Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bulldogs Gain Another One; WCHA First Round Predictions

Bulldogs Gain a "Good" One Point

It was two spirited games at Mariucci for the Bulldogs, but the result was the same as last weekend.  Just as at Bemidji, UMD came away with one point with a Saturday night tie.

But the most recent one point weekend looked and felt better, if that has any bearing on anything.  It seemed as though UMD wanted to win more than against the Beavers.  It looks like UMD may be poised for a run if they can play so well for five of six periods against the #2 Gophers.  But again, those are feelings, not statistics.

The statistics do show improvement.  UMD held the top ranked power play in the nation to one goal on nine chances.  After the horrid penalty kill of five kills on nine chances against Bemidji, recent results are a definite, quantitative improvement.

Additionally, goaltender McNeely is improving with some quality saves.  But he is still being asked to do too many of those saves.  At the same time, it is not against the rules to make a big save on a defensive slip up leaving the goalie to fend for himself.  We watched Wilcox do it for the Gophers.

WCHA Outlook.  As the season moves towards the end, possible first round matchups are taking center stage.

A tool has been created to predict the final standings of the WCHA and other leagues, called the What-If Calculator.  You predict the outcome of remaining games and it give output of the league standings.
I have never boasted a great prognosticating mind, but I gave it a try anyway.  My best guess is UMD will travel to North Dakota for the first round. 

Go ahead and give it a try and post your best guess in the comments! 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bulldogs Travel South to Minneapolis

Gophers Trying to Restart Run to the Top

In state rivalry, at least for Minnesota Duluth, will commence for the last time in WCHA play this weekend at Mariucci.

The Gophers are a strong team but have had their hiccups this season in league play, both home and away.  Their non-conference record is a perfect 8-0-0 and includes wins over Boston College and Notre Dame.

But in the WCHA, the Gophers are 12-6-4.  Their losses include Michigan Tech and Wisconsin.  It is now late in the season and teams are gearing up playoff runs.  It is becoming less likely that top teams will slip up against lower half teams.

The Bulldogs certainly fit the lower half team criteria with an overall record of 10-16-4 and a current seven game winless streak.  But what UMD has going for them is they have not been swept on the road since early November at Omaha.

Certainly fans should not expect a sweep here, but UMD has been playing good enough to take at least one point in road series.  While one point last weekend at Bemidji is very disappointing, the same result this weekend would be a positive sign.  Not to mention it would further damage the Gophers’ chances at the MacNaughton Cup.

Special Teams Not So Special.  Power play, once a strength for UMD, now seems to be a detriment.  The Bulldogs are a horrid 1 for 18 on the PP in their last four games while allowing 7 on 17 during the same time.  The penalty kill has been decent, but not as strong as the power play, but now both are suspect at best.

Images via Wikipedia: Bulldog, WCHA, Gopher
StatPack.  The numbers stack up in this series all on one side.  That is a first in the two years of StatPacks on College Hockey HighHorse.

Of note:

  • While UMD takes the third most penalty minutes nationally on average, UMTC takes the eighth least.  Teams that play UMD have on average taken 17.3 minutes of penalty time.
  • Special teams will be a big factor in the series.  UMD has to find a way to stay clean and convert when able.
  • Although the goals for differential is huge, the first period goal production of the teams are fairly close with Gophers with 38 and Bulldogs with 32.  After the first period, the stats diverge greatly.
Outlook.  What can UMD expect this weekend?  They have to show up, play well, and hope for some bounces to get a point in the series.  A win would be huge and could propel the Bulldogs to a good finish to the year.  But the Gophers will be ready and this will likely be a a lost weekend for the Bulldogs.

Around the WCHA and Picks by @afiskness.  The best defense is really a good offense.  Even though the Bulldogs put up a lot of shots against the Beavers last weekend there never was a feeling that UMD was going to control the game.  The puck control and turnovers are too many, resulting in more losses than UMD fans have been accustomed to seeing the last few seasons.  I expect to see the Bulldogs put up a good effort on Friday.  I am concerned if the outcome isn't friendly for the Bulldogs on Friday what will be Saturday's effort.  This Bulldog team is just too up and down to expect  two good games back to back.

There are only three conference series this weekend and all three series are teams in the bottom half playing teams in the top half.  Upsets will bunch the middle of the pack, but Denver could finish anywhere from 3rd to 7th when the weekend is done.  Wins by the top half could really tighten the race for the MacNaughton Cup.

WCHA Conference
Minnesota Duluth at Minnesota Twin Cities:  The Bulldogs now own the longest winless streak in the conference and are facing the Gophers who are probably upset for letting two points get away from them last weekend in Chicago.  The Olympic sheet generally isn't kind to UMD, but they did sweep up in Anchorage so they have some positive results this season.  The best chance for a UMD win should be Friday, but I will go with a Gopher sweep. 
North Dakota at Denver:  North Dakota is the better team of these two, but the Pioneers might be desperate to get back into the top half of the conference standings.  I Like North Dakota to continue their 5 game unbeaten streak.  North Dakota sweep. 
Saint Cloud State at Colorado College: The Tigers are in the midst of a 5 game unbeaten streak, and the Huskies look to control their of destiny in the race for the cup.  The Huskies have been a very good team ever since being swept by Wildcats of Northern Michigan at the Beginning of January.  The Tigers give up a lot of goals if the scores stay low they well get a least 1 point this weekend.  Huskies win and tie for 3 points.
Penn State at Wisconsin:  Penn State has played better this year than I guessed, but Wisconsin's defense is too solid for the first year team.  The Badgers should prevail with a sweep.
Future NCHC
Miami at Lake Superior State
Notre Dame at Western Michigan

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Road is Ready for SCSU; UMD Takes Over

Huskies of Saint Cloud Poised for WCHA Run

WCHA race is becoming clearer and clearer and Saint Cloud is on top with a clear view of the finish line.

Tied with the worst non-conference in the top eight of the WCHA at 3-5-0, the Huskies have won the games they needed to.  With a conference record of 15-6-1, Saint Cloud is that close to their first MacNaughton Cup.

The outlook is positive with two games in hand over second and third place, Omaha and Minnesota State Mankato.  Tied at fourth are Minnesota Twin Cities and North Dakota with the same number of games played as SCSU, but three less points.

Going forward, the Gophers arguably have the easiest schedule remaining hosting UMD and Denver and traveling to Bemidji.  Saint Cloud State likely has the second easiest remaining schedule at CC and Wisconsin while hosting Michigan Tech.

The road is paved and looks smooth for Saint Cloud.  Now all they need to do is keep the rig between the lines.

Bulldogs Take Over.  UMD left three points in Bemidji.  That is bad enough, but the streak they claimed is bigger news. 

BSU had the longest WCHA winless streak at eight games before winning their first game on a Friday night, 4-2 over Minnesota Duluth.  Couple the loss with a Saturday tie, albeit a good sign for the spiraling Bulldogs, UMD now has the longest WCHA winless streak at seven games, 0-6-1.

Up Next for UMD is a trip south to Minneapolis to play in state rival Minnesota Twin Cities. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bulldogs Travel West To Bemidji

Second Bulldogs - Beavers Series After Split in Duluth<\span>

This weekend is the real test for UMD.  They have struggled mightily the last two weekends, but that was against upper half teams, maybe marginally upper half teams.  This weekend they are playing a team that they should not lose to, a Beavers team that doesn’t have much for wins and UMD has already beaten.

Bulldog, Beaver
If anything is going to be done at the end of this year, it has to start this weekend.  Shoot, this is a set up for next year.

These are the games that will let fans, underclassmen, and recruits what this team potentially has mentally going towards next year.  A bad weekend exposes likely too much softness in the mental area of the game. I would be concerned for the program going forward.

Too much on the weekend? No, I don’t think so; this is 11th place BSU they are playing.  It is on the road, but it is BSU.

UMD needs to show some toughness and get the lead like they do often.  Then they need to keep playing and get the win.

Finishing.  TheBulldogs have gone five games without a third period goal.  Over the last 10 games, UMD has scored fourgoals while giving up 16.  In the overallseason UMD has been outscored 32-20.

Beavers to Watch.  BSU sports seniors in five of the top six points leaders on the team.  Senior Brance Orban is the leading scorer with only 18 points and the only player with double digit goals is senior Aaron McLeod.  Forward to also keep an eye on is senior Jordan George who is tied for second in scoring with 15 points.

In nets, sophomore Andrew Walsh has played ridiculously good at times this season, but has taken a slide as of late.  If Walsh is not in nets, senior Mathieu Dugasis a capable alternative.

Images via Wikipedia: Bulldog, WCHA, Beaver
StatPack.  Not much has changed in the statistics department since the last meetings between these teams December 7 and 8.  The numbers are really close and the national rankings are practically right on.  Here are the updated and most recent numbers at right.

Of note:
  • UMD is still top three in the nation for penalty minutes per game.
  • One main difference from the last meeting is UMD's Power play ranking.  They were fifth and about five points higher success rate.
  • Bemidji is winless in their last 12 games (0-9-3).
Around the WCHA and Picks by @afiskness.  The last few weeks Bulldog fans have had the unfortunate opportunity to see the wheels come off the bus and a full team melt down occur.  All season this team has seamed fragile and the last five games have proved that.  There appears to be a lack of on-ice leadership.  Once the going gets tough the tough look ahead to the next road series were they can get a burrito from Chipotle and unfortunately Bemidji does not have a Chipotle.  This attitude really surprises me as the Juniors and Seniors have been accustomed to winning and do know how to win.  One would think they would recognize that a little extra work would put them over the top.  There does not appear to be any extra work as of the last few games.

WCHA Conference:
Minnesota Twin Cities at Wisconsin (Sunday at Soldier Field):  This two game series has the second game being played outdoors on Sunday in Chicago and there will be no home ice advantage for the Badgers in that game.  I expect to see a split as the Badgers have been doing a great job of keeping the scores low.  
Minnesota Duluth at Bemidji State:  Both of these teams struggle to score which should result in two low scoring games.  The Beavers really do not have the same talent as the Bulldogs, but their style is always tough for UMD.  I can easily see this being a Beaver sweep, but will go with a split as UMD should be able show up for at least one game. Fool me…. 
Michigan Tech at Minnesota State Mankato:  The Huskies played on Tuesday night an blew out the Wildcats of Northern Michigan and the Mavericks are coming off a road sweep of the Bulldogs.  All indications should point to advantage Mavericks, but I will say a split as the Huskies have been putting up a bunch of goals in recent games and generally have been playing good. 
Omaha at Alaska - Anchorage:  The Mavericks are in a 3 game skid and now make the long trip to Anchorage.  The Seawolves finally got their first conference road win and should have a little extra pep in their step.  The Mavericks are the better team but I don’t think they will get a sweep.  I will say win and tie for 3 point for Omaha.
Future NCHC:
Notre Dame at Miami (Sunday at Soldier Field)
Western Michigan at Ohio State

Monday, February 11, 2013

UMD Loses Pair Again; WCHA Race Clearer?

Five Game UMD Losing Streak, First in Five Years

The broken record continues.  What if UMD had more scoring?  What is the defense played better?  What if the team gave a solid 60 minutes?  None of those questions were answered in a weekend home sweep at the hands of Minnesota State Mankato.

Crowd numbers have been good, but seats empty out late in
games recently. (College Hockey HighHorse: Andrew Fiskness)
Friday night started right with UMD spotting MSUM a 1-0 lead before scoring two of their own.  UMD lead 2-1 entering the third period, but for the second game in a row they lost the lead in the third giving up three goals and scoring none.  It is officially time to retire the “when leading after two periods” stat that formerly was a big advantage for UMD with their three blown leads this season.

Saturday night was same old, same old.  MSUM jumped out to a 3-0 lead en route to a 5-1 win.  Eriah Hayes scored a hat trick Saturday with an assist to lead the Mavericks.  Couple that performance with his one goal and two assists Friday and he will undoubtedly be the Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week.

It is no good beating the thing into the ground, but this team looks lost right now.  It may help to have two seemingly patsy teams up next with Bemidji State and Alabama – Huntsville, but a loss or two in those games could send this team further into the fetal position.

Bulldog Nation just has to take it one step at a time and keep hoping to break out of the slump.

The End of the WCHA as We Know It Race.  Saint Cloud has pieced together a nice season and the big payoff may be coming.

Pieced together is a good describer because the Huskies overall record isn’t stellar.  With 11 loses, it seems unnatural to even be talking about SCSU as WCHA Champions.  The 3-5-0 non-conference record does not exude champion caliber, but the Huskies have definitely made large steps in conference games.

Saint Cloud is unbeaten in seven of their last eight while playing mostly the teams chasing them at the top including Denver, North Dakota, and Minnesota Twin Cities.

With the win Saturday night to gain a split with the Gophers, the Huskies now have control of the conference.  As long as they win, they cannot be caught, but that is challenging.  The schedule isn’t bad moving towards the end with SCSU playing at CC, hosting MTU, and playing at Wisconsin.

Home Ice Race.  Three teams are currently vying for the last two home spots as we get closer to the end of the regular season.  Denver, Minnesota State Mankato, and Wisconsin are all tied for fifth.  Right now, Wisconsin looks to have the most work for themselves to stay home.  The Badgers are on the bottom side of tiebreaks at this point.

Above fifth place, Omaha is close one point ahead of the trio at fifth.  If a current slide continues, they very well could enter the chase to stay home.

In Colorado, the Gold Pan goes to Denver after a tie Friday night against Colorado College.  The traveling trophy is good for the Pioneers, but they ended up only gaining the minimum of one point for the weekend to reclaim the Gold Pan.  As a result, CC moved up to eighth place.

Host Michigan Tech used a page out of UMD recent history to fall apart at the end of Friday’s game in a 5-4 loss to Alaska - Anchorage.  MTU was leading 4-1 early in the second period before UAA scored 4 straight with the winner coming at 19:15 of the third.  The weekend was Tech’s annual Winter Carnival which usually brings the best out of the team and that was the case in the rematch for a 6-1 Huskies win Saturday.

North Dakota took advantage of Omaha sweeping them in Nebraska.  The losses continue the Mavs streak to three straight and have helped them drop to just hanging onto a tie at third, one point ahead of three teams at fifth.  The wins propel North Dakota to second.  Of interest was Saturday’s game which was another outdoor game.  The game had to be delayed due to warm weather and poor ice.  In the end, the ice was good enough for UND to win 5-2.

Wisconsin attempted to bounce back from a bad weekend in Grand Forks with a home series against Bemidji State.  In a pair of tight games, the Badgers came away with a tie and win on the weekend.  The outcome kept BSU in 11th place and three points behind UMD, their next opponent.  The series is next weekend and will be played in Bemidji.

Friday, February 8, 2013

UMD Has Another Shot to Better Standing

MSUM Visits Duluth With Something to Prove

It has been a rough patch the past few years for MSUM.  but over the last offseason coach Jutting stepped down and Mike Hastings took over.

With largely the same roster, MSUM has been turning many heads in the conference.  especially with the emergence of freshman goaltender Stephon Williams.

Williams has a 1.82 GAA  and a 0.927 saves percentage.  UMD will certainly have their work cut out for them.

And it isn't just a strong defense and grind it out offense for the Mavericks.  The purple Mavs are scoring at an impressive clip above three goals per game.

Bottom LIne.  Faith is shaken for the UMD fans and likely for the players after a big bust last weekend.  UMD certainly has the opportunity again to move up in the standings, but it will take full 60 minute stretches of focused play.  Even one slip up can change teh whole game as was witnessed in 91 seconds last Saturday night.

StatPack.  Here is the statistical comparison for the weekend:
Images via Wikipedia: Bulldog, WCHA, Maverick

Of Note:

  • The power plays of the UMD and MSUM are the same percentage, but the Mavs are rated higher due to unequal chances and rounding.
  • The Bulldogs still have an issue with penalties.  They are dropping in rank, but stilla re number three in the nation.

Around the WCHA and Picks by @afiskness.  All the teams play this week and most of the series could have big impacts on the final conference standings.  The Bulldogs have 16 points remaining in their conference schedule and currently sit in 8th place with 19 points.  It is my feeling if the Bulldogs really want home ice they will need to get to 30 points, meaning they need to go 5-2-1 in the last 8 games.  It is fast approaching must win time.  After this weekend they could be anywhere from 6th to 9th place in the conference.

WCHA Conference
Minnesota State Mankato at Minnesota Duluth:  The Mavericks have had plenty of time to get ready for this weekend in Duluth, now it will be interesting it to see if the Bulldogs can bounce back from a sweep by the Pioneers.  The Bulldogs have been a Jekyll and Hyde team all season and the Friday night loss concerns me.  Bulldogs get 1 point as the Mavericks win and tie.  
Alaska - Anchorage at Michigan Tech:  It is Winter Carnival in Houghton and Seawolves come to town.  The Seawolves basically split last weekend with a couple of ties and the Huskies split against Omaha.  Carnival gives Tech the edge and will take 3 points with a win and a tie.  
North Dakota at Omaha:  The battle of Dean Blais schools.  North Dakota played well in a couple of penalty filled games last weekend and the Mavericks lost to Tech in a nail-bitter in OT.  This looks like a split. Bemidji State at Wisconsin:  The Beavers just do not have enough scoring and the Badgers have a strong defense.  Only one way to go on this series and that is a Badger sweep.  
Minnesota Twin Cities at Saint Cloud State:  This should be a great series with a lot on the line.  The Gophers should be rested after the week off last weekend.  The Huskies at home should get a split.  
Colorado College and Denver (home & home):  The Pioneers stole one on Saturday after a defensive breakdown by the Bulldogs lead to a full meltdown meanwhile the Tigers earned a split with a couple ties in Anchorage.  I like the home teams in this heated series, split. 
Future NCHC
Miami at Western Michigan

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Sky is Not Falling, But Close

UMD Swept by Denver 3-0 and 4-3

It was like an episode of the twilight zone for UMD against Denver the past weekend.  Friday felt like a Saturday in the Bulldog’s 3-0 loss.  Then Saturday felt like a Friday when UMD lead 2-0 and 3-1 late in the third period.  It was at the 13:40 mark of the third when the twilight zone broke open and reality poured in.  in 91 seconds the Bulldogs went from leading 3-1 to trailing 4-3, the eventual final score.
Some may call it an out of body experience, but in Duluth this season most would call it just another Saturday night.  Then again, it has never been this bad of a melt down.

The Saturday night collapse makes UMD 24-2-4 when taking a lead into the third period.  That mark started after a loss to Bemidji State in the 2011 Final Five.  The two losses since then have both come this season (4-3 OT loss at UND).

Stunned can’t even start to explain how the fans, followers, and players felt after the game.  They knew a huge opportunity was blown for this Bulldogs team looking to be relevant in the home ice competition of the WCHA.  Now UMD will most likely be waiting to see where to make hotel reservations.

With the sweep, Denver jumped from 7th to a 4th place tie in the WCHA.

Stop the Hemorrhaging.  Some fans and followers commented after the Saturday game that Coach Sandelin has his work cut out for him.  They are absolutely correct.

Sandelin has never been afraid to use his timeout to get his point across.  The problem Saturday is that he used it earlier in the third period attempting to put out another fire, the lackluster power play.
UMD was having power play opportunities and not cashing in.  Then early in the third UMD was to get 46 second of five on three.  That is when Sandelin used his timeout to rest the top line and get the players on the same page.  One can’t argue with the logic then because no one knew what was coming later in the period.

Without the timeout, Sandelin had to rely on his on-ice leaders to right the ship.  Whether it didn’t take or, as some have speculated, there is a lack of leadership since the last batch of seniors left, the results do not equal a team headed up in the standings.  There is definitely an opportunity for a player, or group of players, to step up and lead this team.

Take Two.  Again this weekend UMD hosts an opponent directly ahead of them in the standings, Minnesota State Mankato.  MSUM is playing good hockey and will not be an easy opponent by any means.  The Bulldogs need to get some wins instead of helping other teams move up.

Saint Cloud State continued their front running ways winning a pair of games at Bemidji State.  SCSU now has first place by three points over Omaha.  SCSU’s next opponent will be Minnesota Twin Cities which was idle this past weekend giving them two games in hand against the Huskies, but trailing by five points.

Omaha hosted Michigan Tech and was upset in the second game of the series 2-1 in OT.  That win was Tech’s third OT win of the season and the first against a team other then Bemidji State.

The Colorado College traveled a long way to Alaska – Anchorage to tie two games, 2-2 and 3-3 respectively.  The downside for the Tigers is they gave up the game tying goal in both games, each late in the third period.

North Dakota held off a surging Wisconsin team to gain three points.  The good weekend for UND started with a tie Friday night giving them a five-game winless streak prior to a 4-1 win Saturday.