Friday, December 16, 2011

UMD Mid-Season Break

WCHA in a Very Limited Weekend Schedule

It is the mid-season break for most teams including UMD. It is hard to believe that we are right at the halfway point of the regular season and maybe as unbelievable that UMD is tied atop the WCHA with the Gophers after losing a pair against the Twin Cities team in October. The Bulldogs will take it and the 14 game unbeaten streak while resting up for the new calendar year.

In the meantime, we look at the weekend’s schedule to find only eight games in total, all with at least one WCHA team involved.

Colorado College at Minnesota State – Mankato: The Mavericks swept the Chargers of UAH at home last weekend. The Friday night contest was tight and Saturday was a blowout. The Tigers come into this weekend after coming from behind to earn a split at home against the Seawolves. CC is the better team, but there play has not been consistent and that will not change in a split.

Denver at Saint Cloud State: SCSU is rested after a week off and DU continues a road trip through The State of Hockey. Denver has recognized the importance of this series in recent Twitter posts by players, but will there be enough focus by their star players prior to leaving for the World Juniors? Included are all the injuries the Pioneers are dealing with, most recently Beau Bennett. Denver's road struggles will continue and they will split.

Alabama – Huntsville at Bemidji State: The Beavers earned a split against DU last weekend and even though the Chargers looked plucky on Friday night they don't have enough horses to beat another. The slow-it-down, grind-it-out down Beavers sweep this series.

Michigan Tech at Northern Michigan (Friday only): This is the first game of a home and home series between the two teams with the second game coming on January 21 in Houghton. NMU is coming off a split in Sault Sainte Marie with Lake Superior State and Tech split against Minnesota – Twin Cities. The Huskies last weekend left Minneapolis with 2 points. The big question is did Tech leave with a new fight after the emotional Saturday night loss, or did they lose all composure and now fade away? NMU is a pretty good team and plays very good at home, but my impression was a Tech team with fight and they will get a win on the road.

Russian Red Stars at North Dakota (Saturday exhibition).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wild Western

WCHA Tough To Figure Out

Just when you think teams are starting to find their groove and become somewhat predictable, we have yet another weekend full of splits. The only conference series that was not a split was UMD continuing their unbeaten streak in tying and beating Wisconsin in Madison.

If there were a weekend that looked from the outset sweeps would prevail and set teams apart, it was this last weekend. Instead, we are one partial conference weekend away from the mid-point in the WCHA schedule with a logjam still in the middle of the standings. All teams have played 14 games, half of the conference schedule, except four teams that play each other this weekend: Colorado College is at Minnesota State – Mankato and Denver is at Saint Cloud State.

The top and bottom are aerating from the pack, but the middle is up for grabs. Fourth through 10th places are separated by four points. One weekend series could change the fortune of bottom half team and out them in the upper ranks.

The WCHA is harder than ever to figure out this season. About all we can do is sit back and enjoy the games and continue to see surprising results.

UMD’s Unbeaten in 14, But… It has to end at some point. UMD will lose a game at some point and the challenge will turn to getting back on track and not allowing a loss to change player’s mindsets. Doesn’t sound difficult, but these are college age kids we are talking about. But if we have learned anything about this Bulldogs team, they can face adversity and bounce back. You don’t have to look further than the start of the season with their three game losing streak that they bounced back nicely with the current 14 game unbeaten streak.

The Saturday night game did get dicey at the end. It was like UMD was on cruise control with a 4-0 lead. Then the five minute major happened and just like that Wisconsin cut the lead to 4-2. UMD of course still won, but that finishing instinct was markedly missing last Saturday. We will just chalk it up to one of “those games” at this point.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Road Trip Part II: Madison, Wisconsin

UMD Carries 12 Game Unbeaten Streak and #1 Ranking to Wisconsin

Nothing has really changed with the Bulldogs except for a new number in front of the team’s name. Being #1 in both major college hockey polls is nothing new to UMD who owned the ranking for three weeks around this same time last season prior to winning the national championship. Don’t look for a change in the Bulldogs, but expect one from the opponents.
This week the Badgers play host to UMD in Madison and it is not new from them to host a top ranked team. So far this year UW has hosted North Dakota, then #5, and swept them. Later the Badgers hosted then #1 UMTC Gophers and the series was a split. In all, the Badgers are a respectable 7-3-1 at home and a miserable 0-5-1 on the road. Yeah, leg two of this road trip will be a tough one for the Bulldogs.

Their D is Really O. Badger defenseman Justin Schultz is on a scoring tear this year. He is currently first in the nation for defenseman in scoring at 7-18-25. He is also tied for second in the WCHA for power play points with 4-8-12. The ice sheet at Kohl Center is nearly Olympic sized, and all of it needs to be defended especially when Schultz is on the ice.

Streaks. The Bulldogs sport a nation leading 12 game unbeaten streak including a seven game winning streak. During the current unbeaten streak, UMD has played all of their road games amassing a 4-0-2 record. Last season UMD went 3-1-0 against Wisconsin that included a Bulldog sweep at Madison from two overtime games.

StatPack. Bulldogs and Badgers by the numbers. From the comparison, it looks really one sided for UMD. But we know that the Badgers can win at home and one player on UW can change the whole game. Here is this week’s StatPack:

Images via Wikipedia (Bulldog and WCHA).  Badger.

Prediction. This is arguably the toughest road trip of the four the Bulldogs are currently in. The Badgers are not a good team, but they play really well at home. The key will be goaltending and special teams. If Kenny Reiter adds more shutouts to his career stats, it will be a good weekend and Kenny with UMD D-corps can do that. These games will be close and competitive. UMD is the better team here, but the games are in Madison were UW plays well, good enough for a split this weekend.

Around the WCHA. Things are really starting to shake out in the conference. You will see that in this week’s picks with many more “seeps” than the alternatives.

Denver at Bemidji State: The Beavers had a successful weekend at SCSU and scored a bunch of goals. Denver seems to have found some stability in net with Olkinuora and their high power offense will be too much for the Beavers resulting in a Denver sweep.

Alaska – Anchorage at Colorado College: UAA played well at Mankato in their last road trip only to get swept the following weekend at home by North Dakota. CC had a big emotional win over Denver on a penalty shot in overtime and will likely be riding high. CC should sweep at home.

Michigan Tech at Minnesota – Twin Cities: The Huskies are much improved since last year, but are not at the level of the WCHA elite teams. The Gophers played good enough, and right enough, to get a sweep at home against Mankato. Their team effort wasn't the greatest in both games, but they have a few players that can carry the whole team. UMTC will sweep at home.

Nebraska – Omaha at North Dakota: UNO lost to UAH for the Chargers only win this season. It is hard to know what the team's mental character will be for a rematch of Dean Blais' squad in Grand Forks. UND appears to have righted the ship and has found some scoring. It would be easy to say that this is a split, but my picks haven't been as good recently. UND will continue with the scoring from more than one line and get goalie play that is good enough to take a chance and pick a North Dakota sweep.

Alabama – Huntsville at Minnesota State – Mankato: What will the reprieve of the Chargers program do to the heads of the UAH players? It must be a huge lift, or it may be a huge sigh of relief. The chargers come in red hot after getting a win the previous weekend against the other WCHA Mavericks team. MSUM looked a lot better last weekend than they did when they play UMD. MSUM may have figured a few things out in the losses in Minneapolis, enough to earn 3 points this weekend. I basically said the same thing when UAA took 3 points. It will probably be a split, but I will go with the 3 points for Mankato.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Road Trip Part 1: Houghton, Michigan

Bulldogs Look to Start Long Road Trip Continuing Unbeaten Streak

Looking at the Bulldog’s schedule when it came out, it looked a dream come true for an upper half WCHA finish. Four games against Mankato, Anchorage and, as every year, Michigan Tech. UAA was expected to be the best of those three teams, but the Huskies in Houghton under new head coach Mel Pearson have jumped out to the front.

The Huskies have proven that a change at the top could ease the pain of a miserable season last year and put them in contention for home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

Tech has made a nice run this season built primarily on home wins. The Huskies are 6-1-1 at home and 2-4-0 on the road. The lone loss at Houghton for the Huskies was to Minnesota State – Mankato 6-3.

The trip for UMD will be a challenge as Tech seems to always save a great effort or two for when they meet the Bulldogs. It isn’t like a game against Northern Michigan, but the effort is always upped for the Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs themselves come in on a hot streak winning their last five games while on a ten game unbeaten streak, the longest in the nation. The main reason for the streak is improved defense starting with goalie Kenny Reiter. Reiter has started all but one game this season, gained three shutouts and has been named WCHA Defensive Player of the Week twice this season. Reiter’s overall stats are 0.922 saves percentage and goals against of 2.12 good for 23rd and 17th in the nation respectively.

It isn’t UMD that has used good goaltending. Tech has been backed by strong goaltending from Josh Robinson. Robinson and Reiter have the same conference saves percentage of 0.926 and similar conference GAA (Reiter is 2.08 and Johnson is 2.22).

Team statistics are compared in our UMD – MTU StatPack:

Images via Wikipedia (Bulldog, WCHA, Husky)

Most facets being equal, it will be the scoring offense that will be key in this series. If UMD can generate scoring, the defense should be able to limit the Huskies for UMD wins.

On the Plus Side. UMD sports four defensemen in positive territory for plus/minus ratings. Leading the team in the category is Wade Bergman at +12 followed by Scott Kishel tied for second with +10. Other defensemen on the list are Brady Lamb +7 and Chris Casto at +6. Positive numbers for defensemen is a good indicator that the defense is strong and that they are in on the scoring. Both are true for the Bulldogs.

On the Road, Part 1 of 4. The next four series will be on the road for UMD and will be a pivotal part of their schedule. While not sounding like fun, it may not be all that bad. UMD is 2-0-2 this season on the road and 16-5-6 in their last 27 road games.

Prediction. It is a good week for UMD to be playing at Tech. After their off-week, the Bulldogs should be rested and ready to play. The Huskies always give UMD fits and there should be no reason to think it will be any different this weekend. Tech will want to prove that they are a top half of the WCHA team and the Bulldogs are trying to keep their unbeaten streak together while continuing their push for the top spot in the WCHA. UMD will show why they are near the top of the WCHA and will take home three points unless they come out rusty Friday night, which will likely result in a split. Look for the three-point weekend.

Around the WCHA. This is the last weekend where most WCHA teams are playing and playing two game series. After this weekend bye weeks and holiday tournaments become common. Looking at our picks, we will continue with the parody the league is stuck on this year. Lots of splits and no sweeps…hmmm, could that really be true? We’ll have to see.

Denver at Colorado College (Friday): This should be a great game. Yeah, that is not a misprint; it is a one game finish to a series that started Saturday, November 12 at Denver. The Pioneers won the first game 5-4. Both teams have high end talent that can score, but how the goalies play in each game will decide the winner. The “series” should be a split, meaning that CC wins this game in Colorado Springs.

Bemidji State at Saint Cloud State: The Beavers have not been great on the road and the Huskies are trying to stay in the middle of the pack. BSU will look to keep these games low scoring and should be able to do so in at least one of the games resulting in a split.

North Dakota at Alaska – Anchorage: Is the UND Men's Hockey Team beginning their mid-season surge or was last weekend just one great effort at home? This is an important series for UND if they are going to try to work their way back up to the top half of the WCHA standings, let alone the top few teams. UAA finally found the net at the purple Mavericks and that should carry over enough to this weekend. Until UND can play well every week and find more success on the road, a split is the only choice.

Minnesota State – Mankato at Minnesota – Twin Cities: MSUM has often played up to the Gophers in years past and this year shouldn't be any different. The Gophers are the much better team, but there defense has shown their youth and inexperience the last few weekends. The purple Mavericks are beat up and that will it difficult for them to win another game for quite a while.  We go back on an earlier prediction and go with the Gophers in a sweep.

Nebraska – Omaha at Alabama – Huntsville: The Chargers are still looking to get there first win of the season, unfortunately for them it won't be this weekend against the red Mavericks. The Chargers could trip up a couple WCHA foes in the coming weeks, but not here in a UNO sweep.

Monday, November 28, 2011

WCHA: Who's on First?

Mixed Results Keeps Us Wondering Who Is Tops?

Does anyone want the MacNaughton Cup? Parody might be the word of the season for the WCHA.

After a weekend of the haves getting beat and the have-nots winning, the middle and lower end of the conference keeps moving up creating more of a log jam at the top of the WCHA.

The facts are that it is early in the year and not all of the teams have played equal games, but we are at the end of November and the next games will start the December part of the schedule, real hockey time. There is no more saying, “Yeah, but it is still early…”

Right now in the conference standings the difference between first and seventh is six points. The biggest jam-up is in the middle where 4th through 10th is separated by four points.

And it’s not just conference games that are perplexing. The perennially non-conference dominant WCHA is showing weakness in games around the country.

This past weekend:

  • Minnesota – Twin Cities, once thought to be unbeatable with their goalie alone, surrendered 8 goals in a loss and tie at Michigan State (4-3 and 4-4),
  • Denver “split,” beating Princeton 3-0 then losing to Miami 4-2 both at home,
  • Michigan Tech continues their up and down road season by losing to St. Lawrence 3-2 before beating them 3-1,
  • North Dakota may have turned their season on high by sweeping our pre-season league favorite Colorado College (PS, who is going to be the Tiger’s goalie?) and
  • Saint Cloud State keeps plugging away and not going away by getting points here and there. This past weekend they stuck with Nebraska – Omaha to take a point with a Sunday tie on the road.
The early season is over as we look towards December, and right now, it looks like no team is going to run away with the thing. We will just have to keep on watching to see how the parody of the WCHA will play out.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

UMD: Taking Care of Business

UMD Uses Favorable Schedule to Get Rolling

UMD has done what they needed to do. A team that has aspirations of being tops in the nation has to beat lesser opponents, especially at home. And beating them soundly is always a positive.

In the first 14 games, UMD has played top teams in their conferences like Notre Dame, Minnesota – Twin Cities, Denver and Providence (debatable whether Providence should be included here). In those games the Bulldogs have compiled a 3-3-2 record. In the other games, really against the bottom half teams of the WCHA, UMD has a 6-0-0 record. In total, UMD has outscored opponents 56-33.

There are so many things that UMD is doing right. Arguably, the rebound the team made from the less than stellar (1-3-0) start. This team is good and it has been noted by players that they believe the best is yet to come.

Enjoy the Thanksgiving break Bulldogs team and fans. There are many UMD Hockey accomplishments to be thankful for.

Around the WCHA. With the holiday weekend, we have many non-conference games that will play an important role in WCHA SOS and PWR when the end of the season rolls around.

Alaska – Anchorage at Minnesota State Mankato: This maybe the weekend to decide who will be last in the WCHA. The Mavericks did show signs of hope from returning players from injury in the games against UMD the previous weekend even though they were swept. This weekend the Seawolves who have played poor on the road come into Mankato after winning their first conference game at home. We don't think UAA has the mustard to find a win on the road, but maybe enough to sqeek out a tie. Mavericks take 3 points.

Colorado College at North Dakota: UND hockey fans might still be in denial, but CC is the better team. However, with the ups and downs in the net for CC right now, UND finds a way to get a split.

Saint Cloud State at Nebraska – Omaha: This might be the most even match up of the weekend. Other than a sweep in Marquette, Michigan, SCSU has be able to at least a split in every weekend series this season. This should continue in Omaha as the teams split.

Mercyhurst at Wisconsin: Mercyhurst is currently at the top of Atlantic Hockey and did beat a pretty good Cornell team on the road earlier in the season. And they may be going to Madison at a good time as the Badger's are 1-4-1 in their last 6 games. But this Badgers team has played decent at home. This will be a good test for both teams and end in a split.

Minnesota – Twin Cities at Michigan State: A future Bi6 Ten matchup in East Lansing should be a good series and a big test for the Gophers. After a slow start the Spartans have been playing pretty good hockey as of late and have played good defense. The Gophers will have to work to get some goals and playing better on the road. Gophers are 1-2-0 in their last three away from Mariucci and thus it will be a split

Princeton at Denver and Miami at Denver (Denver Cup): Denver may be righting the ship after a tough spot in the schedule. The Tigers of Princeton are not the team they were a few years ago when they beat Denver in the NCAA Tournament. This year, the Pioneers beat the Tigers. Miami (Future NCHC matchup) is finding their legs at the same time as Denver which really makes this the better of the two games. Miami will win giving Denver a split.

Michigan Tech at St. Lawrence: The Saint's are looking to get some wins at home. They have been somewhat inconsistent this season, which is a similar story for MTU on the road. So something has got to give. Tech will look to continue the positive momentum from the road win in Anchorage by leaving Canton, NY with 3 points.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Up, Up, and Away!

UMD Hosts Minnesota State - Mankato to End Home 2011 Season

The Superman reference fits the Bulldogs well.

Since the 1-3-0 start to the year, the Bulldogs have not lost, upping their standing in college hockey. And the teams that they have beaten have been decent teams. Maybe not Alaska – Anchorage last weekend and maybe the same could be said for this MSUM team coming to Duluth. And that is what makes this series dangerous, the Mavericks have struggled and UMD cannot look past them.

The “away” part of the column title is also fitting. After this weekend, the Bulldogs do not play in Duluth until January 20, 2012. That will be eight games away from Duluth. It really does make sense, though. The Bulldogs played 8 of their first 12 at home and now will play 8 of their next 12 on the road.

All that said, this weekend is a launching pad for the surely difficult road stretch in the UMD schedule. Can’t you see Superman in a UMD uniform getting ready to take flight?

StatPack. Sporting the second longest unbeaten streak in the country at 6-0-2, the Bulldogs host Minnesota State – Mankato this weekend. MSUM is currently 10th in the WCHA sporting a 3-7-0 overall record. Here is how the two teams’ stats compare:

Compiled by College Hcokey HighHorse

Prediction. UMD has an 8 game unbeaten streak on the season going into this weekend’s series at AMSOIL with the Mavericks. UMD is clicking on all cylinders right now and there is no reason to think that this trend will change. UMD sweeps.

Around the WCHA. It will be refreshing to have all 12 teams playing in league games. This is one of only four weekends this season where all will be in league action.

Wisconsin at Colorado College: UW might be going to CC at the perfect time as Joe Howe has struggled in net as of recent. CC has a high power offense and should be able to get 2 points on the weekend. Split.

Nebraska – Omaha at Denver: Great match up at this time of the year. Both teams have good scorers and have be up and down in the net. UNO is currently playing better between the two teams, but perhaps the win against in state rival last weekend will inspire the Pioneers play. Split

Minnesota – Twin Cities and Saint Cloud State (home and home): The number one team in the country will be playing an injured Huskies squad. This is a big rivalry series for SCSU and should be able to play well enough to get 2 points on their home ice. Split

Michigan Tech at Alaska – Anchorage: Is Tech for real? This weekend will let everyone know. Tech was not good in their only road series this season getting swept by the Beavers in Bemidji. UAA cannot find the opposing team's goal as of late. MTU is the better team and will get 3 points on the road.

North Dakota at Bemidji State: The US 2 battle by Lake Bemidji should be a good one. Looking at the names alone this would appear to be a lopsided one in favor of the UND Men's Hockey Team (we are phasing out the nickname here at the HighHorse), but in reality it is nearly a pick’em. UND has not played well on the road this season and the Beavers have been up and down at home. The easiest pick is a split, which we go with. However, if BSU slows the games down and keeps UND shots in check they will get 3 or 4 points.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

First Intermission: Bulldogs One Third Through Season

A Report Card on UMD's First Trimester of the 2011-12 Season

The first third of the 2011-2012 UMD Bulldog’s season is in the books. In following with our past precedent, we are issuing our first trimester report card.

First, a disclaimer...overall the team would be receiving all A’s except for the really rough streak to start the season. The first four games, two against Notre Dame and two against Minnesota – Twin Cities, really put a damper on the season and made many fans wonder how big the drop off from National Champions this season would be. As we have seen in the last eight games, the kinks were worked out and the Bulldogs are now nicely on track.

Offense: A-. There was little concern over the offense entering this season. The players have lived up to, and in many cases, exceeded early expectations. One of the most positive stats is the number of players on the scoring sheet. Of the 44 goals for the Bulldogs, 15 different players have tallied at least one.

Of note:
  • Jack Connolly (6-11-17) and JT Brown (3-11-14) have been the strong points of the offense, as expected. Each are #4 in the nation for assists.
  • Pleasant surprises include Travis Oleksuk (11-3-14, #2 in the nation for goals) and Mike Seidel (5-2-7) who is chipping in the third most goals for the Bulldogs.
  • Strong freshman presence is noted from Caleb Herbert (3-7-10).
  • We want to see more from one of the heroes of the national championship, Max Tardy. With only two assists to show for this year, we were definitely expecting more.
Stick salute:
  • We would have really liked to see Cody Danberg finish off his career at UMD in the playoffs, but the injury bug struck him again ending his season after the first game this season. He was coming off a medical redshirt from last season and now can just watch his team play. Little consolation, but Danberg did tally an assist in his only game this season, his 100th as a Bulldog.
Team Defense: B+. Maybe it isn’t fair, but the three game losing streak and the soft goals against Minnesota – Twin Cities is stuck in our craw. The team has bounced back nicely, but there were some scary moments in the first four games that include two losses from ahead and the Friday Gopher game where the game tying goal was scored with an extra Gopher attacker and the loss in OT. Since that low point, the defenders have come together including goalie Kenny Reiter (see goaltending below). The defense corps and Reiter bettering their play begs the question of who sparked, or even carried, who? The defense is better, but we believe it is ultimately Reiter who is playing the best defense.

Of note:
  • Wade Bergman has really stepped up to the leadership role on the blueline as a junior. His one goal and six assists doesn’t put him the lead for defenseman scoring on the team, but his solid play makes him top notch.
  • The strong freshman presence from Chris Casto (2-3-5) after a couple of tough games to start the season is very encouraging.
Special Teams: B-. What can you really fault as of late? It again was the beginning of the year that put this facet of the Bulldog’s game in question. Look at the facts: UMD penalty kill is tied for 31 in the nation at 81.2%, but they have not given up a power play goal in six games and only one in the last eight. Those are great stats, but when you add in the 33% penalty kill rate against the Gophers (3 for 9 killed) it is your stats that get killed. On the power play, the national rankings don’t look great (#17), but the power play rate is really good (22.2%). It is difficult to give a lower grade to a team that is really clicking right now, but we feel the whole body of work needs to be taken into account. If things stay on track, this category will have the biggest grade jump at the next grading period.

Of note:
  • Oleksuk (4 PP goals) and Connolly (3) leading the way on the PP.
  • Mike Seidel is making hay on the PP too, scoring three of his five total goals with the man advantage.
  • We like the way that Brady Lamb is chipping in on PP (2 goals), but we are concerned about the seemingly large number of shots coming from the blueline on the PP.
Goaltending: B+. This is maybe the biggest travesty in our grading. Reiter should really have an A all by himself, but he did have his own rough start (1-2-0). Additionally, this category is for all the UMD goalies and Aaron Crandall has been disappointing in his only game this season. His 0.783 saves percentage and 5.05 GAA is alarming even though it was only one game. Reiter is playing lights out (0.923 and 2.05), but the Bulldogs need a capable backup and so far Crandall has not given the coaches a real reason to try him again. If he is needed, hopefully practice has been getting him more ready.

Of note:
  • Reiter now has 3 shutouts, good for #2 in the nation.
  • Reiter’s 2.05 GAA is 12th in the nation.
Coaching: A. For all the strife in the start of the season, the coaching staff has kept with this team and got them to perform to high standards. Additionally, the recent changes in forward lines has sparked more offense. By not staying with a safe status quo, the coaches have made the team more potent at scoring.

Overall Team: B+. Again, we can’t overlook the slow start, but we are loving the current team’s level of play. A long season may be on the menu again this year.

Looking Ahead. The schedule so far has been quite favorable for UMD. Of the 12 games, four have been away from Duluth. That will change with a vengeance as the opposite will occur for the next 12 games when UMD plays at home for only four games. It will be a challenging test for this team to see if they have the mettle to be a top tier team in the WCHA.

Of note:
  • Two of the next six series will be against future NCHC teams, Nebraska – Omaha and Western Michigan.
  • During this last grading period UMD was 1-0-1 against future NCHC teams (Denver).
The next grading period will end after playing Alabama – Huntsville on January 21, 2012.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Goaltending Hit and Miss in WCHA

Goaltending is Boon for Some, Bust for More

It really is no secret if you read our columns, we put emphasis on the goaltender position. It is the great equalizer, or downfall, in college hockey. An otherwise really good team can look terrible in the standings and an average team can go far in the postseason all depending on their goaltending.

To cut the chase, so far we have really blown our pre-season prediction. Our #1, Colorado College, goaltender Joe Howe has not looked like two-thirds the goalie has was last season. He has struggled mightily at times leading now to talk of a goalie controversy in Colorado Springs. But the season is still young, just ask Minnesota – Duluth.

The Bulldogs, who looked like a rudderless ship until Kenny Reiter took control of the wheel, have surged after a slow start. The team has an eight game unbeaten streak (6-0-2) including shutouts in three of the last five games. The only goaltender in those games, Reiter, the same guy who had to battle to get his saves percentage above 0.900 after the team’s 1-3-0 start.

The Gophers really can’t complain, or seriously say that they expected, what Kent Patterson has done in the nets. Patterson has five shutouts while going 10-2-0 for UMTC. The Gopher’s scoring has been great and abundant, buoyed by 15 goals in two games against Sacred Heart, but the real story of success lies between the pipes at UMTC.

CC isn’t the only team not getting what they expected from their goalie play. Coming into the season, one thing that Saint Cloud knew that they could not lose is Mike Lee, their only goalie with experience behind now graduated Dan Dunn. And here it is, SCSU now has to rely on a senior who has never played a minute in a college game that counts and two freshmen as Lee is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery. A Huskies season with some, albeit limited, promise of competing has turned into an all out fight for home ice for the first round playoffs.

Yet another story of goalie trial by fire is taking place in Denver. Sam Brittain last year made Denver into a real force backing up all the Pioneers scoring with good goaltending. A knee in Denver’s last game in the 2010-11 season forced Brittain to have surgery and will keep him out until at least mid-January. All coach George Gwozdecky asked is that backup Adam Murray keep the Pioneers in the hunt while Brittain heals. Not going as planned as Denver has used freshman Juho Olkinuora in relief of Murray on multiple occasions, because really, he couldn’t have been any worse than the starter…but he was. It got so bad at Michigan Tech that Gwozdecky was compelled to try no goalie.

In the meantime, while Denver waits for their goalie to come back from injury while showing up rival CC’s Howe in a game last Saturday, 5-4. The place holder beat the expected league #1...go figure.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Minnesota - Duluth Hosts Alaska - Anchorage for Two Game Series

UMD Meets UAA in First of Two Home Series for Bulldogs

Make hay when the sun shines. It is an old adage that is still used extensively be people in sales. In this case, it is the perfect outlook and mind set for UMD. The Bulldogs host Alaska – Anchorage this weekend in Duluth and then UMD will close out their 2011 home games hosting Minnesota State – Mankato the following weekend. The next home game for UMD after November 19 is January 20, 2012.

The Seawolves started the season on a tear going 3-0-1, but have since gone 0-4-0. The difference is clear, the first four were non-conference and the last four were WCHA conference games. Dig deeper in Anchorage’s record and their story becomes murkier.

UAA played some decent non-conference teams, most notably two WCHA teams. The Seawolves went 2-0-0 against Saint Cloud State and Nebraska – Omaha in their non-conference portion of the early season. Even more intriguing is UAA traveled to UNO for their first WCHA games and were swept in Omaha 4-1 and 3-1.

The first meeting between UAA and UNO was in Alaska so maybe it is a home state thing for Anchorage. But Anchorage hosted Minnesota – Twin Cities in their most recent WCHA action and were decidedly swept 5-0 and 3-1.

The Seawolves’ struggles should give UMD confidence on the weekend, but measured confidence. UMD has seen the lows this season and have fought their way back to being very competitive. It is no time to sit back on recent laurels.

UMD’s Turnaround. UMD has the third longest national unbeaten streak in the nation at six games. It is the longest currently in the WCHA. There is no secret about the improvements. It comes from goaltender play of Kenny Reiter.

Reiter’s impressive weekend at Denver earned him the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week honor beating out the likes of UMTC’s Patterson.

To us at the HighHorse, we saw the vote going to either University of Minnesota net minder, but then you see the stats of Reiter at Denver where he put up five shutout periods after giving up 3 goals in the first period Friday. So that first period wasn’t good, but how he responded on the road for the next five definitely makes him deserving of the honor.

Sleeping Around. As stated prior, UMD has two weekends of home games left before mid January of 2012. In between the Bulldogs will play four series, eight games, away from home. Those opponents are Michigan Tech, Wisconsin, Western Michigan, and Nebraska – Omaha.

These next two weekends are important games for UMD to keep the momentum going before the extended road trips.

By the Stats. This week we are trying a new format and have embedded the StatPack for UAA and UMD here in the preview.

It is refreshing to see UMD finally come around on their stat categories and have the edge against an opponent. UMD has to remember that stats don’t win the games, but they should be well aware as they have been battling back from a subpar start to the season.

Weathering the Storm, SOS? It is embarrassing to be talking PairWise (PWR) this early in the season, but here it goes. The advantage of looking at the ratings this early is to judge the strength of schedule (SOS) of games played so far.

In the PWR, the Bulldogs have played eight games against the top 25 in the PWR going 4-3-1. The only team with more games against the top 25 (known as the TUC or teams under consideration) is Northern Michigan who have played 10 games against TUC.

Prediction. The UMD defense has come together and Kenny Reiter is playing at the top of his game. UAA has not showed much after a hot non-conference start. Finding the goal has been difficult and will likely continue to be difficult this weekend at AMSOIL Arena for the Seawolves. This will be a UMD sweep.

Around the WCHA.

Nebraska – Omaha at Bemidji State: After a tough start, the Mavericks have been playing better and finding some scoring. The Beavers have played well at home and should be able to hold off the Mavs enough to earn a split.

Saint Cloud State at Minnesota State – Mankato: SCSU has been playing very good hockey recently, but have struggled early in the season on the road. The Mavericks have had a tough season so far at home and on the road mainly due to injuries. If Austin Lee can play well enough MSUM can get 2 points, but we think SCSU is the better team and will leave Mankato with 3 points.

Minnesota – Twin Cities at Wisconsin: UW is back at home after a tough trip to St. Cloud. The Badgers have played well at home and should be able to continue even against a Gopher team that is really clicking right now. This is the second rivalry series for the Gophers in two weeks and will again bring the fireworks. Bottom line, you should expect to see top efforts from both teams and thus a split.

Colorado College at Denver (Saturday only): In a strange scheduling move, these teams play one game this weekend and play the second of this “series” on December 2. Denver's struggles in net will continue and CC will come home with the win.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Still Trying to Make Statements

UMD Makes First Trip to Denver in Two Years

In a season of tests, UMD is embarking on their most difficult in the young season. Denver is a very inhospitable place for the Bulldogs in recent years. Granted they did not play at DU last season, but the seniors on this UMD squad are 1-5-0 at Denver including playoff games.

This is a new year and UMD is 1-0-1 on the road…not much of a road record to go off of and it is against a (arguably) weaker non-conference opponent. The challenge is definitely present and waiting for UMD in Denver.

Conversely, the Pioneers have only played two games that count at their home building. They are a perfect 2-0-0. And the Pioneers are not to a great start in the record book just like the Bulldogs, but they are playing at home and that means something especially this year in the WCHA.

Shoot Away! UMD has outshot their opponents in every game this season and their record is what it is. Denver has outshot their opponents in all but one of their games. The Pioneers are 2-2-1 when outshooting their opponent and 1-0-0 when being outshot.

See the College Hockey HighHorse UMD/DU StatPack for a breakdown.

Prediction. It is too tall of an order to think that UMD can go into Denver and sweep the series. Reiter has been getting stronger in the net, which had to happen. He will really be tested this weekend by some really good players for the Pioneers. UMD will be able to score, but score enough is the question. The last time Denver was swept in a WCHA series was November of 2008, almost three years ago. Maybe they’re due? Nah, but this won’t be a wasted weekend for the Bulldogs as they salvage a split at Denver.

Around the WCHA. There are some really hot teams in the league and we see them staying hot this weekend.

Minnesota State – Mankato at Michigan Tech: Tech seems to be a good team at home and will continue to be against a bad MSUM. Huskies sweep in Houghton.

Wisconsin at Saint Cloud State: Both teams are playing inconsistently…meaning: a split.

North Dakota at Minnesota – Twin Cities: UMTC is playing teams at the right time and are definitely one of the best teams (quite possibly the best) in all of NCAAs right now. Currently the goal tending is top notch and the defense is good because the offense has been so good. We see a couple very high scoring very close games similar to the series against UMD and UMTC come out with a sweep of the down spiraling UND. This series will likely be another 90 shots per game weekend for both teams.

Colorado College at Nebraska - Omaha: Finally, a good test for CC. It looks like a sweep for the Tigers of CC, but in the end we see this being a 3-pointer for Colorado College playing at Omaha.

Bemidji State at Lake Superior State: LSSU will continue their winning ways and take 4 points in a home sweep of the coming-back-to-earth Beavers.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

UMD at Denver: The StatPack

UMD is still diffing out of their statistics hole and things are getting better.  In comparison to opponents, it still isn't up to par for an upper half WCHA team.  This weekend against the Pioneers will be a challenge and the stats will not get padded when playing a strong team like the Pioneers.

This weeks StatPack:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

WCHA: Gwozdecky the Mad Hatter; Power Outage in Grand Forks

Goalie Injury Brings out Mad Hatter in Gwozdecky

The injury bugs seems to be catchy.

After taking advantage of an injury riddled Minnesota State – Mankato team in a home sweep, the Pioneers of Denver found themselves using their back-up goalie due to an injury to starter Adam Murray. Freshman Juho Olkinuora was pressed into duty in the Friday night game at Michigan Tech. The Huskies won the game 7-2, but that isn’t the real story here. The real story in the game is that the Mad Hatter of the WCHA, George Gwozdecky, struck again.

Olkinuora’s performance must have been sub-par, or maybe it was the whole Pioneer team that disappointed their coach. Gwozdecky, known for regularly practicing without a goalie, pulled Olkinuora for 1:26 in the 3rd period. And it wasn’t the end of the third, it began at the 13:04 mark of the period. He must have seen enough and wanted to send a message by pulling Olkinuora. Message that night wasn’t received because the Pioneers gave up three empty net goals in that 1:26 stretch in the third to fall behind 7-1.

Gwozdecky is a great coach and his views on playing without a goalie is always interesting. It stretches back in my experience to a Saturday night game in Duluth during January of 1995. Down by 2 with about minutes to go, Gwozdecky pulled his goalie and Denver did tie the game after multiple minutes of extra attacker play. The game ended in a tie and went to overtime where it stayed a tie. In the post game comments, Gwozdecky remarked that his team’s empty net play was so good that night he thought about pulling the goalie in OT. Truth? Maybe not, but it very well may have crossed his mind.

In another game featuring a freshman goalie, Saint Cloud’s Ryan Faragher made quite the entrance into WCHA play with a shutout of the Sioux at North Dakota.

The 4-0 loss by North Dakota either showed the brilliance of Faragher or the hot/cold nature of the traditionally great Sioux scoring machine.

In the game SCSU took two 5-minute major penalties, one at 7:35 of the first and the second at 1:44 of the second. So the Huskies played almost two thirds of the game two skaters disqualified, not to mention the ten minutes of shorthanded play. Additionally, during the second major, SCSU took a minor penalty to go down to three skaters to UND’s five for a full two minutes of the major penalty.

In all UND 0 for 7 on the power play to start the season 0-3-0 in the WCHA before their first league win the next night, 3-1, against the Huskies. Can this be the slow Sioux start we got so accustomed to in recent years?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Special Teams Key When Bemidji Visits Duluth

Special Teams, Goaltending Favor Bemidji

It is not secret that UMD was sparked by their power play last season. Couple that with a better than decent penalty kill and we all know where that took the Bulldogs.

Fast forward to this season.

The power play has started to come around and be productive. After last weekend, the Bulldogs convert power plays at a 20% rate good for 16th in the nation. No reason to panic, in fact the rate is good and should get even better as the power play units get more chances.

The penalty kill has been a glaring low spot for this year’s Bulldog team. They are currently at a 70% kill rate which is not in the top 40 in the nation. That is an improvement from the 55% kill rate before last weekend’s series at Providence. That is not a misprint, 55% four games into the season. The current rate is bad, but looking at where the Bulldogs came from, it is a great improvement.

See all the stat comparisons in the HighHorse StatPack.
The test gets more difficult this weekend on both ends of the special teams. The most glaring mismatch is the 4th ranked BSU power play against the UMD kill. The Bulldogs will have their hands full especially since UMD averages 18.67 penalty minutes per game, eighth highest in the nation. Arguably, the series will be won and lost based n the UMD penalty kill versus the BSU power play.

You might think that UMD would have a chance to extract their own goals on power play because a 20% conversion isn’t bad. But the Beavers are a well disciplined team committing only 10 minutes per game on average.

Special teams are important this weekend as with any college hockey series. But with the way both teams are going, it likely could be the determining factor of the series.

The other factor that is a close second to special teams in determining the series will be goaltending. Bemidji seems to have it clicking while UMD is still trying to feel their way through.

Reiter has seemingly been deemed the number one, but likely not because of his play. Instead it is the lack of good play in the nets for back-up Aaron Crandall.

Crandall has played only one game, but it was a forgettable outing where he stopped only 78% of the shots he faced. Now that is only one game, but it must also be showing up in practice for Reiter to have the last four consecutive starts.

We said it last week and it applies here again, a Bulldog resurgence needs to start in goalie play. The late tying goals by opponents need to stop. The team must be able to trust themselves and their netminder that they can hold a one goal lead to the end.

Keep Shooting?  UMD has outshot their opponents in all six games this year, but are still 2-3-1.  The total shots on goal are UMD 221, Opponents 158.  The Bulldogs need to start burying those shots or keep the fewer shots faced out of the net.  Better yet, do both!

Prediction. This will be the weekend that UMD comes out in their building and wins a series. Now we don’t see a sweep occurring, but UMD will take three points from the Bemidji.

Around the WCHA. Besides the UMD – BSU series, there are four league series and one non-conference set.

Denver at Michigan Tech: Denver comes in playing really good hockey and shouldn’t really have a problem in Houghton. Tech is trying to regain their magic before they fall into a downward spiral like last year. Home cooking for the Huskies won’t be enough as the Pioneers sweep.

Saint Cloud State at North Dakota: This is a bad weekend for SCSU to get the Sioux. UND will be ready to make a statement and they will with a sweep at home against a struggling Huskies team making their WCHA season debut.

Nebraska – Omaha at Wisconsin: These are two teams that have Jekyll/Hyde problems this season. Both teams are coming off of home sweeps, but inconsistency still reigns. This series will end in a split.

University of Minnesota – Twin Cities at Alaska – Anchorage: The Gophers aren’t invincible as demonstrated in a home loss to Vermont last Sunday. It was the Gophers first loss and first goals given up this season at home. Anchorage has shown they are formidable in Alaska and that is why this series will be a split.

Colorado College at RPI: We still strongly believe that the Tigers are the best of the WCHA and they will have little trouble dispatching RPI in New York.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Minnesota - Duluth vs Bemidji StatPack

The numbers are getting better for the Bulldogs as more games are played, especially the games that UMD wins.  This weekend won't be easy, but it can't be as grim as this week's HighHorse StatPack looks.

Monday, October 24, 2011

WCHA: The Land of Sweeps

Home Sweeps Dominate Conference Play; UMD Gets Three in Providence

Welcome to the land of sweeps, the WCHA. Twenty-eight games into the WCHA season and all fourteen series have been sweeps. Make that all have been home sweeps, excluding the Gopher sweep at Duluth.

In a conference that is usually predictable about who is tops and who will be the doormats, this season has started off as the season of parody. Not all teams have had the chance to play more than one conference series, and SCSU still has to play even one WCHA contest, but a few questions are coming to the forefront.
  • Are the Sioux a top tier team? After Wisconsin gets swept at Tech, they turn around and sweep North Dakota in Madison. Maybe NoDak isn’t that good…or Tech maybe claiming their trophy (MacNaughton Cup) after all these years.  It doesn't bode well for the Sioux seeing that Tech got swept by the Beavers in Bemidji this past weekend.  But it is too early in the season to making those type of comparisons...or is it? 
  • Is Michigan Tech for real? A much heralded sweep over Wisconsin brings Tech to BSU and a thump as they get swept.  The Huskies did look good at times, especially late in both games.  If only the games were seven minutes longer...  As stated here last week, MTU started 3-0-2 last year before going 1-30-2 to finish the season. New coach Mel Pearson knew he was in for a tough time, but it started good and now he has to get the Huskies to stop the skid.
  • Is there a home ice advantage in the WCHA? Normally I would say no, but who can argue with the results so far? Let’s see after this weekend when Denver travels to Tech and the Gophers visit Alaska – Anchorage.
  • Will Minnesota State – Mankato become the new bottom dweller in the WCHA? So the Mavs got swept in Denver topped by a 10-2 drubbing Saturday night. They didn’t have any reserve skaters on the trip due to injuries and were forced to dress 19 skaters Saturday because of a new injury. This weekend off could help with the issue, or maybe they should take one of the three goalies they brought to Denver and make him play forward…couldn’t hurt.
Bulldogs Take Three in Providence. The road series is a nice rebound to the beginning of the year. The Bulldogs never trailed during the weekend and got to bolster their penalty killing numbers against a mediocre Friars team.

The one issue that still lingers is the finishing instinct of this Bulldog squad. Again, UMD surrenders a late goal that this time resulted in a tie. It is a better result than the loss to UMTC earlier this year when UMD gave up a late tying goal, but the trend is concerning. This weekend’s games against Bemidji isn’t time to be on shaky ground. The scrapping Beavers have given UMD fits for years now, especially last season when the teams went 1-1-1 against each other with all the games going to overtime.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

UMD - Providence StatPack

It is still early, but troubling trends are mounting in the Bulldog's statistics.  This year's Friars team isn't a push over.  It would be a great weekend to get things on track while being away from Duluth.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Work in Progress; Derailed Again

Gophers Gain Sweep in Duluth 5-4 OT and 5-4

No one said this season was going to be easy, but the struggles and bad bounces for the Bulldogs have been ridiculous. It is the “every way to lose a hockey game” tour in this early season.

Kings of overtime no more. After quite a streak of OT wins, UMD was snake bitten last Friday after taking their first lead with 2:00 left in the third. An extra attacker goal by the Gophers that went in off a UMD player’s skate led the game to overtime. With less than a minute left in OT the Gophers finished with the game winning goal.

After the game winner, the Gopher players mobbed one another like they had won a playoff game. And why wouldn’t they, after squandering a lead and fighting their way to a win in OT over the reigning national champs? It was a well deserved win for them.

While the celebrating was going on, the Bulldogs were trying to shake off the gut punch they just endured. Another game, another way to lose.

Saturday night brought an about face on the UMD side. The Bulldogs came out buzzing looking to put Friday night in the past and move on. Up 2-0, the Bulldogs found themselves cruising until the bad bounces again got them down. After a Gopher goal and a UMD self-inflicted goal, the Bulldogs went to the locker room for the first intermission tied 2-2 but leading in shots 18-4. Enter the mental game.

Early in the second, 1:10 to be exact, the Gophers wrested the lead for good with a Nick Bjugstad goal. Follow that up by two more Gopher goals and the Bulldogs found themselves on a Gopher five unanswered goal streak.

What else could go wrong? Really, nothing, and this is where the light may be in the end of the tunnel.

The Bulldogs could have curled up and sacrificed themselves, but they did battle back to come very close to tying it up before eventually losing 5-4. I know that “very close” is worth nothing in the league standings, but the team does need to start back from somewhere.

What we are finding out about this UMD team is that offense is good, at least five on five. The once vaunted power play that has clicked for two years now doesn’t. Chemistry does take some time to develop and it needs to happen now.

The defense corps appears to be adequate even above average on blocking shots and reducing chances. It is goaltending where the big question lies. Many have speculated that Reiter really can’t be faulted for the goals, that they were good shots. So who does it fall on? The defense held UMTC to 16 shots Saturday. I guess they must have been waiting to only take quality shots to score 5 goals, that’s a 31% shooting efficiency! When UMD gets this thing turned around it has to start at the goaltending and work out from there. Goaltending is everything in college hockey. It can make a decent team great or keep a good team from reaching its potential. Let’s get the goaltending up to par and see what kind of team the Bulldogs are this season.

Up next for UMD is a road trip to Providence to face the unbeaten Friars.

Elsewhere in the WCHA.

Michigan Tech swept a home series against the Badgers. It marks the first WCHA sweep for MTU since 2007. Both games went to OT and ended 3-2. That puts Wisconsin on a 0-3-0 OT run this season and a combined 1-12-19 OT record since 2007. Tech just needs to sustain now. They did start off 3-0-2 last season before going 1-30-2 to finish the season.

Anchorage went into the Goal Rush and found two wins to take their record to 3-0-1. In the process they beat Nebraska – Omaha, their second WCHA non-conference opponent in two weeks, 3-0. SCSU was the other last weekend. For the record, UNO barely found the goals in the Goal Rush, scoring one in a pair of losses in Alaska.

Hats off to staffer Andrew Fiskness who picked the Denver win correctly. DU went east for a challenge and came away with a win over BC and a loss to BU.

Colorado College swept Bemidji State in Colorado Springs, as expected. But it wasn’t without drama. BSU had the lead four times in the Saturday night game, but CC had the answer every time to gain a 6-4 win.

The UP resurgence took a toll on Saint Cloud State as Northern Michigan swept the Huskies in Marquette. The UP teams (MTU, NMU and Lake Superior State) are a combined 11-1-0 this season and all are WCHA bound in 2014.

Totally unexpected results in Mankato as UMass – Lowell came to MSU and swept the series. Who saw that coming?

Finally, Maine traveled to North Dakota for a pair of games. Whatever suspicions NoDak fans had should start to be quelled as the Sioux won Friday then found themselves behind 2-0 Saturday only to battle back for a tie. In all, it was a respectable three point Sioux weekend.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Intrastate Rivalry Heats Up Between Bulldogs and Gophers

Gophers Make Second Trip to AMSOIL

The season is young, but you can’t tell from the comments of players and fans from each side.

This is UMD’s big rivalry series and UMTC has always tried to down play it as a regular WCHA series. That has changed in recent years as UMD has taken the spotlight of the state sporting world. The Bulldogs are coming off of the men’s hockey national championship, two years removed from the women’s national championship and two of the last three D-II football national championships.

Has it really trickled to the players? Look at the quote dug up by Bruce Ciskie from Gophers captain Taylor Matson on UMD winning the championship, "It really bites you. We've beaten them ... twice last year, so it's really hard to take that in. Especially for a Minnesota team, you hate to see the spotlight go to them." No, Taylor, that would be one win, one loss and two ties last year, but it must sound better to say the Gophers beat the eventual National Champions twice. If anyone thinks that this rivalry is one way, they really should think again.

Last night at the Wild game, the highlights shown during the “State of Hockey” anthem had two scenes of UMD winning the national championship and no gopher puck scenes. A very telling tale of where we are in the State of Hockey.

So what does that all equal up to? The Gophers are in the role of having something to prove this year to the Bulldogs, role reversal from many years leading to this weekend. The Bulldogs in turn have to be ready to back up their body of work and keep the Gophers wanting the spotlight, a terrible feeling many Bulldogs from the past have felt.

Get the statistical breakdown in the HighHorse StatPack.

Got Defense? The Gopher defense is off to a remarkable start by giving up zero goals in their opening series last weekend. The opponent was Sacred Heart of the Atlantic Hockey Association, a conference that perennially has only the auto-bid representing in the NCAA tournament. In fact Sacred Heart is ranked at #56 in INCH’s Great 58 ranking of all D-I hockey teams. They come in just ahead of Alabama – Huntsville and American International.

If we take it back to the exhibition game, the Gophers have scored 18 goals and allowed zero. It is impressive, but nowhere near the level of competition they will face in the WCHA. The real question is what will happen to the team when they do give up a goal? It will be a mental test for the Gophers of how they respond.

Got Defense? Part II. Goaltending is setting up to be a challenge for the Bulldogs. A team 0.800 saves percentage is not acceptable for a top half WCHA team…not even a bottom tier team. The goalies, especially Crandall, need to pick it up now. There is not time to figure things out when you start with weekends against teams like Notre Dame and UMTC.

Brooms For, Not Against. The Bulldogs were one of two teams nationally not to be swept last season, Boston College being the other. Against the Gophers, UMD went 1-1-2 last season and are unbeaten in seven of their last nine match-ups. The Bulldogs are 1-0-1 against the Gophers at AMSOIL Arena.

Prediction. This weekend has all the makings of a late season marquee match-up. Instead, and unfortunately, it is early in the season when teams are still trying to find their legs for back to back games and their team chemistry.

The Gophers will not get out of Duluth without giving up goals, just how many will the Bulldogs score? Enough to take one game, but not both. This series will be a split. Which night will UMD win? I hate to say it, but the night Crandall is not in net, if the current goalie rotation is kept.

Around the WCHA. Two other conference series occur this weekend with plenty of quality non-conference match-ups.

Wisconsin at Michigan Tech: MTU has a habit of making early season runs and UW was not at all impressive last weekend at home against the green of Northern Michigan. Can Mel Pearson turn around the Huskies program? Not right away, but he something going UP there with two wins where Tech had to come back. This weekend Tech will see more positives by gaining a split with the Badgers.

Bemidji State at Colorado College: The Beavers pulled quite the upset last weekend winning at Miami. Don’t expect the same when they face the Tigers. CC sweep in Bemidji.

Maine at North Dakota: Last year this match-up proved to be interesting as the Black Bears swept the Sioux in Maine. It is a different year in a different venue. Some are questioning whether the Sioux have the scoring punch they traditionally have had. They will be put to the test this weekend that ends in a split.

Saint Cloud State at Northern Michigan: NMU showed their potential on the road in Madison last weekend with a closely contested split. This weekend the Wildcats are at home and the WCHA opponent is SCSU. NMU has shown their stuff and will sweep the Huskies.

Massachusetts – Lowell at Minnesota State – Mankato: Don’t expect too much from the Mavericks this season, but expect even less from Lowell. A home series for MSU equals a sweep for the Mavericks.

Denver at Boston College (Fri.) and Boston University (Sat.): A difficult undertaking for the Pioneers to travel to Boston. DU will gain a split, but who will they beat? Our staff is also split on the team the Pioneers beat.

Nebraska – Omaha and Alaska – Anchorage at Alaska Goal Rush Tournament: Other teams in this tourney are Alaska and Mercyhurst. Tournaments are difficult to pick, but what we do know is that both UNO and UAA will split their games.

Next weekend the WCHA schedule expands to four conference series as we start our way to the MacNaughton Cup.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bulldogs and Gophers by the Numbers

Our first StatPack for the season, though it is sparse on data.  Each team has only two games of record and the opponents are on the opposite ends of the college hockey spectrum.  But stats is one criteria to judge teams.

UMTC at UMD October 14-15, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bulldogs Learning Against the Best

UMD Earns a Split Against the Irish 4-3 and 3-5

Lessons learned is the goal of the early hockey season. The first series for UMD provided many lessons, let’s hope that learning was also occurring.

The Bulldogs gained a split against the top ranked Irish of Notre Dame over the past weekend. All facets of the game, offense, defense, special teams, goaltending and mental play provided highlights and low lights for the weekend.

Scoring was present from multiple players. Eleven Bulldogs tallied at least a point on the seven goals for the weekend and four players scored goals. Mike Seidel is the leading goal scorer with three on the year. Also worth noting is that no freshman players recorded a point for the weekend. Offense is off to a good start considering the losses from last year.

Defense was suspect at times and as a group showed their inexperience. Players were put into pressure situations they were not accustomed to, but is what happens when you are the national champions playing the new number one team in the nation. Defense as a whole has some maturing to do, but it seems as though they should come around.

Special teams had their struggles, as would be expected knowing the departures from last year. Power play looked good as they went 3 for 14 over the weekend (21%). The power play also struggled a bit in giving up a shorthanded goal that allowed Notre Dame to tie the game 2-2 Saturday and build momentum that UMD just could not break. Penalty kill did well, but the numbers don’t look good, 7 of 9 for 78%. The percent of penalties killed needs to go up, and it should as UMD gets deeper into the season.

Goaltending for the weekend showed promise, but also concern. Yes, the Bulldogs played the top ranked team in the nation, but they also beat them. So it is concerning that the goalies are below 90% for saves percentage. It goes beyond there, though, Reiter is an abysmal 82.4% and Crandall is at a remarkably low 78.3%. Again, this is early in the season and these averages should even out, but it is not like UMD plays Sacred Heart next weekend. The Bulldogs get the Gophers who outscored Sacred Heart 15-0 last weekend in a two game series.

Saturday’s loss could be chalked up to mental breakdowns. Early in the second, UMD had a 2-0 lead and seemed to be rolling towards a sweep. Then the unexpected happened. A fluky goal unleashed the Irish attack. Or was it the Bulldog’s mentally broke down and let momentum beat them? It is a point of concern because the Bulldogs as a whole seemed to lose the drive to compete in the game giving up goals that were too easy for the Irish scorers. The team needs to find leaders who will take the team out of the funks that inevitably happen in games.

Expectations abound for this season’s UMD team, especially after beating the Irish opening night. The question still remains, did the Bulldogs learn from their mistakes? Next weekend against UMTC will let us all know more.

Elsewhere in the WCHA.

Two WCHA teams completed sweeps this past weekend and no WCHA team was swept.

UMD’s next Opponent, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, swept, or dismantled, Sacred Heart 9-0 and 6-0 in Minneapolis. Ten different Gophers scored in the 15-0 weekend.

The other WCHA sweep occurred in Houghton where Michigan Tech swept American International fro their second 2-0-0 start in two years. The 4-3 and 3-1 wins propelled Huskies over the #58 ranked American International as ranked in INCH’s Great 58.

Unbeaten Alaska – Anchorage gets ready for their second tournament in as many weeks after tying Clarkson 4-4 and beating Saint Cloud State 4-3 in OT.

Speaking of Saint Cloud, the Huskies SCSU gained a split despite losing in OT to UAA by beating Alaska Friday night in Anchorage.

Wisconsin staved off a sweep by coming back from a 2-0 deficit Saturday to beat Northern Michigan 3-2. NMU bested the Badgers Friday 3-2 in OT.

Minnesota State – Mankato used defense to shutout RPI Friday night 1-0 in New York. RPI got the best of MSU Saturday winning 4-1.

The surprise of the weekend comes from Ohio where Bemidji State beat Miami 5-3 Friday night. Who knew BSU could find that kind of scoring especially against the #2 team in the nation. Miami did come back Saturday to split the series with a 3-2 win.

Nebraska – Omaha held their annual tournament this past weekend and rode the rollercoaster of Faulkner’s goaltending to a split. Friday was a 5-1 win over Mercyhurst followed by a Saturday 4-3 loss to Colgate.

North Dakota also hosted a tournament, the annual Ice Breaker, with a split weekend. After sneaking by Air Force 4-3, the Sioux lost to now #1 Boston College 6-2.

Finally, in exhibition play, both Denver and Colorado College took turns shutting out the US Under 18 team. DU was first with a 3-0 win Friday followed by CC with a 5-0 win Saturday.

Next weekend the WCHA looks forward to two series to start the conference season along with some great non-conference matchups.

Friday, October 7, 2011

#1 Irish at #8 Bulldogs

Rematch of Frozen Four Semifinal With New and Old Faces

In a change from the recent norm, UMD takes on a non-conference opponent in a series to start the season. That opponent is the top ranked Notre Dame Irish that UMD defeated in the semifinals of the Frozen Four last season.

Since fall of 2007, UMD has taken part in the Superior Cup that pitted UMD and Michigan Tech of the WCHA against Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan of the CCHA. The Bulldogs won the cup each of the seasons except for last year when MTU went 2-0. But this year we say goodbye to the cup and watch as the Bulldogs jump right into the fire of a difficult non-conference match-up.

Last time was good, but this is a new season and the winner does not go to the national championship. The winner of the series does get a leg up on the competition as both the Irish and Bulldogs are highly ranked teams. Talking about the past, the Irish holds an 18-11-4 lead in the all time series. The first meeting between these teams was in 1971 when both were members of the WCHA…funny how conference courting and jumping is a hot topic again today.

What has been lost and what remains. Looking at the Irish lineup, names jump out that were forces to be contained in the last meeting in April and are back again this year. Keeping T.J. Tynan, Anders Lee, and Billy Maday, three of the Irish’s top four goal scorers last season, in check will be a sizable task. With the success of keeping Irish scores in check will be the success of the Bulldogs this weekend.

A high scoring game is not what the Bulldogs want. UMD lost two of their top three scorers from last year in Justin Fontaine and Mike Connolly. That leaves just Jack Connolly from the vaunted FCC line that wreaked havoc on goaltenders, especially on the power play last season. It is the first weekend that the Bulldogs try to find where their scoring will come from besides Jack Connolly and J.T. Brown. On the opposite side of the puck, freshman defensive force Justin Faulk left school early and has made an impact in making the 23 man roster of the Carolina Hurricanes, not the UMD Bulldogs.

Prediction. The certainly will not have the same polish as they did last meeting, these are the first couple games of the season. But the stakes are high as the reigning national champions take on the new #1 in the polls (USCHO; #2 USA Today/USA Hockey). Home ice should mean something to the Bulldogs along with raising the banner. That all taken into account and the fact that these are the first games, a UMD win and tie are what we see for the weekend.

Around the WCHA. Again, it is the first weekend and there are a few tournaments that WCHA teams are in, we will not fill out this capsule for this week. We look forward to getting one week under the WCHA belt and coming back with notes next week.

UMD Players to Watch. Pre-season picks for end of season awards.

MVP: Jack Connolly has to step up in this new Bulldog landscape and be the leader he is so good at being. Even if his numbers falter, that is OK as long as he is drawing attention from opponents and others are taking advantage by scoring.

DarkHorse (our breakout player of the year): It may be unconventional and break the rules, if there are any, but we look to Cody Danberg. Returning for a second senior season, he should use his experience and wisdom to help lead the forwards. His 16 points in 99 games should be easily doubles this season.

Rookie to Watch: Caleb Herbert is our pick for the rookie to be watch because of his numbers from his stint in the USHL. One season with Sioux City 23-27 for 50 points.

Key players to UMD’s success this year:

Travis Oleksuk is on this list for the second straight year. Travis is now a senior and has been the anchor of an ever changing second line at center. The second line needs to score to take pressure off the top line and make the opponent be wary of more than one or two players.

J.T. Brown needs to keep his high level of play. A sophomore slump is not an option.

Reiter/Crandall tandem have to work together to keep pressure off of the other. The platoon system last regular season worked well. When one struggled, the other stepped in big and vice a versa. Success rides big on the goaltender.

The games are finally here, get the jitters out and enjoy the banner raising before the puck drops tonight.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

HighHorse WCHA Pre-Season Poll

Time to start off the season…finally. The College Hockey HighHorse rolls out its 2011-2012 season coverage with our WCHA Pre-Season Poll. The following is based off the staff predictions of final WCHA finish:
  1. Colorado College
  2. University of North Dakota
  3. University of Nebraska - Omaha
  4. Denver University 
  5. University of Minnesota - Duluth
  6. University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
  7. Saint Cloud State University
  8. University of Wisconsin
  9. University of Alaska - Anchorage
  10. Minnesota State University - Mankato
  11. Bemidji State University
  12. Michigan Technological University
The consensus of the HighHorse Staff is goaltending can make a decent team great or great team falter.  We believe that Colorado College has the right balance going into this season to put it all together.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer 2011 Updates

A lot has happened to UMD and college hockey since our last post on April 24th.  So to catch everyone up to speed here is a quick timeline of major events:

May 17th - Scott Sandelin signs a 5 year contract extension with UMD.  The contract is through the 2016-2017 season.  This is great news for UMD.  Here is the story from USCHO.

May 23rd - UMD's assistant coach Brett Larson agrees to become the head coach for the United States Hockey League's Sioux City Musketeers.  We are happy for Brett, but it is a big loss for the hockey team.  Assistant coaches do truly make a difference when it comes to college hockey and Brett was a good one.  Here is UMD's news story.

June 22nd - UMD announces the captains for the 2011-2012 season.  Wearing the "C" will be 2 time All-American Jack Connolly.  The assistant captains will be Cody Danberg and Brady Lamb.  We like the mix and are glad to have Cody back for the upcoming season.  For more info go to UMD's website.

June 27th - UMD hires Jason Herter as assistant coach.  Herter was a defenseman for UND from 1988-1991.  We don't know much about Jason Herter, but welcome him as the newest Bulldog.  Here is UMD's press release.

July 9th - A joint announcement is released confirming the rumors that UMD will be leaving the WCHA to join the "New" hockey conference in 2013-2014.  There are so many stories out there in the media, here is USCHO's.

July 13th - UMD joins the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), UMD's offical post can be found here.  We still are trying to wrap our heads around this news.  A lot has already been written and we might not be able to add much new, but we will put in our 2 cents.  Check back for our "official" post about the new conference NCHC and our thoughts about the rest of college hockey.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Continue Championship Afterglow: Sandelin to Stay

Penn State Goes With Princeton's Gadowsky

Just as I was sitting down to spill all the pent up angst and fear about the impending Penn State coaching announcement, I read my lines of communication. I guess that business does go on during holiday weekends as Penn State announces Guy Gadowsky of Princeton as their first hockey coach.

Phew. That was one place that I was not looking forward to going and it looked like a lock for Sandy to go. The last straw that had me convinced was the AP article I finally sat down and read out of the local paper after the festivities of the day. The article I refer to said Sandelin is Penn States choice. Now it is just like the whole Dallas TV drama for JR, just a dream you wake up from.

No need to get into my head too much, but I had visions of Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State and Bowling Green dancing through my head. Those two programs won their championships and watched their coaches go to the bigger and better programs. They were just leaping pads that have since been sunk and are off the radar.

Not UMD. Just like coach Sandelin told Kevin Pates, I too can “wear my NCAA Champions T-shirt with pride this week.” OK, I would have had mine on with pride any way, but now I will be much more secure about the Bulldog’s future.  So is that to say Sandelin was really thinking about a move?  Don't go there, I guess.

The storm is not over yet, we have just cleared one hurdle. Sandelin still needs a contract extension from UMD. Coach Sandelin and AD Bob Nielson reportedly have a meeting set for tomorrow to work out an extension will lock up the coach for years. All this just before the coaching staff leaves for Naples, Florida for the national coaches’ convention this week.

The newest biggest news of the off season will likely come from the convention as leagues have to quickly decide where they stand with the formation of the Bi6 Ten hockey league. All the straw polls will be put aside as team reps will now meet face to face to discuss what may be the future success, or lack thereof, of college hockey.

We will have more to come in the upcoming days on conference realignment and super leagues.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thank You: An Editorial

With all the tasks complete to wrap up the season, now I have a little time to write an editorial.

Thank you, UMD Bulldogs, for a wonderful season. It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns all the time, that is what tests the mettle of players, coaches and fans. Variety is the spice of life and this season had its variety, the highs and lows that made some wonder what the future was for this squad. But it was all taken care of in the end.

Thank you for saving the best for last. Words cannot describe the elation you have given fans, alumni and former players with the first Men’s Hockey national Championship. But please, don’t stop here. Feel free to continue to improve and be a great college hockey power.

UMD Seniors Enjoy the Championship (Andrew Fiskness)
A special thanks to the seniors who have worked hard and stayed for four or more years to see this to the end: Trent Palm, Justin Fontaine, Chad Huttel, Kyle Schmidt and Mike Montgomery.

And thanks to Mike Connolly and Justin Faulk who have decided to leave early. We wish you could have stayed for more, but we also understand.

For now, we who follow UMD Bulldog Hockey, will sit back and enjoy this one. You have earned it. We have earned it.

Thank you.

For anyone wanting to see the video recapping the Frozen Four shown after the championship game at the X, click here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

2010-2011 HighHorse Awards

Connolly's Take Home More Awards

It is that time of year that we sit down and look at the season while doling out the HighHorse Awards. It was unanimous across the board this year in the voting by HighHorse writing staff. Presenting the 3rd Annual HighHorse Awards:

Huffer Christiansen Award (MVP): This year it is very difficult to pick one player as the MVP as there were so many at the top end level. In the end, you need not look further than the FFC line. All three contributed on nearly an equal level, but we give it to the guy that was the play maker and the most consistent throughout the season, Jack Connolly. Jack lead the team in assists with 41, and was tied for second in power play goals at 7 with Mike Connolly. After three seasons Jack is averaging better than a point a game having recorded 137 points in 125 games. With a senior season coming up next year all Bulldog fans are hoping third All-American season.

This was not without some discussion as dissenting voter, Andrew Craig, made a case for Mike Connolly. We then looked into the consistency of play and wholeheartedly agreed on Jack.

Rookie of the Year: The discussion again came down to two names, J.T. Brown and Justin Faulk. We will honor Faulk as he was a quarter back on the defensive line. Brown had a tremendous freshman season which included being named the Most Outstanding Player in the Frozen Four, but his 8 game stretch where he didn’t get into the box score was too much to earn this award. As for Justin Faulk any time a blue liner has a season where he 8-25-33, it is an impressive season. Nearly enough to garner his own talk for the Huffer Christiansen Award. Unfortunately Justin's time as a Bulldog is over as he signed a pro contract.

Most Improved Player: Again this award is splitting hairs just like in the MVP discussion. Two good choices are Travis Oleksuk and Kyle Schmidt. Both had great seasons. Kyle dealt with injuries all year and still managed to score 11 goals, two of which were game winners and the last one being the biggest game winner ever in UMD history. Schmidt also won the national Unsung Hero Award which we believe is much more fitting than our Most Improved. Kyle has the tools, he just had to battle hard through injuries this year. T.O. upped his point total from his sophomore season of 24 points to 33 points this year. He had 14 goals and a team leading 7 game winning goals. We are going to give the award to Oleksuk with his very impressive 0.77 points and two OT game winners.

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 Justin Faulk. It is unexpected to give the award to a freshman for the second year in a row, but he does fit the crtieria of stepping up and making an impact. This award could have gone to Kenny Reiter for his stepped up play in the NCAA Playoffs, but Faulk had the feel for the most of the season.

#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 Mike Connolly. Mike lead the team in goals scored at 28. He played strong all season and his 5-goal game (tying Steve “Pokey” Traschel for the UMD record) against the Gophers is one that Bulldogs fans will remember for a long time. As Mike has decided to forgo his senior season, he will be greatly missed. We at the College Hockey HighHorse had speculated that if he would have returned for a senior season Mike and Jack each would have likely approached the 200 point career, but instead we wish him the best in this future with San Jose.

Those are our awards for the season. With this we also put a close on the 2010-2011 UMD Bulldog season except for the final report card which we will skip. How do you grade a team that has won the National Championship?

This is a season that every Bulldog fan will remember forever. We felt that this team has been so close to being at the top the last few years, but it took the right combination of players to get there. For next season, 2011-2012, UMD will be the reigning NCAA Champions and will have a target on their back every game. The graduating seniors and early departures will make for a lot of holes to fill, but with a year of experience for the current young players will go a long way.

It should also be noted that there are no players on any other WCHA team that have the experience of winning a NCAA Championship. This should build confidence for next year.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Photos from the UMD Championship Game

Schmidt's "ice angel" celebration
We at the College Hockey HighHorse were fortunate enough to provide full media coverage from the NCAA Frozen Four. What an opportunity to cover the Bulldogs on their run to first NCAA Men's Hockey Championship, in Saint Paul only several hours from the Bulldogs home in Duluth.

The championship is something all UMD fans will remember and it was a great honor to be able to be a part of it as working media. The photos from the Championship game have been loaded to the website for everyone to enjoy.

As we are new to the photo world of college hockey we were a little under-gunned when it came to getting good action photos. Maybe someday in the future we can upgrade equipment to get high quality action pictures like you see elsewhere. College Hockey HighHorse has the photos that tell the story of the game focusing on the celebration of UMD's first National Championship.

Enjoy the slideshow below of all the photos from Saturday's National Championship. Click on the slideshow to see the whole set of photos. Please feel free to leave comments or drop us an e-mail by clicking on photo from top right pane.

Monday, April 11, 2011

National Championship Thoughts - Bulldogs Rule

UMD Turns Away Michigan 3-2 OT for First National Championship

It is the top of the college hockey world. Minnesota – Duluth reached the pinnacle Saturday night with a 3-2 OT win over Michigan Wolverines Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul.

Kyle Schmidt celebrates his game winning goal with teammates
The first Men’s Hockey National Championship is sweet. The season was a roller coaster, but in the end, UMD won the gems they needed to get into the NCAA Tournament. Once into the tourney, they went on a four game winning streak to capture the crown.

The final game was not at all a lock. Again for the second game in the Frozen Four, UMD’s opponent scored first and took a lead into the first intermission with the 1-0 lead.

The second period went back and forth with the Bulldogs taking their first lead 2-1. But at the end of the period, the Wolverines showed that they were not going to roll over by tying the score at 2-2.

Third period was scoreless leading to overtime. Overtime, the place UMD fans should remember well from the only other Bulldog team to play in a National Championship, an overtime loss to Bowling Green in 1984.

No one could tell this Bulldogs squad that they weren’t going to win it. They were in familiar territory playing in their 15th OT game of the year going 7-2-6 for the season. “We played a lot of overtime games, especially in the beginning of the season,” said freshman J.T. Brown, voted the Most Outstanding Performer of the Frozen Four. “Not always something you want to play, but we found a little knack for getting it done in overtime, and that's one of the things we did pride ourselves going into the overtime period.”

Early in season, we did express some concern on how UMD seemed to wait until the end to tie then rely on OT to win. Brown maybe said it best that it was practice. The Bulldogs worked their plan, right? Anyway, it all worked out in the end.

There were many expectations of this team from the start of the season. With All-American Jack Connolly returning with linemates Justin Fontaine and Mike Connolly, fans and experts expected to see point production and wins stack up. Early in the season they did both in earning the #1 ranking in polls for three weeks in mid-November.

Down the stretch it was the FCC line that scored their share, but they also drew much attention for opponents. That is where the “other” players come in. The overlooked players that very good n their own right, but were “lost” in other team’s gameplans by the FCC line. Players like Brown, Travis Oleksuk and Kyle Schmidt, UMD’s second line. Additionally there were the hard working Mike Seidel and Jake Hendrickson who tallied a few goals, but worked hard when called upon to keep opponents in check.

In the championship, it is fitting that the FCC line did not record a point. The goals were scored from the likes of Travis Oleksuk, Max Tardy (first UMD goal) and Kyle Schmidt. In addition, Brady Lamb contributed three assists.

On the other side of the puck, the team defense has helped propel UMD through the NCAA Tournament to the championship. Kenny Reiter is good, but when the guys in front of him, starting with the defensemen, take their defensive responsibilities, Reiter becomes a very good if not great goalie. No other play than Jack Connolly batting the puck out of the air that was destined for the UMD goal to help the Bulldogs cause. That play and the many team blocked shots are a value that can be easily overlooked.

That is the way UMD has won all season, playing as a team, everyone chipping in. That sense of team is the way that a championship team should be. It is a championship of the whole team, school and Duluth community.

“You win as a team,” said Sandelin. “It’s the beauty of the game.”

National Championship Box Score