No. 20 WVU hockey hosts No. 2 Delaware

The No. 20 West Virginia club hockey team plays host to No. 2 Delaware Friday and Saturday at the Morgantown Municipal Rink in huge home contests with thick storylines. WVU second-year head coach Dan Mardis will match wits against former WVU head coach Josh Brandwene, who took the Delaware head coaching job in 1996-97, when Mardis was an incoming freshman player.

Friday's game will start at 9:30 p.m. Saturday's contest slated for 4:30 p.m.

Brandwene led WVU to a single-season best 20 wins in 1995-96. The Mountaineers won 18 games his first year, 1994-95. Mardis went 6-22-2 in a major rebuilding effort his first season. That came after the Blue and Gold registered a 19-13-4 mark in 1999-2000.

The fifth-year Delaware head coach still runs the open offensive system he installed at West Virginia. That's a contrast with Mardis' defensive coaching style focusing on solid forechecking and defenders that can move the puck up ice.

"I know most of what he wants to do," Mardis said. "But I am mainly focusing on us. We'll have a few new looks to counter what he does, though, because they are speedy. Teams like that, in the upper echelon, are always quick. They can move the puck, and they will get shots."

West Virginia will likely counter with a zone defense, as the Mountaineers don't match-up well man-to-man. WVU needs to force cross ice passes and outman Delaware in the neutral zone to force scoring chances.

Mardis' results have been mixed thus far. West Virginia has won 10 of 12 games allowing four goals or less, a realistic offensive output for the solid offensive squad.

"One goal is enough to win a hockey game," he said. "We're getting six and letting up seven. We can't win like that."

Mardis is working with one recruiting class and two years' experience. Brandwene, conversely, has had a two full classes come through Delaware, which has a better recruiting base because players must pay less in fees than WVU -- whose players fork out $1,200 per season.

"The difference isn't so much coaching as it is money," Mardis said. "It's tough to sell a program when it costs so much to play."

The contest is key for WVU (12-12-1), which needs a solid showing versus the Blue Hens (15-3-1) to impress voters enough to move into one of the top 12 slots for a bid to the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) National Tournament.

The ACHA is one step down from NCAA hockey, played by Boston College, Michigan and Michigan State, among others. Penn State, Kentucky, Maryland, Syracuse and Pitt field ACHA Division I teams, along with West Coast schools like Arizona, Arizona State and others.

"It's a highly competitive league," Mardis said.

The Mountaineers, who left the Eastern Collegiate Hockey League last season and now play as an independent, won 12 of their first 20 games but lost their last five to the Who's Who of the ACHA.

West Virginia, 204-167-22 since it began play in 1988-89, was 9-6-1 in late November, then sandwiched a road loss to Towson between two lopsided wins at Pitt (6-3 and 11-0) and a 2-0 victory at Maryland.

No. 7 Ohio snapped the streak with 7-1 and 5-0 wins, and No. 1 Penn State -- winners of three of the last four ACHA national titles -- beat WVU 12-0 and 9-1. The Mountaineers are 0-23-1 all-time versus PSU.

West Virginia lost its last game, the 12th consecutive on the road, 6-5 to Indiana (Pa.) on Jan. 13.

Freshman goaltender Jon Natonick, disqualified from a game earlier this season for fighting, will start versus U of D. He has a 9-4 record with an 89.7 save percentage and a 3.88 goals against average. Those numbers are good, especially with WVU's offense averaging more than four goals per game.

His ability to keep the Blue Hens out of the net early will be key.

Mardis will start Dustin Koufman, an alternate captain, and Pat Cook on the first defensive line. Ryan Conlon and Jeff Reich will man the second line. They will have their hands full with a quick Delaware line that puckhandles well and can score from anywhere.

Center Adam Blaine leads a small but quick first line. Blaine has 10 goals and 25 assists and is plus-10. Wings Brian Cherwinski and Dan Collins have tallied 24 and 39 points, respectively.

The second line shows Chad Davis at center with G.R. Smith and Ed Gardner.

Good tickets, available at the 500-seat Morgantown Municipal Rink, remain for both games. The second game is slated for 4:30 p.m. Saturday. WVU's hockey website can be reached at

WVU's next homestand will be against Duquesne and Towson on Feb. 8 and 9, respectively. The Mountaineers play at Delaware Feb. 15 and 16 to end the season.

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