The race for an early season lead in the WCHA is a dead heat, as Minnesota, Colorado College and North Dakota sit atop the league with 7-3 records nearly one-third of the way into the league schedule.
Minnesota-Duluth, at 5-2-1 is just three points behind the leaders and has played two fewer games. Wisconsin (5-5) and St. Cloud State (4-3-1) are also in the running. Just five points separate the league’s top six teams.
That represents a fundamental change from the last couple of seasons, when a three- or four-team race developed fairly early on — with Colorado College usually leading the way.
The logjam at the top this season is a refreshing change of pace from the perspective of Gophers players who have chased the Tigers a few times without catching them. Colorado College started 9-1 in 1994-95 and 7-0-3 last season.
“Colorado College has obviously had some great teams. You don’t want to worry about them, but you almost have to,” said Gophers senior Dan Hendrickson. “It’s kind of nice. I can’t remember the last time we were on top.”
Junior Ryan Kraft remembered; it was after Minnesota’s 6-0 start two years ago.
“It gets frustrating,” Kraft said of always looking up in the standings. “But we have to take care of our own business. It’s just like the old cliche: Anyone can get to the top. It takes a good team to stay there.”
Scoring down in WCHA
It’s still early in the season, but scoring in the league is down by a fairly substantial margin from last season.
WCHA teams averaged 3.66 goals per game last season and 3.84 two years ago. But so far this season, teams are averaging just 3.30 goals a game.
It could be because several of last year’s top scorers graduated while many of the league’s top goalies from last season are still playing. Ten of the top 18 scorers in the WCHA last season were seniors, compared to just three of the top 15 goalies.
Hendrickson refutes that theory, however.
“Good scorers come into the league every year,” he said. “I think that the big difference is that defense has become more important in all sports. It’s happening in basketball, and I’ve noticed it in the WCHA.”
Hendrickson also offered one more explanation: “It could just be a fluke.”
Minnesota goaltender Steve DeBus still has inflammation in his left rotator cuff and will miss this weekend’s series at Northern Michigan, said Gophers trainer Bob Broxterman on Tuesday.
“It’s frustrating,” DeBus said. “It’s not healing like I thought it would. But if I can’t play at 100 percent, I can’t help my teammates.”
DeBus, who practiced on Tuesday, is 60 to 80 percent healed. If he continues to show progress, he should be ready to play in next weekend’s College Hockey Showcase in Detroit, Broxterman said.
Forward Brent Godbout will also miss the Northern Michigan series because of a hip pointer. Forward Mike Anderson has a ligament sprain in his wrist but is probable for this weekend’s series.
ù The Gophers are ranked No. 3 in the most recent WMEB Radio Media Poll, an improvement of one place from last week. Colorado College (5) and North Dakota (8) are the other ranked WCHA teams.
ù The NCAA recently restored the eligibility of Alaska-Anchorage center David Vallieres, who was declared ineligible on Nov. 7 by school officials for appearing in a promotional video.
ù Wisconsin is 0-5 when trailing after one period and 5-0 when leading or tied after the first period this season.