Monday, March 28, 2011

UMD to the Frozen Four!

Special Teams Rule in 5-3 UMD Win

I guess that blondes do have more fun, or at least that was the way it went in Bridgeport, CT over the weekend.

UMD prevailed in the battle of the Bulldogs with a 5-3 win over Yale for the East Regional Championship. The win puts UMD into the Frozen Four in Saint Paul April 7th against Notre Dame, winner of the Northeast Regional. This will be UMD’s fourth Frozen Four.

The Bulldogs of UMD were led by the goaltending of Kenny Reiter and superb special teams play. UMD played a solid game scoring when they needed, playing good defense and not taking too many penalties.

Ahh yes, the penalties. It was again a whistle happy officiating crew who Yale fans and Coach Allain believe took over the game. “Look at the tape and tell me what you think,” exclaimed Allain when asked about the major penalty and game disqualification for Brian O’Neill. “They gave us a five minute penalty and took our best player out of the game,” Allian continued. Really? Yale is going to hang their season on officiating?

As Minnesotans, we know what arguably poor officiating is in sports. Vikings fans especially, but also Twins and Wild fans have loved to blame officials. In the end, it just leaves you jaded and feeling terrible. One person once told me that anger is almost always driven by fear. You get mad at the guy who cut you off in traffic and you get angry because your safety was put at risk, thus fear.

The fear here could likely be that Yale couldn’t overcome themselves to make it to the Frozen Four that they seemed to have assumed they deserved being #1 and all. The game was not the best called game by the officials, but from start to finish, they were consistent. Agree or disagree with the calls, they were the same for both teams.

Penalties are not reviewable by the officials and replays often look different than live action. The armchair quarterbacks always get the calls right. Officials calls that teams don’t like or agree with happen in every game, it is part of the game. All teams have to play with the cards that are dealt. Maybe something should have been done by Coach Allain to settle his team down after the call didn’t go Yale’s way, but that is the armchair coach in us talking.

It’s also not that Yale has been a clean team all season and was all of a sudden forced to play shorthanded. Yale has struggled with taking too many penalties and plenty of majors all year. See USCHO’s ECAC correspondent Brian Sullivan’s article on Yale’s penalty problem. Somehow they overcame those to get the #1 ranking. Play with fire and you are bound to get burned, then I guess you cry about it.

In a night of special teams, UMD won the even-strength game scoring two to Yale’s zero. No matter the calls, non-calls or injuries, you still have to play the game and take what comes. And what comes next is the Frozen Four for the Bulldogs of UMD.

The College Hockey HighHorse will be reporting from this year’s Frozen Four. Check back right here for in depth coverage leading up to and through the Frozen Four.

UMD - Yale Box Score

UMD Press Conference

Yale Press Conference

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bulldog Matchup

UMD and Yale Meet for East Regional Championship

The stat break down for tonight’s UMD – Yale game, the Bulldog match:

Looks like the same lopsided stats from yesterday against Union. Yale, like UMD, played better in the beginning of the season and has dropped off a little towards the end. This game is for larger stakes, a trip to the Frozen Four, so both teams should be on their top games. If the teams play like yesterday, that would be a UMD advantage.

In the end we give the game to UMD and a triumphant return to Minnesota before the Saint Paul Frozen Four.

Bulldogs Down Union With Solid Play

UMD Uses Resurgent Defense in 2-0 Win

It has been a comment burning in the back of my mind all season. UMD is not built for defense. But yesterday the defense shined in their NCAA East Regional first round game beating the high scoring Union Dutchmen 2-0. It wasn’t your typical Bulldog game.

Maybe the slow start for UMD was normal when committing four penalties in the first period against the nationally top ranked power play of Union that was 31.1% before yesterday’s game. The Dutchmen were 0 for 9 on the PP for the game.

The number of power play chances for Union shouldn’t alarm anyone. The officials crew out of Hockey East did more breathing through their whistles yesterday than not. UMD had eight power plays of their own going 2 for 8 on the man advantage. Interested to see who will be working the East Regional Final tonight.

So it was the defense that ultimately kept UMD in the game. If Union would have converted on even one of the first period power plays, the outcome likely would have been different.

Kenny Reiter played brilliantly in stopping all 32 Union shots for the shutout. All Coach Sandelin wanted out of Reiter was him to play good, and he played great. But Reiter would likely be the first to say he didn’t do it alone. The whole team was blocking shots, taking their man and back checking well in front of him. Kenny just had to do his job with the shots that made it through.

Both Bulldog goals came on the power play using Union’s winning formula against them. Kyle Schmidt’s tip in the first was a great play that started with good puck movement and a low, tippable shot from Mike Montgomery.

The second Bulldog goal came from Justin Fontaine again on the power play. Fontaine buried a second rebound past Union goalie Keith Kinkaid. Kinkaid stopped the first shot, took the second off his facemask from Justin Faulk before Fontaine jumped up for the goal. Kinkaid for Union played just as well as Reiter, but the better offense that day put the pucks in the net.

Maybe most impressive was the play of all lines for the Bulldogs.  UMD has been heavily reliant on the FCC line as of late, but only one point was registered from that first line.  UMD needs the balanced attack from all forwards to keep the winning going.

With the win, the Bulldogs extend their season at least one more day to face Yale in the East Regional Final tonight at 5:30 CDT with the winner going to the Frozen Four in Saint Paul. Yale made it to tonight’s game with a 2-1 OT win over Air Force.

UMD should expect more if the same out of Yale who is the #3 power play in the nation and the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. And with the balanced, even keeled defense and attack of UMD we saw yesterday, Yale should expect the same fate as Union.

UMD - Union Box Score

Yale - Air Force Box Score

Friday, March 25, 2011

Writers Make Their Picks

College Hockey HighHorse writers make their picks for the NCAA Regionals. Here is how we see it:

NCAA Tournament Bracket

East Regional

AC: Minnesota – Duluth over Yale

AF: Minnesota – Duluth over Yale ( I will be a homer also)

Northeast Regional

AC: Merrimack over Miami

AF: Miami over Merrimack

Midwest Regional

AC: Denver over North Dakota

AF: North Dakota over Denver

West Regional

AC: Boston College over Nebraska – Omaha

AF: Michigan over BC

AC: I’ll take heat over being a homer and going for upsets. College hockey, I have observed, is a very unpredictable sport, especially when you are talking about single game elimination games. Again, this is what I think will happen, and sadly enough as I have proved all winter, I will likely be wrong….or maybe it will turn around!

AF: Before the brackets were released I was thinking Miami winning it all and I liked Merrimack too. When I first printed the bracket out I started write down the winners without looking at who they would play next and it was all top seeds. I don't think it will be all 1 or 2 seeds in the final four. I think there will be some big upsets. You have UNH playing at home, Western Michigan getting good goal tending down the end of the season and UNO with extra time off to play better.

Having said that, I am having a real hard time this year with the picks. I never seem to do good with NCAA men's hockey picks anyways. I feel pressure to take the popular picks after listening to how good UND and BC are playing. I think a #1 could go down, maybe Yale or UND, by looking past their current opponent.

Head East with the Goal to "Go West, Young Man"

Saint Paul is Still the End Goal for Bulldogs, Union First

Today is the day. 2:04pm CDT the puck drops for the start of the 2011 NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament. The first game of the tourney pits UMD and Union, two teams that have played seven times total and not since 2003. We can only look at trends and speculate outcomes.

Pace. UMD is a transition speed team and Union also has their share of speed. Limiting odd man rushes, as always, but especially against Union, is needed. The Bulldogs struggled to limit rushes by Bemidji in the Final Five loss to the Beavers. That was not what propelled the Beavers to the win, as UMD skaters and goalie Kenny Reiter stopped the rushes. With the scoring power of Union, don’t expect to be able to hold off scoring chances like that.

Don’t expect the same number of rushes against the Bulldogs as Union and Bemidji play vastly different types of games. The Bulldogs should be very ready for the speedy and opportunistic Dutchmen.

UMD leading goal scorer Mike Connolly (from WCHA)
Special Teams. Union’s power play is well documented at 31.1%. Keeping the game 5 on 5 is imperative for the Bulldogs and their chances. UMD’s power play isn’t bad, but the Bulldogs would rather it stay even strength, let the teams decide the game. Officiating should be interesting as the crew should be from the CCHA or Hockey East, two conferences not represented at the Regional. This is playoff hockey and penalties should be called when needed, not to control the game per a conference’s guidance of how they believe hockey should be played. **Side note: That goes for WCHA officials who seem to err on the side of not calling penalties….at all in the playoffs.

Rest. Union was off for two weeks after their early exit from the ECAC playoffs. How will the time to think and practice affect the Dutchmen? It may be interesting to see if they have rust or even nerves after breaking the routine of playing every weekend.

No team wants to leave a tournament without hardware, but the early exit from the Final Five may prove beneficial for UMD. They played last weekend, or close enough, and was afforded rest and practice before having to fly east.

Team Depth. Union has two strong lines, arguably three. UMD has a top first line, but where does it go from there? The Bulldog second line, Oleksuk line, has produced many goals this season, but fewer as of late. More concerning is the defensive play by the second line coming down the stretch. Coach Sandelin cannot bench the second line, so they have to step up and if nothing else, play some good defense. Scoring some goals would be an added bonus, but defensive responsibility first. Except for the FCC line, the only forwards with a plus for the season are Jake Hendrickson and JT Brown.

UMD should not alter their game plan, they should play the hockey that has brought them success this year. But they do have to be aware of their defensive responsibility.

Goaltending. Union has the hot goalie, Keith Kinkaid, with his 0.920 save percent and 1.98 GAA. Kenny Reiter (0.911, 2.36) has played well, but has been 3-4-3 in his last ten games. Many NCAA fortunes have been hinged by goalie play. Kenny will have to be on his game for UMD to win to play again.

Coaching. We give a tip of the cap to Scott Sandelin who has taken teams to the Final Five, NCAA Regionals and Frozen Four. Sandelin is regarded as a “playoff coach” adept at getting teams ready to make runs into the playoffs. This is a team that Sandelin has a good chance of taking back to Saint Paul and to the championship.

As was stated in an earlier post, this is a Regional that UMD can win. It is arguably the best scenario for UMD getting to Saint Paul and the Frozen Four. The season leading up to this shows that UMD belongs and has beaten the best, and also lost to the have-nots.

Union too has proved that they also belong and the game today against UMD should be a good match. Ultimately, UMD will use playoff hockey to neutralize Union’s power play and prevail in a high scoring affair to play Yale in tomorrow’s Regional Final.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A First Look at UMD/Union Using Stats

Union Statistics Rank High for the Season

On a snowy Wednesday, it is definitely time to look at the matchup of the Bulldog’s first round NCAA opponent, Union College of Schenectady, NY.

This will not be the first meeting of the schools, but there is not a lot of history between the Bulldogs and Dutchmen or against the other teams in the East Regional.

UMD squares off for the eighth time ever against Union and the Bulldogs hold a 6-0-1 advantage. The series has seen games in Duluth (4), Schenectady (2) and one neutral site game. This will mark the first tip to the NCAA Tournament for the Dutchmen and the seventh for the Bulldogs. UMD’s record in the NCAA Tournament is 9-8-0 all time with three Frozen Four appearances.

At a glance, this is how the teams fair in the stat department:

Union had a breakout season in 2009-10 with a 21-12-6 record and just missing the NCAA’s for the ECAC auto-bid in losing to Cornell in the championship game. The Dutchmen followed that season up with the current 26-9-4 and an at-large bid to the NCAA’s.

The Union surge is in large part to their scoring, especially on the power play. What shouldn’t be lost is the play of goalie Keith Kincaid who was a rumored Hobey Baker candidate, but did not make the list of ten.

Union has played steady hockey this season posting a nine game win streak near the end of the regular season and only being swept once. That sweep was at the hands of CCHA Tournament runner-up and NCAA participant Western Michigan. The last games that the Dutchmen played in were a win then pair of losses to Colgate in the ECAC second round playoffs. The Dutchmen are led in scoring by Daniel Carr with has 20 goals, 12 on the power play. In addition, Union has five players with double digit goals and 16 with double digit points.

Full Union Team Stats.

UMD has been streaky at times this season with a distinct change in winning percentage at the Thanksgiving break. Prior to Thanksgiving, the Bulldogs were 11-1-2. After the Holiday, UMD glided in with an 11-9-4 stretch. That being said, UMD has beaten the teams they needed to in earning the NCAA at-large bid. The last game that UMD played in was a loss to Bemidji State in the first round of the Final Five of the WCHA Playoffs. UMD is led by the FCC line (Mike Connolly – Jack Connolly – Justin Fontaine) who have amassed 62 goals and 94 assists. Including the FCC line, the Bulldogs also have five players with double digit goals, but only nine with double digit points.

Full UMD Team Stats.

A start here with the stats. Tomorrow we will look at the other trends that play into this UMD/Union game and make our predictions for all the East Regional games.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

More Thoughts on Bi6 10 Conference

As had been said by many writers there are many questions that will have to be answered as the WCHA and the CCHA move forward. So much won't be known until the 2013-2014 season schedules are released. Here are a few of things the tarot card reader told me today and our thoughts:

Bi6 10 schools will schedule non-conference games with their traditional rivals.

We keep hearing that the Bi6 10 schools will work with making scheduling arrangements with the schools future non-conference, which is positive news for UMD, UND, and SCSU fans. However, with the need for UW and UMTC to play home games a real commitment to play road games with these schools is a must. Will they really make arrangements to play at BSU, MTU, UAA, DU, CC, UNO and even MSUM? Not very likely at all.

The new conference will be better for college hockey as the TV viewer audience will be larger with the Big Ten network.

The Bi6 10 folks keep saying this, but with the recent economic times that schools have gone through and some programs already facing tough financial times (MTU, Bowling Green, Western Michigan and Ferris State) it will be surprising if all the current programs will remain. Does adding say Univ. of Illinois improve college hockey if you lose a program such as MTU or Bowling Green, each of which have won NCAA championships?

The quality of play in the WCHA won't be affected.

This is probably true at least in the short term. The Bi6 10 TV network might bring more first round NHL 1-and-done recruits to the Bi6 10 schools, but chances to get a NCAA champion will keep the WCHA teams strong. Most of The schools of the WCHA have strong programs and if revenue is good the play should be good as recruiting efforts won't be reduced.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Parting Final Five Notes

Many Questions Abound with College Hockey Changes

Once again, the WCHA Final Five displayed high quality hockey in a great arena. The championship game, a 3-2 2OT North Dakota win, was just the crown jewel of this year’s tourney.

The absence of the Gophers and Badgers was noted in discussions about the new WCHA when Bi6 Ten hockey starts. Some will say that attendance was good and there is no need to worry, but there are some interesting questions and points that become evident when one digs deeper.

  • How much of the attendance was UMTC fans who pre-purchased the Final Five “season” ticket? The crowd for Thursday’s first game was OK, and then fell off the charts for the second game. Second period of the UAA-CC game was maybe 6,000 (official attendance for Thursday’s single session was 13,131). There was never near 10,000 in the arena at one time by our estimate. 
The tournament is the cash cow for the WCHA. UND fans arguably have the greatest numbers of fans who travel to the Final Five. Can they be relied upon to carry the ticket load?
  • Can a new WCHA afford to rent the Xcel Energy Center for three days? If the fans don’t come in large numbers, the league cannot possibly pay for the premier arena in Minnesota. 
A solution might include making the tournament into a traveling venue to school arenas. But that too would likely not bring in the money that the WCHA needs to run. 
Another solution would be to make the tournament smaller, a four team tournament, and add back in the third place game. Every other 12 team conference has a four team tournament, some with and some without the third place game. The third pace game ensures two games for each team and would likely increase traveling fans. 
So far the questions have centered basically around money, and that leads us to the last question:
  • Who will televise the tournament and will they pay as much for the rights? Right now FSN televises the tournament which is natural because they also televise the Gopher games. Take out the Gophers and what do you have for television? It is doubtful that a network will pay as much to televise a tournament without UMTC and UW in it.
A main reason to create the Bi6 Ten is for more usage of BTN (Big Ten Network). Will the Gophers be exclusively on BTN for Bi6 Ten games? Will FSN cover college hockey anymore?
The landscape of college hockey will change when the Bi6 Ten forms. How exactly it will affect the new WCHA is still in the questions to be answered. It will be interesting to see how the WCHA morphs its identity and eventually its tournament to succeed in the new landscape.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

NCAA Draw Puts UMD in the East

Union is the First Opponent for the Bulldogs

The next season, the season that UMD has waited for all year, will start this Friday. The Bulldogs drew Union for the first round of the NCAA Tournament in the East Regional.

The other game Friday in the East is #1 overall Yale versus Air Force.

There is plenty of time to digest and break down the Region, but at first glance, it looks like a favorable draw for UMD.

Now they are taking on the ECAC regular season champion Union in the first round with the likelihood of the winner facing the ECAC playoff champion Yale Bulldogs the next day. But look at the conference that these teams play in, the ECAC. The best news is that the games will not have ECAC referees who love to call EVERYTHING as evidenced in the UMD – Clarkson series earlier this year where power plays were 13 total in the first game and 17 in the second. The total penalty time in the series was 165 minutes. And these are not penalty magnet teams on average, it is just the way ECAC referees are known for calling games.

Now I know that many out there will say that these teams have earned their spots regardless of the conference that they play in and those people are correct. Win your games and let it shake out from there. And let us say that the flight out east will not be a downer for UMD.

If the Bulldogs of UMD are serious about making a run, this looks to be the best region to do that in. Here is the beginning of a return trip to Saint Paul and the X, but is time for a Frozen Four.

Full NCAA Bracket from CHN.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Final Five Moves on to Broadmoor Trophy Game

Waiting and reflecting. Items on the Bulldogs fan’s to do list, along with get outside because the snow is retreating.

But the Final Five goes on with out any maroon and gold.

Some thoughts about the tournament so far:

  • Anchorage outplayed and outshot CC. In the end, and where it actually counts, the Tigers scored more goals. 4-2 was the final
  • Friday’s games went as expected. Denver had little trouble with Bemidji who had “67 minutes taken out of our tank” tonight according to coach Tom Serratore after Thursday’s win over UMD. North Dakota did get a lift from getting Danny Kristo back from injury and needed all of it to take down CC 4-3. Kristo scored the first goal of the game, welcome back.
  • With the way things are shaking out, the WCHA could quite conceivably have five teams in the NCAA Tournament: North Dakota, Denver, Nebraska – Omaha, Minnesota – Duluth and Colorado College. That is the way PWR may have it, but the committee may not want that many from one conference. CC is likely the last entrant from the WCHA if five are taken.
  • Total attendance to the new Final Five will be interesting. When the final numbers come out, we will give our opinion about where the Final Five and WCHA are headed.
  • Tonight Denver takes on North Dakota for the Broadmoor Trophy. It might be good for UND to lose one, but maybe they don’t have to. Maybe they can just keep winning all the way back to Saint Paul and the National Championship. That would be 13 wins in a row, and that could prove difficult for any hockey team. So let’s keep it short and say that the Sioux will win their second straight Broadmoor Trophy.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

UMD Falls Flat in Saint Paul

Bemidji State Uses Survival Hockey to Earn OT Win 3-2

Only one Minnesota team could move on in the Final Five. Unfortunately for Bulldog fans it will not be UMD, and that’s the way they played.

The Bulldogs got out to a quick start scoring two Connolly goals, Jack then Mike, with a Beaver goal sandwiched in between. Result was a 2-1 UMD lead after the first. Good omen…usually, as UMD was undefeated when winning after one period. Was.

The second period had a brutal pace to it. Both teams were missing with many turnovers and copious amounts of neutral zone play. “UMD really took it to us, but we were only down by a goal (at the end of the period),” said BSU coach Tom Serratore who referred to the Beavers as playing “survival hockey” multiple times.

The third period started out with a flurry of action for the Beavers when they scored early and kept UMD bottled up for t most of the period.

Kenny Reiter kept the Bulldogs in the game with his penalty shot stop at 15:31 of the third. But that lift was not enough to jump start the listless Bulldogs. That is until the last minute of the period when the top line for UMD swarmed and had arguably their best chances of the period. Still, they came up empty and headed to overtime, a place both teams have been many times (12 for BSU and 13 for UMD prior to tonight’s game).

Overtime didn’t bring any urgency on the part of the Bulldogs minus a first shift outburst. It looked as though both teams didn’t want to make the mistake to end the game. But it was a UMD penalty that brought on the power play that lead to the Beavers goal at 6:12 of OT.

It was pretty obvious to us watching that UMD just wasn’t hitting on all cylinders, like many times throughout the season. “we came in and did what we had to do, take the lead, got the second (goal),” said alternate UMD captain Mike Connolly who scored a short handed goal in the game. “We came out pretty flat (in the third) and we were never able to recover.” Pretty damning for a team that has aspirations of a national championship, but the most truthful comments by a player we have heard in quite a while.

So where does this leave the Bulldogs? They know that they will play next weekend in the NCAA Tournament when it is win or you are done. “The one thing about theis team all year is that when they’ve had their backs against the wall, they’ve responded the right way every time and I expect our team to do the same,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “For us it gives us some time to rest a little bit.”

Rest and focus is what this Bulldog team needs at this juncture of the season. The team has to win four in a row to reach their ultimate goal, the NCAA Championship. Four wins hasn’t happened since November when the Bulldogs reeled off five straight wins against North Dakota, Michigan Tech and Wisconsin.

So let’s put out faith in a resilient team, some rest and another four game win streak.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Final Five Starts Tomorrow

Two "Play-in" Games on St. Patrick's Day

The eve of the Final Five has me scrambling tying to get ready for the games, including a preview, albeit brief.

It is difficult to remember that UMD is declared in the NCAA Tournament, so says USCHO. Final Five is an excitement time, and the Bulldogs should keep honing their skill getting ready for the next tourney. At the same time, they can lose, rest and reload for next weekend. But let’s wait until at least Friday.

As much as wonks have said Sadelin is a coach who gets his team playoff ready, the same can be said for Serratore, coach for Bemidji State.

The bottom line of this game is UMD has the scorers and the depth to win this one. The Beavers have the defense and that is usually important this time of year. In case, the Bulldogs have too much experience and fire power and will win. And let’s not put overtime out of the picture here, it is very likely.

In the second game, a surging Anchorage team faces a resurrected Colorado College.

CC is resurrected because they took the best-of-three series against Wisconsin after losing the first game. CC’s feat is a highly unlikely scenario for the WCHA playoffs, but they did it. Does it give the Tigers a lift? No, it wears on them.

In juniors, playing multiple games a week is normal, but in college that is very rare. CC playing three last weekend and coming back on Thursday will sink them. Not to diminish the Seawolves who are on their own 5-0-0 streak. UAA win in the late game.

This will be an interesting Final Five with the new six team format and the absence of UMTC and UW. What we do know is the hockey will continue to be good.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Saint Paul Bound Bulldogs

Is Bi6 Ten Big?

It was a great Bulldog weekend.

A sweep, the first at AMSOIL, against Saint Cloud leaves fans confident that Sandelin has his team ready for a post season run.

More importantly, it is nearly a cinch that UMD has achieved the NCAA Tournament.  See more and check it out for yourself on the PWR Predictor.

The Final Five, going forward, is to hone playoff skills and better the Bulldog seeding for the next tournament. In a few words, the one-loss-ends-your-season days are over.

We look forward to seeing what this UMD team can do seeing the best of the WCHA again, now in Saint Paul.

Bi6 Ten? The only future Bi6 Ten team still alive and playing is Michigan. And the Wolverines are the only of the six that can and will be playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Now when the Bi6 Ten starts, they will have an auto-bid. Now if there were such a tournament to crown a Bi6 Ten Champion, would college hockey pundits be debating the validity of a conference with one team deemed “good enough” by the PWR for the NCAA Tournament? The CHA on steroids? No, but definitely an eye opener for new conference proponents.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Night Notes

UMD Starts Best of Three Against SCSU

UMD talking things over against SCSU in 2009
Tonight is the night the second season starts. The WCHA (Just Got Tougher) playoffs should be an entertaining with 12 teams.

We have previewed and predicted the opening round games in the post here. We have five game three’s this Sunday, probably a record, but the same is predicted by others who prognosticate (USCHO and CHN).

Here are three points to take the important game one of the series against SCSU:

  1. Score early and get the lead. UMD is 14-2-2 when scoring first and 10-0-1 when leading after one period. These stats were displayed last weekend when the Bulldogs on Friday scored early on their way to a win. Then Saturday the first period was scoreless before UNO scored two quick goals and never looked back.
  2. Full participation in scoring and defending. The season has moved to a point where a loss and your season could be over. A minus 3 like in last Saturday’s game is just not acceptable…ever, but especially now.
  3. Make home a sweep place. Or at least make it a sweet place. The Bulldogs are 3-4-2 in the new AMSOIL Arena. This is the right place to make it a true home. It will be difficult to get a rowdy crowd into the game with the students on Spring Break.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

First Round WCHA Playoff Preview

The new 12 team WCHA makes its playoff debut this weekend.  The questions at the start of the season centered around how a 12 team league would shake out.  The results are that the teams, at least for this year, are all very even.  All teams outside of North Dakota and Michigan Tech have been up and down all season.  All home teams could win this weekend or all road teams, other than Tech, could win this weekend.  The teams are that close.

Here are the match ups with notes and our predictions, or guesses with the volatility of WCHA teams:
#12 (WCHA seed) Michigan Tech at #1 North Dakota:
  • Season series won by UND 2-0-0
These two teams just met last weekend in Houghton, Michigan. The next meeting will result in North Dakota making it to Saint Paul. Tech this season is just outmanned by all WCHA teams and holds especially true against the Sioux. How many goals will UND score this weekend? Can they best the 17 goals from last weekend? North Dakota in two games.

#11 Minnesota State – Mankato at #2 Denver:
  • Season series won by Denver 3-0-1
MSUM has shown streaks of promise throughout the second half of the season starting with their championship in the Shillelegh Tournament. Meanwhile Denver has played well enough down the stretch to lead a pack of three teams separated by three points to claim #2. “Well enough” means just that, Denver gave UMD and UNO every opportunity to take second when the Pioneers lost to UMTC, UNO, SCSU, and Michigan Tech. Denver will take advantage of home ice and deeper talent on the blueline to take this series in two games.

#10 Bemidji State at #3 Nebraska – Omaha:
  • Season series won by BSU 3-0-1
This series marks the first time in the WCHA playoffs for both teams. It is also was one of the most unlikely pairings at the beginning of the season as media and coaches picked both to be in the bottom half. But the biggest surprise of the new WCHA is the UNO Mavericks being very competitive, except when they played BSU this season.

Bemidji does seem to have Omaha’s number this year, but there are key questions to the series results. Will BSU goaltender Dan Bakala be on his game and will forward Matt Read be ready to play after his injury? Those answers won’t be known until game time, but it really won’t matter in the final outcome. UNO will defeat BSU, two games without Read and in three games with Read in the lineup.

#9 Saint Cloud State at #4 Minnesota – Duluth:
  • Season series won by SCSU 1-0-1
This series is being talked about as maybe the best opportunity for a road team beating the favorite. It is not hard to see that with SCSU playing some good hockey, albeit against some teams that aren’t on real hot streaks like Wisconsin, Tech, and Denver. The other factor is UMD’s disappearance of two game winning streaks. UMD has not won two in a row since sweeping Michigan Tech January 21 and 22. Luckily for the Bulldogs a two game sweep is not needed in a best of three series, and UMD has needed all three games in their last three home playoff series. It will be an exciting series, it will take three games, and it will be the Bulldogs going to Saint Paul.

#8 Alaska – Anchorage at # 5 Minnesota – Twin Cities:
  • Season series tied 1-1-0
There is still a lot of buzz concerning the 1-0 UAA win to end the series between the Gophers and Seawolves on January 29. The Gophers were taken to the wood shed physically and were beat up. They weren’t happy with the officiating or the way UAA took it to them. Did the Seawolves send a message or did the Gophers answer the bell as shown in the fighting penalty taken against Tech two weekends ago? It will be a physical series. UAA should be able to shut down the Gophers for at least one game, but can they win two? This is the series that is most likely to go to a road team due to UAA’s physical play and the ups and downs of the Gophers. Anchorage in three games.

#7 Wisconsin at #6 Colorado College:
  • Season series tied 1-1-0
Another series that was previewed last weekend that pits a mediocre CC team against a downward spiraling Wisconsin team. Some have jested about Tech “tanking” to get North Dakota’s confidence up and their guard down. This is a series where maybe CC didn’t want to win last Saturday because they had home ice locked, couldn’t move up and a Badger win would most likely send them to Colorado Springs. The Badgers couldn’t have been much worse coming down the stretch run going 1-6-1 with the win against CC to ensure they would meet again. Of course the joke in this is that SCSU could have passed Wisconsin if they would have swept Denver. But really, CC gets a good draw and should get past the Badgers in three games.

To sum it up, we may have a record number of three game series for the WCHA if the predictions come true. In the new era of the expanded WCHA, many of the teams are not separated by much and none outside of North Dakota are really on a solid roll against good teams. This will be an interesting experiment handling a 12 team league in this format. It will likely be a wild and surprising ride to Saint Paul and the Final Five.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Regualr Season Ends with a Bulldog Thud

Omaha Outplays Duluth in 5-2 Win

As good as Friday felt to Bulldog fans, Saturday felt terrible in a 5-2 UMD loss to UNO.

UMD was riding what seemed to be a resurgence, winning a Friday game against a team higher than them in the PWR and conference standings. The Bulldogs were tied for second with an outside chance at claiming second after the Saturday night games.

Enter the pudding where the proof lies.

The Bulldogs coaching staff focused last week’s practices on making the shift after a goal a quality one. It worked to perfection Friday night, but it was lost Saturday.

Duluth and Omaha skated to a scoreless first period where goaltender play dominated. Both Faulkner for UNO and Reiter for UMD were playing well, and arguably Reiter won the goalie dual with his better saves.

It didn’t take long into the second period for the scoring to start. The Mavericks second line was out and scored at 1:04 of the second. UMD elected to keep the same personnel on the ice for the ensuing faceoff as many teams do. It was on that next shift that UNO took a 2-0 lead at 1:26 this time with their third line. It was the start of a bad night for UMD’s second line, the Schmidt-Oleksuk-Brown line.

Joe Basaraba pulled the Bulldogs to 2-1 on a goal with Jack and Mike Connolly assisting at 9:07. The goal was Basaraba’s third of the season and it was Jack Connolly’s 50th point.

It wasn’t the next shift that scored for the Mavericks, but they didn’t waste much time. UNO’s fourth line scored at 11:25 again against UMD’s second line. UNO led at that point 3-1 and the Bulldog second line was a minus 3.

The third period saw both teams score, UNO more than UMD, but it was the hole UMD dug themselves in the second that ultimately did them in. The comebacks of the early season are gone. The Bulldogs cannot have letdowns that turn into multiple goals.

And it wasn’t all bad. Many Bulldogs came out on the plus end of the night, but it was the minuses that left the team with a stinging end of regular season loss.

The second season, the payoffs, start next weekend for Duluth at home against Saint Cloud State. Losses can and eventually will end the Bulldog’s season if they cannot pull together and all play a complete game.

Saturday's Box Score

Bubble-land Again. With the loss, UMD falls to a tie for #10 in the PWR. If UMD wants to push into the NCAA Tournament they have to find a way to get past the Huskies next weekend. Or this season will be very reminiscent of last season’s NCAA near miss.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Friday Night UMD Win!

Bulldogs Beat Visiting UNO Mavericks 4-1

A win does a world of good.

UMD beat UNO convincingly 4-1 last night at AMSOIL Arena. The Bulldog win was the first Friday night win since January 21 at Michigan Tech.

It was the game Bulldog fans were waiting for. It was a complete game with great effort in all facets of the game. The win really a statement that the team is back and focused on the end of season and the prize that lies beyond.

Kenny Reiter played an excellent game in net for UMD making 34 saves on 35 shots. He should get the nod in tonight’s game. In front of Reiter, the whole team did their part to play defense to make his job easier.

Travis Oleksuk led scorers with two goals, including the game winner, his team leading 7th of the season. Oleksuk’s linemates JT Brown and Kyle Schmidt both picked up two assists on the night.

The brightest spot for the game is how UMD went “off-script.” The Bulldogs have been a team playing from behind early in games for much of the season. Taking a 3-1 lead out of the first period was the start that set the tone for the game. The Bulldogs have also relied heavily on the first and second lines for goals. In Friday’s game UMD got their fourth goal from a hard working fourth line wing, David Grun. The more that the third and fourth lines play good defense and chip in scoring, the further UMD will play into Spring.

The win temporarily flip-flops UMD’s and UNO’s PWR rankings. The Bulldogs take over #8 and the Mavericks fall to #11.

Friday's Box Score

What to look for tonight. UMD can’t be expected to do much more than Friday night. A win or tie keeps UMD ahead of Omaha in the playoff picture. A Bulldog win coupled with a Denver loss or tie moves UMD into second for the playoffs and lines them up for the added bonus of a possible bye at the Final Five.

Home Ice is Locked. With the UMTC tie and CC win last night, those two teams locked up the last two home ice spots for the first round of the playoffs next weekend.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Tech and McNaughton; Final Weekend of Conference Play

#11 Bulldogs host #8 Mavericks of Omaha

A turning point in college hockey is on the horizon.  Big Ten is coming (Bi6 Ten?) reportedly for 2014-15 season thus changing the landscape of the WCHA and CCHA. 
Without the “money makers” of Michigan, Michigan State, MinnesotaTwin Cities and Wisconsin not traveling to the smaller schools in the conference, teams are looking at dropping programs.  One of those teams hinting at the possibility in the near future is Michigan Technological University.
Michigan Tech has been in the bottom of the WCHA for years.  It is easy to wonder why they even ever had a team, a school way out in the hinterlands.  Who would want to go there?
For those newer to college hockey, you need to know that Michigan Tech has a storied past.  The Huskies won the NCAA National Championship on three occasions, 1962, 1965 and 1975.  The 1975 win was sandwiched between two second place finishes, both at the hands of the UMTC Gophers.
Michigan Tech will be hosting a current hockey power this weekend in North Dakota.  It will be the weekend that UND receives the McNaughton Cup for the WCHA Championship.  The cup is one of the most storied in college sports and Michigan Technological University is the trustee of the cup.  Michigan Tech has not had it in their possession for years, not since 1975-76 season.  But the cup should be making an appearance in Houghton this weekend, another sobering reminder of hockey traditions lost and the current teams the Division I ranks may be losing.
In Duluth.  This weekend Omaha is making its only trip to Duluth this season.  There is a lot riding on the two game series.  Foremost, the winner of the series will better the other in playoff seedings.  It is also the last chance to get “on track” for a playoff run, and what better team to play than one just higher than UMD on the PWR.
New Digs Neutralized.  AMSOIL Arena is beautiful.  The players, coaches and fans love it.  But it isn’t the DECC.  The Bulldogs are 9-4-2 at home this season, but just 2-3-2 at the new arena.  The Mavericks of UNO are 7-8-1 on the road this season.
Its Been Rough, But…  The Bulldogs have the least number of overall losses (8) out of all the WCHA teams.  Unfortunately, seven of them have come in league play and that is why UMD is fourth in the WCHA.  The last time a Bulldog team finished with less than 10 losses was the 1992-93 team.
Things to Watch for this Weekend:
  1. Will the goalie rotation continue?  We still look for Reiter to become the number one.
  2. Will the team play defense?  It is more than just the goalie and defensemen; it has to be everybody doing what they can.
  3. End the Friday hex, and heck, even get sweep.  A sweep and a Denver stumble can still get the Bulldogs into the coveted second spot.  But it all starts with two well played games which UMD wins.
Outcome.  This will be a good test for the Bulldogs, or maybe a bad one if they fail.  Regardless of the outcome, UMD will get a taste of the playoffs this weekend.  And with nothing to lose, fans shouldn’t get worried, right? 
We do see more of the same happening this weekend, thus a series split.  The change we do predict is that the Bulldogs will come to play Friday and win relenting to the Mavs Saturday night.
Around the WCHA.  It is the last regular season weekend and all teams are playing conference foes.
#2 North Dakota at Michigan Technological University:  In a preview of next weekend’s first round playoff series, North Dakota sweeps here…along with next weekend too.
#19 Saint Cloud State at #5 Denver:  I never thought that a ranking would be put in front of SCSU after the start they had, but here they are at #19 in the PWR with a chance, albeit an outside chance, of having home ice.  SCSU is playing well and Denver plays well at home.  These teams split the series.
#14 Colorado College at Wisconsin:  This series is not a guaranteed repeat in the playoffs next weekend, but it is a likely rematch in Colorado Springs.  Can the Badgers really go eight games without a win?  No, so this will be a split and they will play again next weekend at CC.
#19 University of Minnesota – Twin Cities at Bemidji State:  BSU has a good defense so the Gophers will have struggles at least one of the nights to score, thus a split in Bemidji.
AlaskaAnchorage at Minnesota StateMankato:  A difficult one to call with UAA coming off of their weekend against archrival Alaska.  The staff is split here; in discussions it was said go with a split, it is the safe pick.  I go against the more sound advice and see a MSUM sweep. 
With all the splits we predict, the standings would stay the same.  The only change would be if MSUM does come through with a sweep.  That would move them past UAA. 
It has been a good regular season, but it will also be good to look at the playoff scene next week.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Look at the Final Standings and Kudos WCHA

The coming weekend marks the end of the WCHA regular season. It is just the first end mark of the college hockey season, the longest of the sports. In this article, we look back at the season so far and discuss the possible standings when the dust clears late Saturday night.

North Dakota has won another McNaughton Cup and has shown themselves to be the best while playing the best. Men’s Division I Ice Hockey has 58 teams that are ranked on the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). Those with an RPI of 0.5000 or greater are in the TUC for the PWR. Because the WCHA has 11 teams in the TUC, yes that is 11 of the 12 teams in the conference, the Sioux have an overall record of 24-8-3 and a record against TUC the same, 24-8-3. Every team that UND ahs played is a quality team, so defined by the NCAA. The only WCHA team not in the TUC is UND’s last regular season and their first round playoff opponent, Michigan Technological University.

To look at the WCHA playoff possibilities, we break the teams into groups of four based on the standings and their grouping of current playoff standing. 
The Top Third. These four teams have already clinched first round playoff home ice.

Current Standings:
  1. North Dakota          39 points
  2. Denver                35
  3. Nebraska – Omaha      34
  4. Minnesota – Duluth          33
  • North Dakota visits Michigan Tech
    • The Sioux have won the WCHA Championship and will host MTU in the first round
  • Denver hosts Saint Cloud State
    • Pioneers can finish tied for 1st-4th place, but cannot be seeded above 2nd
    • Denver has a difficult draw this weekend with a surging SCSU team
  • Omaha visits UMD
    • Mavericks and Bulldogs can finish 2nd-4th place
    • Winner of the weekend series between UNO and UMD will better the other in playoff seeding
    • A sweep and Denver getting swept would get the winner 2nd place
The Middle Third. These teams are all still home ice eligible.

Current Standings:
  1. Minnesota – Twin Cities   28 points
  2. Colorado College          26
  3. Wisconsin                 25
  4. Saint Cloud State         24
  • UMTC visits Bemidji State
    • Gophers can finish 5th or 6th place tie
      • Tie-breaker win against CC
      • Tie-breaker loss against Wisconsin
      • Likely tie-breaker win against SCSU (depends on final WCHA goals for minus goals against)
    • One point clinches the Gophers home ice in the first round
  • CC visits Wisconsin
    • CC can finish 5th-tie 8th (seeded 9th due to tie-breaker loss to UAA)
    • UW can finish 5th-9th
    • Tie-breaker between Tigers and Badgers will be determined in their series this weekend
      • CC wins tie-breaker with SCSU
      • UW loses tie-breaker with SCSU
    • One Tiger win locks up home ice in the first round for CC
    • CC and UW cannot both have home ice in the first round
    • Both teams can be on the road in the first round
  • Saint Cloud State visits Denver
    • Huskies can finish tie 5th to tie 9th
    • Home ice for Huskies must be an SCSU sweep and Wisconsin 3-point weekend
The Bottom Third. These teams cannot achieve home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

Current Standings:
  1. Alaska – Anchorage             22 points
  2. Bemidji State                  20
  3. Minnesota State – Mankato      20
  4. Michigan Tech                   6
  • UAA visits MSUM
    • Seawolves can finish tie 7th to 11th
    • Mavericks can finish tie 9th to 11th
  • Bemidji State hosts UMTC
    • BSU can finish tie 8th to 11th
  • Michigan Tech hosts North Dakota
    • MTU will finish 12th
    • Rematch with North Dakota in the first round of the playoffs at Grand Forks