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.

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