Next three weeks key in WCHA

Lou Raguse

After Saturday’s men’s hockey game against Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth forward Marco Peluso said hearing the announcer proclaim North Dakota’s loss to Colorado College sent shivers down his spine.

After the game, Gophers coach Don Lucia commented on how the Bulldogs, with a two-point lead over the Sioux atop the WCHA, now control their own destiny.

And although Minnesota-Duluth can lock up the WCHA regular season title with a strong finish, there are several other teams that can boost their playoff seedings in some key matchups these last three weeks of the regular season.

The Gophers currently stand alone at fifth in the league – five points behind third-place Wisconsin and St. Cloud State. Those two teams face off this weekend – giving Minnesota a good chance to gain some ground when it plays Alaska-Anchorage.

However, to be successful against the Seawolves, the Gophers will have to turn around their power-play production, which was shut out by Minnesota-Duluth and WCHA defensive player of the week Isaac Reichmuth last weekend.

Lucia would just as much like to see more scoring during five-on-five play. Minnesota has 69 five-on-five goals compared to 41 on the power play.

“At this point, we have to,” Lucia said. “But it should come along more now that we get more healthy guys in the lineup.”

Gophers forward Thomas Vanek, who leads the team with 18 goals, sat out last Saturday’s game with a nagging injury, but Lucia said he should be back in the lineup this weekend.

Senior captain Grant Potulny, who has missed the last six games with a shoulder injury, has been practicing with a medical jersey on this week, and Lucia hinted that Potulny might be able to play this weekend.

Denver moving up

Denver is now tied for sixth in the league after riding a tie with North Dakota on Feb. 7 and a series sweep over Minnesota State-Mankato last weekend.

For their performances against the Mavericks, Pioneers forward Ryan Caldwell was named WCHA offensive player of the week and teammate Matt Carle was named co-rookie of the week.

Caldwell scored his first career hat trick in Saturday’s 9-7 shootout.

“He’s a very gifted offensive player,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. “We put him in a scoring position on the power play, and he was able to get a number of timely goals Saturday.”

The Pioneers still have an opportunity to earn home ice in the first round of the playoffs as they face Minnesota and in-state rival Colorado College – also in sixth – to end the season.

“Even before that happens, this weekend is going to be more important,” Gwozdecky said of Denver’s series at Michigan Tech. “If we don’t take care of business, then the other games mean nothing.”

Tech improving

Michigan Tech still holds last place in the WCHA, but has already matched its January win total of two by sweeping Alaska-Anchorage last weekend.

The Huskies beat the Seawolves 3-2 and 9-4 in Anchorage, Alaska, and freshman Taggart Desmet was named WCHA co-rookie of the week.

“It was a good road trip,” Huskies coach Jamie Russell said. “We have four of our last six at home, so hopefully we pick up a little momentum.”

Russell is a first-year head coach who altered much of the philosophy and style of Michigan Tech hockey this season. As the third head coach in three years for the Huskies, Russell is trying to build some stability for his young team.

“We changed our neutral zone, our D-zone and what we do on specialty teams,” Russell said. “We threw an awful lot at the guys, but they’ve been receptive to the change.”