Friday, December 30, 2011

UMD Goes Back to Work

After a two-week hiatus, and near the three-week mark since its last game, the UMD men's hockey team returns to the ice on Friday.

The Bulldogs will work out at the DECC for a couple days, because of a DSSO show scheduled for Saturday night at Amsoil Arena.

UMD is at Western Michigan next weekend. The Broncos lost at St. Cloud State 4-2 on Thursday, as the Huskies scored three goals in the third period. The teams play again Friday.

I'll write more about this next week, but I expect UMD will need a very sharp Kenny Reiter next Friday. Do the math. UMD hasn't played since Dec. 10, the day of the Minnesota Wild's last win before Thursday night's triumph over Edmonton. Western Michigan has a series this weekend, so they should be a little sharper.

Assistant coach Jason Herter will lead practice, as head coach Scott Sandelin is working with Team USA at the World Juniors in Edmonton. The hope is that the Americans will make it to a medal game on Thursday. Even if that happens, Sandelin is expected to be in Kalamazoo in time for the Friday game against the Broncos.

I was told that freshman defenseman Derik Johnson spent some time this week at the Washington Capitals facility, as father Jim is an assistant coach for Dale Hunter there. Herter mentioned that captain Jack Connolly and others were active during the break, too.

Hopefully, no one ate a younger sibling during Christmas break, but Herter joked they'd work it out of anyone who did.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

WCHA Mid-Season Awards and Such

Every year, I usually kill some time during mark the midseason break in college hockey by taking a stab at what my actual WCHA awards ballot would look like, if I had to fill out such a thing now.

This year is no different, so let's get a move on this. We'll start with the all-league teams.

First team
Nick Bjugstad, Minnesota
Jack Connolly, Minnesota Duluth
Jason Zucker, Denver 
Brady Lamb, Minnesota Duluth
Justin Schultz, Wisconsin
Kent Patterson, Minnesota

Second team
J.T. Brown, Minnesota Duluth
Erik Haula, Minnesota
Rylan Schwartz, Colorado College
Brad Hunt, Bemidji State
Nick Jensen, St. Cloud State
Kenny Reiter, Minnesota Duluth

Third team
Brock Nelson, North Dakota
Kyle Rau, Minnesota
Matt White, Nebraska Omaha
Wade Bergman, Minnesota Duluth
Nate Schmidt, Minnesota
Josh Robinson, Michigan Tech

All-Rookie Team
Caleb Herbert, Minnesota Duluth
JP LaFontaine, Minnesota State
Kyle Rau, Minnesota
Joey LaLeggia, Denver
Andrew Prochno, St. Cloud State
Juho Olkinuora, Denver

Player of the Year: Jack Connolly, F, Minnesota Duluth
Defensive Player of the Year: Justin Schultz, D, Wisconsin
Rookie of the Year: Kyle Rau, F, Minnesota
Coach of the Year: Mel Pearson, Michigan Tech

For starters, I expect this to change a lot as the season wears on. It's always easier for me to evaluate players when I see them in person, and I still have not seen a lot of notable teams (Nebraska Omaha, Colorado College, St. Cloud State, North Dakota) in person.

(For example, I left SCSU's Ben Hanowski off the list, though I've been impressed by the numbers he's put up since Drew LeBlanc went down. I haven't seen SCSU since then, and have only seen them on television once.)

If I could leave the second defense spot on the first team blank, I would. Schultz is that much better than everyone else I've seen to this point. I'd venture that he's the best defenseman in the college game right now, without a close second. There isn't anything he doesn't do well.

Connolly started a bit slow by his standards, but he's been the best player on the hottest team in the country for about two months. Picking him over Bjugstad and Schultz wasn't easy, but it wasn't difficult, either. Somewhere in between. Bjugstad is a hell of a player, and the leap he's made since I last saw him last season is very impressive. I've already talked up Schultz. Connolly was in a tough spot entering this season, having lost his two-year linemates, but he's been carrying this team, scoring big goals and making big plays for a large chunk of the first half of the season.

Rau is the best rookie in the league, and it's not terribly close. LaFontaine and Herbert have been rock-solid, though, and deserve inclusion on that team. Apologies to Bemidji's Andrew Walsh, but Olkinuora wasn't expected to play much, and he's done a fine job in my view of keeping that ship afloat while the other main goalies have battled injuries.

There's only one Michigan Tech player listed, but let's not discount what's happening in Houghton. Pearson isn't just coaching a team. He's trying to change a culture, and while the work he's done so far is very much worthy of recognition, it's just the start.

I'm sure everyone will hate this list. Maybe I'll get called a Gopher fan. So fire away.

(Note: A Badger fan -- presumably -- chimed in to remind me about Mark Zengerle. Oops. When I file my final vote in March, it's after I've taken notes on each team. I haven't done that yet because I still haven't seen every team in a game either in person or on television. Anyway, I did this without notes, and forgot about Zengerle. He should be on the second or third team, probably second. I'm not taking someone off at this point, so consider this my humble apology, Badger fans. It wasn't out of some disrespect or anything. Just an oversight that again proves my humanity to you.)

Brendan Shanahan Dropping the Ball

On Nov. 30, impressed with a recent drop-off in NHL suspensions, as well as the general consistency we were seeing with them, I wrote this piece for SB Nation.

It seems so very simple, but it's a complicated and stressful process. Guys like (Brendan) Shanahan, Stephane Quintal, and Rob Blake are not that far removed from playing in the NHL. There are players in the league who know these guys, played with them, and played against them. Just like with their still-unnamed predecessor -- whose last name is also a famous brand of soup (no, not Lipton) -- there are personal biases that must be overcome.

Perhaps these biases will see a stiffer test at some point down the line. Maybe they are missing numerous rules violations that should lead to suspensions. But the fact that we're nearly two months into the season and still haven't heard a ton of complaints from media and fans about an arbitrary and seemingly random disciplinary system tells me that Shanahan and the people around him are doing a good job.

The NHL system was never perfect, before Shanahan or now. But in the last month, it seems that there has been a lot of ball-dropping in the Department of Player Safety. No, Jermichael Finley didn't get hired.

While the league has still issued a few suspensions for illegal conduct during that time, there have been some incidents that have gone mysteriously unpunished.

Yes, many of them involve the Minnesota Wild, and the latest one of those is my primary concern right now. But this is almost certainly a league-wide issue.


"Monday evening, an incident occured in the game between the Colorado Avalanche and the Minnesota Wild. At 5:42 of the first period, Colorado player Cody McLeod delivered an illegal hit to Minnesota's Jared Spurgeon. As a result of the hit, Spurgeon fell face-first into the ledge along the top of the boards. As you can see in the video ..."

Oh, McLeod was not suspended. No hearing. Played in Tuesday's game against Winnipeg like nothing ever happened.


This came a couple weeks after Winnipeg defenseman Zach Bogosian escaped a suspension for his hit from behind on Pierre-Marc Bouchard. I still don't like that decision, but this one is much, much worse.

Spurgeon 1) hasn't played the puck and 2) has his back to McLeod the entire play. McLeod 1) makes no effort to minimize the contact, actually skating through the hit, and 2) is making no effort to play the puck. He's simply trying to blow Spurgeon up, which was apparently the Avalanche game plan Monday.

This is a textbook illegal hit and a suspension. Yes, McLeod received a game misconduct and a major penalty, but Spurgeon left the game, did not return, and is out for the Wild's game at Nashville Wednesday, if not longer.

I hate to keep bringing up the asinine suspension Pierre-Marc Bouchard got for an accidental high-stick to the face, but Shanahan can't tell us then that a player is responsible for his stick and the consequences of an illegal act like swinging said stick at someone, then keep silent when a player cross-checks a guy in the back, causing a broken nose. Worse, he then stays silent when a player checks a guy from behind (having never seen anything but the numbers on that player's back) and causes an injury.

Shanahan spent the first two months of the season suspending based on injuries more than actions or intent. Now, it seems he wants to change his tune, which makes him more like Colin Campbell than any of us ever wanted him to be.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

US World Junior Team Announced

USA Hockey has announced the roster for this year's World Junior Championships, which start Monday in Edmonton and Calgary.

Here is the announcement:

USA Hockey today announced the 22 members of the U.S. National Junior Team that will compete at the 2012 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship Dec. 26, 2011-Jan. 5, 2012, in Edmonton and Calgary, Alta.

Among those on the U.S. roster are seven returning players from the bronze medal-winning 2011 U.S. National Junior Team, including goaltender Jack Campbell (Port Huron, Mich./Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds); defensemen Derek Forbort (Duluth, Minn./Univ. of North Dakota) and Jon Merrill (Brighton, Mich./Univ. of Michigan); and forwards Nick Bjugstad (Blaine, Minn./Univ. of Minnesota), Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass./Boston Univ.), Emerson Etem (Long Beach, Calif./Medicine Hat Tigers) and Jason Zucker (Las Vegas, Nev./Univ. of Denver).

"Every year this decision seems to get harder," said Jim Johannson, general manager of the 2012 U.S. National Junior Team and also the assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey. "The number of talented players from which we get to form a team says a lot about hockey's growth in the United States as a whole."

"Having been behind the bench when we won the gold medal two years ago, I can't wait to get started again," said Dean Blais, head coach of the U.S. National Junior Team. "This is an incredible group of players whose speed and tenacity should help us succeed in Edmonton and Calgary."

The U.S. will look to earn its third straight medal after capturing the bronze medal at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y., and the gold medal at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship in Saskatoon, Sask.

Click here for the roster. Duluth's Derek Forbort, a sophomore defenseman at North Dakota, is on the team for a second straight year.

The Americans are without two potentially huge pieces on the blue line. Justin Faulk is playing with the Carolina Hurricanes and was not made available, while Seth Jones was injured in the first exhibition game against Russia.

Russia is the defending champion, having beaten Canada 5-3 in last year's championship game. The United States rallied after losing to Canada in the semifinals to beat Sweden for the bronze medal.

Holiday Update

I'm on and off the grid lately, and between normal responsibilities and my new SB Nation responsibilities and everything that surrounds Christmas prep. I know you all understand, and I'm certainly appreciative of the continued support.

For shorter updates, check out my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter. Links are on the left-hand side.

UMD is off until late next week, when they'll resume practice in preparation for a Jan. 6-7 series at Western Michigan. Head coach Scott Sandelin is in Canada, working as an assistant coach for Team USA at the World Junior Championships, which start Monday.

All of the USA and Canada games will be on NHL Network, with the US games being original productions (they'll take a TSN feed of the Canadian games).

The American group is a bit depleted defensively, with former UMD defenseman Justin Faulk up with the Carolina Hurricanes and not available for the tournament, and 17-year-old Seth Jones now injured and out for the event.

The roster is due out later Thursday morning.

Faulk had another assist for the Hurricanes in a 4-3 loss to Phoenix Wednesday. He led the team with nearly 25 minutes of ice time, an obvious sign that the team likes what they're seeing out of him. He seems more comfortable every time I watch him play.

It's sure a loss for Team USA, but hard to argue from Carolina's standpoint. It's not like general manager Jim Rutherford is supposed to do USA Hockey a favor. They shouldn't be in a position where they feel obligated to loan the guy who's on the ice for them more often than anyone to play in a junior tournament. It's loaded with risks for the organization, and it's not necessarily beneficial to Faulk's development.

I'll post the roster once it's available.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chad Huttel's Team in England Records Parody Music Video

This might be better than the Florida Panthers singing Christmas carols.

Former UMD defenseman Chad Huttel is in his first year with the Sheffield Steelers, a team in England's Elite Hockey League. Huttel played four years at UMD, helping the Bulldogs win a national championship and make two NCAA Tournament appearances in his time here. That came after he was the captain of the Hermantown Hawks during their unbeaten run to the state Class A title in 2007.

Now, Huttel is spending his spare time helping his team record parodies of bad music videos. Here are the Steelers doing what virtually every American does daily: making fun of Nickelback. Huttel drew the short long straw and got the opening scene.

Huttel has four points in 24 games for the Steelers, who are second to Belfast in the league standings.

(Stick tap: Puck Daddy)

The Florida Panthers Want To Wish You A Merry Christmas, Via Song

Things are going great for the Florida Panthers. Kevin Dineen looks like a Jack Adams Award candidate. Former UMD Bulldog Jason Garrison leads all NHL defensemen with ten goals. Forward Kris Versteeg is on pace for 40 goals.

Oh, and Florida leads the Southeast Division by eight points.

In the spirit of the season, the Panthers want to wish all of us a Merry Christmas. Using the power of song and YouTube, they have found a fun way to do it.

Gotta love Ed Jovanovski yucking it up. So many guys could learn from him.

Others, meanwhile, obviously don't realize Movember ended.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Zach Bogosian Non-Suspension Ludicrous

So the NHL has decided not to suspend Winnipeg Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian for his hit on Minnesota's Pierre-Marc Bouchard Tuesday night.

Player Safety Dept. feels that Bogosian did not run at Bouchard and that Bouchard turned just prior to the hit.  


So if Bouchard doesn't turn, and Bogosian cross-checks him in the face, breaking Bouchard's nose in the process, is that somehow a clean and legal hockey play?

Watch it again.

Tell me this is a clean and legal hockey play if Bouchard doesn't get hit in the back.


One that would have been high enough to hit Bouchard in the face or neck had he not turned around. How the hell is this not worthy of anything more than a one-minute penalty (there was only 1:06 left)?

As Mike Johnson says here on the TSN broadcast, and I fully acknowledge this is true, Bogosian tried to hold up. He didn't follow through or run through Bouchard. That's fine.

But did Bouchard really try to high-stick Matt Calvert in the face here?

We were told at the time that Bouchard was responsible for his own stick, and that it didn't matter that Calvert lifted Bouchard's stick into his own face.

Despite that, it somehow matters that Bouchard turned before being cross-checked into the dasher boards, a play that would have been dangerous no matter what body part Bogosian hit.

I don't get the logic, and all this does is feed the growing perception among Wild fans that the Department of Player Safety is -- for some unknown reason -- showing bias against the Wild.

(It sounds preposterous, but look at the way the NHL handled Kevin Porter's knee-on-knee hit on David Booth versus how it handled Ryan Whitney's knee-on-knee hit on Cal Clutterbuck. Clutterbuck, by the way, was indeed injured on the play. Worth noting.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Zach Bogosian Boards Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Winnipeg Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian should be expecting a telephone call from Brendan Shanahan soon.

His hit on Minnesota forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard left Bouchard injured, and apparently also created new stains all over the MTS Centre.

Bouchard's status is unknown at this point, but Bogosian's shouldn't be questioned. He's facing a suspension, as he very well should.

What say you? Seems like a textbook dangerous hit to me, one that will probably get Bogosian a couple games off, at the least.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Game 18: UMD at Wisconsin

MADISON, Wisc. -- The halfway mark happens as of this game, and the Bulldogs' national title defense probably couldn't have started any better than it has.

UMD has a chance to sail into the holiday break with a school-record 14-game unbeaten streak with a win in this game against Wisconsin.

There is a lot of other potential significance to this game that we'll talk about on the air during the broadcast, which begins at 7:30.



Seidel - Connolly - Basaraba
Herbert - Oleksuk - Brown
Crandall (Justin) - Hendrickson - Grun
Krause - Tardy - Flaherty

Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Casto
Olson - McManus

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron)

Woods - Zengerle - Barnes
Mersch - Dahl - Clark
Navin - Labate - Meuer
Lapic - Paape - Little

Simonelli - Schultz
Springer - Ramage
McCabe - Faust

Rumpel - Peterson - Thompson

Justin Faulk Gets First NHL Goal; Stapleton and Garrison Also Score

It wasn't a great night for former UMD players Justin Faulk and Jason Garrison in terms of final scores and team results. Tim Stapleton might disagree.

Faulk's Carolina Hurricanes fell 4-2 at Stapleton's Winnipeg Jets Friday, while Garrison and the Florida Panthers lost 2-1 in a shootout at Buffalo.

However, both blue-liners tallied goals for their respective teams. Stapleton got one for the Jets, too, on a pretty good night for the one-time Bulldog stars in the NHL.

For Faulk, a 19-year-old rookie who made the Hurricanes out of training camp and then spent some time in the AHL before returning, Friday was his first NHL goal. Stapleton was credited with the game-winning goal -- his third of the season -- in the second period. Stapleton's goal comes on this video at around the 1:50 mark, while Faulk's is just past the 3:00 mark.

Garrison, meanwhile, leads all NHL defensemen with nine goals after his power-play goal in Friday's game. It comes at around the 1:50 mark of the highlight video.

The Panthers lead the NHL's Southeast Division, off to probably the most surprising start of any team in the NHL this season.

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Fit to be Tied

MADISON, Wisc. -- The UMD Bulldogs and Wisconsin Badgers have danced this dance before.

In fact, it seems like routine at this point.

Going back to the 2007-2008 season, the teams have been involved in plenty of close games at the Kohl Center. In the previous five meetings over that span, UMD had won four, with all of them being one-goal games, and three of them going overtime. The game Wisconsin won was a one-goal game with an empty-net goal late to ice it.

It's probably going to be a close game when these two meet in Madison, making it a bit out of character for the Badgers to have jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period Friday. Had to figure that wouldn't last too long, and it didn't.

As usual, UMD rallied, this time to earn a 3-3 tie in a game the Bulldogs never led. It marks the first time since Nov. 4 (at Denver) that UMD failed to hold a lead at any point in a game. That game also ended in a 3-3 tie.

Some notes of significance from Friday's game, which was just another rally by this UMD team that is so accustomed to rallying that it will only be news at the point where it fails to rally in a game:
  • The unbeaten streak is now 13, one off the all-time school record of 14, which happened during the magical 2003-2004 season (Junior won the Hobey, Todd Smith hit the hell out of people, UMD made the Frozen Four). That incredible streak was 13 wins and one tie. This one has been ten wins and three ties up to this point.
  • UMD tied beloved rival Minnesota for first place in the WCHA standings with 20 points. As someone quickly noted on Twitter Friday, the Gophers do still own the tiebreaker. That, of course, is moot. UMD has finally erased the lead Minnesota jumped out to at the start of the season. Considering that Minnesota is 10-3 in league play, it's not like the Gophers have blown this lead. We all knew they weren't going 28-0 in the league, and UMD has caught them by playing some pretty good hockey along the way.
  • UMD has now gone without a loss in its last 11 road/neutral games going back to a 3-2 overtime loss to Bemidji State in the WCHA Final Five. That's a school record, breaking the mark of the 1983-84 Bulldogs, who won ten straight road games. No, not all of these 11 games have been true road games, because four of them were in the NCAA Tournament last year. But the Bulldogs were sleeping in hotels and riding buses for all the games, and six of the games (regionals in Bridgeport last year, series at Providence and Denver this year) have necessitated planes to get to.
Travis Oleksuk's line was UMD's best on Friday. Centering Caleb Herbert and J.T. Brown, Oleksuk had a hand in two of UMD's three goals, and there were some other superb chances that couldn't quite be finished.

Jack Connolly had an assist to run his point-scoring streak to 15 straight games. That tied him with Mike Peluso (163 points) for 17th all-time at UMD, and moved him one point behind former teammate Justin Fontaine for 16th. Connolly's point-scoring streak will tie an all-time school record if he can get at least one point in Saturday's series finale.


The Bulldogs employed a trap for portions of Friday's game, eschewing forechecking to clog up the neutral zone. That forced Wisconsin to play a dump-and-chase game that was largely unsuccessful, and a big part of why UMD led in shots 36-24, and led in even-strength shots 31-16.

While I'm not a huge fan of the trap, it was used pretty well in this game. It negated Wisconsin's speed through the neutral zone, and UMD did a good job retrieving pucks on the dump-in plays.

The Badgers did the stand-behind-the-net-and-hold-the-puck-forever bit a couple different times, which only served to take time off the clock.

The Bulldogs don't usually trap that much during a game, which might be a really good reason why it seemed to work as well as it did at times.

It also makes sense to employ it against Wisconsin. The Badgers have a lot of skill and poise on their blue line, with experienced guys like Justin Schultz, Frankie Simonelli, Eric Springer, and John Ramage. These are good players who are not going to be easily shaken by forecheck pressure.

The young forwards, on the other hand, didn't adjust terribly well to the clogged-up neutral zone, and while the Bulldogs allowed some odd-man rushes in the first period, those became much more rare as the game wore on.


The ice is going to suck Saturday. Basketball at 1pm, and a hockey game at 8pm. Yeah. Good luck with that.

UMD doesn't have ice time Saturday morning, but will still meet and get some sort of exercise in. It's the final game before a three-week holiday break, so there's no reason to leave anything in the tank.


Elsewhere in the WCHA, Michigan Tech beat Minnesota 3-2 in overtime on a Brett Olson unassisted goal 33 seconds into the extra session. It was a good night for road teams, as Denver won 3-2 at Bemidji State thanks to two Jason Zucker goals, Nebraska-Omaha got a Ryan Walters goal in overtime to beat North Dakota 2-1, and Alaska-Anchorage exploded for four power-play goals in a 6-3 win at Colorado College. Non-conference, Minnesota State beat Alabama-Huntsville 4-2.

In the UAA-CC game, the Seawolves had ten power plays compared to one for the Tigers. It's a truly incredible box score. UAA scored four power play goals, and added a short-handed goal during CC's only power play. Mitch Bruijsten had a hat trick for the Seawolves. CC lost Rylan Schwartz for the last five-plus minutes after he took a major penalty for slew-footing Brad Gorham of UAA, which is one of the most despicable, gutless things one hockey player can do to another.


Don't forget that our game Saturday in Madison starts at 8pm, one hour later than usual, because of the basketball game in the afternoon.
This is the last Saturday column of the year. It'll return Jan. 7, when UMD returns to action against Western Michigan in Kalamazoo.

Thanks to all of your for reading the column, which is usually just an excuse for me to do something productive at the hotel during a road trip. It's become a ritual, and it's enjoyable, so I'm glad you make it part of your weekend.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Game 17: UMD at Wisconsin

MADISON, Wisc. -- What a super day for a drive. Since it's the trip to Madison, it must be "a great day for hockey," right?

UMD tries to run the unbeaten streak to 13, one off the school record, and tries to run the away-from-Duluth unbeaten streak to 11, which would be a school record.

Wisconsin has been good at home, and will try to stop those things from happening so it can grab some much-needed WCHA points.



Seidel - Connolly - Basaraba
Herbert - Oleksuk - Brown
Crandall (Justin) - Hendrickson - Grun
DeLisle - Tardy - Flaherty

Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Casto
Olson - Johnson

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron)

Woods - Zengerle - Barnes
Mersch - Dahl - Clark
Navin - Labate - Meuer
Lapic - Paape - Little

Simonelli - Schultz
Springer - Ramage
McCabe - Faust

Rumpel - Peterson - Thompson

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Anatomy of a Streak

In 2003-2004, Scott Sandelin's UMD Bulldogs ripped off a school-record 14-game unbeaten streak. Included in that run were road sweeps of Denver and Colorado College.

So Sandelin has been through this before.

Less can be said of a guy like senior Travis Oleksuk, who told me this week that he has not been part of a 12-game unbeaten streak since he was a youth hockey player some 15 years ago.

UMD's 12-game unbeaten streak is two off that 2003-2004 record as the Bulldogs make the trip to Madison this weekend to take on the Badgers.

It's a streak that started with UMD sitting at 1-3 on the season, coming off a home sweep at the hands of the Gophers -- two gut-wrenching games that showed that UMD was not notably worse than the Gophers, but not good enough to win winnable games on home ice against a rival.

"I didn't feel we played poorly," Sandelin said. "Obviously, I think the toughest part was losing two games to Minnesota. That's one school that we all want to beat.

"As a coaching staff, we looked at the big picture. We did a lot of good things."

The first games of the streak happened in Providence, where UMD won and tied. Getting on the road certainly wasn't a bad thing for this group.

"It was a perfect time for a road trip," Sandelin said. "(Being on the road) is a great opportunity for guys to bond. It was a good time for the trip. We knew we didn't have a lot of them in the first half. Timing sometimes is a lot of it, and it was nice to go out there and focus on what we needed to do."

The streak has featured some different kinds of games. UMD won a wide-open game over Minnesota State 7-3, took advantage of some poor Alaska-Anchorage goaltending to win 5-0, then got a great performance from their own goalie -- Kenny Reiter -- to sweep the Seawolves.

Oh, and there was the 4-0 stomp of Denver, and last weekend's tough sweep at Michigan Tech, by matching 5-3 scores.

Wisconsin is a different animal. They are probably the youngest team UMD will see this season, with all 12 forwards used in their last game two weeks ago being freshmen and sophomores. That's not to say the Badgers don't have any players. Junior defenseman Justin Schultz is one of the top players in college hockey, with 25 points already this season. He's an absolute beast on the power play, and he's a special-enough defenseman that he doesn't have to get all his points via special teams. He's lethal five-on-five, too.

He'll be hard for UMD to handle this weekend, as will sophomore forward Mark Zengerle. The slick-skating Zengerle is a superb passer who has a better shot than he's given credit for.

Wisconsin is extremely young, and nowhere is that more clear than in goal, where freshmen Landon Peterson and Joel Rumpel have shared time so far. Neither has overwhelming numbers, but the Badgers have been good enough to go 7-3 at home, including a sweep over North Dakota and a win over then-No. 1 Minnesota. They're winless on the road, but such a statistic is irrelevant this weekend, since UMD will be playing in front of the WCHA's best student section.

(Well, it's been that way in the past. I've been relayed multiple stories related to Wisconsin not drawing very well this season, so maybe the student section isn't as good as it was even last year, when UMD went in there and pulled off the legendary overtime sweep.)

This is a key weekend for both teams. The Badgers are tenth in the league and in danger of falling into irrelevancy before the halfway mark of the season. UMD, meanwhile, has a chance to head into a three-week sabbatical with the longest unbeaten streak in school history. Not only that, but the Bulldogs keep a hell of a lot of pressure on the rival Gophers if they can keep accumulating points.

Neither team has exactly a cake schedule in the second half of the season. UMD has Nebraska-Omaha (away), the always-grueling trip to Anchorage, North Dakota (home), Colorado College (home), and St. Cloud State (away). Minnesota has North Dakota (away), St. Cloud State (home and home), Colorado College (home), Denver (away), and Nebraska-Omaha (away).

Both teams want to win this weekend to keep the heat on the other. For UMD, the job is tougher because of the four points surrendered to Minnesota in October. That said, it's not an impossible task, and UMD has used an incredible hot streak to make that abundantly clear.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Matt Niskanen Fights Brad Marchand

Former UMD defenseman Matt Niskanen is not known as a fighter. In fact, this is his fourth NHL season, and he has only fought five times, counting a good one he had Monday night in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins blue-liner was on the wrong end of a rather nasty-looking slew-foot from Boston forward and noted pest Brad Marchand.

Instead of looking for someone else to fight Marchand in his honor, Niskanen took it on himself. There aren't a lot of high points on Niskanen's NHL fight card, but this is clearly the best he's had as a professional.

The voters on HockeyFights are overwhelmingly in Niskanen's favor, by the way.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Video: Teddy Bears!

I love the Teddy Bear Toss. Great hockey promotion.

Hell, when Minnesota State did it one year while UMD was in Mankato, we went out and bought a bear to throw on the ice. It's fun, for a good cause, and makes for a cool visual.

Especially when there are 25,000 teddy bears flying everywhere.


This is from the WHL's Calgary Hitmen, who had over 26,000 teddy bears at their event in 2007. Still, you have to think 25,003 is a good total.

And yes, I remember when UMD did this. Mason Raymond scored, and the teddy bears were flying. And then someone arrived late and didn't get the memo that UMD had already scored and further flying bears would result in a penalty.

Not that you should need a memo when there is a scoreboard to tell you what happened before you got there.

(Pat on the back: Puck Daddy)

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Game 16: UMD at Michigan Tech

HOUGHTON, Mich. -- It's about to be snowy here in Houghton. So Mr. Pates better have brought his good typing hands here to the rink. Heh.

Actually, if this turns into another Bemidji trip (if you don't get the reference, just imagine needing six-plus hours to drive to Duluth from Bemidji, while people who left 20 minutes before you needed less than half that.), we're spending the night in Ironwood or something. Heh.

Anyway, UMD looks to run the unbeaten streak to 12 and become the first team to win a series from Michigan Tech in Houghton this season.



Seidel - Connolly - Basaraba
Herbert - Oleksuk - Brown
Crandall (Justin) - Hendrickson - Grun
Krause - Tardy - Flaherty

Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Casto
Olson - Johnson

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron)

Furne - Olson - Pietila (Blake)
Baker - Johnstone (Jacob) - Gordic
Johnstone (David) - Kero - MacLeod
Pietila (Aaron) - Rix - Lickteig

Seigo - Sweeney
Stebner - Nielsen
Cecere - Sova

Robinson - Genoe - Cramer

Friday, December 02, 2011

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Mature Bulldogs Keep Winning

HOUGHTON, Mich. -- This is my seventh year with the honor of calling UMD hockey games. Over that time, I've seen a lot of different types of teams here.

The one that has started this season 10-3-2 might have the inside track on being the most mature team I've covered. Obviously, we have a long way to go, but UMD keeps showing its smarts and experience seemingly every time something bad happens.

Friday night, the Bulldogs used a three-goal third period to outlast Michigan Tech 5-3 in Houghton. While UMD didn't trail in the game for very long, they did trail for a while, and it could have been a lot worse along the way, were it not for a smart group of Bulldogs who refuse to panic when facing adversity.

Milos Gordic and Alex MacLeod scored goals 1:24 apart for Tech to erase a 1-0 deficit and give the Huskies their first lead. Shortly after that, back-to-back penalties on UMD put them down two men for over 90 seconds.

Not helping matters any was that Wade Bergman was one of the penalized UMD players, taking one of the Bulldogs' most reliable players and most effective penalty killers out of the picture. No matter. Despite Tech holding offensive zone control for most of the stretch, UMD got a couple clears and a handful of blocked shots and disrupted passes to hold MTU without a shot on goal during the two-man advantage.

It was the defining moment in the hockey game, showing again UMD's smarts and tenacity, along with a level of maturity that's hard to find on any team, especially this early in the season when most teams are still trying to find their way.

The Bulldogs just don't seem phased by anything, even situations that would have sunk them in previous seasons. The experience on this team is obvious. Three players have already cleared 100 games in their careers, and a handful of others -- including Jake Hendrickson, Keegan Flaherty, and David Grun, three of the top penalty killing forwards on the team -- will top 100 before we're done this season.

Having a championship helps, because these guys know what it takes to win at that level. However, you simply can't teach this type of maturity. It's a joy to watch, because no situation is too big for this team. They just get it.


It helps to have a guy like Jack Connolly around. Coach Scott Sandelin has been effusive in his praise of the two-time All American center in the last couple weeks, making it abundantly clear that he believes Connolly has been UMD's best player.

Connolly showed it in the third period. He scored the go-ahead goal off his skate after a nice pass from J.T. Brown. He then threw a great pass to Flaherty to spring him for the eventual game-winner, a breakaway goal while UMD was short-handed.

His three-point game gives Connolly 24 points in 15 games this season, 161 in 148 games in his UMD career, and a point-scoring streak of 13 games.

Connolly is now two points behind Mike Peluso (163) for 17th on UMD's all-time list. He trails former linemate Justin Fontaine by three points for 16th, and he is five points away from passing Skeeter Moore (165) and becoming the first UMD player to move into the top 15 in scoring since Chris Marinucci (173) got to 12th in 1994.

Realistically, we can see Connolly moving into the top ten, but it's going to take a hell of a run. He's 30 points behind some guy named Norm Maciver for tenth.


With Friday's win, the Bulldogs improved to 3-0-2 away from Amsoil Arena this season. Going back to last year, UMD is 7-0-2 over its last nine games away from Duluth. That's the longest such unbeaten streak since the 1983-84 team won ten straight road games.


Elsewhere, Minnesota held on to first place, using two third-period goals to top Minnesota State 4-2. The Gophers' leading scorer, Nick Bjugstad, was named Hockey Commissioners Association Player of the Month for November, a well-deserved honor.

St. Cloud State and Bemidji State played a goaltending-optional 6-6 tie in St. Cloud. The Huskies blew two two-goal leads and had to settle for a point at home. I'm guessing that would not be categorized as a good point by most coaches.

North Dakota scored three quick goals in the first half of the first period to beat Alaska-Anchorage 5-2. Don't look now, but the Fighting Sioux (I can call them that in December, and the NCAA can eat it if that's an issue) have won three straight and are climbing the ladder. No matter what you want to call them, we're not done hearing from them.

In a non-conference game, Alabama-Huntsville picked up its first win of its last season, beating Nebraska-Omaha 3-1 in Nashville. UAH was outshot 45-17, but goalie Clarke Saunders made 44 saves. He is now 1-10-1 with a 3.11 goals against, but his save percentage is an impressive .923. I'm sure we'll hear more about this game when it affects UNO's standing for the NCAA Tournament later.

In the main event of the evening, Alexander Krushelnyski scored on a penalty shot in overtime to give Colorado College a 4-3 win over Denver. It was his second goal of the game. The Tigers played without Rylan Schwartz (upper body), who had two hat tricks in UND's sweep of CC last weekend in Grand Forks. I haven't seen the play, but did see a couple Twitter comments intimating that it was at least a defensible call. You'd hate to see a game end on a penalty shot that wasn't deserved, but thankfully such a thing would never happen in the WCHA.

(UPDATE: Here is the video. No argument there. Thanks to Twitter user "jcieluch" for the link.)



Game 15: UMD at Michigan Tech

HOUGHTON, Mich. -- Greetings and salutations. UMD is prepared to defend a ten-game unbeaten streak, but to do so, they'll have to avoid the slow start that plagued them in the Friday win over Minnesota State Nov. 17. It's something that will be addressed -- in all likelihood -- in the pregame show before this one. I know it was brought up on Wednesday during our show at Buffalo Wild Wings.



Seidel - Connolly - Basaraba
Herbert - Oleksuk - Brown
Crandall (Justin) - Hendrickson - Grun
DeLisle - Tardy - Flaherty

Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Casto
Olson - Smith

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron)

Furne - Olson - Pietila (Blake)
Johnstone (David) - Kero - MacLeod
Baker - Johnstone (Jacob) - Gordic
Reddick - McCadden - Rix

Seigo - Sweeney
Cecere - Sova
Stebner - Nielsen

Robinson - Genoe - Cramer

Thursday, December 01, 2011

UMD Road Odyssey Begins With Series Against Much-Improved Huskies

The road odyssey begins. Luckily, it's not like pro sports, where teams go on the road and don't come back until they're done playing road games.

We at least get to travel home in between the games, and there's a three-week gap between consecutive weekends on the road.

This weekend, it's a two-game series at Michigan Tech, a team that looks completely different from the one that was swept aside in a four-game season series last year. UMD is 8-2-2 over the last 12 against Tech, but it will take a hell of an effort to take four more points with little resistance, as the Bulldogs did last season.

This Michigan Tech team is better. They're scoring more goals, giving up fewer, and the Huskies have already won twice as many games (eight) as they did all of last season (four). New coach Mel Pearson, fresh off watching UMD beat a Michigan team he was an assistant coach for in the national title game, is back at his alma mater and doing a tremendous job.

Pearson has emphasized a higher tempo, one that keeps the Huskies from spending as much time in their defensive zone. Former NHL goalie Steve Shields is an assistant coach, helping tutor senior goalie Josh Robinson, who actually has a higher save percentage (.929) than headline-stealing WCHA goalies Kent Patterson and Kenny Reiter (.922 each).

In talking to Pearson Thursday, it's clear that he thinks highly of his upperclassmen. He should. Guys like Robinson, team captain Brett Olson (former Superior Spartan), and Jordan Baker have been through a lot at MTU, and most all of it has been negative. Now, something positive is finally happening, and it's hard not to be happy for these kids.

It's hard not to be happy for the town, too. Houghton is a nice place to visit, but MTU fans haven't had much to cheer for lately. It got as bad as I've ever seen last year, with thousands of empty seats in a building that simply isn't very big to start with. Pearson noted that they had well over 3,000 fans at their last home game against Minnesota State, and it makes sense to think that they will draw well with the defending champions in town.

UMD is hot, and the Bulldogs' last game showed a large part of why they haven't lost since Oct. 15. UMD had seven different goal scorers in a 7-3 win over Minnesota State Nov. 18, and they've been getting production out of all their lines throughout the season. Look for little change heading into Friday, though head coach Scott Sandelin might make some minor tweaks to his fourth line as he looks for more consistency out of that group. No reason to touch the other three lines. Jack Connolly has a 12-game point streak, Travis Oleksuk has 12 goals, Caleb Herbert keeps getting better, and J.T. Brown is coming off his best weekend of the season.

The third line of Jake Hendrickson, Justin Crandall, and David Grun continues to be one of my favorites, because of how responsible they are and how strong they are capable of forechecking.

The only negative in that Saturday win over the Mavericks was the injury scare with freshman defenseman Chris Casto, who suffered a minor lower-body injury and will be available this weekend, from the sounds of it.

A healthy and red-hot UMD team starts a long stretch of road games Friday, and Tech brings a much different challenge than they have before. This should be a very interesting weekend in the U.P.

UMD, Wayne State Ready for Slugfest

You see all sorts of different teams when you get into the playoffs, especially when it's something like Division II football that is quite the regional sport. The farther you get in the playoffs, the more likely that it's an unfamiliar opponent that your team is preparing to face.

Oftentimes, it's someone your team never plays against during the regular season, and may have never played before in history.

Such is the case Saturday at Malosky Stadium, when UMD hosts Wayne State (Mich.) in the NCAA Division II Super Region Three final. The winner advances to play the champion of Super Region One -- either Winston-Salem State or New Haven -- next weekend, likely on the road.

The Bulldogs won on the road Saturday against Colorado State-Pueblo, and it's not the same kind of game they'll get from the Warriors.

CSU-Pueblo was a smaller, very athletic team that liked to get the ball on the perimeter and let the skill guys make plays with yards after the catch. Their defensive front was geared on speed and not necessarily physicality, and UMD had the edge on both sides of the ball with their bigger and more physical players.

Wayne State has athletes, sure, but it's not necessarily the same kind of football team. The Warriors rely more on their size up front, and there is nothing fancy about the running attack they prefer. Running back Josh Renel is under 200 pounds but only 5-9, while Toney Davis -- who ran for over 300 yards in the road win over St. Cloud State that started their playoff run -- is over 200 pounds, thick, and tough to tackle.

WSU employs some big fellas on the offensive line, including two 300-pounders and a couple guys around 295. Right tackle Will Khoury is 284 and the smallest lineman, at least based on their listed weight.

Quarterback Mickey Mohner has only completed 11 passes in two playoff wins, so the Warriors are clearly relying on their rushing attack. Mohner takes good care of the football, with just six picks in 275 pass attempts. He has 22 touchdown passes.

The keys for UMD's defense will be the play of the front seven, which needs to slow the WSU ground assault, and the secondary has to pay attention to wide receiver Troy Burrell, who has 71 of the Warriors' 157 receptions this season, 51 more catches than anyone else on the team and 58 more receptions than any other wide receiver on the roster.

UMD gets wide receiver DJ Winfield back from a one-year suspension, and while I'm willing to bet he'll play, I don't really know how much we'll see him on the field, outside of kickoff and punt returns. Winfield could provide a spark for a passing offense that has generally struggled during the second half of the season, and give Chase Vogler the deep threat the Bulldogs have lacked for weeks.

Outside of that, though, UMD's recipe for success is similar to Wayne's. Vogler is a much more mobile quarterback than Moehner, who has just 23 rush attempts for minus-32 yards (sacks count as rushing losses, remember). UMD needs Vogler to make good run/pass decisions and accurate throws when called upon. The Bulldogs will use a steady diet of Brian Lucas and Zach Hulce to move the chains on the ground, with Vogler's usual scrambles and designed runs mixed in.

The Bulldogs will also rely on their experience and resourcefulness at various points Saturday. It's been a key to past playoff success, and there's no doubting it will be called on again this weekend. At home in the playoffs, it's hard to imagine that a visiting team that is not clearly more talented than UMD -- as Grand Valley sort of was in 2009 -- is going to pick up the win. The Bulldogs should move on, and then things get really interesting.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

UMD's Resiliency Key to Playoff Run

I doubt anyone is really surprised to see the UMD football team in the regional final Saturday. They've been a staple in the Division II playoffs in recent years, and UMD has made four straight Super Region Three finals (wins over Grand Valley State and Augustana, with a loss to Grand Valley in 2009). This is the third straight year that the Super Region Three final will be contested at Malosky Stadium, an amazing accomplishment for a football program that hadn't tasted anything close to this level of success before its first title in 2008.

UMD, though, didn't follow the same path as prior years in getting to this point.

UMD rolled through the 2008 and 2010 championship years with matching 15-0 records. The Bulldogs were rarely challenged in the regular season, and outside of the 2008 road win over top-ranked Grand Valley State, really didn't pull any upsets to win the title. There was adversity in 2010, with injuries to Isaac Odim and Brad Foss and the playoff suspension of leading receiver D.J. Winfield. But UMD overcame it, beating Delta State for the national championship.

That late-season and playoff adversity was a harbinger of things to come for the football program. The 2011 season started well, with a road win over an amped-up Augustana team that was hell-bent on making up for last year's playoff loss in Duluth. The Bulldogs, though, fell to Wayne State (Nebraska) 7-0 in late September, marking their first NSIC loss since they rejoined the league when the North Central Conference died in 2007.

If that wasn't enough, UMD turned in its worst performance in years in losing to St. Cloud State 35-7 in October, marking UMD's first two-loss regular season since Bob Nielson returned as head coach. The Huskies were better than UMD in virtually every area, and the score really wasn't said to be deceiving.

However, the Bulldogs responded to both losses. After the Wayne game, UMD went to Bemidji and beat a good BSU squad. After they fell to St. Cloud State, UMD needed to win its remaining games to qualify for the Division II playoffs. The Bulldogs did that, including a solid win over Minnesota State in the season finale.

In the playoffs, UMD has shown its resiliency, its mental toughness, its mettle, whatever you want to call it. This might not be the most talented team Nielson has taken into the Division II playoffs, but they're tough and experienced, and they know how to win in the postseason.

Against Colorado State-Pueblo Saturday, we saw how tough this UMD team really is. Pueblo scored on its opening drive, then didn't score an offensive touchdown for the remainder of the first half. UMD's defense stiffened throughout the game, holding the potent Thunderwolves to just 224 yards, a season low.

The Bulldogs offense was content to grind things out, wearing down the smaller Pueblo front seven with a punishing ground game. Were it not for an errant snap that gave CSUP a touchdown right before halftime, there's a chance UMD could have won going away. Instead, the Bulldogs had to respond to that late touchdown, and they did on the opening drive of the third quarter, impressively going the length of the field for a go-ahead touchdown.

After a CSUP touchdown drive gave the Thunderwolves a 21-17 lead, UMD had to again respond to adversity. Quarterback Chase Vogler threw an interception in the end zone, giving CSUP the ball back after a long UMD drive that ended up empty. The defense came out -- desperately needing a stop -- and forced a three and out. After an Aaron Roth punt return touchdown was called back by a penalty, Vogler ripped off a 31-yard run that led to Brian Lucas' one-yard score to cap the scoring.

UMD might not be capable of overwhelming opponents, but Todd Strop's defense has developed into a very good group. They shut down MSU in the season finale, made the necessary stops late in the game against Saginaw Valley State, keeping the Cardinals from scoring a game-changing or game-winning touchdown on a couple occasions. But their best performance of the season may have come against Pueblo.

With Wayne State -- not the one from Nebraska, this one is from Michigan -- coming in on Saturday, look for more out of this defense. UMD isn't as potent offensively as in past years, so they're going to need it as the Bulldogs look to grind out three more wins and pick up what could end up being the most improbable of national championships.

It may be improbable to some, but it really shouldn't be surprising. Nielson's teams have been known for their toughness and resiliency through tough times, and this one may be the most impressive in that regard. Come playoff time, there is nothing at all wrong with a team leaning on its toughness and experience to win close games.

In fact, it's often the best way to win.

Monday, November 28, 2011

BCS Needs Help, Change

I've made no qualms about the fact that the BCS sucks. Hell, I typically refuse to seriously entertain arguments that it's good in any way for college football.

Back in 2006, Michigan and Florida were jousting for the final spot in the BCS title game against unbeaten and top-ranked (and, as it turned out, severely overrated) Ohio State. Michigan had lost its season finale to Ohio State in a nail-biter that came one day after the death of legendary former coach Bo Schembechler.

The Wolverines were still ahead of Florida in the BCS rankings, but Florida beat Arkansas Dec. 2 for the SEC title while Michigan and Ohio State watched TV. No. 2 USC lost to UCLA, shockingly taking itself out of the running.

That, naturally, brought on the politicking that makes the BCS so damn special to college football fans.

Remember when Florida was worried Michigan and Ohio State were going to meet in a rematch for the title? Here’s what Urban Meyer said that day:

"We’re going to tell a group of young men who just went 12-1 with the most difficult schedule against six ranked opponents that they don’t have a chance to go play for a national championship?” Florida coach Urban Meyer asked incredulously. “I’m going to need help with that one.”

Here’s then-freshman receiver Percy Harvin:

“Michigan already had its chance. I think we deserve a chance.”

And the best quote came from Florida President Bernie Machen (who is a playoff guy):

“If they don’t vote for us after tonight, we need a new system,” Florida President Bernie Machen said after the game. “We should be packing our bags for Glendale.”

Florida got in, largely because a number of voters decided that their win over Arkansas meant they were suddenly better than Michigan.

Now, of course, the lobbying is of a different sort. An Alabama team that is idle this weekend while the SEC, Big 10, and Pac 12 decide conference titles with championship games is expected to play LSU in the BCS title game Jan. 9. That game might actually be played even if LSU stubs its toe against Georgia Saturday.


The games this weekend don't count. At all. They have no bearing on the BCS, which prides itself on telling us how every game counts.

These games don't count, and apparently LSU's win over Alabama Nov. 5 meant nothing, too, because Alabama will get another shot at LSU.

I'm guilty of saying publicly that Alabama is the second-best team in the country, yes. But as Stewart Mandel writes this week, the BCS is choosing Alabama not because it's clearly deserving, or because the world is clamoring for another Alabama-LSU snoozefest.

Instead, the selection is about the past, and not the present. If you look at the case Mandel makes, it's not about the present. Oklahoma State has more wins against top 25 teams, more wins against top 50 teams, and actually (gasp) won its conference. Alabama didn't even win its division, much less its conference.

The system needs help. There is no easy way to determine a second-best team in a world where there is only one viable unbeaten (sorry, Houston). I'm not going to bang the playoff drum, because there's no point. People are either going to scream along with you or scream at you. There is no convincing the insane on this issue. They will continue to believe that every game counts in the BCS, and that there are no major issues with the bowl system.

Go ahead. Rally against facts, and against the truth. It wouldn't be the first time the majority believed in a lie.

Meanwhile, another season has gone by where the powers-that-be have ignored the obvious cash cow that is a college football playoff in favor of an inferior, corrupt, less lucrative bowl system that sucks half the life out of a sport a lot of people would love if only given the chance.

Oh, and we continue to judge teams that play different styles and different schedules by results of games that were played three, four, five, or more years ago.

Of course, this doesn't matter to the BCS. The SEC is king, the league that produces national champions. That voters already spoke loudly about a potential title game rematch five years ago is irrelevant. That, after all, involved the crappy Big 10. This involves the NFL-like SEC. And you know fans will flip their TVs on in droves to see another big SEC game morph into a field goal-kicking contest.

Since it's the BCS, that's all that matters in the end.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Enjoying the Holiday

This has been fun, I have to admit. I haven't even logged into the computer since early Thursday, and that was to look at Black Friday ads.

It's always good to get away, even if it's only for a couple days, and even if you don't necessarily go anywhere. We're hockey fans here, and I have a greater appreciation for the sport virtually every day I cover it.

But down time is a must, even if you don't do much to begin with.

Anyway, I don't have much for you this week. Didn't watch much of the televised games on Friday, which included Minnesota falling 4-3 at Michigan State, Denver shutting out Princeton 3-0, and North Dakota winning a goaltenders' duel over Colorado College, 7-6.

(All of a sudden, UMD is ahead of the mighty Gophers in the Pairwise. Hmm ... )

I will say that North Dakota looked rock-solid Friday in the third period. I thought they got away with some stick fouls while trying to hold off the Tigers late, but Brad Eidsness did a great job in relief of Aaron Dell, and UND found a way to get two points it really, really needed against a very good team.

There are concerns with this Fighting Sioux team. For starters, the team save percentage is .880, which is beyond bad and bordering on garish. Starter Dell has a save percentage of .875, which is 30 points below his career total, and 49 under his number (.924) from last season.

Defensively, this team is nowhere near where it needs to be. I know you know about Dave Hakstol's reputation as coach, so I won't bore you with it again. We know it's expected to improve. And it probably will improve. But it hasn't yet.

Seven goals against CC, though, is nothing to sneeze at. Perhaps the start of UND's annual surge to the top.


Friday's other WCHA game saw Alaska-Anchorage beat Minnesota State 5-4. In non-conference play, St. Lawrence beat Michigan Tech 3-2, and Wisconsin eased past Mercyhurst, 7-2. St. Cloud State and Nebraska-Omaha are playing a Saturday/Sunday series in Omaha.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sidney Crosby Return Lives Up To Hype

If the media had things the way the media would probably have wanted it, this wouldn't have played out the way it did.

Some 29 hours before the opening faceoff of Monday's Pittsburgh Penguins-New York Islanders game in Pittsburgh, the Penguins announced that captain/superstar/hockey lightning rod Sidney Crosby would be returning. Crosby was scheduled to play in a game for the first time since early January, when his MVP season was cut short by a concussion that wouldn't go away (presumptuous, maybe, but Sid had 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games, so saying he was on track for the MVP is probably quite the understatement).

Versus scuttled plans to televise Boston-Montreal (boring!). CBC scuttled plans to televise whatever CBC usually televises on Monday nights. They scrambled to get their broadcasters to Pittsburgh for the game, Versus sending Dave Strader and Pierre McGuire, while CBC went with the "A" team of Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson.

No one knew what to expect. Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma talked of Sid playing 12 minutes. He was going to play between Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz, his linemates last season. But would he have to kick off the rust, or would he quickly return to his old self?

The answer was quick. And it was as emphatic as it was quick.

It took all of 2:20 of ice time for Sidney Crosby to light the lamp.

Before the game, NHL Network's E.J. Hradek boldly predicted Sid would have three points. I was watching, and I wasn't so sure. After all, he wasn't going to have his normal ice time. He hadn't done anything at game speed since January.

The comeback from concussions eventually turns into a mental game. What would happen when Crosby was on the verge of getting hit. What would happen when he got hit hard? Would he shake it off and keep playing, or would there be doubts and questions about whether or not he was okay?

No worries. He took hits. He gave hits. He kept going, and he kept dazzling the home crowd in Pittsburgh.

It was a great show, even from the couch. Crosby did everything that made him the best player in the world before he was hurt. He has speed unlike virtually anyone else. His vision and smarts are second to none, too. But what makes Crosby great is that competitive drive, and it doesn't look like he's lost one bit of that drive.

From Bruce Arthur of The National Post:

And Crosby, once again, was able to soar to the occasion. A little over five minutes into his second hockey life, on his third shift, Crosby gathered a puck at speed in the neutral zone, raced right around defenceman Andrew MacDonald, and sliced a backhand over the glove hand of rookie goaltender Anders Nilsson. The clock froze at 5:24 and Crosby turned in the corner, flexed his arms, roared “F— yeah!” along with the crowd, turning the air a little blue.

He would add an assist on a Brooks Orpik one-timer that made it 2-0, and would pick up a secondary assist on the power-play goal by Evgeni Malkin that made it 3-0. He would win a puck battle, create space, and send a knuckling backhand that deflected off the leg of Islanders defenceman Steve Staios for the game’s final goal. Four points, and he could have had more — twice he set up teammates who hit the post. He kept displaying his old terrifying speed, his drive, his relentlessness. Like old times.

“The first draw — it’s a faceoff and he battles like it’s the last draw of the season,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.

“I felt like I was waiting forever,” said Crosby, who played just 15:54. “And I kind of was, in a way. I’ll have a great memory of this one for a lot of different reasons.”

Sure, the Islanders looked like a team that was a ladder and a bucket of confetti away from playing the Harlem Globetrotters. But it’s easy to forget that as recently as Sept. 7, Crosby didn’t absolutely rule out the possibility of retirement.

It was an incredible night for the sport, one that brought it plenty of attention it wouldn't normally get.

At the tail-end of November, that's hardly a bad thing.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Video: Aaron Crandall Does Something Called 'The Bernie'

During timeouts at Amsoil Arena, there are often things put on the Jumbotron meant to engage the fans and get them involved.

Fans are encouraged to kiss each other, dance, and on Saturday, they were implored to do something called "The Bernie."

Thanks to the recent 1980s classic movie "Weekend at Bernie's," we have a dance craze on our hands.

Just ask UMD sophomore goalie Aaron Crandall.

That might have been the loudest the crowd was all night after UMD scored four goals in :96 on its way to a 7-3 win.

BlogPoll Ballot


Nothing at all against anyone else, but come on. I might be stubborn, but a loss doesn't make me any less of a believer in Oklahoma State's ability to beat anyone ranked below them on this list.

Not only that, but how funny is it going to be when Auburn beats Alabama, leading to Oklahoma State getting a title shot after Arkansas gets pantsed by LSU?

Gotta love BCS chaos. Not that it ever does any good besides producing a chuckle or three.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Game 14: Minnesota State at UMD

Let's make it ten, shall we?



Seidel - Connolly - Basaraba
Herbert - Oleksuk - Brown
Crandall (Justin) - Hendrickson - Grun
Krause - Tardy - Flaherty

Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Casto
Olson - McManus

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron) - Gaffy

Mueller - Zuck - Dorr
Burkemper - Lehrke - Hayes
Lafontaine - Leitner - Gaede
McInnis - Jokinen - Leivermann

Louwerse - Schiller
Palmquist - Mosey
Nelson - Knoll

Cook - Lee

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Lining Up For Seconds

Yeah, it's cheesy. I don't care.

UMD ran its unbeaten streak to nine with a 5-2 win over Minnesota State Friday at Amsoil Arena. It was a game that featured a little bit of everything, including an absolutely unstoppable second line for UMD.

Two weeks ago, coach Scott Sandelin put Travis Oleksuk at center after a few games as a left wing on Jack Connolly's top line. Sandelin reunited Oleksuk with his right wing from virtually all of last season, J.T. Brown, and he put freshman Caleb Herbert at left wing on that line.

While Jack Connolly has enjoyed a bit of a surge as of late with Mike Seidel and Joe Basaraba, that second line has been forgotten about to an extent.

Until Friday.

Oleksuk's line struck four times Friday night, with Herbert scoring twice, and Brown and Oleksuk each tallying once.

Simply put, it was a matchup nightmare for Minnesota State, one that Troy Jutting couldn't escape until the clock had run out to end the game. For much of the night, his experienced line of Eli Zuck, Adam Mueller, and Michael Dorr was matched up against Oleksuk's line, and they just couldn't do very much. Mueller scored a late goal to make it a 5-2 game, but the three were a garish minus-nine combined. They would have been minus-12 if Mueller hadn't picked up that relatively meaningless goal.

Herbert scored the game's first goal off a really nice snipe from the left circle, a low shot to beat MSU goalie Austin Lee. Brown made it 2-0 in the second period with a great move around Lee and a backhanded shot into an empty net. Herbert scored off a defenseman late in the second period to make it 3-0. Oleksuk capped UMD's side of the scoring in the third.

The three combined for four goals, seven points, and a plus-11 for the game.

It was a tremdendous effort for UMD, one that looked perilous in the first period, when MSU outshot the home team 21-9. Taking away power play chances, the Mavericks outshot UMD 12-1 even strength. UMD made some adjustments and played much better defensively the rest of the game, outshooting MSU 25-15 in the last 40 minutes.

Efforts like that from Oleksuk's line are always great for UMD, because it creates more opportunities down the line for Connolly's line. In the case of Friday, it created a matchup nightmare for Minnesota State, and we'll see if Jutting can find a counter to it in Saturday's game.


UMD is one point back of the Gophers in the WCHA after Minnesota fell 4-3 to St. Cloud State Friday night. Kent Patterson gave up four goals on 13 shots over the first two periods, but was out-dueled by Ryan Faragher, who stopped 40 Minnesota shots.

Denver bested Nebraska-Omaha 7-3, scoring all their goals over the first two periods. Also in the Mountain time zone, Colorado College got by Wisconsin 4-2 in Colorado Springs.

In Anchorage, Alaska-Anchorage got its first WCHA win, beating Michigan Tech 3-1. The Huskies have played three road games this season and lost them all, while the Seawolves won for the first time since going 3-0-1 at tournaments in Anchorage and Fairbanks to start the season.


Congratulations to UMD coach Scott Sandelin, who picked up his 200th career win Friday night. It's not all about him, and he'd be the first to tell you that. But it's a significant accomplishment, and well worth mentioning.


Also, UMD has signed five players to letters of intent, all of whom are playing in the USHL. Forwards Tony Camaranesi, Cal Dekowski, and Austyn Young have signed, along with defensemen Willie Corrin and Andy Welinski.

All five players hail from Minnesota, with the forwards all from the Twin Cities area, Corrin from International Falls, and Welinski from Duluth.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Game 13: Minnesota State at UMD

Hopefully everyone drove carefully. Slick on the side streets with snow falling that wasn't exactly in the forecast. At least not for Friday.

Minnesota State is in town, hoping to end a six-game winless streak in Duluth by succeeding in its first game inside Amsoil Arena.



Seidel - Connolly - Basaraba
Herbert - Oleksuk - Brown
Crandall (Justin) - Hendrickson - Grun
DeLisle - Tardy - Flaherty

Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Casto
Olson - Johnson

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron) - Gaffy

Mueller - Zuck - Dorr
Burkemper - Lehrke - Hayes
Lafontaine - Leitner - Gaede
McInnis - Jokinen - Leivermann

Louwerse - Schiller
Palmquist - Mosey
Nelson - Knoll

Lee - Cook

UMD Ready For Odyssey

UMD has only had two road trips so far this season. The Bulldogs will get to spend a lot of time on buses coming up in the next two months.

This weekend, UMD hosts Minnesota State at Amsoil Arena. Once we hope to hear "Holiday Road" after a UMD win and (again, hopefully) get a stick salute Saturday, it will be the last time Amsoil Arena's lights come on for a UMD men's home game until January.

Late January.

It will be eight weeks before the Bulldogs host Alabama-Huntsville Jan. 20-21.

Over those eight weeks, the Bulldogs will play four road series and have four weekends (next weekend, and then three weekends for Christmas break) off.

It's a lot of bus travel, with one plane trip (Western Michigan), and a lot of team bonding.

As for the 14-game run to start the season, so far it's gone pretty well. UMD is 7-3-2 on the season, and the Bulldogs are unbeaten in eight heading into this series against the Mavericks.

While Minnesota State certainly presents some challenges, there's no question UMD is favored to win. So far, UMD has played that role well, sweeping Bemidji State and Alaska-Anchorage for eight huge points on home ice, and UMD also got a win and a tie at Providence, which still stands as the Friars' only blemishes at home (6-1-1 at Schneider Arena).

It's tough to get a read on this MSU team. The Mavericks have dealt with a rash of injuries, and they're clearly a tough-minded, gutty team, because after a 10-2 blowout loss at Denver in which the Mavs only had 14 healthy skaters at the end, things have started to turn around.

MSU got a win at Michigan Tech -- the Huskies' only home loss so far -- and also beat St. Cloud State at home last weekend.

Freshman JP Lafontaine (uncle Pat might be somewhat familiar to hockey fans) is their leading scorer, and he's not the typical big, bruising, Backes-like power forward MSU has sported in the past. Instead, Lafontaine is more like his uncle, a guy who could fly on a pair of skates. This kid can go, and his skating ability will challenge UMD's defense this weekend.

Guys like Zach Lehrke, Michael Dorr, and Adam Mueller are smaller guys who can move and make plays. They will challenge UMD, but the Bulldogs should be up to the test.

The defense has played well for the most part, limiting scoring chances and protecting the front of the net very well. When they have broken down, Kenny Reiter (1.23 goals against, .955 saves over eight starts) has been more than good lately.

To run the unbeaten streak to ten, UMD needs to keep building off the good things they've been doing. Jack Connolly has been very good lately, and the Bulldogs' third line (Hendrickson centering Crandall and Grun) continues to set a great example for the rest of the team with its work ethic and ability to create turnovers off the forecheck.

Enjoy the games this weekend. Unless you have satellite TV, a really good cable package, and/or are willing to fork over for online coverage, you're stuck with me for the next eight games. Smiley

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

UMD Players Honored by WCHA

For the second straight week, UMD is front-and-center as the WCHA releases its weekly individual awards.

This time, the Bulldogs are double-dipping, with players of the week on both ends of the ice. Here is the press release from the league:

Veteran forward Jack Connolly, who figured in on half of the University of Minnesota Duluth's eight goals in a two-game conference home-ice sweep of Alaska Anchorage last weekend, has been named the Red Baron® WCHA Offensive Player of the Week for November 15.

A 5-8, 170-pound senior from Duluth, Minn., Connolly scored two goals and set up two others for four points while extending his personal scoring streak to 10 games as the defending national champion Bulldogs pushed their unbeaten streak to eight games (6-0-2). He scored a power-play goal and earned an assist on teammate Joe Basaraba's winner in the series-opening 5-0 victory over the Seawolves last Friday (Nov. 11) and then duplicated that feat the following evening (Nov. 12) as Minnesota Duluth prevailed 3-1 over UAA to complete the sweep. In addition to his four points, Connolly fired four shots on goal and earned a +2 plus/minus rating.

A two-time All-WCHA First Team honoree and a 2011 Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist, Connolly is tied for second in scoring among WCHA players overall this season with 17 points (6g, 11a) in 12 games. Over his 137-game UMD career, he has recorded 154 points (52g, 102a).

University of Minnesota Duluth goaltender Kenny Reiter, who extended his scoreless streak to a school-record 166:45 while backstopping the Bulldogs to a two-game sweep over visiting league rival Alaska Anchorage last weekend, has been honored as the Red Baron® WCHA Defensive Player of the Week. This marks the second straight week Reiter has earned the conference's Defensive Player of the Week honor.

A 6-0, 175-pound senior from Pittsburgh, Pa., Reiter posted his second consecutive shutout and third in the last four games last Friday (Nov. 11) night while stopping all 27 shots on goal as defending national champion UMD blanked the visiting Seawolves, 5-0. Then last Saturday (Nov. 12) in a 3-1 Bulldogs' victory, Reiter finally surrendered his first goal in 166:45 of action when the Seawolves' Eric Scheid scored at 5:18 of the first period. He went on to stop 33 of 34 shots on goal in that game. The 166:45 scoreless streak is a school record, topping by exactly 19 minutes the previous mark set by All-American Alex Stalock from March 19-27, 2009.

Over his last eight games, Reiter owns a 6-0-2 record, a 1.23 goals-against average and a .955 saves percentage. Overall this season, the three-time WCHA Scholar-Athlete is 7-2-2 with a 2.05 gaa and .923 sv%. His career mark at UMD of 36-19-7 (.637) is the second best winning percentage in club history behind former All-American Rick Kosti's .753 figure (60-18-2) between 1983-85. 

The Bulldogs are unbeaten in eight. Reiter has been incredible over that stretch, but Connolly is playing some great hockey right now. His last three games have been probably his best of the season. He seems more engaged on both ends of the ice, and the captain has very good chemistry with linemates Joe Basaraba and Mike Seidel.

It's hard to imagine Connolly exceeding expectations in a season where "Hobey Baker" is listed among the expectations, but he's leading by example right now. By stepping up his game and cementing himself as UMD's best player, he's also making his linemates better. The pass he made to Basaraba for the first goal Friday was something to behold. Give Joe credit for getting to the right spot, but that pass had no margin for error, and it was perfect.

Connolly and the Bulldogs host Minnesota State at Amsoil Arena this weekend. It's the last chance for UMD fans to see the team play at home until late January, as UMD will play eight straight road games over two months starting in Houghton in two weeks.

(Four road series and four off weeks over eight. Thanks for that, WCHA scheduling person.)

Is Leslie Frazier In Over His Head?

I've tried not to harp too much on this year's NFL happenings, mainly because I completely whiffed on the NFC North, outside of Green Bay.

I am not going to rub anyone's face in the Packers' success. It's been a lot of fun to watch, and it's probably not a lot of fun for a lot of the readers of this blog, many of whom are not Packers fans.

I thought Minnesota would be good. I actually thought they could compete for a playoff spot.

I was dead wrong.

Minnesota is simply a bad team. The Vikings don't have any serious play-making receivers, a porous offensive line, and they are incredibly weak and thin in the secondary, especially at safety.

There are players on this team. Adrian Peterson is a beast, Jared Allen is having a huge season, Brian Robison is a real upgrade on Ray Edwards, Kevin Williams -- even injured -- can go, and while Chad Greenway isn't dynamic in any way at linebacker, he's reliable and very solid.

But it's not enough. The Vikings made a bad move at quarterback with Donovan McNabb, paid for it with a poor start to the season, and rookie Christian Ponder is quickly finding out that it wasn't McNabb's fault that plays weren't being made downfield.

So there are real concerns about the talent. But how much of this can be pinned on head coach Leslie Frazier?

At times, it looks like Frazier's in over his head a bit, like the job of head coach is too big for him to handle. There are times where the Vikings have looked unprepared for games, as if they don't understand how to handle their opposition.

One of those times was Monday night. In a perfect storm of sorts for Frazier, the Vikings were on national television (ESPN) against a rival (Green Bay) and coming off a bye week. Losing 45-7 in that situation just looks bad for Frazier and the entire staff.

But it's not that simple. Look at what Frazier took over.

We're in a passing league nowadays. The Vikings' problems are magnified because of the lack of receivers who can make plays at this level. While Aaron Rodgers is posting obscene passer ratings week after week (he's at 130.2 for the season), and it seems everyone is throwing the ball with great success, the Vikings can't move the ball through the air. Even with Ponder on board, they're going to find it excessively difficult to even present the threat of a passing game that can take heat off Peterson and the ground game.

These problems existed before, but having a quarterback in Brett Favre who could throw a ball 50 yards into a moving wastebasket helps mask such deficiencies. Guys that don't come around every day, and Favre made a rather pedestrian group of Vikings receivers look like stars. Sidney Rice's heyday helped, too, because his big-play ability on the outside took a lot of coverage away from Percy Harvin.

Now, Harvin -- not the best receiver when playing outside the slot -- is much more limited in what he can do. The injuries he keeps battling don't help, either.

Those are circumstances beyond Frazier's control, and they shouldn't be held against him when conducting a fair evaluation of his coaching acumen.

Did the Vikings look unprepared Monday night, or were they just overwhelmed by a team far superior in every area of the game? The defense permitted just ten points in the first half (remember, the first touchdown was a punt return). They kept Rodgers at bay as much as anyone has in the last year-plus, outside of the Bears and maybe Philadelphia in last year's Wild Card game. It was a good effort, and the Vikings had a 17-0 hole to show for it. That's a hole that was on the offense, not the defense, which did everything it could to keep the team in the game despite being overmatched on paper.

To rip Frazier for offensive shortcomings that appear to be talent-driven and not coach- or coordinator-driven seems unfair. Holding the defense responsible for those shortcomings also seems unfair. Yeah, the Packers rolled up 28 points in the second half, and didn't appear to be really trying in the fourth quarter while scoring the last 14. But saying that and putting it on the head coach is convenient, when that same team held the Packers to ten offensive points in the first 30 minutes.

Frazier might look like he's in over his head, but it's amazing what a couple good drafts can do to the perception people have of a coach. Mike McCarthy, who looked to be on the hot seat that national pundits love so much just a year or so ago, is lauded now as a genius. He earned a chunk of that praise, coaching a team full of injured stars to a championship last year. But part of it is the talent level that Ted Thompson has accumulated on the roster.

In the NFL, people like to say teams take on the personality of the coach. It's a convenient argument usually only thrown around when a team is losing and the coach appears stoic on the sidelines. When the bluster-filled, energetic coach can't win, no one seems to want to roll out this argument.

I'm not saying Frazier is the answer in Minnesota. I'm saying 15 games -- counting his time as interim head coach last year -- isn't enough to make that judgment.