Friday, October 7, 2011

#1 Irish at #8 Bulldogs

Rematch of Frozen Four Semifinal With New and Old Faces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key players to UMD’s success this year:

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

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

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

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

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