Friday, October 29, 2010

Bemidji and TV this Weekend

What is a hockey program without talent? They are left in the waste land of empty buildings and fan apathy. Here in Minnesota, the Gophers are looked to as a college hockey measuring stick locally and nationally. Last season and the trend this season is Gopher struggles on the ice. But they are still the gold standard because they have players who really want to “wear the sweater.” We have discussions about why that is and the issue of TV always keeps coming up. The Gophers are televised for well over 95% of their games on a regional level and now national level with the prevalence of satellite dishes.

This topic is pertinent because the Bulldogs are at Bemidji this weekend. Still don’t follow? Remember that BSU home games are on the Minnesota Channel, 2.2 in the Twin Cities and found throughout Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin and North Dakota over the air and on cable. At first look this looked like a huge recruiting tool paired with a new building, but take a look at the quality. Watching the UND-BSU series it is obvious that it is a one camera set-up with an operator who had WAY too much caffeine during the day. Analysts are mediocre and the booth looks like a closet. But still, they are on regional TV and I get to watch the games this weekend.

All in all, I would want a deal like UMD’s where you get quality coverage over Northern Minnesota.

Oleksuk Honored. Travis Oleksuk was name the Red baron WCHA Offensive Player of the week for his 2-2-4 weekend. One of his two goals Saturday night was a shorthanded, game winning goal. That give Oleksuk the NCAA lead in game winning goals at 3.

UMD Bucks Trend. Scoring the first goal is key to winning for most teams.  But the Bulldogs still have their unbeaten season while not scoring the first goal. In last Friday’s game, it was the fourth time in five games that UMD did not score the first goal, but still didn’t lose. Saturday became the second game this season where the Bulldogs scored first en route to a 6-0 shutout of UAA. But maybe it doesn’t matter as BSU is 0-1-1 when scoring first this year and 0-1-0 when their opponent scores first.

A First this Weekend? Bemidji is still looking for their first win in their new building, the recently renamed Sanford Center. At the same time, UMD is striving to keep their unbeaten season going. We predict that BSU will not get their first, but will not go away pointless either. A tie Friday and a Bulldog win Saturday looks to be in order.

Around the WCHA.

Minnesota State – Mankato at Alaska – Anchorage: one win for each team this year so far in 12 games. It should be a real slug fest. This will be a sweep for UAA because of their home ice advantage.

Denver at North Dakota: The Sioux want to get back on track after a terrible weekend at Maine. The Pioneers happen to be the next on the list for UND. But Denver is not a pushover so, but they will not get a win this weekend. Watch for a three point weekend for NoDak.

University of Minnesota – Twin Cities at Colorado College: Where is this season going for the Gophers? They have now decided to pull Kangas for the weekend and play Patterson in net. He is 1-0-0 and has let in one goal in 4 periods of play this season. Is he the answer? Yes and no, so give them partial credit and in college hockey that is a split.

Michigan Technological University at Wisconsin: The other unbeaten WCHA team, MTU, goes for more in Madison. Bucky is still an enigma this year after beating up on weaker teams, but not faring as well against decent teams. So which type of team is MTU? We are unsure about that too, so we see a split this weekend.

Quinnipiac at Saint Cloud State University: The Huskies challenging season continues as they struggle to score. A split in another non-conference series.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

WCHA Weekend: October 22-24

UMD Sweeps UAA 3-2 OT and 7-0

A good weekend of UMD hockey punctuated by Aaron Crandall’s first collegiate shutout in only his second start. To be even more specific, he has a 119:02 shutout streak going and again, he has only played in two games. That following a hard fought OT win for UMD Friday with Kenny Reiter in net.

So let us look into this goalie rotation the Bulldogs are currently using with Reiter on Friday and Crandall on Saturday.

In the last two Fridays, the Bulldogs have not been convincing in getting the aforementioned 3-2 OT win last Friday and pulling through for a 5-3 win October 15 where one goal was an empty netter. Both games Reiter played well, but needed every save to get the wins. It is good to have a seasoned veteran to backstop a very good team.

On the other hand, the last two Saturdays saw the Bulldogs crush the opponent 7-1 and 6-0 against Providence and UAA respectively. Both games were backstopped by Crandall. Did Crandall play well in the games? He must have to get scores like those. The real question is whether he is learning how to compete in the close games that will be prevalent in the WCHA season. Crandall is not new to hockey and he has played many games before his tenure at UMD, but it is accepted that the WCHA is “Tougher”…or is that just what we want to believe.

The bottom line is that Reiter has seemingly gotten the short end of the play in front of him. I don’t think that you can draw any conclusions about what that means about the team. It is just to point out an interesting trend and that UMD should rest easy, for now, that they have two quality goalies.

UMD Rankings. The Bulldogs hold #3 in all three rankings this week.

Mortal Sioux. The Sioux were swept this past weekend at Maine 7-3 and 4-2. It was Maine who last swept the Sioux in a non-conference series back in 2006 in Grand Forks.

First WCHA Win. At least for this season...UMTC Gophers pulled themselves of the mat to win a close game 2-1 against Saint Cloud State. That win Sunday afternoon prevented back to back home sweeps of the Gophers.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Seawolves to Duluth

WCHA Season Starts for Unbeaten UMD

The warm-ups are over; it is time to start the journey through the gauntlet of the WCHA season for the UMD Bulldogs. Alaska – Anchorage is the opponent at the DECC this weekend. UAA is a struggling team, 1-2-1, that is not on its usual early season tear before running out of steam later in the season.

But not matter where UAA is in the standings, the Seawolves have been a struggle for the Bulldogs over the past years. The Bulldogs are 1-5-2 against UAA over the last three seasons, not impressive at all. In fact it is alarming, but it should be noted that the win in that streak is the most recent game, if that really matters. UMD has to beat on the bottom half teams to keep their top three aspirations.

Slow Starts. UAA has not scored the first goal in any of their first four games. In the same vein, the Bulldogs have scored the first goal in only one of their first four games. First goal is sometimes a statistical marker for losses, thus far it has not hindered UMD.

Only Planned Meeting. UAA makes the trip to Duluth for the regular season this weekend. The host Bulldogs will not be polite in taking two games from the visiting Seawolves.

Around the WCHA.

We are still waiting for the first full weekend of WCHA games which doesn’t happen until December 3!

Colorado College at Minnesota State – Mankato: CC will continue the Mav’s skid. The Tigers will take home three points.

Wisconsin at Denver: Here is an interesting match-up pitting two teams that lost a lot of talent and are still trying to ascertain what they have this year. Wisconsin has had a fairly easy schedule while Denver has been in a meat grinder. So what will we have? If Denver’s will is not yet broken, we will see a split. If the Pioneers have had enough and need confidence, they will not get it from Bucky. And behind this all is the drama with the Gwozdecky contract non-extension that occurred this summer fueling rumors that George will go to Penn State. Enough distractions? Denver is well coached team and they will gain a split.

Saint Cloud State at University of Minnesota – Twin Cities: Again, two teams looking to see who they are and what they are made of. UMTC had two slow starts last weekend against UNO that they couldn’t overcome while SCSU is just having problems scoring. Both will likely keep their trends leaving us with a series split.

North Dakota at Maine: This looked interesting on the pre-season radar, but has lost some luster based on Maine’s struggles. UND will take three points.

Nebraska – Omaha at Michigan: A renewed CCHA series where two unbeatens meet. I guess that they could both remain unbeaten with two ties which has already happened to the Wolverines this season. But this series will be a win for Michigan as they take both games in a split.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Weekend That Was: Oct. 15-18

UMD Sweeps Friars 5-3 and 7-1

A very good home opening weekend for the UMD Bulldogs simply put. A sweep is what was expected and what was delivered.

Scoring is the main headline coming off of the weekend with Providence College. The FCC line combined for 14 points on the weekend with MConnolly and JConnolly netting 2 goals each and Fontaine adding one. That is great, but the part that the HighHorse always talks about is how second line scores and helps takes pressure off of the “main guys.” The second line came through. The Schmidt – Oleksuk – Brown line combined for six goals this weekend and 12 points in total. That is what a team that will make national waves needs to succeed. Is that enough? No, UMD needs to push further and get the third and fourth lines on the scoring sheet to have the best chance of fulfilling the high expectations of this team.

Just as we have borderline called out the third and fourth lines above, we must also commend those players for the even +/- rating for the weekend. If they don’t score, they must not allow the opponent to score.

The defense looked shaky again on Friday night. Shaky you say? Yeah, it was the defense that allowed six goals at LSSU and near comeback in the third period at NMU. The near comeback was in play again Friday night as the Friars pulled within one goal before an empty netter for UMD. But putting that behind them, UMD came out Saturday night and shutdown the Friars offensively for 59 minutes giving up the lone goal 0:58 into the first. That is the defense that UMD needs every game. It is the defense that needs to be present no matter who plays. It was Aaron Crandall who was the goaltender Saturday night making his first collegiate appearance. Kenny Reiter is the main guy, but the Bulldogs need to know that they have competent backup when needed. Good timing for it during non-conference at home.

UMD Rankings. Inside College Hockey and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine has UMD at #5 and USCHO pegs the bulldogs at #6. It should be noted that INCH is a rankings from their staff while USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine and USCHO have polls from voters.

Change at UMTC. Brewster is out…is Don next? That IS NOT a serious question from the HighHorse. Don is safe, for now, but his program did not do itself any favors by being swept at home by UNO in their first WCHA weekend. Welcome back Coach Blais!

Now the real question is should a sweepa t Mariucci be heralded as a big deal? From Inside College Hockey:

Rankings Outrage:
On the strength of its sweep of (UMTC) this past weekend, Nebraska-Omaha debuted at No. 10 in the USA Hockey Magazine/USA Today poll and climbed seven spots to tenth in the rankings. Good on you, Mavs; that makes for a nice WCHA debut. Pollsters, can we drop the notion that sweeping (UMTC) is a big deal? In the last two seasons and change, the Gophers have been swept nine times – they’re an average to slightly above-average team, not the juggernaut that rolled to two national championships nearly a decade ago.
Yoopers Still Unbeaten. Going into a deserved weekend off, the Michigan Technological University Huskies are still unbeaten after playing five games in nine days. A 3-0-2 start is good for anyone, but in Houghton, it is phenomenal! It is the start that the MTU program needs.

Still Want the Sioux? On their First Team Tour, UND swept Bemidji in two convincing games to open their new building. UMD also requested and will play UND in their building opener in late December. Hopefully they can do a little more than the Beavers accomplished.

Scoring at a Premium in Saint Cloud. The loss of scorers Ryan Lasch and Garrett Raboin to graduation and David Eddy to academic “problems” is really hurting this year’s squad. That was very evident in this weekend’s 6-3 loss and 1-1 tie. With a scoring drought looming, the net and defense need to step up. That will make or break the Huskies season.

Friday, October 15, 2010

WCHA Gets Tougher Tonight

The WCHA opens conference play this weekend with their new slogan “Just Got Tougher” that refers to the addition of new teams and the confidence that the WCHA will remain the best conference and even extend that claim over college hockey.

Meanwhile, UMD is still in a holding pattern, waiting for their first game in the new WCHA. Really it isn’t that different, it just has two more teams, University of Nebraska – Omaha and Bemidji State. In the meantime, UMD plays another non-conference series, this time against Providence College Friars.

The Series. It has been since 1997 that these two teams have met and UMD holds an all time record of 12-7-1 against the Friars. In fact, this is the first trip to Minnesota since 2002 when they faced off against Minnesota State – Mankato.

Scoring Around. The Bulldogs tallied 11 goals last weekend and it has been noted here how the goals have been spread around. What is seen after the weekend is that of the 21 players logging ice time last weekend, 13 scored at least one point.

Further, Justin Fontaine is starting off on a hot streak. He has taken 12 shots on goal tallying 2 goals and 3 assists. His linemates, Mike and Jack Connolly, added in, the FCC line has 4 goals and 7 assists for 11 points. The challenge is to keep up that pace while developing scorers on other lines.

Early Results Are In. It has been only two games, but a pattern is starting that needs to be stopped. UMD has been outscored in the third period in the first two games. It is only 4-3, but a contending team needs to be able to shut down opponents, especially when comebacks mount in the third period. It is a question of finishing power, defense and goaltending. All facets of the game that Coach Sandelin is stressing with his team.

Outlook for this Weekend. Look for the last DECC home opener to be a sweep over the Friars getting UMD ready for WCHA play next weekend at home against Alaska – Anchorage.

Around the WCHA.

North Dakota at Bemidji State: BSU is opening a new building in their first games as a WCHA member against the favorite in the league. This makes for a big weekend in Bemidji. More excitement? The NoDak bus was in an accident on their way to Bemidji, getting rear ended in Erskine. Through all the firsts and craziness, NoDak will flex their muscle and take three points home from Bemidji.

UNO at UMTC: UNO is another new team getting their new taste of “tougher.” Their tougher will be facing newly resurgent and more confident Gopher team coming off of a disappointing season last year. Barriball is back and he has lit the lamp for four goals over the weekend while completing a pure hat trick in the first period Saturday night. UMTC will sweep UNO. Welcome back to the WCHA, coach Blais.

Minnesota State – Mankato at Michigan Tech: At first look this is the cellar dweller series, but the Huskies are looking to build on a great start and leave the bottom of the standing in their rears. Tech has gone 2-0-1 in their first three games while MSUM is on a tie streak going 0-0-2. Tech is tough at home and that toughness will result in a sweep over the mega-rebuilding Maverick team.

CC vs Alaska – Anchorage (nc – Alaska Goal Rush): A WCHA preview in a non-conference game. UAA has been strong this early season, so look for a Seawolves win over CC paired with a loss against Union Saturday. CC too will get a split as they beat Alaska Saturday.

Boston College at Denver: Two teams that have to find their identity after losses of players. Look for a split.

Miami at Saint Cloud State: Here is an interesting series. SCSU is picked to be an elite team in the WCHA, but suffered arguably the biggest upset last weekend losing convincingly to Clarkson. Miami has also been picked to be at the top of their conference, the CCHA. But they too split a series last weekend at home against a good New Hampshire team. It will be two teams looking to assert themselves as the teams they were picked to be. This will lead to a hard fought series that will end in a split.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

First Weekend, Improving Results

What does it take to turn a team around? Evidently a few words of wisdom as evidenced by the UMD hockey team from Friday to Saturday night.

Coach Sandelin reportedly ask his team to do three things better after giving up, and scoring, six goals in the opening game. They were penalty kill, face-offs and coverage in the defensive end. Poof…Saturday brought 58 plus minutes of shutout hockey giving up two goals in a 3-2 win. Those two goals did come in a 108 second span so maybe defensive coverage could be stressed again.

I know, different teams and different nights, but both teams were ripe for the picking. Regardless of the shots on goal differential for the Lakers, they lost to a Canadian college team. UMD has to take that game and complete a “sweep” at Marquette.

The bottom line is that UMD did not lose a game this weekend which would have been disappointing at the very least.

Spread Around the Scoring. Tallying six goals Friday night was impressive. Four of them came from the FCC line with Schmidlt and Seidel rounding out the scoring sheet for UMD. On Saturday, the defense heeded the coach’s words to cover better on defense AND they stepped it up by scoring all three goals in the win. Olsen, Lamb and Faulk had all the offense that was needed by UMD to win. The more players that score, the better, and the more the wins the Bulldogs will win.

Superior Cup Winner. For the first time in the four year history, UMD does not have at least a share of the cup. This year’s winner is clear cut and is the Huskies of Michigan Technological University. MTU went 2-0 on the weekend putting an exclamation point on the deal with a convincing 6-2 win over Lake State.

Michigan Tech is admittedly my second favorite team, so this is a good sign for them, a team that has not had good fortune for a while. I wish it didn’t have to come at the slight expense of the Bulldogs.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Superior Cup Starts the Season this Weekend

Great Expectations for the Bulldogs in 2010-11
They are called early season jitters. That feeling of excitement of the unknown, a fresh start players and fans alike. For the writers, it is a time of speculation and looking for that information that isn’t based on games this year, but past performance or from practicing this fall. In both cases it is an unsure time before we see what the product is on the ice.

The Long Road to… Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan is first on the list of travel destinations for the Bulldogs this season. UMD holds an all time series lead against the Lakers of LSSU 7-3-4. In those 14 games, only one of them occurred in Sault Ste. Marie and that was the first game of the season two years ago.

The second night of the weekend takes the Bulldogs to Marquette, Michigan to face the Wildcats of Northern Michigan University, an NCAA Tournament participant last year. NMU, a former member of the WCHA, is 33-32-4 against the Bulldogs all time.

Opponent Update. It is very normal to play an early season exhibition game against a Canadian college team. What is not normal is for an NCAA team to lose to one of those Canadian college teams. The real good hockey players go to Juniors in Canada and the rest go to college, the opposite of what happens in the United States. The UMD Friday night opponent completed the unusual feat by losing to Western Ontario 5-4 last weekend. Bottom line, this is a game that UMD has to win when looking at the opponent.

NMU is coming off of an NCAA berth with confidence to boot. They are picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the CCHA this season. Their main loss from last year is goaltender, Brain Stewart who propelled them to a strong late season surge into the NCAA Tournament. They will have a big question mark in goal and are vulnerable, at least early in the season, because of it.

With season expectations high and a veteran crew, a Bulldog “sweep” this weekend looks to be a very good possibility. What may hold them back is the road trip is long to Sault Ste. Marie and having to backtrack over a hundred miles after Friday’s game to get to Marquette will be a grind. I know, good teams overcome those obstacles, but these are the first trips of the season.

Pre-Season Bulldog Picks. The HighHorse takes its stab at predicting season awards before the season starts.

MVP: Again, we will go with Connolly. Which one? We weren’t sure before the season last year, but this year we will go with Jack Connolly.

Darkhorse (Our breakout player of the year): If Mike Seidel shows his size and speed in practice so he can get to the ice for games, he will be a factor on this Bulldog team.

Rookie of the Year: UMD has a trio of forwards joining the team this year along with two defensemen. From reports and past records, Joe Basaraba will have the biggest impact on this UMD squad.

Key players that could make or break this season based on their play:

Kenny Reiter, goalie, has the only game experience in net on the team.

Dylan Olsen played well last season, but he has so much more potential on the blueline.

Travis Oleksuk had a great year two sesons ago after he broke into the game lineup. Last season was much less than expected. We will assume last year was affected by his knee injury and this year he will return to form.

Kyle Schmidt had a good thing going at the end of last year. He needs to continue to be the point scorer when teams shut down the top line players.
Around the WCHA. With all WCHA teams in non-conference tilts, we will leave this one go for this week. The one note that must be mentioned is the road that Denver has to travel this year. In our preseason WCHA rankings we noted that the Pioneers may struggle with all the talent they lost, especially at goalie. That point was accented when they lost to Lethbridge, a Canadian college, 5-2 last Sunday. Although LSSU also lost in their exhibition, at least the score was close.

Monday, October 4, 2010

True National Rankings

Inside College Hockey (INCH) has released their Great 58, a ranking of all 58 Division I hockey teams.

North Dakota is found at the top with UMD, Saint Cloud, and Denver also in the top 11.

From INCH:
5. Minnesota Duluth

Good luck getting a ticket for the Bulldogs’ Dec. 30 contest against North Dakota – it’s the night UMD christens the 6,600-seat Amsoil Arena.
Those tickets, by the way, go on sale December 1 at UMD ticket office or Ticketmaster.