Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pre-season WCHA Rankings

With the start of a college hockey season comes all the predictions from all the pundits. The coaches, the media, and now the HighHorse…among many other outlets. The staff at the HighHorse each made their own rankings which was followed by discussion and a final ranking. The process of finding the final rankings was difficult as all teams change from year to year. We made general ranges of where we thought each team would fall in the end and honed in from there. It is all new in the expanded WCHA, but much of it also looks the same as usual.

1. North Dakota

North Dakota under the direction of Dave Hakstol is always a strong team whether it is with seasoned upper classmen or the use of freshman talents. With a strong goaltender returning in Eidsness along with key defesmen coming back, the Sioux, or whatever they are now, will be a formidable force in the new WCHA.

2. University of Minnesota – Duluth

Overselling? We think not. Even with a slight question mark in net with late season standout Kenny Reiter, the scoring machine up front including the Connollys and Fontaine should produce enough goals to take many wins. The loss of Bordson will hurt, but with the disparity between hid two seasons with UMD, it could have just been a flash in the pan, especially with the added attention he would have received this year.

3. Saint Cloud State University

It just comes down to this…SCSU was an at par team with UMD last year when you look at players and talent. The difference maker was the streaks of wins and positive finishes that the Huskies came a way with. Although the Huskies may have goaltending with enough talent to push higher, the scoring losses seem too great. A lot of pressure will be on Garrett Roe to lead the team. This will leave the lesser-names a great chance to pull through for this team, or it may be a frustrating season.

4. Denver University

Departures highlight the Pioneers offseason. It will be a question of will the bit players stepping up this year to fill shoes. As always, this team will be well coached and that can be a difference in the game of WCHA hockey. Biggest area of concern will be in goal where the mighty Marc Cheverie will be absent this year.

5. University of Wisconsin

See capsule for Denver. Exception, biggest are of concern for Bucky will be defense where four starters left after last season.

6. Colorado College

Strong goaltending will be the biggest strength. Can enough goals be scored for the Tigers?

7. University of Minnesota

Upheaval of a storied program is an understatement. We will likely have ranked the Gophers the lowest of any site that ranks these teams, but we feel it is deserving. Unlike other teams up the rankings that saw many player departures (Denver and Wisconsin), the Gophers are coming off of two poor seasons. Couple those seasons with a coach who is being publicly questioned about “how much he has left in the tank” and you get the final collapse for UMTC. Defense will be challenged and scoring will be at a premium.

8. Bemidji State University

Inaugural season in the WCHA, so what can you expect? That is a great question, but they have been plugging away for the last few years in the vast wasteland of the CHA and doing well in the NCAAs, so looking past them is a mistake. We will put them at 8.

9. University of Nebraska – Omaha

Another inaugural team that brings strong goaltending just like CC. New this year is the coaching legend Blais. Can he work his coaching magic? Can he do it in one year?

10. Michigan Technological University
11. Alaska – Anchorage
12. Minnesota State University – Mankato

The order of the last three is very debatable. We see MTU as a program getting better, UAA as a stagnant program, and MSUM in the lowest part of rebuilding.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Penn State, Big Ten, and TV

Excitement and angst reign supreme in the college hockey world after the announcement last Friday that Penn State will join Division I Mens and Womens Hockey starting Fall 2012.

As every press release states in one form or another, it is good that the sport is expanding, especially in a state that will be hosting two consecutive Mens Frozen Fours. The angst comes from the specter of the Big Ten Conference and their TV network.

With Penn State, the Big Ten has the minimum six teams in hockey to create their own conference with NCAA auto-bid tied to it. And further reports indicate that Indiana is not far behind to make it seven Big Ten Schools. With a new conference comes more TV exposure and more money for the Big Ten. But to what cost to the sport? The WCHA and CCHA have to be working behind the scenes to keep their Big Ten schools in their conferences. The marquee schools in each conference that are also Big Ten current members bring in the revenue, notoriety, and many national championships.

The biggest loser in this possible Big Ten split would be the CCHA. Without Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State, what is left? A burgeoning Miami program, a lot of hit or miss teams from season to season, and even worse playoff attendance at The Joe, if that is possible. On the other hand, the WCHA looks to be in fairly good shape with North Dakota, Denver, and the slew of well followed Minnesota teams keeping the excitement high and some money still flowing into the coffers for the Final Five.

The most likely decision to add Big Ten Hockey will be made based on money and TV. As far as the state of Division I hockey goes we look to the Big Ten to not shake up current conference alignments and integrate into the CCHA to help grow the sport nationally.

Bemidji State Strikes TV Deal
In a very interesting move, Bemidji State has teamed with Lakeland Public Television to broadcast 16 of their games this season. Then Lakeland teamed with public television to carry the games on the Minnesota Channel (2.3 in the Twin Cities) throughout Minnesota and into Wisconsin and North Dakota.

No monetary figures have been disclosed, but one cannot imagine that BSU makes much money on this deal. What the Beavers do get statewide exposure. Whereas Saint Cloud State, Minnesota State – Mankato, and Minnesota – Duluth receive regional exposure on TV at best and maybe just on campus TV in at least one of the campuses.

TV exposure has been a valuable asset to the Gophers keeping a strong hockey presence in a state of five Division I teams and now Bemidji may very well be on the way to being the secnd most watched team in the state.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Summer Capsule

We're Back and Ready for a New Season

Now that it is time to buckle down for many, we too at the HighHorse are getting the musings and news from the summer finally into print. I will go over some of the releases and events leading to this new school year at the University of Minnesota – Duluth in chronological order.

Steve Rohlik leaves UMD for OSU – The first summer departure may prove to be the costliest. Rohlik was assistant coach of the Bulldogs, but it was obvious that he held a lot of sway and responsibility on the team, and rightfully so. Rohlik was at UMD for ten years and was often seen coaching players during games, adjusting their game on the fly to help UMD chances in that game. Further, it was Rohlik who had the white board most timeouts drawing up the plays. This guy was more than an assistant, and that is why it is the costliest loss, but also the one we should have seen coming.

His replacement is former UMD standout Derek Plante. Plante will need to get on board and moving quickly to help this team. If there is one piece of advice for Derek I have is too not follow what Grant Potulny did in his assistant coach role last year for the Gophers. Whatever Potulny did, we will not know because he blended into the wall well.

Brady Hjelle leaves UMD – In a surprising move to the program, fans, and his roommate Kenny Reiter, Hjelle packed it up and left the program in mid May bound for his second stint in the USHL. The heir apparent for the starting job going into last season, Hjelle was hot and cold in 2009-2010 splitting time and becoming backup to that surprised roommate, Reiter. The move seems short sighted as Hjelle has plenty of his game to work on to become a solid #1 in the WCHA. My take is that something must not have jived with the coaching staff to prompt this move. I think that because I don’t want to think that Brady has hurt feelings about splitting time or being backup to Reiter.

I am confident that Retier will do well this year, but he will need a backup to come in and play some of the games. According to the coaches and Reiter, sophomore Aaron Crandall was right with the Hjelle/Reiter combo in practices last year. If the same thing should happen to Reiter this year that happened to Hjelle last year, we have to hope that Reiter doesn’t pack it up in mid-May and leave the program…

The Bulldogs move to 94X, keep the network – In yet another move on the Duluth airwaves, the Bulldogs have a new home on the radio this season. The best news is the nothing new part with the network. KQ translators out of Grand Rapids (105.5) and Babbitt (106.7) will continue to carry the games. It is great to be able to travel the Arrowhead and still be able to keep up on hockey.

Hockey HighHorse plans rebranding – We are still planning to have a new home for the Hockey HighHorse before the end of the month. We will always be available at the current link, but plans are moving forward for purchasing a domain. There are still two obstacles: finding a new name that incorporates college hockey and HighHorse (yeah, we believe we have to stick with the original name for better or worse), and finding that new name available for a domain.  Comments and ideas are gladly welcomed!

So let’s drop the puck on this season and get the hot stove going in preparation for the impending college hockey season!