what long-term damage âÄî if any âÄî he suffered is still unkown.

Alaska Anchorage (2-6-2, 1-4-1) at Bemidji State (2-5-1, 2-5-1)

The Seawolves earned their first conference win against the Beavers âÄî 5-4 Friday night âÄî then Bemidji State answered back Saturday with its first-ever win âÄî 4-0 âÄî at the newly christened Bemidji Regional Event Center.

It also happened to be the Beavers first shutout of 2010-11 thanks to Mathieu DugasâÄô 16-save night.