Saturday, October 31, 2009

Game 8: UMD vs. Clarkson

Couple changes for UMD due to injuries and viruses. Here are the lines for tonight.

Bordson - Connolly (Jack) - Grun
Fulton - Connolly (Mike) - Danberg
Schmidt - Akins - Flaherty
Hendrickson - DeLisle - Seidel

Montgomery - Ryan
Bergman - Lamb
Olson - Huttel

Hjelle - Reiter - Crandall

Pawlick - Oakley - Tremblay
DeFazio - Tuohimaa - Cayer
Morley - Marks - Wilson
Freeman - Tamblyn - Beca

Pokulok - Borowiecki
Rufenach - Reed
Daddario - Pizzo

Karpowich - LaVeau

For UMD, Justin Fontaine is out with an upper-body injury, courtesy of Clarkson's Tim Marks. Dylan Olsen is out with a virus, as is Trent Palm.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Game 7: UMD vs. Clarkson

Back home in the friendly confines.

Before we get to lines, an announcement for those of you with children or who like to stalk college hockey players.

All UMD fans young and old are cordially invited to the 34th annual Skate with the Bulldogs event on Sunday, November 29th, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the DECC. It's your opportunity to skate and get pictures taken with your favorite UMD men's and women's hockey player. Also expected to be on hand is Champ the Bulldog mascot as well as Santa Claus. Admission is free and there will be prize giveaways as well. That's Skate with the Bulldogs, November 29th from 3 to 5 o'clock at the DECC.

And now, here are the lines for the lid-lifter of this non-conference series.

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

Olsen - Lamb
Montgomery - Ryan
Olson - Huttel

Reiter - Hjelle - Crandall

Pawlick - Oakley - Freeman
DeFazio - Cayer - Beca
Tremblay - Marks - Tamblyn
Morley - Tuohimaa - Wilson

Pokulok - Borowiecki
Rufenach - Reed
Crowe - Pizzo

Karpowich - LaVeau - Rosen

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Dilemma Facing UMD

There are times where hockey coaches have to make some difficult decisions. Sometimes, fans will tend to agree with the coach, or at least side with him, because the coach is paid to make those tough decisions.

Other times, fans will act like they know more about hockey than the coach does. You know someone like this, in all likelihood.

Beyond this, there are other decisions that coaches have to make, and normal fans understand that no civilized person would ever want to have to make them.

In hockey, one of these such times comes when a struggling offense is faced with the question of how to structure their lines. Do you keep your best players together, or break them up in hopes of invigorating other forward lines?

There could come a time this season where UMD is facing this dilemma.

The Bulldogs have three top-notch offensive players. Everyone knows it. Jack Connolly, Mike Connolly, and Justin Fontaine are three of the best forwards in the WCHA. With all due respect to the other forwards on the team, these three are a cut above the rest.

After experiencing some serious struggles in generating five-on-five offense, UMD appears ready to put their eggs into one basket, or line. This week, Mike Connolly has joined Jack Connolly and Justin Fontaine in practice, and it sounds like the three will play five-on-five this weekend against Clarkson.

This isn't meant as any disrespect to Mike's old linemates, guys like Travis Oleksuk (one game), Rob Bordson, and Cody Danberg. They're good players, and it would help them immensely to play with a guy like Mike Connolly, whose constant hustle, underrated grit, and offensive ability make guys around him better. However, the Bulldogs have a bigger picture to think about.

If having the Connollys (or is it "Connollies"?) paired with Fontaine will make the team more dangerous offensively, they have to take a shot at it. This opens the door for Oleksuk to be paired with Bordson and either Danberg Jordan Fulton when he returns (perhaps as soon as next weekend).

Of course, if the 2004-2005 Colorado College Tigers are any barometer, this won't be the last change that is made involving UMD's top players. Coach Scott Owens had senior stars Brett Sterling and Marty Sertich, and while he started the season with the high-scoring forwards on the same line, he eventually separated them, then reunited them and separated them again before the season was over. The year ended in a first-round NCAA regional loss to Cornell, and the team may not have realized its full potential.

Owens is a good coach, and this isn't about blaming him. It's about showing how hard this type of decision can be.

Having three really good players on one line might hurt the balance of your four forward lines, but if those three players are generally not going to be stopped for 60 minutes, you know that you can win games. It helps that you can see some real potential in the Bulldogs' third line, featuring captain Drew Akins, junior Kyle Schmidt, and freshman Keegan Flaherty. They played very well on Friday (in fact, head coach Scott Sandelin said Saturday that this threesome was probably UMD's best line in that Friday tie at SCSU).

Improved production from this group means the Bulldogs would have one really good scoring line, another capable scoring line, and then two lines that shouldn't have a ton of pressure on them to develop and chip in a lot of goals. Oleksuk's return should help solidify that second line, while also giving the Bulldogs more depth at center.

It's early in the season, too, so it's a good time to experiment. Yes, all regular season games count in the Pairwise, but if you're truly good enough to make the tournament, you're probably good enough that you've kept far away from the bubble on Selection Sunday. There's only one exhibition game, and WCHA games only get six or eight non-conference games (depending on if they travel to Alaska for a series or not) to tinker with things. The conference games have to take precedent over non-league contests, meaning that these dates with Clarkson are the best shot UMD will have until New Year's weekend to see if this line will work.

As the freshmen develop and younger guys push for ice time, there will be more opportunities to experiment with line combinations for the Connollys and Fontaine, assuming this doesn't work or UMD doesn't like having their three best offensive players on one line. This is just the first of those trial runs.

Don't be terribly shocked if it works.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Favre Gives His Blessing

The day is drawing closer.

On Sunday, Packer fans have to choose between their team and the quarterback who ran himself out of town because he couldn't make up his mind (or maybe he wanted out all along).

For most of them, it's not really a difficult choice. After all, these people have been Packer fans forever, and they're not going to cheer for a guy on a rival team just because he's Brett Favre.

If you're still on the fence, trying to decide what to do, please understand that Favre understands. In fact, if you choose to cheer for the Packers, you are doing so with The Great One's blessing.

(Are you curious to see the fans' reaction?)

"I think that's probably more intriguing to everyone else. I think there'll be a mixture of both, understandably so, but as I've said before: 'What I've accomplished there and was a part of, you can't take that away.' You know, it's OK to pull for your team, I guess. But I can't make anyone cheer or boo or whatever.

Straight from the horse's ass -- er, mouth:

It's OK to pull for your team, I guess.

Good deal, Brett. I'll remember that on Sunday. I'm so grateful that the great Brett Favre has given me permission to cheer for the Packers, the team I've rooted for since I was shorter than my seven-year-old is now.

Without his blessing, I'm not sure I could go on.

Whatever, Brett. There will come a day after this season is over, when you're sitting on your tractor, or out on the golf course, or throwing footballs to teenagers, or whatever it is you do when you're not playing football. On this day, you're going to look back and wonder what you did to earn the scorn of so many people in Wisconsin, people who adored you for so many years.

Before all is forgiven (and this will happen, I promise), you're going to feel a tinge of regret over the incredibly dumb things you've said since you first decided to come back in 2008. When you think about those dumb things, "It's OK to pull for your team, I guess" is going to be at or near the top of the list.

Former Packer Sums Up Favre-Vikings Marriage Perfectly

Earlier this year, Brett Favre talked too much. He was giddy over a Minnesota win, and he talked about how this group of Vikings was the best team he'd ever played on.

Well, the 1996 Green Bay Packers, who actually won a Super Bowl, beg to differ. Not only that, but a few of them relayed some disgust at Favre's decision to sign with Minnesota.

Favre can expect lots of boos Sunday when his Vikings wander into Lambeau Field. It's a situation many NFL fans can't comprehend, as they seem to believe Packer fans should see beyond the colors of the jerseys on the field and blindly cheer for Favre, no matter what he is trying to do to their favorite team.

While many of the arguments about how the Packers didn't want Favre back would make sense if they were true, most of them are not.

This wasn't as black-and-white as "The Packers got rid of him," and it never will be that simple. The problem wasn't that the Packers didn't want Favre, it was that they didn't want Favre on Favre's terms anymore. They wanted a quarterback that could be relied on for offseason attendance, and they wanted a quarterback who would be willing to continue playing for them without being begged. Most importantly, they wanted a quarterback who wouldn't be perceived as being above the rest of the team. Favre couldn't provide that anymore, and this was perfectly evidenced by his magical "Wait Until The Day After OTAs and Announce Intent to Play Again" trick he played in the summer of 2008.

So the Packers moved on.

In the article linked above, former Packers discussed Favre's contention that this Vikings team was superior. Shockingly, they find it to be absolutely crazy, in large part because the Vikings haven't won anything yet. Of course, if the Vikings do win something, Favre looks like a genius. Again.

If they don't, he just looks like another selfish guy who couldn't stand not being in the spotlight. Then again, we all think Favre is like this anyway.

At the end of the day, former defensive tackle Santana Dotson summed up the situation perfectly.

"Seeing Brett in purple, when I first saw it I kind of threw up in my mouth. Once he finally retires and he flips up that helmet for good, we all know the records and that Brett Favre will be known as one of the greatest Packers ever to play the game.

"But I do understand the fans and how their anger has heightened with him in a purple jersey. The fans should feel free to boo, yell and go crazy on Sunday. When that jersey comes off and he decides to retire, we'll bring him back home."

More than anything, these words should sum up the attitudes of Packer fans regarding what has happened here.

Seeing Favre in purple should make them throw up in their mouths. They should boo him mercilessly on Sunday, from the second he walks out on the turf to the moment he ducks into the tunnel for the last time after the Packers have clinched victory (too optimistic?). No matter the outcome of Minnesota's season, the mere mention of Favre's name in Wisconsin should be met with instant negativity.

But the day Favre has his number retired at Lambeau Field, all will be forgiven. Yes, that day will happen. It's not like Favre assaulted anyone, nor has he ever said anything bad about Green Bay in public. Outside of his decision to play for the Vikings -- and the reaction of Packer fans to this is totally justified -- there just isn't anything to hold a grudge with the guy over.

Brett Favre Pass is still standing in Green Bay, as is Brett Favre's Steakhouse. Someday, No. 4 will adorn the Ring of Honor inside Lambeau Field, and millions of Packer fans will take that jersey out of storage and put it on again.

(By the way, if any Ryan Longwell fans are reading this, the same is true for him. He had a lot of good years in Green Bay, and while he may never get his number retired, there's no reason he can't come back one day and serve as the honorary captain.)

As for the comments about the 1996 team, let's face it. There is no comparison that can be fairly made until the Vikings season is over. From there, the only fair comparison that can be made between the two is if the Vikings actually win it all. The 1996 Packers were easily the league's most dominant team that season. They had an MVP quarterback, two dual-threat running backs, an emerging All-Pro receiver, two great tight ends, one of the strongest offensive lines of its time, and the league's top-ranked defense and special teams.

(Green Bay had four return touchdowns in 1996, but did not permit a single kickoff or punt return touchdown.)

It can be argued that it's tougher to win it all today than it's ever been, but it can also be argued that truly dominant teams tend to not exist in football anymore (exception: 2007 Patriots, who didn't win it all, oddly).

What's your take? Is it fair to compare the two teams before we know how the Vikings will finish up?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Truths About the NBA Season

With much hype (at least on ESPN), the NBA kicks off the regular season Tuesday night. The league is in the same kind of economic pickle the NHL is, but they get more viewers on average for games at any time of day.

While there were some clear down years for them, it appears that the level of talent and excitement is on the rise. There are some clearly bad teams -- and even a few awful ones -- as usual, but more teams seem willing to play a more athletic style that is going to be attractive to people looking for things to watch on television and ways to spend a few bucks on a night out.

As the season launches, here's one not-so-big fan's list of important truths about the NBA:

The league doesn't suck.

This used to be a problem. Yes, you'll still see a few 77-73 clunkers where neither team can shoot and no one appears interested in moving their feet, but these guys are human beings, and they will have their off nights.

The important thing is that there is more excitement than there are dull moments. This shouldn't be a problem. Teams like Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, Washington, Dallas, Phoenix, Atlanta, Denver, Portland, the defending champion Lakers, and even their arena roomies, the Clippers, show the promise of being exciting to watch while also being at least decent in the standings.

Not a lot of teams on that list, but at least it's a start.

If the Lakers falter, the league is wide open.

It's a big "if," but haters can always hope that Ron Artest blows up the chemistry. It's certainly possible, given that he has never played with an ego like Kobe's.

Also a possibility is that Kobe won't be as driven now that he's proven he doesn't need Shaq around to win a title. This is unlikely, as I don't see him taking his foot off the gas for any reason. Getting Artest was huge, as the loss of Trevor Ariza could have really hurt otherwise. Then again, they probably don't lose Ariza if they hadn't gotten Artest first.

The Clippers are going to be good.

Yes, really. Blake Griffin comes back in six weeks, which sucks, but it isn't the end of the world. Every now and then, a high-profile rookie gets too many minutes early in the season and rams into a wall at around the 50-game mark, when he realizes that he's never played this many games at a high level before (college seasons are 30 games or so plus conference and national tournament play).

Griffin can be a force in the second half, and the Clippers should be somewhat competitive before he plays. Eric Gordon and Baron Davis are a great guard tandem, Chris Kaman is a passable interior player, and I love Rasual Butler. He's got length and he makes people defend him on the perimeter because he's such a good shooter.

Even Mike Dunleavy might not be dumb enough to keep this team out of the playoffs.

Oklahoma City is the most exciting team in the league ...

... and they won't even make the playoffs this year. Just watching these young kids grow up and get better together is great. Throw in super crowds that they're drawing in Oklahoma City, and you have a great environment for basketball.

This team simply isn't ready yet. Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russell Westbrook represent an impressive nucleus, and they're clearly on their way. Should teams like Portland and Denver falter (possible), the Thunder may have a shot at sneaking into the field. It's just asking a lot for them to be better than older, more experienced, and deeper teams.

The league is in salary cap trouble.

Not everyone has spent to the cap this year. That's smart, because there's virtually no chance that the league salary cap will stay where it is now next year. The same is true in the NHL, where teams may be on the verge of some major contract buyouts and trades to get closer to next year's projected number.

In the end, teams like Portland -- who made a deal with veteran point guard Andre Miller and wasted cap space to do so -- may be regretting their spending next summer. After all, LeBron is still scheduled to be a free agent, and desperately few teams (New York, New Jersey, and the Clippers?) from big markets have positioned themselves to be serious bidders. If the cap falls, this list could get even smaller.

No one knows how the playoff chases will end.

That said, what fun would it be if we didn't guess?

1. Cleveland
2. Boston
3. Washington
4. Orlando
5. Chicago
6. Atlanta
7. Miami
8. Indiana
9. Toronto
10. Philadelphia
11. Charlotte
12. Detroit
13. Milwaukee
14. New Jersey
15. New York

1. L.A. Lakers
2. San Antonio
3. Portland
4. Dallas
5. Phoenix
6. Utah
7. L.A. Clippers
8. New Orleans
9. Denver
10. Golden State
11. Oklahoma City
12. Minnesota
13. Houston
14. Memphis
15. Sacramento

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Game 6: UMD at St. Cloud State

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- Listen, I'm not going to complain about the officials. Frankly, it's not like they have it easy down there, trying to judge diving without the benefit of a higher angle or replays.

But let's be serious for a moment, and not pretend that certain players for St. Cloud State (COUGHROELASCHCOUGH) are never guilty of such a heinous thing.

In fact, after watching these guys perform their magic again Friday night, I'd go so far as to say that you're never going to see them get called on it, and the only way around it is to keep your sticks and hands off, unless you can pop them with a hard, clean hit.

Anyway, one point is better than none, which this team had gotten in too much of a habit of getting here. Let's rock it for Game 2. Here are the lines.

Fulton - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Danberg - Bordson - Connolly (Mike)
Schmidt - Akins - Flaherty
Hendrickson - DeLisle - Grun

Palm - Montgomery
Olsen - Lamb
Olson - Huttel

Hjelle - Reiter

Mosey - Roe - Lasch
Hanowski - LeBlanc - Festler
Christian - Marvin - Volpei
Peckskamp - Oslund - Ryan

Barta - Raboin
Gaudet - Hepp
Lauridsen - Johnson

Dunn - Lee - Hardy

For UMD, Scott Kishel is out with an upper body. Olsen's virus has gone away enough for him to play. Palm is playing back-to-back games for the first time since his offseason surgeries.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Game 5: UMD at St. Cloud State

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- On the road again ...

It's actually good to get away from home for a change. What stinks is that the first roadtrip has to be here, where UMD is just 1-8 in their last nine tries. Hopefully, a quicker and possibly more-skilled Bulldog team will fare better than the ones who have not succeeded here recently.

Maybe it's good to get this out of the way, eh?

Outside of the pond hockey-esque ice sheet here, there isn't a ton for me to talk about. It's a loud building in every way, from the goal horn to the P.A. guy to the student section. However, the ice is made of the same stuff.

Want me to complain about something? There are two giant scoreboards, and neither are fully visible from my seat. It's not nearly as bad as that giant pole they have at John Glas Fieldhouse in Bemidji, right in front of the visiting radio spot.

My vote is that a visiting broadcaster be allowed to rap that thing with a sledgehammer before the last game there.

Anyway, on to tonight's lines.

Fulton - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Danberg - Bordson - Connolly (Mike)
Schmidt - Akins - Flaherty
Hendrickson - DeLisle - Grun

Palm - Montgomery
Kishel - Lamb
Olson - Huttel

Hjelle - Reiter

Mosey - Roe - Lasch
Hanowski - LeBlanc - Festler
Christian - Marvin - Volpei
Peckskamp - Oslund - Ryan

Barta - Raboin
Gaudet - Hepp
Lauridsen - Johnson

Lee - Dunn - Hardy

For UMD, Dylan Olsen is out with a virus. Travis Oleksuk is still out with a leg and didn't make the trip. Wade Bergman will be spectating tonight.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

College Football Weekend Preview: Mid-Major Powers Collide in Provo

It's the clash of Mountain West powers that we've all waited for.

Well, until the winner faces Utah.

TCU travels to Provo, Utah, Saturday night to tussle with BYU. The winner is in the driver's seat for the Mountain West title.

The Horned Frogs are in the BCS discussion. They're 6-0, they've beaten two ACC teams on the road, and they have a top defense. BYU, meanwhile, has a damaging loss to Florida State, and they're not nearly as good on defense as the Frogs.

It's kind of the opposite scenario from last year. When the teams met in Fort Worth, TCU had the chance to bust BYU's BCS dream, and they blew out the Cougars on national television.

There are some differences. BYU is still strong on offense, TCU on defense. And this game won't be an ESPN Thursday night special. Instead, it is on Versus, meaning a good chunk of college football fans won't have access, thanks to the network's teenager-esque feud with DirecTV.

Anyway, I expect Max Hall and friends to do a number on TCU. Yes, Andy Dalton and Joseph Turner can carve some holes in the Cougar defense, but not enough to hold off an inspired BYU team that is playing at home. That's just too much to ask.

I'd love to discuss things to watch for on Saturday's Versus broadcast, but since I won't be able to see it, that's kind of pointless.
The pick: BYU

Other games (Home team in CAPS)
OHIO STATE over Minnesota
Georgia Tech over VIRGINIA
PITTSBURGH over South Florida
WEST VIRGINIA over Connecticut
ALABAMA over Tennessee
MICHIGAN over Penn State
Boston College over NOTRE DAME
UTAH over Air Force
Texas over MISSOURI

Last week: 7-5
Season: 55-31

Bulldogs Make a Roadtrip

Sometimes, it's good to play on the road.

There are fewer distractions for everyone, and it gives players a chance to bond as they travel together.

For the UMD Bulldogs, this is the first time they've experienced a road trip this season. For the last two months, players have been skating at home, either on their own or with the guidance of coaches. They're familiar with the DECC, because that's about all they know as far as hockey environments.

The National Hockey Center is bound to be culture shock for some of them this weekend. Its huge ice surface means plenty of room for the skill players, and it's tougher to rub people off the puck. Because skating is at such a premium, head coach Scott Sandelin took his players to UMD's on-campus rink this week for two days of workouts. It was a way of helping prepare the legs for what lies ahead.

There is much debate about the potential effects of such a move, because while you're better preparing players for the physical demands of the big rink, you're also taking them away from what is comfortable for them. The daily routine of working at the DECC is broken when the guys have to pack their gear and head up to campus.

Not only that, but UMD has won plenty of big-sheet games over the years without practicing on campus.

It's just that not many of those games have come in St. Cloud.

The Bulldogs are 1-8 in their last nine games at the NHC. Neither UMD's Scott Sandelin nor SCSU's Bob Motzko likely know of a really good reason for this, since UMD seems to dominate games played in Duluth.

"I've given up on trying to figure out WCHA series," Motzko told me in advance of this weekend's two-game set.

It's hard to blame him, really. The Huskies played very well against UMD at home last year, outscoring them 9-3 in a two-game sweep. They played not as well in the two road games against UMD, one of which was played at XCel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Bulldogs won those games by matching 5-1 scores.

"We got clobbered," Motzko said. Yeah, they certainly did do that.

But the favor was returned in January at the NHC. Goaltender Alex Stalock did not play well, as he seemed out of sorts, as if the atmosphere had somehow penetrated his skull. The Bulldogs were not strong defensively, and it didn't seem as if they were moving their feet very well anywhere on the ice.

This team is hopefully going to play well, off those lessons learned. The big sheet requires you to skate, and you can't afford to take a shift off. The Huskies have too many highly-skilled players who can burn you if you aren't careful.

Last weekend, the Bulldogs were impressive on Friday in a 5-2 win over Minnesota State, then not as solid in Saturday's win. Those kinds of nights can test the character of a team. UMD fell behind 2-0, looked out of sorts, and generally weren't doing much right. A power play late in the first period started to get things going for the Bulldogs, who cashed in to make it a 2-1 game before intermission.

Eventually, Minnesota State was done in by the things that do them in so often: dumb penalties, bad penalty killing, and inconsistent offensive zone effort.

Don't get me wrong, the Mavericks played very well Saturday, especially compared to Friday. They took the play to UMD big-time in the first period, but it seemed they tailed off a bit once UMD tied the game. Not sure if that was a fatigue issue, or if it was an "Oh, crap, we're in trouble, even after basically dominating the first" issue.

This weekend, however, will be nothing like last weekend, or next weekend. That's just how it works in the WCHA. The Bulldogs have to bring "it" Friday and Saturday, or there's a good chance they'll make their way back up Highway 23 Saturday with the same number of points as they got last time they were in St. Cloud (0).

The last time UMD won a regular-season game at the National Hockey Center, it was Evan Schwabe, Marco Peluso, and Nick Anderson scoring third-period goals in a 3-1 triumph. Steve Czech assisted on all three goals.

Yes, really. It's been that long.

It's a streak that needs to end. This team is due, and they have the speed across all four lines to make it happen. Guys like Jack Connolly, Justin Fontaine, Mike Connolly, Rob Bordson, Keegan Flaherty, Jake Hendrickson, and Kyle Schmidt can freaking fly, and UMD has an impressive group of skating defensemen like Dylan Olsen, Mike Montgomery, and Wade Bergman, all of whom could very well see ice time this weekend.

Hopefully, the Bulldogs are able to bring some points home with them this weekend. Trust me, they'll make room on the bus for all four if they can pull it off.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First NHL Central Scouting List Full of Minnesotans

The NHL Central Scouting Bureau puts out a number of different rankings every year. The first of their lists came out Tuesday, and it is simply a rundown of the top players to watch throughout North America.

Here is the explanation of this early list.

A Rating -- A 'must see' player who is predicted to be a potential First or Second Round Draft selection in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft

B Rating -- A player to note if you are in the area, a potential selection in the Third to Fifth Round Draft Selection in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft

C Rating -- A player that Central Scouting is tracking, a potential late round selection in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft

There are a number of players with Minnesota ties, including some UMD recruits, on these lists.

First off, let's list the UMD recruits.

A Rating
Joe Basaraba, RW, Shattuck-St. Mary's

B Rating
Mac Carruth, G, Wenatchee (NAHL)
Caleb Herbert, C, Bloomington Jefferson

C Rating
Adam Krause, C, Hermantown

Basaraba is from Fort Frances, and played in Duluth Marshall's Christmas tournament a couple years ago. Very impressive kid who will be on campus next year. He was a high pick in the OHL Draft, with rights going to the Erie Otters, but there are no indications he will go that route.

Herbert is a bit undersized, but a very impressive playmaker who can skate like crazy. Krause is the top local player this year, and he could lead Hermantown back to state.

Other names worth watching on this list:

B Rating
Tyson Fulton, RW, Breck (Jordan's younger brother)
Garrett Hendrickson, C, Virginia/MIB

C Rating
Will Corrin, D, International Falls
John Skrbec, RW, Grand Rapids

Players from the USHL and U.S. Under 18 National Team program are not on this list. They will be ranked separately in November. Duluth East's Derek Forbort should be quite high in those rankings, as he is a possible high pick next year, too.

Want proof? Kevin Pates notes International Scouting Services rankings that have Forbort 15th among North American skaters.

UMD's Fontaine Wins WCHA Honor

If there was any doubt as to who was UMD's go-to line, it was put to rest this past weekend. That was when Justin Fontaine and Jack Connolly combined for six goals and four assists during a weekend sweep of Minnesota State.

Fontaine had four of those goals plus an assist, and he has been honored by the WCHA.

University of Minnesota Duluth winger Justin Fontaine, who scored four goals and set up another while helping the Bulldogs to a two-game conference sweep over visiting Minnesota State, Mankato last weekend, is the Red Baron® WCHA Offensive Player of the Week for Oct. 20-26, 2009.

A 5-11, 175-pound junior from Bonnyville, Alberta, Fontaine scored twice – including the game-winning goal – and assisted on another goal in leading UMD to a 5-2 win over Minnesota State last Friday (Oct. 16) at the DECC in Duluth.

He then had a pair of tallies the following evening (Saturday, Oct. 17) as Minnesota Duluth rallied past the Mavericks 3-2 to complete the series sweep.

In addition to his five scoring points in the series, Fontaine put a team-high seven shots on net Friday and scored with 7:37 to play in the third period Saturday to break at 2-2 tie and seal the UMD victory. Three of his four goals in the series came on the power play.

Fontaine now leads the nation in both points with nine (he shares that honor with line mate Jack Connolly) and goals with six. He was a 2008-09 All-WCHA Second Team selection.

I'm not one to spend much time looking at past trends, but it's hard to avoid the Bulldogs' recent futility at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. They're 1-8 in the last nine games played there. Last year, UMD was swept by scores of 3-1 and 6-3.

Hopefully, the speedy Bulldogs can more effectively skate with the home team this weekend. After all, the longer they stay in FIRST PLACE, the better!

Monday, October 19, 2009

BlogPoll: Oct. 21 Ballot (Draft)

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

Dropped Out: Nebraska (#18), South Carolina (#22), Notre Dame (#24), Missouri (#25).
  • Jumbled mess at the bottom. I'm confident that will sort itself out by bowl season. For now, there are five to seven interchangeable parts in that part of the poll.
  • Georgia Tech is the real deal? Wow, they looked good on Saturday. This is an offense that I never dreamed would look this sound in the ACC, but Paul Johnson is an amazing coach, and he has taught his athletes very well.
  • I swapped Alabama and Florida for now. I just think the Tide would be able to beat Florida on a neutral field. If they keep playing like this, they'll get their opportunity. Don't discount one of these teams losing at some point, though.
  • Frankly, I was completely underwhelmed by Texas. Just didn't look that good to me. I know USC almost blew it against Notre Dame, but the Trojans at least played three really impressive quarters in that game before they went to sleep. It seemed like Texas was sleepwalking for three quarters.
  • I just don't know what to make of Iowa. Finding a way to win counts for something, but they're not good enough to be a lock over any of their opponents. Anyone can beat them, because they just don't overwhelm you with anything. Fundamentally sound teams that take advantage of mistakes can be vulnerable if an opponent figures out how to avoid those costly mistakes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Attention: UMD Students

The UMD Bulldogs have played five home games so far. One of them didn't count, and UMD is 3-1 in the games that did count.

So far, the DECC has been populated by generally less-than-capacity crowds (Saturday being an exception), but the student section has been a notable exception. Students have been flocking to the games in huge numbers so far, and it's added a bit of zest to a building that is too often way too quiet for a hockey game.

This is generally a good thing. Ever since the UMD student section was organized and revitalized not long before the team's magical 2004 Frozen Four run, fans who attend games in Duluth have been treated to one of the WCHA's more enjoyable and clever groups of student fans.

When the section had its most momentum, they also kept it clean. You didn't have to blush when you thought about players' parents attending games, or recruits and their families, and you weren't on the verge of leaving your kids at home. There were no vulgar chants, partly because the leaders kept in touch with people at UMD and made sure their desires were met.

Obviously, things have changed. There are new leaders to the section now, and they apparently haven't spent as much time talking with people from UMD.

How do I know this?

Well, as the Bulldogs were polishing off British Columbia in their exhibition Oct. 3, you heard students chanting "(Bleep) the Canadians!" at the visitors. Well, I hope it was at the visitors. I guess I don't know for sure, since UMD has a roster of 26 players that includes seven from north of the border. Maybe the students don't like UMD's Canadian players, or maybe they wanted to make UMD's Canadian players feel weird.

An active student section is a good thing. A student section that chooses to be vulgar is not.

Vulgar is not funny. Adding F bombs and homophobic words to your chants will not make people laugh. Instead, they'll take notice for the wrong reasons.

As a radio person, I shouldn't have to turn the volume of the crowd mic down out of fear for what the students will chant next. Nor should I have to.

As a parent, I shouldn't be fearful of taking my seven-year-old to a game so he doesn't have to ask mid-game what a "purple faggot" is.

People who are putting these chants together need to think of a few things.

For starters, there are a lot of kids who attend the games. You want this, because the kids are the ones who we need to get into hockey. Even if they're just going to be devoted fans of the game, there's no question we need them.

Parents don't like their kids being exposed to hundreds of people chanting words like "faggot" or "pussy" at the opposing team. It leads to a lot of undesirable questions at hockey games when the toughest question a kid has to ask should be something like "What is a hand pass?".

Speaking of parents, not only are there parents of young kids at the games, but there are also parents and other family members of UMD players on hand. Let's not offend them, because it just doesn't seem like a good idea.

UMD administrators, who have every right to revoke your tickets, attend games.

Oh, and even more important for the future of UMD hockey would be the presence of recruits and their families at games. If you don't think that the atmosphere in a building matters, you're wrong.

In the end, the student presence at the DECC is a welcome thing. Much of the time, they add some serious fun to the place when it can otherwise be quite dull. But as the transition to the new building gets going, the last thing UMD and its students need is for the section to become like so many others in college sports.

If you want to be like St. Cloud's student section, try going there.

NFL Week 6 Quick Picks

Yow. How did I forget these?

Home team in CAPS.

CINCINNATI over Houston
GREEN BAY over Detroit
MINNESOTA over Baltimore
NEW ORLEANS over N.Y. Giants
Carolina over TAMPA BAY
WASHINGTON over Kansas City
PITTSBURGH over Cleveland
SEATTLE over Arizona
Philadelphia over OAKLAND
N.Y. JETS over Buffalo
NEW ENGLAND over Tennessee
ATLANTA over Chicago
SAN DIEGO over Denver

Last week: 10-4
Season: 54-22

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Game 4: UMD vs. Minnesota State

5-2 win Friday night, and an impressive performance by the home team. Hopefully, more of the same is to come tonight.

Here are the lines:

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

Olsen - Montgomery
Kishel - Lamb
Olson - Huttel

Hjelle - Reiter - Crandall

Irwin - Galiardi - Mouillierat
Hayes - Harrison - Stewart
Sackrison - Pitlick - Louwerse
Thompson - Youds - Jokinen

Elbrecht - Davis
Boe - Schiller
Canzanello - Mosey

Murdock - Lee

If You're Heading to the DECC Tonight ...

... stay in your seats after the first period. The Mite 2s from Proctor and Twig will be playing a mini-game between periods.

My kid will be the one on Proctor with the yellow skate laces. I'll be the guy in the press box who can barely speak because he's so nervous.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Game 3: UMD vs. Minnesota State

That's the Minnesota State from Mankato, by the way. Should be a good weekend, as this team is flying under the radar and could end up being very tough if they get good goaltending.

Here are the lines for Friday's WCHA opener.

Fulton - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Danberg - Bordson - Connolly (Mike)
Hendrickson - Akins - Flaherty
Schmidt - DeLisle - Grun

Olsen - Montgomery
Palm - Lamb
Olson - Huttel

Hjelle - Reiter - Crandall

Irwin - Sackrison - Mouillierat
Hayes - Harrison - Stewart
Mueller - Galiardi - Jokinen
Wiley - Pitlick - Louwerse

Elbrecht - Davis
Boe - Mosey
Canzanello - Youds

Lee - Murdock

UMD Goes Pink This Weekend

This comes from UMD. Not only is it the school's annual Homecoming this weekend, but they're also taking time to raise money for a worthy cause.

Here is the press release:

In the sea of maroon and gold UMD Homecoming Festivities this weekend, you’ll also find PINK! This Saturday (Oct. 17), the University of Minnesota Duluth volleyball team is sponsoring the “Dig for the Cure!” event designed to support the search for a cure for breast cancer, in recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Activities include a silent auction. The event will take place when the Bulldogs take on Northern State at 4:00 p.m. on the hardwood of Romano Gymnasium. Fans are encouraged to show their support by wearing pink clothing as part of the event and UMD students will be admitted free of charge by presenting their student identification cards.

UMD Stores raised $2000 last season for the St. Luke's Breast Center thorugh the sale of pink ribbon UMD hats, commemorative pink ribbon tees, and pink hockey jerseys. UMD Stores director, Jeff Romano, will present the check on Saturday, October 17th at 4pm, at the "Dig for the Cure" event prior to the UMD volleyball game at Romano Gym.

Last year’s fundraising event was so successful, that we’re doing it again! October is breast cancer awareness month, and UMD Stores will donate $4 from the purchase of each new commemorative pink ribbon Minnesota Duluth tee, $20 from the purchase of each pink hockey jersey, and 1/2 the purchase price of each pink ribbon hat, to the St. Luke's Regional Breast Center in Duluth.

Minnesota Duluth Pink Ribbon Tee -- $9.99

UMD Pink Ribbon cap -- $16.99

UMD Bulldogs Pink Hockey Jerseys: youth, $84.99 -- adult, $94.99

We'll be checking in next from the rink, preparing for UMD and Minnesota State in the WCHA opener. Word on the street is that defenseman Trent Palm may be making an early return from hip surgery this weekend. His presence would be a welcome jolt of experience on a rather young blue line.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

College Football Weekend Preview: No Boy in the Balloon Talk Here

The internet is exploding with talk of a boy in a balloon. Sorry, but we're here to talk football.

The Big East is getting no attention, mainly because we just don't know how good its best teams are.

Cincinnati and South Florida are unbeaten, each has won a quality road game, but neither is really in the BCS conversation. Pittsburgh shouldn't be forgotten about, either.

For now, though, the focus is on Cincy and USF, as they clash Thursday in Tampa. The Bulls are the more quiet of the two, still unbeaten despite a devastating knee injury suffered by senior quarterback Matt Grothe. The Bearcats are primed, it seems, to be in this position, led by an experienced and uber-talented quarterback in Tony Pike, and coached by one of the true up-and-comers in the college game. Brian Kelly might be at a bigger school soon, but for now, he's focused on leading the Bearcats to the promised land.

In a year where there are one-loss teams all over the place, does Cincinnati really have a shot? We may never know, because they have to somehow beat the Bulls, who have built a great program and developed a nice home-field advantage at Raymond James Stadium.

With a game like this, the easy reaction is to go with the home team. USF has been well-seasoned for this moment, but they're facing a team that is more talented on each side of the ball. Pike and the Bearcats eek out a narrow win on their road to BCS contention.
The pick: Cincinnati

Oklahoma vs. Texas (at Dallas): I don't care how healthy Sam Bradford is, or how much better Oklahoma's defense is than it was last year in this game. It doesn't matter. The Longhorns have been playing for this game for a while, and they got their wake-up call last week when they got off to a poor start against Colorado. I say the Longhorns win easily.
The pick: Texas

Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech: I've been constantly dogging both these teams, it seems. I doubted them both in preseason, and it's taken me a while to come around. The Hokies have developed a passing game, but it will be interesting to see how it performs in a tough environment. They have also shown an ability to stop the run, which will help them a lot against the Yellow Jackets and their option offense. I'll take the visitors, based on their more balanced offense, solid defense, and always-explosive special teams.
The pick: Virginia Tech

Iowa at Wisconsin: The Badgers looked like hell for much of Saturday's loss to Ohio State, making dumb mistakes and basically handing tOSU the game. Iowa is 6-0, but they get no respect. They should. This is a solid team that does enough to win, a trait that shouldn't be lost because they don't win games 44-3. Ricky Stanzi runs this offense very well, and it seems they have finally found a way to get the offensive line to protect the quarterback. Wisconsin is in trouble, because if they play the same kind of mistake-prone football they did last week, they'll get blown out of their home stadium.
The pick: Iowa

Other games (home team in CAPS)
NOTRE DAME over Southern Cal
PENN STATE over Minnesota
NEBRASKA over Texas Tech
Kansas over COLORADO
ALABAMA over South Carolina
OKLAHOMA STATE over Missouri
Northwestern over MICHIGAN STATE
IDAHO over Hawai'i

Last week: 7-4
Season: 48-26

NASCAR Hall of Fame Day Reveals Current Flaw in Sport

There was some awesome NASCAR programming on television Wednesday. It was the day they announced the first induction class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, a group that includes the likes of Junior Johnson, Richard Petty, and Dale Earnhardt. There are no arguments with these three, and founding fathers Bill France and Bill France, Jr., are very deserving, even if they could have waited on the younger France for the next class.

ESPN2 re-aired the hour-long special about Rick Hendrick, as the new DVD comes out commemorating his 25 years in the sport. It really gives you a great insight into the kind of man Hendrick has been, and why he is so well-liked across NASCAR. There is some super stuff on that special from Jeff Gordon, along with the always-hilarious pictures of him with that ridiculous hair and mustache.

Also re-airing was the two-hour long movie "Dale" on SPEED. It's a documentary-style film that chronicles Earnhardt's career in racing. The most interesting part -- for me -- was introduced by Steve Byrnes and features longtime rival Darrell Waltrip talking about racing against The Intimidator.

When was the last time you saw racing like that in NASCAR? Yes, there have been some great finishes over the last few years, but when you have 36 Cup races in a season, they should happen a lot more often than they do.

Instead, we get something like Daytona in July, and it turns into a week-long controversy about who we should blame for it.

Why can't something like that be just "two guys racing for a spot"? Why do we have to find a reason to fault one driver or the other?

Moreover, what the hell has happened to that kind of hard racing?

Juan Pablo Montoya made it clear after the first Chase race that he wasn't pleased with Mark Martin for what Montoya termed a "brake check" heading into a corner at New Hampshire. Montoya insisted on racing clean, it seems, and refused to wreck Martin.


Race for the damn win. That's supposed to be your job. Instead, everyone is so obsessed with points that the wins just don't matter anymore. And when someone comes into the sport with the mentality that it's all or nothing, people decide that he's a waste of a human being.

Is there risk associated with racing someone hard and going for a win? Sure. There's also risk in putting the racecar on the track in the first place, but that doesn't stop anyone from trying.

The mentality in NASCAR just isn't what it used to be. Yes, safety is important, and no one wants the COT to go away if it means a higher risk of serious injury among the drivers. However, there's no denying that racing has become largely boring. There is less bumping and rubbing on the tracks, and we certainly never see people (outside of Kyle Busch) racing for the win the way Waltrip and Earnhardt did on that fateful day in 1986.

If we can ever return to having that kind of desire, hunger, and intensity on the track, the COT might start looking like a "racier" kind of car, instead of the parade-inducing snore we have today.

UMD Readies for WCHA Opener

The UMD Bulldogs are finishing up preparation for their conference opener, which is this weekend against Minnesota State. For UMD, there is a bit of a desire for redemption. To a man, not many were pleased with how the team played in non-conference action against Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan last week. The Bulldogs split the games, beating LSSU 4-3 and losing 3-1 to Northern.

They probably shouldn't be pleased. It could be argued that the Lakers deserved a better fate, outplaying UMD for a good chunk of the second and third periods, but never being able to equalize after falling behind 2-0.

UMD deserves credit, too, because they had to grind their way through a tough third period without two forwards, Travis Oleksuk and Kyle Schmidt, who were injured in the second period.

NMU won thanks to a much more inspired effort than what they got on Friday against Michigan Tech. Head coach Walt Kyle put a real emphasis on Sunday's game, as he was awfully unhappy with how his team came out against the Huskies.

You can expect a similar emphasis on this weekend for UMD. Not only do these games count in the WCHA standings, but the Bulldogs were a tad flat Sunday, and no big hits or saves by Kenny Reiter could really get them going.

MSU is coming off a weekend sweep of Bowling Green, one that probably got some confidence for their new goalies, Austin Lee and Kevin Murdock. While head coach Troy Jutting wouldn't say for sure, you can expect to see each goalie this weekend. Both are inexperienced (Lee is a junior but just made his first collegiate start Friday), and Jutting expects it will take "at least a month" for the position to sort itself out.

The Mavericks have a ton of seniors, especially up front. They also have some size, and have always seemed to be the kind of team that would work well on the DECC's smaller ice. Last year, they were shut out in the Friday game, then blew a two-goal lead and lost 7-4 on Saturday. With the leadership they have both at forward and on defense, expect to see a different Maverick team this week.

Jutting -- armed with a new four-year contract -- has the kind of team every coach dreams of in this league. Despite all the early departures and superstar players that have populated the league in recent years, it usually comes down to your senior leadership. He has no shortage of that, and this should be very interesting weekend of hockey.

UMD will need a much better 120-minute effort Friday and Saturday if they wish to get their 45th season of WCHA play off on the right foot.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Former Bulldogs Update

Couple things on former UMD Bulldogs playing pro hockey.

First off, my rough draft of an active list is here. Please review it and let me know if I am missing anyone or if there is anyone listed for a team they're not playing for.

Secondly, how the hell did we miss this?

Congratulations to Jay Rosehill on his first NHL goal!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why Versus Isn't Good at Hockey

I like John Forslund. I think he does a pretty good job on Hurricanes games, and he's been with that franchise since it was in Hartford, so the fans are quite familiar with his voice and his style.

His work as a national play-by-play guy on Versus has been very similar to what fans of the Whalers/Hurricanes have been used to over the years. Similar enthusiasm, similar catchphrases ("That's hockey, baby!", "Hey, hey, whaddaya say?" et al). He doesn't change much, outside of any homerism going out the window. But even then, it's not like you're asking Mike Haynes to stop screaming when the Avalanche score a goal. Forslund is a homer, but not a big-time one.

Forslund was at the mic Monday night in Chicago, as the Calgary Flames visited the Blackhawks. When Calgary jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first period, it seemed safe to put things in cruise-control mode. We've all been there as broadcasters, though. Sometimes, you have to take the game out of cruise when the comeback begins.

Working with Ed Olczyk, Forslund pulled off an epic fail in the Versus broadcast. The Blackhawks cut into the lead again and again, eventually getting within 5-4. After a couple near-goals, the Blackhawks had an offensive zone faceoff. Forslund and Olczyk were talking about rabbit ears, however, and weren't to be bothered.

Seems the pair never truly left 5-1 mode. You know, the part of the game where you assume it's over and done with on the ice and start telling dumb stories and filling time with bad jokes? That's 5-1 mode, and it's probably not a good idea to stay in that mentality when it's 5-4 and the home team is threatening to tie the game.

In Forslund's defense, he wasn't caught with his pants down on Brent Seabrook's overtime game-winner, so there's that.

It also doesn't hurt that Versus has a long history during their time with the NHL of having broadcasters talk about things that aren't the game being played in front of them. Yes, this happens in other places, but it's prevalent during Versus games.

It's probably the first time that I've ever wished to have NESN Bruins irritant Jack Edwards doing a game, because he would have come out of his shoes on the 5-3, 5-4, and 5-5 goals. It would have been YouTube legend.

Instead, Forslund -- a truly good veteran NHL voice -- gets his name brought up for all the wrong reasons.

Monday, October 12, 2009

BlogPoll: Oct. 14 Ballot (Draft)

1 Florida
2 Alabama
3 Texas
4 Southern Cal 2
5 LSU 1
6 Cincinnati 1
7 Boise State
9 Ohio State 1
10 Kansas 1
11 Virginia Tech
12 Oklahoma State
13 Oregon
14 Miami (Florida)
15 Iowa
16 Penn State
17 Georgia Tech 1
18 Nebraska 4
19 Pittsburgh 4
20 South Florida 4
21 Mississippi 4
22 South Carolina
23 Central Michigan 2
24 Notre Dame
25 Missouri 4
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Auburn (#19), Wisconsin (#20).
  • Will probably get some heat for picking Mississippi ahead of South Carolina, but I'm just not sold that the Gamecocks automatically merit being ahead of Ole Miss based on an unconvincing head-to-head home win.
  • Sorry, Notre Dame haters. Just can't justify keeping them out anymore.
  • Iowa is 6-0, and that's great, but they have the feel of a 6-0 team whose bubble is going to eventually explode.
  • I feel very comfortable keeping Florida ahead of Alabama. That's going to be a helluva game in Atlanta.
  • I also feel good keeping LSU in the top five. That's a good team that lost to a better team.