Monday, March 26, 2012

Bulldog Season Ends With Loss to BC

BC Blanks UMD 4-0 to Win the Northeast Regional

UMD ran into a buzz saw, plain and simple. Boston College is a team that has it all clicking and the tune is a beauty. The final was a 4-0 win for BC, a team that seems destined to not lose again until maybe next autumn.

The best legal hit of the night was a hip check delivered
the Bulldogs Wade Bergman. Photo: NewsTimes
UMD skated well with BC in the first period. But when the goals started for the Eagles in the second, it was all over for UMD. BC had momentum and the Bulldogs just couldn’t break it. Both teams made mistakes, it’s just that BC capitalized on UMD’s and snubbed the Bulldogs when they had chances.

By no means did UMD play poorly; it was just BC was that much better. And that is what made it the most difficult for Bulldog fans, to watch their team get dismantled knowing it was the last game for seven of UMD’s players to wear the Bulldog.

The Eagle’s 4-0 win Sunday night over the Bulldogs not only sent BC to the Frozen Four, but extended their winning streak to 17. Their last loss was January 21 against Maine. At that time BC was 14-10-1 and with last night’s win are 31-10-1.

UMD ends their season at 25-10-6 after beating Maine 5-2 Saturday night prior to the BC game.

Does the streak sound familiar to Bulldog fans? UMD had their own run of 17 games, but theirs was an unbeaten streak, 14-0-3, in the early to mid-season. It was quite a feat for the Bulldogs and will be one of many highlights of a very good, respectable season.

UMD’s own streak came on the heels of a heartbreaking sweep at home against the Gophers. Many said they looked forward to getting another crack at UMTC in the season, but it would have to wait for a tournament. This was the last chance and it will be BC, not the Bulldogs, getting the Gophers.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

UMD Bests Maine; BC Next

Trip to Frozen Four on the Line

Busy day here so we just have the UMD - BC game StatPack:

Images via Wikipedia: Bulldog, BC
Of note:
  • There is definitely a reason BC has the #1 overall seed and the stats are just a start.
  • BC on a 16 win streak currently.
  • UMD has to again limit exposure to penalties as a key to the game.
We will have a weekend wrap tomorrow covering the 5-2 win over Maine with its oddities and the BC game.

Friday, March 23, 2012

UMD and Maine, First Round NCAA

#2 UMD and #3 Maine Square Off in the Northeast

UMD takes their game on the road, or air as Massachusetts is a flight destination, to start their NCAA Tournament quest on the East Coast.

The Tournament starts today, but the Bulldogs have to wait for the last first round game of the weekend stating at 6:30pm CDT. The game will be on ESPN3 (online only) and picked up locally by FSN Plus.

[BE AWARE: FSN Plus is also televising the Gopher game that is scheduled at 4:30pm CDT, so the UMD game will not be shown in its entirety. It will only be picked up after the Gopher conclusion. With any delay in the start or end of the Minnesota – Twin Cities game, like OT in the Gopher game or the earlier North Dakota – Western Michigan game, and the UMD game will be preempted even more than scheduled. Check if you can get ESPN3 for Internet viewing because not all providers have it.]
The trend starts in the conference tournaments of one game elimination and continues into the NCAA Tournament. A hot team, a hot goaltender, or just a bad game eliminates a team, and maybe the better team. But it is the rules of the tourney and all 16 teams play knowing the consequences.

UMD Will Need a Team Effort to Make NE Successes
In talking about keys to the game, and we will go one game at a time, team is it.

Team defense comes to mind first. The Bulldogs will be facing a high scoring top line of Maine that may or may not contain Spencer Abbott, the nation’s top point producer. All reports as of this time say he is a game time decision due to an upper body injury. Either way, the team defense in UMD’s last game was atrocious allowing multiple odd man rushes and breakaways for the Pioneers. It was the goals on those defensive lapses that allowed the Pioneers to build a lead that UMD could not overcome in the end.

Team offense is not a facet of the game we talk about much as UMD is the top scoring team in the nation. But just as UMD will match-up their best defenders against Maine’s top line, Maine will do the same to the Bulldogs. Scoring has to come from the second and third lines. And that was one ingredient to last season’s NCAA successes.

Special teams is the last of the teams we will mention, but don’t think it the least by any stretch of the imagination. We put it last because it is what it is, decent to abysmal. Power play is decent to good now that they are connecting over 20% of the time, but Maine’s power play is better. The penalty kill was terrible, but did show signs of life in the most recent game going 5 for 5 kills. Unfortunately that still leaves UMD at #53 in the nation out of 58 teams.

Bottom line, the more 5 on 5 hockey that UMD can play, the better the Bulldog chances are.

By the Numbers. StatPack for the UMD – Maine game Saturday:

Images Via Wikipedia: Bulldog, Black Bear
Of note:

  • Although UMD holds advantages in goals for and against, those categories are quite similar.
  • Special teams is lopsided in favor of Maine, but the Black Bears are more penalized on average.
  • UMD’s save percentage, fueled by Kenny Reiter, is a key for this game and any more games in the NCAA this season.
The winner of the UMD – Maine game takes on the Boston College – Air Force winner Sunday at 7:00pm CDT.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Writers Make Their NCAA Picks

Frozen Four Participants is Part 1 of the Process

Here we are again on the eve of the NCAA Hockey Tournament. This is our annual segment where the writers here, both of us, take a shot at prognosticating the Frozen Four.

We will start with the picks of the regional finals and have writers’ notes at the bottom.  And as usual, feel free to comment below or even add your picks.

So without further delay the picks:

Northeast Regional

Andrew Craig (AC): Boston College defeats UMD

Andy Fiskness (AF): UMD over BC

East Regional

AC: Miami defeats Union

AF: UMass – Lowell over Union

Midwest Regional

AC: Ferris State defeats Michigan

AF: Ferris State over Michigan

West Regional

AC: Boston University defeats North Dakota

AF: UND over BU


AF: College hockey fans have been watching and waiting all season for the biggest and most exciting weekend of games. So many games have been played, trends have developed, conference championships won and lost. Now who will prevail in a one and done format? When it comes to evaluating the teams I have had a hard time deciding who will make it to the final four and the ultimate winner. I have changed my bracket so many times that I am sure I picked it right at one point, but maybe not the final version. Recent years have seen big underdogs advance to the final four and in many years teams that experts thought had no chance went far in the tournament.

So I will start with the a few thoughts about UMD. This year’s Bulldog team went 17 games without losing and during that time I don't think there was a team in the country that was better all around. Since then UMD has been just over .500, which team will show up Saturday? This year's team success in the tournament will come down to penalty kills. If they are good on the PK they will go far, if not they will be going home. Ever since Scott Sandelin took over UMD they have been a great underdog team and not as good of a team as the favorite. To me it seems that UMD will be able to get through Maine and then they will likely be the underdog and I think they will be win and keep playing.

AC: Hey, I might actually get some correct this year as Fiskness and my picks line up pretty well. I will take heat from friends and others over not picking UMD in the NE, but they have been so streaky this spring, I really don’t see them putting two games together.

As far as the Gophers, I was at the game against North Dakota and went to the press conference afterward. If those players can bounce back after those displays, I will be surprised. Players in the presser didn’t act or sound resilient at all and that was definitely what was observed in the game.

On To the Northeast!

Bulldogs Head East For Second Straight Year

Rags to riches, riches to somewhere in the middle, that is where Bulldog fans are left now that the final PWR is out and the NCAA field has been announced. It is old news now, but something that stuck in my craw; the lost opportunities of Playing close to home.

So how did the team get here, to the #7 seed and in the tournament and in the Northeast Regional, the same as #1 Boston College? It wasn’t said outright, but it had to be a team goal to get to the West Regional in Saint Paul. And the West looked likely until the Bulldogs and Gophers both lost in the WCHA semi-finals. If it wasn’t on the radar of the team, it certainly was of the fan base. The Bulldogs had to travel out east last year and go it alone without a large fan base to work back to the Frozen Four at the X. This year the Bulldogs have to go out east again without the possibility of playing close to home again.

Yes, UMD was tops in the PWR and national polls for weeks during the year and went into the WCHA playoffs bouncing between #2 and #3 in the PWR. Yes, the Bulldogs lost to a good Denver team, but Denver was ranked lower so it was a game UMD had to win to get the high seed.

North Dakota as a counter example to UMD, came into the Final Five on the cusp of the bubble for the NCAA Tourney. UND made the most of their opportunities winning all three of their possible games to shoot up to the #4 overall seed in the NCAA and were thus rewarded with a return trip to Saint Paul for the West Regional. Easy trip for UND and their fans, and UMD will go east again with a likely small fan base.

So this year again, UMD is left to potentially take on #1 in a far off region because they couldn’t win when they needed to in the WCHA playoffs. The difference this year is the Bulldogs have the championship even if they may not be able to play in front many of their faithful fans again.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Another Slow Start Dooms UMD, Opposite for UMTC

Rally Comes Up Short in 4-3 2OT Loss; North Dakota Shocks Gophers

The Bulldogs received some time to wait and rest up.  Not that they wanted it, but it was a parting gift from the Denver Pioneers in their 4-3 double overtime win.

Just like last season the Bulldogs make a one game appearance at the Final Five just to turn the bus around for extra R & R at home. Also like last season, UMD falls in OT, but that is where the similarities pretty much end.

Today’s game against Denver was a good hockey game to watch. “It was a hell of a game,” stated Coach Sandelin when asked for his comments. He went onto liken it to last year’s defeat in OT to Bemidji while adding that game was terrible to watch and this game was a good game.

Jack Connolly, Hobey Baker
Finalist, Scored the Tying Goal
The coach was quite content with the outcome of the game. UMD was down 3-0 just over six minutes into the second period, but battled back to tie the game fueled by two Mike Seidel goals in the second. Seidel later had the game winning chance just as time expired, but was stopped by the stretching leg of Pioneers goalie Sam Brittain.

The third UMD goal was scored by Hobey Baker finalist Jack Connolly.  Connolly took a pass from Drew Olson and rifled a one-timer from the high slot past Brittain.

UMD had all the chances they could have wanted, it was just a matter of converting opportunities and there just weren’t enough to get the Bulldogs over the hump.

Sunday’s NCAA selection show will reveal where UMD plays next weekend.  As the PWR looks now after all of Friday's results, UMD will not be in Saint Paul.  The reasoning is UMD is stuck in the #2 or #3 seeded bands with the Gophers and intra-conference games cannot be scheduled in the first round.

Of note:
  • UMD scored the only power play goal of the game and went 1-4 on the PP.
  • The ailing Bulldog penalty kill was a perfect 5 for 5 and looked much improved.
  • Kenny Reiter was strong in net and kept UMD in the game at many points early in the game.
  • The game winning goal by Zac Larraza is his first as a collegian.  He is Denver's "extra man" as the Pioneers are skating five defensemen and 13 forwards.  Larraza estimated that he was out for about 10 shifts for the game.
North Dakota and Minnesota - Twin Cities

The semi-finals of the Final Five was the day of comebacks.  UMD came back, but couldn't finish off Denver, but North Dakota did finish their comeback.

Down, and seemingly out, North Dakota used their timeout at 14:07 of the second period.  At that point they trailed the Gophers 3-0 and were being out shot 20-2.

What occurred next goes into the Final Five record books.

North Dakota proceeded to score the next six goals and out shoot UMTC 26-5 in a stunning 6-3 win.

Gopher leaders reported being shell-shocked and trying hard not to lose instead of going of the win.  Coach Lucia seconded the remarks and said he is not worried going into the NCAA Tournament next weekend.

The UMD loss was hard to take, but the absolute meltdown by the Gophers will be hard to forget.  If a team of collegians can nose dive that badly, whose to say that their psyche is resilient? 

Fans will get to see the resilliancy of the Gophers next weekend back at the Xcel Energy Center for the first round of the NCAA West Regional.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Semi-Final Previews: UMD and DU; UMTC and UND

Bulldogs and Pioneers Set for 2:07 Matinee Friday

Now that UMD's opponent is set, we can start to look at the match-up by the numbers. The StatPack for tomorrow's game:

Images via Wikipedia: Bulldog, WCHA, DU
Of note:
  • Similarities abound in the stats between these two teams. What may be overlooked is Denver has played two more games than UMD.
  • Denver’s power play is strong and UMD’s penalty kill is a real weak spot. UMD must stay out of the box and average fewer penalty minutes than the Pioneers.
  • Juho Olkinuora played in the net for Denver Thursday. UMD has yet to see usual starter Sam Brittain this season due to a Brittain injury.
Hot or Cold. Denver will be playing their fifth game in eight days. Two of them went to overtime. UMD last played Saturday night.

Denver is coming in maybe getting a little ragged, but they may also be in a groove that can keep rolling. Meanwhile, UMD is playing a “normal” WCHA week going the normal week between games. I can’t say which is an advantage, but it may be a focus of the postgame Q & A depending on how the game ends.

Just Don’t. UMD has to play disciplined hockey. Sounds simple, but penalty kill could prove to be the Achilles’ Heel of the Bulldogs. Ranking 54th of the 58 Division I teams, UMD just cannot give Denver, the #5 power play, chances with the extra attacker.

Prediction by Fiskness. Predictions were made in yesterday’s post. To summarize, UMD matches up well against Denver. It should be a fast paced game, but in the end Denver runs out of gas and UMD will win the first semi-final of the Final Five.

North Dakota and Minnesota – Twin Cities (7:07pm)

Of note:
  • The Gophers won the regular season series 3-1-0 with a sweep at home and a split in Grand Forks.
    • Most remember that tempers flared in the handshake line the last time these teams met and there should be plenty of emotion tomorrow night.
  • North Dakota gets to this game by beating Saint Cloud State 4-1 Thursday night.
  • This is the first Final Five for UMTC since 2009.
Prediction by Fiskness. Again, predictions were made yesterday and Fiskness likes how North Dakota matches up with the Gophers and picks UND to win the second semi-final of the day.

UMD Set to Face Denver - WCHA Playoffs 2012

Pioneers Down MTU Huskies to Gain Semi-Finals

One game is in the books at this year's WCHA Final Five playoffs as the Denver Pioneers defeated the Michigan Tech Huskies 3-2 in overtime.  It was exactly the game that was expected.  The Huskies lead 2-1 late in the 3rd period when Luke Salazar tied it for Denver sending the game to overtime.  The game winner was scored by Jason Zucker just 2:18 seconds into the extra time.

UMD played the Pioneers in Denver back in November and came home with 3 of the 4 points.  The two teams finished the regular season separated by just one point.  The Bulldogs and the Pioneers are both very talented teams that like to skate and play high tempo hockey.  The game is the first game Friday afternoon at 2:07pm.  It should be a fun one.  We will be reporting from the at the Xcel Energy Center.   Check back for more reports.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Final Five Starts Tomorrow With Two Games

Denver and MTU Followed by UND and SCSU

With the start of the WCHA Final Five, we take a look at the opening round match-ups and some notes going into each game.  We will continue to have preview and summary notes of all the Final Five games along with more in-depth UMD coverage including StatPacks.

The Broadmoor Trophy goes to the
winner of the WCHA Final Five
We here look forward to some great Hockey in the WCHA Final Five!

Predictions by Fiskness, Notes by Craig.  The first round of the WCHA playoffs had some very entertaining games and of course there was an upset. I picked the upset wrong, and I should have seen it coming. The two previous weekends where UNO got swept showed that they were the team that hit the wall. The Huskies of MTU were just toying with and playing dead against the Tigers in the last weekend of the regular season. Yes, the Huskies have now gone 0-28 at games in Colorado Springs during the regular season, but they have now won four of the last five playoff games there. With all of the possible scenarios for the WCHA playoff champion I will only pick the Thursday winners and then make a guess at the playoff Champion.

Denver and Michigan Tech (2:07):  The Huskies bounced back after getting swept by the Tigers the previous week for the about face. They are a much improved skating team and are should be able to keep pace with all of the opposing teams in the WCHA playoffs. This season the Huskies took 3 points out of 4 in the only meetings with the Pioneers in Houghton. The Pioneers are very talented team that has found some consistency in net now with two solids goalies. It will likely be Sam Brittain starting as the Pioneers responded with back to back wins on Saturday and Sunday night hosting Wisconsin to get into the Final Five. I am picking Denver to win in a close one. I wouldn't be too surprised if Tech did win and they play UMD tough. Whichever team wins will be a good match-up with the Bulldogs.

Of note:
  • Tech won the season series 1-0-1 way back in October at home.
  • Both teams played in Colorado last weekend prior to making the trip to Saint Paul.
  • Unlike MTU, Denver had to play Sunday and take it to OT before prevailing.
  • Denver is likely to be in the NCAA Tournament regardless of their record this weekend while MTU has to win the Broadmoor Trophy, given to the WCHA Playoff Champion, to continue to the NCAA’s.
    • If MTU were to make the NCAA Tournament, they are the host school in the Green Bay Midwest Regional and would be placed there.
North Dakota and Saint Cloud State (7:07):  Mike Lee and the Huskies appear to have saved their best hockey for the right time of the year, but unfortunately they are playing the UND Men's Hockey Team who also appears to be peaking right in time for the playoffs. Both teams have solid defense with good goal tending. The top line of SCSU should be able to hang with North Dakota, so the game will probably turn into a battle of turnovers. I think that Cinderella Story for the Huskies will end with a close North Dakota win. I like both of these teams in a match-up against the Gophers and I think the Gophers playoff chances could be stopped Friday night.

Of note:
  • SCSU and UND are WCHA “rivals” so they played four times prior to this meeting.
  • The teams split both series during the regular season with SCSU winning both Friday night games and UND winning the Saturdays.
  • North Dakota is very likely in the NCAA Tournament regardless of their Final Five games while Saint Cloud needs to win the Broadmoor Trophy to keep their season going.
As for the Playoff Champion I think if UMD is able to stay out of the penalty box and kill the ones they do take they are primed to win the tournament. I am going to pick UMD to beat North Dakota in the Saturday final.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Looking Ahead to Furture Conference Tournaments

Bowling Green: What About the Cellar-Dwellers?

It is old news now that UMD will be in Saint Paul for the WCHA Final Five. The Bulldogs will play the winner of the Michigan Tech – Denver game Friday at 2:07 pm CDT.

The UMD series win was dramatic and expected over the purple Mavericks of Minnesota State – Mankato. With that first round out of the way, fans and athletes can look forward to the conference tournament.

I took some needed rest with my family after the weekend in preparation for nights away from home watching the next couple weekends of games. It was on that vacation that I had some time to think about things other than hockey. It is the times when you are not thinking of a subject that you get some of your clearest ideas. The idea, or opinion, that came to mind was the formats and drama of postseason college hockey tournaments.

Bowling Green really started this idea when the #11, and lowest, seed in the CCHA Tournament is, 1. In the CCHA tournament, and 2. Wins two rounds of games.

If Bowling Green were in Hockey East, they likely would not have even been invited to participate in the tournament. HEA is the only league that excludes a team, in their case the #9 finisher which is Vermont this season.

It would have been easy to eliminate #11 in the CCHA to get the pairings to an even ten, but the conference has worked a system where byes are assigned to higher seeds. Lower seeds then need to play two weekend of best-of-three series to make it to the final round. Not difficult and make for the potential for high dramatics as witnessed by Northern Michigan and Ferris State the last two weekends, BGSU’s “victims.”

Some may argue that the lower seeds had the chance to get in during the season and blew their chance. Likewise some may liken my opinion to give-everyone-a-trophy syndrome (GEAT). The fact is that these tournaments are there to see who really is the best team in the conference and award that team with an auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament. Remember, regular season champs no longer get an auto-bid too, but they are likely in based on their PWR except for the Atlantic Hockey Association.

My reply is simple, don’t you want the best? And how better to get the best than using best-of-three series to winnow down the participants before the final conference showcase tournaments? 

As much as I am partial to the Final Five, the CCHA model is pretty darn good even though it takes an extra weekend to play out. So future forward…

In 2013-14 we will have two new conferences, the Bi6 Ten and NCHC. Different proposals have been discussed for each and from those I have been privy to, most need some work.

The Bi6 Ten started with top two teams getting byes to the semi-finals and the remaining four duking it out in the best-of-three series. The winners of those series would face the top two seeds. Yes, every team gets in, but it is a six team league. This is a set-up for an anticlimactic finish.

So the league tried to spice up a six layer salad by putting every team together and having one big single elimination tournament. This, as I understand, is the current plan. Again, what are you going to do with six teams, but having single elimination from top to bottom will leave you in a CHA situation. Side-note: the CHA is a now extinct conference where the four members got together and played a simple single elimination tournament for their auto-bid. It often lead to Cinderella skating away with two wins on a weekend into the NCAA field.

Final word to the Bi6 Ten: Find more teams, six just doesn’t cut it for a big-time league tournament.

Move on now to the NCHC and their eight members. Eight is easy, just follow the old WCHA formula. Round one is site best-of-three for every team and the four left get together for the final round. The kicker here is talk has been to have a traveling final round, say maybe in Denver, Grand Forks and Saint Paul. And to be fair, I have not seen where the Denver tournament would be, Magness Arena or the Pepsi Center. One has to ask about money, which a big reason for these tournaments.

Let’s borrow trouble and say that the tournament final round is in Denver and the Pioneers aren’t playing. How will the league make enough money because people of Denver will not fill the arena to watch? Oh, yeah, there’s always Colorado College, just down the street, who might make the tournament. Will that be enough to justify the Pepsi Center if that is the thought?

But let’s borrow trouble the other way. What if the tournament is in Denver and both DU and CC make the tournament? The league then has the problem of too much demand and not enough supply if Magness is the destination.

OK, so the NCHC still has time to work those situations out. Let’s take on last look into the future and examine what is left of the WCHA.

The new WCHA will have nine members. Debate is still open to what will happen for the postseason, but current league commissioner Bruce McLeod did talk about dropping the #9 team just like in the HEA… That is called full circle and all thanks to #11 Bowling Green.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Playoffs For UMD Start With Mankato

MSUM Set to Make Thier Second Trip to Duluth

Time has gotten away from me this week, so here is an abbreviated column for the upcoming playoff weekend.

First off be sure to check out the All-WCHA teams from the conference online media at A Tradition of Excellence.

Secondly, UMD’s series with Mankato is an aberration in the new 12 team WCHA. Two teams will play a minimum of six games at a non-neutral site. UMD leads the season series 3-0-1 including a sweep the last time the purple Mavericks were in Duluth.

To the Stats! The StatPack for the weekend:

Images via Wikipedia: Bulldogs, WCHA, Mavericks
Predictions by Fiskness. The WCHA regular season has ended and now the second season is about to begin. This week will see all of the WCHA teams playing trying to earn a spot at the Final Five in St. Paul. It is expected that all of the games will be competitive and there will likely be a few upsets along the way. Just like filling out a college basketball bracket the winner finds the upsets, and that will be no different with this year’s WCHA playoffs predictions, finding the upsets is the key. I hope I am not over thinking things.

Alaska – Anchorage at Minnesota – Twin Cities: This is a rematch of last year’s first round playoffs that the Seawolves won. Only difference this year is that the Gophers are a much better team and the Seawolves are a much worse team. The Twin Cities was the one place the Seawolves would have picked to go on the road for the first round, but they do not have enough horses to keep up Minnesota. The Gophers will sweep the series easily.

Bemidji State at North Dakota: The Beavers went into last Saturday’s game knowing if they won, they would be at North Dakota and a loss they would go to Denver. Surprising to me that they won. The Beavers have not had much success against North Dakota going 2-22-1 all time against North Dakota, with one of the two wins coming this season in Bemidji and 1-14-1 in Grand Forks with the lone win in 1970. I don't see an upset here and would be very surprised if the Beavers are even able to get one win at the Ralph. In my opinion Tom Serratore made a coaching error by winning last Saturday's game in Anchorage as UND sweeps.

Michigan Tech at Colorado College: The Huskies stay in Colorado Springs for another round of games after getting swept by the Tigers last week. The Huskies managed a poor total of two goals in the two games last weekend. In order to win this weekend they will need to score more goals. The Tigers sweep last weekend was the first time since December 16 and 17 that the Tigers won back to back games. As much as it looks like the Huskies may have bonked, I think they will be able to get one win this weekend and if they can find their scoring they can get the upset. I pick CC to win the series in three games.

Nebraska – Omaha at Saint Cloud State: The tie by the Huskies last Saturday night along with the loss by the red Mavericks was enough to earn the Huskies home ice for the first round. It was also enough to make some of the Huskies players go so far as to say they were going to go all the way to Tampa in the post game interviews. I like confidence, but that might be a little over confident. The red Mavericks have struggles the last two weeks and it would be hard to think they can turn it around this weekend, but I think they will. Why? Because of the head coach. Yes, this really doesn't make sense to not pick the Huskies, but so many time this year the results of the weekend’s games have not made sense. I will pick the red Mavericks over the Huskies in three games.

Wisconsin at Denver: The Badgers split last weekend against the Gophers and gotten on a little hot streak by actually winning road games. The Pioneers went to Omaha last weekend and swept the red Mavericks. The Pioneers are a good hockey team and now have their big name goalie back in the net, but it does seem that Wisconsin has figured out how to win on the road. I think the Zengerle and Schultz will provide enough scoring for the Badgers to get two wins in three games to earn a trip to St. Paul.

Minnesota State – Mankato at Minnesota – Duluth: The Bulldogs had a chance to win a share of the MacNaughton last weekend, but played as if they had never stepped a skate on an Olympic size rink before earning a meager single point in the two games. The purple Mavericks have played much better in calendar year 2012, but last weekend was swept at the hands of the UND Men's Hockey Team. The purple Mavericks have a bunch of good young players, but do not have enough in the tank to keep up with the Bulldogs in Duluth in a UMD sweep.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

End of Regulation, Report Card Time

Bulldogs Have Areas to Work on Going Into Playoffs

UMD has reached the end of the regular season so it is time for the final grading period before finals, the playoffs.

The last report was easy as there was one loss during that period. This period is definitely not the same. UMD’s record over the last third of the season was 5-4-3. The Bulldogs end the regular season at 22-8-6 for second place in the WCHA.

Prior we talked about the possibilities for this UMD team to take the school’s first MacNaughton Cup since 1992-93 season. And if the championship was not reached, then second place would be a good place to end with the first round bye in the Final Five if the team makes it to Saint Paul. And so here they are, second place in hand and a first round series with Minnesota State – Mankato this weekend.

Our grades and comments for the last third of the season along with previous grades:

Offense: B (currently), A (second grading), A- (first grading). The offense is the least of any worries UMD fans may have. Over the period, the Bulldogs averaged 4.25 goals per game. Scoring is still spread out among players with three players in double digit goals and 10 with double digit point totals.

Of note:

  • Jack Connolly (18-37-55) is still the team points leader and is second in the nation one point behind the leader, Spencer Abbott of Maine. Jack is poised to break the 200 point barrier for his career; he currently has 192.
  • Travis Oleksuk (21-27-48) is tied with JT Brown (21-23-44) for the team goal leader.
  • Just as the last grading period, defensemen Brady Lamb, Scott Kishel and Wade Bergman are 6-8th on the team for points respectively.
  • The Bulldogs scoring offense is again leading the nation at 3.67 goals per game down from 3.96 at the last grading period.
Team Defense: B-, A, B+. The defense is holding up, but has started to look tired as of late. It is a long season and many of the defensemen are not used to being the regulars or are new to the team. The +/- numbers look pretty good, but there are a number of defensive breakdown seemingly every game. Turnovers have also been on the rise and have lead to many opponent goals.

Of note:

  • Scoring defense is 16th nationally at 2.54 goals allowed per game.
  • UMD went from no skaters on the negative side of the +/- to two with negatives.
  • JT Brown lead all skaters with a +27. Scott Kishel and Chris Casto are tied at +18 for defensemen.
Special Teams: D, C, B-. Absolutely the weakest part of UMD’s game. The power play shows life at times, but the team cannot take penalties because the penalty kill is really bad. UMD will have to work hard at staying out of the box going forward because the PK has cost the team more than one game late in the season.

Of note:

  • UMD is the 17th most penalized team in the nation averaging 14.4 minutes per game.
  • The Bulldogs were 32nd in the nation on the PP early in February. Since then, they have improved to 16th at 21.0% efficiency.
  • Of the 58 D-I teams, UMD is 53rd on PK. Wisconsin is the only WCHA team worse on the PK.
Goaltending: B+, A, B+. Reiter is still the man that UMD relies on and he keeps showing he is up to the task. He may not be as dominant as earlier in the season, but part of that is the players in front of him and some is on him. Looking towards the playoff run coming up, Kenny will have to be sharp to allow the Bulldogs to stay in games that will get tighter and tighter as time goes on.

When Reiter wasn’t available due to illness, Crandall stepped right in and secured a Bulldog win. Games like that let the team and fans know that if needed, Aaron can step up and play solidly.

Of note:

  • Reiter now has 3 shutouts for the season, all were in the first part of the year.
  • Team saves percentage is 0.904 and GAA is 2.51.
Coaching: A, A, A. We are convinced coaching is what brought this team up from the rocky start in October, to the unbeaten streak and landed them in second for the WCHA. Coaching will be even more important in the playoffs when players’ emotions run high and sometimes need a little calming down. But this team has been there before, right? Yes, but every college player must be grounded and focused from time to time.

Overall Team: B-, A, B+. Inconsistent play is plaguing this team. From game to game, or even from period to period, you just don’t know which UMD team will show up. When The Bulldogs are “on” they are good, but it is the mediocre play that comes all too often that marks down their grade here.

Looking Back. The WCHA Championship and MacNaughton Cup were well within reach, but some key missteps kept the Bulldogs from the cup. There were good wins like the sweep against a then surging Colorado College team, but it is the losses that seem to stick out in our minds: Saturday at UAA, the whole weekend against MTU and the thud at SCSU when the cup could have been eon via a tie in the standings.

The playoffs, final exams for this team, start this weekend. The next report card will be at the end of the season, hopefully again in April.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My All-WCHA Ballot

Below is my ballot for the WCHA bloggers All-WCHA Teams.  Look for the results on A Tradition of Excellence site Friday.

No secret that these honors teams are a center point for debate and disagreement. These are my picks and I welcome discussion below on my picks.

Thanks to A Tradition of Excellence for putting this together and thanks to everyone who supports WCHA Hockey.

All-WCHA First Team             All-WCHA Second Team

F – Jack Connolly – UMD         F – Brock Nelson – UND
F – Mark Zengerle – UW          F – JT Brown – UMD
F – Travis Oleksuk – UMD        F – Drew Shore – Denver
D – Ben Blood – UND             D – Nate Schmidt – UMTC
D – Justin Schultz – UW         D – Gabe Guentzel – CC
G – Kent Patterson – UMTC       G – Josh Thorimbert - CC

All-WCHA Third Team             All-WCHA Rookie Team
F – Matt White – UNO            F – Kyle Rau – UMTC
F – Ben Hanowski – SCSU         F – Caleb Herbert – UMD
F – Nick Bjugstad – UMTC        F – JP Lafontaine – MSUM
D – Joey LaLeggia – Denver      D – Joey LaLeggia – Denver
D – Brad Hunt – BSU             D – Andrew Prochno – SCSU
G – Kenny Reiter – UMD          G – Juho Olkinuora - Denver

Those left out because there just isn't enough room: 
  • Forwards Rylan Schwartz, Jason Zucker and Jaden Schwartz
  • Defenseman: Nick Jensen
  • Rookies: Jayson Megna and Ryan Faragher
Again, please comment below becaue this is usually a good discussion.

WCHA Player of the Year – Jack Connolly

WCHA Defensive Player of the Year – Justin Schultz

WCHA Rookie of the Year – Joey LaLeggia

WCHA Coach of the Year – Mel Pearson

*WCHA Goaltender of the Year will be the First Team Goaltender

Monday, March 5, 2012

Bigger Isn't Always Better

Bulldogs Lose Series to Saint Cloud 1-2 and 3-3 OT

The regular season is over and it ended anticlimactically for UMD. The Bulldogs came into the weekend knowing that they could finish no lower than second. With their tie Saturday, the tie breaker over Denver was not needed as UMD won second outright even with the Denver sweep at Nebraska – Omaha.

Hendrickson Leads Bulldogs at the Faceoff
at Saint Cloud State Last Weekend
Conversely, the Bulldogs weekend opponent, Saint Cloud State, had a very thrilling end to the regular season. The drama stemmed from the Huskies run at the end of the season to gain home ice. The thrilling and technology laden finish to Saturday’s game is documented by USCHO. In the end, the tie was all that SCSU needed to gain home ice.

UMD had the chance at their own dramatics with the chance to tie for, or win outright, the WCHA Championship. As it turns out, the best they could have done is tied the Gophers, but that still would have been a WCHA Championship. But flat-out, the Bulldogs were fortunate to leave Saint Cloud with one point.

The Bulldogs started both games flat and fell behind in both. UMD did step up their play both nights, but it wasn’t sustained for more than half a period.

The one area where the ice size was not a factor was at the faceoff dots. UMD won over two-thirds of the faceoffs for the weekend. It was definately a bright spot for the team and a good way to turn the offense around when the playoffs start.

The most disappointing part of UMD’s play on the weekend was their special play. Many times it looked as if the Bulldogs had never played on an Olympic sized rink. They took bad angles to start the breakout on the boards, misplayed SCSU players coming into the zone and weren’t ready or able to cover all Husky players. In all cases, they looked bad.

It is hard to believe that 15 feet extra width can make that much of a difference. Many of us at the games talked it over and time and time again it came back to bad angles led to missing the play or defensive breakdowns for the Bulldogs.

The good news is UMD will not play on an Olympic sized rink the rest of the season. The bad news could be that the Bulldogs still have not been able to recreate what they had going earlier in the season. But it is the end of the regular season and it is time to focus on the second season, the playoffs.

Mankato to Duluth Next. Mankato is one of three teams UMD played four games against this season and now they will face off again in a best-of-three in Duluth. UMD won the season series 3-0-1 and were 2-0-0 in Duluth.

Mankato is coming in after being swept by North Dakota last weekend.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Expanding in Saint Cloud

UMD Trip to SCSU Coincides with Ground Breaking for Renevated NHC

Time is tight and its Friday already. Here I finally am writing for this weekend that has similarities to my column, time is running out.

Jack Connolly and the Bulldogs look to finish the regular season
off with a sweep (College Hockey HighHorse: Doyle Freemyer)
It is the final weekend of the regular season in the WCHA and there are still many items to take care of. Some teams are fighting for home ice, some are jockeying for position and two teams are vying for the MacNaughton Cup.

Let’s be real here and break down the conference championship to the Gophers are in the driver’s seat and Bulldogs are in the back for the ride. UMD has no lower than #2 locked up, basically no chance of gaining the #1 seed and has an outside shot at sharing the MacNaughton Cup.

Let’s not diminish the #2 seed, it is a great achievement and will come in handy when the WCHA playoffs come next weekend. But between now and the playoffs, UMD has to play two games at Saint Cloud, a place that has not been kind to UMD teams over the last decade.

Since the last UMD sweep at SCSU in fall of 1999, UMD is 5-14-1 at the National Hockey Center...yikes. Is it even worth breaking that streak down? Of course not, because this UMD team is a road team. This season the Bulldogs are 10-2-4 away from Duluth.

This could be the year that UMD see success in Saint Cloud again or it could be a bad weekend? What happens if UMD loses or ties tonight and UMTC wins? Will UMD mail in their Saturday night effort? It is too late in the season to have a letdown if UMTC wins the cup outright after tonight. The UMD performance between their 17 game unbeaten streak and their current five game unbeaten streak, which was 3-4-1, should be reminder enough that a team cannot take anything for granted. Just look at the Packers result after coasting into the playoffs…I had to get that one in there.

By the Numbers. We look at the SCSU – UMD match-up by the numbers with this week’s Statpack:

Images via Wikipedia: Bulldog, WCHA, SCSU
Of note:
  • UMD may be second in the WCHA and SCSU is eighth, but the Huskies are getting some good goaltending.
  • UMD continues to be the team scoring leader in the nation and 17th in scoring defense.
Picks by Fiskness. Last weekend's games did not have too many surprises, but perhaps the biggest was the Badgers getting the sweep in Bemidji moving them up to ninth place. It will be interesting to see if the Badgers finally figured something out about winning on the road, or if the rigors of the season finally got to the Beavers.

On all accounts the Bulldogs has played recently more like the team that was on the 17 game undefeated streak and not like the team that had been basically .500 since the streak ended. It has been encouraging to see the Travis Oleksuk grow into one of the top forwards in the league and maybe the best at winning faceoffs. His play will be a big factor in the post season for UMD.

The final weekend of the regular season in the WCHA has made for some great matchups. There is still a lot at stake for most of the league. The only spot in the standings that is locked up is Anchorage for 12th place; all the other teams still have a chance to move up or down. The Bulldogs still have a chance for the league title and will basically have to win both games to get it from the Gophers. They will need to stay focused and not do any scoreboard watching during their game. If the Gophers do fall to the Badgers Friday night and the Bulldogs win in St. Cloud it will create great drama for Saturday night for the games in Minneapolis and Saint Cloud.

Minnesota – Duluth at Saint Cloud State: The Bulldogs power play seems to be getting revved up at the right time helping them earn a sweep last weekend over the Tigers. The Huskies played the other Huskies and got a split last weekend. The SCSU Huskies seem to be coming together as a team and the National Sport Center is always a tough place for a road team. The Huskies still have a chance at home ice and will be pumped up for this weekend. It will be interesting to see what UMD comes to play, the team with 10-2-4 road record or the one that knows it can't be any worse than second place. I think it will be a split.

Michigan Tech at Colorado College: The playoff implications for this series are huge. The Huskies are going to Colorado Springs trailing the Tigers by just one point in the standings. The Tigers are definitely slumping and looking for consistent goaltending. CC is a team that has played pretty well at home over the course of the season and the Huskies got a win last weekend which was their first win since February 4th. Is this a sign that they are back on the winning side? Ultimately I think this series will be a split as neither team is consistent enough to get a sweep.

Bemidji State at Alaska – Anchorage: The Seawolves have nothing to play for except be a spoiler. The Beavers are hoping to move up in the final standings with a sweep. The Beavers have been the better team all season, but they seem to be running out of steam at the wrong time of the year. The trip to Anchorage is always tough but I don't think the Seawolves can put together back to back winning effort so I expect to see a split in the series.

Wisconsin at Minnesota – Twin Cities: The Badgers had an impressive sweep of the Beavers last weekend running their road win total to three for the season. Meanwhile the Gophers also had an impressive sweep of UNO on the road as well. The Badger's can move up in the standings however they know they will be playing the first round of the playoffs on the road. But of course this is a rivalry series where you throw all records out the window. So, with Nick Bjugstad banged up and uncertain for this weekend I will pick the Gophers to earn 3 points with a win and tie thus winning the MacNaughton.

Mankato State at North Dakota: The purple Mavericks are currently in 11th place and with a sweep could get as high as a tie for ninth if those ahead of them fall. The Mavericks do seem to be playing better hockey since the Calendar changed to 2012 and down the end run, also with last week off they should be rested. North Dakota split last weekend in Denver and with a split this weekend they could move up as high as third place in the final standings. With the games at the Ralph the advantage goes to North Dakota, but I think the purple Mavericks will have enough to get a split.

Denver at Nebraska – Omaha: The red Mavericks are five points behind the Pioneers and tied for sixth place. The Mavericks are coming off a very disappointing home sweep at the hands of the Gophers and are hoping to turn things around. Denver is in third place and knowing that that will remain in third even with a sweep due to tiebreakers. I think as UNO has more to play for this weekend they will be energized, but their goal tending is not steady enough to get a sweep. This will be a split.