Rival WCHA schools seeing ice action

Lou Raguse

Minnesota’s men’s hockey team went back to work Friday after holding four days of captain’s practice. The Gophers practiced extra hard Friday and Saturday, simulating what normally would be game time for the team.

“One of the things we wanted to do was just get the tempo back,” coach Don Lucia said. “We are trying to get back to that game pace.”

While Minnesota had its segment break last week with no games over the weekend, the rest of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association made impacts in college hockey.

Minnesota’s top WCHA competition in the national polls thus far has been North Dakota. The Sioux were ranked third in the last poll, jumping ahead of the Gophers, who fell from the top spot to No. 4.

North Dakota’s record is 2-1 after splitting its weekend series against No. 1 Boston College.

“They are a quality team and are very deserving of their No. 1 ranking,” Sioux assistant coach Dave Hakstol said. “To come out of it with a split is OK for our hockey team.”

North Dakota returns forward Zach Parise, one of the WCHA’s top players and a Hobey Baker finalist in 2003. Parise was selected 17th overall in last summer’s NHL draft by the New Jersey Devils.

This week the Sioux skated into their segment break, where the players may hold captain’s practice, but coaches are not allowed on the ice. North Dakota does not play this weekend.

“I don’t know if there is ever a good time to take a week off,” Hakstol said. “But it’s working out OK because we have a number of guys who are dinged up and can take advantage of the week to get healthy.”

After the third week of hockey play, the WCHA still holds its place as one of the most competitive leagues in college hockey. Besides Minnesota and North Dakota, four other teams are either ranked or receive votes nationally.

“It sounds like a broken record over the past few years, but the level of parity and competitiveness across the league is tremendous,” Hakstol said.

SCSU starts strong

St. Cloud State opened its WCHA schedule last weekend against Wisconsin and came out of the series with a sweep and a four-point lead atop the league.

The Huskies lost three of their top four scorers from last year and 15 total players in the last two years, prompting WCHA coaches to pick St. Cloud State eighth in the preseason league poll.

“With the amount of good teams in this league, I really don’t blame them for picking us that low even though we’ve made the NCAA four straight seasons,” Huskies coach Craig Dahl said.

Like Minnesota, the Huskies are going into their third game of the season this Friday, although they opened the season with an exhibition game.

Anchorage breaks streak

Alaska-Anchorage finished last season with only one victory. The Seawolves were winless in the WCHA.

This season, however, the Seawolves not only ended their 35-game winless streak but have already tripled last season’s win total.

Anchorage’s only win last year came in its season opener against Alaska-Fairbanks. The Seawolves split the series with Fairbanks this season, then won the Nye Frontier Classic last weekend with wins over Air Force and UMass-Lowell.

Alaska-Anchorage does not play this weekend and opens its WCHA schedule against

Minnesota-Duluth the following weekend.