St. Cloud, UND to meet in showdown

Aaron Kirscht

It’s too early to talk about March Madness, but maybe January gee-whiz! would be more appropriate.
The race for the McNaughton Cup — given to the winner of the WCHA regular season championship — is underway, and it looks to be a memorable one.
St. Cloud State had been in first place all season, but after being swept at Minnesota-Duluth last weekend, the Huskies (14-6-2 overall, 11-4-1 in the WCHA) gave North Dakota the inside track. The Sioux (16-3-1, 12-3-1) swept Michigan Tech to turn a deficit into two points of breathing room.
Fifth-place Minnesota-Duluth, which plays at Minnesota this weekend, positively beat up on the Huskies, winning both games by a combined score of 12-4. St. Cloud State is now 0-5-1 in its last six game in Duluth.
Two sophomores helped pace the Bulldogs: Colin Anderson, who had a hat trick and two assists the first night, and Jeff Scissons, who scored six points in the series.
North Dakota, meanwhile, seems to be pulling away from the pack, posting a 13-1 record since Nov. 15 and scoring nearly 4.5 goals per game.
The bulk of the credit for the Sioux’s success goes to freshman goaltender Karl Goehring. The Apple Valley, Minn., native is the top-rated goaltender in the WCHA, posting a 10-1-1 overall record.
Goehring was one of the top goaltending recruits in Minnesota out of high school, but picked North Dakota over Minnesota after the Sioux whipped the Gophers in Grand Forks last season, a debacle he witnessed firsthand.
(There’s no word on whether Sioux coach Dean Blais is considering trade offers from Minnesota).
As good as it gets
The Huskies’ Brian Leitza trails Goehring in the goalie ranking and the WCHA standings, but both will have their talents on display this weekend at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
The Sioux-Huskies series might prove the most pivotal of the season. A North Dakota sweep could allow the Sioux to coast to the postseason, but a St. Cloud double-dip would give it back the lead and possibly the upper hand in NCAA seeding.
The two teams first met Dec. 12-13 at North Dakota, with the series ending in a split. The Sioux eked out a 2-1 win in the opener, but St. Cloud State got its revenge as five different Huskies scored in a 5-2 win.
That was the worst loss of the season for North Dakota, which hasn’t lost (8-0) since. St. Cloud State is 5-2 in that stretch.
Don’t forget about us
A series between the league’s third- and fourth-place teams, Wisconsin and Colorado College will be the debut for the Colorado Springs World Arena, a 7,700-seat, $55.3 million facility.
The World Arena will feature an Olympic-sized ice sheet (200 by 100 feet), joining Mariucci Arena, the National Hockey Center and Sullivan Arena (Anchorage, Ala.) as the only WCHA barns with the big sheet. The Tigers are leaving behind the Air Force Army Cadet Fieldhouse (and its 2,900 seats).
ù North Dakota received 26 of 30 first-place votes in the U.S. College Hockey Online Poll to retain the top national ranking. Wisconsin is ranked No. 8, and St. Cloud State rounds out the top 10.
ù Minnesota-Duluth’s Scissons, defenseman Curtis Doell and Colorado College defenseman Paul Manning were named WCHA offensive, defensive and rookie players of the week, respectively.