Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
Gophers coach Don Lucia recently talked about how important the next four games are to his team. That they will decide if his team can contend for a second consecutive MacNaughton Cup.
The Gophers play at first-place St. Cloud State this coming weekend and then journey to Madison, Wis., to play the Badgers at the Kohl Center on Friday and in an outdoors game two days later at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The Badgers got off to an awful start with key injuries, a star freshman being suspended. Even one of coach Mike Eaves' assistants, Bill Butters, quit abruptly.
But Eaves has righted the sinking ship. Wisconsin had an 11-game unbeaten streak (7-04) until losing 4-1 to North Dakota on Saturday before 11,962 at The Ralph in Grand Forks.
The Badgers (11-9-6, 8-6-6) gave up a power-play goal in the first minute and another later in the opening period. UND was 2x8 on the power play, Wisconsin 0x5.
Goal-scorers for UND were Mark MacMillan, Joe Gleason and Michael Parks (two).
Here is an interesting stat: When UND took a 2-0 lead against the Badgers, it was the first time in 17 games they had trailed by two goals.
After falling behind 4-0, the Badgers finally scored on Mark Zengerle's goal.
Last weekend's meetings were the 162nd and 163rd between Wisconsin and UND. But they have agreed to play each other in nonconference games next season when UW joins the Big Ten Conference and North Dakota the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
BIG WIN FOR UND
North Dakota really needed the win on Saturday. The team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux was on a five-game winless streak (0-2-3) -- it's longest in 10 years.
Parks, obviously, had a big game for them. The sophomore forward from St. Louis, Mo., had missed 18 of the first 19 games with injuries but has five goals in 11 games since his return.
"It's very important,'' UND coach Dave Hakstol said of the getting contributions from Parks and others. "We have to get scoring throughout our lineup. That's something that hasn't happened over the last three weeks.''
UND's slide began at Mariucci last month when the Gophers beat North Dakota 5-1 and then tied UND 4-4.
North Dakota (14-8-6, 9-5-6) is tied for third in the WCHA race with the Gophers and Denver going into a road series at Nebraska Omaha. One of the games is outdoors.
Wisconsin is in sixth, but just two points behind the traffic jam in third. The Badgers play Bemidji State at the Kohl Center this weekend.
The Wisconsin men's hockey team, which is celebrating its 50th season in the modern hockey era, will wear commemorative uniforms on Feb. 17, when it faces the Gophers in the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic.
That's the outdoor game at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The alternate uniforms the Badgers will wear that game are reproductions of those worn by Wisconsin's 1931-32 team. Inside the collars are the words, "It's a great day for hockey."
Hemmed into the bottom of each is the date of the game and the teams participating, along with the game logo.
The Hockey City Classic is the third outdoor game for the Badgers in eight seasons. The Badgers defeated Ohio State 4-2 in the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic at Lambeau Field in 2006 and beat Michigan 3-2 at the Culver’s Camp Randall Hockey Classic in 2010.
This event features two matchups, Notre Dame vs. Miami (Ohio) at noon, followed by the Gophers vs. Wisconsin at 3:30 p.m.
The Hockey City Classic will be the first outdoor game in the modern era for the three other teams.
Tickets for the Hockey City Classic are on sale to the general public through Ticketmaster.com.
For more information, go to hockeycityclassic.com, Facebook.com/HockeyCityClassic or and on @HkyCityClassic.
The commemorative jersey is available at Buckyslockerroom.com.
HASTINGS THE LOBBYIST
Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings on Monday appeared before the Mankato city council, asking for improvements for the Verizon Wireless Center, where the Mavericks play.
He said the rink needs new boards and a new ice-making system. "We've got our fingers crossed this year that we can get through the end of the year," Hastings said. The Gophers play one game in Mankato on Jan. 26. It's a home-and-home series.
The complete story is here.
Hastings in his first season as coach of the Mavericks and he has them playing very well. MSU is on a 11-1-0 run.
LEAGUE OF OFFENSIVE D-MEN
When it comes to blue-line scoring, the WCHA is in a league of its down. Four of the top five teams in the nation in scoring by defensemen are from the conference.
The Division I leaders in points by defensemen:
1. Denver 68
2. Nebraska Omaha 59
3. Union 52
4. (tie) North Dakota 50
4. Colorado College 50
Source: North Dakota
And right behind those five are the Gophers with 49 points from their D, although to be fair, some of the U defensemen have played forward at times this season.
The top individual scoring D-men in the league and their national ranking in points for blue-liners:
1. (tie) Joey LaLeggia, Denver 7-11--18
1. (tie) Mike Boivin, Colorado Col. 9-9--18
3. (tie) Nate Schmidt, Gophers 3-13--16
3. (tie) Nick Jensen, SCSU 1-15--16
5. (tie) Nolan Zajac, Denver 3-2--15
5. (tie) Dave Makowski, Denver 5-10--15
Seven in other conferences also with 15.
Alabama-Huntsville on the schedule has helped a lot of teams this season.
Wisconsin is the latest. The Badgers beat the Charges 4-1 on Friday at the Kohl Center for their first series sweep this season. The win also gives UW a six-game unbeaten streak after a 1-7-2 start.
UAH (3-14-1) is an intriguing story. The Chargers, whose program was given the death sentence for a while last season, is in the midst of a brutal schedule, playing 20 of its 22 Division I opponents on the road or at neutral sites.
The Chargers' next stop is at the Mariucci Classic, where they play No. 1-rated Boston College on Dec. 29 in a special game. A BC win would put Eagles coach Jerry York at the top of the list of coaches with the most career victories.
Friday the Badgers (4-7-5, 2-5-5 WCHA) were too much for the Chargers. They lost to Wisconsin 5-0 in the first game of the series.
"I saw a few comments from their coach, he was pretty disappointed in them,” Badger Ryan Little said. “I think he got them fired up a little bit.”
UAH took a 1-0 lead in the opening period on a five-on-three power play. Michael Webley scored the goal. It was just the fourth time the Chargers had a 1-0 lead.
“I think tonight we might have tried to rush things a little bit early, maybe thinking that it was going to be a little easier to score a lot of goals like the night before,” said Badgers forward Derek Lee, according to a UW news release. “But, we re-grouped, played hard and we went back to our systems and kept it simple and it was good to get the sweep this weekend."
Lee had one of the Badgers' goals and an assist.
UAH had three other power plays, including one for five minutes in the third period, but could not score again.
Joe LaBate, the former Holy Angels forward from Eagan, scored his second goal of the season at the 2:25 mark of the middle period to tie the score at 1-1. The goal, which beat Chargers goalie John Griggs, came on a rebound.
Freshman defenseman Kevin Schulze, of White Bear Lake, became the eighth Bdgers in the last five games to score his first goal at 13:14 of the second period. It came on the backdoor and gave UW a 2-1 lead. It also was the game-winner.
Derek Lee made it 3-1 Badgers in the middle of the third period. The senior forward stole a pass by the UAH defense in the defensive zone, then went right to the net for an unassisted goal.
Brendan Woods, a the sophomore forward, later scored the Badgers' fourth goal on a two-on-one. Ryan Little and goalie Joel Rumpel each were credited with their first assists this season.
“We [gave] ourselves a real nice gift here as we get ready for the holidays,” Badgers coach Mike Eaves said.
The Gophers are off for a couple of weeks. But most WCHA teams are playing this weekend.
Wisconsin got off to a good start on Thursday, beating vagabond Alabama-Huntsville 5-0 for the Badgers' first win at the Kohl Center this season. Hard to believe.
The Badgers are playing a day earlier than other teams because the Kohl Center is being used for graduation ceremonies on Sunday morning and Saturday night is used for set-up purposes. Academics getting in the way of athletics, what a unique concept.
US is 3-7-5 overall now (2-5-5- in the WCHA).
“I think that’s the first night we’ve been able to use our sound system to the fullest,” Badgers forward Sean Little, referring to the team's new locker room.
“[We] finally [got to] celebrate a win at home,” Little said, according to a UW news release.
Freshmen forward Nic Kerdiles, a hot prospect who was suspended the first 10 games by the NCAA for amateur rules violatoins, scoring his first college goal four minutes into the game.
“I’m happy to finally get the monkey off my back, as I would call it, and finally get that goal,” Kerdiles said. “At the end of the day, I’m just excited for the way our team played tonight.”
The Badgers tied their season-high in shots on goal with 37, set a season-high for goals in a game and set a school record for fewest shots allowed in a game with nine.
The caveat there has to be that the opponent was the Chargers. An independent team that was given the death sentence last season -- several top players left -- before getting a reprieve. UAH is 3-13-1, one of the worst teams in the country. Sacred Heart (0-14-2) might be the only team worse.
UAH plays 20 of its 22 Division I opponents on the road or at neutral sites.
Kerdiles got his second goal of the season in the third period.
Junior Michael Mersch also had two goals. Little, a freshman, also got the other goal, his first of the season.
Mersch has 11 goals this season.
“We were talking about it a little bit before the game to get the fans the ice cream,” Mersch said. “A lot of guys contributed tonight, and that’s pretty big for us.”
Fans at a five-goal get free ice cream; the Gophers have a similar promotion with Culver's and yogurt.
BIG WCHA WEEKEND
Ten of the 12 WCHA teams play conference games this weekend. So the Gophers' stay all alone at second place in the conference standings won't last long.
Two teams are just one point behind them, two are two points back and one is three. If results break a certain way, the Gophers (6-3-3, 15 points) could fall to a tie for fourth place with three other teams, or they could drop as low as a tie for fifth with one team.
Here's a look at the WCHA series this weekend:
Minnesota State (9-5-2, 7-5-0) at Nebraska Omaha (10-5-1, 6-3-1): The Mavericks have won six conference games in a row. Freshman Stephon Williams has been in goal in all those games and in that stretch has a 1.00 goals-against average and a .958 save percentage. Junior forward Eriah Hayes ia on an eight-game points streak. MSU has killed 27 of 29 opponents' power plays in the past eight games and is outscoring opponents 21-12 in the third period. ... UNO split at St. Cloud State last weekend, winning 6-5 in the first game, losing 2-1 in the second. The red Mavericks are 7-0-1 on the first night of series. Junior forward Ryan Walters has eight goals and 16 assists for 24 points, one shy of his total last season. The junior class is the highest scoring in the nation with 89 points and 33 goals. Picks: Split
Colorado College (8-8-2, 5-4-1) at St. Cloud State (9-7-0, 7-5-0): After playing nine of 11 games at home, the Tigers are on the road for nine of their next 11 starting with this trip. Senior forward Rylan Schwartz (10-14-24) is tied for the WCHA scoring lead. CC is coming off a loss and a tie with the Gophers. They trailed the U 4-1 going into the third period Saturday, but rallied for a 4-4 overtime tie. Captain William Rapuzzi has scored in nine consecutive games for the Tigers. In those games, he has six goals and 16 points. ... The Huskies split with UNO last weekend. They have two of the WCHA's top scorers in Drew LeBlanc (5-16-21) and Nic Dowd (8-12-20), a senior and junior, respectively, but Huskies freshmen have scored 11 of the team's 12 goals the past four games. Kalle Kossila, a freshman from Finland, has eight goals. SCSU is 10th in the nation in scoring, averaging 3.38 goals per game; CC is second, 3.61 per game. Picks: Split.
Denver (9-5-2, 7-3-2) at Bemidji State (4-8-2, 3-7-2): The Pioneers were cruising along until they hit a bump. They are winless in their last six games. Last weekend they tied North Dakota 2-2 and then lost to UND 6-3 on Saturday at the Ralph. DU is 10-1 against BSU all-time. Denver is sixth in the nation in scoring at 3.56 goals per game, but has fallen to a tie for 24th in defense, giving up 2.62 goals per game. DU is 3-1-1 on the road. The Pioneers' line chart has 10 forwards and six defensemen. DU's blue-line corpts had 52 points, an NCAA best. ... The Beavers split at UMD last weekend, winning the second game 2-1 behind goalie Andrew Walsh's 33 saves. That win ended a three-game losing streak and gave coach Tom Serratore his 199th career victory. Jordan George (5-6-11) leads the team in scoring. BSU is being outscored 15-7 in the third period of conference games. Pick: DU wins and ties
North Dakota (8-5-3, 5-2-3) at Michigan Tech (4-8-3, 3-6-3): UND is 12-0-2 in its last 14 games against Michigan Tech. Last weekend at the Ralph, the team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux got a 2-2 tie and a 6-3 win. Senior forward Corban Knight has an 11-game poitnts streak during which he has three goals and 12 assists for 15 points. ... The Huskies are coming off 1-1 and 3-3 ties with Wisconsin. They remain pretty banged up. Last weekend five players were out with injuries and four remain questionable for this weekend. Tech is 0-7-2 when the opponent scores first. Defenseman Steven Seigo has four goals in the past seven games. Picks: UND wins and ties
Minnesota Duluth (5-8-3, 3-6-3) at Alaska Anchorage (3-7-4, 1-6-3): UMD is 15-13-6 against UAA in Alaska. Mike Seidel has 10 goals, six on the power play, and eight assists for a team-high 18 points. The freshmen have 43 points, tied for fourth in the nation. UMD has scored 19 power-play goals, only Union with 20 has scored more. The Bulldogs are 0-6-2 on the second night of series. ... The Seawolves were swept by Minnesota State last weekend, losing 3-1 and 3-0 even though goalie Chris Kamal had a season-high 37 saves the first game and 32 the second. The Seawolves have given up one or more power-play goals in each of their last seven games. Pick: Split
Wisconsin has hired Matt Walsh as an interim assistant coach, starting Friday.
He played for the Badgers from 1982-86. He was a freshman defenseman on UW's 1983 NCAA title team.
“I’ve gotten to know Matt a little bit through Wisconsin hockey," Badgers coach Mike Eaves said, according to a UW news release. "He’s been very involved in high school hockey and has coached in Wisconsin. Being an alumni, he’s got deep roots. He’s very excited about coming to this program and helping us move forward.”
Walsh has been Coach-in-Chief for USA Hockey’s Central District since 1995, meaning he runs seminars for USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program over a six-state area.
“This [hire] has been a process,” Eaves said. “It was not done overnight. We had a lot of phone calls. We had a lot of emails. We went through our entire list, scoping it down to a group and then talking in person, or via Skype or travelling somewhat and meeting with the people we thought would be serious candidates.
“I think we’ve moved diligently, but at a good pace to get this done because we can’t have this hole exist too long. We need to get another coach in here so we don’t fall behind in any of the areas we do as coaches.”
Walsh is hired through the end of April, when the position will reopen for a national search to find a permanent assistant coach. He replaces Bill Butters, who resigned abruptly earlier this month.
BADGERS SIGN THREE
Wisconsin has signed forward Grant Besse, of Plymouth, a forward for Benilde-St. Margaret's, and two other players, forward Corbin McGuire of Ridgefield, Conn., and defenseman Tim Davison of De Pere, Wis.
The 5-10, 175-pound Besse has 169 points (96 goals, 73 assists) in 75 prep games. He had 52 goals and 93 pooints as a junior in 31 games. He scored all five goals, three short-handed, in Benilde’s 5-1 victory over Hill-Murray in the championship game of the Class 2A state tournament.
"He is very skilled, sees the ice well, can shoot, handles the puck and has great vision," Badgers coach Mike Eaves said of Besse. "He’ll bring a lot of offensive tools to the shelf.”
McGuire, 5-9, 175, plays for the Jersey Hitmen of the Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL). So far in the 2012-13 season, McGuire has two goals and eight points in nine games.
Davison, 5-10, 169, plays for the Chicago Steel of the USHL. Through 10 games, Davison has two goals and three points.
SCSU ON TV
Comcast will air 11 St. Cloud State hockey games in the Twin Cities later this season. They will be Cable channels 13 (St. Paul area) and 23 (Minneapolis area).
Dec. 14 - vs. Colorado College - 7 p.m.
Dec. 15 - vs. Colorado College, 6:30 p.m.
Dec. 27 - vs. RPI, 6:30 p.m.
Dec. 28 - vs. RPI, 6:30 p.m.
Jan. 4 - vs. Northern Michigan, 7 p.m.
Jan. 18 - vs. Denver, 7 p.m.
Jan. 19 - vs. Denver, 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 8 - vs. Minnesota, 7 p.m.
Feb. 9 - vs. Minnesota, 6:30 p.m.
Mar. 1 - vs. Michigan Tech, 7 p.m.
Mar. 2 - vs. Michigan Tech, 6:30 p.m.
* UMD center Tony Cameranesi, who like teammate Mike Seidel will bring a five-game scoring streak into this weekend’s series with St. Cloud State, currently is tied for third in points among all NCAA rookies (4-6-10). The Toronto Maple Leafs draftee has taken the second most shots (3.70) of any WCHA newcomer. North Dakota’s Rocco Grimaldi is averaging the most, 3.80, among conference freshmen.
* Denver sophomore Joey LaLeggia is the top scoring defenseman in the nation (5-7-12). The Pioneers (9-1) are getting a lot of offensive production from their blue line.
* WCHA teams are 21-15-3 in nonconference games, a .577 winning percentage. They are 3-4-0 vs Hockey East, 3-2-1 vs ECAC Hockey, 7-9-0 vs the CCHA, 5-0-1 vs Atlantic Hockey and 3-0-1 vs independend Alabama Huntsville.
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