Monday, December 27, 2010

Halfway to MacNaughton

We are at the midpoint of the WCHA season, or close enough to it. 10 of the 12 teams have played 14 games with SCSU and MTU with 12 league games played. The top and bottom already have a stark contrast, and the top is highly contested with the leader changing over the past few weekends. The Standings can be found here.

Taking a look at the first half we have found some, alright, many interesting developments from the WCHA.

The unexpected success stories of the year include the CC Tigers and UNO Mavericks. Both teams weren’t supposed to be on the top half of the standings, but are making big splashes in the new WCHA, which also “just got tougher.” We pick the Mavs as the biggest surprise.

Powered by solid goaltending by John Faulkner, UNO is in contention for first place in the league with a 12-5-1 record. Faulkner has started every game this season for the Mavericks totaling 1045:43 minutes, third in the nation, and a 0.915 saves percent. Maybe the goaltending was what some expected, but the accompanying scoring was not. Tied for 10th in the nation for total offense, Maverick players Terry Broadhurst, Matt Ambroz and Tyler Martin all are averaging more than one point per game.

The team under the direction of Dean Blais has been very competitive sweeping UMTC in Minneapolis and splitting a hard fought series against UND. They also did lay an egg in being swept by fellow first year WCHA team Bemidji State. It will be interesting to see if UNO can continue competing in the WCHA for the whole season.

The biggest disappointments thus far are Saint Cloud State and Michigan Tech. MTU wasn’t really supposed to be really good, but the wheels have really come off the wagon in Houghton. For that reason we pick SCSU.

After finally winning their first NCAA D-I Tourney game, expectations were it may be a reloading year, but not a total rebuilding year that this year seems to be. The goaltending from the Huskies duo has been exposed. Some point to a depleted defensive corps, but they have three seniors and two juniors on the blueline. Maybe they aren’t the best, but they have experience.

Scoring for SCSU dropped off, but much more than expected. Yes they lost key scorers in Latsch and Raboin, but the players left behind were also key players in last year’s run. It is still to be determined where Roe, LeBlanc, Festler and Marvin are.

The Huskies are 5-11-2 with a dismal home record of 2-6-2 and look forward to the addition of sophomore scorer David Eddy to return from academic ineligibility to start the new year.

Regular WCHA play returns in earnest January 14, 2011.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blizzard Weekend One Best Moved Beyond

Gophers Snow Under Bulldogs 3-2 and 2-2 OT

After a weekend of snow and more snow coupled with illness and immobilization, the HighHorse is back at full strength, that’s debatable.

The weekend was a carnival for winter enthusiasts, and a disappointment for the Bulldog hockey team. Around the college hockey circles, all you see is, “didn’t see that coming.” Three points against the Gophers of UMTC, terrible.

The storm that hit on the ice at Mariucci was mostly the doing, more so the not-doings, of the Bulldogs. They were sluggish for two periods Friday then finally found their energy in the third, but it was too late. The Dogs fell 3-2 to the Gophers.

Saturday night’s game, er, Sunday afternoon’s game proved to be much the same as Friday’s. The main differences were UMD had the lead and couldn’t hold it and they arguably played well for two of the three periods.

What went wrong? Offense was absent. Yes, the Gopher netminders played very well, but the Bulldog group of scorers should put up more than two goals in at least one of the games. The scoring drought is best accented by the failure of scoring on a five minute major power play late in the third period Sunday with the score tied 2-2. Further the ineffectiveness of the UMD power play, 2 for 12, against one of the worst penalty killing teams in the nation. UMTC after the weekend against UMD is at 75% penalty kill which doesn’t get them in the top 40 teams of D-I (58 teams total).

Goaltending is getting better, but still leads the group with the need for most improvement. The current “plan” is that we can give up some goals and the scoring machine will pick the team up, but it currently is not working. This is also partially on the defense who need to do ALL THEY CAN to help the goaltenders out of the messes in front of the net.

This was not the weekend we envisioned going down to Minneapolis with the snow and the Mugging at Mariucci. But this is the way the first half of the season, both overall and in the conference, will end. And now for the layoff. Waiting for AMSOIL to open and see how UMD comes on in the second half. It will be a key time to get some rest and reset the energy this team had in preparation for the second half.

Look for the HighHorse mid-season report card coming soon and keep the faith just as the pollsters have keeping UMD at #3 or #4 in the nation.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Longest WCHA Weekend

The longest WCHA weekend in a long time is over. Thanks to a Thursday start to the MTU/UNO series and the snowstorm in Minnesota, the weekend stretched all the way to Sunday night.

If I would have stayed with my original pick of CC sweeping SCSU, I would have the WCHA nailed…except for the totally unforeseen results from Minneapolis and a tie in Alaska.

In Saint Cloud, the Huskies are hitting rock bottom. Although they have played 12 games when almost all WCHA teams have played 14, the Huskies are in 11th place. Top it off with the first time SCSU has been swept in Saint Cloud in over three years. And the CC team that completed the sweep didn’t have their leading scorer. Time to regroup, but the road ahead doesn’t get any easier.

In Anchorage, Denver left the frontier with three points, which is really good seeing that they gave up leads in both games. Anchorage is never an easy place to play, but the Pioneers showed their shaky side a few times in Alaska.

Bemidji is feeling the grind of the WCHA with a trip to Madison. Close games in a Badger sweep, yes, but the Beavers are still trying to find their way.

North Dakota swept into Mankato and swept the series. Again, close games, but in the end, the scoring power of the Sioux came back and finished off the Mavs.

In Omaha, Michigan tech continues their woes losing two more in league play. Huskies coach Jamie Russell felt Saturday’s win was a moral victory, but MTU is in desperate need of a real win. Their next chance comes this Friday at arch-rival Northern Michigan.

Next weekend marks the closest thing to a conference midway point. After CC and UNO play this weekend, every team except for two will have 14 league games played. The others will have 12.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Missing Players that will Miss

It tis the time of year when national junior teams are populating their rosters.  As a result, some of the WCHA games may be impacted when impact players (they are the best of their countrymen) are absent at tyouts.

CC's Jaden Schwartz and UMD's Dylan Olsen will be away this weekend for the Canadian camp.  Schwartz is reprtedly out for the weekend while reports say that Olsen will play at UMTC Friday before jetting off.

As a result, I will change our prediction on the CC / SCSU series to a split.  Schwartz is most of the Tiger's scoring, but the Huskies are still the Huskies.  I choose to keep the UMD / UMTC perdiction the same.  The scoring Bulldogs are still strong up front and on the blue line.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bulldogs Travel to Minneapolis for Last Conference Games of 2010

Pomp and circumstance done. DECC retired. Back to the season that has so many fans all over Minnesota talking about the Bulldogs. And that is the challenge for this weekend is to ensure that the team is focused and ready for a Jekyll /Hyde Gopher team. You just don’t know what to expect from UMTC.

Shoring Up Goal. Last weekend was truly an adventure in goaltending for the Bulldogs. An arguably terrible game Friday night in net and defense followed by a solid performance Saturday night. The roller coaster has to stop for the Bulldogs to keep climbing. It can go as far as goaltending being the key to the series this weekend. The Gophers are 7-1-1 this season when scoring three or more goals. Conversely, when UMTC scores less than three goals they are 1-6-0.

Counter that with Crandall who has been shaky at times with an overall saves percentage of 0.902, but has yet to surrender more than three goals in a game. Reiter has looked better at times, but he has a more unimpressive saves percentage of 0.896. Gopher scoring will be the top key for the weekend.

Just Score More. UMD is currently the second scoring offense in the nation with 3.94 goals per game and a power play efficiency of 24.7%, good for seventh in the nation. Pair the UMD scoring numbers with the Gopher’s 3.25 goals allowed per game we expect scoring to not be of concern this weekend.

When Does the Game Start? UMD’s overtime prowess has been talked about ad nauseam. The Bulldogs are currently sitting at 50% of their games go to overtime 16 games into the season. The other stat that leads to overtime is slow starts, and UMD seems to have a penchant for those too. The Bulldogs sport a staggering lead in goals of 49-25 after the first period. When does that game start again?

Saturdays Are Right. UMD sports a 7-0-1 on Saturday nights this season. For that matter, the Bulldogs are 7-0-0 when leading after two periods.

Outlook. Currently the Bulldogs are on a 7-2-1 streak against the Gophers in their last ten meetings. The Gophers are coming back from being swept for the first time by MSU. In the end, this is a series that the Bulldogs scoring will prevail. There may be high theatrics and nail biter endings, but we see the Bulldogs sweeping.

Around the WCHA. Another full conference slate of games this weekend.

Michigan Tech at University of Nebraska – Omaha: in a rare Thursday – Friday series, MTU makes their first trip to Omaha for WCHA play. The teams have played four times previously with the visiting team winning each game. Not so fast, that streak ends here as the Huskies get swept out of Nebraska.

North Dakota at Minnesota State – Mankato: MSUM is currently on a four game winning streak and North Dakota is on a four game unbeaten streak. So what will give? It will be the Mavericks giving four points to the Sioux. Don’t be surprised to see if a tie occurs, as the Mavs have hot goaltending right now.

Denver at Alaska – Anchorage: Denver keeps the hot hand and gives the Seawolves their first sweep at home in league play this season.

Colorado College at Saint Cloud State: Role reversal. This series pits two teams that are in opposite positions in the standings than they were predicted. CC, 6th in the WCHA, seemingly has the upper hand on the struggling SCSU Huskies, 11th in the WCHA. But SCSU has not been swept at home in over three years (December 7-8, 2007 – Denver). Is this the weekend that SCSU breaks their streak? We say yes, with a Tiger sweep.

Bemidji State at Wisconsin: Beavers are coming off of two solid wins against UNO and Wisconsin is looking to right the ship in the WCHA, they are currently 8th at 4-6-2. Badgers get some relief and pull to 0.500 in league play with a sweep this weekend.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Moving On from DECC; WCHA Weekend Dec. 3-4

Bulldogs Split with Pioneers 4-5 OT and 2-1

It was a great run and now the DECC is no longer the home of Bulldog Men’s Hockey. Denver was the last visitor and provided two exciting, yet different, games in a split for the weekend.

Friday night’s game was an ultimate example of the ups and downs of a roller coaster ride.

UMD came out flat and it showed badly until early in the second period. Down 3-0 on two, if not three, soft goals, goalie Aaron Crandall pulled for Kenny Reiter, the Bulldogs finally came to life. UMD steadily worked their way back into the game and eventually took the lead 4-3 with four straight goals.

But knowing the way the game started and UMD’s seeming penchant for overtime, those of us in the press box had a feeling that this might go to extra time. Jason Zucker provided the opportunity for UMD’s 8th OT game of the season with his goal at 18:38, completing his hat trick.

The problem to going to overtime that night was the way DU scored. Three of their four goals came from the extended goal line at or near the boards. Looking at the period shot sheets it is difficult to find the goals because one does not expect to look to the corners for the scoring goals, but there they are.

So off to overtime again where the Bulldogs have made their living this year. It was joked before the game started that the game doesn’t actually start for UMD until overtime…how true.

Taking a 5-0-2 overtime record this season into OT, the feeling in the DECC was which Bulldog would become the hero tonight? In the end it was the lack of drive and defense that did in the Bulldogs as they fell 5-4 in overtime.

The winning goal came from Drew Shore camped all alone right at the top of the crease. He took a pass from Zucker and easily slipped the puck past Reiter to stun and silence the DECC crowd. The best quote of the night came after the goal from someone in the press box, “Of course he was open at the crease, UMD was protecting the corners.” A sarcastic, and very true, indictment on UMD’ defense Friday night.

Redemption came swiftly when the teams squared off again Saturday night in a well played, hard fought match that was expected from these two nationally ranked teams.

UMD turned the tables on DU and took the lead 2-0 entering the third period. In true UMD fashion this year, Denver scored one goal in the third and pushed hard for the tying goal. The big step forward for the night was that UMD didn’t allow the tie to occur, hanging on during a frantic finish for the 2-1 win.

The players of the game have to be Mike Connolly and Kenny Reiter.

Connolly pretty much single handedly worked the penalty kill late in the second and scored a shorthanded goal off his own rebound. His effort and skill netted the Bulldogs the game wining goal.

Reiter should be commended for shaking off the Friday night whatever that was for the goalies, and put in a great effort in keeping the Pioneers to one goal.

Moving forward, the Bulldogs slid to #2 in the Inside College Hockey Rankings as they put an emotional DECC closing weekend behind them in preparing to face the Gophers in Minneapolis.

Speaking of the Gophers, they were unceremoniously swept by the Mavericks in Mankato. MSU scored first in both games and kept the momentum going for a pair of one goal wins. This is a huge boost for the MSU team that has been struggling through the early season, but now has a 4-0-0 streak going.

In Houghton, the Huskies of MTU are now sleep walking through their season. They were swept up by a mediocre CC team 7-3 and 6-0. It is difficult to see MTU crash after a promising start to the season.

Up in Anchorage, UAA gained a split against visiting Wisconsin. Maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising as we see that Wisconsin is a middle WCHA team this year.

The games in Bemidji provided the big surprise of the weekend when the Beavers swept the upstart UNO Mavericks. Scoring an average of 4.2 goals per game prior to the weekend, the Mavs were held to one goal for the weekend by BSU en route to 3-0 and 3-1. The sweep marks the first for BSU in the WCHA.

In Grand Forks, the Sioux did what was expected and swept the visiting Huskies of Saint Cloud. SCSU is proving that losing some scoring talent and blueliners can impact a team in hurry and make once vaunted goaltenders look “D-I adequate” at best.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bulldogs Bid Farewell to DECC

Denver Pioneers are the Last Opponent

The weekend that many have been waiting for is here. Now the feelings of nostalgia are starting to set in as Bulldog fans, players, and coaches say farewell to the DECC. Several players this week were quoted stating that they are going to miss the old place, but in the end, the new home will be a great place to be a Bulldog.

And its not that the old arena will be demolished and will be gone, but the home of the Bulldogs moves through the concourse to the new digs at AMSOIL Arena. But the end of an era for the Bulldogs and the whole community of UMD and Duluth ends this weekend.

Don’t Forget the Games! Lost in the DECC farewell is the fact that the hottest team in the nation, winning streak wise, is in Duluth looking to continue their streak and possibly take first place in the WCHA. That team is the Denver Pioneers who have won their last six games (UMD has won their last five games). It definitely is a chance not lost on the Pioneers who see this weekend as their chance to take on #1 and have a good chance of raining on the DECC closing celebration. UMD’s focus and grit will be tested this weekend.

Their Rookie is Good! Denver freshman Jason Zucker is tied for the WCHA lead with nine goals in WCHA play. He is also tied for first in freshman points at 9-3-12. No wonder their freshmen are good, Inside College Hockey ranked this freshman class at Denver #1 in the nation.

To counter, UMD’s leading freshman, JT Brown, is doing well also with his 5-10-15 overall and 3-6-9 in WCHA play. Brown’s numbers ranks him at sixth in the WCHA for rookies.

To Stop the Pioneer Movement. Denver has been scoring at an amazing clip lately. The Pioneers have scored at least one goal in their last 13 consecutive periods of play. The Dog’s defense will have to be at the top of their game to stop this offense.

Goalie’s Keep. To date, goalie Aaron Crandall has not allowed more than three goals in the games he has played in. Reiter has had some struggles, but is the UMD goalie who has not lost a game yet in this season. Both should be ready for this weekend.

Prediction. “You can through the records out the window”…not really, but there are extenuating circumstances this weekend. This is a series with two great teams. Denver is one the road and UMD has all the emotional burden surrounding the end of their DECC era.

We are quite sure that Denver will come out ready to play. The question is what will all the attention of the ceremonies, visiting Bulldog Hockey alumni, and personal emotions do to this team? What we have to remember is that UMD is a veteran team in terms of college hockey. Taking all the information into account, we predict a split.  We differ on the night of the loss, though.  I am going with redemption on Saturday night while staff writer Andy is going with the loss to close the DECC.  A sweep would be fitting for the retirement of DECC, but it looks like too much against this Denver team.

Around the WCHA.

UMTC at MSUM: Mankato turned many heads with the way they swept UMass – Lowell last weekend out east. Will it be enough to overcome their nemesis who don’t even recognize the Mavs are D-I? (Admit it, Gophers…its true). UMTC fared well at Houghton and they should do the same in Mankato earning a Gopher sweep.

Wisconsin at UAA: Wisconsin will sweep, but will have difficulty Friday with the physical Seawolves team.

UNO at BSU: The newbies square off for the first time as WCHA participants. Unfortunately for Bemidji UNO has winning figured out and they will win two on the road.

SCSU at UND: Before the season started this matchup was likely circled as the one to watch this weekend. But the Huskies are failing to do all the things that propelled them to their first NCAA Tournament win last year. Goaltending, scoring, and drive are lacking in Saint Cloud. The Huskies are going into tough territory to face the Sioux. The same Sioux team who have not swept a foe at the Ralph this year in three series. This will be their first of the year as they down the Huskies in two.

CC at MTU: This is another downing of Huskies in two games this weekend. That makes a prediction for an 0-4 Huskies weekend (SCSU and MTU). The wheels have really come off the wagon for the stories program in Houghton. It all started off so promising this season too.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Days at the DECC Numbered

The clock is ticking on the end of the DECC years and the start of the AMSOIL years. In fact, you can see it on the Bulldog Athletic page.

One more step in the transition occurs today in preparation for the change in home venue. Single game tickets for the new AMSOIL Arena go on sale today at 10am.

The remaining steps after this morning’s ticket sale in the transfer are to play Denver in the DECC this weekend, start practicing in the new arena next week, and face North Dakota on December 30 on the new ice.

It is a sad farewell to a great arena while it is the promise of new memories to be made in AMSOIL Arena.