Pair of Gophers garner weekly awards

Minnesota swept the Seawolves last weekend to earn four critical points.

Mark Remme

Two members of Minnesota’s men’s hockey team earned awards from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association this week.

Junior forward Mike Howe took home the Offensive Player of the Week after a four-point weekend against Alaska Anchorage. He had three points Friday night – his first multi-point performance of the season.

The WCHA named freshman winger Jay Barriball was named Rookie of the Week. After a scoring drought dating back to Jan. 5, Barriball notched four points over the weekend.

“It was finally good to get clicking with my line a little bit,” Barriball said Sunday. “I had been off the score sheet for a little bit, so it was good to get back on the board.”

Colorado College senior goalie Matt Zaba and Minnesota State sophomore netminder Mike Zacharias earned Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Zaba stopped 55 of 58 shots against Wisconsin in the Tigers’ sweep over the weekend, and is 4-2-1 in his past seven starts. During that stretch he has a 1.41 goals against average and a .950 save percentage.

Zacharias registered 56 saves on 59 shots against Michigan Tech, including a career-high 37 saves Friday night. In the process, he held the Huskies to just one power-play goal on 11 opportunities.

Huskies, Pioneers battle

St. Cloud State and Denver are caught in the midst of a dogfight in the WCHA’s final few weeks.

The fourth-ranked Huskies and fifth-ranked Pioneers are tied for second in the conference race with 26 points each, seven shy of front-runner Minnesota.

With St. Cloud State idle this past weekend, Denver blew a chance to take sole possession of second place against cellar-dweller Minnesota Duluth.

After a 5-2 defeat Friday night at Magness Arena in Denver, the Bulldogs responded with a 6-4 road victory – just its second WCHA win away from Duluth this season – forcing the second-place tie between the Pioneers and the Huskies.

“(The WCHA’s) 10th-place team right now is as talented as many teams not only in our conference but across the country,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said.

Gwozdecky said there is such parity within the WCHA this year that if a team from the top half of the standings isn’t on top of its game on any given night, a bottom-half team will walk away victorious.

Both St. Cloud State and Denver play this weekend, with the Huskies battling Colorado College and the Pioneers taking on Michigan Tech.

And with each passing weekend the points gain more importance.

The Huskies have a slight advantage in the conference race, as they have eight games remaining, while Denver has six.

Hunting Gophers

With a proverbial car wreck atop the WCHA standings, it won’t be an easy road for conference-leading Minnesota to win its second straight MacNaughton Cup.

The second-ranked Gophers have won an overwhelming 79 percent of their games this season, yet they might see their conference lead slip to three points this weekend during their final off-weekend of the year.

Minnesota put itself in prime position to repeat as regular-season champs with a stellar beginning to the year, and most coaches around the conference said they feel the Gophers won’t relinquish their lead.

But it’s not that easy. With four weeks to go and teams like St. Cloud State and Colorado College playing two more games than Minnesota, one slip could cause a complete shake-up in the conference standings.

“Some teams have some games in hand on us – we have the seven-point lead right now and that might dwindle this weekend,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said Sunday. “It’s just one big series after another now.”