Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Thoughts: Week III

Bulldogs Struggle While Gaining One Point

A frightful Halloween weekend for the maroon and gold of Minnesota Duluth.  The Bulldogs lost and tied the Badgers in Duluth and the one point “earned” is of little consolation.  I use the word earned, but really it is stumbled upon that would be more fitting.

Friday night displayed all of UMD’s weaknesses and struggles on offense where is was at times like keystone cops on ice.  Saturday brought scoring, but limited in only scoring two goals before letting UW tie it up in the third en route to the tie.

And it was the same thing that UMD has struggled with the whole young season, keeping the defense from making bad, really bad, plays that allow scoring chances.   What really hurts the team is that the defense is what was supposed to anchor the team and give the young forwards a chance to get their legs under them.  But now it just looks like the whole team is not cut out to challenge in the WCHA.

I did say that the forwards are young, but not all of them.  And really no forward is consistent or really even a threat that the other team needs to pay close attention to.  The closest UMD has to a threat is Mike Seidel, but he was held to one point on the weekend, an assist.  To look at the lineup and how they are playing, it may be that UMD ahs the most “third liners” in the nation.  It has been said here and it may be like beating the dead horse, but no player like a Connolly, Brown, or Oleksuk is going to walk in and take over the game.  This team needs to understand that and step up, end of rant.

What is going right is the goaltending position.  Granted the team isn’t winning, but the goalie is doing his part to keep the team in the game.  McNeely over the weekend did everything you can expect a young goalie to do.  He gave up two goals each night which is not a game killer in college hockey and similar to a baseball “quality start.”   McNeely’s overall GAA is a terrific 1.64 with a phenomenal 0.935 save percent.

Bemidji Owns Omaha.  It is amazing how the Beavers can dominate game after game now for the three seasons each have been members of the WCHA.  BSU has gone 7-1-4 against the red Mavs over the past three seasons.  Lucky for Omaha, there is likely one more series with the Beavers before they part when the WCHA breaks up next season.

WCHA Still the Best?  It is early in the season, but indicators are setting up.  How do the Gophers tie the US U18 team and come back to beat mighty Canisius 1-0 earlier today.  And both games  were played by their main players in the lineup.  Additionally, Colorado College traveled to Cornell and was swept back to Colorado Springs.

On the other hand, Denver looks good in their first four games and will be pressing for the league title.

Next Up.  The Bulldogs are looking at a weekend off that may be coming at an excellent time so Sandelin can circle the wagons and rally the team.  The goal is always to get better, but UMD is also looking at a trip to Omaha in two weeks and will need to be ready for the red Mavs.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Badgers Come to Duluth to Start WCHA Schedule

Final WCHA Season for UW and UMD Starts Friday

Badgers are back and UMD may very well be thankful for it.  UMD is 5-1-1 in their last seven against Wisconsin, but the recurring theme for this year’s Bulldogs is that this is a new team that is freshman heavy.  So what does the last seven meetings mean?  Not much ever in college sports where team rosters are changing year to year, but this season, even less than other years.  UMD has 26 rostered players, 15 of them are freshman or sophomores.

What we have seen so far is indicative to young teams, inconsistent play.   In each series it is Jekyll/Hyde thing going.  The Bulldogs look good one night and come in flat the next.  The highs and lows will be worked out at some point, but the sooner the better for the well being of the team.
The main items that will help shake the inconsistency are confidence coupled with good coaching.  UMD one of the best coaching staffs that have pushed teams to be better and now they have their work cut out for them again.

The Badgers are still an enigma.  Going 0-2-0 against Northern Michigan was not impressive, but it is also a small sample size.  This will be one of those early weekends where we will just have to see what happens.

StatPack.  One way we can differentiate the teams is by the stats.  Our first installment of the StatPack is as follows:

Images via Wikipedia: Bulldog, WCHA, Badger
Of note:
  • UMD’s power play is doing well, but it has been aided by many chances afforded by CCHA officiating and
  • The Bulldogs need to cut down on the penalties if they plan on winning and completing for home ice at the end of the season.

Puck is Being Stopped Here.  The team save percentage is really good for UMD, but it still feels so unsettled at goalie.  Crandall does not seem like the only answer and McNeely has only had one shot so far.  So what can we expect?  One has to think that the weekend will be split and who knows, maybe even Fons will get some time.  Number one goalie is not even close to being settled, but this weekend hopefully shed some (positive) results.

Off We Go!  It is the beginning of the last season for each of these teams in the WCHA.  One last shot at the MacNaughton Cup and the title in arguably the best conference in the nation.

Around the WCHA and Picks by Fiskness.   Last weekend started early with the Bulldogs taking on the Fighting Irish in South Bend on Thursday night.  The Thursday/Friday series was due to a home football game on Saturday.  Viewers of the Thursday night game saw a UMD team that played great defense and blocked many shoots, just like an experienced defense should.  The Saturday game was a different story, as there was numerous turnovers by the defense of which several immediately turned into goals.  A very disappointing effort from the team and especially the defense.  In our opinion it seemed as if the players were actually trying to do too much and make a play instead of sticking with fundamentals and playing hockey. 

We are a little concerned that some of the veteran players might not be used to carrying the load as in years past they could rely on the Jack or JT to pick up the slack.  This team is going to need to learn their roles and not try to be something they are not.  It is a talented team that does look like they can beat anybody, but they will have their struggles.  One positive is the play from Mike Seidel.  He showed much improved overall play and strength, reminding me of MacGregor Sharp.  If he continues to give the same effort and gets some help from others this team will be a contender.

WCHA Conference Games:
Michigan Tech at Denver:  Tech split with the Gophers last weekend at home and now have to go on the road.  Denver got two wins at home and they are looking to continue their streak.  The Huskies will have some troubles this weekend resulting in a Denver win and a tie. 
Minnesota State Mankato at Saint Cloud State:  This is a good matchup to see where the teams are at early in the season.  The Huskies seemed to turn things around against the Chargers, who played the Mavericks tough the week before.  The Mavericks come off a win and a tie at home against the Engineers from Troy, NY.  Mike Hastings should get his first WCHA win against his alma mater, as this series will be a split. 
Wisconsin at Minnesota Duluth:  This is another good matchup to see where the teams are at early in the season, probably the best of the weekend.  UMD has played well in the first game and poor in the second game of their two series so far this season.  Meanwhile Bucky played on a neutral site and didn't find it's offense resulting in getting swept by the Wildcats from Marquette, MI.  Until UMD shows evidence otherwise I have to go with a split. 
Alaska – Anchorage at North Dakota:  UND will be getting the suspended players back and will be too much for the Seawolves this weekend, UND sweep. 
Bemidji State at Nebraska – Omaha:  The Beavers own this series.  Both teams are coming off a weekend of split and that will continue as the Mavericks will finally get their first win (0-4-2) in almost two years against the Beavers.
Colorado College at Cornell:  After the UMD vs. UW series this is probably the best series of the weekend.  The Tigers are 3-1 so far this season and face the Big Red in Ithaca, NY.  Cornell has yet to play a NCAA game so the advantage should go to CC, but the Big Red hometown hero Andy Iles in net could be the difference this weekend.  I see a split. 
Canisius at Minnesota Twin Cities (Sunday):  The Golden Griffins from Buffalo, NY come into Minneapolis with a win on the Road in the Kendall classic against the Nanooks and a couple of close losses to the Broncos of Western Michigan, but the Gophers have too much talent and will get the win.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Thoughts: Week 2

Numbers Stacking Up in Early Season

UMD has now played two series in the new 2012-13 season.  Both have been against arguably quality non-conference opponents and both have ended in splits.  What is interesting, or alarming, is that the Bulldogs have won the first game of each series and lost the second.

In the wins, the team has looked good for early season play.  They have taken advantage of opportunities that were there.  The losses have been difficult to watch full of missed opportunities and lackluster play.

The question moving into WCHA paly is how to take that first night effort and make it a habit.  Coach Sandelin has proven time and time again that he is capable of turning mediocre teams into believers and getting the most out of players.  It is time to put that fix in and stack up some wins.

Early, but Numbers Add Up.  Most teams can’t see trends yet because the numbers are so limited and the Bulldogs are no different except in the category of penalties.  UMD is good at taking penalties.  They are currently 8th in country for penalty minutes per game, but there are no teams with more penalty kill attempts than UMD at 25.

The good news out of all this is that the Bulldogs have killed 22 of the 25 man disadvantages good for 88% kill rate.  That number is very good considering the huge amount of penalties taken.  It is living on the edge right now taking so many penalties and staying even in the win/loss column at 2-2-0.

Coming Up.  This coming weekend is the start of UMD’s WCHA schedule against Wisconsin at Duluth.  Four other series will be played in conference.

Also coming up this week is the rejuvenation of the College Hockey HighHorse StatPack.  Look for the Bulldogs – Badgers stat comparisons in one place, the StatPack.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

UMD Takes to the Road

Rare Thursday - Friday Games for UMD at Notre Dame

UMD has the opportunity to take the bad taste from the Saturday night loss to Ohio State and erase it.  It won’t be easy going into South Bend to play a pair at Notre Dame tonight and tomorrow night.

The series between the Bulldogs and the Irish is in Notre Dame’s favor 19-12-4.  Most of those games were played when the Irish were a member of the WCHA.  Since Notre Dame left the WCHA, UMD leads the series 4-3-2 with most recently the teams split a series in Duluth last October.

Notre Dame offense is the usually the biggest worry for opponents.  But last weekend in the Icebreaker Tournament, the Irish showed their defense is potent too winning 1-0 and 3-2.  It is early in the season, but the Irish appear to be a well put together team.

UMD is still looking for their identity that likely will be a lunch pail crew.  It is going to take a well balanced attack from all members of the Bulldogs to be successful.  That was very evident in the Friday 6-2 win over the Buckeyes with five players scoring and nine recording at least one point.

The problem for UMD is when some players are off like on Saturday night.  Coach Sandelin called out upperclassmen as a whole as not coming prepared.  The result was a close game, but a loss to an Ohio State team that the Bulldogs should have swept.

This weekend look for a more concentrated team from UMD, the coach will make sure of that.  The challenge is playing an upper echelon team at their place.  But UMD has thrived on the road in past seasons, so we will have to see what that leaves us in this rare Thursday-Friday series.

Around the WCHA and Picks by Fiskness.  The first week of college hockey is in the books with a few surprises and some games went just as expected.  It was great to watch the young UMD players get their first goals and points of their college careers.  Bulldog fans can also hope for continued point production from th upperclassmen as well.  The effort Friday night looked like a UMD team of the last few years that can beat anybody.  However the Saturday night effort was not there.  This Bulldog team does not have the horses that can carry a team at this point and will need a solid effort from everybody to be successful.  This weekend is the first games of conference play with the Gophers heading up to Houghton, Michigan to take on the Huskies.  This should be a good series for these teams. 

Games this Week:
Minnesota Twin Cities at Michigan Tech:  This should be a good test for both teams to see where they stand in WCHA.  The Gophers looked great last weekend and their defense by offense should help out the inexperienced goaltending.  Tech comes in this week after splitting a series with Lake Superior State.  The second game of the series the Huskies showed it may still have some offense.  I am going with a split. 
Minnesota Duluth at Notre Dame:  The Bulldogs look to hand the Fighting Irish their first loss of the season, which will not be an easy task.  If UMD plays up-tempo like last Friday night they should put up some wins, but if they play flat like Saturday, the win column will not fill up fast.  I see UMD getting in at least 1 good effort this weekend and getting a split. 
Lake Superior State at Bemidji State:  This is a good test for the Beavers and A home series for the first real games of the season for Bemidji.  The Beavers like the home cooking and should be able to get a split. 
Colorado College at Air Force; UMass Lowell at Colorado College:  All of the teams in two games are undefeated after the first weekend of play.  CC will be looking for a better defensive showing than last weekend.  I pick a split with CC beating the Falcons and falling to the Riverhawks.  
UMass Lowell at Denver; Air Force at Denver:  The Pioneers will be too much for both of the non-conference foes and will get the sweep at home. 
Alabama – Huntsville at Saint Cloud State:  SCSU looks to get the ship back on course after getting swept out east.  The Chargers should be just the team to do that for the Huskies.  Huskies sweep the series. 
RPI at Minnesota State Mankato:  Both team had three point weekends the previous week.  The Engineers win and tie against the NCAA runner up last season Ferris State where as the Mavericks were against the Chargers.  Any team that has trouble with the Chargers will likely have a tough time against better teams, even at home.  So I say a loss and tie for the Mavericks this weekend. 
Alaska Goal Rush – North Dakota at Alaska – Anchorage; North Dakota at Alaska; Merrimack at Alaska – Anchorage:  North Dakota starts its NCAA schedule this weekend and should make the most of it by earning two wins, but this is two games against Alaska teams in Alaska.  Two wins are very possible, but it looks like North Dakota will slip up against the Nanooks.  The Seaswolves will have trouble this weekend in gaining no more than one point in the Nanooks Tournament. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

UMD Opens 2012-13 With Split

Friday 6-2 UMD Win Turns to Saturday 3-2 Loss

It was 10 year s since the Bulldogs have started a NCAA season with a sweep and now it is 11. UMD came out so fast Friday en route to a 6-2 win that one should have predicted a let down from a young team. But people didn’t and they looked for more of the same against the Buckeyes on Saturday. UMD fell victims to Ohio State 3-2 Saturday.

Unfortunately, this may be the story of the young UMD team for a while, inconsistency. Looking at the team it maybe isn’t youth that is the issue, it may be inexperience. With leaders leaving over the last two years by graduation and early departure, many Bulldogs that need to step up haven’t needed to in the past.

Some faces appear on the top line that aren’t accustomed to facing top liners on the other side of the puck. Every player has to step up their game and get used to being that player they saw across the locker room past years. The talent is there, no doubt about it, but the new responsibility and spotlight must be taken into account and fast. With three of the next four series on the road and only one more non-conference opponent, the road looks long and winding. A quick week and the road maybe just what UMD needs as they travel to South Bend Wednesday to play the 2-0-0 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Gophers Not Looking Back. The opponent was different, but the result was the same on the opening weekend this season. After destroying Sacred Heart to start 2011-12, the Gophers toyed with and summarily dispatched the Spartans of Michigan State 5-1 and 7-1 to start 2012-13.

We expected Michigan State to put up some fight and they did, but it was nothing compared to the scoring of Minnesota Twin Cities. The pick of the Gophers to be tops in the WCHA looks pretty good right now, but championships are not won in October so we will see where this long season takes the WCHA teams.

Next Up, Notre Dame. The Irish picked up two wins in the Icebreaker Tournament beating Maine 1-0 and Nebraska-Omaha 3-2. The key in each game was not the high scoring of Anders Lee and TJ Tynan, but the goaltending of Steven Summerhays.

Notre Dame and UMD play Thursday and Friday night both at 6:35pm CDT.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ohio State Visits Duluth to Start New Season

Lack of History Doesn't Mean Lack of Anticipation

It is hard to believe that college hockey season is upon us again, the longest sports season in college sports.  Longest and arguably most exciting and enjoyable.

No exhibition this season for the Bulldogs as they jump right into the season with a respectable opponent in Ohio State.

The history between these teams is limited, as the Buckeyes own the series going 2-0-1 against UMD.  But this year is different.  UMD faces old comrades in associate coach Steve Rohlik and goaltender Brady Hjelle.  In a weekend where many really don’t know what to expect when teams hit the ice, it is off ice interests that make this interesting.

There should be no rivalry or hard feelings because of the departures, but they are interesting nonetheless.  Rohlik left after winning a national championship with UMD.  He is a good coach and filling his hoes behind the bench was a tall task, but Herter and Plante seemed to have done well last season.

The more interesting player in this reunion is Hjelle.  His departure after the 2009-10 season was unexpected and left Bulldogs fans wondering if a guy named Kenny Reiter could take on the #1 role he seemed to win right at the end of the season without the backup of a seasoned alternate.  Most know what happened next, Reiter dominated the goalie scene in route to UMD winning the 2011 National Championship.

So in a game hat starts off a long season, we can look forward to seeing if scoring can  be found, goaltending be consistent, and if UMD can win at least 22 games for a fifth straight year.  And there may be a little incentive to see Brady Hjelle take a peak at a banner in the rafters.

Weekend Picks by Fiskness.  First week of the season brings the chance to make hockey picks (guesses at best) for the first time this year.  Not a not of X’s and O’s to compare at this point of the year.  So all of the picks will be short and sweet.

Michigan State at Minnesota Twin Cities:  Gophers at home will take advantage and hold on for a 3 point weekend.

Ohio State at Minnesota Duluth:  UMD at home will be able to use the friendly confines for a 3 point weekend.  Brady Hjelle looks to be the spoiler.

Saint Cloud State at New Hampshire:  Maybe the most interesting series of the weekend.  The safe pick is a split.

Minnesota State Mankato at Alabama – Huntsville:  Do the Chargers have a chance beating anybody other than Penn State?  Mavericks sweep.

Wisconsin and Northern Michigan (in Green Bay):  Both teams looking for identity, splitsville.

Clarkson at Colorado College:  Home advantage should help CC, but I need to see them play before pick them to sweep.  Split.

Nebraska – Omaha at Army (Maine and Notre Dame) (Icekreaker):  The Mavericks should be able to beat the Black Knights, but Maine or the Irish should be too good for a UNO sweep.  Split

Canisius and Air Force at Alaska – Anchorage (Kendal Hockey Classic):  The Seawolves should be able to split the games in this year’s tournament.  UAA wins against Canisius and losses to the Falcons.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

2012-13 UMD Pre-season Player Picks

UMD Players to Watch. Pre-season picks for end of season awards from the staff.

MVP: Caleb Herbert may be the most unconventional pick on our list, but we expect a lot out of him this year.  It is usually offense that garners the most attention and may have the biggest impact and that is what brought us to Herbert.  This Bulldogs team may have some trouble consistently finding the net on offense, but a leader must emerge.
Honorable Mention: Wade Bergman who will anchor the defensemen corps.

DarkHorse (our breakout player of the year): Last year’s pick:
It may be unconventional and break the rules, if there are any, but we look to Cody Danberg. Returning for a second senior season, he should use his experience and wisdom to help lead the forwards. His 16 points in 99 games should be easily doubles this season.
This year we will go with the same pick now in his third senior season.

Rookie to Watch: Andy Welinski has garnered much praise for his play and the Bulldogs can really use the offense from the blueline.  While winning the USHL Defenseman of the Year award last season with Green Bay, Welinskii amassed 15 goals and 22 assists.
Honorable Mention: Austin Farley and his potential scoring numbers if he can carry his game from the USHL to the WCHA.

Key players to UMD’s success this year:

Aaron Crandall in net is key the team to having success.  If Matt McNeeley is the answer in stead of Crandall, it probably means some losses along the line before he is declared the #1.

Jake Hendrickson will have to step up as the one of two non-freshman centers on the team and the only one with significant playing time last season.  If he is not up to the task, it will likely have to come from a freshman (see below).

The trio of freshman centers, Tony Cameranesi, Charlie Sampair, and Austyn Young will be counted on to play well and score to make this team successful in the end. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

WCHA Blogger/Website Poll Results

3rd Annual Preseason Poll

The bloggers and other writers have weighed in and the results have been tallied.  Our ballot is below and the dull results can be found at A Tradition of Excellence.

Of note, there are no Bulldogs on the all conference selections or the individual selections.  Andy Welinski and Austin Farley both received votes for Rookie of the Year and Caleb Herbert received votes for Breakout Player of the Year.

Our picks:
  1. Minnesota Twin Cities
  2. North Dakota
  3. Denver
  4. Colorado College
  5. Minnesota Duluth
  6. Wisconsin
  7. Saint Cloud State
  8. Nebraska - Omaha
  9. Michigan Tech
  10. Minnesota State Mankato
  11. Alaska - Anchorage

All Conference Team

F- Mark Zengerle - UW
F- Nick Bjugstad - UMTC
F- Ben Hanowski - SCSU
D- Joey LaLeggia - DU
D- Derek Forbort - UND
G- Juho Olkinuora -UNO

Player of the Year                           - Zengerle

Rookie of the Year                          - Austin Farley -UMD

Defenseman of the Year                 - Forbort

Breakout Player of the Year          - Clarke Saunders - UND

Monday, October 1, 2012

WCHA Picks

Minnesota Twin Cities Our Pick

In our ramp up for the college hockey season to start up we are going to start large and work our way towards the team preview.

Here is the College Hockey HighHorse picks for 2012-13:

  1. University of Minnesota Twin Cities:  They have enough returning scoring to overcome the lack of any goaltender with experience.
  2. North Dakota:  Big losses, but good new guys coming in and some have experience at the NCAA level.
  3. Denver:  The Pioneers always seem to find a goalie to get hot (Brittain or Olkinuora this year). Even with the scoring losses they should be a contender.
  4. Colorado College:  Joe Howe should bounce back and the Tigers will be a home ice playoff team.
  5. University of Minnesota Duluth:  It is hard to replace a Hobey winner and a lot of other scoring, but with the defense and guys that know how to win returning for the Bulldogs they should be middle WCHA.
  6. Wisconsin:  With Zengerlie and Rumpel coming back the Badgers have a good foundation to build on.
  7. Saint Cloud State:  Hanowski and Prochno might be the best all around players in the league at their positions, but big goal tending questions remain. 
  8. Nebraska – Omaha:  Scoring lost will be tough to make up and lack of goal tending could make for a tough season.   
  9. Michigan Tech:  The loss of Brett Olson and Josh Robinson will be too much to overcome.
  10. Minnesota State – Mankato:  The youngster Mavericks will have to carry this team under new coach Hastings.  Defense and goal tending will be the biggest issues.
  11. Bemidji State:  Can Jordan George score enough to make up for the loss of Dan Bakala in net?
  12. Alaska – Anchorage:  Last season was a down year and there is no reason to think they made a significant fix.
Again, our picks for the last season of the WCHA as we have known it for years.  one last shot at the MacNaughton Cup for many teams.  Game on... soon.

Compiled with Andrew Fiskness