Wednesday, April 14, 2010

2010-2011 UMD Schedule Released

It is never too early to check out nest year’s Bulldog Hockey schedule and mark your calendars. That is especially true this year as the current DECC Arena will be replaced as the home of UMD Hockey by the DECC Expansion (soon to be called the DECC?).

In the new WCHA with 12 teams after adding Bemidji State and Nebraska – Omaha, the rotation of opponents will be different.

Instead of playing five teams four times per season (a series at home and away), teams will play three teams four times. The new scheduling system is named the pod system. There will be three pods of four teams.

The pods are controlled by the current rival system, so each team will play another team, their “rival”, four times every year. UMD’s rival will remain Michigan Tech. The other two teams that make up the pod will rotate every year. The other teams in the Bulldog’s pod are MTU, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

2010-2011 UMD Men's Hockey Schedule

(Home games in CAPS)
Oct. 8     at Lake Superior State
Oct. 9     at Northern Michigan
Oct. 29-30 at Bemidji State
Nov. 5-6   at North Dakota
Nov. 19-20 at Wisconsin
Nov. 26-27 at Clarkson
Dec. 3-4   DENVER
Dec. 10-11 at Minnesota
Dec. 30    NORTH DAKOTA (DECC Expansion opening)
Jan. 14-15 WISCONSIN
Jan. 21-22 at Michigan Tech
Feb. 4-5   MINNESOTA
Feb. 11-12 ST. CLOUD STATE
Feb. 18-19 at Minnesota State-Mankato
Feb. 25-26 at Colorado College

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Frozen Four Bust

Maybe it is the high caliber of play that we come to expect in watching games in the WCHA. Or maybe the past Frozen Fours that have spoiled us. More likely it was just one of those years where the three games at the Frozen Four were duds.

The teams played hard, in some cases, but the results were lopsided games where spectators couldn’t help but lose interest because suspense was not there. And this has nothing to do with the venue even though many have voiced their opinion that it should be held in an arena. Aside…remember, the 2011 Frozen Four is at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul. The venue is not the focus for this article, it is the implications of the three blowout games.

Where Does College Hockey Go From Here?
This could be a step backward for the game on a national level. What do you think was the reaction at ESPN at the results? “Sure glad we are in a contract to televise this stuff nationally…” I am quite certain the sentiment is being uttered outloud in Bristol.

In the middle of the West Regional press conference after the championship game between the SCSU players and coach leaving and the Wisconsin players and coach arriving, the ESPN technician started taking down the lights that make video possible. The NCAA Regional Director asked what he was doing and a heated exchange ensued.

The technician said that his ESPN people told him to take it all down because they were packing up to leave. The Director was angered because we still had a press conference to conduct in front of the cameras.

In the end, people the two in the argument in front of the media were quite mad. The technician put up one of the two lights he took down and stormed off with the other. The Director was visually agitated, and we, the media were left to crack jokes amongst each other about the incident, most taking sides with the NCAA.

I am sure that it is important to the NCAA to get the hockey championship on TV and the more mainstream the better. But after this year’s Frozen Four, I hope that someone like ESPN will be there to step up and take it on.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

2009-2010 HighHorse Awards

It was unanimous across the board this year in the voting by HighHorse writing staff.  Presenting the 2nd Annual HighHorse Awards:

Huffer Christiansen Award (MVP): Mike Connolly gets our votes this year. It was his steady play and his two overtime winners that really catches attention. And it should be noted, as it is every week in the UMD media release, that Mike is still the only current UMD player to average better than one point per game in his Bulldog career. Two years down and two to go!

Rookie of the Year: The discussion came down to two names, Mike Seidel and Dylan Olsen. We will honor Olsen with his very impressive first half of the season and his overall plus/minus rating of +3. Any time you have defenseman in the plus range, you know they are good. And to step in as a freshman and do that is very impressive. Additionally, Dylan chipped in 11 points (1-10-11) helping on the offensive side of the team. Next year we look to Dylan to play more consistently throughout the year and anchor the defensive corps with Brady Lamb.

Most Improved Player: Hands down Rob Bordson is the most improved Bulldog. Going from zero points last season to 40 points this season is all that needs to be said. Bordson used his great numbers to ink a deal in the pros, thus giving up his last year of eligibility. Good luck to you, Rob.

7th Defenseman Award: Given to the defenseman who steps up, becomes a regular player for the team and makes an impact. This year we salute Wade Bergman. It is unexpected to give the award to a freshman, but with two senior defensemen on the sidelines this season, Bergman was called into service early in his Bulldog career. Wade didn’t pay many games early this season, but worked his way to consistent ice time logging 25 games and a phenominal plus/minus of +5.

#29 Award: Given to the leading goal scorer and named after the most famous #29 from UMD, Brett Hull. For both conference games and overall games that player this year was Justin Fontaine. Fontaine was the only Bulldog this season to score 20 or more goals this season (21). He started out on a tear, but slowed down in the second half of the season. We expect Justin to return for his senior season and to fight through the special attention he gets from opposing teams to keep lighting the lamp.

Those are our awards for the season. With this we also put a close on the 2009-2010 UMD Bulldog season. The results were better than we expected at the beginning of the season. Though with the way this team started, there were higher expectations than were achieved at the end. All that just means is we expect another exciting and productive Bulldog season in 2010-2011.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Fighting Sioux Officially Retired

Paging Mr. Ralph Engelstad, it is now time to turn over.

It has been a long time in coming, but the retirement of the nickname Fighting Sioux was cleared in the courts yesterday. The North Dakota Board of Higher Education wasted no time in taking action officially retiring the nickname and logo.

Read the full story from the Grand Forks Herald.

The remaining issues at hand are what the new nickname should be, if there is one. There is a grassroots movement to have no nickname leaving it open for reinstatement later or as a form of “silent” protest. There is also the issue of the 2,200 logos in Ralph Engelstad Arena and how to remove those seeing they are carved in stone wood throughout the structure.

The nickname of UND prior to the Fighting Sioux was the Flickertails. The previous name change occurred in 1930.

Blowouts Lead to Championship

The Associated Press headline reads, “Record 34,954 watch rout-fest.” And they couldn’t be more right. In what is supposed to be the best four teams in the country squaring off to determine the hockey national champion, fans weren’t treated to competitive matches. Either Wisconsin, 8-1 winner over RIT, and Boston College, 7-1 winner against Miami, are heads above the rest of the country, or the #1 in the nation most of the season and the Cinderella team just didn’t show up for the big games.

Wisconsin 8, RIT 1

In the first game, Wisconsin had not trouble with the upstart Tigers scoring 1:27 into the game and taking a 6-0 leas late into the second before RIT tallied their one goal.

RIT did their best, I guess, to weather the storm. That storm being undisciplined hockey as they took nine penalties in the game including a five minute checking from behind major while already a player short. At the time the Badgers were leading 4-0 and that ensuing 5 on 3 netted the badgers their fifth goal. But that wasn’t the end of the night for the RIT penalty kill squad. First they still had the major going, but on top of that, the Tigers picked up another minor penalty to give Wisconsin one more 5 on 3 goal.

This game was not the caliber of a Frozen Four game and it was disappointing that RIT was so manhandled that it looked like they didn’t belong. But that is the nature of one game elimination tournaments, especially in hockey. RIT was a hot team. They were on their game in their Regional where they beat Denver and New Hampshire to move to the Frozen Four.

A parallel can be drawn to Alabama – Huntsville winning the last CHA Tournament and getting an auto-bid to the NCAA. As it has been stated here before, in the format that the CHA used, a one weekend, single elimination tournament crowned UAH champion for winning two games in two nights and neither was against the far and away regular season winner of the CHA, Bemidji State. Bottom line, in single elimination tournaments, anything can happen, right place, right time.

One disappointing aspect of the game was the lack of competitiveness that RIT showed. They got blown up, that is how some hockey games go, but why does a team use all three of their goalies in the process. It couldn’t have been mercy, really, because starter DeMichiel was in from the beginning to the 54:55 mark while giving up six goals. He wasn’t pulled after the sixth goal either. He was just replaced at that point of the hockey game. The game is out of reach at that point why make the move. Further, the next RIT goalie, Madolora, was in for 2:33 while making zero saves and letting in one goal. Hewa then pulled for Ropponen who finished the last 2:32 making two saves and allowing one goal. The game was to determine who was going to play for the national championship. Wisconsin wasn’t going to give up, but RIT used the national stage and national TV audience to audition goalies for next year or at least have them able to say that they played in the Frozen Four.

The real disappointment here to me is RIT even making the NCAA tournament. I have no gripe about the Atlantic Hockey tournament format as it is like the other large conferences’ tournaments. At the base of it, I don’t have a gripe about Atlantic Hockey having an auto-bid, a ten team D-I conference deserves that much. What I do take issue with is that RIT played no teams in the top 25 of the PWR (TUC’s) prior to the NCAA tournament. When TUC is one criteria that the selection committee uses to rank teams and the whole process really suffers when a team that become prominent (makes the NCAA) doesn’t even have data for one of the criteria. Some will say that schedules are made before we know the TUC’s, but if you are a team trying to get better and nationally recognized, you have to try to play at least one perennially prominent team.

Where we are today is RIT made the NCAA tournament, right or wrong, and had a great Regional weekend. In facing Wisconsin, they faced reality and came back down to Earth.

Boston College 7, Miami 1

Miami has been a strong team this year staying in the top spot of the national polls for most of the season. At the same time, they had at least one major let down in losing two games to Robert Morris. Additionally, the most goals that Miami had allowed was five which happened on four occasions. All of that bad mojo came together last night when they were drubbed by BC 7-1.

The Redhawks didn’t let it get too out of hand until the third period. In fact, they scored early in the third to cut BC’s lead to 3-1. Then it all fell apart for Miami as they allowed three even strength goals in 1:35 midway through the third.

There ended the night of the Frozen Four Blowouts, games that will go down in the records as the most lopsided couplet of games that the Frozen Four has even had. Read more about it at USCHO and keep checking the HighHorse for the Second Annual HighHorse Awards, coming soon.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Second Half Season Report and Season Wrap

It is well after the Bulldog season is over, but it took some time to fully digest the rollercoaster season that the 2009-2010 Bulldogs took their fans on.

A “mid-term” report was written for what we defined as the first half of the season, 18 games ending with 2009. The second half as we define it is 22 games that were played after New Year’s Day.

Again, we have broken down some of the disciplines and graded them out in the traditional grading format.

Offense: C-. We said earlier that the team will go as the scoring goes, and quite frankly, the scoring dropped off in the second half and the team lost more games than they won. Looking at the numbers, the goals per game in the second half were 2.9 compared to 3.4 in the first half. The most notable fact of the goal departure is the goal drought against teams that would eventually be in the TUC (Teams Under Consideration for the PairWise) including North Dakota, Bemidji State, and Wisconsin.

Barring more pro departures other than Rob Bordson, the core pool of scorers will on the squad next season. The key development in the team would be to become more consistent in scoring against all teams regardless of the game plans to slow down the scoring.

Defense: C. Nothing really jumps out in the defensive corps that says anything more than average. Just as the goalies, the defense did their jobs, but the stats clearly show that this UMD team depended on offense to win. Brady Lamb was a bright spot on the defense this year building on his good year last year. We look to Dylan Olson to make the same gains from his first year to his sophomore year to help solidify this young group.

Goaltending: B. The goaltending was consistent throughout the year. It wasn’t outstanding, but it really kept the Bulldogs in many games. Going into the season, it was unknown what UMD really had in goal. Most knew that games weren’t going to be won by the goalie and that was the truth as evidenced by only one win for UMD when they score less than three goals. All that being said, Kenny Reiter emerged as the #1 goalie with Hjelle serving as a very suitable back-up. Both tenders played well and have more experience to build off of for next year.

Coaching: B. The team produced better than college hockey pundits predicted, but the consistency question reappears again. The age old question of who is ultimately responsible fort he team struggles in the second half, notably the drop in scoring, could very well be debated here.

Best Win. The back-to-back sweeps at home against Colorado College and away against Mankato in January were quite impressive. The second game at Mankato was the only UMD win when scoring less than three goals for the whole year. The “best” win of the second half has to be the 4-0 win against Wisconsin on Jan. 30. That shutout came against a potent offense and stout defense of a team that was on a tear. It was one of few games this year that coaches and players agreed was a complete Bulldog effort.

Worst Loss. The game that really doomed this team to not making the NCAA Tournament was the Saturday night loss to Bemidji State in Duluth. What really made this loss sting was the way BSU used UMD’s script of late a late goal to tie and quick OT goal to win. The Beavers scored against a UMD team trying to hang on with 0:02 left to tie and then finished off the downtrodden Bulldogs 0:36 into the overtime period. This loss seems to be a turning point on the downward spiral for UMD. It was after this loss that UMD went on to lose the next five Friday games before beating CC on Friday night of the first round of the playoffs.

Overall, we give the team a C+. Now this is for the second half after expectations had been raised by a strong first half. The team set themselves up nicely for an NCAA berth, but stutter steps in the season, especially the second half, finished the season at the Thursday night Play-in Game at the WCHA Final Five.

Some may look at the fairness of this grade seeing that the team overachieved based on what the experts predicted. The fact is that going off of the opinions of others is a decent measure, but basing outcomes of the season off of results from the first half of the year is truly more representative and fair.  Looking at the season as a whole, a grade of B+ is applicable for besting pre-season expectations.

The hope is that many lessons were learned in this season. Lessons like the importance of each game, that every game is hard fought and nothing comes easily, and that all players must adjust to what the opponent is taking away and finding ways to still score. If those lessons are learned and put into practice, next season will have even higher expectations.

Prediction Checking. From the mid-season report:

The staff here is still split looking at a 6th or 5th place finish in the WCHA based on the first half performance.
The split decision was really close to the actual finish. UMD ended in a tie for 4th, but was seeded at 5th after losing the tie-breaker with North Dakota.

Closing out the season with the team was the last playoff games played at the current DECC along with many teams making their last appearance there. Look for next season’s schedule here at the HighHorse early next week after the 2009-2010 National Champion is crowned.

Next post will be the 2nd Annual HighHorse Season Awards coming prior to the National Championship this Saturday.