West Regional Preview
Offense Could Be Scarce In Minneapolis
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
MINNEAPOLIS The number two could be a big one heading into action this weekend at the West Regional at Mariucci Arena.
Two WCHA teams, neither of them the host, will play at Mariucci Arena this weekend. Two wins will get any one team to the Frozen Four.
But more importantly, the first team to get to two goals in a game should probably be considered the favorite to advance.
This weekend's action out west features three of the top goaltenders in the country, including Princeton junior Zane Kalemba, Denver sophomore Marc Cheverie and Minnesota-Duluth junior Alex Stalock.
The fourth team in the bunch, Miami, has been rotating freshmen netminders Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard all season, but neither should be overlooked: Combined, they have a goals against just over two.
Needless to say, goal scoring might be at a premium this weekend.
(4) Miami vs. (1) Denver — Friday, 4:30 p.m. CT
The top-seeded Pioneers will have a number of challenges this weekend. First, they draw the RedHawks — the third-best regular season team in the CCHA.
"Other than a little hiccup they had in January, they've been a pretty good team all year," said Denver coach George Gwozdecky.
Injuries have also been a problem down the stretch for DU, although it will get a boost with the return of center Tyler Bozak, who will play and be available in all situations this weekend for the first time since before Christmas.
"For him coming in, it's almost been like summer time, and now, here he is starting his fall season again," Gwozdecky said. "There's going to be some timing issues he has to work through and game conditioning, but he's excited. He's going to be a welcome addition to our lineup."
Bozak's return to the line-up will help offset the loss of Tyler Ruegsegger two weeks ago against Alaska-Anchorage. A knee injury will likely cost him the rest of the season, although he has been skating in practice this week with a no-contact jersey. It's possible, but unlikely, Ruegsegger will be available for power play duties this weekend.
Also among the Pioneers' walking wounded is senior defenseman and team captain J.P. Testwuide, who suffered a lower body injury last weekend at the Final Five. He will be a game-time decision Friday, but was described by Gwozdecky as "doubtful."
"That's a big loss for us on the blueline," Gwozdecky said. "He does a lot of things for us. We won't be able to fill the role he plays for us."
Miami, on the other hand, comes in rested and healthy, the former not exactly something the RedHawks are really happy about. Because Miami lost a first-round playoff series to Northern Michigan two weeks ago, the Redhawks sat out play last weekend's CCHA playoff tournament in Detroit.
"It's a new start for us," said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. "We have to put what happened behind us and focus on Denver. It was disappointing what happened a couple weeks ago, but I think our guys have put it to bed and are excited.
"Any time you make the national tournament, it's a successful season, Blasi added."
Both teams feature a deep defensive corps and a solid goaltender, although as of early in the week, Blasi said he had not decided on a starter for Friday. The two teams have not played each other since 2003-04, so all they know about one another comes from watching television and video tape.
"They're a great team and very well-coached," Blasi said. "They have great forwards, a solid d-corps with a defenseman who has scored 13 or 14 goals (Patrick Wiercioch) and Cheverie has had a great year."
Miami played four freshmen regularly on defense this year, led by All-CHN Rookie Team member Patrick Wideman (0-25—25). To be able to do that, and get this far, is exceptional.
"[Miami] has always been good defensively, and this team is no exception," Gwozdecky said. "They're very disciplined, but at the same time, they have a very good counter attack and their special teams are very strong. There is a reason they finished as high as they did in that league.
"It should be a very competitive game, I have no doubt about that whatsoever."
(3) Princeton vs. (2) Minnesota Duluth — Friday, 8 p.m. CT
Minnesota-Duluth is coming off an emotional weekend at the Final Five, where it became the first team to ever win three games en route to winning the Broadmoor Trophy.
Trying to come back the next weekend in another tough environment may be a challenge for UMD, but at least it has a recipe to follow at Mariucci this weekend. But could there be an emotional letdown?
"I don't think so," said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin. "With who we have played in our last five hockey games, I think we have learned how to win."
One would assume the Bulldogs would also have some fatigue to overcome, considering UMD hasn't spent more than three or four days in Duluth over the last two weeks. They will also be playing on short rest following three games last weekend, but Sandelin says rest won't be a problem.
"After last weekend, I think our guys would have been ready to play on Monday," Sandelin quipped.
It also helps that UMD enters the tournament healthy and with the hottest goaltender in the country in Stalock.
The South St. Paul, Minn., native enters the weekend with a shutout streak of two and a scoreless minutes streak of 133:52. Over Duluth's last 11 periods of hockey, opponents have scored just one goal. And since the playoffs began for UMD two weeks ago at Colorado College, the Bulldogs haven't trailed in a game once.
"He's been the backbone of our team all year," Sandelin said. "Our guys have a lot of confidence in him back there and I think he has a lot of confidence in the guys playing in front of him. He gives us a chance to win every night."
Overshadowed all weekend, and really over the last six weeks of the season, has been forward MacGregor Sharp, a Second Team All-CHN pick. The senior has 13 goals over the Bulldogs' last 11 games, including a hat trick in a 4-0 win over Denver in the Final Five championship game Saturday.
"He's been putting pucks in the net, but he's also been a great faceoff guy for us," Sandelin said. "He's had a great year and at the end of the year, he's played at an even higher level."
Sharp's 25 goals this season is more than anyone else in the WCHA. Perhaps more noticeable is his abscence from every All-WCHA team awarded last weekend.
"I was disappointed," Sandelin said. "But that's OK. We're happy just to still be playing."
Continuing that scoring streak could be a challenge for Sharp this weekend as he goes against the ECAC's goaltending champion in Kalemba. The junior goaltender's numbers are nothing short of remarkable — a save percentage of .935 and a goals against at 1.74.
Call him biased, but Princeton coach Guy Gadowsky says Kalemba, a Hobey finalist, is the nation's best goaltender.
"You can't argue with what Stalock is doing right now, but I think over the course of the year, absolutely, I think [Kalemba] has been the best in the country."
The Tigers won't overwhelm offensively, and don't need to if they get a typical performance from Kalemba in net. But that doesn't mean Princeton lacks quality players up front.
While the Tigers don't have the firepower the Bulldogs do in terms of goal scorers, they do have one notable similarity — both are veteran groups. The Tigers' top-five scorers this year are all either juniors or seniors.
And despite the fact Princeton lacks 40- or 50-point scorers, it does have a balanced group that is intelligent and deep. In all, 13 players have scored at least 11 points this season. None have scored more than 27.
"We are a very balanced team, both up front and on the back end," Gadowsky said. "We get a lot of offense from a number of places and a number of lines."
Princeton has never won an NCAA game, though it made it this season as an at-large team for the first time in the program's history. The Tigers set a program record for victories, despite not getting any at the ECAC tournament championship weekend in Albany.
Princeton has a strong, agile defense corps, and a hallmark under Gadowsky has been the teams discipline; the Tigers are among the least-penalized teams in the nation.