Thursday, October 27, 2005

College football - Week Nine preview

Sorry about last week. Really, I would have picked Alabama. But I had figured it would take at least one touchdown to beat Tennessee. I'll bet Les Miles feels really bad about that second-half performance right about now.

Anyway, no more UMD football for me. I take over as the play-by-play voice of UMD hockey starting Friday at Michigan Tech. It's a tremendous opportunity, and in the spirit of Freddie Mitchell, who this week was beat out by a guy named Taco for a chance to sign in Green Bay, I'd like to thank my voice for being so great.

I hope the football team does well. I thank the players, coaches, parents, and fans for all their great feedback and support this season. The coaches have been especially great in my conversations with them, and I want to thank the entire Bulldog football staff for putting up with me on those road trips to Chadron, Waterloo, Waterloo, and Mankato. It was a great experience that I wouldn't trade for anything.

And I can't wait to hit the UMD hockey travel itinerary next month (November 18-19 at Alaska-Anchorage; December 9-10 at Colorado College; December 27-28 at a tournament in Fort Meyers, Florida). It's going to be great!

On to this week's picks.

Viewing plans for this week
--> Boston College at Virginia Tech
--> Wisconsin at Illinois
--> North Carolina at Miami
--> Ohio State at Minnesota
--> Georgia vs Florida (taping)

The picks
Week Seven: 6-3
Season: 69-30

Thursday, October 27
Boston College at Virginia Tech--> Tech looked very good, especially on defense, in beating down Maryland last week. That was a quality road win that set up two huge home games for the Hokies. The first is against a BC team that just doesn't match up physically up front. The Hokies will use their defense to smother BC and create short fields for Marcus Vick and the offense. Tech still has a shot at the BCS title game, even if Texas and USC both win out.
The pick: Virginia Tech

Saturday, October 29
Wisconsin at Illinois--> I'm skeered to death of this game. The Badgers have a huge game against Penn State next week. They can't stop the run. Illinois is coming off a humiliating loss at home last week on national television. And they can run the ball a little bit there. This sets up as potentially a crushing loss for the Badgers, who have been playing with fire since their defense was exposed by Tyrell Sutton and Northwestern. But I don't have the guts to make the call.
The pick: Wisconsin

Ohio State at Minnesota--> The Buckeyes have a good run defense, which will be a great test for Laurence Maroney, Gary Russell, and that great Gopher line. But the Gophers rebounded from their crushing loss to Penn State with a resounding win over Michigan. They responded by losing in awful fashion to Wisconsin. I think they'll rebound again, as tOSU's offense is vastly overrated, and they won't be able to slow Maroney/Russell down enough.
The pick: Minnesota

Indiana at Michigan State--> So there's that Michigan State team we all know. Good to have you back, guys. Now take out your frustrations on Indiana, convince everyone you're really a good team, and blow your next halfways-important game. Just like every other year.
The pick: Michigan State

Purdue at Penn State--> The Nittany Lions prepare for what should be a showdown for a BCS bowl bid against Wisconsin next week by beating down the shockingly bad Boilermakers. Purdue's defense isn't nearly as good as we all thought it would be, and their offense has been miserable at times, especially when trying to use the forward pass. It's so bad that Tiller wants to trade for Michael Robinson.
The pick: Penn State

Michigan at Northwestern--> Northwestern's offense is really good. Conversely, their defense couldn't be any worse if they played blindfolded. Remember that 54-51 game these two teams played a few years back? That might happen again. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Wolverines are going to pull it out this time.
The pick: Michigan

Colorado at Kansas State--> It's a battle for Big 12 North supremacy! That's kind of like saying "It's a battle to see who's the coolest kid at the spelling bee!". I think Colorado is going to step to the top of this conference and earn the right to get destroyed by Texas in the title game.
The pick: Colorado

Georgia at Florida--> With Shockley sidelined, Georgia's rather average offense takes a step in the wrong direction. The Bulldogs have a great defense, and they'll keep Florida off the scoreboard for most of the game. But the Gators have a pretty good defense, too, and they've had some big wins recently in this series.
The pick: Florida

UCLA at Stanford--> Since losing to *chuckle* UC-Davis, Stanford has rebounded a bit. They're in the upper half of the Pac-10 standings, which goes to show how thin a conference this really is. UCLA has too many weapons for Stanford to slow them down, and I don't think the Bruins will be stupid enough to take Stanford lightly given how they've played recently.
The pick: UCLA

South Carolina at Tennessee--> Spurrier still has some work to do with the Gamecocks. They have a shot at a bowl game this year, but getting there won't be easy. And even given all the success Spurrier has had against Fulmer and the Vols, I don't think he has enough magic to pull one out this year.
The pick: Tennessee

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

BlogPoll: Week Eight and Nine...even though it's clearly Week Nine

Sorry. I went on vacation last week and didn't have time to post, well, anything. Not that it matters that much. My picks needed a week off, and there weren't any games this week that really intrigued me. The one that did (Tennessee-'Bama) absolutely sucked.

Here is the Week 8 ballot I submitted to BlogPoll.

Dropped out
20 Cal-->
22 Louisville-->
25 Colorado-->

The old Top 25
1. Southern Cal
2. Texas
3. Virginia Tech
4. Georgia
5. Alabama
6. Miami (Florida)
7. Louisiana State
9. Florida State
10. Notre Dame
11. Penn State
12. Ohio State
13. Oregon
14. Boston College
15. Auburn
16. Tennessee
17. Michigan State
18. Minnesota
19. Texas Tech
20. Texas Christian
21. West Virginia
22. Florida
23. Wisconsin
24. Fresno State
25. Texas A&M

Now, we'll move on to this week. The fact that Texas is now #1 in the BCS is exactly why I hate the BCS. What does a beatdown of not-yet-tested-by-a-good-team Texas Tech prove? USC has beaten three quality opponents on the road this year (Oregon, Arizona State, Notre Dame). They've beaten down practically everyone they've played. Texas beat a marginally decent Ohio State team on the road because Ohio State's quarterback sucks. What else have they done? They beat Rice. They beat the worst Oklahoma team since the John Blake Era. They beat Louisiana-Lafayette. And they're #1 in the BCS. Ugh.

Oh, and Arkansas State is one win away from being bowl-eligible. You've seen nothing until you've seen Jonesboro empty for a bowl game.

Dropped out
16 Tennessee--> I know their schedule has been really really really really hard, but the Volunteers are now 3-3, and they've lost Gerald Riggs for the season.

17 Michigan State--> Clearly, Northwestern is better than anyone thought. But 49-14? At home? Same ol' Michigan State.

19 Texas Tech--> What have I kept saying about this team? Beating Kansas State does not qualify someone as having beaten a good team, and they just lost their best test of the season by 35 points.

The new Top 25 ballot
1. Southern Cal (1 last week). Still the top dog until proven otherwise...
2. Texas (2). ...and beating down Texas Tech doesn't do it for me.
3. Virginia Tech (3). Got it done in a tough road environment.
4. UCLA (8). I keep waiting for everything to fall apart, but it hasn't...yet.
5. Georgia (4). Shockley's injury could be a killer against Florida.
6. Alabama (5). No team looked worse in a home victory.
7. Miami (Florida) (6). Nothing personal...UCLA deserved a jump.
8. Louisiana State (7). Nice OT win at home against Auburn. Good ballgame.
9. Florida State (9). I'm still not sold on this team.
10. Notre Dame (10). Brady Quinn: Wow. He's the next Kyle Boller.
11. Penn State (11). 56-3 halftime lead gives Penn State the second half off.
12. Ohio State (12). Road whipping of Indiana. Running game looked good, even though it wasn't much of a test.
13. Boston College (14). Flip flopping with the Ducks...
14. Oregon (13). ...because of the Clemens injury. I'll refrain from further judgment on Oregon's chances.
15. Texas Christian (20). Should win the Mountain West. What a way to debut in the new league.
16. West Virginia (21). Unless they slip like last year, WVU is heading to a BCS bowl.
17. Minnesota (18). Idle. Ready to beat Ohio State.
18. Auburn (15). Shouldn't be horribly penalized for OT loss at LSU.
19. Florida (22). Cocktail Party awaits.
20. Wisconsin (23). Still overrated. Just watch. Defense gave up another 200+ rushing yards, and was only bailed out by bad playcalling and worse execution by Purdue's passing game.
21. Fresno State (24). May be the class of the WAC. But so might Nevada. Doesn't say much for the WAC.
22. Texas A&M (25). Moved up by default.
23. Northwestern (NR). Damn.
24. Toledo (NR). Do you have any better ideas?
25. Rutgers (NR). Just wanted to see how this looked.

The Watch List
Texas Tech

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Tuesdays at the Rink

Don't forget about's regular "Tuesdays at the Rink" chats later today.

This week’s chats are with Alaska-Fairbanks coach Tavis MacMillan, fresh off a three-point weekend in Mariucci, and CSTV analyst Billy Jaffe. Billy will start at noon CT, followed by Coach MacMillan at 1 p.m. CT.

You can ask MacMillan why everyone says his team got three points in a non-conference series, and also ask him where he gets those suits (Doug Woog says they have some nice places up there, but I've never been there and am naturally curious now).

Then you can ask Jaffe his opinion on why Colorado College lost a home game this weekend and still moved up in the polls. While you're at it, find out what he thinks about Minnesota getting a first-place vote in the USCHO/CSTV poll even though they got outplayed at home by UAF. And see if he knows who the insane person is that gave UAF a first-place vote in that same poll.

Anyway, go to for the chats later today (Jaffe at 12pm CT, MacMillan at 1pm CT).

Friday, October 14, 2005

College football - Week Seven preview

Sorry about the lateness. But what do you care? You shouldn't be placing bets based on my game predictions, anyway. Well, unless you want to lose money.

Viewing plans this week
Believe it or not, I actually have viewing plans this week. I know. It's shocking. Someone who writes about college football and votes in a national poll is actually going to watch games. That would disqualify me from voting in the Harris poll, I guess. But the BlogPoll still loves me, and that's all that matters in the big picture.

Anyway, UMD is at home (to take on North Dakota, the best Division II football team around). And I don't have a hockey game to worry about. So I'll be home in time to catch at least the fourth quarter of the 2:30 CT games.

--> UTEP at Tulane
--> Wisconsin at Minnesota (taping)
--> USC at Notre Dame
--> Penn State at Michigan
--> Florida at LSU
--> Florida State at Virginia
--> Georgia at Vanderbilt
--> Oklahoma "at" Kansas

The picks
Last week: 5-7
Season: 63-27

Saturday, October 15
Wisconsin at Minnesota--> Had the Badgers actually played defense a week ago, I'd think differently about this game. But I think last week was a wakeup call for some young guys along the Badgers' defense who thought a bit too highly of themselves after five games. That, along with the fact that Laurence Maroney, unlike Tyrell Sutton, is a known product, means I expect Bielema to have his defense ready to play, and the Badgers will keep the Axe.
The pick: Wisconsin

Indiana at Iowa--> I really like how Terry Hoeppner has energized the IU program. However, I don't like his chances going on the road to play a real team. And despite their early-season problems, Iowa certainly qualifies as a "real team". They are coming off a big win last week, and they'll build off that momentum.
The pick: Iowa

Michigan State at Ohio State--> One team has a great defense. One team doesn't. Usually, the great defense will win. But the difference between these two teams at the quarterback position is unbelieveable. I don't know how tOSU can slow Drew Stanton down enough to win this game, given tOSU's woeful offense.
The pick: Michigan State

Northwestern at Purdue--> Tyrell Sutton, meet an angry home team that is tired of being labeled a disappointment. The Boilers, once thought of as a Big Ten title contender, are 2-3. No way they drop to 2-4 at home.
The pick: Purdue

Penn State at Michigan--> It's not surprising that one team is 6-0 and ranked eighth, while the other is 3-3 with two conference losses and is unranked in the national polls. What's surprising is that the unbeaten team is Penn State. I have seen the Nittany Lions play, and while they have a great defense and a solid running game, I don't think they will beat Michigan in the Big House with Michael Robinson at quarterback. I won't complain, however, if PSU wins. A year of Michigan sucking is good for everyone, especially Michigan fans.
The pick: Michigan

USC at Notre Dame--> I just don't have the guts. If Notre Dame wins this game, I will kick myself. Hard.
The pick: USC

Florida at LSU--> The Gators need a win here. So does LSU. The Tigers gagged badly in their last big game at home. Florida didn't look good last week, even though they won handily. Neither did LSU. This is a tough game, because it comes down to whose quarterback screws up less. I guess I'll stick with my old theory on a game like that and take the home team, though I really don't have a strong feeling either way.
The pick: LSU

Colorado at Texas--> If Joel Klatt plays well, CU has a shot to catch Texas napping. The Buffaloes have been a pleasant surprise so far, and it looks like they might be the only reasonably competent football team in the Big 12 North. But it's hard to envision them winning in Austin, given the fact that Texas has finally kicked the monkey off their back by beating Oklahoma. The Longhorns might trip up, but it won't happen this week.
The pick: Texas

Florida State at Virginia--> It's a good road test for a young offense, but Virginia hasn't looked strong as of late. The Cavaliers won't score nearly enough points to keep their defense in the game, and Drew Weatherford will continue his improvement as FSU's signal-caller.
The pick: Florida State

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

BlogPoll: Week Seven

Full disclosure
**Crickets chirping**

I saw parts of Nebraska-Texas Tech, Iowa-Purdue, and Cal-UCLA. That's about it.

Dropped out
14 Wisconsin--> Next time, make sure the defense takes the field in the second half. I know Northwestern has a good offense, but allowing them to score on seven straight possessions rates as somewhat unacceptable.

16 Arizona State--> Big game loss to USC leads to a big home letdown against a beatable Oregon team.

17 Texas A&M--> Ugh. I guess I was wrong about this team.

21 Michigan--> It had to suck to watch the Gophers storm your sideline for that Jug.

The new Top 25
1. Southern Cal (1 last week). It won't be easy in South Bend like it was last time.
2. Texas (2). The monkey has been cleared. Now Mack can't let this team stumble.
3. Virginia Tech (3). Probably tighter, at least early, than it should have been against Marshall.
4. Georgia (4). Damn.
5. Florida State (6). I get the feeling that the 'Noles haven't put it all together yet.
6. Alabama (7). Well-deserved week off.
7. Miami (9). Well-deserved week off. Oh, wait.
8. Penn State (20). Imagine if they had a QB.
9. LSU (11). Made the win look more impressive with a 22-point fourth quarter to put Vandy away.
10. Notre Dame (11). They have a good chance to shock USC. Trust me.
11. Florida (13). Shaky effort, but a blowout win in the end.
12. Ohio State (5). Imagine if they had a QB like Michael Robinson.
13. Michigan State (15). Avoided getting Drew Stanton hurt during bye week.
14. UCLA (23). Great comeback win over Cal.
15. Minnesota (22). GIMME BACK MY JUG!
16. Tennessee (8). Next time, try showing up for that big game at home.
17. Oregon (18). Big, gutsy road win at ASU.
18. Boston College (NR). Dominated Virginia, despite well-publicized and utterly ridiculous cheap shot
19. Auburn (19). Did anyone play last week?
20. Cal (12). Blew double-digit lead and saw regular-season winning streak end.
21. Texas Tech (24). I don't care. They still haven't played anyone.
22. Louisville (25). Huge win over what had looked to be a decent UNC team.
23. Texas Christian (NR). Road win against Wyoming vaults Horned Frogs back in the poll.
24. West Virginia (NR). Do you have any better ideas?
25. Colorado (NR). Do you have any better ideas?

The Watch List
Fresno State
Texas A&M

Monday, October 10, 2005

Attention college hockey fans

CSTV sponsors a pretty cool online feature called "Tuesday at the Rink". This week, RIT head coach Wayne Wilson and CSTV analyst Dave Starman will be the guests in's “Tuesday @ The Rink” chats. Coach Wilson will be in at 12:30 p.m. CT and Dave will be in at 1 p.m. CT.

As many of you probably know, RIT is in their first year of Division I competition after many years as a powerhouse program in Division III. This will be a good chance to chat with the very classy Wilson and get his thoughts on the transition.

Friday, October 07, 2005

College football - Week Six preview

Viewing plans this week
It's Homecoming for UMD this week, so my bags are not packed this week (thank GOODNESS). However, it's also opening weekend of hockey season (hence the ten previous posts previewing the WCHA season), and UMD is at home. I'm a season-ticket holder, so my day on Saturday is full of things that aren't related to the games I'm about to preview. I have, literally, no viewing plans this week, unless I decide to tape Minnesota-Michigan.

The picks
Last week: 8-2 (1-0 on the NCC bonus pick)
Season: 58-20 (1-0)

Saturday, October 8
Wisconsin at Northwestern--> Wisconsin is too hot for Northwestern. The Wildcats will score some points, but will struggle trying to slow down the Bucky offense.
The pick: Wisconsin

Illinois at Indiana--> The Hoosiers' dream of an unbeaten season came to an end a week ago. However, Hoeppner's team can take another step toward a potential bowl bid with a win this week.
The pick: Indiana

Minnesota at Michigan--> All the talk about Laurence Maroney is interesting. Too bad he won't be the best running back on the field on Saturday. That honor will fall on Michael Hart.
The pick: Michigan

Iowa at Purdue--> This is a battle of teams that had hoped to contend for a national title, but both teams come in with two losses. Purdue was blown out at home by Notre Dame last week, and Iowa has struggled in their two road games so far, playing badly at Iowa State and Ohio State.
The pick: Purdue

Ohio State at Penn State--> We all want to see JoePa do well here (well, most of us do). But Michael Robinson hit 13 of 32 passes last week. He's not a very good quarterback. tOSU's defense will slow down the Penn State attack, and the question becomes whether or not Penn State can keep tOSU off the board. I'm betting the emotion of a huge night game in Happy Valley will vault the Nittany Lions to another big win.
The pick: Penn State

Oklahoma at Texas--> If they lose this game this year, Mack Brown should just quit on the spot.
The pick: Texas

TCU at Wyoming--> Huge early game in the Mountain West. Utah will be a factor in the end, but right now it's TCU and Wyoming fighting for supremacy. In the elevation, I'll ride Bramlet and Bouknight to a Cowboy win.
The pick: Wyoming

Georgia at Tennessee--> Now that Phil has made the right choice at QB (Clausen), the Vols' offense is only going to get better. I think Georgia is a tad overrated, but Shockley can shut me up with a big performance.
The pick: Tennessee

Texas Tech at Nebraska--> Neither team has played a great opponent yet, but both are 4-0, which does count for something. Nebraska has showed us some defense this year, but their offense is too inept to lead them past a team as potent at Tech.
The pick: Texas Tech

LSU at Vanderbilt--> I was all set to tape this game until Vandy went and lost to Middle Tennessee. Ouch.
The pick: LSU

California at UCLA--> The winner emerges as the last good challenge to USC's conference supremacy this season. Cal has their best test of the season (before USC) in this game, and they'll pass it thanks to Marshawn Lynch, who will outduel Maurice Drew.
The pick: California

Oregon at Arizona State--> It's the "Battle of the Last Two Teams That Failed to Slow Down USC". ASU might be the best two-loss team around...well, except for the Patriots.
The pick: Arizona State

WCHA Preview - 1. Denver Pioneers

Last year: 32-9-2, 19-7-2 WCHA (T-1st). Beat North Dakota in NCAA final.
Coach: George Gwozdecky, twelfth season at UD (255-161-33); 20th season overall (405-285-54)
Top returnees
Forwards: Gabe Gauthier, sr (26-31-57); Paul Stastny, soph (17-28-45); Geoff Paukovich, soph (12-9-21); Adrian Veideman, jr (5-14-19)
Defensemen: Matt Carle, jr (13-31-44); Andrew Thomas, soph (2-5-7)
Goalies: Peter Mannino, soph (18-4-1, 2.19, .927); Glenn Fisher, jr (14-5-1, 2.84, .889)
Top newcomers: Patrick Mullen, F; T.J. Fast, D; Chris Butler, D; Julian Marcuzzi, D
Biggest losses: Brett Skinner, D (4-36-40); Luke Fulghum, F (23-19-42); Jeff Drummond, F (16-23-39); Kevin Ulanski, F (11-22-33); Jon Foster, F (21-8-29)

Assess the team's 2004-2005 season. What went right and what went wrong?:
When everyone (including myself) assumed that Denver couldn't replace the leadership from guys like Caldwell and Berkhoel during the 2003-2004 title run, the Pioneers turn around and do just that. The team got huge goals all season long from veterans Fulghum, Foster, Drummond, and Gauthier, and they found the goaltender to carry them to glory once again. As a freshman, Mannino wasn't supposed to be able to win all those big games. But that's exactly what he did. Gwozdecky rotated goalies all season long, but Mannino took the ball in the playoffs, and he won both games in the Frozen Four. Not much went wrong for Denver a year ago, they were probably the best team in the country from start to finish, which was a bit of a contrast from the year before, when Denver came on late to earn their NCAA bid and eventually won the whole thing.

Assess the team's overall strengths:
For Denver, it's all about the veterans. The Pioneers lost some big-time talent off last year's team, including 71 goals combined from Fulghum, Drummond, Ulanski, and Foster. Gwozdecky is charged with trying to reload, and he has some people in place. Gauthier is as good as they come, and he's unbelieveably dangerous in clutch situations. He seems to have a knack for finding the net when his team needs it most. Stastny is a star in the making. Only a sophomore, he tallied eight times on the power play a year ago, and he's expected to only get better. Veideman and fellow junior J.D. Corbin will be expected to contribute more offensively, and Paukovich provides an aura of toughness on the team, though he needs to learn to contain his emotions, as evidenced by the illegal and dangerous hit on UND's Robbie Bina in the Final Five.

Assess the team's overall weaknesses:
There is some apprehension regarding this team because of the senior leadership they lost up front. 71 goals is a lot to replace from those four departed players, and it's not fair to simply assume that Denver will do it because they're Denver. The Pioneers also lost a big-play defenseman in Skinner, along with steady D-men Jussi Halme and Matt Laatsch. Thomas will be asked to do a lot more than he did as a freshman, though the talent is there. Also, will Fisher continue to play the good soldier in goal while Mannino gets all the big-game assignments? Will Mannino continue to get all those assignments? I think Gwozdecky has handled his goaltending very well the last two years, but the old saying is "If you have two goalies, you don't have any". If there's any question as to who Gwozdecky throws out there in a big game, that old saing may come into play, just as it did when Denver had Berkhoel and Wade Dubielewicz sharing time.

Best-case scenario:
Denver reloads again. Gauther, Stastny, Paukovich, Corgin, Veideman, and others replace the goal-scorers who moved on, and Carle and Thomas help form one of the top defensive groups in the country. By January, fans are left to wonder who these Fulghum-Drummond-Skinner guys were. And Denver is still hanging around when we all gather in Milwaukee to determine a national champion.

Realistic projection:
This team is not without their warts. This team is not without their holes. But the coaching staff does an absolutely outstanding job of keeping teams from exploiting any weaknesses that exist. It's not impossible to imagine Denver hoisting a third straight national championship trophy this April, even though they lost a ton of leadership from last year. This team is a bit shakier than last year, but they're good enough to come out on top in a very tough WCHA.

WCHA Preview - 2. Minnesota Gophers

Last year: 28-15-1, 17-10-1 WCHA (T-3rd). Lost to North Dakota in NCAA semifinal.
Coach: Don Lucia, sixth season at UM (162-77-21); 19th season overall (441-232-50)
Top returnees
Forwards: Danny Irmen, jr (24-19-43); Tyler Hirsch, sr (11-33-44); Ryan Potulny, jr (24-17-41); Gino Guyer, sr (12-20-32)
Defensemen: Chris Harrington, sr (2-24-26); Derek Peltier, soph (6-13-19)
Goalies: Kellen Briggs, jr (21-12-0, 2.43, .912)
Top newcomers: Phil Kessel, F; Blake Wheeler, F; Ryan Stoa, F; R.J. Anderson, D; Jeff Frazee, G
Biggest losses: Barry Tallackson, F (11-8-19); Garrett Smaagaard, F (8-8-16); Justin Johnson, G (7-3-1, 2.34, .914)

Assess the 2004-2005 season. What went right and what went wrong?:
When focusing on what went right, the answer here is pretty obvious. The Gophers overcame some midseason issues and qualified for the Frozen Four practically out of nowhere. Young players like Potulny and Irmen up front and Alex Goligoski and Nate Hagemo on defense gained some valuable experience during the Gophers' run. Briggs played well, but the defense in front of him in the West Regional was outstanding, as the Gophers protected their goaltender and limited their opponents' shots. As for what went wrong, the answer here is pretty obvious, too. The Gophers went through a midseason slump that saw them swept in back-to-back home series by Colorado College and Michigan Tech. The Gophers also lost home games to UMD and Alaska-Anchorage, and tied UAA when the Seawolves scored a goal with seven seconds left in regulation to force overtime. The recovery from that slump was quick and resounding, however, and didn't end until the Gophers were on their way to Columbus.

Assess the team's overall strengths:
This Gopher team is highly skilled, as usual. Potulny and Irmen seem to specialize in scoring big goals for their team. If Hirsch is fully recovered from whatever issues plagued him during the WCHA Final Five, he is a playmaking force, especially on the power play. Freshmen Kessel, Wheeler, and Stoa only add more to the forwards. Kessel has been a star everywhere he has played so far, and he's almost a lock to be the top pick in the 2006 draft. Stoa and Wheeler give this team some much-needed bulk up front. Hagemo and Goligoski, along with the bruising Harrington, lead a strong defensive corps. Briggs should play well this season, knowing that freshman Frazee is around and ready to take the job.

Assess the team's overall weaknesses:
Obviously, youth can be one of them. The Gophers gained some priceless experience for their young stars a year ago, but here come a bunch more young players this year. While Kessel has played at a high level, as has Stoa, neither of them have played in the WCHA. It's a much more physical brand of hockey than they're used to, and they'll have to show they can take the heat. Goligoski and Hagemo both struggled at times last year, due in part to injury, and Harrington can sometimes find himself in the penalty box too much for Lucia's liking. If Frazee isn't ready in goal, the Gophers could have some problems, as Briggs sometimes seems to have one poor game for every two or three good ones.

Best-case scenario:
Lucia gets the youngsters to play like they've been in this league for three years already. The defense continues to develop, Briggs and/or Frazee play well, and the Gophers match every challenge they're faced with. If all of this happens, there's little doubt that the Gophers are heading to Milwaukee.

Realistic projection:
Something pretty close to that, actually. I think Minnesota will hit a few bumps in the road this season, especially in conference play. But this team is too talented, too skilled, and too tough not to be a huge factor in the WCHA race. I won't pick them to win the league because there's a team that has more experience and, in my view, somewhat comparable talent. But Minnesota will be there in the end, and they're a huge favorite to end up in Milwaukee for the Frozen Four.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

WCHA Preview - 3. Colorado College Tigers

For CC, we solicited the participation of dedicated Colorado College fan Jeremy Landis. He was kind enough to help out with info on one of the participants in last year's WCHA Frozen Four.

Last year:
31-9-3, 19-7-2 WCHA (T-1st). Lost to Denver in NCAA semifinal.
Coach: Scott Owens, seventh season (153-76-18)
Top returnees
Marty Sertich, Senior (27-37-64); Brett Sterling, Senior (34-29-63)
Defensemen: Brian Salcido, Junior (7-23-30); Lee Sweatt, Junior (3-25-28)
Goalies: Matt Zaba, Junior (10-5-2, 2.46 GAA, .922 SV%)
Top newcomers: D Cody Lampl; F Andreas Vlassopoulos; C Chad Rau; G Drew O’Connell
Biggest losses: G Curtis McElhinney (21-4-2, 2.24 GAA, .922 SV%); D Mark Stuart (5-14-19, 94 PIM); D Richard Petiot (3-5-8)

Assess your team’s 2004-2005 season. What went right and what went wrong?:
After winning a share of the MacNaughton Cup and making it to the Frozen Four, it is hard to say that much went wrong for CC in 04-05. It can be summed up with one name: Denver Goaltender Peter Mannino, who was dominant in his starts against the Tigers.

The goaltending tandem of Curtis McElhinney and Matt Zaba was superb, the D corps was deep and Brett Sterling and Marty Sertich lead a strong offensive attack. This was a team who consistently outworked their opponents, so they could never be counted out of a game. The biggest highlight of the season was beating Michigan near their own home in a dramatic comeback from 3-0 down, to advance to the Frozen Four.

Assess your team’s overall strengths:
Their top 8 scorers from 04-05 return, including Sterling and Sertich who are as good as any two forwards in the nation. (Both were Hobey Baker finalists in 04-05, with Sertich winning.) Goaltender Matt Zaba has shown flashes of brilliance and should be very good. CC should still be strong on defense, even after losing key blue liners Mark Stuart and Richard Petiot. They have good team speed, so they should be as dangerous as ever on the big ice sheet at World Arena.

Assess your team’s overall weaknesses:
There shouldn’t be many weaknesses. CC’s scoring depth after Sterling and Sertich should be better than 04-05, but is still a question mark going into the new season. They may be undersized, especially on defense.

What is the best-case scenario for your team this year?:
This team has the potential to make the Frozen Four again and compete for a championship if they play up to their potential and stay healthy.

Put your cowbell down and stop yelling at that poor goalie. Be as objective as you can possibly stand to be. Where will your team finish in the WCHA and why?:
As usual, the WCHA is loaded this season. There are too many “what ifs?” to give an exact prediction on CC. They should finish between second and fifth in the WCHA, depending on how well their young players pan out, how well Zaba handles being the #1 goaltender, and whether Sertich and Sterling can come close to duplicating their performances of last year. Even in the worst case, this team is talented enough for a top 5 finish, but if things fall properly into place for the Tigers and if they work as hard as they did in 04-05, the sky is the limit for how good they can be.

Bruce's analysis:
While the sky may be the limit, there are some issues on this team. There are young players on defense that have to prove themselves, and there is the issue, as Jeremy mentions, of how Zaba will handle the job of being the top goaltender. It's one thing to platoon and then sit on the bench while the team competes in the tournaments. It's another to be the go-to goaltender in all the big games. Zaba unquestionably has the talent. Sertich and Sterling, along with guys like Aaron Slattengren, will do their thing, and the Tigers will score goals-a-plenty. But I think the defense will be a bit leakier than last year, and that will relegate CC to a third-place finish, which should be plenty good enough for an NCAA bid. If Zaba comes into form, the Tigers will threaten another trip to the Frozen Four.

WCHA Preview - 4. Wisconsin Badgers

Last year: 23-14-4, 16-9-3 WCHA (3rd). Lost to Michigan in NCAA first round.
Coach: Mike Eaves, fourth season at UW (58-50-16), fifth season overall (67-69-16)
Top returnees
Forwards: Robbie Earl, jr (20-24-44); Joe Pavelski, soph (16-29-45); Ryan MacMurchy, sr (11-22-33); Ross Carlson, jr (12-17-29); Jake Dowell, jr (12-14-26)
Defensemen: Kyle Klubertanz, soph (3-15-18); Tom Gilbert, sr (8-9-17); Jeff Likens, jr (3-14-17)
Goalies: Brian Elliott, jr (6-2-1, 1.16, .945)
Top newcomers: Jack Skille, F; Tom Gorowsky, F; Ben Street, F; Shane Connelly, G
Biggest losses: Bernd Brückler, G (17-12-3, 2.40, .914)

Assess the team's 2004-2005 season. What went right and what went wrong?:
A lot went right for Bucky a year ago. The Badgers were ranked third at one point, made some progress offensively, and again advanced to the NCAA Tournament. They qualified for the Final Five, beating Alaska-Anchorage after losing a first-round series to the Seawolves a year earlier. There's no question that Wisconsin has made tremendous progress under Eaves, but more was wanted a year ago. The Badgers thought that Brückler was the goalie to lead them to the Frozen Four, but he couldn't do it all himself. The defense broke down a little bit down the stretch, and the Badgers had a ton of problems scoring goals as they stumbled to a 4-8-3 finish. They then went to the NCAAs and got thumped by Michigan 4-1 in the first round. That has to have left a bad taste in the mouths of all these returning players, as Wisconsin brings back just about everyone who played a role in last year's 23-win team.

Assess the team's overall strengths:
Despite Brückler's graduation, the defense and goaltending should again shine. Gilbert is the only senior in the group, and he's a good player on the blue line. Klubertanz and Likens are both good offensive players, though not great goal-scorers. Sophomore Davis Drewiske has some offensive upside. Elliott put up great numbers when called on last year, and he should be just fine as the main goalie this year. The offense needs to improve, and the talent is there to make it happen. Earl is one of the more dynamic players in the league, even if his head isn't always in the game on both ends of the ice. Pavelski, Carlson, and Dowell all have 15-20 goal potential, if not more (especially Pavelski). Skille might only be around for a year or two, but he'll be a huge spark to this team once he adjusts to the WCHA style, which probably won't take long.

Assess the team's overall weaknesses:
The offense faltered down the stretch, but the defense was also somewhat leaky in front of Brückler. Earl isn't always a good two-way player, and his focus has been called into question before. No one can deny his talent, but he's reached the point in his career where sheer talent won't get it done. He needs to grow up a bit and help this team when times are tough. Overall, Eaves needs more consistency from his forwards. The defense looked tired at times late in the season, and that is probably not going to repeat itself. But the Badgers are not particularly deep here, and they know they can't afford a lot of injuries or poor play.

Best-case scenario:
Pucks start flying into opponents' nets on a consistent basis, and the defensemen stay healthy and provide solid play in front of Elliott and Connelly. If all this happens, the Badgers become a serious threat to win the league.

Realistic projection:
The Badgers were fourth in the league in offense a year ago. A similar performance will probably get them pretty far this season. But more is expected from the skill players on this team. If Elliott shows that there is little dropoff after Brückler's departure, the Badgers will make some noise this season. Realistically, I think a fourth-place finish is attainable, with Wisconsin making the Final Five and getting the chance to play their NCAA regional game(s) in Green Bay on the way to a potential Frozen Four berth in Milwaukee.

WCHA Preview - 5. North Dakota Fighting Sioux

For the Sioux entry, we've called upon USCHO Arena Reporter and Fighting Sioux fan Patrick C. Miller. We thank him kindly, and we invite you to check out his fine work at USCHO.

Last year: 25-15-5, 13-12-3 WCHA (5th). Lost to Denver in NCAA final.
Coach: Dave Hakstol, second season (25-15-5)
Top returnees
Drew Stafford, junior (13-25-38); Travis Zajac, sophomore (20-19-39); Rastislav Spirko, sophomore, (16-21-37)
Defensemen: Matt Smaby, junior (1-2-3); Kyle Radke, sophomore (1-2-3)
Goalies: Jordan Parise, junior (2.13 GAA, .917 SV%, 17-7-3); Philippe Lamoureux, sophomore (2.19 GAA, .914 SV%, 7-8-2)
Top newcomers: T.J. Oshie, F (selected first round by St. Louis); Jonathan Toews, F; Brian Lee, D (selected first round by Ottawa); Joe Finley, D (selected first round by Washington)
Biggest losses: Matt Greene, D; Matt Jones, D; Colby Genoway, F; Rory McMahon, F

Assess your team’s 2004-2005 season. What went right and what went wrong?:
What a strange season that was. The Sioux were picked to finish high in the WCHA. They started off hot, then were hit with injury after injury. The offense disappeared and trips to the penalty box became far too frequent. By mid-February, practically everyone had written off the Sioux as a playoff team. Many questioned whether Dave Hakstol was the right person to replace Dean Blais. But then came March and the team suddenly came together and the offense caught fire. Jordan Parise emerged as the No. 1 goalie and played fantastic down the stretch. UND came up one game short, losing 4-1 to Denver in the national championship game. Lack of scoring in critical games has hurt the Sioux the past three seasons. Overall, it probably took too long for the players to buy into Hakstol’s system.

Assess your team’s overall strengths:
Jordan Parise has established himself as one of the best playoff goalies in college hockey and gives the Sioux the most solid goaltending they’ve had since Karl Goehring graduated in 2001. His backup, Philippe Lamoureux, put up solid numbers as a freshman and will challenge Parise for the starting job. The Sioux are in excellent shape here.

The team is talent-laden with no fewer than five NHL first-round draft picks (Drew Stafford, Travis Zajac, T.J. Oshie, Brian Lee and Joe Finley), six other NHL draftees and Jonathan Toews, considered a potential 2006 first rounder. The raw materials are there. The only question is: Can Hakstol and his staff put all the pieces together?

At the end of last season, the line of Spirko, Zajac and Stafford was one of the best in the country. If they can pickup where they left off, they’ll be formidable. Chris Porter and Erik Fabian, both juniors, are big, physical forwards who can grind and hit with the WCHA’s best. There’s plenty of young talent at the forward position that should make this year’s Sioux a faster, more exciting and higher scoring team.

The defense will be far different from that which Sioux fans have become accustomed the past three seasons. Brian Lee, Taylor Chorney and Kyle Radke give the Sioux more offensive talent at the blue line than they’ve had for several years. But Matt Smaby, Joe Finley and Zach Jones (Matt’s younger brother) can still bring the physical presence that’s characterized recent Sioux teams.

Dave Hakstol now has a year under his belt and has proven himself under the most trying of circumstances. He has the trust and respect of his players, which should make it easier for this year’s team to accept and learn his system.

Assess your team’s overall weaknesses:
Youth, youth and more youth – especially in the defensive corps. It’s likely that on any given night, half or more of UND’s roster will be freshmen. Smaby is a rock on defense, but he can’t do it alone. With junior Robbie Bina taking a medical redshirt year because of last season’s neck injury, the next most experienced defensemen are senior Lee Marvin, who’s seen little ice time the past three seasons, and sophomore Kyle Radke, who dressed for 29 games last season but saw limited playing time. The defensive corps will have to learn quickly under fire if UND is to have any hope of returning to the Frozen Four.

What is the best-case scenario for your team this year?:
Strong goaltending and an improved offense should help mask the growing pains that the young Sioux defensive corps are likely to experience early on, especially against WCHA competition. A high-scoring offense can make up for many defensive deficiencies. If UND can stay at .500 or above in the first half of the season and avoid injuries, experience and maturity will make them a very tough team to beat come playoff time.

Put your cowbell down and stop yelling at that poor goalie. Be as objective as you can possibly stand to be. Where will your team finish in the WCHA and why?:
Probably fourth, but a third place finish is within the realm of possibility if the team matures quickly and the talent plays up to its potential. I think Minnesota, Denver and Wisconsin will likely finish ahead of the Sioux. Once again, there are so many good teams in the WCHA that all predictions are a crap shoot.

Bruce's analysis:
Tough call. I think UND overachieved a bit down the stretch a year ago, but they rode the two most important things in hockey - quality defense and goaltending - to the Frozen Four. What hurts the most is that Greene and Jones are gone. They might have infuriated opposing players and fans, but the reality is that they were two of the best in the league. Replacing their defense, physicality, and leadership won't be easy. Zajac, Spirko, and Stafford are the keys offensively, and the goaltending will need to be just as good as it was last year, if not better. The Sioux have a chance to prove me wrong, but I don't see them cracking the upper tier of teams in the league. They'll finish with home ice for the first round, and probably make the NCAA Tournament.

WCHA Preview - 6. Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks

Our guest blogger for Mankato is the author of the fine Western College Hockey blog, Chris "MaizeRage" Dilks. Chris was kind enough to fill us in on the Mavericks and their chances for improvement in 2005-2006.

Last year: 13-19-6, 8-16-4 WCHA (8th). Lost to Minnesota in WCHA first round.
Coach: Troy Jutting, sixth season (78-92-24)
Top returnees
David Backes, junior (17-23-40), Travis Morin, junior (12-19-31), Brock Becker, senior (8-6-14), Ryan Carter, sophomore( 15-8-23).
Defensemen: Kyle Peto, senior (3-24-27), Chad Brownlee, junior (1-1-2), Jon Dubel, senior (3-6-9).
Goalies: Chris Clark, junior (6-6-4, 3.42 GAA, .897).
Top newcomers: Brian Kilburg, defenseman; Dan Tormey, goalie; Mike Zacharias, goalie; Mick Berge, forward; Blake Friesen, defenseman.
Biggest losses: Brad Thompson, forward (13-11-24), Adam Gerlach, forward (11-11-22), Jake Brenk, forward (6-13-19), Steven Johns, defenseman (2-13-15).

Assess your team's 2004-2005 season. What went right and what went wrong?:
Last season for the Mavericks was a bit of a rebuilding year. They showed flashes of brilliance throughout the season, including going 5-0-1 in the month of November, a tight OT loss to Minnesota, a thrilling OT win at Wisconsin, and a dominating win against national champion Denver at home. The season also had it's fair share of disappointments though, as the young Maverick team wasn't quite talented enough to compete with the best in the WCHA.

The forwards for Minnesota State proved that they had the ability to score goals last season, as they scored 4 or more goals in 14 games last season. The defense also performed adequately for the Mavericks. Though there were no superstars on the blueline, the Maverick defense was often very good at keeping things simple and just doing their job.

In goal, senior Jon Volp started the year as the starting goalie, but eventually lost time to sophomore Chris Clark, who started the season as the team's third string goalie. Clark received the majority of starts in the second half of the season to gain more experience for the future.

Overall, it was a rather forgettable season for Maverick fans. Probably the biggest joy was looking at the players that would be coming back for this season and thinking about the potential that this team had.

Assess your team's overall strengths:
When discussing the strengths of the Mavericks, it's impossible to start anywhere but with junior David Backes. Backes very could be the best player in college hockey this year. Backes excels in every aspect of the game, averaging exactly one point per game in his first two years at Mankato, and also using his 6'3" 210 lbs. frame to be a physical presence on the ice. If Mankato plays well enough as a team to garner some of the national spotlight, Backes could be a Hobey Baker candidate.

Even more important than what Backes provides on the ice, is the leadership he provides off the ice. While other college players around the country were going after big money, Backes chose to stay in school. His teammates matched his commitment by staying in Mankato this summer and working out every day. The extra work put in this offseason, combined with the boost in team chemistry could help Mankato bridge the gap in talent between themselves and the top teams in the WCHA.

Complementing Backes on the Mavericks first line will be junior Travis Morin and senior Brock Becker. Morin is a tall, lanky center that specializes in passing the puck and making plays. Becker is an extremely fast skater that suffered some injuries in the second half of last season. If he stays healthy, he will be an extremely dangerous player that will create opportunities with his skating ability. Though the Mavericks are known more as a blue-collar team, they have a first line that can rivals just about anybody in the WCHA in terms of talent.

The second line for the Mavericks will be led by David Backes-clone Ryan Carter. Carter is another big forward that does just about everything for the Mavericks. He's called upon to score goals, take key face-offs, lead the top penalty killing unit, and quarterback the second line powerplay. He seemed to get better as the season went on last year, and if that development continues, he could be a dominate player in the WCHA.

All this talent up front means that the Mavericks should once again have a pretty good powerplay. The top powerplay unit relies on Travis Morin controlling the puck at the point, and either finding one of his wings down low for a quick shot, or firing a strong, low wrist on goal through traffic. Morin is the perfect quarterback for this type of powerplay. Ryan Carter has the same job on the second unit of the powerplay.

Assess your team's overall weaknesses:
It may be too early to call it a weakness, but Minnesota State's goaltending situation certainly has more question marks than Matthew Lesko's closet. Chris Clark will return as the starter. Last season, Clark made enough highlight reel saves to win over the average fan, but also let in enough weak goals to leave more educated fans tearing their hair out. Clark's play has been too inconsistent for the Mavericks to rely on him every night. In fact, Clark has yet to win two consecutive games in his two years at Mankato. Clark is a serviceable back-up goalie, but he’s not consistent enough to be an every-night starter in the WCHA.

That means Mankato will have to rely on two wild cards in net this season in freshmen Dan Tormey and Mike Zacharias. Zacharias was signed early by Mankato, with the intent of taking over for departed senior Jon Volp. Last season in the USHL, Zacharias put up so-so numbers on a bad team, while Tormey put up very good numbers on a very good team, earning second team all-USHL.

The three goalies will more than likely battle it out to see who earns the most playing time, and I’m guessing the battle won’t be decided until well into the season. The competition should make each goalie better, which is good, because if Mankato receives solid goaltending every night, there’s almost no limit to how far they could go.

The other major problem for the Mavericks last season was penalties. Mankato spent way too much time a man down last year, and in a league where every team has snipers on their power play, it’s a recipe for disaster. The reasons for all the penalties were threefold. Part of the reason for the penalties was that the Mavericks were often playing faster, more skilled opponents. Part of it was because Don Adam was constantly checking out the inner workings of his own large intestine. And part of it was just plain undisciplined play. The first two parts are going to be tough to correct, but there’s definitely room for improvement in part three. Perhaps it’s just a side effect of relying on fiery players that give their all on the ice that the Mavericks will have to live with, but being a better hockey teams means cutting down on mistakes, and taking dumb penalties is a mistake that the Mavericks can’t afford to make.

A final, minor point that I feel needs to be made is with the other incoming freshmen. Mankato didn’t suffer a lot of losses in the offseason, but I think those losses hit the Mavericks a little harder than the rest of the WCHA. Though they can bring in the occasional star like Backes, coach Troy Jutting has to rely on older, less talented players to fill out the roster. He can’t reload the way a North Dakota or Minnesota would. Because of that, I’d expect very little from the freshmen for Minnesota State this season. With the exception of Brian Kilburg, who should be a very good defenseman, I don’t think Mankato has any players that are going to make a serious impact until they are juniors or seniors.

What is the best-case scenario for your team this year?:
Finishing among the top of the WCHA and making the NCAA tournament seems a little far-fetched, but it probably also seemed far-fetched three years ago when the Mavericks surprised everybody by doing just that. If things go the Mavericks way, I would not be surprised if they ended up having a great season and found a way into the NCAA tournament.

There’s a couple things I think need to go their way for that to happen:

1. Somebody emerges as the starting goalie and plays great throughout the year, stealing a few games along the way.
2. No major injuries. This is an X factor any team, but Mankato doesn’t have the depth to withstand the loss of a good player for a significant period of time.
3. The defense keeps things simple. Sometimes the best thing for a defenseman is to know he’s in over his head. He’ll keep things simple and not make as many mistakes.
4. Emotional players like Ryan McKelvie and Brock Becker can stay out of the box.

Put your cowbell down and stop yelling at that poor goalie. Be as objective as you can possibly stand to be. Where will your team finish in the WCHA and why?:
Everything about this team makes me want to say at least 4th in the WCHA and an NCAA bid, but I’ll chicken out and go with conventional wisdom and predict a 6th place finish and right on the border of an NCAA tournament bid. There is so much potential on this year’s Maverick team, but there is always the problem that the WCHA has about as much potential for upward mobility as society in India. It’s going to be difficult to crack the top 5 with Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado College, Denver, and North Dakota all having very strong teams.

I do think at the very least, Mankato will finish as the “best of the rest” in the WCHA, and face the distinct possibility of being ranked in the top 15 in the country and traveling on the road for the first round of the playoffs.

This will probably be the best chance the Mavericks are going to have at making a run at the big time. This is more than likely the last year for David Backes before he joins the St. Louis Blues. With all the effort the Mavericks have put into getting ready for this season, I think anything less than 6th place would be a disappointment.

Bruce's analysis:
I tend to agree with Chris. I think MSUM has as good a chance as anyone of finishing sixth, though I think anything higher than that might be overly optimistic. In choosing Mankato for sixth over UMD, I'm basically taking the proven talent MSUM possesses over the upside of UMD. At the end of the season, UMD might be the better team, but I expect the Mavericks to be a bit more consistent from start to finish. If Jutting can find someone to play goal well for his team, the Mavs could surprise a lot of people. One thing is certain: If David Backes doesn't have a season worthy of a Hobey Baker candidate, this team is sunk.

WCHA Preview - 7. Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

Last year: 15-17-6, 11-13-4 WCHA (6th). Lost to North Dakota in WCHA first round.
Coach: Scott Sandelin, sixth season (85-97-22)
Top returnees
Forwards: Tim Stapleton, sr (19-20-39); Matt McKnight, soph (6-13-19); Justin Williams, sr (5-10-15); Brian McGregor, jr (3-7-10)
Defensemen: Steve Czech, sr (3-10-13); Travis Gawryletz, soph (4-1-5)
Goalies: Issac Reichmuth, sr (9-12-4, 3.05, .896); Josh Johnson, jr (6-5-2, 2.98, .900)
Top newcomers: Michael Gergen, F; Andrew Carroll, F; Mason Raymond, F; Nick Kemp, F; MacGregor Sharp, F; Matt Niskanen, D; Josh Meyers, D; Jason Garrison, D; Nate Ziegelmann, G (transfer/North Dakota)
Biggest losses: Evan Schwabe, F (19-26-45); Marco Peluso, F (19-19-38); Brett Hammond, F (7-17-24); Tim Hambly, D (5-15-20); Neil Petruic, D (1-8-9); Jay Rosehill, D (0-5-5)

Assess the 2004-2005 season. What went right and what went wrong?:
Perhaps no team struggled under the weight of high expectations like UMD did. The Bulldogs returned almost everyone from their Frozen Four team, but the team never came together like it had the year before. The offense sputtered at times, and the coaches had a terrible time finding the right line combinations. Even with a ton of experience on hand, the Dogs' defense struggled, especially against the top teams in the league. And when the defense did play well, the goalies didn't, as both Reichmuth and Johnson were plagued by soft goals throughout the season. Those soft goals came at the worst possible times, as they were often momentum-killers for UMD. The team didn't respond well to adversity for most of the season, culminating in two embarrassing losses to North Dakota that mercifully ended the season.

Assess the team's overall strengths:
It's a fresh start for UMD. Their strength lies in the youth. The coaching staff has brought in one of the best recruiting classes in school history. But they are not void of experience on this team. Seniors Stapleton and Williams will lead up front, and team captain Czech anchors the blue line. The Bulldogs will rely on Stapleton for a huge season. He has the potential to be one of the top scorers in the WCHA. Niskanen, Gergen, and Raymond were all selected in the first two rounds of this year's NHL Draft. Niskanen was one of the top high-school defensemen in Minnesota a year ago, as he led his team (Virginia/MIB) to its first-ever state tournament appearance. He is a steady defender who has dynamic offensive skills. Gergen and Raymond are tremendous offensive talents, as is Carroll. Garrison is a big defenseman who has some skills, but can also knock people around. Reichmuth should have a good season - he wasn't the 2004 Midwest Regional MVP by accident. If he doesn't play well, Ziegelmann and Johnson will get chances to claim the job.

Assess the team's overall weaknesses:
Inexperience. While these young players are certainly highly-touted, none of them have ever been through a WCHA season. The defensive group is especially young, with Czech and Gawryletz the only returning regulars now that Rosehill has moved on to the pros. With how shaky the goaltending was a year ago, Sandelin will need these guys to grow up in a hurry. After last season's disappointing run, the pressure is on this team to show that the fluke was last season and not the Frozen Four run. And that's a lot of pressure on a young team that will spend a lot of time, especially before Christmas, trying to find themselves.

Best-case scenario:
The young guys are as good (or better) than advertised. Stapleton finally breaks out and becomes the go-to guy. Czech continues to be the steady hand on defense, providing leadership and mentoring the young players. Reichmuth returns to 2003-2004 form. If all this happens, UMD could very easily finish in the top four or five in the WCHA. Just don't ask me which one of those teams would fall back to allow it to happen.

Realistic projection:
I've heard nothing but good things about these new players. But they've played as many games in the WCHA as I have. That's not a good thing. Asking them to play key roles on this team might be too much. You need consistency to win in this league, and I don't see all these young players being able to do that. UMD will be hurt by a slow start in league play, but will improve as the season goes on. If the young guys gel, and the coaches find the right line combos, UMD could be the most dangerous road team in the first round of the playoffs. But an NCAA trip appears out of reach.

WCHA Preview - 8. Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves

Last year: 12-19-6, 9-15-4 WCHA (7th). Lost to Wisconsin in WCHA first round.
Coach: Dave Shyiak, first season
Top returnees
Forwards: Justin Bourne, jr (12-11-23); Charlie Kronschnabel, jr (9-12-21); Ales Parez, sr (5-10-15); Shea Hamilton, soph (7-4-11)
Defensemen: Chad Anderson, jr (4-11-15); Brandon Segal, jr (2-9-11)
Goalies: Nathan Lawson, soph (7-15-3, 3.32, .914); John DeCaro, sr (5-4-3, 3.56, .906)
Top newcomers: Adam Corrin, F; Jay Beagle, F; Billy Smith, F; Shane Lovdahl, D
Biggest losses: Martin Stuchlik, F (12-13-25); Brandon Segal, D (2-9-11); Lee Green, D (2-4-6)

Assess the 2004-2005 season. What went right and what went wrong?:
The Seawolves continued to play well at times, and perplex fans with poor play at times. They upset Minnesota at home to win the Nye Frontier Classic. They followed that up by going to Mariucci in January and taking three points, even though starting goalie Lawson was hurt. They played well in Duluth, as Lawson led the way to a three-point weekend against the Bulldogs. But the team was hurt by a lack of experience up front. They never found a go-to guy on offense. And, in the end, the result was familiar for UAA fans a year ago, as they watched their team post a 12th straight losing season.

What are the overall strengths of the team?:
Lawson and DeCaro form a strong tandem in goal. Ignore those goals against averages. Both posted solid save percentages, suggesting that the defense was simply allowing too many shots to get through. Bourne improved as the season wore on, finishing as the team's leading returning scorer. Parez is back from a broken leg, and he is being looked at for some leadership on a team that has lacked some of that over the last couple years. Anderson is a good blueliner, and sophomore Luke Beaverson, the only UAA player to appear in every game a year ago, is only going to get stronger.

What are the overall weaknesses of the team?:
The Seawolves allowed a league-high 1,432 shots on goal last year. Even with Lawson and DeCaro in goal, that number has to come down for UAA to be successful. Shyiak needs to be patient, as the defensemen will come around, but he needs some immediate results from them to keep the pressure off his goaltenders. Bourne and Kronschnabel are going to have to increase their production up front for UAA. The Seawolves were seventh in the league in goal-scoring, and offense has not been a strength of this team in recent years. For UAA to contend, that has to change.

Best-case scenario:
Lawson stays healthy and gets better. The defense tightens up a little bit. Bourne and company start to score more goals. If the young players come together under Shyiak's leadership, things will start to look up in a hurry. With a few breaks, it's not inconceivable that this team could crack the top half of the league.

Realistic projection:
Despite the solid goaltending, the Seawolves will still struggle at times. They won't score enough goals to put away opponents, and the defense will still allow too many shots, which will eventually mean that the goalies will let a few in. While I think UAA has a shot at a better finish, there is too much talent ahead of them, and the Seawolves will settle into eighth place. However, it should be noted that this team will absolutely not be a pushover in the WCHA, and improvement will be obvious, especially in the second half of the season.

WCHA Preview - 9. St. Cloud State Huskies

Thanks to Zach Landwehr, St. Cloud State fan and overall good person, for submitting the information for this entry. It was a bit late, but I'd rather have it a little late than not have it at all.

Last year: 14-23-3, 8-19-1 WCHA (9th). Lost to Colorado College in WCHA first round.
Coach: Bob Motzko, first season (interim coach)
Top returnees
Forwards: Joe Jensen, sr (12-14-26); Billy Hengen, sr (7-15-22); Andrew Gordon, soph (9-8-17); Matt Hartman, sr (6-8-14)
Defensemen: Justin Fletcher, jr (8-14-22); Grant Clafton, jr (8-9-17)
Goalies: Tim Boron, jr (10-18-3, 3.00, .904); Jason Montgomery, sr (4-5-0, 2.92, .886)
Top newcomers: Bobby Goepfert, G (transfer/Providence); Michael Olson, F; David Carlisle, D
Biggest losses: Dave Iannazzo, F (16-16-32); Peter Szabo, F (5-15-20); Matt Gens, D (3-14-17)

Assess the 2004-2005 season. What went right and what went wrong?:
Another dismal year in St. Cloud. There’s a joke amongst WCHA fans that the Huskies tend to “swoon” around Christmas break. That wasn’t the case last year, as SCSU swooned right out of the gate. Also, goaltending was hurting for the first time in several years. Tim Boron struggled, and when Craig Dahl brought in Jason Montgomery to replace him, Monty hadn’t played in so long that he had what I call “rink rust.” St. Cloud would give up goals early and have to play catch-up the rest of the game.

What are the overall strengths of the team?:
A young core of players. Freshmen got a lot of playing time last year, which should help their on-ice maturity. This, along with the infusion of new blood in SCSU alum and former Gophers assistant coach Bob Motzko, makes it seem as if there may be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow instead of a leprechaun to kick the Husky faithful in the shins.

What are the overall weaknesses of the team?:
Questionable defense. Husky defensemen being out of position as well as failure to keep the opposition out of the slot create too many scoring chances. Without high-powered offensive players like Mark Hartigan, Joe Motzko, and Tyler Arnason around, the Huskies need to rely on their defense and goaltending…or else it will be a long season.

Special teams also had their problems. Craig Dahl would parade out the same systems game after game, even though it would fail basically every time and SCSU ended the season with a PP percentage of 12.2, a far cry from the year with Hartigan where the Huskies led the nation in powerplay percentage.

Best-case scenario:
Top 5 finish in the WCHA along with a trip to the Final Five. I would accept an upset win in the first round.

Put your cowbell down and stop yelling at that poor goalie. Be as objective as you can possibly stand to be. Where will your team finish in the WCHA and why?:
Seventh. I see St. Cloud finishing ahead of Michigan Tech, Minnesota State Mankato, and Alaska Anchorage. Will the Huskies live up to the hype? There have been many players in the WCHA who came in highly touted. Some panned out. Others fizzled. It’s put up or shut up time in St. Cloud. A few players need to prove that they deserved that Division 1 scholarship.

Bruce's analysis:
Denver has veterans. CC has veterans. Even the Gophers have veterans. In a league like this, I just can't see a young team like St. Cloud accomplishing much, though a fresh start with Motzko might help down the road. In the end, the Huskies are too leaky on defense and not strong enough on offense to make an immediate improvement, though they'll avoid last place in the league.

WCHA Preview - 10. Michigan Tech Huskies

I was lucky enough to get some dedicated WCHA fans to volunteer their knowledge for this preview. Tim Braun is a Michigan Tech fan. Braun is known as the guy who founded Mitch's Misfits, a group of Tech students/hockey fans who are trying to follow in the footsteps of the UMD Penalty Box, a rowdy group that got their name by drinking fellow fans under the table while also traveling to the ends of the earth to see their team play. The Misfits organized a trip to Duluth last year to watch Tech sweep UMD, and one has to think more is on the horizon, as the group tries to inject some atmosphere into the Macinnes Student Ice Arena. Anyway, here is the Michigan Tech preview, with some serious assistance from Tim Braun.

Last year: 8-25-4 overall, 7-19-2 WCHA (10th). Lost to Denver in WCHA first round.
Coach: Jamie Russell, third season (16-50-9)
Top returnees
Forwards: Brandon Schwartz (10-16-26), Chris Conner (14-10-24), Tyler Shelast (11-8-19)
Defensemen: Lars Helminen (8-24-32)
Goalies: None (Kevin Hachey [0-1-0, 5.88 GAA, .714 in 41 minutes])
Top newcomers: Rob Nolan, G (Runner up for Canadian Junior POY, 27-13-4, 1.75 GAA, .929); Mike Teslak , G (21-9-0, 2.47 GAA, .931); Justin St. Louis F (31-28-59); Ryan Angelow F (46-26-72); Alex Lord F
Biggest losses: Colin Murphy, F (Hobey Baker Finalist, 11-42-53); Cam Ellsworth G (7-18-3, 3.23 GAA, .916)

Assess your team’s 2004-2005 season. What went right and what went wrong?:
Michigan Tech had a dismal first half in 2004. The offense scored goals and the team had 2 goal leads late in games but the goalies didn’t play a full 60 minutes. As quoted by Head Coach Jamie Russell, “Our goalies couldn’t stop a beach ball.” After Cam Ellsworth stepped up and started playing stellar between the pipes, the rest of the team became more confident and had a great second half. They held the National Champs (Denver) to one goal in two games to start the second half in Denver and also swept Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth on the road. Home success was rare and disappointing.

Assess your team’s overall strengths:
The powerplay has been a strength of this team since Jamie Russell arrived and even with the loss of pointman Colin Murphy, I don’t expect that to change much this season. Tyler Shelast is scrappy around the net and finding those rebounds and putting them home, Brandon Schwartz is put in a great position to use is Slap Shot on the onetimer and Helminen will take over as quarterback this year.

Assess your team’s overall weaknesses:
Michigan Tech will be very young behind the blueline. Their 3 goalies have 41 total minutes between the pipes at the college level. On Defense, Helminen will be expected to play 30+ minutes a game. 5 of the other 6 defensemen that will suit up for the first 14 games will be sophomores or freshmen (Senior Defensemen, John Scott, was suspended by the team for 14 games)

What is the best-case scenario for your team this year?:
Best case scenario finds all of the seniors stepping up and having career years (that hasn’t happened to an entire class since 1998) while the freshmen goalies find their feet quickly. Pipe dreams find the team fighting for home ice but I don’t really see them doing better than 7th this year. This team is full of “Jamie Russell guys.” Not all of them were recruited by Russell but everyone on this roster has bought into his systems. Last year and this offseason saw many faces leave the program early, but those guys didn’t fit and actually probably hurt the team. That should make for better team chemistry and translate into more Wins this year.

Put your cowbell down and stop yelling at that poor goalie. Be as objective as you can possibly stand to be. Where will your team finish in the WCHA and why?:
The team lost one of the best players in the history of MTU in Colin Murphy so it is hard to expect things to be better than last year but MTU was very close to getting out of the basement and I think the team is more similar to their second half of last year than their first half. The key to everything is how well the offense controls the game while the young defense and goalies get comfortable in the WCHA. As objective as I can be, I predict MTU to get out of the basement and finish 9th.

Bruce's analysis:
Tech was better in the second half a year ago, and it wasn't all about Murphy and Ellsworth. The young talent on this team finally started to pull together, which has to make Russell optimistic, even though this is largely an uncertain time that he is about to begin. The Huskies have 18 underclassmen and 10 freshmen on the roster, and Ellsworth's departure, along with Bryce Luker leaving the program, leaves a huge hole in goal. Scott's suspension would normally invite jokes about Tech having one less traffic cone on the blue line, but Scott played well at times a year ago, and now the Huskies have Helminen on defense and not much else. I may be in the minority (actually, based on the previews I'm reading, I am), but I think Tech's youth all over and inexperience in goal (as Tim mentions, three goalies on the MTU roster have combined for 41 minutes of collegiate goaltending) relegates them to a last-place finish, though the reality is that Russell has the program heading in the right direction.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

BlogPoll: Week Six

Dropped out
17 Iowa State--> Robbed or not, a loss is a loss. And Nebraska wasn't exactly looking sharp in the weeks leading up to this matchup. Bad conference opening loss for ISU.

20 Purdue--> Last week: "Couldn't stop the run. Tiller had better hope no one sees the tape." Well, it appears that Charlie Weis saw the tape. That was a beatdown.

22 Toledo--> Ouch. I know Gradkowski was hurt (again), but Toledo looked horrible in pretty much every facet of the game at Fresno last Tuesday.

The new Top 25
1. Southern Cal (1 last week). For next week's trick, USC will fall behind 42-0 entering the fourth quarter.
2. Texas (2). Wow. I thought it would be close in Missouri.
3. Virginia Tech (3). I didn't think this would be very close, and I was right.
4. Georgia (5). Bye. Moved up because Florida failed to score a touchdown. And Florida actually played a game.
5. Ohio State (6). I'm still not sold. Probably won't be until the Michigan game, but I am stubborn and still think tOSU will lose once before they go to Ann Arbor.
6. Florida State (7). Serious threat to move up now that Weatherford seems to have found himself. The defense is frighteningly good.
7. Alabama (16). See Florida State, only replace "Weatherford seems to have found himself" with "Croyle seems to be healthy".
8. Tennessee (8). Finally started Clausen. Too bad Ainge had to throw away one game (Florida) and half of another (LSU) before Fulmer figured this out.
9. Miami (9). I don't think they're as good as Virginia Tech, but they're improving and will be a threat in the conference.
10. LSU (10). Good rebound from the UT loss, even though it was against a bad team.
11. Notre Dame (12). I think I have this team right around where they belong for now. The USC game will be interesting.
12. Cal (15). Haven't played anybody yet.
13. Florida (4). Blown out at 'Bama, which proves that Meyer's offense is not without fault when you pit it against more athletic defenses. This might qualify as jumping the gun, however.
14. Wisconsin (21). Won big, just as they were supposed to. The game at Northwestern will be tougher than many people think. Bucky has had some serious struggles there.
15. Michigan State (11). Got punished by the football gods for running it up on Illinois, as MSU found a way to lose a very winnable game against Michigan.
16. Arizona State (14). Even though they blew a big lead, there really isn't anything wrong with losing a close game to USC.
17. Texas A&M (18). The true tests are yet to come.
18. Oregon (19). Won, but didn't look particularly strong.
19. Auburn (NR). I had to list 25 teams.
20. Penn State (NR). Michael Robinson was 13-32 passing against the Gophers. Let's not kid ourselves about this team. 7-4 would still be an achievement.
21. Michigan (24). Impressive rebound after the tough loss in Madison. The Gophers will test the Wolverines' interior defense, but we all know the history between these two teams.
22. Minnesota (13). Apparently, they're not for real.
23. UCLA (23). Had trouble beating a bad Washington team.
24. Texas Tech (NR). And you thought Cal hadn't played anyone yet.
25. Louisville (25). Holding their ground in the poll. Barely.

The Watch List
Boston College
Fresno State
Iowa State

College football - Week Five review

Full disclosure
In a performance that was even worse than last week, I think my wife watched more college football this weekend than I did.

--> Air Force at Colorado State
--> Pittsburgh at Rutgers

UMD Travel Note
When you go to Mankato, make sure to call what is now known as Minnesota State-Mankato "Mankato State". Do it repeatedly.

Thank you.


Not much to talk about here, as I didn't see much. With home games the next two weeks, enjoy this while it lasts.

Pittsburgh at Rutgers--> Has Dave Wannstedt been fired yet? Horrifying first-half performance from a team that had to know what was on the line.

Michigan at Michigan State--> Good for Michigan. I was surprised that Hart ran as well as he did, but in the end, I wasn't surprised to see Michigan State making enough mistakes to keep Michigan in the game. That's a trademark of Sparty. They tend to do that a couple times per season, and it's why they're not a legitimate title contender.

Minnesota at Penn State--> Speaking of teams that do the same thing every year, how about the Gophers? Start hot. Play a good team. Get whacked. Go in the crapper. We'll see if the Gophers rebound or if they fall off the planet as usual now that they've been exposed.

Florida at Alabama--> Damn. Maybe 'Bama's for real. We'll find out, as their schedule isn't exactly easy. Meanwhile, Florida really needs to regroup in a hurry. They still have a chance to get to the SEC title game if they can put it behind them.

USC at Arizona State--> I'm starting to think they'll never lose. Ever.

Middle Tennessee at Vanderbilt--> What?

Notre Dame at Purdue--> I don't think I could have predicted such a decisive victory, but I am not at all surprised that the Irish found a way to beat Purdue. The Boilers are severely overrated, and their defense was exposed for all to see in Minnesota.