Sunday, March 16, 2008
It sucks even typing those words, but it is indeed over now.
They gave it their all last night. In the end, all you can ask of an athlete is all they can give. I don't think any of the young men on this hockey team have any trouble looking themselves in the mirror this morning. At least, I hope not.
This one's tough because of the potential we had to see a national tournament appearance from this team. It's tough because four high-quality people have played their last game for UMD. It's tough because you know that everyone involved in this program has devoted the last six months-plus to this season, and it just went up in 1-0 smoke in Denver.
Next year? I don't even want to think about it. But at some point, we will have to. Next year will be better. I think we'll see some great senior leadership from the likes of Andrew Carroll, Matt Greer, and Jason Garrison. Goaltending should be quality, again. But we gotta score more goals (duh). Hopefully, the addition of some playmakers will help us in that regard. Guys like Jack Connolly and Mike Connolly might not be big-time goal scorers, but they're going to make everyone around them better with their vision, passing ability, and hockey sense.
The other question everyone wants to have answered involves the potential of losing people early. It's the mad rage throughout hockey, after all.
I don't have any magical inside information for you, but like everyone else, I do wonder about who might depart. Here's a quick look at guys who we might want to keep an eye on.
Alex Stalock. Duh. Should be no worse than third-team All-WCHA, and that's accounting for people like Brad Schlossman who inexplicably picked Kangas ahead of him.
(Sidebar: I'm just picking on Brad, who's a fine writer. I disagree with his selection of Kangas, because I don't know how you can argue that Stalock isn't the only reason UMD was in half the games they lost this year. For all the struggles Minnesota had scoring goals, they were much better at it than UMD, plus Kangas didn't lead the league in minutes played during the regular season.)
Anyway, San Jose holds Al's draft rights, and the ball's in their court. I don't know how goalies are handled by their respective organizations, but I do know that San Jose has a good crop of goalies in their system. St. Louis left Ben Bishop in college at Maine for three years before plucking him this past week after Maine's season ended.
With the strength in goal San Jose already has, my guess is that they'll let Stalock play one more year at UMD, provided Stalock isn't begging to get out of here. I don't get that sense from him. I think he'll be back.
Jason Garrison. I only worry about him because he's a free agent. My hunch is that he'll be around for his senior year, but it depends on what the NHL teams are going to want. Can't really predict that, so my hunch is more of a hope. You can't fault a kid for taking an offer at any point, whether they're a free agent or a drafted player. However, if you an NHL team, do you think he can benefit from another year of college hockey, where you can let him develop for free, or do you think he has to move into the pro ranks to advance his game? If he's back, he's one of the real leaders on next year's team, in my humble opinion.
Jordan Fulton. His name is being mentioned here for one reason: Kris Chucko. Ask Don Lucia about that deal. Calgary had his rights, and Chucko didn't put up the numbers everyone expected him to at Minnesota. After 34 points in 76 college games, the Flames signed him. Chucko has played 146 games in the AHL and totaled 51 points. He still hasn't gotten to play a single game in the NHL. The difference: Chucko was a first-round pick. Fulton is a sixth. I have to believe Calgary isn't going to touch him. But they have shown the ability to be impatient with player development in college. Hopefully, he's back. I think he's the kind of player who will blow up next year.
In short, I don't think we'll lose anyone early. The four who depart (Matt McKnight, Mike Curry, Travis Gawryletz, Nate Ziegelmann) will be missed for different reasons, but the rest of the team should return intact. Add the young talent in the freshman class for 2008-2009, and you have the makings of a strong contender for home ice in the WCHA.
Before I go, some quick thank yous.
First, to the coaching staff. Scott Sandelin, Steve Rohlik, Lee Davidson, and Bill Watson are good people. It's a pleasure to work with them, though I'm sure we media types can be a royal pain in the rear most of the time.
I'm not sure what to call the rest of the crew, so I'll call them the "support staff", even though that term doesn't do them justice. Director of hockey operations Nick Siergiej, strength coach Justin May, trainer Suz Hoppe, equipment manager Rick Menz, and equipment guru Andy Rannels are around this team every day, and they devote a lot of their time to helping the players. None of them have any obligation to even give me the time of day, but they're all great to deal with.
(Sidebar: Rick is stepping aside this June after nearly 30 years of this grind. I don't know how you did it, sir, but I sure do admire the fact that you stuck around as long as you did.)
Athletic director Bob Nielson, marketing czar Mark Rudolph, and sports information director Bob Nygaard all deserve kudos. Sharyl Beaudin works to coordinate all our travel and set up our hotel stays on the road. None of them get enough credit for the work they do.
I thank YOU, the fans. Thanks for your support throughout the season. Thanks to all the parents and fans who sent along notes of encouragement and praise or even criticism. It's always great to hear from you.
And thanks for supporting Bulldog hockey. Don't be a stranger, even though the offseason is suckingly long. Lastly, thanks again to the seniors. McKnight, the two-year captain, who battled injuries and illness the last couple years and did everything that was asked of him. Curry, the always-entertaining and engaging kid who never quit despite spending considerable time in the doghouse. He rose up the last two weeks and played some of his best hockey. Gawryletz is one of the toughest kids I've ever met. Ziegelmann hardly played his last two years, but never openly complained to anyone. He was a great team guy and his presence will be missed on the road.