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.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.
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.