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 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.