Michigan Tech swept North Dakota in Grand Forks last weekend. No, that's not a typo. Not only has Michigan Tech been playing well, but North Dakota has really struggled. They've now lost 7 of their last 8 games, including four in a row at home. They currently sit tied for 7th place in the WCHA with 11 points in 14 points, and are only one point out of 9th place.
After making it to the Frozen Four in the past two seasons, the chances of even making it back to the NCAA tournament aren't looking good. Not only are the Sioux on the outside-looking-in for the tournament, they're not even listed as a team under consideration according to the Pairwise Rankings. Of course their schedule in the second half of the season is tough enough that if they string together a bunch of wins, and get their overall record back to respectable-looking, there's a chance they could sneak into the tournament.
So why haven't the Sioux been successful when everyone expected them to be competing at the top of the WCHA? North Dakota beat writer Brad Schlossman had a couple interesting theories when I talked to him this weekend. First, he pointed out that lower line forwards Rylan Kaip, Chris Vandevelde, Mike Forney, and Erik Fabian have not scored a single goal all season. They don't need a ton of production from those lower lines, but they certainly need more than they're getting.
He also pointed out that this is the first time in years that the Sioux haven't had an impact freshman in the lineup. Chay Genoway has been a pleasant surprise, especially on the powerplay, but not really making a big impact. Mike Forney was the highest regarded freshman in this class, but he is still very raw. It's important to remember that Forney played high school football last fall, then Class A high school hockey, and then suffered an injury last summer which kept him out for a little while. That probably slowed down his development quite a bit. Chris Vandevelde is a solid player, but will also probably take a few years before he becomes a dominant player.
And then there's the issue of Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie not performing as they were expected to. I think a big part of that is because the Sioux are missing Travis Zajac and Drew Stafford more than people expected. Toews and Oshie are now drawing most of the attention from opposing teams, and are facing top defensive units from opposing teams. It's similar to the stagnation Matt Christie and Marty Guerin suffered between their freshmen and sophomore season, after Derek Edwardson, Jeff Hogeboom, and Mike Kompon left.