Surprising St. Cloud leading WCHA pack

Aaron Kirscht

Although St. Cloud State was picked to finish seventh in the WHCA this season, its league-leading performance so far is for real. The Huskies, ranked No. 7 in the nation, are 10-1-1 since Nov. 1, including an 8-1 mark on the road.
Senior goaltender Brian Leitza is largely responsible for St. Cloud State’s success, compiling a stunning 11-1-1 WCHA record with a goals-against average just a shade over two per game.
Leitza was the only WCHA player to appear on a preliminary ballot for the Hobey Baker Award — given annually to college hockey’s top player — released by U.S. College Hockey Online last week.
In the Huskies’ sweep over the Gophers on Dec. 19-20, he stopped 73 of 75 shots, holding Minnesota to one goal in each game. In his last five games, including the Minnesota series, he’s made 162 saves on 170 shots.
“I guess it’s your job,” Leitza said of shutting down the Gophers.
The Huskies have a so-so schedule down the stretch, with series against Minnesota-Duluth (currently tied for sixth), Denver (last) and Michigan Tech (fifth). But St. Cloud also has rematches with North Dakota (third), with which it split last month, Colorado College (fourth) and Wisconsin (second).
Sweet and Sauer
Wisconsin and Denver were the only WCHA teams to play a league series this weekend, and the Badgers put their opportunity to good use.
With a 5-2, 7-3 sweep at Denver, Wisconsin leapfrogged North Dakota (which twice baked CCHA-member Western Michigan) to take over second place behind St. Cloud.
The Badgers (12-6 overall, 9-3 in the WCHA) are now five points behind St. Cloud State (12-4-2, 11-2-1), which has led the league for the better part of the season.
The sweep also sent Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer to the top of another list — the WCHA’s all-time winningest coaches. He now has 557 wins, two more than the late John MacInnes, who coached Michigan Tech from 1956-82.
“Guys like MacInnes and John Mariucci (Gophers coach from 1952-55 and 1956-66) were good friends,” Sauer said earlier this season. “It’s kind of fun to be a coach at this time and to have the ties back to that era and those coaches. It’s been fun because I’ve spanned through different eras.”

Oh, my achin’ …
There’s an old adage about finishing head and shoulders above the rest. This season, the Gophers have been a head, shoulder, elbow, hand and knee behind.
The Gophers’ nasty string of injuries continued this weekend, when forward Cory Miller aggravated an injury to his right knee on Friday against Mankato State. He underwent surgery Tuesday and will be sidelined for up to a month, which could make him available for the home series with Wisconsin Feb. 6-7.
He joins defensemen Bill Kohn (concussion), Ben Clymer (shoulder), Jason Godbout (elbow) and forward Ryan Kraft (hand) on the list of Minnesota players to miss extended time this season.
Kohn is expected to return Jan. 16 against Denver, and Kraft may return by then as well, but Godbout won’t return until next month and Clymer is out for the season.
Movin’ on up
In the U.S. College Hockey Online poll released Tuesday, Boston University (12-2-2) received nine first place votes to retain a narrow hold on the national top spot, with North Dakota (12-3-1) only three points behind.
St. Cloud State, which leads the Sioux in the WCHA, is ranked No. 7. The real question, however, is which one of the 30 USCHO poll voters gave the Gophers (7-13) a vote?