Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Another Top Team, Another Split

Here we are half way through the hockey season. UMD continues its prosperous ways with another split against the top tier teams of the WCHA, this time Denver. After a well played Friday game that saw UMD on the short side of a 3-2 score, they follow it up with an offensive show in a 6-3 win.

Friday’s game saw a furious finish where the Bulldogs had many really good scoring chances with the extra attacker in the last minute. It still didn’t matter. The Marc Cheverie show was phenomenal Friday keeping the Bulldogs out of sync. It was just another example of having the backstop in hockey can make the difference, and it also helps that Denver’s offense can light it up too. And don’t get the idea that UMD’s goalie, Brady Hjelle, played poorly. He played very well keeping DU to 3 that night. Many great shots from DU were coupled with great saves by Hjelle.

Saturday’s game started much differently than Friday’s scoreless first period. In the span of the first 9:00 the score was 3-1 in favor of UMD. It was a scoring output unexpected against Cheverie. It continued from there when UMD piled up a total of 6 against DU in route to a mostly convincing UMD win. What wasn’t convincing about the win is the evolving troubles in the second period. We will talk about that more in the mid-season report card coming soon.

The bottom line is that UMD has had opportunities to play the top teams of the WCHA and nation at home over the last couple weeks. The Bulldogs have not done poorly by any means, but they also did not take the giant step forward that an opportunity like this presents. The McNaughton Cup is getting further and further in the distance, but top three is definitely in the possibilities. And the possibilities for this team are still very numerous.

#1 Guy.  It is good to see that the Bulldogs are moving towards a #1 goalie.  I say good because it was, and still is, becoming very clear that Brady Hjelle is the guy a team wants in net.  Hopefully his play continues at a high rate and his talents continue to develop.  Hats off to Kenny Reiter who will take this as an opportunity to get better and push Hjelle to continue to be that #1 guy UMD needs...or Kenny will take his job!

WCHA Teams-To-Be Update. Bemidji State took a step backwards this past weekend. Playing Mankato in Bemidji should not be a tough task for a top ten team. Either Bemidji has been shown to be a mirage or the WCHA is back to being tops in the nation again because the beavers were handily swept by the Mavericks. That puts BSU at 1-3 against WCHA teams this year. Next on the list for the Mavericks of Mankato are the Mavericks of the University of Nebraska – Omaha, another WCHA team entering next year. Will Mankato’s streak of beating future WCHA teams continue?

Rankings. UMD’s rankings have stayed constant in the USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey Polls at #12 and #14 respectively. The INCH Power Ranking for UMD dropped one position to #15.

Next up is the Catamount Cup in Vermont starting January 2 against Mercyhurst.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Main Ingredient

The age old hockey question is finding that one key ingredient to make an OK team a really good one…or at least a contender. As UMD proved last season, the goaltender can be just that kick. Denver University is also going from the same script. The Bulldogs last season appeared destined for sub-expectation finish. The play of Alex Stalock said, “Get on my back.” And that is exactly what propelled UMD into the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament.

Denver is not an underachiever this season, but their consensus pick to be WCHA Champion is mainly for the reason of Marc Cheverie. With his 1.77 GAA and 8-1-1 mark, the Pioneers are poised this weekend to take over first in a move that would likely secure it for the remainder of the season. Having swept North Dakota and split with CC the last two weeks makes the case on its own.

What stands in DU’s path is a UMD team that scores and wins, especially at home. A team that can puzzle you as much as they can blow you away with their prowess for the back of the net. Putting together a complete game is still the goal of this year’s Bulldogs, and it is a must if they want to stay in the race for McNaughton Cup.

Game Plan. Scoring is a must. It has been hit and miss as of late and that is because opponents are keying on the main Bulldog scorers. What to do? Get used to it and make adjustments. From here on out it will take a team effort to free the Connollys, Fontaine, and Bordson. Or, while those four get the attention, others have to pick up the slack as in recent weeks with players like Kyle Schmidt.

Give Me a D. The rotation at goalie between Reiter and Hjelle has worked as well as one could want thus far. It has to be close to making one of them #1. Hjelle is not fully where you want a number one goalie to be yet, but Reiter is still letting too many weak goals. I for one want to see more of Brady Hjelle. What is for sure is that both netminders could use a big boost from solid defenseman play, which ahs been coming around as the year has progressed.

End of the Year Exam. The Bulldogs are finishing the 2009 portion of their schedule this weekend. Three points would be a great way to finish it off, but a split is most likely. Hopefully it will not take the last second heroics of last weekend.

Other Series in the WCHA.

Wisconsin at North Dakota: The Sioux are trying to get into their holiday break without dealing with more injuries. On top of the players missing, North Dakota is playing the top teams in the WCHA. Wisconsin has definitely been coming on as of late, but they will only get no more than one point this weekend.

Colorado College at Saint Cloud State: SCSU has also been surging as of late, like the Badgers. For SCSU it has been ever increasingly solid play in the net. Home games for the Huskies will help their cause and will get them a split in this series.

Minnesota at Michigan Technological University: This is being dubbed by the HighHorse as the Cellar-Dweller Showdown. Last season goalie Alex Kangas hit his rock bottom in a split at Houghton being pulled from net in each of the games. He recently talked to the St. Paul Pioneer Press explaining his emotional and physical reality check he had at MTU before the up and down end of the Gopher season. Let’s face it MTU is not what they were last season, and that is saying that they are bad. But they do get pumped up to play the Gophers just as they do against UMD. It will not be a sweep by the Huskies, but Minnesota will not leave the UP with more than two points.

MSU at Bemidji: Beaver sweep.
Enjoy the last full weekend of 2009 play!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Restart That Heart

The Bulldogs of UMD are still looking for that 60 minute complete performance. It was certainly not to be found Saturday night against North Dakota. After slogging through 2 plus periods of sloppy, uninspired play, UMD turned it on and scored the game tying goal with 0:33 left in the third and the game winner 0:12 into overtime. Look out Randy Moss, this team also plays when it wants to play. OK, maybe that is likely not the case, but sure could seem that way.

Two nights in a row this past weekend, the Bulldogs played very well in parts and quite poorly in other parts. Now that the penalty problem seems to be solved, there is a new issue to tackle, urgency that all games count. Whether we are talking about WCHA points or posturing for NCAA consideration, they all count no matter the month on the calendar.

Coming off of the “Miracle at Mariucci” last March against Princeton, the Bulldogs have started a trend of “cardiac kids” syndrome. Take the two games against the Gophers last month in which both UMD wins, the Bulldogs trailed 2-0. Exciting, but not a habit that should be continued.

Rankings. With the split the University of Minnesota – Duluth Bulldogs are in a three-way tie for third place in the WCHA. UMD is unchanged at #12 in the USCHO poll and moved up one spot to #12 in the USA Today/USA Hockey poll. Inside College Hockey Power Ranking moved the Bulldogs down one spot to #14.

Next weekend's opponent and WCHA leader Denver is #1 in the INCH Power Rankings and #2 in USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"I" for Incomplete

As Meatloaf once said, “Two out of three aint bad.” That is unless you are playing hockey where that one period where your team doesn’t play well sinks the entire effort. That is exactly the case at the DECC last night as UMD played arguably the best two periods of hockey this season in the first and third, but gave up the three killer goals in the second to the Sioux of UND. Throw in great scoring opportunities not converted down the stretch for UMD and a Sioux open netter to get the 4-2 final.

Talk at the end of the game was that the scene is set for tonight’s rematch by UMD playing it close and tough right to the end. The reality that can’t be denied is that two of the three UND goals were unassisted. Why? Because they both came off of bad UMD turnovers in their defensive end.

After a well played first period that saw UMD jump to a 1-0 lead on Drew Akin’s third goal of the season, Kenny Reiter attempted a clearing play early in the second that lead directly to Darcy Zajac’s open net goal. First unassisted UND goal. Later in a defensive breakdown in the UMD end, another giveaway and another unassisted goal, this time by Ben Blood. Later in the second, a long range shot by Jason Gregoire found the net though Reiter.

Although it seems that Reiter let himself down with two of the goals, it was the Bulldog netminder that really kept them in the game stopping 13 of 16 UND shots, many of which were decent scoring chances.

In the third, the Bulldogs came out firing and kept it going. The effort was great, but it only resulted in a goal by Kyle Schmidt. UMD did log 16 shots in the third, but Eidsness was up tot the task stopping 15.

Looking over the scoring sheet it becomes apparent quickly that both goals by UMD came from the third line. Names missing from the scoring log were Connolly, Fontaine, and Bordson. The question all along has been how the Bulldogs will respond when a team makes an effort to shit down the big scores of UMD? The answer, as of right now, is that the Bulldogs will be fine, if they play a solid defensive game. More to come tonight.

The Blues in Minneapolis. The Gophers lose another one Friday night, this time to the MSU Mavericks, 3-1. The interesting outcome of that game was the captain, Tony Lucia’s, comments. “We just need to make sure that our morals are where they need to be and make sure we’re playing for all the right reasons, and that’s for the ‘M’ on the front of our sweater.” Decoded, it sounds like discord in the M locker room. I will say now that Jordan Schroeder will have a great World Junior tournament and that he will leave. The smoke and mirrors from the rumored earlier departure are not all wrong, it will just take the right time to have the NHL sniffing around and that will the Juniors.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The First Big Weekend

Here we go! Staying away from the clichés, it can be simply put that if UMD is to be in the upper half of the WCHA, or in the race for the championship, these next 6 WCHA games are important. They are importance is evident when you look at the opponents and the game locations.

The teams on the schedule in order are North Dakota, Denver, and Colorado College, the other teams in the top four of the WCHA with the Bulldogs. The location of all six games is the usually friendly confines of the DECC.

UMD has been a team nationally recognized for their work and wins this year by consistently being ranked in national polls. This next stretch will determine if the Bulldogs are where they should be, or maybe they could make strides towards the upper echelon of the WCHA and the nation.

North Dakota comes to town. It was a memorable game last time UMD and UND played. It was the 3-0 UMD win in Saint Paul during the Final Five last year. Those memories should be put aside when the skates are laced up Friday because Und will be bringing a good offense and a very good goaltender to Duluth. The Sioux have five players with 10 or more points in a fairly even distribution. No big stars here, but many well-known key players who can get the goals. Goalie Brad Eidsness is currently posting a 1.89 GAA and is solid in net.

Trend or Mirage? The Bulldogs are off to their best start in 14 years and are currently third in the WCHA. Coming off of 3 straight wins, the Dogs will have to work hard to make it four. The solid start and rising stock in the national spotlight will be put to the test in the games against the Sioux, Pioneers, and Tigers.  UMD will have to put up or fade into the pack in the WCHA.  The good news is that they have the offensive arsenal to put up the big numbers and that will help the young netminders get the valuable game time against the really good teams. 

What are those Numbers?  UMD is 5-1-1 on Fridays and 4-3-0 on Saturdays. Maybe more importantly the Dogs have lost only twice at the DECC, and as said, the next six are at home. Additionally, 16 of Justin Fontaine’s 20 points, 16 of Jack Connolly’s 21 points and 12 of Mike Connolly’s 14 points have come at home.

On the flip side, UND is 6-1-0 of Fridays and 2-3-2 on Saturdays. The Sioux are riding a two game unbeaten streak that they definitely want to extend after the being swept in their last WCHA series at Denver two weeks ago.

We will see which are trends and which are mirages. We at the HighHorse see a split this weekend. We are split ourselves about which one the Dogs will win, though. What we do agree on is this will be a very important stretch of games for this year’s Bulldogs!

Other WCHA Action this Weekend:

Saint Cloud State at Alaska – Anchorage: The streaky (and split-a –plenty) Huskies make the long trip to Alaska this weekend. In the end each team will win one because neither are good enough to sweep.

Michigan Tech at Wisconsin: As much as it hurts, both because I am a MTU fan and that they beat UMD this year already, Tech is a doormat in this league. Badgers are getting better and they will sweep.

Minnesota State – Mankato and Minnesota: First of two home and home WCHA series this weekend. Minnesota should be feeling the urgency to right the ship and that urgency will make the grip on their sticks tighter. The Gophers will not sweep this one, but MSU will not take more than two points.

Denver and Colorado College: A big rivalry home and home series that pit the two teams tied for first in the WCHA. It would be easy to say split for so many reasons, but this will be a Denver sweep turning the tide on CC and starting to make it clear that they have been a mirage for the first part of this season.
Stay tuned this wintery weekend, recent results have been surprising in the WCHA, so all predictions may not be worth their weight in snow.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Surprising Results; Hard Work Ahead

Just when you think that you have everything figured out, Saturday rolls along in the WCHA. It goes to the old cliché why the games are played on the ice, not on paper.

Friday’s WCHA tilts went down as expected. Then Saint Cloud and Alaska – Anchorage made the choice to not read the rankings and play the games and win their games completing the Saturday night sweep in the Centennial State, Colorado. Both results kept UMD in second only losing two points in the race for first in the conference during an idle weekend.

Meanwhile, in the prairies of North Dakota, Bemidji State and UND were having their way with #1 Miami. BSU beating them Friday and NoDak tying the Redhawks on Saturday.

So what is the news here? The race for the McNaughton Cup is going to be tight if the first part of the season hold to form. The second is that UMD ahs their work cut out for them the next three WCHA series. The Bulldogs straddle the holiday break with home matches against North Dakota, Denver, and Colorado College. If UMD plans to make a run to the top, these games will be the pathway, the key, the “take us seriously” games. Even though UMD is at #12 in the USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey polls, the upcoming opponents are currently at #3, #2, and #6 respectively in the USCHO poll (the positions are the same in the USA Today poll except CC is #6), they have yet to play the top teams and prove that they deserve the accolades bestowed upon the WCHA elite.

A night of upsets Saturday sets the stage for the showdown games against the others striving for McNaughton.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New DECC is Taking Form

Duluth News Tribune photographer Bob King was allowed to into the new structure yesterday and snapped these shots of the new digs.  As reported by Kevin Pates, you can buy a suite in the new DECC for $25,000 per year for a three year commitment.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory....

The traditional song that is played by the Gopher band after a home sweep, the Battle Hymn of the Republic, was not on play list this weekend. In fact, it was put on the back burner after the gutsy overtime win Friday by the never-say-die Bulldogs. UMD backed Friday’s win with their second win in that many nights after trailing 2-0 in both games. The Bulldog sweep was the first since 2003 and the second since 1993. It does back a trip north on I-35 go smoother.

In this battle of intra-state rivals, it was clear that the Bulldogs were going to do anything and everything to keep their good start to the season rolling. Pucks at the net is how teams win games. That philosophy resulted in a UMD goal off a Gopher defenseman’s skate in both games of the season. I read that luck is the residue of design; that design must be to pepper the net from all angles whenever the opportunity presents itself. The Bulldogs (9-4-1, 6-3-1) are now tied for first in the WCHA.

Starting in Net. In what may be looked at as a shaky start, Brady Hjelle buckled down after 2 first period Gopher goals Saturday night to blank UMTC for the remaining two periods. Coupled with the strong performance Friday night by Kenny Reiter, the goaltender rotation should still be in effect when play resumes for the Bulldogs.

Players Elevate. Jack Connolly has taken over the scoring lead in the nation passing teammate Justin Fontaine who is now number two. Jack had a great weekend picking up three games in the series. He should be a strong candidate for WCHA Red Baron Offensive Player of the Week.

Giving Thanks. After a very entertaining and productive weekend of hockey, the UMD Bulldogs get a week off before entertaining WCHA powerhouses North Dakota and Denver at the DECC.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Jekyll and Hyde

The season for the Minnesota Gophers has been up and down. The 0 for 25 power play efficiency to start the season leading to a split at Wisconsin and eventually handing Bemidji State their first loss of the year has been the building successes. Intermixed in the climb is the departure of sophomore defenseman Sam Lofquist, the season ending injury to Jay Bariball, the goaltender circus in a 6-2 loss to Bemidji State and the rumors surrounding the possible departure of Jordan Schroeder. Is this an unusual season in Gopherland, or the new reality? We believe in both with more emphasis on the new reality.

Injuries can never be expected, especially to top players like Bariball. But in this age of top-players leaving to go pro after 1-2 seasons, or even mid season as evidenced by Lofquist, Kyle Okposo and BU’s loss of two players to the major juniors this season already, how can a top tier team keep its position? How can a team “gel” or form some sort of chemistry when the signing pen used for letters of intent still are new enough to sign a pro contract. Just as in college basketball, the senior classes of college hockey teams are getting smaller die to all the early departures.

So what can be done? There are many very good hockey players that are not on the NHL radar due to size or some other “non-desirable” attribute for the NHL. But those players aren’t the top tier for college that many high end programs’ boosters expect and call for. The result? A revolving door at the entrance of the locker room and plenty of press conferences announcing signings, both for playing college hockey and then pro hockey.

This weekend pits two intra-state rivals, named the biggest in-state Minnesota rivalry of any sport at any level by The Sporting News, who have gone down different paths of recruiting. Both philosophies appear to be that way due to their prominence and each school’s notoriety nationally and they come with different results.

While Minnesota seems decimated of the break through talent, it is there, but mostly in the underclassmen ranks. When that talent does develop, it will likely be snatched by the pros. On the flip side, UMD has some pro draftees and have had their fair share of early departures, but they still do have good senior class contributors. Take MacGregor Sharp from last year, leading scorer in the WCHA and senior who saw it through. Take this year’s trio of the Connollys and Fontaine. Should fans sweat the prospects of them lighting it up only to be signed in the off season? The most likely answer is no, because none of them are drafted, so the usual M.O. is to let them play out their eligibility then take a flier on them. UMD’s gain and a place for non-drafted players to excel in the highly respected WCHA. As a comparison, Minnesota has 20 of their 26 rostered players drafted while UMD has 5 drafted out of their 26. There are players who played at both institutions in the NHL, but not at all the disparity of the number drafted on this years’ squads, 9-4 in favor of UMTC.

The recruiting life of a college hockey coach, and now retaining life, cannot be easy. Finding the right mix of “stars” who will likely leave early and those good players who will produce and be leaders through their senior, or junior, season is priceless. WCHA experience shows and the Bulldogs of UMD have it this year and the Gophers still seem to be seeking it on a consistent basis.

Probable Line Combinations. As is the case every week, look to Kevin Pates’ blog, Rink & Run, Friday afternoons to see that night’s lineup. Also stay with Rink & Run fro almost daily dose of hockey news, UMD and WCHA related. There will also be a permanent link on the right column of the HighHorse.

Other Series in the WCHA.

North Dakota at Denver: Two of the top teams thus far in the WCHA season square off…sort of. The Sioux will be without Chay Genoway after he was injured last weekend and Denver is still without Marc Cheverie from his leg injury. Regardless, this will be the opportunity for one of these teams to break away, or for the top to stay muddled, or tied up. Look for UND to continue its early season surge with at least one win this weekend.

Wisconsin at Saint Cloud State: On the outside it looks like UW will make it two sweeps in a row, but the Huskies seem to be pesky at home. With Roe back, the Huskies will not be swept, but probably only see one point.

Mankato at Alaska-Anchorage: Battle it out at the bottom. Anchorage will sweep a tired and streaky MSU team.

Robert Morris at Colorado College: Don’t overlook a split as CC is very streaky. Most likely this is a sweep for the Tigers at home.

It is that rivalry for that in-state rivalry for the Bulldogs and the Gophers. It should provide some good hockey between the two very different maroon and gold teams.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A third of the way through

As we approach Thanksgiving the UMD hockey season is already one third of the way over. It is always so amazing how fast each year flies by, before you know it the Final Five is here and all the talk is Pairwise and who is going to the NCAAs. We thought it would be a good time to do a quick review of the teams play.

We know that the MacNaughton Cup or the NCAA title isn't won in October, but good play at the start of the season can make attaining either a lot easier. At this point UMD is in a good place to compete for a WCHA title and NCAA playoffs. Continued scoring and a more balanced scoring sheet should make for a good season.

The Bulldogs have played a total of 12 games of which eight have been in conference play. UMD's conference record is 4-3-1 and a non-conference record of 3-1. The nine conference points is good enough for UMD to be in the top half of the conference standings tied for third. In the national rankings UMD is ranked 20th in this weeks USCHO.com poll.

When it comes to individual scoring statistics UMD forwards are at the top of the list. Justin Fontaine and Jack Connolly are tied for first overall in scoring at 18 points, with Fontaine leading the nation in goals having tallied 11 so far. Rob Bordson is tied for second in scoring with 17 points of which his 14 assists is currently the most of any player in college hockey. Every team playing would like to have this kind of scoring on their team.

It has been a good season so far for the Bulldogs and fans hoping the rest of the season will continue to have a solid offense and a little more consistency on defense. It is a marathon and not a sprint so high level play as the season proceeds will continue to yield positive results.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Great Recovery

A measure of a good team is how they respond to adversity. The University of Minnesota – Duluth Bulldogs took that step to being a top tier team in the WCHA.

Friday’s game was a demoralizing defeat by MTU where the Bulldogs greatly outshot the patient and plodding Michigan Tech Huskies and received defeat from a couple of breakdowns and unfortunate plays. But that is the way Tech works and its UMD’s job to put it out of reach using their offensive prowess. The offense did show up Saturday and used all facets to score 8 goals led by Justin Fontaine’s 4 goals and 1 assist.

Now to take the next step for UMD to become an experienced team that is also a contender, they must become consistent so games like Friday don’t happen. So teams that are at the bottom of the league are not stealing points, especially at the DECC, from the Bulldogs. Lesson learned? We’ll see in Minneapolis next weekend.

Beavers and Gophers. A night after Minnesota handed BSU their first loss, Bemidji returned the favor stinging the Gophers 6-2 Sunday. The integration of BSU in to the WCHA maybe a smooth one the way they are playing this season.

Rankings. As of this column, the Bulldogs fell two spots in the Inside College Hockey Power Rankings to #16. Undoubtedly that is a result of the loss to Tech on Friday night.

Friday, November 13, 2009

50-19 = 2-3

Minnesota - Duluth outshoots Michigan Tech 50-19, but take the loss to the last place Huskies 3-2.  It was a frustrating night of hockey for a team in which the UMD radio team agree with my thoughts earlier today that losses like this to Tech are routinely looked back on as "stinging" as it was said tonight.  The result is especially hard to take in that it was a game where UMD lead and had the home ice advantage.

Tech notched the only even strength goals of the night and made the Bulldogs pay for turnovers and sloppy play at times.  It was the typical "grind it out" MTU type win.

Scoring for the Bulldogs tonight was JConnolly and Mike Seidel.  Not found on the scoring sheet tonight and pushing a shot wide of a mostly open net with five seconds left is Justin Fontaine.  It has been said that more than the "usual scorers" need to score, but now we need those players and the usual scoreers to pick it up.

Husky Rivalry, Points Needed

Its rivalry weekend for the Bulldogs of UMD and the Huskies of Michigan tech, or that is how the WCHA terms the coupling of teams that play four times every year. If it is not a true rivalry, and some can make the claim that it is, then it has at least been pivotal games for UMD the past few years.

MTU has had struggles the past few years, that is well documented. But when they play UMD, it is always a hard fought, close game. In fact, looking back at the end of the season at the Bulldog’s finishing position in the WCHA, we think where UMD could be if they had won some “winnable” games. Those games are usually against the aforementioned Huskies and the Seawolves of Anchorage. They should be games to gain points, but either the Huskies come to play more than other weekends, or the Bulldogs have had some sort of letdown.

Last year the Bulldogs went 2-0-2 against MTU. Not bad, but it must be stated that MTU only had 6 wins all year in route to a 10th place finish in the WCHA. In the 2007-2008 season, UMD went 2-1-1 against the Huskies with MTU winning 14 games that year finishing 9th in the WCHA. Points left on the table for a team that could beat the upper echelon, but couldn’t collect more from Tech. This year we hope for a different trend to start.

New Beginnings. It is well documented that UMD ahs a penalty problem. Almost to he point where the number of misconducts and majors could label them a dirty and cheap team. Coaches have spoken and stresses the point that winning teams do not take 24+ PIM/game. Maybe it has worked at least in the players focus for the games.

“None of us is satisfied. We just have to say we’re starting over; we have to take care of this right now,” said Akins, who has five penalties this season. “We need a full bench and we can’t afford to have players out of the game in the penalty box. We can’t have retaliation penalties and after-the-whistle penalties, and let another team get under our skin. You need to keep your feet moving – no hooking, or tripping, or lazy penalties.”

“What I told them was the obvious, you can’t be the most-penalized team in college hockey and expect to win,” said Sandelin. “But I don’t want to take away from a team being aggressive, intense and tenacious. You have to play hard, and smart.”

The good news is that MTU takes many minutes in penalties also, so UMD’s above average power play should get some work in.

Other Weekend Action in the WCHA:

Saint Cloud State at North Dakota: Without Garrett Roe tonight (he is sitting out due to a team rule violation), SCSU will not win. For that matter, with Roe tomorrow night they won’t win in Grand Forks, either.

Alaska-Anchorage at Wisconsin: I keep thinking that the Badgers will be able to complete a WCHA sweep and they have yet to do so. So is this their weekend? I will again say yes, and Anchorage will likely get at least one point.

Colorado College at Minnesota State Mankato: It would be easy to say CC sweep, but the Mavericks have been resilient at home. That being said MSU, is not that good, so a three to four point weekend for CC is likely.

Bemidji State at Minnesota:  The future of the WCHA at the perennial contender, maybe not this year.  With the number of injuries and departures the Gophers will have to work hard to make the upper half.  This week the Gophers actually made a statement to quash a rumor that Schroeder is leaving the program.  not a common practice to make official staements about rumors.  At the same time, this is the recipe for damge control right before the aforementioned player actually leaves.  We'll see about Schroeder and the outcome of this test for the Beavers.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rankings on the Rise

In the most recent rankings, the UMD Bulldogs move up to #18 in the USCHO Poll and #16 in the Inside College Hockey Power Rankings. A move up based on their split in Colorado Springs this past weekend marking their first road win in the season. As the season progresses, splits on the road will need to turn more towards 3 pointers or sweeps if they plan on finishing in the upper half of the WCHA. For now, we will be content with the first road win against a surprisingly better team in CC than was expected in preseason outlooks.

On the other rankings front, UMD has moved firmly into #1 in penalty minutes per game. It seems that is not a league wide or game wide increase in penalties, but just a UMD thing. How many losses will it take before they learn that taking penalties is detrimental? We are seriously at the point where UMD could be viewed as the dirty team in the WCHA. In the past game alone, the Bulldogs had an instigator penalty for leaving the bench coupled with a 10 minute game misconduct, another 10 minute misconduct, and a 5 minute major charging. And those were just 4 of the 16 penalties assessed to UMD. It is a slippery slope that goes into bad habits and attitudes. For the sake of my favorite college hockey team, their reputation, and their aspirations for this season, I hope that they can turn this problem around.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Return to the Scene

University of Minnesota – Duluth men’s hockey team returns to the site of their first round WCHA playoff sweep at the World Arena in Colorado Springs, CO. Colorado College is atop the WCHA just two points ahead of UMD.

Return to Me. UMD was short handed even before all the penalties were called. Out from last Saturday’s game were defenseman Scott Kishel, Dylan Olsen and Trent Palm; right winger Justin Fontaine; and center Travis Oleksuk who has been sidelined since the second game of the season. Returning regular players to the lineup will help, especially on the road in the WCHA.

Time Keeps On Ticking. The article on penalties maybe for naught. It is now official that UMD is the second most penalized team in NCAA Div. I hockey. Their 22.9 PIM/game is only eclipsed by Ferris State’s 24.6 PIM/game. To put it perspective, Wisconsin is second in the WCHA with 21.2 PIM/game.

Keep on Scoring. Rob Bordson continues his tear with 1 goal and 4 assists this past weekend. His efforts and achievements are not being overlooked either. Bordson received nomination for Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week. Players who step up to become integral is what makes average teams better by creating more balanced scoring.

Around the WCHA this weekend:

Denver at Alaska – Anchorage: Denver will have to cope without Cheverie. What better team to get WCHA time for a freshman goalie than against Anchorage? The underlying interest here is the expected goalie for DU, Adam Murray, is from Anchorage, so this may not be the easiest place for Murray to concentrate. Denver will not have a problem scoring, but a tie here is definitely likely coupled with a DU win.

North Dakota at Michigan Tech: North Dakota has shown some struggles on the road and Tech has shown flashes at home. It does certainly appear that this will be a Siouz sweep.

Minnesota at Wisconsin: Border Battle continued after the Packer-Vikings game of last Sunday. The true test for Wisconsin is if they can complete a full weekend of games in the WCHA. The true test for Minnesota is to prove that they can compete with more than the bottom half of the WCHA. Both teams have something to prove, so why not say that you can throw the record books out and expect 110% from both teams while their backs are against the wall. That being said, I see Bucky coming out with a series win, 3 or 4 points.

As the season continues, more trends come to the forefront. After this weekend, the standings should reflect those trends setting up. It will be a good weekend of hockey.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New (Hockey) World Order?

The past weekend’s games at the DECC brought to a point a new trend in college hockey, the amount of penalty minutes per game.

The Clarkson – UMD series saw in Friday’s game, both teams took 5 minute checking from behind penalties with the automatic 10 minute misconduct. Including those penalties, UMD had 9 penalties for 29 minutes and Clarkson had 8-27. That isn’t that much considering the 5’s and the 10’s, but there were 12 total power play chances between the two teams. Let’s move on to Saturday where it gets really hairy. Clarkson took two 5’s for checking from behind with their accompanying 10’s for a grand total of 16-54. The Bulldogs were a measly 9-18 in this penalty marred weekend of hockey. The power play total was 23 with 15 of them for UMD.

In other WCHA games Alaska – Anchorage and Minnesota combined or 78 minutes of penalties Friday with 13 total power play chances. Saint Cloud and Michigan Tech combined for 53 minutes Saturday with 9 power play chances. These are numbers that are surprising.

Are we to get alarmed and think that hockey is a street brawl taken to the ice? Is it a crack down to try to change the game of hockey in the WCHA? Are new officials contributing to the increase for one reason or another? It is likely a combination of the three.

One thing to be sure is the Bulldogs will live and die by their power play and penalty kill. At this rate, 5 on 5 hockey will be the minority and the fourth line will likely get very little playing time. I would like to se it all even out and be able to watch some good quality hockey again, no this choppy type of game we have witnessed so far.

Friday, October 30, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

Home cooking is what the Bulldogs need after the trip to Saint Cloud. Going 3-1 at home and 0-1-1 on the road, the team needs more game time under their belt and the best place to do that is at home.

This weekend they renew competition against Clarkson of the ECAC. Lifetime series, UMD is tied 2-2 against the Golden Knights. The last meeting between the squads was in 1997, a UMD win in the Syracuse Invitational Tournament.

Keep Out! The Bulldogs are averaging 22.7 PIM/game, second to Wisconsin in the WCHA. The penalty kill for UMD has been good with all the work they have had posting a 81.1% efficiency. As they stack up against Clarkson, the Golden Knights power play is currently at a 19.4% efficiency.

You Take the Fall. Coupled with UMD’s problem with penalties is the positive that they have the ninth best power play in the nation at 25.6%. That mark still puts them at second in the WCHA behind Colorado College’s 32.4%.

More Scoring to Come. Rob Bordson has 2 goals and 3 assists this year. His five point total this year is two shy of his previous two years at UMD numbers of 1 goal and 6 assists.

Issues that still need answers…

  • Travis Oleksuk is still out with an ankle/leg injury. His promising offensive skills are being missed by the Bulldogs.
  • UMD needs more players to get into the scoring column. As witnessed last weekend, the players who are doing the majority of the scoring may be held off by a good defensive plan or they may just have off nights. Whatever the reason, if you don’t score you don’t win. Rob Bordson, as mentioned above, and Kyle Schmidt showed great signs of improvement in this area last weekend.
  • Defense will need to be more, well, defensive. Many times against SCSU last weekend a defenseman carried the puck into the offensive zone only to have it stripped and taken the other way. The most alarming time this happened was during UMD’s power play chance in overtime on Friday. Defense needs to take care of business in their own end first, then get involved on the other end.
  • Who will be the starting goalie tonight and Saturday? Is a splitting of nights going to occur? We will have to wait to find out.
In other WCHA action:

Alaska – Anchorage at Minnesota: All college hockey fans will keep at least one eye on Minneapolis this weekend to see if this Gopher team can pull out of their dive. It may be the right weekend to do that seeing that the Seawolves are in town. But it could also backfire if the trend isn’t because they were playing the “elite” teams.

Saint Cloud State at Michigan Tech: Battle of the Huskies will see if a mediocre SCSU team can get things done on the road. Likewise, the Tech offense is going, now they just need a backstop to keep the puck out of the net and they may roll.

Minnesota State Mankato at Denver: This series should be two more chances for Cheverie to add shutouts to his stats.

New Hampshire at Wisconsin: This will be a good non-conference match up to see if the Badgers are the team that played last Friday night (6-0 win) or Saturday night (3-2 loss) at Mankato.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

WCHA Arenas

Being at the National Hockey Center on the campus of Saint Cloud State last weekend made me stop and think about the arenas in the conference, especially with the new DECC in Duluth being constructed as I write.

I have been to seven of the ten arenas and have watched hockey games in each of the arenas, but not always WCHA hockey. Of the three I have not been in, I have driven past one and the remaining two are just pictures and sounds in my head.

So here they are, all WCHA arenas compared based on their stats. I have included my observations of the arenas I have watched hockey in. Please feel free to add your own comments, especially about the arenas I still have to visit.

In alphabetical order by school:

Sullivan Arena; Alaska – Anchorage; Built 1983; Olympic size (200’ x 100’); Seats 6,206

One of the three I have not been to visit. In talking with people from the area, the citizens of Anchorage love their hockey and do support it. Do they still throw a King Salmon on the ice after the first goal?

World Arena; Colorado College; Built 1997; Olympic size; Seats 7,343

The World has good sight lines and plenty of seating. It has bare concrete upper walls, but the ceiling is high enough that it echoes excessively. I enjoyed the arena when I was there to watch a hockey game.

Magness Arena; Denver University; Built 2000; NHL size (200’ x 85’); Seats 6,026

Magness is the one that I have only driven by and it looks beautiful from the outside. It was an expensive built so I assume the inside was done right….but anything would be better than the HUGE rainbow on the end wall from their old arena.

MacInnes Student Ice Arena; Michigan Technological University; Built 1972; NHL size; Seats 4,200

One of the old and storied buildings left in the WCHA. It has the seats on the sides with just the wall on one end and a walkway on the other end. The walkway end is where the world famous Tech band sets up shop, right over the visiting goalie during the first and third period. The attendance isn’t always good, but the support from the community and the boisterous band makes it a fun place to watch hockey and a difficult place for visitors to play in, especially during Winter Carnival. This arena, band, and atmosphere in the arena, and the town, makes it my favorite road trip and favorite “away” arena.

Mariucci Arena; University of Minnesota – Twin Cities; Built 1993; Olympic size; Seats 10,000

A well used rink in the Twin Cities area by high school teams, junior teams, and the men’s Gopher team. It is a bowl type arena (concourses at the top and fans walk down to their seats) with an expansive size from concourse to concourse. Good sight lines from every seat with the opportunity to have standing room places all around the top of the seating. I wish that the seating could be steeper as sometimes the rink seems far away from your seat.

Verizon Wireless Center; Minnesota State University – Mankato; Built 1995; Olympic size; Seats 5,000

Name your wireless sponsor arena. This venue has had multiple name changes as the wireless company sponsor changes hands. A well planned arena with ample room for the fans and VIP suites. The size of the arena suits the capacity very well. MSU does have a band, be it small, but the singing of the “Ole, Ole, Ole” song gets to be annoying unless you are a n intoxicated MSU student. Do you have a school song? Let the band play it!

DECC Arena; University of Minnesota – Duluth; Built 1966; sub-NHL size (190’ x 85’); Seats 5,233

The oldest and smallest rink in the WCHA has to be one of the classics. Yes, I spent five great years at school there going to most hockey games, so this may not be the most objective analysis (Section 14 Row 4 for 3 years!). The layout of the arena is such that the seats above the rink have a 12-15 foot wall raising the front row off the ice. As a result, the seats have a steep angle making all seats in the upper part seem like you are right over the action. The seats go right up to the ceiling, which makes it very intimate, but not with an echo problem. The ceiling is tiled so the noise you hear at the arena or on the media coverage is the noise that is there. The band is good and splits time with the piped in music for a good energetic feeling. The school song is prevalent from the band along with “Heaven” (In Heaven There is no Beer”). I consider this my “home” rink and greatly enjoy watching games there. It will be a bittersweet move when the new DECC Arena is completed December 2010.

Ralph Englestad Arena; University of North Dakota; Built 2001; NHL sized; Seats 11,640

Xcel Energy Center junior, but fancier. The amount of natural stone that is used in this building is amazing, but then add all the carved Sioux logos and you have a truly beautiful apportioned layout. Sitting in the Ralph makes one realize the pride and dedication Sioux fans and alumni have to this program. I have seen a hockey game at the Ralph, but not a UND game. That must be a an experience to behold. Ralph Englestad Arena is the most ornate, beautiful, and user friendly WCHA arena I have been to.

National Hockey Center; Saint Cloud State University; Built 1989; Olympic size; Seats 5,763

Home to the Saint John’s Johnnies in addition to the Huskies, the National Hockey Center was built as Saint Cloud jumped to Division I and to house some of USA Hockey’s training and tourneys. This arena has seats on the side and was one of the first with VIP boxes that line one end of the arena. The construction is concrete and steel, period. It is like a box that ends up being an echo chamber. The overly loud music that is blared over the sound system is enough to give you a headache and force smart parents to put ear plugs on their children (saw it on two kids last weekend, honest). No school band makes it seem like junior hockey especially after SCSU goals when Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll Part II is played even though Glitter is a convicted (twice) child molester and the NFL has banned the original version at its games. Additionally, some professional and college teams in the US and Canada have discontinued using the song, but not SCSU.

Kohl Center; University of Wisconsin – Madison; Built 1998; sub-Olympic (200’ x 97’); Seats 15,237

The largest capacity arena in the WCHA that replaced the storied Dane County Coliseum. The third of the arenas I have yet to attend. As far as I hear, it is a great home ice advantage for the badgers who have rarely lost there in the past few years. It is so close, it should be the next “new to me” rink that I visit.

So what makes a good venue for college hockey? In short, an arena that is accessible (ticket wise), good sight lines, and a home school band to make the experience complete.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

WCHA Weekend in Review: October 23-24

This WCHA season is turning out to be unexpected. One may say that parity has come to the league, others may say that it “another down season,” or one may say that it is time to treat all schools based on what they do, not who they are. If a “lower” team such as Michigan Tech or Alaska-Anchorage started off as poorly as Minnesota, people would say, “…same old, same old.” But it must be different for the perennials……or maybe not. Note multiple down years for Michigan football as of late.

Not only a power outage, but a full shut down occurred in Minneapolis this past weekend. Not only are the Gophers 0 for 20 on the power play this season, yes the whole season so far, but they have been shutout three of their four games for an average of 0.75 goals per game. That coupled with giving up 13 in those four games for 3.25 goals against, it is widespread. I think it has even affected their brains as evidenced by captain Tony Lucia’s comment, “They outworked us at times but I think we deserved at least one this weekend.” Is he talking about a game, a goal, or just trying to say “Help us!” in another way?

It is only Michigan Tech, and that is painful to say as my second team I follow, but CC had to score to beat the scoring and not defending Huskies in a sweep in Colorado Springs. Howe wasn’t stand on his head, but he was good enough to win the games.

Another perennial, Wisconsin, seems to having their problems starting out this year just like their rival, the Gophers. Coming out and making a statement Friday in Mankato in a 6-0 isn’t as impressive when followed up by a 3-2 loss the next night against the lowly Mavericks.

Anchorage pulled one off! It must be a difficult trip to Alaska and then play two nights in a row, but many good teams do it. So are the Sioux also down or just having a bad night? I think time will tell, but let us lean towards the latter at this point.

So that leaves CC on top of the heap after one partial weekend and one full weekend of conference play. It must be noted that championships are not won and lost in October and November, but you can set a tone or dig a hole that cannot be recovered from at any time in the season.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mixed Results

Lost chances? That is not what you want to be talking about at the end of the season, but that might be what happened at Saint Cloud this last weekend for UMD. The Huskies were very beatable both nights, but each game brought challenges that the Bulldogs could not overcome.

Friday’s 3-3 tie was hard to get the flow because of the number, and lopsided number, of power-plays. “It was a good first 20 minutes. The next 40 there wasn’t a lot of 5 on 5 hockey.” With 10 power-plays for SCSU and 5 for UMD with five straight power-plays for the Huskies, it was difficult to flow within the game.

For all that happened, UMD never trailed in the game and had good goalie play from Hjelle. It shows the mettle of the Bulldogs.

Saturday’s game, a new night with a new outcome, and new concerns. Again special teams was the story of the game with UMD scoring both their goals in a 4-2 loss on the power-play. SCSU also scored a power-play tally, but the real back-breaker came in the second period with two short handed goals. It seemed to take the Bulldogs right out of the second period.

To their credit, UMD came out in the third and played hard and looked very cohesive at times, but only managed one goal.

Hjelle again played well at through most of the game, but was the victim of the short handed tallies. After the second period, it was not a surprise to spell Hjelle with Reiter. It was a good WCHA debut for Reiter as he played well, but only faced four shots.

It was the first road assignment for the season for UMD and it showed that the team must consistently play full games, not just parts. Additionally, I think that this is a wake-up call that playing road WCHA games is never easy no matter the caliber of the opponent.

The next series for the Bulldogs of UMD will be Clarkson back at the friendly confines of the DECC.

**All Photos: Andrew Nippert

Friday, October 23, 2009

Power-Play and People

The first road assignment is coming this weekend in Saint Cloud as the Bulldogs travel to take on SCSU. The Huskies are a team that is projected to finish in the top half of the WCHA and above UMD. Those two factors make this weekend the first watershed moment for this young, and largely untested, Bulldog team.

To make the weekend a total success there are many factors that must be controlled. The scorers must keep scoring, and not only on the power-play; the defense must keep up its focus; and someone else has to step up and make their presence known on the goal sheet. It is time that the big names on offense get the supporting help to take the coming defensive pressure and focus that will be coming from teams preparing for the Bulldogs.

Interesting Match-ups for the Weekend:

  • Proven scorers of SCSU vs. The Young UMD Defense. Roe and Lasch can prove to be a challenge for any college team. Throw in a young Bulldog defense and freshman goalies, and we have a nice test for UMD. As far as defensemen go, we need to see more leadership on the ice from Mike Montgomery to help out the rest of the corps. But maybe this is not that big of an issue as the Huskies have scored an average of 2.00 goals per game in four games.
  • High Flying Bulldog Scorers vs. SCSU’s Freshman Goalminder. When Jace weslosky was deemed ineligible this summer, it was clear that Mike Lee, freshman from Roseau, was going to put to the test to see if the hype was true. So far it seems top be a good run for Lee who owns a 1.97 goals against average. He will have to face the nation’s fourth ranked power-play with UMD’s Fontaine, JConnolly, and MConnolly. That being said, it must be reiterated that more offensive contributors need to emerge for UMD to be successful.
  • Young UMD Team in a Hostile Environment. Saint Cloud loves their hockey team and makes the National Hockey Center a difficult place to visit.
Around the WCHA. It is a full slate of WCHA conference play this weekend.

Michigan Tech at Colorado College: Can CC goalie Howe keep up his pace and make believers of all the skeptics?

Wisconsin at Minnesota State – Mankato: Badger fans are looking for a bounce back for their team after taking only one point at home last weekend from CC. Mankato is good place to do that, unless insiders we have talked are correct and the Badgers are highly overrated.

North Dakota at Alaska Anchorage: Time to burst the yearly swell of taking anchorage seriously in the national picture. A good thrashing by the Sioux at home should dispel those thoughts…and votes.

Denver at Minnesota: The WCHA favorite at the perennial nationally ranked team. Both teams are trying to turn around their starts to the season. DU is 2-2 and UM-TC is 0-1-1. This series, to me, looks like a split.

We are in full WCHA conference swing, and we at the HighHorse look forward to attending the games at Saint Cloud this weekend. Watch for analysis and photos fo the games right here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Finish the Sweep!

That is the way you do it! It may not have been really pretty Saturday night, but the good teams get the job done against the lower half teams. That is exactly what happened in Duluth again the MSU Mavericks. Good play all around, but the goals not going all around. If your last name is not Connolly or Fontaine for UMD, then you did not score one of the eight goals this past weekend. To compliment the good goalie play by Hjelle, the offense needs to start spreading it around before the Bulldogs meet a team that can shut down those names. As mentioned, Hjelle had a good weekend as well as most of the UMD defensive corps. Let that be a trend that continues!

Fontaine named Red Baron WCHA Offensive player of the week. As posted on wcha.com:

University of Minnesota Duluth winger Justin Fontaine, who scored four goals and set up another while helping the Bulldogs to a two-game conference sweep over visiting Minnesota State, Mankato last weekend, is the Red Baron® WCHA Offensive Player of the Week for Oct. 20-26, 2009.

A 5-11, 175-pound junior from Bonnyville, Alberta, Fontaine scored twice - including the game-winning goal - and assisted on another goal in leading UMD to a 5-2 win over Minnesota State last Friday (Oct. 16) at the DECC in Duluth. He then had a pair of tallies the following evening (Saturday, Oct. 17) as Minnesota Duluth rallied past the Mavericks 3-2 to complete the series sweep.

In addition to his five scoring points in the series, Fontaine put a team-high seven shots on net Friday and scored with 7:37 to play in the third period Saturday to break at 2-2 tie and seal the UMD victory. Three of his four goals in the series came on the power-play.

Fontaine now leads the nation in both points with nine (he shares that honor with line mate Jack Connolly) and goals with six. He was a 2008-09 All-WCHA Second Team selection.
Wrong Call on CC. Maybe they do have life after Bachmann, as noted by the three point weekend in Madison. Joe Howe, the freshman net minder, stopped 65 of 68 Badger shots on his way to being named Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week.

Special Teams on Tap. This next weekend at Saint Cloud State, UMD will pit its power play against the Huskie’s. Both teams posted all three of their team’s goals on the power play in their respective Saturday wins. Might be a shootout, or an even strength grind it out kind of games. More to come Friday.

Friday, October 16, 2009

First Weekend of WCHA Play, 2009-2010

Tonight marks the new year in the WCHA, and the conference season starts with a bang when the University of Minnesota Gophers make the trip to Grand Forks to play the-team-to-be-named-later. It should be interesting to see if the UND squad has yet another slow start to the season or if they still have mastery of the Gophers in the Ralph.

This is also the night that the University of Minnesota – Duluth Bulldogs host the Mavericks of Minnesota State University Mankato. I hope we got the name correctly to not offend (see media guide from MSU). MSU is coming off a sweep of a program that is on life support, Bowling Green. This will be the first games that should or could challenge the Mavs. On the flip, UMD needs to come out to play TWO nights this weekend. Not just one as Coach Sandy stated last Sunday night after a disappointing 3-1 loss to Northern Michigan. Look for scoring from UMD and a sweep in the DECC.

The other conference match is CC at Wisconsin. It will be interesting to see how good, or bad really, CC will be this year after the loss of so many key players. Just one point for CC this weekend would be surprising and a good start for them.

It is the start, but not time to start slow. All games have meaning for UMD as Coach Sandy is looking to go over .500 in WCHA play for the third time in his 10 year tenure. We will watch, wait, and, “enjoy the season” (Mike Tice).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wins and Losses...Who Wins the Cup?

The results from the weekend were, at best, mixed. Each team vying for the Superior Cup ended up winning one game and losing one game. So who won the Cup? If we look at total goals we have MTU, NMU, and Lake State all with 6. UMD had 5 total goals. I can’t think of any way to break this three way tie, so we say split the Cup!

Bulldog results. Again, it is mixed. A good, solid effort Friday came up with a win on the backs of Justin Fontaine and Jack Connolly. Get used to relying on Fontaine and JConnolly, they will be instrumental in scoring. When they are on, UMD will likely win, like Friday. Shut them down, like Saturday’s loss (1 goal), and UMD scoring goes bust.

Missing in action and big losses. Mike Connolly will be a key player for this season, but was unavailable for the weekend after breaking an undisclosed team rule. UMD needs this to be his only flub-up this season and for Mike to come out ready to play against Mankato next weekend. The big loss from Friday’s game is the injury to Travis Oleksuk. It was reported as a likely knee injury and it kept this ever more important part of the offense, and second line center, off the ice on Saturday. More information to come on both Oleksuk and MConnolly.

Around the WCHA 
Saint Cloud State the most overrated?  With the loss of netminder Weslosky leaving a void at goal, the pundits said taht the scoring would more than make up for the loss.  Two loses, an 0 for 10 on powerplay this last weekend, 2 total goals for, and one shutout didn't make the statement that SCSU should be the upper echelon team predicted.

Mankato on a hot streak?  It was just Bowling Green, a team on their last canister of oxygen before they fold it up like a cheap lawnchair.  After just missing the axe last year and having their coach leave with the writing on the wall, it is hardly a statement for MSU.  That being said, they also didn't mess up their opportunities by winning both games.  This does set up a big opening WCHA weekend  for both UMD and MSU at the DECC.

Time to get ready for the WCHA play and Mankato next weekend!

Friday, October 9, 2009

It All Starts Tonight

The University Of Minnesota – Duluth Men’s Hockey team embarks on the 2009-2010 season with the third version of the Superior Cup. Again UMD plays Lake Superior State first, followed by a game with Northern Michigan University. Both matches are at the DECC in Duluth.

With two previews (season and Superior Cup) merged into one article, we will start with the season outlook from the HighHorse. There are many questions leading into a season that also has many things to look forward to. The losses of Stalock at goal and Sharp on the front line are the obvious gaping holes. The defensive corps was looking to be a definite strong spot, but that was also put into the unknown category by the departure of Oberg.

What UMD can lean on. Even with the departure of Oberg over the off-season, the defense will be the strong point, especially with the addition of Dylan Olsen and the return of a seasoned Brady Lamb. Strong defensive play is key to helping the goalie, be it Hjelle (pronounced “jelly”) or Reiter, get their “WCHA legs” early in the season. When the goaltender gets into the swing, the strong defense will propel UMD to better places in the standings.

The Bulldogs don’t know what they have yet. We need to see game experience to place an outlook on the goaltenders. Last week in an exhibition against British Columbia, both net minders played well. As a result, the current plan is to use both with Hjelle starting tonight’s game.

Biggest question. Can the production of the returning forwards flourish without Sharp’s presence? UMD has 3 of the top 4 scores back, but will be without the leading scorer and team leader of MacGregor Sharp. Two lines that can score is needed to crack the upper half of the WCHA. We do not have tonight’s projected lines, but last weekend UMD had Jack Connelly on the first line with Fontaine and Mike Connelly on the second with Aitkins. Those kind of combinations, with supporting help, will likely make two solid scoring lines.

Pre-Season MVP: His last name is Connolly…..you can flip a coin for the first name.

Pre-Season Rookie of the Year: Dylan Olsen.

We want more of what we saw last year (Drakhorse): Travis Oleksuk

WCHA Prediction: The staff is split between 5th and 6th. Yes, we can be impartial.

On to the Superior Cup. Can we finally beat lake State after 2-2 ties for two straight years? Will NMU score a goal against UMD? We will have to see, but with the competition, UMD ahs a very good chance to repeat as the three-time, and only, winner of the Superior Cup. NMU will pose the toughest test, so the Sunday game will be key.

Prediction: Win (Lake State) and tie (NMU) to start the season, then it is on to WCHA play.

Let the season begin!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Extension for Fighting Sioux

Today was supposed to be the day that the name disappeared, but here we are at a "misunderstanding." 

From the Associated Press:

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The state Board of Higher Education has extended the deadline to decide the fate of the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname.

The board had set an Oct. 1 date to drop the name. Board members say there was a misunderstanding about the date of tribal elections on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and more time is needed to get the opinions of the new council.

The deadline is extended for at least 30 days and possibly as many as 60.

The NCAA considers the nickname "hostile and offensive" and says UND cannot host postseason events without approval from the state's two Sioux tribes. Supporters say the logo shows pride and tradition.

The board says it will drop the nickname unless the state's two namesake tribes sign 30-year agreements giving the school permission to keep the moniker.
Maybe they will keep putting off the decision until after hockey season.  With all the press coverage, how could there be a misunderstanding?  It should be hostile and offensive to have the board make this deadline finally, and then push it back.  And maybe push it back again and again....we'll have to see.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Results Are In: 6th Place in Polls

The annual kick-off to the college hockey season is here; the media and caoches polls for the WCHA are in.   UMD is 6th in both polls and both are almost exactly the same.  The only difference is in the 7 and 8 positions between CC and Mankato.  Everyone must have the same assumptions and feelings about these teams.  Of course it all must be decided for real on the ice, but it seems that a consensus has been reached

From uscho.com:
Sept. 29 — Denver is the runaway favorite to win the WCHA this season according to both the league’s coaches and media.

The Pioneers took eight of the 10 first-place votes in the Grand Forks Herald coaches poll, while 23 of the 25 voters in the madison.com media poll put Denver first.

North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and St. Cloud State rounded out the projected top half of the standings in both polls.

Minnesota forward Jordan Schroeder was the choice for player of the year by the media, and he shared that honor with St. Cloud State forward Ryan Lasch in the coaches’ voting.

St. Cloud State goaltender Mike Lee was the consensus pick for rookie of the year.

The all-league first team, picked by the media, included Schroeder, Lasch and a tie between Minnesota-Duluth’s Justin Fontaine and Denver’s Rhett Rakhshani at forward; Denver’s Patrick Wiercioch and North Dakota’s Chay Genoway on defense; and Denver goaltender Marc Cheverie.

Here is the coaches’ poll:

Team (first-place votes) Points

1. Denver (8)                  80
2. North Dakota (2)        70
3. Wisconsin                   61
4. Minnesota                   58
5. St. Cloud State            55
6. Minnesota-Duluth        37
7. Minnesota State          34
8. Colorado College        26
9. Alaska-Anchorage      20
10. Michigan Tech           9

And here is the media poll:

Team (first-place votes) Points

1. Denver (23)               248
2. North Dakota (1)       205
3. Wisconsin                  190
4. Minnesota (1)            186
5. St. Cloud State          152
6. Minnesota-Duluth      118
7. Colorado College      101
8. Minnesota State         88
9. Alaska-Anchorage     57
10. Michigan Tech         30

What is very interesting is the polls are the formats and the number of voters are different, but the results are the same.  Coaches vote, obviously, in the coachs' poll and cannot vote their team as #1.  The media poll does not have rules like the coaches. 

The media panel is made up of: Kevin Allenspach, St. Cloud Times; Roman Augustoviz, Star Tribune; Andy Baggot, Wisconsin State Journal; Mike Chambers, Denver Post; Bruce Ciskie, UMD radio/Fanhouse.com; Chris Dilks, Western College Hockey Blog; Shane Frederick, Mankato Free Press; John Gilbert, WCHA.com; Kurt Haider, UAA radio; Dirk Hembroff, MTU radio; Tim Hennessey, UND radio; Ken Landau, CC radio; Don Lyons, SCSU radio; Todd D. Milewski, USCHO.com; Dan Myers, collegehockeynews.com ; Jess Myers, insidecollegehockey.com/USA Hockey Magazine; Joe Paisley, Colorado Springs Gazette; Kevin Pates, Duluth News Tribune; Brian Posick, UW radio; Brad Elliott Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald; Wally Shaver, Minnesota radio; Theresa Spisak, USCHO.com; Jay Stickney, Denver radio; Mike Sullivan, MSU radio; Doyle Woody, Anchorage Daily News.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Deadline Looms for University of North Dakota

The time has come for UND to receive permission or dop their nickname of Fighting Sioux.  The October 1 deadline is a week away and the prospects for UND keeping the name are not good.

From today's Saint Paul Pioneer Press:

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Members of the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe who oppose the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname say they will seek reversal of a Tribal Council resolution supporting the moniker.

Erich Longie says opponents plan to meet with the Council members on Monday and ask them where they get the authority to give UND "perpetual" permission to use the nickname.

The state Board of Higher Education has voted to abolish UND's nickname and Indian head logo unless it gets a 30-year agreement from the state's two Sioux tribes by Oct. 1. The Standing Rock Tribal Council has refused to approve a reservation vote on it, but an April vote on the Spirit Lake reservation found a majority in support. The Council last week then passed a resolution confirming the result.

Longie says Spirit Lake opponents do not believe the Council can give perpetual permission. He says future councils should be able to issue new resolutions opposing the nickname.
It will be interesting to see what UND will do.  No nick name this year?  A blank jersey?  Flickertails again?  One more week and we should know.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Aikins Captain

For the upcoming season Drew Akins, will captain the reigning Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff champion University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs in 2009-10. He will be joined by fellow senior Jordan Fulton and junior defenseman Mike Montgomery as the assistant team captains for the upcoming season.

Last season was Drew's most productive scoring season so far. He had a total of 5 goals and 10 assists for a career 15 points last season. This season the 'Dogs will need him to continue to be a key player and provide leadership for the team.

Fulton is coming off a career high scoring season, after posting 17 points last year. He was fourth on the team is goals with 12. This season, hopefully the goal output continues with the loss of Macgregor Sharp from last season there could be a hole in the scoring.

Mike Montgomery will be a Junior for the 2009-2010 season. He switched to defense last year and he had a really solid season. He posted 10 points and a plus minus of a plus 10. I expect him to continue to improve on defense this season, which will be Helpful as Alex Stalock will no longer be between the pipes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New Radio Home and Possibilities

The UMTC Gophers have their Fox Sports North TV network on their side and now the Bulldogs have their network in place. Well, network-light and in a different form of media, but a network nonetheless. And it is great news! With success comes the opportunity to branch out to fans and possible recruits to UMD. More coverage is always good.

The announcement of a Northern Minnesota radio network carrying UMD hockey games this season provides the ground work for expanded interest. The televised games are already broadcast on regional (statewide) Charter cable, but it leaves many games out. The new radio home will provide all games to the expanded audience. So now if you are on the move and want your Bulldog coverage, you have a much better chance to get your fix!

The Bulldogs will be broadcast on the Fan 1490 in Duluth/Superior; KQ 105.5 in Grand Rapids/Hibbing; and KQ 106.7 in Ely/Virginia. It is unknown at this point if streaming will be available as hockey information is not currently on the “Bulldogs on the Air” section of their webpage.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sandelin Signs On for More

Scott Sandalin’s contract extension the University gave him this summer was a good move. Sandy, as evidenced by this last season, can do a competent job at taking the players his program recruited and get them to play their best…..at least when it counts the most. As evidence, UMD became the only Final Five Play-in team to win the tournament. That run at the end ensured an NCAA berth and gave us the “Miracle at Mariucci” as some have dubbed it. Timing is great, consistency is better, and winning consistently is best.

The extension is for two years past this next season, the last on the current contract. Two years doesn’t seem like a very long term commitment from the University. Maybe the consistency piece is still up in the air and needs to be settled and they have given two years to see what happens. Sandy has coached two teams to the NCAA tournament in nine years and one to the Frozen Four. He has also led teams to finish in the bottom half of the league seven of those nine years and 8th or worse four times . Was extension in the works all along, or did last season’s run at the end buy some more time? My perspective and hope is that Sandy has it going now and that every season UMD will be a contender in at least the WCHA.

Friday, June 26, 2009

WCHA Expands to Twelve

The WCHA announced today that the conference will expand to 12 teams starting the fall of 2011 adding Bemidji State and University of Nebraska – Omaha. As much as I wanted to believe that Northern Michigan would rejoin the WCHA, the writing was on the wall when Dean Blais took the head coaching job at UNO. The speed of the decision is impressive as Blais just was announced two weeks ago today.

The New Look WCHA. The next big question to solve, and the league has plenty of time to decide, is to create a rotation for conference schedules. As of last year, the WCHA teams (10) each played 28 conference games, the same number as the 12 team CCHA. Assuming that the number of conference games stays the same, the likely rotation according to commissioner Bruce McLeod is breaking into three “pods.” Each pod would be comprised of two “rival” teams and another set of rival teams that rotate in each year. Currently in the WCHA two pod system, UMD’s rival is Michigan Tech. In the new system, each team in the pod would play the other three in their group four times, one series at home and one on the road. That takes care of 12 games. Of the remaining 8 teams, UMD would play each of them for one series for a total of 4 home series and four away. That gives us 16 more games for the 28 that we are looking for. Currently it take s the 10 team WCHA two years to complete a full cycle of the schedule and in the new system proposed, it would take five years.

Rivals? Currently this is what the rivals are in the WCHA:
UMTC – Wisconsin
Saint Cloud State – NoDak
Colorado College – Denver
Mankato – Alaska Anchorage
Where do BSU and UNO fit into the rival scheme? My theory is that all rival will stay the same except that the two Maverick squads, Mankato and UNO, will become rivals leaving Bemidji to make the long trip to Anchorage every year.

All in all, the WCHA will be much different (final Final Five March 2010?), but this move will be heralded as the savior of Bemidji hockey and the great return of Dean Blais to the WCHA.

This has been a busy summer for college hockey, but at least I have a good view from my HighHorse.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Season Schedule Released

In a press release late Friday afternoon, the University of Minnesota – Duluth announced their 09-10 hockey schedule. The squad starts with an exhibition game on October 3 followed by the start of season hosting home games in the third year of the Superior Cup. UMD starts their WCHA portion of the schedule the next weekend, October 16-17, hosting Mankato State. The Bulldogs start with six of eight games at home and extend that to the winter holiday break with a streak of 12 of 18 games at the DECC. Coach Sandelin has already stated that the team must come out strong and take advantage of the home games in the first half of the season because the road games will be plentiful after the new year.

Some highlights of the schedule are: at Michigan Tech for Winter Carnival, both home and away series with UMTC, a home and home series with Frozen Four participant Bemidji State, and non-conference home games against Clarkson.

Friday, June 19, 2009

McLeod Comments on UNO into WCHA

WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod stated that the University of Nebraska - Omaha is talking about joining the WCHA. To recap, Bemidji is a sure bet to enter the WCHA, but 11 won't do; it has to be twelve. UNO would be that twelfth and the recent hire of Dean Blais urged me to say that UNO would join. Here we are getting closer as we speak.

On the 09-10 schedule, most schools in the WCHA have released theirs. We are just waiting on CC and our UMD Bulldogs to finalize their schedules. We do ave a sneak peek of UMD's 09-10 schedule from Kevin Pates of the Duluth News Tribune. Of note is UMD will be at Michigan Technological University for next year's Winter Carnival. Start planning soon, it should be a great road trip!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Blais UNO Coach

As announced Friday, June 12, Dean Blais, the same that lead the Flickertails of North Dakota to two National Championships, is the new coach of the University of Nebraska - Omaha hockey squad. Good deal for UNO to get the big name and pedigry. Good luck to Blais to build a power house like in Grand Forks. Here is the real reason that I think taht this is news, Blais' entrance will open the door for UNO to join the WCHA. With a reputable ex-WCHA coach, I believe that this move will ultimately complete the WCHA expansion by givignt he Beavers of BSU their partner to make it a twelve team league. The question that is then left is what will the CCHA do with 11 teams?

I was pulling for NMU, but this seems to be the deal sealer for UNO to enter. What about 14 teams and we bring in Alaska too. Heck, let the WCHA take over the CCHA and make it a 23 team league. It must be late and summer, because that is a stupid idea, but it does beg the question of how the CCHA will counter when the UNO deal I believe is very close to happening, occurs. We can only wait now.

Keep an eye on the HighHorse for next season's Bulldog schedule that should be announced soon. WCHA teams that have already announced their 09-10 schedules are MTU, MSU Purple Cows, and Bucky Badger's squad.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rohlik is a Candidate for UNO Head Coach

I have heard from a very reliable source that Steve Rohlik, the current UMD assistant coach and former UNO assistant coach, is in the running for the head coaching job for the Mavericks. Rohlik was an assist at Omaha for 3 years starting in 1997. Steve has been an assistant as UMD since Sandelin became the head coach. If Rohlik does leave he will certainly be missed at UMD.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sioux Logo

Last week I made a trip up to North Dakota for work. It was a lovely drive across most of the state. Being a good tourist I made an effort to check the pulse of the locals. I am sorry to report that I didn't meet any big sports fans or hockey fans. So I did not receive any strong comments regarding the UND nickname.

I did see a news report on local TV about the big increase in sales at the UND gift shop. They said any clothing with the Fighting Sioux name or logo was going fast. There were interviewing people in the store and some had driven hundreds of miles to go buy a sweatshirt.

What I was able to get from this story was people are expecting the name to change and be gone forever, except on the clothing they purchase. Also, the Internet must still be new to some people as they could have just logged on to http://www.dakotatextbookco.com/ and purchased their sweatshirt and had it sent to them. My guess is those people will never read this blog.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Goodbye Sioux, Hello Flickertails?

It is done, at least for now. As of yesterday, the State Board of Higher Education of North Dakota decided that the University of North Dakota must retire their Fighting Sioux name and Native American profile symbol by October 1 of this year. UND’s chances are not completely gone, but they are not very good at all. To keep the name and symbol, the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Dakota tribes must vote allowing the university to continue to use the monikers. Given the time frame and the opposition of the Standing Rock tribe, chances are slim. See the article in the Grand Forks Herald.

So why the consternation? I think that the “fighting” part of the name is not defensible at all. But what is wrong with Sioux? Please keep in mind that I am asking questions and playing “Devil’s Advocate” here. City of Sioux Falls, Big Sioux River, and Sioux Steam Cleaner Corp. and the list goes on and on of the use of Sioux. Maybe this is the first domino to fall, but who will make the next domino fall as the NCAA has no standing in their names.

Let’s move on…who will the Bulldogs be playing this next season? While trying to get permission to keep their nickname, they will likely be looking for a new one. Maybe they should just go with the previous name (pre 1930), the Flickertails. Sounds good to me, but I really don’t have a large stake in this whole thing. Comment below with your ideas! Until then, the Fighting Sioux will have to ride off into the sunset and wonder why the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Utah Utes can continue playing under NCAA rules with their names. Did all of Ireland and Irish Americans vote on Fighting Irish?

Who is on the high road here? The NCAA certainly seems to be picking who to target and who not to, but as said earlier, Fighting Sioux is over the top. We will just have to wait to see.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

No Vote is Good News

To no surprise here, the WCHA meetings in Florida ended with no vote taken on the entrance of Bemidji State. The issue of 11 teams is the expected hang up on this round. The members of the league have decided to end the moratorium on expansion opening the door for schools to once again apply for admittance. Bemidji will get in next year, but they need to find that dancing partner to make an even dozen.

Teams that are likely to explore entering and that make sense are:

  1. Northern Michigan
  2. Air Force
  3. Nebraska – Omaha
  4. Minnesota State – Moorhead, if they can get it going soon, but this is a real long shot.

Teams that are right out:

  1. Alaska (it is hard enough for the Alaska teams to get people to play them once a year, think about traveling that far twice in a season)
  2. Alabama – Huntsville (still looking for a home conference after the CHA folds next year, but keep looking, please)

I have to go with Northern Michigan as my fan favorite with their history and the proximity to the other schools in the WCHA versus the CCHA. That second preference is much more difficult. As much as the Front Range rivalry and proximity created with Air Force, I think that they may be reluctant to enter. Tied in that second spot is Omaha which is now an established program. They are geographically in line with the WCHA, but they may feel more at home with the Ferris States, Western Michigans, and Lake States of the world. How it plays out will be decided on who wants to make the, dare I say from my HighHorse, step up to the WCHA.

Monday, April 27, 2009

To Beaver or Not To Beaver, That is the Question

Well, here it is, the day Bemidji State has been waiting for. At least since their exit from the Frozen Four. Today is the day that they may, or may not, be able to present their case for admittance tot the WCHA. From the reports, the Beavers are putting on the full court press. They are sending eight representatives from coaches, tot the AD, to a spokesman from the design/construction company for their new arena. Get the whole scoop from the Bemidji Pioneer.

Is it going to be enough? It seems a this point very unlikely that BSU will get in. They have the pressing need to find a home as the CHA ends after next year, contrary to what I have said in the near past. Unfortunately, they have a couple of big issues holding them back from entering.

  1. If a vote is taken, and it is not a given, they will need 8 yes votes from the 10 teams.
  2. It has already been stated that an 11 team schedule is not feasible, so they need a partner to enter with them.

About that partner, it has been reported by the WCHA that 5 teams were interested in applying, but only BSU did formally. And then you have the Moorhead appearance. Minnesota State – Moorhead (MSU-M….I thought Mankato already had that) has shown interest to create a men’s hockey team and jump right into the WCHA. Is this for real? Apparently so from news reports. So to sum up my thoughts, BSU will not be approved. The WCHA cannot work an 11 team league and a legitimate partner for BSU has not stepped forward. Don’t get me wrong, adding BSU would be a great positive for the WCHA, but they must make it a 12 team league or this is all a joke.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Season Review; Hockey HighHorse Awards

Season in review, huh? It has taken long enough to get to it, but believe me, it has been in the forefront of my mind since I heard the buzzer sound ending the game against Miami. Puzzling? No, at least to those who know me or have gotten to know my passion (insanity?) for UMD hockey. I see this as the season that could have been and would go so far as to say should have been. Regular season aside, because really, I could go on for pages about that roller coaster ride, it was a great run. Like all runs, it had to end. I wish it would have ended with a win and a national championship, but it didn’t. And that is what is gnawing at me. Of all seasons of late, this was the one that was the most wide open. With all the “top” teams going down and BU barely squeaking out wins, this was the year that a Bemidji State, a Miami, a UMD could make it far. I firmly believe that the Bulldogs should have beaten Miami and if they would have, they would have been vying for the title if not winning it. Events just fell together that made the tournament seem very winnable for the Dogs, but yes, in the end you need to keep winning. To sum it all up, thanks to the boys for a great and exciting season! Onto the 1st ever HighHorse Awards.

The HighHorse Awards

As voted on by the HighHorse “staff.”

MVP: It has to be Alex Stalock. Where would the team have ended without the net minder? Likely not in the NCAA Tournament. He was the stonewall and the 3rd defenseman on the ice. His early departure will have great consequences, but really, I should have known it was coming.

Rookie: It is the Connolly game! In this case Mike Connolly is the winner. Mike Connolly and Jack Connolly both played well all season, but Mike really turned it on for the last third and landed himself on the Inside College Hockey Freshman All-American list. He was fun to watch and has skills that are unbelievable! We should all look forward to seeing the Connolly Boys back at UMD for years to come.

Most Improved: Justin Fontaine seemed to come out of nowhere and score and score and score. He went from 4-8-12 (goals-assists-points) in 07-08 to 15-33-48 in 08-09. if he makes the same leap……OK, that is likely not going to happen, but next year’s team needs him to be the scorer he was this year and he needs to make it work with some new faces.

7th Defenseman: Given to the defenseman who steps up, becomes a regular player for the team and makes an impact. This year we salute Chad Huttel. Not expected to log many games nor many minutes, Chad worked his way onto the regular playing team and logged many minutes on the ice. It is always good to see hard workers be rewarded and Huttel receive just that.

#29 Award: Given to the leading goal scorer and named after the most famous #29 from UMD, Brad Federenko, no really it is definitely Brett Hull. For both conference games and overall games that player this year was MacGregor Sharp. A leader on the ice and a hard working forward who saw that pay off in goals. His stats include 24 goals for the season, 50 goals over his four year career, and 105 points for his career. Good luck to Sharp in his hockey future.

This article is close to over, and when it is over, then the season will be fully completed to me. It will seem like a long wait for the 09-10 season to start, but I like summer and fall. Still, I do miss the weekends full of college hockey and all the speculation and analysis that accompanies it.

Now this isn’t the end of posts for the season. Look for WCHA expansion articles and anything that may happen this summer with recruits and with the new DECC opening December 31, 2010!

Time to get off my HighHorse and get out the lawn mower.