Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bulldogs Keep #1 Ways; State of WCHA at Half Point

Bulldog's Unbeaten Streak Continues as Second Half of WCHA Starts

If you are expecting UMD to lose you’ll have to wait and maybe for a long time. The way the Bulldogs dispatched the Broncos of Western Michigan last weekend gives serious credence to an even longer school record unbeaten streak. The current streak stands at 16 (13-0-3).

The sweep in Kalamazoo coupled with Ohio State’s pair of ties against Bowling Green has placed UMD in the top spot of the Pairwise Rankings (PWR), the formula that mimics the NCAA selection criteria. The Bulldogs are unanimous #1 in both major polls in addition. With all those #1 rakings, it is interesting, and refreshing, that the scoring is coming from a group of many. It is the group effort in scoring coupled with tenacity of finishing games in the third period that has carried UMD to 16.

As much as Jack Connolly keeps plugging away with his Hobey-like numbers (12-21-33), it is Travis Oleksuk who is the recipient of the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week. Oleksuk is the UMD goal leader at 15 after adding two goals this past weekend in addition to two assists for a season total of 11.

And don’t forget the solid goaltending of Kenny Reiter during this current streak. Kenny’s play this weekend earned him yet another WCHA Defensive Player of the Week, his third of the season.

Why wouldn’t UMD sport two WCHA Players of the Week? They are on a tear and the rest of the conference who was in action were busy laying eggs for the most part. What has happened to the WCHA mystique? Questions were posed wondering if the WCHA might only have one NCAA entrant. That is definitely an exaggeration, but it could be as low as two.

Why? The conference did not do very well in non-conference play this past weekend most aptly punctuated by the Colorado College and Denver games.

Colorado College had a less than stellar weekend at home losing and tying against Cornell 3-1 and 1-1. Yes we did pick CC to win the WCHA and we will admit that, but more on the WCHA race below. If CC was less than stellar, Denver was painfully inept. First the disclaimer that Denver is reeling from injuries, but this last weekend was against Alabama – Huntsville (2-22-1) and should not have been a split. Word to the future opponents of Huntsville, Clarke Saunders, the Chargers goalie bound for North Dakota next year, is good and gives the team reason to believe they may be able to win. He made 41 saves Friday night in the UAH 3-2 win. The Chargers will visit Duluth January 20-21.

The State of the WCHA. Right now it really appears it is a two horse race to the MacNaughton Cup between Minnesota – Twin Cities and Minnesota – Duluth. Looking at the standings, this upcoming weekend is important if anyone else, especially North Dakota and Nebraska – Omaha, the weekend’s opponents of the frontrunners.

The interesting race to watch play out is for home ice. Right now there are three points separating 5th and 9th place. Expand that a little and eight points separate 3rd and 10th place. It is still a log jam in the middle and a weekend like this one coming where all 12 WCHA teams are in conference action might be what is needed to allow some teams to separate.

UMD at UNO preview with StatPack and full WCHA preview later this week.

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