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

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… 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.