Monday, January 31, 2011

Weekend Off Allows for Scouting and Speculation

A weekend off gives time to pause and refocus. It also allows a team like the Bulldogs to scout their upcoming opponents. And the results should give UMD reason to be excited and cautious.

The upcoming opponents and their most recent outings:

University of Minnesota – Twin Cities hosted anchorage for two in Minneapolis. After a showcase of scoring Friday night for a 5-1 UMTC win, the Seawolves shut down the Gophers en route to a 1-0 win Saturday.
  • Conclusion, the Gophers are still the Gophers. The ups and downs and total inconsistency is still there. They have trouble scoring at times and an early lead for the Bulldogs will likely make for a win. UMD did have trouble with the Gophers earlier this season and the assumption is that familiarity and home cooking should help UMD.
Minnesota State – Mankato traveled to Saint Cloud State for a weekend series and came away very pleased. The Mavs worked hard as usual and came out with three points after a 3-3 tie Friday and 6-2 Saturday.
  • UMD play both MSUM and SCSU. SCSU is erratic and still cannot put it all together after a nice start to 2011. The fact is that the Huskies goaltending is suspect. UMD should be able to take care of SCSU in Duluth.
  • MSUM may be tougher. The Mavs are hardnosed defensive, but tend to have let downs late in the game. The games are in Mankato, but a young Mavs team should be a distinct sweep opportunity for the Bulldogs.
Colorado College split a pair of games at home against North Dakota. CC used good defense, early scoring and holding off a surging Sioux team at the end to win 4-2 Friday. Then as expected, the Sioux woke up and took it to the Tigers 6-0.
  • The morale for UMD is that CC is a good team, but beatable. The Sioux should have swept the Tigers, but they either didn’t show up or the game wasn’t long enough, the choice is yours. The X-factor is Jaden Schwartz is expected to return to CC in time for the UMD series.
Omaha hosted Huntsville and became the second WCHA team to lose to UAH this season in a 2-1 OT loss Saturday night after an Omaha win 4-0. BSU is the other team who lost to the Chargers, but at least that was in Huntsville.
  • UMD ends the regular season at home against Omaha. This looks like a UMD sweep after looking at the Mav’s trend. Omaha started out so well, but they are now falling to the bottom half where we predicted them to be from the beginning. It is practically free-fall as described by INCH:
The Mavericks started the season by winning eight of their first nine. Since then, they've won seven of 17 and haven't posted consecutive wins in six weeks.
Additionally, two teams not on the UMD schedule for the rest of the season, Wisconsin and MTU, met in Houghton this weekend. The Badgers swept the Huskies extending MTU’s winless streak to 21.

Although all of the Bulldog’s opponents are currently in the TUC of the PWR, the schedule could be very favorable for the Bulldogs down the stretch. But it is after a lackluster weekend by most of the WCHA teams that has us speculating positively on the rest of the UMD regular season.

Friday, January 28, 2011

UMD Has Weekend Off Before Push to the Finish

Deserved Rest After Sweep at MTU 5-0 and 3-0

The Bulldogs have the week off and it certainly feels like a week off. Time to rest injuries and refocus for the final stretch of the season for the team. Time for us a t the HighHorse to pull together our 2nd trimester report card that will be out early next week.

The week off is not because of the unprecedented double shutout weekend sweep the Bulldogs came away from Houghton , Michigan with, but it is a just reward for their hard work. The team went on the road and did their job against a lower tier WCHA team that has in recent years been trouble for UMD.

Many outlets are championing the fact that this is the first time UMD has shutout a team in a series and only the second time they have posted shutouts in back-to-back games ever (2009 WHCA final Five was the only other time). What was lost, but now found by Kevin Pates of the Duluth News Tribune and Rink and Run is that this season marks the second time ever that UMD has won a four game season series against MTU in 39 years.

But enough about last weekend. It was a series that the Bulldogs had to have and they got the sweep done.

Bracketology.  This is the first installment of bracketology for USCHO.  See where the Bulldogs land in this edition.

In Short. This week off for UMD has made me a little lethargic about getting the weekend review out so we’ll do that in short order.

Blais had his return to Grand Forks with Omaha in grand style destroying the Sioux Friday 8-4. If it weren’t for a late flurry of goals late in the game when the outcome was pretty much decided, it could have easily been 8-1. The Sioux, as expected, came out with a strong performance Saturday to gain the split.

The only other conference series all ended in sweeps. Wisconsin took care of Mankato, not as expected here, but not a surprise. SCSU sweeping at BSU was a surprise and we wait to see if this is trend or mirage for the Huskies in the second half of the season. And finally, as expected, Denver swept Anchorage, but not without a close game.

This Week’s WCHA. All teams have a weekend off between now and the end of the season except for UMTC, SCSU, and MTU. This weekend it is UMD, Denver, and BSU with rest time.

#2 North Dakota at #18 Colorado College: Both teams have had their lapses in recent weeks. NoDak’s lopsided loss to UNO last weekend in Grand Forks was a red flag, but UND came back. CC was swept two weekends ago at Anchorage before getting “on track” against Alabama Huntsville. UND is solid in the PWR and CC needs to solidify their stature to be in the NCAA Tournament. What an opportunity for the Tigers this weekend to better their outlook. Home cooking for the Tigers helps them to gain a split.

# 8 Wisconsin at Michigan Tech: The woes of Tech continue. Can they score a goal this weekend? It will be tough against Gudmandson in the Badger net. And at some point, MTU has to pull out a win, but it won’t be this weekend as they get swept.

Anchorage at University of Minnesota – Twin Cities: Anchorage has been playing well as of late and has been seeing some wins for their effort. Their sweep at home against CC shows that they are a team with promise. It will be tough this weekend at UMTC, though. The Gophers are rolling a little bit, but they still have that consistency problem. This weekend series looks like a split.

Minnesota State – Mankato at Saint Cloud State: we talked earlier in the article that SCSU seems to be getting on track, but is it for real? At the same time, Mankato is a young team that has to be learning something from all of the close losses they are taking as of late. Still, SCSU is at home and they may very well be making a real run in the second half.  SCSU sweep.
This weekend included, the WCHA has six weeks left before playoffs. The ebb and flow of the PWR will be monitored in relation with WCHA teams. Currently the WCHA has six teams in the top 20 and 10 teams in the TUC range.

Friday, January 21, 2011

#3 Bulldogs Set to Play in Houghton

UMD Moves Up in PWR By Calculation Change

First off, the NCAA has changed their formula for their ranking system that is mimicked by the PWR. As a result, UMD has moved past Denver into the #3 spot in the version at USCHO, the version taht we use at the HighHorse.

Stories detailing the changes can be found at USCHO who details the chronology of the PWR and College Hockey News (CHN) that details the "TUC-cliff.".

UMD travels to Michigan Tech this weekend for the wrap-up of their four games this season. There really isn’t much to say leading into the games except we need to see consistency out of the Bulldogs.

The stats are very lop-sided in favor of UMD as shown in the MTU graphic from their press release for the series:

MTU is having a terrible year and that is due to their rash of injuries as noted in the Mining Gazette.

Prediction. UMD seems to always have trouble with the Huskies. If UMD doesn’t sweep, chances for the MacNaughton Cup are likely dead and. Also with every point lost, a beneficial top two finish, and a likely bye in the first round of the new format Final Five, is slipping away. Worst of all, we won’t really know what to expect from the team except for erratic play.

With all the factors taken into account and the opponent, we predict a Bulldog sweep.

Around the WCHA. With the changes in the PWR noted above, the TUC criterion has been altered. Therefore 11 of the 12 WCHA teams are now listed in the PWR. The HighHorse will continue to use USCHO PWR rankings for the rest of the season, but we will limit listing them to the top 20.

#13 UNO at #2 North Dakota: When these teams met in Omaha they played two close, exciting games ending in a split. This is Dean Blais’ return to Grand Forks and he likely will not feel the love he used to when he was bench boss for the Sioux. The Mavs will likely know the importance of the games to their coach and to their post-season aspirations. The Sioux will not sweep, but it will not be a split either.

Alaska – Anchorage at #4 Denver: UAA showed some life last weekend sweeping CC in Alaska, their first home sweep in four years. Unfortunately the Seawolves will not fare as well traveling to Colorado. This series is a Pioneers sweep.

Minnesota State – Mankato at #10 Wisconsin: Mankato is surging, but not seeing the wins that their effort may deserve. Or maybe they are getting the results they should as they let two leads slip in the third period in a tie with Denver last Friday, then they blew a 3-0 lead to lose 4-3 in OT the next night. The Mavs will see some payoff this weekend as they Split against the Badgers.

Saint Cloud State at Bemidji State: SCSU is still trying to find their legs after the rug keeps getting pulled out from under them with poor play and player dismissals. If the Beavers could pretend the Huskies are Omaha this would be a BSU sweep. Alas, this series will end in a split.

Alabama – Huntsville at #20 Colorado College: CC will try to get back on their winning ways without Jaden Schwartz. A series against Huntsville should help them with that. CC sweep this weekend.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Can't Put Two Together

UMD splits with the Badgers 2-0 and 2-3

Looks can definitely be deceiving. And there is no better example than the Saturday night Bulldogs/Badgers game.

After a solid win for UMD Friday night 2-0, the Bulldogs came out flat and really looked bad for two periods. This was accentuated by Bulldog Justin Faulk, arguably their best defenseman, taking a bad 5-minute and game misconduct penalty and referees who wanted to control the tempo of the game.

But still, the Bulldogs came out strong in the last period, determined to regain their last second, cardiac kids mojo from earlier this season. The effort came with UMD logging the only seven shots of the period. Yes, Wisconsin did not get a shot on net in the third which is unheard of even for a team with a 3-0 lead going into the last period. But all UMD could muster was two goals in the last two minutes of the game for a 3-2 loss.

So which is more concerning, UMD coming out flat and trying to play catch-up again, or Wisconsin coming so close to losing it after building a three goal lead. Really, both are concerning for each team.

UMD needs to get consistent and a great place to start that is Michigan Tech at Houghton this weekend. But UMD has had problems there in the past, but that makes the challenge all the more important.

Rankings. To reiterate, in the second half of the season we will be using the PWR as the rankings. That is the goal, to make the tournament, right?

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t still look at the polls that come out. Looking at the USCHO poll from this week, we see that UMD is #5, but is the only team in the top six without at least one frist place vote. Does UMD deserve a first place vote? No, but neither does Michigan (#6) or Denver (#4). But that is the poll voting system.

In the PWR. It is that time of year when, based mainly on strength of schedule, there are numerous WCHA teams in the PWR. This year is no different with North Dakota and Denver tied at #2, UMD #4, Wisconsin #7, Omaha #14, UMTC and Bemidji tied at #21, CC #23, and MSU – Mankato #24. That is only nine out of the 12 teams in the WCHA! We will keep tabs on the number of WCHA teams in the PWR for the remainder of the season, and look for that number to decline as the season goes on.

Notes from the WCHA weekend:

  • Split was the word of the weekend as Alaska – Anchorage was the only team to sweep and that was their first in Anchorage in four years.
  • North Dakota overcame an early deficit against the Gophers to avoid being swept in Grand Forks.
  • Denver had to come from behind both nights to take three points at Mankato.
  • Omaha has been doing well this season in the WCHA, except against fellow newcomer Bemidji. Bemidji took three points at Omaha this past weekend to complete the regular season against the Mavs with a 3-0-1 record.
  • Michigan Tech, the Bulldogs next opponent, managed a tie and loss at home against St. Lawrence. That extends MTU’s winless streak to 15 games.

Friday, January 14, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: Big Ten Hockey to Start 2014

NCAA winter meetings have been going on all week and are winding up today. Talks have been ongoing all week concerning the possible formation of a Big Ten Hockey League. Schools participating in the talks are the Big Ten School and WCHA schools, that much has been written about in stories like this from SB Nation.

Our source who is in the winter meetings says that the Big Ten Hockey Conference will start in 2014.

We will keep on top of this story as the implications for the WCHA, CCHA, and NCAA Tournament unfold in preparations of the addition.

Badgers Again

Badgers Will Mark First Conference Games at AMSOIL

Here it comes back around again. The first time UMD will see a team for a second series when they host Wisconsin this weekend.

The reduction of repeating opponents is a new development because of the 12 team WCHA. Now a team plays three teams for two series each. It definitely makes it more difficult to gage team improvement.

Not only is it a repeat opponent, but Wisconsin is an opponent with something to prove. The last time these teams met UMD swept in Madison in two overtime games, games the Badgers feel they could have won as easily as they lost. The drive and want (the revenge factor) will likely be greater on the red and white side in this series.

No Place Like a Badger Den. Wisconsin has played 24 games so far this season. Of the games played, only six of them have been away games and two were neutral site games. Out of whack? To say the least especially when you look at Wisconsin’s remaining seven series, four are on the road and three at home. That will give the Badgers 22 home games in a 38 game season. Going to Duluth, UW’s road record is 3-3-2.

Power Match-up. The badgers boast the second power play unit in the nation at 27.2%. that facet of play must be contained by the Bulldogs that struggle at times on the penalty kill ranking 26th in the nation at 83%. On the flip side, UW kills at 81.7% (36th in the nation) and the Bulldogs convert 21.9% (12th).

Needless to say that the winning team will likely have the most even strength goals or have committed the least penalties. UMD on average is penalized 15.2 minutes per game while Wisconsin receives 14.7.

Badger Goaltender on a Roll. Gudmandson is currently on a 7-1-0 streak. Does that have anything to do with the opponents? Anchorage, Bemidji, Massachusetts and Canisius aren’t exactly high flying teams.

Splitting Lines. It was only an exhibition game, but it was interesting to see the line experimentation that Coach Sandelin conducted. We applaud the effort and encourage to find the scoring combinations that will propel UMD into the month of April.

The top two lines used in the U18 game were MConnolly – JConnolly – Grun and Fontaine – Oleksuk – Brown.

Outlook. UMD hadn’t swept in Madison since 1985 until this season. That same season happens to be the last time UMD took all four games against the badgers for a season. Unfortunately, we at the HighHorse don’t see that 1985 magic happening again. UMD is still trying to regain their early season form and will be juggling defensemen looking to replace the role that Dylan Olsen vacated. We predict UMD will have their first win that counts at AMSOIL in a split with the Badgers.

Around the WCHA:

#24 UMTC at #2 North Dakota: This weekend marks the only meeting of these two programs for the regular season this year. The Gophers are trying to deal with the absence of Kangas for the rest of the season, but he has been second to Patterson in play. But the lack of a seasoned backup will likely play into the fate of UMTC. UND is really finding their stride and will sweep the Gophers in Grand Forks.

#4 Denver at Minnesota State – Mankato: Denver has been a sneaky good team this year. They really haven’t wowed too many, but they pile up the wins. Mankato is on an upsurge, at least in non-conference play. Will that reflect to conference play? At least for this weekend the answer is yes, but only for a split.

Bemidji State at #8 Omaha: the newbies meet again. BSU handed the Mavs a sweep in Bemidji last time they met, but the results will be different this time. The staff is split on this one, AC says UNO sweep and AF says split.

#16 CC at UAA: Colorado College rolls into Alaska after a surprisingly good first half. But like many teams, the trip to Alaska will result in a split.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

PWR Primer, Saint Cloud Devils and Fighting Sioux Re-dioux?

Looking at the calendar, we are a few days more than two months to the WCHA Final Five. That fact alone should instill a sense of urgency in all the teams wanting to make the NCAA Tournament, especially UMD after last season’s poor showing in the second half.

The Formula for Getting Into the Tournament. With sights set on the prize of a trip into the NCAA’s, we will focus on the PairWise Rankings (PWR) for the rest of the season for rankings and use the PWR at USCHO. The PWR is a mimic of the selection criteria used to pick the 16 teams for the NCAA Tournament. Keep in mind that the five conferences get an automatic bid for their tournament winner.

UMD, though idle this past weekend, moved from #6 in the PWR to #2 tied with North Dakota. Why? I don’t know, but it must have something to do with Bemidji becoming one of the Teams Under Consideration (TUC) for the NCAA Tournament. TUC are the teams in the top 25 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) that ranks all Division I hockey teams. Tired of the acronyms yet? And we haven’t even gotten to the math…which is a mystery to almost everyone. And even if it wasn’t Bemidji, other teams are right on the bubble of being TUC’s and rankings may depend who is in or out of the TUC when the rankings are accessed.

Every game counts, but in the PWR system, some count more than others. From here to the end of the season, games against TUC teams are especially important. That list is long for UMD the rest of the way out and it starts this weekend with Wisconsin coming to Duluth.

The news coming out of Saint Cloud is not looking good. As it was written here, Hepp left for the pro ranks and Mosey was dismissed. It was also said here that Hepp was going to be dismissed, but was given the chance to sign. Further, newly reinstated David Eddy was going to be a healthy scratch for the series against MTU. Mosey action was reportedly for an incident at the Florida tournament, but we kept that all of the actions were for the incident. The story can be read here.

Now we learn that indeed Hepp was going to be dismissed prior to his signing. For the Eddy angle, the “third player involved” was not named, but who makes a newly reinstated player who was scoring in his first two games a healthy scratch? What is more disturbing is that the incident likely stemmed from alcohol consumption that the coaching staff had to know about as reported here. Are there any standards in Saint Cloud? I guess that they dismissed two guys and made them take the fall for lack of supervision by the coaching staff.

When will the Circle End? The Sioux name fight has gone to the government where it will again become a problem for UND and the NCAA. The Grand Forks Herald story is here.

Just give it up and save time and energy and pick a new name…or just stay North Dakota with no nickname. What is being forgotten is the other sports are still looking for a league home. The league that will take them have the condition of dropping the name. Hockey may be important, but it is not the only sport.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sweep Though Shorthanded

UMD Wins Pair at Clarkson 4-1 and 4-2

Just what the doctor ordered, a sweep. And speaking of doctors, a few were needed over the weekend with Basaraba and Seidel going through the stomach flu while in New York. That left UMD really short with Faulk at the Juniors Tournament and injuries to Danberg and Schmidt.

UMD was so short manned that they had 11 forwards skating in Monday’s game and that included Trent Palm on wing, but the sweep was still obtained.

After the down turn in December, the sweep at Clarkson is a great way to get on track. And according to Bruce Ciskie, it is also a strong step forward to ensuring the Bulldogs a place in the NCAA Tournament.

I really get what he is saying about the east/west games being important. And what really makes the Bulldog’s situation so unique positive is the fact that Clarkson plays those top three ECAC teams (Yale, RPI and Union) two times each. Any wins by Clarkson in those games gives UMD a leg up in comparisons based on the Common Opponents criteria. UMD should be pulling for Clarkson here on out, that is assuming that the ECAC Three stay in the Teams Under Consideration (TUC) of the PairWise.

For now, UMD needs to get Faulk back and get the injuries healed. The Bulldogs will need every available body for the second half of the conference season as they push for a beneficial top two finish in the WCHA standings.

In the rest of the league that has not taken to Monday/Tuesday series, and that would be every other team, play continues this weekend with lots of non-conference and one WCHA series.

Michigan Tech at Saint Cloud State: The downward spiral of the MTU Huskies travels to the resurgent (maybe) SCSU Huskies. Just as it looks that SCSU is on the way back after winning the Florida Ever-whatever-it-is-called Tournament, drama strikes. Now two men short, SCSU has to move on. Tony Mosey was dismissed from the team earlier this week for violation of team rules. Just previous to Mosey, Chris Hepp signed with the Stealheads of the ECHL.

Reports are surfacing that maybe Hepp was provided “professional courtesy” and was allowed to leave instead of being dismissed. In fact, Coach Motzko almost gave an audible hard swallow when asked if the two incidents were related as both have run afoul of team rules in the near past.

Ahh, the drama, just what a team needs to derail a resurgence. Look for a sweep in Saint Cloud giving blessed relief to the Huskies of MTU currently on a 13 game losing streak.

The rest of the teams are in non-conference series, and pretty poor ones at that. So we will make the bold prediction that North Dakota, Minnesota State – Mankato, Bemidji State and Wisconsin will all sweep. We do have these notes on those teams in action:

Minnesota State – Mankato: With a sweep this weekend, the Mavs will be above 0.500 for the first time this year at 10-8-4. Good news is that will make them 4-0-2 in non-conference games, bad news is that makes them 6-8-2 in the WCHA.

Bemidji State: The Beavers renew their old CHA rivalry with Alabama – Huntsville. UAH is without a league affiliation and are currently 2-18-2.
And as a last note, UMTC and UMD each play an exhibition game this weekend against the Under 18 US Developmental team.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year, New Challenges

Bulldogs Head to Clarkson with Stuff to Prove

Happy New Year! How happy is it? It isn’t December any more, and that should be a relief to UMD and Bulldog fans who went 1-3-1 in December 2010. Dylan Olsen is playing well at the World Juniors, well enough that he was signed by the Chicago Blackhawks December 31, thus ending his days at UMD. Darn that December! Wait, AMSOIL opened. Unfortunately it opened with a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Sioux.

Good news department. What was negative from the last game, the 5-0 loss, can be turned around in a hurry as UMD is currently getting ready to take on Clarkson. Game time less than three hours from this post.

Lets break from the usual notes and go with the HighHorse resolution list (or the list of resolutions that we feel must be made to make UMD a top team again).

Resolutions for the new year in the 2010-2011 season:

Stick with one goalie. At this point we feel that Crandall has proven himself as a capable backup, but the keys to the bus should be given to Reiter to do what he can. Bottom line is that goaltending is close to a train wreck, so let’s go with one guy. That should make Crandall hungry and have him step it up.

Break up the lines. Switch ‘em up and tinker. A team that has scored only six goal in their last four games needs some sort of shake up. It has been Sandelin’s mark that he moves lines around, but really has stayed hands off this year. Please, let’s get back to it.

Feel the fire and get consistent. This is a veteran team. Consistency should not be an issue, but it is. The team needs to make their own resolution to work hard and keep the effort up for a whole game.
Those are three resolutions that we believe the Bulldogs need. It all starts tonight in New York without Faulk (Juniors Tournament), Schmidt (injury), and Olsen (signed to the big leagues). It is time to step up and play the game.

We don’t have a prediction for this series. We will be interested to see how the team reacts to their nasty December and the defection of Olsen.