Friday, December 11, 2015

Bulldogs Host the Fighting Hawks

This weekend will mark the first series for the Bulldogs against the Fighting Hawks.  The Bulldogs are finally playing how the Bulldog faithful had expected this season.  The Fighting Hawks are playing very good this season as well and this will be a tough series for the Bulldogs.

#6 St. Cloud State @ #11 Denver:  The Pioneers are a better team at home, but the Huskies have played good both on the road and at home.  This will series will come down to special teams and goal tending.  I like this one ending in a split. 

#4 North Dakota @ #17 Minnesota Duluth:  If the Bulldogs can keep the scoring going and not get frustrated resulting in making mental errors they can beat anybody.  However, the Fighting Hawks are to good to get swept, so it will be a split.

Colorado College @ Western Michigan:  The Tigers are on a tear after losing the first 13 games of the season and now going to Kalamazoo to face the Broncos who have lost eight in a row.  The momentum will carry the Tigers into getting a split this weekend. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Bulldogs host the Broncos

The Bulldogs return to action this weekend after a weekend of rest.  In their most recent Bulldog series against the Colorado College Tigers the Bulldogs did exatly what they should playing a less talented team, two shutout wins. This weekend will be much tougher playing the Broncos from Western Michigan who play style of hockey that can be difficult for UMD to handle.  Hopefully the rest will have the Bulldogs playing fast paced and sticking to their game plan dictating the tempo.

Western Michigan @ #17 Minnesota Duluth:  The Broncos have not been good on the road and the Bulldogs haven't been very good at home.  The Bulldogs should get a sweep, but until they show me they can win two in a row at home I will pick a split.

#9 Denver @ #4 North Dakota: Both teams a playing very good hockey right now and this will a great series.  Home ice favors the Fighting Hawks, but the Pioneers will earn a split.

#6 Nebraska Omaha @ #7 St Cloud State:  Another great NCHC series.  Both teams are hot so this series will end in a split.

#RV Miami @ Colorado College:  Last weekend The Tigers picked up their first win of the season.  Maybe this will provide some momentum into this weekend.  Until the Tigers win a conference game I will pick against them, Redhawks sweep.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Western Michigan Nemesis for Bulldogs

WMU Style Tough Matchup for Bulldogs

Since the inception of the NCHC, it is Western that has been the most puzzling team for UMD to solve.  Their size, their trap, their slow-it-down slug-it-out style frustrate the speedy Bulldogs.

Nebraska-Omaha, arguably one of best teams in the NCHC, is a team much like UMD, fast and talented.  Their only loses of the season are against the Broncos of Western Michigan.  And UNO is a beefy 11-2-1 overall.

UMD needs to stay patient and not press too hard this weekend, because that is when WMU scores, when the opponent leaves an odd-man rush opportunity.

Unfortunately, UMD can't afford many more losses and this weekend will be a challenge for them.

Picks by @afiskness:
The Bulldogs return to action this weekend after a weekend of rest.  In their most recent Bulldog series against the Colorado College Tigers the Bulldogs did exactly what they should playing a less talented team, two shutout wins. This weekend will be much tougher playing the Broncos from Western Michigan who play style of hockey that can be difficult for UMD to handle.  Hopefully the rest will have the Bulldogs playing fast paced and sticking to their game plan dictating the tempo.

Western Michigan @ Minnesota Duluth:  The Broncos have not been good on the road and the Bulldogs haven't been very good at home.  The Bulldogs should get a sweep, but until they show me they can win two in a row at home I will pick a split.

Denver @ North Dakota: Both teams a playing very good hockey right now and this will a great series.  Home ice favors the Fighting Hawks, but the Pioneers will earn a split.

Nebraska Omaha @ St Cloud State:  Another great NCHC series.  Both teams are hot so this series will end in a split.

Miami @ Colorado College:  Last weekend The Tigers picked up their first win of the season.  Maybe this will provide some momentum into this weekend.  Until the Tigers win a conference game I will pick against them, Redhawks sweep.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Time to buckle down

It is probably too early for Bulldog fans too panic after last weekends sweep at the hands of the Mavericks, but the results do suggest it could be a long season.  There is plenty of time on the season for the Bulldogs to go on a winning streak, which will be needed if the team has any thoughts remaining about winning the Spencer and Julie Penrose Memorial Cup.  Each of the last two season the winner of the regular season and the Cup has only had six conference losses.  Now with two losses a long winning streak is in order.  As for NCAAs from my observations of the Bulldogs and the NCHC play This season I am guessing there will be four NCHC teams in the NCAAs.  Additionally, I think it will take 21 wins or more for NCHCs teams to make it in.  Moral of the story is the Bulldogs better just start winning.

#8 Denver @ #13 Minnesota Duluth:  On paper this is a great match up, I hope it is the same on the ice.  The Bulldogs average defensive play and poor special  teams play has been hampering this team.  I think they can get fired up for one game and earn a split against a very good Pioneers team.  Split.

#9 St. Cloud State @ #RV Western Michigan: The slow down game of the Broncos at home will get them a split against the Huskies.

#17 Miami @ #3 North Dakota:  The big question after North Dakota's games last weekend is this team over rated or did the Badgers somehow figure things out?  North Dakota will face a much tougher Redhawks team this weekend.  I will play it safe and pick a split.   


Friday, October 30, 2015

UMD Hosts UMass Lowell

Weekend Marks Second Straight Weekend of Hockey East Opponent

Two ties.  Never would have predicted it.  But now UMD has to move on to their second Hockey East opponent in as many weeks, UMass Lowell.  For the good, the games are at home which is unusual for this season's Bulldog team who have played four of their first five on the road.

The RiverHawks present an unusual challenge for the Bulldogs.  UMass Lowell is an unknown opponent who is a defensive juggernaut so far this season.  Their competition arguably has not been upper echelon except for last weekend against Merrimack in a tie-fest just like UMD and Notre Dame.  Whereas both Bulldog-Irish games were 3-3, both Merrimack-Lowell games were 1-1.  In fact the RiverHawks have surrendered five goals in five games.

Conversely, UMass Lowell is having struggles on offense, though they don't need much with their defensive play so far.  Unbeaten at 3-0-2, the RiverHawks have only scored 10 goals in five games.

UMD can score, but can also be frustrating to watch on defense.  It is no mystery that the Bulldogs will likely have to play two tight, full 60 minute games to pull off a sweep.

StatPack. Break down of stats for UMD and UMass Lowell:

Of Note:

  • UMD may be struggling on the PP, but it would be nice to break the RiverHawks 100% PK
  • The Bulldogs are 26th in the nation for scoring offense, 5th in the NCHC
  • UMass Lowell is 2nd in the nation in scoring defense
Picks by @afiskness.  It is the Halloween weekend and NCHC season starts for some of the teams beginning the race for the Spencer and Julie Penrose Memorial Cup.  It will be a grind.  I like that UMD has another weekend of non-conference play to get the scoring figured out before taking on NCHC foes.  

North Dakota @ Colorado College:  The Tigers are bad and North Dakota is good,  This will be a sweep by North Dakota. 

Miami @ St. Cloud State:  Last weekend the Huskies were thumped out east by the Bobcats of Quinnpiac and the Redhawks split with the Saints of St. Lawrence.  I think these teams match up well will be a split, unless Charlie Lindgren can find the touch again.  Split.

Nebraska Omaha @ Western Michigan:  The Mavericks are the best team in the country right now, just a stick blade ahead of the Bobcats in my opinion, but playing their old CCHA rival at the Lawson Ice Arena is always tough.  The slow down game of the Broncos will earn them a split.  

Denver @ Boston College and @ Boston University:  The Pioneers take on two high ranked Hockey East teams in a pair of games that will likely have significant importance in the Pair Rankings come the end of the year.  I like the Eagles to win at home on Friday, but the Pioneers to beat the Terriers on Saturday.  

Massachusetts Lowell @ Minnesota Duluth:  Both teams are coming off a pair of ties last weekend and that is likely to happen again this weekend.  But I will pick a split instead. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Bulldogs Travel to Irish for Weekend

First of Two Straight Weekends of Hockey East Opponents

Early in the season is a tough time to make heads or tails of the NCAA hockey teams.  So little has been seen or so few stats accumulated it is hard to make patterns out.

That being said, UMD faces a tough opponent in Notre Dame and being on the road is not not new to this Bulldog team, but will give them an added challenge.

Look for early season indicators if UMD is ready for the high praise they are receiving from national polls and wonks.

Picks by @afiskness.  UMD fans are happy to see that the Taconite Trophy will remain in Duluth! Last weeks performance for the Bulldogs was exactly what the team needed.  The Bulldogs dominated the Gophers from the Twin Cities and hope to use this momentum on their trip this weekend to South Bend.

Minnesota Duluth @ Notre Dame:  Last weekend the Bulldogs showed why they were #2 team in the preseason poll with a pair of dominating wins against the Gophers.  The Compton Family Ice Center is always a tough place to play, but I think the larger than standard North American rink size will play to the Bulldogs advantage.  I will pick a UMD sweep.  

Western Michigan @ Clarkson:  The Broncos are heading to Potsdam, New York to take on Clarkson from ECAC.  I know that the Broncos will look to slow the game down as that is what they do, but I don't know what to expect from the Golden Knights.  The Golden Knights last weekend were crushed by the Warriors of Merrimack but followed that up with a nice win against the Wildcats of New Hampshire.  Because it is a road series for the Broncos I will go with a split.  

Miami @ St. Lawrence:  This is a great match up of two ranked teams from the NCHC and ECAC. The Redhawks are coming off a sweep of the win less Ohio State and St. Lawrence a win and loss last weekend against Hockey East opponents.  This will be a tough trip to Canton, New York for the Redhawks.  I will go with a split.  

St. Cloud State @ Quinnipiac:  This should be another a very good series for NCHC versus ECAC teams.  Charlie Lindgren and the Huskies are on fire, but the Bobcats are not a slouch.  The home ice for the Bobcats at the High Point Solutions Arena should help them earn a tough played split.  

North Dakota @ Vermont:  Last weekend the Catamounts were swept by the Mavericks of Omaha and now they face North Dakota.  I don't think the home ice will be enough for the Catamounts as North Dakota will sweep.

Air Force @ Nebraska Omaha:  The Falcons have upset one NCHC foe already this year, but the Mavericks are red hot and they are my pick as the top team in the country.  Mavericks sweep.

Boston College @ Colorado College:  The Eagles will have little difficulty dispatching the Tigers this weekend in a sweep. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Two Winless Teams, Something Has To Give

Instate Rivals Both Bring 0-1 records to Home and Home Weekend

What promised to be the triumphant return to the rinks for the then #2 ranked UMD Bulldogs was a power outage. Not the type that we may talk about during the season regarding the power play, but a legitimate power outage. Soft ice, no pop, no popcorn, etc. leads to no game.

Someone must have forgotten to pay the bill for the team's energy also as a lackluster 2-3 loss to Bemidji at BSU ensued Saturday last weekend.

So let us loo to this weekend as the start of the season and hope that one loss doesn't hamper chances for the spring!

Of note:
  • This will be the only meetings for UMD and UMTC unless they meet again in the NCAA Tournament like last season's UMD win.
StatPack.  Still too early for anywhere close to meaningful stats. Next week.

Picks by @afiskness. After watching the Bulldogs play the Beavers in Bemidji I came to the conclusion that I should not jump to conclusions.  By jumping to conclusions I would say it is going to be a long season for Bulldog fans, but I am not doing that.  There is a lot of improvement needed by the Bulldogs to live up to the high preseason rankings.  I know it is early, but we all know the conference schedule will be a monster, so these games will be the ones in all likelihood determine if they make the NCAA tournament or not.  If UMD continues to take penalties in the 20 minutes per game range, they will not be a top 10 team in the NCAAs.  

North Dakota vs. Bemidji States (home/home):  Last week North Dakota played good hockey and the Beavers played well enough to get a win.  I think this might be evenly matched series I will pick a split with the home teams winning.  

Michigan State @ Denver:  The home ice should help the Pioneers, but the Spartans are one team I like in the Big Ten this year.  I will pick a split. 

Minnesota State University Mankato @ Saint Cloud State:  The Mavericks were completely out matched last weekend and I don't think they will be able to bounce back against the Huskies.  I will go with a Huskies sweep.  

Colorado College @ Massachusetts Lowell:  The Tigers do not appear to be good meanwhile the Riverhawks are really good, Riverhawks sweep.

Minnesota Duluth vs Minnesota Twin Cities (home/home):  The chant at both rinks for this series should be "Overrated".  The Bulldogs in recent years have played well against the Gophers, but based on what I saw last week the Bulldogs have a lot of room for improvement.  I won't pick two ties so, I will go with a split with the road teams winning.  

Nebraska Omaha @ Vermont:  The Mavericks played like the #1 team in the country last weekend and the Catamounts faced a Gopher team that needs sometime to figure out who they are.  I will pick a Nebraska Omaha win and tie. 

#18 Miami vs Ohio State (home/home):  These Ohio rivals should be a good series.  I think the teams match up well this early in the season.  I like a split with the home teams winning this weekend.    

Friday, October 9, 2015

Start It Up!

UMD Comes Into First Weekend With High Expectations

With 11 seniors, the Bulldogs are looking to be a force in the NCHC and nationally.  It has been the trend in recent seasons that the teams that make it to play in April are those with seasoned leadership.  Check.

But it is no guarantee.  Look back to 2004-05 season that was full of promise after a Frozen Four appearance and a Hobey Baker to Junior Lessard.  That UMD squad was highly touted in the preseason and the praise stopped there.  With discord in the locker room and loads of individual play, not team play, the Bulldogs finished a disappointing sixth out of ten teams.  The season ended with two lopsided losses at North Dakota in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

The season is still to be shaped and I am convinced the leaders of the 2015-16 squad won't let history repeat, even it may be ancient history to these seniors.

Of Note:

  • UMD has not started a season 2-0-0 since 2001-02.
  • The Bulldogs are on a four games winless streak (0-3-1) against the Beavers.  Last season's lone meeting was a BSU 4-0 win in the North Star College Cup.

StatPack.  Returns next week after some new stats are generated for the new season.

Picks by @afiskness. 

Denver vs Air Force (home/home):  Denver is the better team in this rivalry, but the Falcons will not be a push over.  I will go with a Pioneers sweep.

Massachusetts @ Colorado College:  I keep hearing about how good all of the NCHC teams are and that even the teams at the wrong end of the standings are so good.  It a new season maybe the Tigers will be that good.  Based on the Minute Men being very young and picked to finish last in Hockey East I am going with a Tigers sweep.  If this happens watch for the body clock excuse.

Nebraska Omaha @ Minnesota State University Mankato:  The battle of the Mavericks!  This is the best series for the weekend.  Both teams are highly ranked with the purple cows the preseason favorites to win the WCHA.  I like the red cows scoring ability, but will they find any goaltending?  I will go with a split. 

Providence @ Miami:  The reigning NCAA champs go to Oxford, Ohio and play a highly ranked NCHC team and it is not the premier matchup of the weekend?  They don't share a nickname, so this is the 2nd best series.  Both teams lost a lot but should have depth.  I will go with a split. 

Bemidji vs. Minnesota Duluth (home/home):  The Bulldogs are picked to win the NCHC and are very highly ranked nationally, so now will the team live up to the hype?  The Beavers always paly UMD tough even when the Bulldogs have proven to be the much better team.  Since it is a new season and I don't have to remember past failures, I will officially go with a UMD sweep.  Likely it will be a split with road teams winning.

Ferris State vs. Western Michigan (home/home):  The Bulldogs start a the season with a new goalie replacing CJ Motte, this is a tall order to fill.  The Broncos have been a rough and tumble lower scoring team one that can probably be expected again this year.  I like the Broncos in both games in against a Bulldog team that will likely struggle to score and looking for a new goalie to take over the job.  Broncos sweep.

Lake Superior State vs. North Dakota, North Dakota vs. Maine:  North Dakota has a new coach and did lose a bunch of talent, but they always seem to be able to bring in new players to fill the holes.  The Lakers have a lot of holes to fill and were at the bottom of the WCHA last year.  I pick a North Dakota win.  The second game of the tournament North Dakota takes on the Black Bear from Orono, Maine.  Maine is picked for 10th in Hockey East.  I will go with another North Dakota win.  

Kendall Hockey Classic
St. Cloud State vs. Alaska Fairbanks, St. Cloud State vs. Alaska Anchorage:  The Huskies are highly ranked again after losing a bunch of fire power last year and will be facing off against both Alaska teams in the Kendall Classic.  I don't think the Huskies have enough scoring to get two wins this weekend.  So I will go with a Huskies loss to the Nanooks and a win against the Seawolves.  

Tuesday 10/13/15
Bowling Green @ Western Michigan:  The Falcons go to Kalamazoo to take on the Bronco who will already have two games under their belt.  The Falcons are highly ranked and should be looking to improve on last years success.  I will go with a Falcons win.

Friday, March 27, 2015

UMD and UMTC Meet in NCAA First Round

As Their Seasons Started, One's Will End

The saying goes: keep your friends close and your enemies closer.  So why shouldn't the Bulldogs and Gophers be paired for their fifth game in a fifth arena and for the second time in the Eastern Time Zone?

It seems like years ago now, but the 50 or so people who were in attendance for the first game of the Ice Breaker Tournament in South Bend back in October saw the first step in a long season culminating in the newest, most important game for these rivals.

Both teams have seen successes and struggles this season.  Along the journey, UMD has posted a 3-1
Images via Wikipedia: Bulldog, NCAA, Gopher
record against UMTC.  Full season stat comparison is noted at right.

Maybe most luckily for the Gophers is their hot streak coincides with the start of the NCAAs.  While UMD has seen many struggles since the calendar turned to 2015.  8-9-3 since the start of the calendar year and one win in their last seven games, UMD needs a spark.

And that needed spark may be the return of Alex Iafallo, back from mono starting today against the Gophers.

Iafallo is tied for second in overall points (8G-17A-25pts) and tied for first in points per game (0.78) with line mate Dom Toninato who also missed games with an injury.  Toninato leads the team in goals with 16.

Bringing the pieces back into place, the promise of regaining the early season success is promising for Bulldog fans.

One piece that was great early and has been just good as of late is goaltending.

Freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo is the guy the team relies on.  And he will need to be on his game and get help from his defensemen to find the shutdown play he had consistently in November and December.

Ready for success that has been on the horizon most of the year, Bulldog fans are patiently waiting to find the right mix from early in the season.  If the season has to end, please be it not at the hands of the Gophers!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Annual NCAA Preview

New Way of Seeding NCAA Still Provides 16 Teams: Our Picks

After years of modest and not so modest boasting, the prognosticators of the NCAA field have been bested, or at least incorrect.  The Committee used creativity to create an NCAA bracket that had many with puzzled looks on their faces.

Nonetheless, the field has been set and now we get to sit back and enjoy the games.

As the annual tradition goes, Andy Fiskness and Andrew Craig make their picks and anyone filling out brackets should be aware that our track record is not very good.  A grain of salt should be taken.

Picks by @afiskness.  The final 16 teams have been announced and set for action.  The Bulldogs join in the fun after taking last weekend off. Hopefully the time off will help them focus.  Five other NCHC teams are set to play as well, including eight former WCHA teams.  This is showing that the tide might be turning back to the western teams for college hockey dominance.

NCHC Related Picks
Minnesota Twin Cities vs Minnesota Duluth: This is of course the fifth time they have played this season, each in a different arena.  Iafallo's return will give the Bulldogs much needed spark.  I think this game is a when you play them type of game and the Gophers are hot now.  I expect to see the Gophers come out like the third period of the North Star cup and end the UMD season.

Saint Cloud State vs Michigan Tech:  This is a great matchup.  The Huskies from Saint Cloud have found a stride and the Huskies from Houghton know how to score goals.  Tech feasted on their conference scoring 16 goals in a weekend against the Chargers and 15 against the Seawolves.  They also scored big in bunches in their wins against Big Ten opponents, Wisconsin and Michigan.  Saint Cloud's defense will be too much and they will get the win.

Quinnipiac vs North Dakota: If this game wasn't in Fargo this would be a Bobcat win, but I have to pick the suddenly struggling North Dakota Mens hockey team to win.

Boston College vs Denver: The Eagles are rested after watching the Hockey East Finals from their couches and the Pioneers are coming off a NCHC consolation championship.  I like the Pioneers to advance.  

Providence vs Miami: The Redhawks should be able to roll even with a short bench.

Havard vs Nebraska Omaha: The Crimson are coming off an ECAC championship and the Mavericks are rested after not making it to Minneapolis last weekend.  This game could be a coin toss after not knowing what Mavericks team will show up.  I will go with Mavericks win.   

@afiskness' Frozen Four:
Omaha, Miami, Boston University and North Dakota

Picks by Craig (@CollegeHockeyHH).  There is a marked change in the "balance of power" in college hockey this year towards the West.  This is evident in the entrants to the tourney and the non-conference results from the season.  That is not to say that an eastern team will not win it all, but looking at the probability simply from numbers the West has an advantage.

Looking at the draw, there is not clear-cut winners out of any region except for the West Region where I am confident North Dakota will prevail.

West Region:
Again this is the only seemingly easy one to pick.  Saint Cloud is on a roll, but the environment will be hostile just as the former name of the UND squad was.  And I am not even convinced SCSU will make it to Saturday.  At the end of a late day on Saturday, North Dakota will pull off a win over Michigan Tech.

Midwest Region:
I want to call this the weakest of the four regions, but maybe least competitive is a better describer?  Omaha is an enigma right now and they very well could come out of nowhere (Omaha, NE) and take the region, but they may also have a problem with Harvard in the first round.  In the end it will be Omaha advancing to face Mankato with the red Mavs of Omaha defying the odds and making the Frozen Four.

Northeast Region:
In what was expected to be the regional of the Boston teams (BU and BC), the bracket makers went away from bracket integrity and moved BC to the East Regional.  What is left is an interesting and most unexpected, meeting of intra-state rivals Minnesota Twin Cities and Minnesota Duluth.  Much has been made of the Bulldogs and Gophers upcoming fifth meeting in a fifth arena with UMD holding a 3-1 lead.  Even in their loss, the game was tilted in favor of UMD.  The Bulldogs will win the fifth meeting and take not he Terriers of BU Saturday with BU moving on.

East Regional:
The East arguably has the toughest region with Miami, Denver, and BC together.  Throw in Providence with the games in Providence, RI and it is top to bottom strong.  Keeping it short, Miami will lose to Providence fueling the fires of unrest among the college hockey faithful of Oxford, OH who are crying foul from the start moving Providence home for no reason other than attendance at the root.  Moving on, DU - BC game will also be regional winner and in this case it will be the team from the West, Denver.

@CollegeHockeyHH 's Frozen Four:
Omaha, Denver, Boston University and North Dakota

Friday, March 20, 2015

NCHC Frozen Faceoff Starts Today

@afiskness Gives His Analysis and Picks

The NCHC Frozen Faceoff has arrived, beginning later today in Minneapolis at the Target Center.  For the second year in tournaments existence the Bulldogs did not earn the right to play in the house of Da Kid.  This year though, the season is not over for UMD like last year since the Bulldogs will be in the NCAA playoffs.  

The Bulldogs this year have been up and down.  The first half of the season the team played quite well and scored at will.  The second half of the season the team struggled at times and was shutout in three games.  In fact since Christmas their record is 8-9-3.  Thankfully before Christmas the team played so well which kept their pairwise ranking high.

Now for this year's Frozen Faceoff any of the four teams have a chance to win as this is a very balanced field.  North Dakota is again the favorite, but the neutral ice will be a different environment then they are used to playing in.  I expect to see Saint Cloud jazzed up for their two games knowing that their NCAA playoffs are on the line.  Whereas the other three teams truly do have less at stake. 

An interesting byline in these conference tournaments will be attendance.  My guess is there will be nowhere close to a sell out at Target Center, Xcel Energy or Joe Lewis Arena this weekend for any game.  The Thursday night games at the Joe saw announced attendance of about 3,500 people.  

Saint Cloud State vs. North Dakota:  It is hard to pick against North Dakota but I think the Huskies really want this.  This game should have pretty good attendance even though it is the afternoon game and will mostly feel like a home crowd for North Dakota.  I will pick an upset with the Huskies winning.

Miami vs. Denver:  This is a rematch of last year’s championship game.  Denver has played really good hockey recently, but my gut says Redhawks. This year I think the Redhawks will get revenge and earn the right to play in the Championship game.

Third Place:  If my picks are right this will be two uninterested teams as both Denver and North Dakota have nothing to play for.  I will say this ends in a tie.

Championship:   I like the Redhawks to get past the Huskies and get the autobid to the NCAAs. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Post Break-up Landscape of College Hockey is Good

No Matter Who is to Blame, WCHA and NCHC are Benefitting

College hockey in the west became very wild two years ago when the WCHA broke up and CCHA disappeared.

The just completed regular seasons have proven that teams in the west can survive and thrive.  Currently in the PWR, the NCHC and WCHA have eight teams ranked in the top 16 including spots 1-5.

It may not have been the way that some school would want change to occur, but Minnesota State Mankato and Michigan Tech cannot be unhappy with their first and second place finishes respectively in the WCHA.  MSUM is currently #2 in the PWR and MTU #5.

The top rankings of WCHA teams is not from easy opponents either.  MSUM has played the 13th ranked strength of schedule (SOS) and owns the best overall winning percentage in the nation at 0.7714 (26-7-3).

Likewise, MTU has taken the schedule given and run with it achieving a 27-8-2 record, third best in the nation at 0.7473 winning percentage.  Now with the first home playoff series since 1993, MTU is on the verge of taking the next step to the WCHA Final Five and likely onto the NCAA Tournament.  A trip to the NCAA's would be the school's first since 1981.

On the other side of the West's story is the NCHC, arguably the most powerful conference in the nation.  Currently the NCHC is working on their sixth team in the top 16 of the PWR.  Most likely all six will not make it, but there is the distinct possibility that five will make the NCAA's.

The depth of the league is most demonstrated by Minnesota Duluth who is currently on the road at Denver for the first round of the NCHC Playoffs despite currently holding the #4 PWR position.  Fans around the western region have questioned the PWR math, but the SOS of the NCHC teams make it a reality.

The eight teams of the NCHC hold the top eight SOS positions in the nation.  The strength of the conference lies in the success of the members in non-conference games and the even play in conference.

Going into the last weekend of NCHC conference play, UMD had the chance to be anywhere from second to fifth.  Even with a win on the weekend, coupled with a loss, the Bulldogs still found themselves in fifth again a testament to the strength of the NCHC.

There continues to be banter and "inside knowledge" of big changes forthcoming in college hockey west, right now the WCHA and NCHC are basking in the limelight of conferences that came out of the fray in good shape and getting stronger.

DU Beats UMD 4-3: The "Goal" and the Season Opinions

UMD Allows Come-From-Ahead-Loss to DU 4-3

I am tired of the high road.  We tell the kids and the whiners that officials don't decide games, the players do.  How the players respond to situations and use their talent.

On Friday night in Denver, I have never been so sick of that high road on officiating mantra.

Ty Loney netted a hattrick with the third goal being the game winner.  The part of that last goal that sticks with me is the call.  It was a redirection by Loney of a Quentin Shore shot that appeared to be with a high stick.  Upon extended review by the officials, it was ruled a goal.

Upon re-review the next morning, I am still sick to my stomach watching the "goal."  Partial, yes, but this one looks easy.  What should make it an even easier no-goal call was watching Loney's reaction after the play.

When you score a hat trick and goal that gives your team their first lead of the game, you are going to celebrate.  Loney's first move was to look right at the official nearest him and skate off slowly, arms at his sides.  Signs that he knew his stick was high?  Yes.  He didn't even try to sell that it was a goal.

As he stood at the bench waiting for the review, you could see Loney's expression of growing confidence.  Like when you know you are getting a big break, a benefit of the doubt.  

Loney should not apologize for the goal nor should he go and admit that he believes it was a high stick, it is just one of this instances where the officials get in the way of the game.  Nothing was in the bag for UMD or DU at the time, so the Bulldogs could have lost anyway.  That is just not the way any team should have to lose a game.

Additionally, it would have been the second disallowed goal for the home team in the game.  If that had any bearing on the decision, it is ridiculous.  In fact I feel ridiculous writing it, but that thought crept in my mind last night and I haven't been able to shake it.

Trend or Mirage.  For the second time in Bulldog history, they went a whole regular season without being swept in a series.  The other being the National Championship season.

Through the wins, losses, and ties, the Bulldogs have built a resume that will most likely get them into the NCAA Tournament.  But does this feel like a team that has the fortitude to succeed in the playoffs?

Since the calendar turned to 2015, it is difficult to find that stretch of more than a game where the team looked the part of #4 in the PWR, currently a #1 see in an NCAA Regional.

There are players missing, especially now, but it has never felt like the team to beat.  The downside has seemingly always been greater, especially today.  Coming off the 3-0 lost at Western last Saturday with the captain Adam Krause's suspension for kneeing into last night's come from ahead loss that happened AT Denver because UMD could not finish in the top half of the conference, it may be a dour time for Bulldog fans.

Yes, UMD won a National Championship in 2011, but fans memories fade and tend to remember just the last games.  Hopefully, the 2014-15 Bulldogs can forget all that has happened and play in a new day today.