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  • One Week In, Growing Pains for College Hockey



    That's a decent number: it's probably pretty close to Auston Matthews ' October goal total (joking), Nate Prosser 's career points total (not joking), and the amount of unfunny hockey tweets I made this week.

    This past weekend it was the number of penalties the Wisconsin Badgers and the Northern Michigan Wildcats combined for. That's a lot of power play time, especially for a Badgers team that was used to spending more time on the PK than on the PP last season.

    There's no rivalry between the schools -- at least no obvious one -- that should have caused so much penalization. What really produced so many man advantages was a change in NCAA enforcement. Earlier this summer, the NCAA met and discussed with its officials the need to crack down on obstruction. If you missed that announcement, I don't blame you, because I did, too. But others didn't, despite the low-key way in which the NCAA stated their intent.

    What it's meant is that the Badgers, a team whose only recourse against better and more skilled opponents last season was to put a stick, hip, or grasping hand to them, are now facing a major obstacle to their Tony Granato-promised return to respectability. They went 1-1-0 with the Wildcats this past weekend, giving up 8 goals and putting as many in.

    The impressive (in a terrible way) is just how they did it. The Badgers allowed as many shorthanded goals as they did power play goals, demonstrating that the Badgers are still very much a work in progress. They're not comfortable on the power play and it shows in their overcommitment on the man advantage. They leave opportunities for their opponents to get back in games, and that will burn them harshly against better teams. Which, speaking of better teams, the Badgers are playing Boston College this weekend. Tony Granato and co. will have a lot on their plate this weekend, but the way to test the mettle of a new team is to expose it to adversity. No better way than against a team like the Eagles.

    The change in enforcement that caused the Badgers to spend so much time in the box this weekend will be a huge story to watch around the NCAA this year to see if teams adapt or if the NCAA becomes a special teams-only league.

    Elsewhere, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks returned to the ice against Canisius and looked like...well, like North Dakota. They were top heavy, as they were last year, but not to the same extent. Against Canisius, their top line produced a bucket of points, but they got secondary scoring from Austin Poganski and Rhett Gardner, which may be a sign that they'll roll a scarier group for the rest of the year.

    Despite the fact that the Fighting Hawks were overwhelming favorites against Canisius, they still managed to impress. Their defense ate up opportunities and Cam Johnson stopped the rest. Their offense generated turnovers and played tic-tac-toe around the ice en route to a 6-0 win to open the weekend.

    As for your Minnesota Gophers, they're undefeated, tallying 12 goals in two games to drop Alaska Fairbanks. It was a relief to see the Gophers score at such a typically-Minnesota pace, especially after a summer of question marks about leadership. Hudson Fasching is now a

    , and I have to stop calling him a Gopher. Kyle Rau is now a...Thunderbird?...yikes. And other mainstays of the past few years, the Gophers squads who were able to play to easy tournament bids and deep runs, are gone.

    What the Gophers ended up with this season seems to be a surprisingly-competent core of players like Justin Kloos and Tyler Sheehy. Eric Schierhorn looked steady in goal and has a good amount of fire for the game. These are all the types of qualities that allow teams to surprise you down the stretch. It's early in the season, but that should be good and welcome news for fans of the maroon and gold.

    This weekend, the Gophers take on the US U-18 team in a no-win scenario. I know these teams are typically good developmental teams, but should the Gophers win, they're only doing what's expected. If they lose, they lost to a group of kids. Tough break, schedule-maker.

    Elsewhere around the midwest, Bemidji State surprised many by downing the coaches-poll favorite to win the WCHA -- Bowling Green. They allowed only 2 goals and scored 6, with strong production from a revitalized defense. The Minnesota State Mavericks also took out Michigan Tech, scoring 7 goals in 2 games and allowing only 1. The only team in the midwest without a win this past weekend is the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. They're 2-0-2, but should be in better shape when Riley Tufte makes his NCAA debut soon for the Bulldogs.

    All told, the season is off to a great start, with new blood and old favorites returning to a prominent place in NCAA hockey.

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