Opinion corner: WCHA refs draw heatWCHA officials are undergoing some scrutiny this week. Somewhat of a stir was created around the college hockey world by Cornell coach Mike Schafer a week ago after his Big Red were swept at Denver by 5-1 and 2-1 scores. To say that Schafer was disgusted by the officiating of the WCHA crew would be an understatement. He clearly thought DU got the better of the calls, and finished his tirade by saying it would be a good long time before he would bring his team out west again.
By: Mark Schuttenhelm For The Sun, The Jamestown Sun
WCHA officials are undergoing some scrutiny this week.
Somewhat of a stir was created around the college hockey world by Cornell coach Mike Schafer a week ago after his Big Red were swept at Denver by 5-1 and 2-1 scores. To say that Schafer was disgusted by the officiating of the WCHA crew would be an understatement. He clearly thought DU got the better of the calls, and finished his tirade by saying it would be a good long time before he would bring his team out west again.
Notre Dame was also unhappy with the officiating in last Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Gophers. This has to be taken with a grain of salt, as Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson and the whole Fighting Irish organization are notorious crybabies when it comes to officiating. That being said, I did think Minnesota got the better of the calls in that game.
As a result of these complaints, an informal study of eight recent non-conference games played at WCHA rinks, featuring quality opponents, was done, which showed 2 penalty minutes were assessed to the visitor for every 1 minute assessed to the home team. As it stands now, nonconference games are officiated by a crew from the home teams’ conference. Schafer wants neutral officials doing nonconference games in the future.
On another front, some observers are questioning whether WCHA officials are favoring the big programs in the conference over the small ones. Since most of the big programs are bailing on the WCHA after the season, this one sounds unlikely to me. Still, the questionable 5-minute major handed out to Alaska-Anchorage with 4 minutes left on Friday, giving the Gophers, down 3-2 at the time, a power play for the remainder of the game, did nothing to quell that speculation. We’ve seen quick whistles, slow whistles, no whistles, lots of long discussions, and plenty of inconsistency in penalty calls in our conference this season. However, I’m not prepared to try and make a case that anything sinister is going on here.
It wasn’t a great weekend for North Dakota hockey.
I must admit I was apprehensive about this series with Colorado College. The Tigers entered the weekend mired in a 1-9-2 slump. However, CC is playing one of the most brutal schedules I’ve seen in years, and they’re a better team than the record indicates. Colorado College has now played 17 games against currently ranked teams, including 14 in a row.
For comparison sake, UND has played eight, Minnesota just six. So I didn’t expect CC to be a pushover, and they weren’t. As is usually the case with UND though, it was UND’s own level of play that dictated the weekends’ results. If North Dakota came out and played motivated, solid hockey for 120 minutes, there’s little doubt a UND sweep would have resulted. Maybe the team was looking ahead to next week’s big match up with Minnesota.
Whatever the case, UND never held a lead in Friday’s game, falling behind early when Clarke Saunders let a softie get by him. Even though North Dakota came from behind three times, including a highlight reel goal by Mark MacMillan early in the third, the 4-3 loss was not one of their better efforts.
Coach Dave Hakstol really shook things up on Saturday, changing all the forward line combos, moving Joe Gleason from defense up to right wing, dressing Andrew Panzarella as the sixth defenseman, and starting Zane Gothberg in goal. Even with all that, UND came out and sleep walked thru the first period, falling behind 2-1 while being outshot 12-4. North Dakota dominated the second period though, scoring twice and outshooting CC 15-1. The Tigers tied it early in the third, but fourth-line left winger Dan Senkbeil, in the middle of a line change, knocked home a Danny Kristo rebound for the game winner. An empty netter sealed the win.
Senkbeil has been in the lineup on the fourth line for 10 games now, and is an extremely hard worker. Kristo, who led the way on the weekend with three goals and two assists, once again stepped up when the team needed one badly. UND will head to Mariucci Arena to face Minnesota in a much awaited series beginning Friday. If they don’t bring their best effort for a full six periods against a very talented Gopher team, it will be a very long weekend.
Looking at a few stats, Corban Knight and Kristo are predictably leading the forwards in plus/minus, at plus-16 and plus-13, respectively. Nick Mattson leads UND defensemen with a plus-10 rating. Knight is winning about 59 percent of his face offs. The power play is converting at 21 percent, while the penalty kill is stopping them 82 percent of the time.
Around the WCHA
Minnesota-Duluth won a pair of one goal games at home vs. Michigan Tech. Duluth is definitely a tough team to figure out this year. … Minnesota took a pair at home over last place Alaska-Anchorage. … Wisconsin slowed down streaking Minnesota State with a pair of overtime wins in Mankato. As bad as the Badgers were in their first 10 games, they’ve been just as good in their last 10, going 7-0-3 to get back over .500 for the season. Wisconsin started slowly last season also, but by playoff time, nobody in the WCHA wanted to face them in the first round. … In Denver, goalie Juho Olkinuora faced 88 shots and helped DU stay unbeaten since Christmas, as the Pioneers secured a 7-4 win and a 3-3 tie vs. Nebraska-Omaha. … The race for the regular season title in the WCHA is shaping up to be a beauty, and seven teams are now within three points of the lead shared by Nebraska-Omaha and Denver. Next week, we’ll take a look at some top individual performers in the conference and roll out my updated WCHA Power Rankings.
Hockey East summary
Hockey East featured a good old fashioned home and home heavyweight battle last weekend, starring Boston College and New Hampshire. BC won handily at home Friday night 5-2, but New Hampshire showed they could play with the big boys on Saturday, outplaying and outshooting BC to take a 2-1 win. Boston University coughed up a 5-2 lead, eventually losing in OT to Harvard, but salvaged the week with a 4-1 win at Merrimack. UMass-Lowell has quietly put together a seven-game winning streak to get back in the national rankings after a very slow start.
ECAC week in review
In the ECAC, Quinnipiac extended their national-best unbeaten streak to 16 games with a tie vs. RPI followed by a stunning 3-2 come from behind win over Union. The Bobcats entered the third period trailing Union 2-0 and staring at a 4 1/2-minute penalty kill. Quinnipiac killed the penalties, including 3 minutes of 5-on -3, and scored three goals in a 7-minute span to keep their streak alive.
There isn’t too much activity in the national poll this week, with Notre Dame and Minnesota State being the big movers, both dropping three spots. Wisconsin, just outside the top 20, has No. 8 Miami coming to Madison for a pair this weekend.
Finally, my ‘Frozen Dozen’ for this week, the best 12 teams in the country, in my humble opinion: 1-New Hampshire, 2-Boston College, 3-Quinnipiac, 4-Minnesota, 5-Notre Dame, 6-Denver, 7-North Dakota, 8-Boston University, 9-Miami, 10-Western Michigan, 11-Yale, 12-Nebraska-Omaha.
Mark Schuttenhelm’s column on college hockey runs each Thursday in the Sun