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

Saturday, April 9, 2011

UMD Pregame...Just In Time

Bulldogs Face Michigan for National Championship

Michigan is on a run that no one expected…at least in the USCHO bracket Challenge. This will be the Wolverine’s fourth NCAA Tourney game this season and all have been against WCHA teams.

Center Ice at the Xcel (Andrew Fiskness)
The Frozen Four was heralded as an all West grouping and that was amazing and exciting on its own. Now put in the streak of teams that Michigan has gone up against and it becomes ridiculous.

So are the Bulldogs the WCHA team to stand up to the maize and blue and put a stop to their winning streak? We humbly say, “Yes.”

Tonight’s game will again tilt on the play of special teams and UMD has that edge.

After following the Bulldogs all year, and for many years prior, it is exciting and nerve wracking to be at the game tonight. But it also an honor to bring the stories of this team to our readers and to be at a part of UMD Hockey history. We predict it will be history on a new page, the one titled “National Champions.”

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bulldogs - Woverines Stat Comparison

UMD Meets UM in Season Finale

The national Championship is all that is left for the Bulldogs and Wolverines. Tomorrow night one team will take home trophy #1 (UMD) or #10 (Michigan)

Here is how the two teams remaining compare in the stat-pack:

There is not really much to say as this is the championship game. “Throw out the record books…” and all those clich├ęs.

The facts are that Shawn Hunwick is played great for the Wolverines against he Sioux and the Bulldog power play is on fire. The team that makes the game their kind of game wins. In a one game playoff format, that could be either team in a low scoring game or high scoring game.

For UMD to win, they have to start clicking five on five and keep on the torrid power play game.  the team defense also needs to continue to be strong.

Conversely, for Michigan to win, they need to stop UMD from scoring in bunches. If Michigan can slow down the Bulldogs like they did the Sioux, they may just have the championship.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bulldogs Win to Play for Championship

UMD Uses Special teams to down Notre Dame 4-3

The Bulldogs didn’t take the trip from Duluth to play in one game, that wouldn’t be fun. And as the players have said time and time again, blonds have more fun. The fun resulted in a 4-3 win for the Bulldogs and a trip to Saturday’s National Championship.

The game included some sloppy play, UMD domination and lots of fun for UMD. It was all smiles after the game in preparation for Saturday.

The real decider of the game was special teams, a key we identified in the preview. Each team had power play chances, but it was UMD who cashed in on theirs going 3 for 6 compared to Notre Dame’s 0 for 5.

“It’s exactly what we saw in film. They have an exceptional power play, and we couldn't generate any offense on the power play,” said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. “We played a good game five on five. Other than that (the) game was completely determined by special teams.”

Not only was it the UMD power play, the penalty kill was a shining star. On Notre Dame’s five power play chances they generated only two shots.

“To be honest with you, our special teams this year have been a bit of a disappointment. They've been one of the staples of our program for the last five years,” concluded Jackson.

From the UMD side, Jack Connolly said, “Our power play has been huge for us. Like you said, we got down there early in the game tonight, battled back.”

UMD did battle back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits in the first period before taking the lead for good on a power play goal from Mike Connolly. That goal gives Mike 28 for the season. His line mate Jack Connolly picked up his 18th goal of the season for the game winner.

The game was not a complete performance for the Bulldogs as it was tenuous at times in the third period when the ice seemed to tilt in favor of the Irish. Notre Dame did out shoot UMD 15-2 in the period, but only scored once. Those third period number also includes Notre Dames last power play of the night where they tallied no shots.

In reflection of the game, UMD players and coaches kept referring to the team effort. “This group of kids (have) been very resilient all year. I can't say (it) enough,” said Coach Sandelin. “We …haven't lost back to back games, because I said it a hundred times, but they find a way. They find a way. And I think it all goes back to they all believe in each other and they kind of had a goal.”

“Us kids with parents a long ways away, they flew down for the Final Five and we lost the first night. That messed up their plans,” said Mike Connolly of Calgary. “For the fans that have supported us all year long, it gives them more game to come cheer for us and we definitely appreciate it. This is what we play for all year.

Best locker room I have been a part of.”

The season will end Saturday, one more chance for the 2010-2011 Bulldogs to make UMD proud.

UMD Preview and Oulook for Thursday

Bulldogs Relaxed and Ready

On a beautiful Spring day in Saint Paul, most people longed to be outside.

UMD Wednesday  Frozen Four Practice (Doyle Freemyer)
Not Bulldog players or fans. They were inside the Xcel Energy Center practicing and conducting interviews in preparation for today’s Frozen Four match against Notre Dame. Opening face-off is scheduled for 4:04pm.

What can one expect out of an open practice before such a big event? Groundbreaking plans aren’t going to be revealed, the only real news that could occur is if a player were to get injured. No Bulldogs were injured in the practice, at least obvious ones.

The players were focused, but still having a good time in between drills. They skated relaxed and had a focus about them knowing the gravity of the upcoming game on their season long goal, a national championship.

After the practice, the media got a chance to ask questions of which some were repeated (why the blond hair?). In all we got a look into the mindset of the Bulldogs players and coach.

“This time of year you need everyone buying into the system of what we’re doing,” said senior wing Justin Fontaine. “We showed in the regional we were able to do the things that counted. Our forwards and defense steeped up and blocked a lot of shots and kept it simple.” Keeping it simple is a key against the Irish and their resurgent defense.

UMD is the only home state entrant (how far from Minnesota is Grand Forks?) and the Bulldogs are excited to be playing in a building close to the campus and in a place they know. “We are just really excited to be here. We know we have a good following,” said senior captain Mike Montgomery. “We are excited to go out there and showcase our team.”

Kenny Reiter added, “I don’t see that we have any added pressure being the home state team. There are four good teams in the tournament. We are comfortable with the support we are going to have. We are just approaching the Frozen Four with a business-like attitude.”

The location goes along with having ample senior and junior leadership to having an advantage against Notre Dame. “We’ve came up short the last two years,” said Fontaine about returning for his senior year. “It was an exciting time to come back early August to come for our goal and that’s being here (at the Frozen Four).”

So the foe today is Notre Dame. What has Coach Sandelin done to get his team ready? He focuses on the play of his team. “We’ve pretty much have been a team that concerns ourselves all year with how we need to play.” But Sandelin also added, “Notre Dame poses some different things. They’re very good defensively, so that’s going to be a challenge. I thought watching the games in the regional that they played extremely well. I was very impressed with their team after watching the Miami game the week before.”

Outlook. We are going to rely on experience of key players, familiarity of the building/atmosphere and special teams edge (see our Stat Pack) leading to a Bulldog victory tonight at the Xcel.

As Mike Montgomery said, “It’s a good time to be a Bulldog.”

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Team Statistics Leading into Thursday

UMD and Notre Dame Close Statistically

Waiting patiently for Thursday. That is what college hockey fans are doing. In a scene similar to the movie What About Bob? baby steps to Thursday.

In the meantime, all sorts of outlets are looking for the stories within the story of the game. We at the HighHorse will concentrate on the statistics for now.

The summary of the stats are as follows:

At first look, the Notre Dame and UMD stats make the teams look quite equal. Areas worthy of noting are the defensive stats. Goals against, shutouts and team saves percentage all favor UMD. Yes, the same Bulldog team that we have said over and over again is not built for defense. But in this match-up, the defense seems to go the way of UMD

Conversely, UMD is built for offense. Notre Dame does hold the edge in goals per game.

The last area of note is special teams where UMD holds decisive edge in power play and a narrow lead in penalty kill.

Tomorrow we will look at the intangibles and make our predictions for the Frozen Four.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Coaches in the Frozen Four

CCHA Brings Experience Against WCHA

Coaching is a fickle profession. Common sentiment of fans can be “What have you done for me lately?” And when the going gets tough, let’s fire the coach.

This year’s Frozen Four brings together four coaches that have seen their share of games and have NCAA experience. The Frozen Four is not new territory to Red Berenson (Michigan), Jeff Jackson (Notre Dame), Dave Hakstol (North Dakota) or Scott Sandelin (Minnesota – Duluth). Each has been there before, but not all have won a National Championship.

Hakstol and Berenson are in the middle of two impressive streaks regarding NCAA Tournament appearances.

Hakstol’s Sioux teams have made the tourney each of his seven years behind the bench. The closest a Hakstol led Sioux team came to winning it all was his first year when UND lost in the championship game (2005). UND under Hakstol also reached the Frozen Four from 2006 through 2008.

The other current NCAA streak has Berenson and the Bi6 Ten bound Wolverines to 21 straight tourneys with two national championships. In total, Berenson has coached Michigan in 10 previous Frozen Four Tournaments.

Notre Dame has limited experience in the Frozen Four, but Coach Jackson has been successful in the NCAA Tournament. Jackson is the only coach in this year’s Frozen Four who coached at another institution previous his current assignment. It was when Jackson was head coach at Lake Superior State that he led the Lakers to six straight NCAA Tournaments with Frozen Four appearances from 1992 to 1994. The Lakers won the 1992 and 1994 national Championships. Since moving on to Notre Dame, Jackson has coached the Irish to three NCAA appearances including one Frozen Four appearance resulting in becoming the runner-up. In the four previous Frozen Fours Jackson has coached in, his team has made the National Championship every time.

Finally we get to Coach Sandelin who has the least NCAA Tournament and Frozen Four experience of the four coaches. This year is UMD’s third trip to the NCAA Tournament under Sandelin. This Frozen Four marks the second trip to the Frozen Four by a Sandelin led Bulldog team.

The Frozen Four brings two CCHA coaches with a total of four national championships and two WCHA coaches with no national championships together with one of each facing off in Thursday’s games.

Some may say that experience has its advantages, but this Frozen Four is more of an old guard meeting the “fresh” faces in Frozen Four coaching. Predictions are still to come, but we strongly believe that this Frozen Four will be a coach’s first National Championship when all is done in Saint Paul.