Monday, March 09, 2009


I try not to make a habit out of responding to any random person's take on the UMD men's hockey team. With all due respect to any random person, if I tried to answer everyone, I'd have no time for anything else.

Among the random people with a take on the season is Duluth media veteran Howie Hanson. If you've been around for any length of time, you probably realize that Howie is the same guy who was gloom-and-doom about the 2004 Bulldogs. He took advantage of the fact that only one of the 60 or so Division I teams at the time could win the national title, so by continually predicting that UMD would fade away, he had a 98.3 percent chance of eventually being right.

Of course, Howie's never spotted on press row, and he's never been spotted anywhere near the UMD locker room at the DECC. He isn't a regular at practice, and if he attends games, he is doing so by purchasing a ticket.

None of this, of course, means that he doesn't know what he's talking about. You can't automatically dismiss people's opinions because you don't think they're plugged-in. In this case, the fact that someone doesn't spend any time around the UMD program doesn't mean they can't have an opinion about its performance.

It's weird, though, that pretty much every word Hanson writes about the Bulldogs is negative. The latest of these negative words can be found here.

I'm not going to address every single thing he says. Instead, I'm going to zero in on a couple of points.
Simply, UMD Hockey screams for change. Eh, fans: don’t be misled into thinking the program made strides this season, buying into the spin that it was one of the league’s most competitive regular seasons ever.
Are you saying that the program didn't make strides? If you are, you're wrong. Did the program make as many strides as hoped? No. However, they were almost unanimously picked to finish eighth in the league, yet had a shot at home ice heading into the final night of the season.

That's not to ignore that UMD incredibly failed to get home ice. It's instead pointing out another fact regarding what happened.

Furthermore, to call the statement "This was one of the most competitive WCHA seasons ever" spin is completely misleading. The word "spin" insinuates that you're trying to take a statement that isn't totally true and use it to sway the opinions of the masses.

This was one of the most competitive WCHA seasons ever. That's not a theory or an opinion. It's a fact. It is extremely rare that the top eight positions in a ten-team league are not totally decided heading into the final weekend. Five teams were battling for three home-ice positions. Two of them were playing bottom-feeder teams, and UMD and Minnesota went a combined 1-3 on the weekend.

Does any of this excuse UMD losing twice to a team it should have beaten twice? No.

The simple issue with this is that Hanson has, for some odd reason, disliked Scott Sandelin from day one. Again, it doesn't disqualify the man from having an opinion, but he has taken shots at this program from the day Sandelin walked in the door, and he won't stop until long after Sandelin is gone. Not even a national championship contender for the first time in 20 years could make Hanson think Sandelin was worth a crap.

Is it wrong to get mad about the last three years and call for a coaching change? No. Hell, Patrick Reusse was on the radio Saturday calling for Don Lucia's head. Now, if Lucia could ever conceivably be fired from a job where he's won two national championships and over 65 percent of his games, I'm not stupid enough to think Sandelin is untouchable.

However, if you're going to call for a coach's head, you need to at least get your facts straight. Hanson goes on to talk about the necessary change in the UMD program.
A seventh-place finish in the WCHA, with a team that on paper had so much promise, isn’t acceptable.
Is a seventh-place finish acceptable? Never. I don't care if you're picked to finish tenth.

But where was this promise on paper? If it was there, no one saw it. The Bulldogs were picked by experienced coaches and a largely veteran media contingent to finish eighth. As much as I wanted to pick UMD higher than fifth in the league standings because I believed (still do) in these players and coaches, I couldn't.

Outside of the goal, where Alex Stalock tied for the WCHA goaltending title, thus fulfilling his end of the deal, the Bulldogs were not full of big-time talent or any real offensive firepower. Fortunately for them, guys like Justin Fontaine and MacGregor Sharp had career years, and freshmen like Mike and Jack Connolly were absolutely solid.

Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough.

And, no, "not good enough" is not acceptable.
A head coaching change is long overdue. All-local scholarship players could finish higher in the league, and certainly generate more enthusiasm for the program.
How does "A" equal "B" here? I understand that many longtime Duluthians feel a bit of anxiety every time a non-local recruit signs with UMD, but where does this "local players would do better" stupidity come from?

Would it be great to have a pipeline of Northeastern Minnesota kids helping UMD contend for national titles? Sure.

Reality intervenes, however, because there aren't 25 really good local players worthy of Division I scholarships every four years.

Even if you branch out to International Falls and across northwest Wisconsin, you're not going to find enough kids to sustain a Division I program. They just don't exist.

And while people like Howie Hanson (and me, for that matter) have family and roots in this area and may never want to leave, not everyone who grows up here wants to stay here. It's a fact of life. It would be great to get all the great local talent that does exist, but you can't force someone to play at UMD who would rather play for the Gophers or someone else. You also can't force kids to wait until you think they're ready, because they may disagree with you.

Minnesota doesn't get every kid they want (Jake Gardiner). North Dakota doesn't get every kid they want (Dylan Olsen, baby!). Wisconsin doesn't get every kid they want (just ask Phil Kessel). Similarly, they don't get every kid in their backyard that's good enough to play Division I hockey. After all, the Gophers lost out on Stalock, the Badgers on Kessel, and the Fighting Sioux didn't get Aaron Marvin or Mike Lee.

I'm not ragging on Howie for wanting a coaching change. His reasoning, however, is, as it was in 2004, incredibly flawed and rarely rooted in fact. That's what happens when you develop an unhealthy bias against someone you don't know.


DC said...

Er, John Lee. Not that there was a chance in hell that he would have gone to UND after what happened with Brian...

UND fans also constantly call for Hakstol's head and he's had considerable success there.

If it means tDogs win, I'm fine with a coaching change. Just as soon as someone puts forward the name of a viable and qualified candidate, I'll be willing to listen. However, no one has done that.

Bruce Ciskie said...

That's the issue. It's easy as hell to say "FIRE (so-and-so)". It's easy to call someone incompetent or lazy or stupid or say a coach is ill-prepared for the job at hand.

The hard part is suggesting people who could take over and do a better job. In the end, I have issues seeing credibility in someone who makes blanket statements and doesn't offer specifics.

Bruce Ciskie said...

Oh, and I was referring to Mike Lee, the goalie from Roseau. St. Cloud got him.

DC said...


Someone on Pates's blog was all "Curt Giles! He rocks at coaching high school!"

Uh, yeah. HIGH SCHOOL. At EDINA. Which had no hockey tradition prior to him, right?

Eric J. Burton said...

I hope Howie Hanson doesn't like playing with sharp objects his article was a real downer. Yikes.