Monday, October 20, 2014

What We Learned: Weekend Oct. 17-19

Some Items We Learned form the Weekend's Games

Most Mondays we will post what we learned from the Bulldogs exploits, NCHC action, and all other NCAA hockey games.  Sometimes we will mix in other items learned to help prove points.
  • The whole game does count.  
Friday night saw the Bulldogs start slow with some sketchy goaltending just like the Friday before against the Gophers.  Digging a 2-0 deficit at the end of one period and trailing at one point 4-1, UMD decided to come out and play.  This time, unlike the previous Friday, the Bulldogs completed the comeback.  But the result was the same, a loss, as MSUM scored in the extra time to take the win.   
As a side note, we also learned that every second counts at the end too as the Vikings demonstrated in their last second loss in Buffalo.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Bulldogs to Complete First of Two Home-and-Home Series

Now Non-Conference Opponents, MSUM and UMD Square Off

The season is early and the Bulldogs are still trying to answer questions.  Good to look for answers now than after the NCHC schedule starts.

Questions to be answered:

  • How are the goalies going to spilt time and who is first?
McNeely has lots to prove still even after a stellar game last Sunday during his 3-0 shutout.  Kaskisuo did have a shaky start, but did settle in, along with the rest of the Bulldogs, to give the Gophers a good challenge the second half of the game last Friday in UMD's 4-3 loss.
  • Will UMD protect home ice this year?
A 5-10-3 record at home last season was terrible.  A contender for anything other than basement of the conference has to do better than that.  On the flip side, an 11-6-1 record away from AMSOIL kept UMD in the top half of the NCHC which gave them home ice.  Bad news was home ice equalled being swept out of the playoffs at home.
The home-and-home series should be interesting also.  It is the first of two this season with UMTC being the second.  Let the debate start, home first or second night.  They get both situations, but for now it will be home first.

StatPack will start next week when conference play starts up and we have some decent data to share.

Picks by @afiskness.  The results of last weeks games brought a few surprises to NCHC teams.  First who would have thought that the Beavers would not only beat North Dakota but make it a rout.  Second, high ranked teams did not fare well in all of college hockey.  The opening period of the Bulldogs and Gophers game was troubling, but I was happy to see the team begin to settle in a little and play good by the end of the game.

This Week Picks
Nebraska Omaha @ Western Michigan:  Both teams are unranked in this matchup at the Lawson Ice Arena and both are coming off splits.  This will be the first NCHC league games for both teams.  I don't see why I would chose anything other than a split at this point in the season, so it will be a split.

North Dakota @ Colorado College:  The unranked Tigers host the #3 North Dakota Men's Hockey team for the teams first NCHC games this season.  The Tigers played well enough to hold onto wins after blowing a 2 goal and a 3 goal lead against the Chargers.  North Dakota should be a better team then Alabama Huntsville, but they didn't look that way on Friday night.  I will go with a North Dakota win and tie. 

Minnesota State Mankato vs. Minnesota Duluth:  Last week both teams split their games playing on the road, although the Bulldogs faced better competition.  The Mavericks are ranks #12th and Bulldogs are now ranked #20 in this home and home series.  These games will likely come down to goaltending for both teams.  I expect to see the Bulldogs continue with a goalie rotation and I am guessing McNeely gets the Friday nod.  I am going to pick a split.

Miami vs. Ohio State:  This series will be a home and home between the #11 Redhawks and the #17 Buckeyes.  The previous weekend both teams split their games.  The Buckeye split with the highly ranked Friars while the Redhawks split with the unranked Falcons.  This series will be another split. 

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute @ Denver:  The #16 Pioneers host the unranked Engineers.  This should be a great couple of games.  The Pioneers have had difficulty the last couple seasons with ECAC teams and the Engineers look to be a contender this season.  I will pick a split. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

UMD Season Starts Tonight Against #1

Bulldogs Face Familiar Foe Gophers on Neutral Ice

It is that time of year again, leaves are falling, it's getting cooler, college hockey is starting, and UMTC Gophers are ranked at or near the top in polls.  It just so happens the Bulldogs get that #1 Gopher team as their first opponent of the season and the first round of the Ice Breaker Tournament in South Bend, IN.

Nothing is for certain at this time of year and speculation abounds.  The Gophers should be a good if not great team this year.  This first game is a good bellwether test for the 2014-15 Bulldog team.

NCHC Speculation and Predictions.

Waiting for the exhibitions to play out we have finalized speculation and prediction for the final standings of the NCHC for its second season.

Last year was a mess at the end with three of four road teams moving to the Frozen Faceoff with Denver and Miami, two teams needing the auto bid for NCAA entry, playing for the championship.  Was it parody?  Is there complacency among teams already locking into the NCAA Tournament?  Good questions, but not for now.  Now is the time for predictions.

This year there appears to be three top teams, three bottom teams, and two left in the middle.  The there on top: Miami, North Dakota, and Saint Cloud State.  The bottom three: Colorado College, Omaha, and Western Michigan.  The two left in the middle: Denver and Minnesota Duluth.

Overall prediction:
  1. North Dakota
  2. Miami
  3. Saint Cloud State
  4. Denver
  5. Minnesota Duluth
  6. Western Michigan
  7. Colorado College
  8. Omaha
Picks by @afiskness.

The season is about to be on us and like every year I am saying hockey already?  I am looking forward to an exciting Bulldog season.  I hope they can find some solid play between the pipes which should be coupled with a solid blue line.  This Bulldog team has some potential to surprise people as I think they will have very balanced scoring.  Hopefully for Bulldog fans it is a season that goes to the end of March.

Ice Breaker Tournament
Minnesota Duluth vs. Minnesota Twin Cities:  These longtime rivals meet in an usual setting in the shadow of football Jesus.  The Gophers are the preseason #1 and the Bulldogs come in receiving votes.  The question for UMD this season is goaltending which will be very important in this game and tournament.  It is a 1 pm Friday game which will have both teams body clocks all messed up, or least so we hear.  I will pick the Gophers to Win. 

Minnesota Duluth vs. RPI or Notre Dame:  I will pick the remaining tournament games and see how close I get overall.  In the second game (on Sunday afternoon) the Bulldogs will play the Engineers out of Troy, New York and win.  The championship game will be a tie between the Gophers and Notre Dame. 

Miami vs. Bowling Green (home/home):  The #11 Redhawks are looking to erase last years season from their memories.  The Falcons (receiving votes) should be a pretty good team in the WCHA, but I think the Redhawks scoring will re-emerge and find the back of the net.  Miami sweep.

Western Michigan at Canisius:  The Broncos (receiving votes) travel to Buffalo, New York to take on the Golden Griffins (not ranked) at the Harbor Center.  The Griffins have been a pretty good team the last couple of season in Atlantic Hockey and will be ready to put up a good fight.  The Broncos had some key player losses since last year and will need to find some scoring.  No difference in ice size here for these teams, but will the body clocks of the Broncos be affected?  I will go with a split for Western Michigan.

Minnesota State University Mankato @ Nebraska Omaha:  The purple Mavericks go to Omaha and the Century Link Center ranked 13th in the nation to play the red Mavericks who are receiving votes.  The Dean Blais led squad is full of young talent but will they be able to hold the Minnesota State University Mankato scoring down.  I am going with a Minnesota State University Mankato win and a tie. 
 
Bemidji State vs. North Dakota (home/home):  The Beavers will have their hand full in this home and home with the #2 North Dakota Men's Hockey team.  North Dakota will continue to have the Beavers number as they roll to a sweep.

Colgate @ St. Cloud State:  This is likely to be the best series of the weekend.  The Raiders go to The National Sport Center as the #6 team in the nation to take on the #7 Huskies.  Will the travel and the big ice make for a tough showing by the Radiers?  I pick a split. 

Alabama Huntsville at Colorado College: The unranked Chargers travel to Colorado Springs to take on the now Mike Haviland coached Tigers at the World Arena.  Both teams are picked to be last in their conferences, but everyone wants to see how the Tigers play with a new coaching staff.  So the questions will be will the travel and the big ice make for a tough showing by the Chargers.  The answer is yes. Tigers get the much needed early sweep. 

I bring up the travel, body clock and ice size a lot in my picks.  I say it is all just excuses, but we always hear players saying this stuff.  Check the quotes after this weekend and see what shakes out. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Questions Still Abound

Tight Win Over Lakehead 4-2 Shows Room for Improvement

On the night of the Bulldog's first game, an exhibition against Lakehead University of Canada, leads right into the season just four days later.  A strong showing would be preferred, but a lackluster last minute (1:35 to be exact) escape is the game we got.

From the get go of the new season all eyes were on the net minder.  Would McNeely finally take the reigns and be the main guy as we thought when he arrived?  Or would freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo emerge as the dominant force.  The first indication of the current situation did not take long as Lakehead buried their first shot of the night beating McNeely 0:42 into the contest.  Not the start anyone hoped for.

Maybe just as concerning was the lack of scoring throughout the game.  UMD did not find the back of the Thunderwolves net until 6:03 into the second period as Brett Boehm scored with helpers from Austin Farley and Carson Soucy.  The tie would be short lived as UMD would go into the second intermission again trailing, now 2-1, after McNeely yielded a goal midway through the second.

UMD did held a decisive shots on goal edge throughout the game ending with a 61-21 edge.  But it wasn't until very late in the third period that the Bulldogs took their first lead before the 4-2 final.  third period goals for UMD were tallied by Farley, Justin Crandall, and Alex Iafallo.

On the horizon is the Ice Breaker Tournament held in South Bend and hosted by Notre Dame where UMD will face a tough test against the Gophers Friday afternoon.  A definite challenge for a team that has many challenges.  UMTC is coming off of their exhibition opener, a 5-0 win over visiting Northern Alberta.

The game Friday starts at 1:05pm CDT and can streamed for free along with all other tournament games.

Around the NCHC.
Rough start in Omaha for the Mavs.  Not only do they lose their exhibition game against the same Northern Alberta who lost to the Gophers 5-0, but the Mavs were shutout 4-0.

The only other loss in NCHC exhibition play was Miami being shutout 3-0 by the visiting US U18 Developmental squad.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Quick Thoughts on Bulldog Season Preview

Goaltending is the Key

There are always challenges and questions leading into the college hockey season.  This year all eyes will be on the goalie position in Duluth.

Matt McNeely was brought in over others that we just should not talk about because it is too painful.  He was the supposed answer to the departure of hardworking, very successful Kenny Reiter to be the backstop of a team coming off a national championship in the near past.  What McNeely has given is drama and questions about who should be the guy to man the net.

Coming into the new season there is freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo from Finland.  Kaskisuo is given a full chance to prove that he is the number one and push McNeely for playing time.

With the first real action of the season upon us with the exhibition game tomorrow, we now know that Kaskisuo and McNeely will split time in the warm up to the games that count.  Those games that count are closer than most years seeing that the exhibition against Lakehead is Monday and the non-conference games start the following Friday.

Friday, March 28, 2014

2014 NCAA Tournament Outlook

Our Writers Weigh-in with Their Predictions and an Upset Special

It is that time of year to look at the 16 teams vying for the one win at the end of the NCAA Hockey Tournament.

The NCHC has three entrants: Saint Cloud State, North Dakota, and Denver.  We do not think that the trio will fair well, or at least not well enough to make the Frozen Four.

The writers here have posted their picks for the Frozen Four with the bonus of an impartial coin flip pick.

The Coin “chose” Boston College, Quinnipiac, Ferris State, and Minnesota.  Maybe the best picks I have seen so far?

Anyway, Andrew Craig (@CollegeHockeyHH) has posted the picks of:
  • Boston College beating UMass-Lowell
  • Providence beating Union
  • Ferris State beating North Dakota
  • Minnesota beating Notre Dame

Our resident prognosticator Andy Fiskness (@afiakness) has posted the following:
  • Boston College defeating UMass-Lowell
  • Union defeating Providence
  • Ferris State defeating Wisconsin
  • Minnesota defeating Saint Cloud State

Upset special: Denver beating Boston College in the first round.  Sam Brittain can carry the Pioneers.  If he is on his game, the Eagles are prime for an early exit from the tournament.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Quick Thoughts on the First NCHC Season

Wild Finish in the Playoffs will be Lasting Memory

The league was turned upside down more than once over the season.

The consensus league favorite Miami ended up on the bottom of the league when the regular season ended.  But it was the Redhawks who pulled the series upset at first place Saint Cloud State moving on to shutting out North Dakota in the first round of the Frozen Faceoff.  It wasn’t until Denver and the championship game that Miami’s run ended in a 4-3 loss.

And it wasn’t just Miami making turn arounds.  Denver was not pegged to be sixth in the league standings, but that did not stop them from grabbing the NCHC auto-bid.  The auto-bid was the only way the Pioneers were to get into the NCAA Tournament.

Speaking of the NCAA Tourney, the NCHC ended up with three teams.  Not necessarily surprising looking at the teams in the league.  But the way things shook out, especially the poor non-conference records by many of the league teams, it is still surprising that three make it.  But the result is North Dakota is seeded #13 and Denver #15 in the 16 team field.  For that matter, Saint Cloud is #9.
Successful?  Yes, for the number of teams in the tourney, but the “super conference” theory proof looks more towards many teams beating each other up for a regular season.  The NCAA tourney seedings is evidence of that.

Frozen Faceoff

In short, the league survived the absence of two of the three near-by schools, Saint Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth, while putting on a good show and getting pretty good attendance.  The Target Center still has room to improve as a hockey venue, but much was learned over the weekend and changes are already in the works for next year.