Monday, November 30, 2009

Notre Dame Has It All Wrong

First things first.

Charlie Weis wasn't likely to ever truly fit at Notre Dame. He showed up with a deserved and warranted swagger that quickly morphed into overconfidence and cockiness. By carrying this attitude into the first couple years of his tenure, Weis built more expectations on top of what the two BCS berths did on their own.

He built them to a point that they were unattainable.

While those expectations were no one's fault but Weis', it was the players who bore the brunt of the pressure to perform. Weis knew he had to win games to keep his job, no matter how big his buyout was. In order to accomplish this, Weis prepared like a madman for games, but he never found a way to get his team to play physical enough at the line of scrimmage to be a constant factor.

It got to the point where even Navy was able to handle the Irish up front and exert their will on games.

Yes, Navy.

No offense to Navy, but this should never happen, much less twice in three years.

What sealed Weis' fate, however, was a consistent and maddening inability to win big games, especially on the road.

His defense couldn't make any of the necessary stops against teams like Michigan, Michigan State, USC, or even Navy in recent years. A third straight six-loss season was the straw the broke the camel's back, and Weis is gone.

Blame it on the institution that is Notre Dame football if you want, but this one is on Weis. His ego was out of control when he walked in the door, and he couldn't bring the program back after he got humbled in 2007.

The defense was terrible. They got gashed by Navy. They got torched by Connecticut. Toby Gerhart just ran for another touchdown, trucking two safeties on the way.

While Weis is to blame for what happened Monday, Notre Dame needs to figure some things out.

Loyalist Bob Davie got fired.

Tyrone Willingham was the transcendent hire who had experience winning at a place with tough academic standards (Stanford). He got fired.

Charlie Weis was the genius. He had the NFL pedigree, and he was going to recruit athletes all over the field. He's now fired.

Where do you go from here? You've pretty much tried every kind of hire except one. It's one that will never work in the current culture of Notre Dame football.

The long-term hire.

Instead of reaching for a Bob Stoops or an Urban Meyer who doesn't really want to be there, go after someone who will tackle the duties with the kind of passion the alumni will have no choice but to appreciate.

(Yes, the point here is that a guy like Stoops or Meyer doesn't really want that job. If either of them did, it wouldn't cost Notre Dame an arm and a leg to hire them. Argue all you want that this is how the business works now, but the money wouldn't matter one bit -- outside of taking care of any buyout at their current school -- if there was any sincere desire to take on this job.)

This won't be the popular hire by Jack Swarbrick. He's going to have to absorb some criticism, and there may be another 7-5 season or two in the near future. However, finding someone who will be passionate about Notre Dame football is the first part of the battle. Stop paying big-name coaches who are only in it for the money. Hire someone who will treat the job with the reverence it deserves, and everything will start looking up.

(Yes, I get that this will never happen. Doesn't mean that what happens is the right thing.)

BlogPoll: Dec. 2 Ballot (draft)

Here you be, kids.

1 Florida 1
2 Alabama 1
3 Cincinnati
4 Texas
6 Boise State
7 Ohio State 2
8 Oregon 2
9 Iowa 2
10 Penn State 2
11 Virginia Tech 2
12 West Virginia 4
13 Pittsburgh 5
14 Georgia Tech 7
15 Oregon State 3
16 Southern Cal 3
17 Houston 4
18 LSU 5
19 Brigham Young 5
20 Utah 6
21 Oklahoma State 6
22 Clemson 5
23 Stanford
24 Wisconsin
25 Central Michigan
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: North Carolina (#20), Mississippi (#22), Temple (#25).

The Alabama-Florida flip-flop is based solely on each team's play the previous weekend. Frankly, Alabama looked good in beating Auburn, who isn't a bad team, but Florida absolutely demolished their rival and hit on virtually all cylinders in doing so. You have to give them the nod for now. Frankly, the order of these teams is meaningless because we've known for a while that they'd be going head-to-head on a neutral field for the SEC title this Saturday.

This is the nightmare scenario for the BCS. Unless Nebraska shocks the world and beats Texas in what should be a virtual home game for the Longhorns, we're staring at the very real prospect of five unbeaten teams plus an impressive one-loss SEC title game loser.

Of course, this won't stop the anti-playoff morons from continuing to advance their "meaning of the regular season," "academics," and "how many teams would you take to make it work?" non-sensical rambles.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Turkeys

At the risk of getting too cheesy, I wanted to take a moment and wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving.

I'm thrilled that you stopped by -- even if it was just this once. I'm grateful to have a platform like this to vent about topics that may only interest me.

Be safe and have fun on this day of thanks. May your feast be delicious and plentiful.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

NFL Week 12: Trap Me

A few quick thoughts on Week 12:
  • The Packers are walking into a trap. They appeared to right the ship a bit with two straight home wins, but they have now lost two defensive stalwarts for the season. Oh, and they're on the road with a short week to prepare against a team that just won a crazy game and has nothing to lose. These are typically very tough games to play, and the Packers will be in desperate need of a fast start Thursday.
  • Speaking of traps: Don't sleep on Oakland. The Raiders have a competent quarterback who won't kill his team, and they have some confidence after a nice home win over Cincinnati. The Cowboys have scored precisely zero points in the first three quarters over the last two weeks. They have a total of 14 in that span.
  • I can't get a read on the Saints-Patriots doozy scheduled for Monday night. Nothing really at all. Every time I think Belichick will figure out a way to win this game, I think about the way they blew the Colts game, and the fact that their defense is a shell of its championship self. Then again, the Patriots have typically risen to the occasion for big games, and if they want to have a good chance of a first-round bye, they'll probably need this one.
  • The Vikings are good. Jay Cutler is not. Unless one of those immutable laws changes in time for Sunday, the Bears don't have a chance.
  • Huge game for Jacksonville on Sunday. They go cross-country to play San Francisco, who is oh-so-close to being a playoff contender. A win solidifies Jacksonville as a team to contend with in the AFC, as they'd move to 7-4. It also keeps them well ahead of surging Tennessee and upstart Houston.
Here are this week's picks. Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Green Bay over DETROIT
DALLAS over Oakland
DENVER over N.Y. Giants
ATLANTA over Tampa Bay
Miami over BUFFALO
CINCINNATI over Cleveland
Seattle over ST. LOUIS
N.Y. JETS over Carolina
PHILADELPHIA over Washington
Indianapolis over HOUSTON
SAN DIEGO over Kansas City
Jacksonville over SAN FRANCISCO
TENNESSEE over Arizona
MINNESOTA over Chicago
Pittsburgh over BALTIMORE
NEW ORLEANS over New England

Last week: 11-5
Season: 88-45

(Hopefully) The Last Word on Bergman's Non-Goal Goal

Many UMD fans have asked my opinion of this since Saturday, but I've held off for a number of reasons. However, I figured I'd leave you for the holiday with a few words on the controversy that erupted in the third period of the UMD-Minnesota game.

It's a controversy that was rendered irrelevant by Mike Montgomery's late game-winner, but still one worth discussing.

If you missed it, UMD had an apparent goal taken off the board about halfway through the third period. The Bulldogs got the puck to Gopher goalie Alex Kangas, who couldn't find the biscuit to cover it up. Instead, it was free for freshman defenseman Wade Bergman, who crashed the net. As Bergman got to the net, he appeared to have his skates clipped by the stick of Gopher Tony Lucia, which sent Bergman crashing into Kangas. As he went down, he got his stick on the puck and tried to steer it past Kangas. Before anyone knew it, he had crashed into Kangas, and the puck was across the goal line.

Referee Don Adam stood over the net and signaled ... absolutely nothing.

Adam and partner Timm Walsh headed to the scorer's table, prepared to look at the play on video. More than five minutes later, Adam returned a "no-goal" verdict, and play eventually continued.

I had a couple problems with the call.
  • The idea of video review is to look at a play and determine if the call on the ice stands. To overturn it, you need indisputable video evidence to show you, as the referee making the call, were wrong. It's very hard to do this if you don't make a call on the ice. Adam failed to do that, and so no one knew what he was trying to accomplish in the video review.
  • Had Bergman kicked the puck into the net, the goal wouldn't have counted. While the final determination couldn't be made whether he had the puck go in off his skate or not, it was obvious that the puck did indeed touch his stick as he crashed into Kangas.
Our buddy Kevin Pates got on the horn with WCHA officiating czar Greg Shepherd this week, and the results were kind of interesting.

Shepherd, said Tuesday, first of all, that a call should've been made at the time by the on-ice officials before any video review. He said that not making a call was a mistake. He said that if an offensive player, on his own power, goes into the goalie and into the net, with the puck, there is no goal. He said that if an offensive player is pushed or tripped into the goalie and into the net by a defending player, along with the puck, then the goal is legal.

I'm not in favor -- believe it or not -- of throwing officials under the bus. They work hard, get paid little, put up with way too much grief, have a ton of pressure, and generally do a good job. Case in point: Adam and Walsh almost flawlessly navigated their way through a hard-fought two-game series. In both games, the visiting team (justifiably) had more power plays, and stuff was missed both ways. Since these guys are human, that stuff's going to happen. The point is that they were fairly consistent, let the kids play, but didn't let the overly flagrant stuff go.

(I saw a couple e-mails referring to the elbowing call on Drew Olson that launched the Gophers' five-on-three in the first period. Yes, that was an incorrect call, but it looked live like Olson elbowed a kid in the head, and the officials are under strict orders from the NCAA to crack down on head contact. Given that edict and the look of the play when it happened, it's hard to get too upset about the call.)

Unfortunately for Adam and Walsh, it was their second controversy in as many weeks (they were the ones who called a major penalty on the wrong guy in the St. Cloud-North Dakota series the previous weekend). Those things don't tend to sit too well with any officiating boss.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why People Rag On Major Junior

For the most part, the debate between NCAA and Canadian major junior hockey is driven by one side.

It's not that the folks behind college hockey don't care about the sport's reputation or image. It's that they have more important things to do than promote themselves.

Perhaps we need to change that.

As written in this space before, this isn't really a good debate. Every kid's development is going to be different, and it will be sparked by different things. There are kids who -- at age 18 -- are better off playing with kids their own age and younger, and others will get better by playing against bigger, older, more experienced competition. The young people involved simply should be given the best information possible so they can make intelligent decisions that are free of any potentially harmful biases.

Consider the case of goalie Jack Campbell. He decided to pull out of a verbal commitment to Michigan so he could go play for the OHL's Windsor Spitfires. Give the kid credit, because he didn't shy away from his decision. On the other hand, maybe he should have.

"I am honored the University of Michigan recruited me to play college hockey. My goal is to be playing in the National Hockey League within a year or two, and I did not want to put Michigan's hockey program in a bad position where I left after one season.

"By going to the Ontario Hockey League, I feel it will accelerate my development so I will be able to more quickly achieve my goal of being an NHL goaltender.

"I feel awful about breaking my commitment to U of M. It's something that was not easy to do or that I intended to do. College hockey is a great game that produces a lot of NHL players and I am grateful for the opportunity the University of Michigan gave me."

With all due respect, this is garbage.

Yes, Campbell might develop better in the OHL. However, it's practically insulting for him to suggest that he'll get to the NHL faster there than he would at Michigan.

Chris Dilks of Western College Hockey crunched the numbers, looking at how quickly first-round CHL goalies got to the NHL. Let's just say it isn't a high rate of quick success.

Over 10 drafts--1999-2008--there has been a grand total of one goalie from the CHL (Dan Blackburn, if you're curious) drafted in the first round that wasn't still eligible for the Calder Trophy (no more than 25 NHL games played, or 6 in two separate seasons) at the end of the timeframe with which Campbell suggests he'll be in the NHL.


Good luck, kid.

You can believe that Campbell invented this philosophy, and maybe he did. However, you hear all the time about how Canadian major juniors are the fast track to the NHL. No one questions it, because all you have to do is prop up Sidney Crosby and you win. But Crosby is a special talent that the QMJHL may never again see. Is it really fair to point a finger at him and talk about how major junior is better than college?

In all honesty, I still feel the same way about this debate. Campbell sure could be doing what's best for himself after some serious thought. However, there are rats crawling all over this, and it's hard to get past the idea that the Spitfires exacted some sort of influence by somehow convincing Campbell and his family that going to Michigan would hurt his development.

Even if it didn't happen in this case, you know it does in others.

When was the last time you heard about a college coach going the extra mile to talk a kid out of going to a CHL-affiliated team?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Jared Boll's Positive Outlook on Life

Former UMD men's hockey recruit Jared Boll is carving out a nice niche for himself in the NHL.

Boll never played a game for the Bulldogs, opting to go major junior after originally committing to UMD. He has become one of the better young fighters in the league, and he gets regular minutes as a forward for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He's logged 166 games in two-plus seasons with Columbus, and he's only 23, so you could argue that he will develop even more as an all-around player, instead of just being a one-dimensional punch-thrower.

Saturday night, Nashville's Wade Belak did the unthinkable. He speared Boll right in the, um, unmentionables.

Belak got a two-minute minor for hooking. Yes, hooking.

Anyway, instead of whining about a suspension (Belak hasn't been suspended yet, though he was benched for the third period of Saturday's game by Predators coach Barry Trotz), Boll has shown a good attitude about the whole thing.

"He caught me in the worst spot," Boll said. "I'm just glad we scored on the power play."

It's the small pleasures, like watching your team score after some guy just tried to render you sterile on the ice.

BlogPoll: Nov. 25 Ballot (Draft)

1 Alabama
2 Florida
3 Cincinnati
4 Texas
6 Boise State
7 Georgia Tech
8 Pittsburgh
9 Ohio State 1
10 Oregon 1
11 Iowa 6
12 Penn State
13 Virginia Tech 1
14 Utah 1
15 Oklahoma State 5
16 West Virginia 3
17 Clemson 4
18 Oregon State 4
19 Southern Cal
20 North Carolina 4
21 Houston 2
22 Mississippi
23 LSU 14
24 Brigham Young
25 Temple
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Stanford (#16), Wisconsin (#18).

Happy Thanksgiving Week, everyone. Please respond and give me ideas for changes before the Wednesday morning deadline.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Game 14: UMD at Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- Listen, I'm the first to admit when the good guys get lucky a bit, right?

They kind of did last night. A 4-3 overtime win over Minnesota was rarely pretty, though Travis Oleksuk's wrist shot that eluded goalie Alex Kangas for the game-winner certainly had some beauty attached to it.

For UMD, this is a great opportunity. Head-to-head is a huge component in the Pairwise, and UMD can assure that Minnesota will need a DECC sweep and a WCHA playoff win would be needed for the Gophers to steal the season series. To do that, they have to win tonight. Anything less than that will not be good enough, and UMD will need to beat the Gophers again to clinch the season series.

I'll add to this if I need to after talking to Coach Sandelin, but here are tonight's lines.

Danberg - Connolly (Jack) - Connolly (Mike)
Bordson - Oleksuk - Fontaine
Fulton - Akins - Seidel
Schmidt - DeLisle - Flaherty

Olsen - Montgomery
Bergman - Lamb
Olson - Huttel

Hjelle - Reiter

Hoeffel - Schroeder - Sacchetti
Lucia - White - Budish
Carman - Matson - Birkholz
Hansen - Larson - Flynn

Ness - Fischer
Fairchild - Schack
Wehrs - Helgeson

Kangas - Patterson - Kremer

Friday, November 20, 2009

Game 13: UMD at Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- Mmmmm ... you can smell the arrogance.

Or, maybe that's some sort of snack food thing at the concession.

Whatever. It's (almost) game time.

Bulldogs and Gophers. Always fun to work a game here, but rarely fun to see the end result, because success hasn't been common for UMD here.



Danberg - Connolly (Jack) - Connolly (Mike)
Bordson - Oleksuk - Fontaine
Fulton - Akins - Seidel
Schmidt - Hendrickson - Flaherty

Kishel - Lamb
Olsen - Montgomery
Olson - Huttel

Reiter - Hjelle

Hoeffel - Schroeder - Sacchetti
Lucia - White - Budish
Carman - Matson - Birkholz
Hansen - Larson - Flynn

Ness - Fischer
Fairchild - Schack
Wehrs - Helgeson

Kangas - Patterson - Kremer

Thursday, November 19, 2009

NFL Week 11: Picks

In case you want to know who not to bet on.

CAROLINA over Miami
DETROIT over Cleveland
GREEN BAY over San Francisco
Pittsburgh over KANSAS CITY
Washington over DALLAS
N.Y. GIANTS over Atlanta
New Orleans over TAMPA BAY
BALTIMORE over Indianapolis
MINNESOTA over Seattle
Arizona over ST. LOUIS
San Diego over DENVER
Cincinnati over OAKLAND
NEW ENGLAND over N.Y. Jets
Philadelphia over CHICAGO
Tennessee over HOUSTON

Last week: 9-6
Season: 77-40

The Minnesota Rivalry Is Still No. 1

Over the years, UMD has seemed to develop a healthy dislike of St. Cloud State. It probably helps that the Bulldogs can't win in the National Hockey Center to save their lives, and the Huskies always seem to struggle at the DECC. The games always seem to get kind of chippy, and UMD fans don't have much love lost for St. Cloud State fans (or parents, as luck would have it).

The intensity on the ice certainly contributes to the overall image of a rivalry between two teams, but it is not usually a reasonable substitute for history and off-ice perceptions. UMD has that with Minnesota. Generally speaking, the Gophers are the Bulldogs' No. 1 rival, and you need look no further than the stands at Mariucci Arena this weekend to find out why.

Unlike other WCHA venues, where UMD fans are typically stuck in a faraway corner and generally not heard that much unless you're right by them, Bulldog fans are scattered throughout the crowd at the Gophers' rink. You can't tell them by their colors, but you can tell them when UMD scores. It's not quite like Packer fans in the Metrodome, but it's much closer to that than any other WCHA rink.

Fans take this rivalry seriously. And they should. For UMD supporters, it's the only chance they get to thumb their nose at the "Main U." There is a certain annoying kind of arrogance that comes off the Gophers and their hockey fans. It's a much bigger school than UMD, and they have a greater tradition in all sports, including hockey. But yet UMD is on the same level -- Division I -- as the mighty Twin Cities campus.

It was that arrogance, that "We're bigger and better" mentality, that led to UMD referring to Minnesota as "UMTC" on the DECC scoreboard. UMTC, of course, stands for University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Gopher fans hate being called UMTC. They want to know why you don't call Wisconsin "UWM" or Michigan "UMAA," but they don't get that this whole rivalry thing is greater with Minnesota than any other program.

Rivals are supposed to irritate one another, right?

This storied rivalry, admittedly a one-way sort of rivalry over the years, resumes this weekend at Mariucci Arena on the UMTC -- er, University of Minnesota -- campus.

Conventional wisdom is that UMD will waltz into the Cities and stomp on the under-.500 Gophers.

Then again, conventional wisdom is often wrong.

See, this isn't a normal sub-.500 team. It's a sub-.500 team that has battled injuries, slumps by top players, and a schedule that would make Fresno State's football program -- you know, the anyone, anywhere, anytime guys -- cower in fear. Minnesota has played WCHA favorites North Dakota and Denver, nationally-ranked Wisconsin, and just faced a Bemidji State team that entered their non-conference set as the only unbeaten left in Division I.

It's a sub-.500 team with as much skill as anyone. Jordan Schroeder is still, for my money, the best player in the WCHA. Zach Budish, a big, strong power forward, might be the best freshman before it's all said and done. Defensemen Cade Fairchild and Aaron Ness can move the puck, while David Fischer can move the Earth. Goalie Alex Kangas is off to a very good start.

How the hell is this team sub-.500?

Well, as head coach Don Lucia said Wednesday, the schedule is a factor. So are injuries to senior Jay Barriball (out for the year) and freshman Nick Leddy (a first-round NHL pick who is gone for a couple more weeks). Schroeder slumped out of the gates, but is starting to pick up his play.

Lucia knows that his team is playing better now, but he also understands that there is room to improve. Senior Tony Lucia has been consistent up front so far, but no one else really has.

The power play is almost embarrassingly bad for how talented this team is. The Gophers know they have to pick up their special teams play, and Lucia is really emphasizing discipline this weekend. He knows that his very decent penalty kill will be challenged by the Bulldogs' power play, especially if UMD can improve their overall level of play on the big sheet.

The Bulldogs are sitting in a good position right now. These are their last two road games for over a month. They host North Dakota and Denver after a bye week, and that will take them to their holiday break. That means they can focus on this weekend, not worry about anything else, and do everything they can to maximize their take from this series.

Lines like Danberg and the Connollies, and Fontaine - Oleksuk - Bordson, could have a huge weekend on the big ice. Expect to see a more effective Dylan Olsen than what you saw in St. Cloud. He played better in Colorado Springs, and he appears to have shaken whatever ailed him early in the season. Brady Lamb is a much more confident player than at any point in his short UMD career to date, and he could be a big factor for the Bulldogs.

It will be interesting to see how UMD handles the goalie situation. Both Kenny Reiter and Brady Hjelle have had their moments, however, and it has to be expected that unless the Friday starter -- Reiter for a few weeks now -- plays spectacularly, he will yield to the other for Saturday's start.

For the Bulldog roster, this is always an important series. As it seems UMD has been able to recruit more and more players from Minnesota (16 this year), they're bound to see more intense games with the Gophers. The UMD roster is littered with guys who either grew up hating the Gophers, or grew up wanting to be one and didn't get the opportunity. Either way, they'll be ready this weekend.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sharp Gets 'The Call'

Just two days after the 2008-2009 UMD season came to a sudden and heartbreaking end, senior star MacGregor Sharp turned professional. He signed a contract with the Anaheim Ducks, played the remainder of the season with the team's now-defunct AHL affiliate at Iowa, and got ready for his first full season in the pros over the summer.

(Yes, it's the Ducks, who we have publicly despised for some time around these parts. However, we still wished Sharpie well, and hope he can stick in the NHL. Even if it has to be in Anaheim. Hey, at least the weather's nice there.)

That first season didn't exactly start as planned. Instead of having a spot on an AHL roster, Sharp was the victim of a numbers game. Because the Ducks don't have an AHL team anymore, he had to try out in San Antonio. When that didn't work out, Sharp was sent to the Ducks' ECHL affiliate in Bakersfield.

15 games into the season with the Condors, Sharp has gotten the call every minor-league player dreams of.

The Ducks announced today they have recalled center MacGregor Sharp from the Bakersfield Condors, Anaheim’s development affiliate in the ECHL.

... Sharp, 24 (10/1/85), appeared in 15 games for Bakersfield this season, collecting 4-10=14 points with 10 penalty minutes (PIM). At the time of his recall, Sharp was tied for the team lead in assists and appearances, ranked second in shots (48) and tied for second in scoring and points-per-game (0.93).

The Ducks' next game is Thursday night at home against Tampa Bay. No word if Sharp will be in the lineup, but we can all hope he will be.

Sharp scored 26 goals and totaled 50 points for UMD last year, including an amazing stretch run that included a hat trick in the WCHA Final Five title win over Denver.

(Thanks to awesome UMD blogger RWD for the tip.)