After a Frozen Four run in 2004, the UMD men's hockey team entered the 2004-2005 season with high expectations, easily the highest expectations in Scott Sandelin's time as UMD head coach. With eleven seniors back who had combined for 273 points in the Frozen Four season (an average of almost 25 points per player), fans had good reason to expect big things from the team.
The result? A 15-17-6 record, and a season that came to an end with a playoff sweep at the hands of low-scoring North Dakota. The 'Dogs were beaten in the two-game series by a combined score of 14-3.
So much for high expectations. A season that had "Columbus" written all over it in the summer came to an end before the WCHA Final Five.
With that in mind, it's time to play The Blame Game: UMD Edition. After all, a disappointment like this doesn't just happen. It has to be someone's fault.
The 11 seniors: Schwabe, Peluso, Brosz, Hammond, Stauffacher, Anderson, Miskovich, Caig, Hambly, Smith, and Petruic are the eleven players in question. With speculation rampant (from very reliable sources) that at least some in this group didn't work hard in the offseason, you have to at least start looking this way. I'm not going to single guys out, but the group went from 273 combined points last season to 179 this season. Only three of the eleven actually increased their point production from the previous season. With the news that at least some didn't show up in very good physical condition for the start of practice, combined with things we saw out of them on the ice during games, the bulk of the blame has to be laid at their feet. If the only crime was a couple guys not being in shape in September, UMD would still be playing. The series against North Dakota was symbolic of the season, as the team got down on themselves as soon as UND got a couple bounces to go their way. Flat play and uncharacteristic mistakes were the rule this season, instead of the exception. Discipline was lacking, both on and off the ice. The leadership didn't get the job done, and that falls on the feet of the seniors. Blame: 55%
Goaltending: Neither Issac Reichmuth nor Josh Johnson played terribly this season, but neither stood out. Both goaltenders had streaks of good play, with Johnson stepping up after a poor outing and nearly getting a shutout against St. Cloud State, and Reichmuth playing well in the team's last two regular-season series. But both were subpar for much of the season, failing to keep the team in close games, and failing to help hold leads. Both had a propensity for giving up poorly timed goals, and both gave up their share of soft goals. Soft goals can be killer, especially when your team isn't scoring many goals of their own. I've maintained for much of the season that the goalies deserve more of the blame than people are placing on them. The focus was on the sputtering offense so much, that many forgot how good UMD's goaltending was in 2003-2004. If UMD could have gotten that kind of play out of Reichmuth and Johnson, they might still be playing now, though they still wouldn't have gone far without better play from the five skaters in front of the goalies. Blame: 25%
Injuries: While the core of the team was able to stay healthy, UMD was forced to play almost the entire season without defenseman Ryan Geris, whose career came to an end because of concussion problems. They also faced time without freshmen Matt McKnight, Mike Curry, and Blair LeFebvre, along with sophomore forward Bryan McGregor. Though the team always had enough players available to field four full lines and three defensive pairings, its depth was tested early and often, and injuries did play a role in the line-juggling that dominated UMD's season. Blame: 10%
Coaching: Sandelin won the Spencer Penrose Award, and Steve Rohlik and Lee Davidson have made their mark both as assistant coaches and as recruiters. I don't think these guys suddenly forgot what they were doing this season. However, the bottom line is that the team failed to come anywhere near meeting expectations. Some of that falls at the feet of the three men in suits who stand behind the player bench every night. For some reason, they couldn't connect with the players and push the right buttons. Blame: 10%
This season was a letdown almost from start to finish. When the clock hit 0:00 in Grand Forks on Saturday, I felt relieved. I'll miss the seniors, and I thank them for all the good things they did (great run at the end of the 2002-2003 season, Frozen Four the next). But it was a season that needed to end. We all need to move on, and there are reasons to be excited about UMD hockey.
Eleven seniors means plenty of holes to fill in 2005-2006. UMD has eleven committed for next season, including Duluth News Tribune Area Player of the Year Matt Niskanen (Virginia/MIB). Niskanen is a two-way defenseman who will see plenty of ice time as a freshman. Some players are clearly not ready to play Division I hockey when they're in high school. Niskanen is not only ready to play now, but he might have been ready to make the jump as a sophomore. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more mature, level-headed high school senior in the state. He should make an immediate impact when he pulls on the UMD jersey.
The other ten are listed here in order of expected impact on the UMD lineup:
Michael Gergen - 6' - 185 lbs - Shattuck-St. Mary's - Forward
Mason Raymond - 5'11" - 170 lbs - Camrose (AJHL) - Forward
Jared Boll - 6'2" - 180 lbs - Lincoln (USHL) - Forward
Andrew Carroll - 6' - 187 lbs - Sioux Falls (USHL) - Forward
Nick Kemp - 6'2" - 205 lbs - Sioux City (USHL) - Forward
MacGregor Sharp - 6'1" - 195 lbs - Camrose (AJHL) - Forward
Jason Garrison - 6'2" - 205 lbs - Nanaimo (BCHL) - Defenseman
Matt Greer - 6'1" - 183 lbs - Des Moines (USHL) - Forward
Josh Meyers - 6'3" - 180 lbs - Sioux City (USHL) - Defenseman
From what I've heard, Boll is a big, nasty forward who likes to play the physical style of hockey and doesn't mind hanging out in front of the opponent's net to cause trouble. Kemp is another power forward who will cause problems out in front of the net. Gergen might be the superstar of this group if Niskanen isn't. He has tremendous natural ability. Great scorer who gets his teammates involved. Sharp and Greer might be the most underrated players in this class. Meyers will be a huge factor if he can put on some lbs (6'3" and only 180 says "skin and bones" to me).
I'm guessing UMD will be opening the season on or around the weekend of October 7-8. It can't come soon enough for this season-ticket holder.