MD unlikely to return favor over weekend

Aaron Kirscht

The Gophers men’s hockey team did North Dakota a big favor last weekend by sweeping Wisconsin and knocking it out of first place.
But the Sioux aren’t likely to return that favor and allow themselves to be swept by the upstart Gophers. Regardless of the outcome, however, the Minnesota-North Dakota series will be the highlight of the beginning of the stretch run to the postseason.
The coming theatrics were set up by Minnesota’s sweep of the Badgers and North Dakota’s first-ever sweep at Alaska-Anchorage. That’s a surprising revelation, considering the Sioux’s recent run of dominance in the WCHA, but the Seawolves are notorious for playing their puck-control game to near-perfection at home.
Then again, North Dakota goaltender Karl Goehring is even closer to perfection this season. The freshman from Apple Valley, Minn., is the top-ranked goalie in the WCHA, sporting a slick 15-1-1 record and a goals-against average of 1.67.
Home is where the Cup is
Although a whupping at the hands of the Bulldogs probably had them second-guessing, Michigan Tech officials ended months of speculation by announcing that they will remain in the WCHA instead of transferring back to the CCHA.
The Huskies had considered moving to the CCHA to take better advantage of natural rivalries with Northern Michigan, Michigan and Michigan State, all current members of the CCHA.
Northern Michigan defected to the CCHA after last season, leaving the WCHA with only nine teams. That hole is expected to be filled soon by Mankato State.
Michigan Tech was a member of the CCHA for three seasons in the early ’80s before returning to the WCHA for the 1984-85 season.
“We came to the realization in the final analysis of the league issue that while there are advantages in some areas to seeking application to the CCHA, they don’t outweigh all the positives of the WCHA,” Michigan Tech athletic director Rick Yeo said last week.
Michigan Tech’s decision to stick with the WCHA means the McNaughton Cup, given annually to the conference regular season champion, will remain in the WCHA as well. The Cup is officially the property of the Huskies, and would likely have made the cross-over to the CCHA as it did during Michigan Tech’s prior foray over to the dark side.
ù While the Sioux were able to defend Alaska-Anchorage into submission, Minnesota-Duluth earned a sweep of its own by pummeling Michigan Tech with an offensive barrage.
The Bulldogs’ victories also served another purpose: shedding more light on the Gophers’ season-long bout with inconsistency. Minnesota-Duluth was swept by Minnesota two weeks ago, but then the Gophers were swept by Michigan Tech. Say again?
ù Minnesota-Duluth’s Mike Peluso was named WCHA Offensive Player of the Week for his three-goal, three-assist performance. Peluso would also be a candidate for national player of the month, if such an award existed. He has recorded 15 of his team-leading 32 points in the last six games.
ù Eight current WCHA players, including the Gophers’ Stuart Senden (No. 242, 9th round), were projected to be picked in this year’s 19-year-old amateur draft, according to a report in a recent issue of The Hockey News.
The players, with their possible draft position in parentheses, is as follows: Colorado College defenseman Paul Manning (33, 2nd) and forwards Toby Petersen (44, 2nd) and Justin Morrison (46, 2nd); North Dakota defenseman Mike Commodore (184, 7th); Denver forward Mark Rycroft (203, 8th) and defenseman Joe Ritson (229, 9th).
ù Five WCHA alumni, including three former Wisconsin players, will participate in the Winter Olympics. One-time Badgers Mike Richter (goalie), Chris Chelios (defenseman) and Gary Suter (defenseman) will play for Team USA, as will ex-Minnesota-Duluth standout Brett Hull (forward). Former Wisconsin goaltender Curtis Joseph will be between the pipes for Team Canada.