Badgers say best hockey is yet to come

Aaron Kirscht

While North Dakota was busy beating up on Mankato State, Wisconsin kept up with its winning ways over the weekend. The Badgers swept Alaska-Anchorage, winning 2-1 and 3-1, to take over sole possession of first place in the WCHA.
Wisconsin is unbeaten in its last 13 games (12-0-1) — the nation’s longest streak without a loss — but Badgers freshman Kevin Granato said the fun has only just begun.
“We haven’t even played our best hockey yet,” he said.
That doesn’t bode well for the Gophers, who are coming off a sweep by Michigan Tech and reeling from a series of injuries and lackluster performances.
As usual, Wisconsin (19-6-1 overall, 14-3-1 in the WCHA) is solid in goal. The only difference is that the backup is making all the saves. Freshman Graham Melanson is off to an 8-0 start, the best ever for a rookie backstop at Wisconsin.
Badgers coach Jeff Sauer said earlier this season that he hoped to use Melanson only in situations where he could ease into the job, but an injury to regular starter Mike Valley forced Melanson between the pipes.
“I think (Sauer) kind of has a little agenda for me,” Melanson said. “I’m just trying to show him that I’m ready and maybe he’ll move it up a little bit.”
It doesn’t seem as if Sauer could make a bad decision either way. Melanson has given up four goals in his last four starts, and Valley has given up more than three goals in only three of his 18 starts.
But Melanson is likely to start against Minnesota. Valley was held out of the Alaska-Anchorage series with a sore knee, and that could limit him again this weekend.
Troubled Watters
The mystery of what exactly happened in the hallway of a Houghton, Mich. hotel Saturday between Gophers coach Doug Woog and Michigan Tech forward Andre Savage remains unsolved.
Woog said he overheard Savage telling two teammates, in “a happy tone,” that he thought he rebroke Casey Hankinson’s thumb in the series opener on Friday. Woog then confronted Savage, telling him he didn’t appreciate the comments.
Attempts to contact Huskies coach Tim Watters on Monday proved unsuccessful, but the coach returned the calls on Tuesday and left a message indicating that he felt his team was being misrepresented in the Twin Cities media.
When contacted and asked to elaborate, Watters said he didn’t want to comment because “it’s not good for the league, it’s not good for anybody.” He did, however, explain his version of the Woog-Savage encounter.
“I looked into it, and I know exactly what happened,” Watters said, “and it wasn’t what Doug said.”
Watters said that during the play in question, Savage pushed off Hankinson as he was trying to “get away” from him, and as he did, Hankinson appeared as though his hand hurt. The coach denied that Savage or the other two players said anything about what might happen to Hankinson in the game that evening.
When asked if the number of stick-chops at Hankinson’s hand were intentional — as Hankinson said on Monday they were — Watters said only, “Absolutely not.”
ù A sweep over the Gophers — which, judging by the respective performances by both teams of late, is a distinct possibility — would give Wisconsin the longest unbeaten streak in school history, tie the longest win streak (nine games) and give Jeff Sauer his 400th victory as Badgers coach.
ù Savage (offensive), Melanson (defensive) and Michigan Tech’s Clint Way (rookie) were named the Players of the Week in the WCHA.
–Various sources were used in compiling this notebook