Sunday, February 27, 2011

Travel Misadventures: Running With Scissors

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Greetings from Gate 4 at the Colorado Springs Airport, where we sit and await the arrival of a plane from the Twin Cities.

Once the plane lands, they unload the bags, stuff our bags in, leave a bunch of other bags here, and get us on board, we'll be heading to the Cities. An 11:10 flight (Mountain time) has already been pushed back to 11:49, and since the plane isn't here yet, I don't like our chances of leaving on time (even if you define "on time" in this case as being 39 minutes late).

I'm not here to bore you with stats about late flights, or drone on about the somewhat-frustrating 3-3 tie UMD settled for Saturday night.

Instead, here's a story to make you feel really safe when you fly again.

As you know, everyone who is a ticketed passenger has to go through a security check. They run your bags through the scanner, and then you take off your shoes (and belt if you have one), empty your pockets, and walk through the body scanner.

When a radio guy travels to call hockey games, he has to carry a bag full of microphone cords, headsets, and the necessary equipment to broadcast a game. Makes sense that TSA would want to go through the bag thoroughly, no matter how carefully it's packed. I've come to learn that they really don't care. They tend to let me go anyway.

On this trip, I traveled with a duffel bag-type thing for the gear. Carried a headset, a mic to get crowd noise with, and the equipment that I plug into to do the game. Since it was so light, I threw my pack of movies that I always bring on the road into it. I ran it and my laptop bag through the scanner, walked through the body scanner, and went to wait for my stuff.

When the TSA lady pulled the gear bag out and asked me if it was mine, I said it was. No worries. I actually think the process is working well when they look through that bag.

I gasped audibly when she pulled a pair of scissors out of the front pocket of the bag, a pocket I didn't even know existed.

And these weren't small scissors out of a sewing kit or something. These were big ones. Adult size scissors.

She ran them through some kind of check, then re-scanned the bag. After that, I picked up the bag, and was shocked again.


Because she gave me back the scissors.

Aghast, I went to the TSA website, wondering what's allowed and what isn't. Oddly, scissors are permitted, as long as they are "metal with pointed tips and blades shorter than four inches."

This blade isn't shorter than four inches.

Maybe I just look like a nice guy or something. After all, I've always been told looks can be deceiving.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION/CORRECTION: After I got home Sunday evening, I measured the blade of the scissors. They were less than four inches, and therefore legal. As my wife correctly pointed out, they could still do some serious damage.

Knowing that these things are actually legal might be more disturbing than thinking the TSA agent just let me keep them out of the goodness of her heart.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Game 33: UMD at Colorado College

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Time to go win a game, boys. Then it's time to go home.

Enjoy home. We'll be there for a couple weeks.



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Seidel - Oleksuk - Brown
Schmidt - Hendrickson - Basaraba
Tardy - Flaherty - Grun

Bergman - Faulk
Kishel - Montgomery
Olson - Huttel

Reiter - Crandall

Hall - Dineen - Hamburg
Eveland - Winkler - Johnson
Schwartz (Jaden) - Schwartz (Rylan) - Schultz
Krushelnyski - Civitarese - Rapuzzi

Lowery - McDermott
Guentzel - Marciano
Boivin - Bidwill

Howe - Thorimbert - O'Brien

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: You Don't Think I'm Going There, Do You?

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Irritating, frustrating, gut-wrenching, flat-out tough.

Those are accurate terms to describe UMD's 5-4 loss to Colorado College here Friday night.

It's a tough loss to take because UMD fell to No. 11 in the Pairwise, and they're now fourth in the WCHA. Dreams of a MacNaughton Cup are practically dead at this point. Suddenly, there's pressure to win, or the NCAA dream could find itself in peril.

It was irritating because, while the Bulldogs didn't exactly shut down the Schwartz brothers, they did contain the dynamic tandem in five-on-five play. The Tigers scored three even-strength goals, and the Schwartz line accounted for precisely none of them. It was a point of emphasis for coach Scott Sandelin in our pregame chat. He wanted to see his team avoid the penalty bug (meh, maybe one or two avoidable penalties in there, but it wasn't an epidemic at all), and he didn't want the Tigers' third- and fourth-line players to beat UMD.

In the end, that's what happened. Archie Skalbeck's line -- with Dakota Eveland and Tyler Johnson -- was out for Joe Marciano's third-period goal that gave CC a 4-3 lead. Then David Civitarese, William Rapuzzi, and Alexander Krushelnyski were on the ice 18 seconds later when the Tigers went up two.

Frustration sets in when you realize the chance squandered with the loss. UMD could have tied for second place in the standings, putting tons of pressure on North Dakota to keep winning. Instead, that's Nebraska-Omaha applying the heat, and UMD's got heat on them to stay above water in the Pairwise. Amazing how things can turn against you.

The gut-wrenching part? Well, that came with 13.5 seconds left, as Mike Connolly appeared to score the game-tying goal. From the goal line, referee Todd Anderson signaled it was a good goal. But Brad Shepherd thought he saw a hand-pass in the slot by Justin Fontaine, and from 100 feet away (or so), Shepherd waved the goal off.

UMD only had time for one single rush after that, as a hand pass means a defensive zone faceoff. Even after winning that, the Bulldogs didn't have time to set anything up in the offensive zone. Their single shot attempt was blocked, and that was the game.


The character or the ability of the referees will not be assailed in this space. They might be nice guys, and they aren't refereeing Division I college hockey because they're blind and stupid. Honestly, there were times Friday night where they had a good understanding of how the game was flowing, and they generally stayed out of the way. As far as I'm concerned, that's all we need sometimes, especially with up-and-down skating teams like UMD and Colorado College. Just stay out of the way and let the kids play. Put your arm in the air if something egregious happens, and make sure not to let the game get out of hand.

The unfortunate thing about a game like Friday is that there were a number of questionable calls -- and, as it were, non-calls. Mike Seidel was called for embellishment, apparently guilty of diving head-first into the boards after he got hit in the back while in a vulnerable spot near the boards. I believe we're in year five now of the "automatic major for a hit from behind near the boards" rule, and this is the first time I've seen a referee not only eschew the major penalty by calling a minor for something else (cross-checking in this case), but also call the player who was hit for embellishment.

I bring that up because when they put the rule in place, I did state that I thought some players would try to take advantage of the rule. To the credit of players nationwide, they seem to understand that diving head-first into the boards to sell a penalty is not exactly a smart tactic.

The no-goal call is tough. Anderson obviously didn't see a hand pass. He watched the play and signaled a goal. There was very little discussion between the two afterward, and Anderson could be seen on the ice defending the call to the UMD bench. So he may not have seen it, but clearly Shepherd did, and he was certain he saw a hand pass.

From what I have been told, the video is inconclusive. There was no replay shown in the arena. In Colorado Springs, most games are shot by a single camera in the press box. What you see on B2 Network if you buy the game is that single camera shooting the action. It's the feed off the arena's scoreboard. Few replays, many of them not good replays. That camera is situated approximately six feet from me, and it's not exactly high definition, if you catch my drift.

Even with its ability to zoom in on the action, it's not a good look. Obviously, the angle is different from the one Shepherd saw from, but that doesn't necessarily make it better or worse.

Any time you see an official 90-100 feet away skating in to make a crucial call that his partner on top of the play doesn't make, your reaction is likely going to be negative. The fact that Shepherd was that far away doesn't mean he is automatically wrong. The fact that Anderson didn't make the call doesn't mean he (Shepherd) is auotmatically wrong. The fact that UMD fans think Shepherd has it out for their team -- which is, to be blunt, pretty ridiculous -- doesn't mean he is automatically wrong.

It just means it's a tough pill to swallow.

Saturday is a big game. If for no other reason than the Pairwise. UMD is getting to a point where a couple more losses will have them seriously on the bubble. That's not going to sit well with a fan base that watched their team swoon last February and miss the NCAAs. But this is a different set of circumstances.

UMD generally played well on Friday, and the effort was more than there. They have to clean up some things on the penalty kill, and they have to be better at supporting the puck in the defensive zone. We knew going into the season that goaltending wasn't going to be a strength, but if this team is going to play deep into March, it has to be better than it's been lately.


Saturday is a big day in northern Minnesota, as all the area high school hockey sections are conducting playoff games.

In Section 7AA, Amsoil Arena is hosting the semifinals, featuring top seed Duluth East against Elk River, followed by No. 2 Grand Rapids and No. 3 Cloquet/Esko/Carlton locking horns. There have been some memorable section playoff games involving these four teams before, and this should be a great afternoon of hockey. You can listen to the games with Jeff Papas by clicking here and following the link to listen to your game of choice.

Section 7A plays semifinals, too. In Hibbing, No. 1 seed Virginia/MIB battles Duluth Marshall in an afternoon tilt. The night game is in Grand Rapids, where No. 2 Hibbing takes on Duluth Central. In Section 5A, top seed Hermantown hosts St. Cloud Cathedral, and Proctor visits No. 2 Rogers.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Game 32: UMD at Colorado College

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Dreams of sunshine and temps in the 50s and 60s are just that. Dreams.

Snowed Friday, was gloomy throughout the day, and the mountains might as well have disappeared.

Oh, well. Not here to sightsee anyway.



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Schmidt - Oleksuk - Brown
DeLisle - Hendrickson - Basaraba
Grun - Flaherty - Seidel

Bergman - Montgomery
Faulk - Palm
Olson - Huttel

Crandall - Reiter

Hall - Dineen - Winkler
Eveland - Skalbeck - Johnson
Schwartz (Jaden) - Schwartz (Rylan) - Schultz
Krushelnyski - Civitarese - Rapuzzi

Lowery - McDermott
Guentzel - Marciano
Boivin - Bidwill

Thorimbert - Howe - O'Brien

The End of FanHouse

Since 2006, I've been a part of a project at AOL called FanHouse. It started as a group of sports bloggers coming together under one roof. Yes, we got paid for our work, but it wasn't about making gobs of money or working a full-time job.

Started by Jamie Mottram, FanHouse slowly gained traction, and with traction came traffic. With traffic came growth.

The FanHouse of today is not something that any of us who were on the initial conference calls in August of 2006 can really identify with. It became a legitimate sports news site, one that broke stories, employed some big-name columnists and analysts, along with top-notch writers who could break news, and we also had Jay Mariotti.

Some of us stuck around. Others, like Mottram, moved on to bigger and better things. Jamie now runs Yahoo's highly successful blog network, and former FanHousers like MJD, Greg Wyshynski, and Shane Bacon work there.

Needless to say, it was a shock on Jan. 13, when AOL announced they were entering into a content arrangement with The Sporting News, an arrangement that would bring on the unofficial death of FanHouse.

Yes, FanHouse will continue on, but the brand is all that remains. The writers you've come to know from the site are generally no more. Many have found gigs, and will be ready on Tuesday to take their talents elsewhere.

I already moved back into my old Red Rock Radio office, and I'm not leaving it anytime soon.

The fact that so many of my colleagues and friends haven't yet found work is troubling. There are some great writers who are free agents -- sorry for the sports vernacular -- as of March 1. Many of them have nothing right now, so I consider myself very lucky.

In the end, it's sad for so many reasons, including the fact that AOL burned bridges with so many talented people over money they could have gotten elsewhere, and if they had done that, many jobs would have been preserved.

Farewell, FanHouse. It's been a hell of a ride.

Home Ice Clinched, But Work Not Done for UMD

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Saturday's 6-2 win at Minnesota State assured the UMD Bulldogs that there would be no last-second travel plans made for a WCHA playoff series. They are going to play at home March 11-13.

It's the first time since 2003-2004 that UMD has earned home ice in back-to-back seasons, and the Bulldogs also know they won't finish lower than fourth, which will mark their best finish in the WCHA standings since the Frozen Four run of 2004.

Don't be mistaken, though. UMD's work is hardly done.

Before the season, multiple players stated the team's goals for the season, which included the MacNaughton Cup (WCHA regular season champion), Broadmoor Trophy (WCHA playoff champion), and the NCAA title.

Yes, North Dakota is probably going to win the MacNaughton, but the other two goals are still very much in sight for UMD.

It starts this weekend here in Colorado Springs, as UMD tries to improve their playoff positioning. There are other markers in play for the Bulldogs in the coming weeks.

UMD has 19 wins, one win away from a third straight 20-win season. That has only been accomplished once before in school history, when UMD won 20 or more in four straight seasons under Mike Sertich from 1982-1986.

Three more victories would give UMD 66 wins over the last three years, the most in any three-year span since the first three years of that incredible run under Sertich.

These are generally meaningless accomplishments, but they show how far UMD hockey has come in the last few years. After a 20-52-7 start under Scott Sandelin, the program has posted a 165-145-44 record in the last (almost) nine years, including five winning seasons, something (five winning seasons in nine years) that also hasn't happened since that four-year run under Sertich.

The Colorado College Tigers present the first of many upcoming challenges for UMD. Since the Bulldogs became a bit more of a skating team and less of a grinder team, they've had more success at the World Arena, going 4-1-1 here in the last three visits. One of the huge keys to this recent run is UMD's ability to skate with the always-speedy Tigers.

Defensive-oriented teams can do well here, but teams that don't skate well get caught in no man's land on this huge ice surface, a surface CC usually uses very well. They also take a lot of penalties, and the Tigers typically have a strong and efficient power play. That is the case again this season.

UMD averages nearly 16 minutes of penalties per game, and even if you allow for the fact that a team will take an occasional misconduct (10 minutes) or major/misconduct combo meal (15 minutes), that's a lot of special teams time for a team that can ill afford to be putting its opponent on the man advantage all the time.

Last time here, UMD was buried by PIMs (51 in a 6-2 loss that included four CC power-play goals) after killing off a six-on-three (CC had their goalie pulled) in the final minute of a 4-3 win on Friday.

It's probably oversimplifying things to say that staying out of the box is important, because it always is. We saw that last weekend, when a middling Minnesota State power play burned UMD for two first-period goals, then as UMD tightened up the penalty kill, they had to deal with 9:41 of MSU power play time in the second period. Makes a comeback kind of difficult.

The Bulldogs need to play strong defense, finding a way to contain CC junior Tyler Johnson and the brothers Schwartz, sophomore Rylan and freshman Jaden. Jaden is a first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues, and despite missing six weeks with an ankle injury, he's the favorite for WCHA Rookie of the Year. He's been dynamic and consistent, making a huge impact on a CC team many had tabbed for the bottom half of the league standings.

If there's a bug with this UMD machine right now, it's their play in front of the net. Too many quality chances given up, and too many position battles lost in front of whoever is playing goal on a given night.

When those things are happening, it doesn't matter if Kenny Reiter or Aaron Crandall is in goal, and it doesn't matter how well they are playing.

And once the calendar flips to March, and the games become all the more meaningful, such mistakes are magnified. Any one of them could be a season-ender, and they best be avoided at all costs.


--> Brady Lamb did not make the trip. The junior defenseman will miss his second straight weekend with an upper body injury. He began skating again this week, and may be able to return next weekend against Nebraska-Omaha.

--> All 13 healthy forwards made the trip to Colorado Springs, with Scott Kishel coming along as the extra defenseman. UMD hasn't changed the personnel on defense since Lamb was injured and Chad Huttel took his place in the lineup. Dan DeLisle and Max Tardy have split the last four games at forward, with DeLisle being a scratch for Saturday's win in Mankato.

--> UMD hasn't announced their 2011-12 schedule, but for those interested in planning, the Bulldogs will play non-conference series at home against Notre Dame and Alabama-Huntsville, and on the road against Providence and Western Michigan. In league play, UMD will play home and away series with cluster mates Michigan Tech, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. They will host North Dakota, Minnesota State, Bemidji State, and Colorado College, and they will play at Alaska-Anchorage, Denver, St. Cloud State, and Nebraska-Omaha. The clusters will rotate for the 2012-13 season, meaning UMD will not play two series against Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ken Macha Takes Another Shot at Ryan Braun

When Ken Macha was fired ... er, dismissed ... er, resigned ... er, told to stay the hell away from the Brewers after last season's disaster, he decided it would be a good idea to rip his star players on his way out the door.

And a mighty fine job of bus-chucking he did.

Apparently, it wasn't an accident. Macha went back in after Ryan Braun this week.

The backstory goes like this. Braun did an interview with Tom Haudricourt in which he basically said Macha was a negative influence on the team. He didn't name Macha specifically.

"Ultimately, I think we were all fighting the negativity and the overall situation we were dealing with. I always try to be as positive and optimistic as I can but the whole environment and atmosphere, not necessarily with the players, was negative.

"It felt worse than it was. It felt like we lost 100 games. It's a thousand times different now. The whole atmosphere, the whole environment is much more positive. There's just an aura of excitement."

Macha was the problem, Braun thinks.

Whether Braun has a point or is right is irrelevant. None of us were in that clubhouse, and none of us really know except the guys who were.

For his part, Macha isn't backing down.

“My responsibility is to get the club to play well and you get judged by your wins and losses," Macha said, referring to his manager's role.  "It was a great experience for me being in Milwaukee. They have tremendous fans, tremendous fan base. I loved the city, and it’s unfortunate for me it didn’t work out that way. But hey, you know what, the pitching staff that was there in ’08 disappeared. You had (CC) Sabathia leave, Ben Sheets left, half of their bullpen left and we were in a little bit of a rebuilding mode as far as the pitching was concerned and we really didn’t have the pitching there.

"And I’ll tell you what," Macha said. " The other thing that you want to look at as far as Braun’s comments are concerned. (Prince) Fielder, (Corey) Hart, (Casey) McGehee, Rickie Weeks and Braun, all those guys - five guys - had their best years playing under me.  So, if they felt like there was oppression or it was a down atmosphere they all played great, their numbers are as good or better than they had any other year.  And look, some cases, like Fielder with 141 RBI’s the one year, it’s going to be tough to duplicate those numbers.”

Macha talked about opening up better lines of communication with the players at the beginning of the 2010 season.

... "I reached out to these players, every one of them. Ryan Braun in particular, in my office for two hours explaining to him where I was from, letting him know that this door is open, come in here all the time.  And when it was all said and done the guy came in once or twice during the course of the year and then has got some negative comments to say afterwards. And my advice to (him) is: Hey, turn the page. Your focus should be on what you’re doing this year and focus on this team and try to learn from the things that happened in the past.”

Step No. 1: Make excuses, and sort of blame management for not having enough pitching on hand.

Step No. 2: Take credit for players who should be entering the prime of their careers who get better.

Step No. 3: Blame Braun for being a jerk and not walking through the open door often enough.

Maybe Macha has a point, but normally managers don't start their second year at the helm by going out of their way to get to know the players. In a typical situation, that's taken care of in the first year. In the first month. Perhaps on the first day.

That Macha waited until his second year may go a long way toward explaining why the players didn't take very well to his leadership.

I'd say it's a lesson learned, but Macha isn't going to be sleeping in baseball dugouts anytime soon.

WCHA Playoff Scenarios

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Beautiful day here in Colorado Springs, though not shorts weather as I was hoping.

Either way, it's nice, sunny, and not freezing cold. I'll take it.

As the weekend's WCHA action approaches, I thought I'd take a quick look at the scenarios present for home ice teams, as well as where UMD could possibly end up in the standings.

There's no easy way to do this, so I'll just give you the facts as I see them. When you see something wrong, leave it in the comments or email me. There's too many moving parts here for me to avoid screwing something up.


Remaining games: vs. Bemidji State, at Michigan Tech

The Fighting Sioux have clinched a home-ice position, and they know they'll do no worse than fourth place, even if they somehow lose their last four.

The most likely scenario is that North Dakota, with a two-point lead, wins the league title. However, Bemidji is a tough team, and they didn't go 3-0-1 against Omaha because Omaha sucks. We know they're good, too.

Expecting a ninth-place team to waltz into Ralph Engelstad Arena and get more than a point or two appears unreasonable, and UND certainly isn't going to lose to Tech.


Remaining games: at Nebraska-Omaha, vs. St. Cloud State

Gone are the days where the Pioneers would close out the season with a home-and-home against Colorado College. Instead, they get the feisty league newcomers in their home finale, then have to go home for a St. Cloud team that is undeniably playing better hockey as of late.

Not only is Denver a longshot to win the league, but if UMD or UNO get hot these next two weekends, Denver could fall out of the final "Thursday bye" position.

The Pioneers are also guaranteed a top four position at this point. They can finish no worse than in a tie with Wisconsin, and DU won the season series 1-0-1.

Denver can move up, but it seems likeliest they'll stay in second, giving them a bye into the Final Five semifinals if they qualify for the tournament.


Remaining games: vs. Denver, at UMD

Until there's head-to-head, UNO owns the tiebreaker over UMD based on league wins (15 to 14). That's why I list them first.

Anyway, the Mavericks have a tough schedule, and they've probably been the most inconsistent of the top four (beat North Dakota twice, swept Wisconsin, lost to Alabama-Huntsville, 0-3-1 vs. Bemidji State). That makes it tough to predict where they'll end up.

Win one game, and they're locked into a top four position. Win them all, and they could finish second. But if they lose them all, they could conceivably fall in the standings, and that wouldn't be a good way for UNO to go into their first WCHA tournament.

We'll call for a fourth-place finish. But a lot of that depends on the last series against ...


Remaining games: at Colorado College, vs. Nebraska-Omaha

The Bulldogs are in a good position. They're 4-1-1 at Colorado College since the start of the 2008-09 season, and they've played pretty well on the big sheet this season (4-2-1 record).

Omaha will be a doozy of a weekend. Blais vs. Sandelin, and the fact that I know the UMD coaching staff thinks very highly of this UNO team.

While some have said UMD should be happy with a 2-2 record in these games, I think they can aim higher. 3-0-1 is doable, and it should be enough to get them no worse than third, probably second place. Second place is highly valuable because of that aforementioned Final Five bye. It's not necessarily a markedly easier first-round opponent, but we'll get to that.

UMD clinches a top four spot with a win or tie -- or a Wisconsin loss or tie -- at any point. If hell freezes over, the Bulldogs could win the league. Probably not, though.


Remaining games: at St. Cloud State, vs. Colorado College

The Badgers could rally into fourth if UMD or UNO go into a free-fall. It isn't going to happen.

Instead, the Badgers are left to fight for their home-ice position. They have a one-point lead on sixth, two points on seventh, and three points on eighth. Even tenth-place St. Cloud State -- the opponent this weekend -- could still catch Bucky.

Wisconsin has impressed at times this year, but they haven't been nearly consistent enough to be a home ice lock at this point. A ceiling of third place and a cellar of tenth is quite the range, but the smart money is on Wisconsin at least splitting their remaining four games. That should be enough to keep a top six position.


In this league, you never know.


Remaining games: vs. Michigan Tech, at Bemidji State

This isn't a cakewalk. Tech got the oh-fer monkey off their back in Denver, and Bemidji has allowed just 74 goals in 30 games.

It's still a recipe for Minnesota to get a minimum of six points. That will put them in a good position to jump to fifth place. They could tie for fourth if they win out and UMD loses out. However, UMD would hold the tie-breaker over Minnesota based on goals scored during their head-to-head meetings (thank you, Mike Connolly), so Minnesota can finish no higher than fifth (UNO won their season series 2-0).

Of course, if a couple upsets happen, Minnesota finds themselves in position to fall into 11th place. It's not a likely scenario, but it could happen. The Gophers have been inconsistent enough this year that it can't be fully ruled out.


Remaining games: vs. UMD, at Wisconsin

They played pretty well against Denver and upset North Dakota before getting pasted at home in the series finale. But the Tigers struggled in Bemidji, got swept at Anchorage, and find themselves needing wins to finish in the top six and avoid a tough-to-book road trip in the playoffs.

(You try finding a flight for close to 30 -- 22 hockey players, coaches, and staff -- on short notice. It's not fun.)

The Tigers are two points out of fifth and three ahead of 11th. That's uncomfortable, especially when eighth (UAA) and ninth (BSU) hold tie-breaker advantages.

With two difficult opponents also looking to improve their position, the Tigers -- who rely heavily on the brothers Schwartz to make their offense go -- could find themselves traveling again.


Remaining games: at Minnesota State

Just two league games remain, but the Seawolves enter the final two weeks with a mathematical chance to earn home ice in the playoffs. The scenario is simple:

1. Sweep Minnesota State (doable, but not likely).
2. Colorado College must get three points or less in their last four games (same).
3. Minnesota must get less than four points or two wins in their last four games (barely even possible).

Minnesota beats UAA on a tie-breaker if the Gophers win two more games in league play (league wins would be even, so since they only played twice, it goes to goal differential, where it's virtually impossible for UAA to win).

The mere fact that UAA has two league games left, and they could mean something, is a victory for this program. They've never had home ice in the WCHA playoffs, and they won't have it this year. But at least it seems like they're starting to put something together up there.

As far as scenarios go, UAA is most likely to finish between eighth and tenth. Anything better than that wouldn't be shocking, but it doesn't look like it's in the cards.


Remaining games: at North Dakota, vs. Minnesota

The home ice dream isn't dead, but Tom Serratore's team is probably at a point where they can make plans to travel.

Surely, they'd love to see Omaha again, since they're 3-0-1 against UNO, but they've had a lot of success in Duluth over the years, too.

No matter the opponent, BSU will be a tough out. They don't give up many goals, thanks to the way Dan Bakala is playing. Since they get sixth-place Minnesota at home next weekend, a win against North Dakota this weekend could put a lot of pressure on the Gophers.

With the schedule and the standings as they look now, the Beavers are looking at no better than eighth.


Remaining games: vs. Wisconsin, at Denver

The Huskies are playing better hockey, but it's too late for them to climb the home-ice ladder. This schedule really doesn't help matters, as SCSU has to play two top contenders, one of which is still battling for home ice.

They won't go easily into that playoff road trip night, but the Huskies are looking at a scenario where they'll be fortunate if they can climb into seventh or eighth.

In the end, they have their start to blame for it.


Remaining games: vs. Alaska-Anchorage

If the Gophers go 0-4 these last two weekends and other things happen, the Mavericks could climb into sixth.

But let's focus on the realistic.

Minnesota State has had a lot of leads in games this season, but they are a .500 team overall and a .385 team in league play for a reason. They shot themselves in the foot way too many times to be any better.

They won't finish higher than ninth, but tenth or 11th are more likely.


Remaining games: at Minnesota, vs. North Dakota

No one wanted to see 0-23-3 become something worse than that. We're all glad they beat Denver on Friday (except Denver ... they weren't happy).

But Tech has clinched last, and they're hitting the road to play the top seed (North Dakota, we believe) in the opening round.


North Dakota can win the league if they sweep Bemidji State and Denver gets zero or one point at UNO. The Sioux can clinch a top two spot with two wins if both UNO and UMD fail to sweep their series.

Denver can clinch a top two spot if they sweep UNO while UMD is swept by Colorado College.

Nebraska-Omaha can clinch a top four spot with one point.

Wisconsin can clinch home ice if they get three more points at St. Cloud than Colorado College does against UMD.

Minnesota can clinch home ice if they get three more points vs. Michigan Tech than CC does against UMD.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Big Ten Hockey Ready to Ruin, Save Sport

As we await the arrival of Penn State on the college hockey scene, we also await the arrival of Big Ten Hockey.

(CHN says that the Nittany Lions' new arena is coming along nicely, which speeds up the timetable for all this.)

It seems a foregone conclusion that the Big Ten will form a hockey conference, with members Minnesota and Wisconsin leaving the WCHA, and Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State leaving the CCHA. That six-team league might not have a long conference schedule, but they will be formidable in terms of television revenue.

This has left many college hockey supporters to do a lot of hand-wringing over the potential impact of the Big Ten.

Some will tell you that this is a good thing for the sport. The addition of a Big Ten conference increases the sport's national television footprint, thanks to the success being had by the Big Ten Network, and its obvious role in televising college hockey games. Bumping the WCHA back to ten teams and the CCHA to eight would mean the leagues have room for future expansion, which might open the door for new programs to sprout up in the Upper Midwest.

There are others, though, who sit fearful of the Big Ten's unknown impact. They believe the CCHA could suffer, with smaller programs like Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Bowling Green, and Western Michigan having problems without the revenue they get when Big Ten schools visit for conference games/series.

My friend Jess Myers wrote this last week for 1500 ESPN in the Twin Cities.

Strong and successful programs like Miami (Ohio) and Notre Dame (which also has a new rink under construction) would remain. However, small-school programs in Michigan like Ferris State and Lake Superior State have budgets that rely in at least some part on the revenue they generate from the yearly home games versus those high-profile teams. Those two schools, along with the likes of Michigan Tech and Bowling Green (which flirted with dropping hockey two years ago), could face fiscal extinction if a Big Ten hockey league comes on-line.

Does it matter? Well, there are 58 Division I programs currently. That's just enough in the eyes of the NCAA to field a 16-team tournament conducted at four regional sites. Take away three or four of those 58, and we might be back to the somewhat goofy 12-team arrangement that had top seeds needing only one win to get to the Frozen Four.

One thing is abundantly clear.

Jess isn't right or wrong, because we don't yet know the impact the Big Ten will have on college hockey.

Maybe it would inspire further expansion. Maybe it would be a death blow to small programs.

In the end, the prospects of further expansion are interesting. College Hockey, Inc., head Paul Kelly has not hid from the fact that he'd like to see California schools add Division I hockey. Giving them a traditional power league like the WCHA to join could be attractive.

Perhaps serving as a bit less of a pipe dream, schools like Illinois and Nebraska could have interest in joining the Big Ten.

(Remember, Nebraska joins in all sports this year.)

What bothers me are the absolutes some fans on Twitter and message boards are using to describe this. The Big Ten could be bad for the sport, but it's hard for me to buy that argument, given the information currently available.


Instead, I am trying to see this as a positive.

The new league's members will have scheduling arrangements with their old leagues, so rivalries like UMD/Minnesota, St. Cloud State/Minnesota, and Michigan/Northern Michigan won't go away with the snap of a finger.

With only six teams, the Big Ten needs to keep a good relationship with the existing leagues in Division I. They can't rely on Atlantic Hockey tomato cans like American International for all their non-conference games. Assuming four games against each Big Ten team, that makes a 20-game conference schedule. If there are no trips to Alaska involved, the Big Ten teams would have to play 14 non-conference games to fill their schedules.

Minnesota and Wisconsin aren't going to want to play Boston College and Boston University all the time, so logic dictates they'll have to schedule WCHA and CCHA teams.

As far as other moves that could happen as a result, it makes sense for Alaska to join the WCHA at some point, because they'd no longer have the big-time draw of the Big Ten teams in the CCHA. Moving would allow them to play four games per year against rival Alaska-Anchorage, and it would allow the WCHA to exempt -- for at least some teams -- two road series per year instead of one, opening up the chance to play more non-conference games.

That might be a scheduling nightmare for the WCHA, but it's something they could deal with, because it's a move that would be good for business in the end.

No idea if that would ever happen, but I thought I'd throw that idea out there.

No matter what, the Big Ten could just as easily be a huge positive for the sport. Since it's virtually inevitable, it might be a good idea to be more accepting of the idea and try to figure out ways that this could be good ... rather than waiting for it to be bad.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Matt Niskanen Traded to Pittsburgh

It's been a rough year for former UMD and Virginia/MIB defenseman Matt Niskanen. After a strong rookie season in Dallas, and a second year that wasn't as good but still saw him playing a lot, Niskanen tailed off a bit under coach Marc Crawford.

A hand injury and a number of nights in the ol' press box later, and Niskanen finds himself packing for a move north.

Monday, the Stars traded Niskanen and forward James Neal to Pittsburgh for another former Northland star, defenseman Alex Goligoski.

The deal allows Pittsburgh to improve their forward depth, as they continue to sit around and hope that Sidney Crosby can again play hockey very soon.

(We don't know if Crosby will play again this season. We do know Evgeni Malkin won't. With that in mind, it is a good move for them to add Neal and the 21 goals he has so far.)

For Niskanen, it's a change of scenery. Even Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk knows it.

As far as Matt is concerned, it's been a little bit of trying times for Matt the last couple years. He hasn't been able to regain the form he broke into the league with and this is a good opportunity for him to get a new look with another team and hopefully get his career going.

Goligoski starred at Grand Rapids before playing three years for the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. He's a good puck-moving defenseman, and he gives the Stars a bit more offense on the blue line than they've been getting.

The hope is that Niskanen will thrive here. If he does, this deal is a bonus for the Penguins. As is, it looks like they won the deal, even without that happening, because Neal has a chance to make a real impact.

Kevin Genoe's Jeff Frazee Impersonation, Or David Makowski's Robbie Bina Impersonation

While UMD was beating the snot out of Minnesota State, and Kevin Pates was racing to complete his game story before I left Mankato without him, Denver was busy rallying from an early deficit to break Michigan Tech's one-game unbeaten streak.

Along the way to the win, this happened.

That's Denver freshman defenseman David Makowski with the 185-foot goal. At least, that's my guess on the distance. It gave Denver a 3-1 lead on their way to a 5-1 victory.

As they say, it looks like a twisted wrister in the box score. See? You wouldn't have a clue.

Then again, it was a twisted wrister.

Only from 180 feet away.

Poor Kevin Genoe. He played well Friday, helping the Huskies to a 3-2 win that snapped their 26-game winless streak.

Then he lets in that clunker.

Good, by the way, for Deron Cousens of Tech. The co-captain got back to his goalie and consoled him almost immediately. That's what you need to do in that situation.

The headline for this post, of course, came from this classic.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Game 31: UMD at Minnesota State

MANKATO, Minn. -- Racing the weather is fun. It helps that we're likely to win the race this time, and it would help even more if we make our way back up Highway 169 with a split in this series.



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Schmidt - Oleksuk - Brown
Tardy - Hendrickson - Basaraba
Grun - Flaherty - Seidel

Bergman - Montgomery
Faulk - Palm
Olson - Huttel

Crandall - Reiter

Dorr - Sackrison - Hayes
Burkemper - Zuck - Jokinen
Grant - Galiardi - Leivermann
Mueller - Schiller - Louwerse

Boe - Davis
Elbrecht - Youds
Cooper - Mosey

Cook - Lee - Karambelas

Pete Friesema and Tom Sterns are referees, while Tony Czech and Dan Dineen are the linesmen. Their boss, WCHA Director of Officiating Greg Shepherd, has been spotted in the arena.

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Get Your Finger Off That Thing!

MANKATO, Minn. -- Definite disappointment here Friday night, as UMD continues to hurt their own MacNaughton Cup cause.

On Friday, early defensive breakdowns led to mid-point disciplinary breakdowns, and then a 28-shot third period couldn't get UMD on the board again in a 3-1 loss to Minnesota State.

I mentioned numerous times during the second period that UMD was continuously stubbing their toe by committing some dumb, undisciplined penalties.

Naturally, a three-game winless streak, and a "fall" to eighth in the Pairwise means that UMD fans are going to start reaching for that big red fictional button.

That's not a shot at them. Virtually any fanbase in college hockey that had just seen their team fall off in the second half and miss the NCAA Tournament the year before would do the same thing.

With that being said, get your finger away from the button. This is hardly a time for such rash actions.

UMD had 41 shots on goal Friday, with 28 of those coming in that third period surge. Austin Lee was sharp, but there are areas where UMD needs to be better to help their own cause offensively.

It starts by being able to get bodies to the net when they can be helpful. Bumping Lee when he has already secured the puck won't do anything but get the officials mad. Shooting the puck before anyone can get to the net is just a recipe for padding Lee's stats, especially when he can trap the shots easily with his glove or his chest. Getting traffic to the net -- something UMD did a better job of in the closing minutes when it was an onslaught -- is the way to get him uncomfortable and make him less effective.

Defense and goaltending aren't a mirage for MSU. The Mavericks haven't allowed more than four goals in a game since Nov. 13, a span of 21 games.

More than the fact that they only scored one goal (it's not like UMD suffered from a lack of opportunity or effort in the offensive zone), the penalties and defense in front of Kenny Reiter are the biggest problems right now.

You can live with penalties like the boarding call on J.T. Brown in the first period. Without the benefit of replay, it looked borderline at best. Simply put, coaches can't tell their players to stop being aggressive, especially against a physical team like Minnesota State. When you play a game in Mankato, it's "hit or be hit."

However, the Bulldogs simply can't afford a number of the penalties they took Friday. Justin Fontaine got beaten to a puck at the four minute mark of the first period, so he hooked a guy down near the MSU blue line. I'll stop short of calling that a selfish penalty, but it certainly wasn't a good one to take. You don't want to let the MSU guy just have the puck, but UMD had numbers up the ice, and it wasn't like the Mavericks were about to spring a three-on-one or something.

Trent Palm, Brown, and Mike Connolly all had their share of undisciplined, drive-your-coaches-batty penalties in the second period. Again, without seeing a replay (what they did show on the video board during the game was such poor quality that it was useless in this regard), I felt Brown's hit -- what appeared to be an elbow to the chops on MSU's Chase Grant -- was ejection-worthy. Nonetheless, it was cheap and unnecessary, as Grant didn't have the puck, and Brown went out of his way to stick his elbow out.

Mike Connolly admitted as much to Kevin Pates afterward.

“We took ourselves out of the flow of the game in the second period with some undisciplined and unnecessary penalties," he said. "I took away a lot of the momentum and I accept the responsibility. I need to control my emotions and make better decisions.”

MSU didn't score on any of those second-period power plays, but it's hard to score goals when you're killing penalties. UMD was on the penalty kill for 9:41 of the 20-minute second period. Once UMD got their feet moving in the third, they magically were able to avoid any further infractions (the 3-1 score and 6-2 power play disparity through two periods may have had an impact on this, but how could I dare be so cynical regarding WCHA officials?).

Saturday is not a must-win, but it's a big game for UMD. Splitting in a tough place like Mankato is no sin. The Mavericks have given fits to the top teams in this league throughout the season. They'll give UMD fits Saturday.

The Bulldogs have to be the better team and get the job done.


Top five WCHA teams Friday night went 0-4-1. One of them lost at home to Michigan Tech, a team that had been winless in 26.

As happy as I am for Michigan Tech -- because like I said when we were in Houghton, there are a lot of good people both in and around that hockey program who have suffered a great deal this season, even if they aren't as emotionally invested as, say, I can be sometimes -- this is probably a bigger panic point for Denver than the last three games are for UMD.

The Pioneers were unbeaten in eight before a loss two weeks ago at Colorado College. Last Friday, they squeaked out a 2-1 win at Minnesota, and were then resoundingly thrashed 7-3 on Hockey Day Twin Cities. The follow-up to that was a 3-2 home loss to a team that hadn't won since the Minnesota Vikings were still thought to be a threat in the NFC. In that game, DU coughed up two short-handed goals while going scoreless in their four power plays.

Call me crazy, but I'm guessing that if anyone should be reaching for the magic red button that no one has ever really seen, it's Denver fans on this Saturday morning.


Loving all the trades Toronto has made. That organization has always been good to college hockey, especially since Brian Burke took over. As if having Matt Frattin lighting up the WCHA wasn't enough for Burke, he's added former Denver star Joe Colborne and current Wisconsin defenseman Jake Gardiner in recent trades.

Beyond the college hockey ties to these trades, Burke has added two first-round picks to a team that didn't have any before the last few days. He dealt his 2011 first-rounder to Boston in the Phil Kessel trade. Instead of worrying about watching his division rivals draft high because his team stinks, Burke has moved back into the first round, and with the picks and prospects he's acquired in the Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kaberle deals, he's a real threat to move higher.

That means he'll at least have a shot at drafting a young impact player in June.

One thing is practically for certain. Burke's not content to sit at the end of the first round and draft two junior prospects. He wants to move up, and he will do everything he can to get that done.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Game 30: UMD at Minnesota State

MANKATO, Minn. -- The joys of road trips like this.

Walk out of the hotel. Go about 100 yards, all indoors. And you're there.

Are you listening, every other facility in the WCHA?



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Schmidt - Oleksuk - Brown
DeLisle - Flaherty - Seidel
Grun - Hendrickson - Basaraba

Bergman - Montgomery
Faulk - Palm
Olson - Huttel

Reiter - Crandall

Dorr - Sackrison - Hayes
Burkemper - Zuck - Jokinen
Grant - Galiardi - Lehrke
Mueller - Schiller - Louwerse

Boe - Davis
Elbrecht - Youds
Cooper - Mosey

Lee - Cook - Karambelas

Pete Friesema and Tom Sterns are the referees. Tony Czech and Dan Dineen the linesmen.

4 Foot 7: Portman vs. Glen Avon Concludes

The Minnesota Wild did an absolutely stupendous job with their parody of HBO's "24/7" series that followed the Penguins and Capitals in the runup to the NHL Winter Classic.

Before I get ready to head to the Verizon Wireless Center here in Mankato, here is part two of their Portman/Glen Avon series, from

Not Your Mother's .500 Team

A four-game road stretch begins for UMD Friday night in Mankato.

It's a critical set of games, and none of these eight points will come easily.

The fun starts with a tough, hard-nosed Minnesota State team. The Mavericks haven't had a ton of success in WCHA play this season, but that's not for a lack of trying. Eight of MSU's 13 WCHA losses have been by one or two goals, and seven of those were one-goal defeats.

Earlier this season, Minnesota State had a stretch of seven league games they failed to win, but none of them were decided by more than two goals.

Bottom line: MSU is in virtually every game they play, home or away. They're not blessed with a ton of goal scoring threats, but they have been playing strong defensively all season, and they have good goaltenders in Phil Cook and Austin Lee.

Michael Dorr, a one-time UMD commit, and defenseman Kurt Davis are the Mavericks' top players. In a league full of solid to very good defensemen, Davis is almost forgotten when people talk about guys like Chay Genoway and Jake Gardiner. He'll quarterback the Mavs' power play, and he is the guy they call on to take the big shifts in the big minutes at the end of close games. Since MSU has been in a lot of close games, they know what to do when it's crunch time, even if they don't always find a way to score that big goal.

It's a recipe for a tough 120 minutes of hockey, especially when you look at how they play. They get in their opponents' faces, they don't give up a lot of room, and they like when masses of humanity collide, especially when they initiate the contact.

Simply put, it won't be any easier for the Connolly-Connolly-Fontaine line than it was last weekend, when St. Cloud State hounded them and hit them (sometimes against the rules) from the opening faceoff Friday to the end of overtime Saturday.

It was 125 minutes of what UMD doesn't want. Their opponent out-physicaled them and generally out-played them.

Don't think that isn't motivation for this team this weekend. There is something to be said for redemption after a tough weekend. That's what the Bulldogs are shooting for in Mankato.

Their opponent might be listed in tenth place, and might be a .500 team in the overall standings, but they don't really look like that. They look like a team that could be really dangerous if you take them lightly, or if you're not sharp in your own zone.

In other words, they look a hell of a lot like St. Cloud State did a week ago at this time.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Evan Oberg Gets The Call

It's been a rough season for Vancouver Canuck defensemen, so maybe this isn't a good thing. Maybe it's a curse.

No matter what, former UMD Bulldog defenseman Evan Oberg is expected to become the 13th defenseman to play in a game for the Canucks this season, as they face Nashville Thursday night.

Oberg was called up from the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League after Kevin Bieksa went down with a broken foot. He joins rookies Chris Tanev and Yann Sauve on the blue line.

This won't be Oberg's NHL debut, as he was called up in early January of last year. He played two games last year for the Canucks, and got in 70 for the Moose.

So far this year, Oberg has six goals and four assists in 34 games for Manitoba.

We'll see if Oberg can get enough ice time to make an impact for the Canucks, or if he's simply destined to be a short-term call-up at this point. He just turned 23 Wednesday, so it's not like the Canucks need to rush him into the NHL meat-grinder.

Of course, if some of their veterans don't start getting healthy, they may have no choice.

More than anything, this gives me a chance to plop one of my all-time favorite YouTubes into a post. Oberg may have only played for two years at UMD, but he was a large part of one of the greatest moments in UMD hockey history.

TCU Lacks Guts to Play Wisconsin Again

This is a bit old, but I thought I'd throw it out there for those who hadn't heard it yet.

Recently, it was revealed that someone (ESPN?) was trying to set up what would have been a great game to open the college football season. The proposal was to have TCU play Sept. 3 at Wisconsin.

Since there had been rumors that UNLV was trying to back out of their game in Madison on that day, all it would have taken (logistically, at least) is for TCU to get out of their deal to play Baylor.

Of course, that's assuming TCU would want the game.

They didn't.

I guess they think they're better off playing Baylor at home than a marquee game against Wisconsin. Of course, they were more than willing to play Oregon State at Cowboys Stadium. In a one-time, blow-off game that didn't have a return game in Corvallis scheduled with it.

Easy decision to make when the game's in your backyard, I guess. When that game is on someone else's turf, it's just as easy to whine about contracts and return games.

UW coach Bret Bielema said during an appearance on WTSO-AM in Madison that he was contacted less than two weeks after the loss to TCU about a possible rematch.

"I would definitely love the challenge to play them again," Bielema said on the show. "And really, I thought it would be a great sell with our folks. Unfortunately, TCU wasn't as excited about the matchup."

TCU officials didn't share Bielema's enthusiasm for two reasons.

The Horned Frogs have a contract to play at Baylor on Sept. 3 and the reported offer was a one-game deal that did not include a return game with UW visiting Fort Worth.

Sounds like Gary Patterson's only willing to schedule these one-off games if his team is at or close to home.

Gotta love hypocrisy.

If you read "Death To The BCS," you'll come to understand that people like Patterson are exactly what's wrong with college football. The "cartel," as the book calls those who fight for the BCS, thrive off BS like the sanctity of the regular season.

Yet the BCS system's flaws are what discourage TCU from taking this game. As long as they have to win every game they play to have a shot at a BCS bowl, there is no benefit whatsoever for them to take a single game at Wisconsin.


Because if they lose, they lose their shot at the BCS, and Patterson is a moron for taking the game. This is especially true when you consider the fact that they'd be giving up a home game against a mid-pack (at best) program like Baylor.

Of course, if there were a playoff system in place that rewarded not only elite records but teams willing to play tough schedules, TCU takes this game in five seconds.

Which situation is better for college football: TCU at Wisconsin or Baylor at TCU?

Tell me again what good the BCS does.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rickie Weeks Strikes it Rich

Prince Fielder might not be long for the Brew City, but the Milwaukee Brewers have locked up another key piece to their lineup for a number of years.

Corey Hart and Ryan Braun are already signed long term, as is pitcher Yovani Gallardo. Now, second baseman Rickie Weeks is in the fold for the foreseeable future.

Weeks has agreed to a five-year extension (including a one-year option) with the Brewers. Ken Rosenthal of FOX says the deal is worth $50 million when you count the option year.

When the Brewers acquired Zack Greinke from Kansas City the weekend before Christmas, it was the official announcement by general manager Doug Melvin that the team wasn't going to sit around in 2011 and let Fielder's contract expire without trying to push the baseball season into October.

The Brewers are spending a lot of money, but the expectation of owner Mark Attanasio is that this team will give him plenty of return on his investment. One of the cheapest franchises in baseball under previous ownership, Attanasio -- as Tom Haudricourt explained in early February -- is willing to take a different approach to payroll.

Rather than let his budget dictate the talent level of his club, Attanasio decided to let the talent level dictate his budget. In baseball circles, where owners often throw bucketfuls of money at the nearest warm body, it was a different way of doing business.

"I wasn't this year going to spend money for the sake of spending money," Attanasio said last Sunday while attending the "Brewers On Deck" fan event downtown.

"I think we've done that a little bit the last couple of years, and it didn't really work."

... "One of the things I've learned is setting a rigid number is not optimum," said Attanasio. "You talk in sports about letting the game come to you. I let things come to us.

"We didn't set a number, but we weren't going to spend money just to spend money. It would have been whatever it was. We were looking at a lot of things.

"What's important is we were looking at it qualitatively rather than quantitatively. We didn't say, 'We've got to spend this.' We said, 'How are we going to compete?'"

... "Once again, I've managed to put ourselves in a position where we could lose money this year even with 3 million fans, which we project coming out," said Attanasio, who indicated the Brewers finished in the red in 2010 after drawing more than 2.7 million.

"There's nothing better than winning. What I wasn't going to do was spend the money and not get the players we wanted. When you get a chance to get a Zack Greinke, all bets are off. There's one Cy Young Award winner each year in each league. We've managed, in 2008 (with midseason acquisition CC Sabathia) and now, to have two Cy Young winners on our staff."

(Long chunk here, but it's a really good story and worth a read. As is most of what Tom writes for the Journal Sentinel ... one of the better beat guys in baseball.)

The Brewers are going to be a contender this year, provided the bullpen is solid and the bats as lively as they were last year, when Casey McGehee joined Braun and Hart at over 100 RBIs, and Fielder, McGehee, Weeks, Braun, and Hart all had at least 23 home runs.

Greinke doesn't need to carry the pitching staff like he did in Kansas City, and he (hopefully) will be more relaxed with a better team behind him. Gallardo is still an ace-quality pitcher, and while Marcum and Randy Wolf don't exactly give the Brewers a 1-4 in the rotation near Philadelphia's caliber, the four are a potent bunch that will win Milwaukee some games.

If Gallardo, Wolf, Dave Bush, and Chris Narveson can combine for 47 wins, imagine what Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum, and Wolf, with Narveson as a fifth starter, can do. Take out Bush's propensity for getting shelled in the sixth after five great innings, replace it with a former Cy Young winner like Greinke, and then add a young guy like Marcum who had a very good season in Toronto, and it's a pretty formidable rotation.


Weeks' contract is a bit of a risk, no doubt, because the Brewers have seen multiple Weeks seasons blown up by injuries. He was healthy for all of 2010, however, and look what he did.

He stabilized the top of the Brewers' order with a solid .269/.366/.464 season. He hit a career-high 29 home runs and scored 112 runs while being plunked 25 times and shaking every one of them off.

Just think what the speedy Weeks can do now that he has a manager (Ron Roenicke) who actually knows what a stolen base is. Here comes the 30/30 talk!

Reading Haudricourt's tweets, it sounds like the Brewers are more than happy to reward Weeks for his hard work and constant improvement. Hopefully, Weeks rewards the Brewers by continuing to get better. He will also have to become a leader along the infield, as McGehee is joined by new shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt on the left side, and Fielder will be gone from first base after this season.

Given the recent accomplishments of the Packers, the Brewers could set us up for quite the exciting summer in Wisconsin, continuing what's been a banner sports year thus far.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dale Earnhardt's Greatest Moment

Friday is the tenth anniversary of the death of Dale Earnhardt. That moment -- during the 2001 Daytona 500's final turn -- shocked the sports world, and it helped bring on some serious changes to improve safety in stock car racing.

The fact that Earnhardt's death spurred those types of changes is interesting when you think about the fact that Earnhardt said something had to change during the very race where he lost his life.

(This was something noted during an amazing Earnhardt documentary on SPEED Sunday night. If it re-runs this week, DVR it. Very well done.)

Instead of looking back to the 2001 race, here's a peek back three years earlier, to Earnhardt's greatest moment as a driver.

For the longest time, he couldn't win the Daytona 500, which is the pinnacle event in the sport. That was until 1998.

And when he won, the NASCAR world celebrated. Even competing pit crews went crazy and wanted to congratulate the sport's biggest name on his biggest win.

The celebration finally made its way to Victory Lane, and it didn't slow down there.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., has the pole for Sunday's Daytona 500. Expect the crowd to go crazy, especially if he's got the lead for more than just the race start.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Game 29: St. Cloud State at UMD

Friday's game did not happen.

Friday's game did not happen.

Friday's game did not happen.

Friday's game did not happen.

Friday's game did not happen.

Friday's game did not happen.

Friday's game did not happen.

Friday's game did not happen.


Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Schmidt - Oleksuk - Brown
DeLisle - Flaherty - Seidel
Grun - Hendrickson - Basaraba

Bergman - Montgomery
Faulk - Palm
Olson - Huttel

Reiter - Crandall - Gaffy

Hanowski - Rose - Eddy
Festler - Marvin - Novak
Reid - LeBlanc - Dowd
MacMillan - Christian - Oslund

Lauridsen - Jensen
Gravel - Barta
Zabkowicz - Johnson

Lee - Dunn

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Let's Just Forget That Happened, OK?

We saw a good ol' fashioned tail-kicking at Amsoil Arena Friday.

Only it was ninth-place St. Cloud State doing the kicking.

In a shocking turn of events that left 6,530 paying customers wondering if they'd walked into some sort of time warp, the Huskies scored seven consecutive goals to blast third-ranked UMD 8-2 Friday night.

It was as if nothing we had seen all season had really happened. Either that, or Friday night didn't really happen.

UMD lost puck battles, couldn't control the puck when they had it, wasn't nearly physical enough, and got flat-out punched in the mouth. It started on the opening faceoff, when Garrett Roe tried to break his stick on Jack Connolly.

While the Bulldogs scored on the power play, St. Cloud State set their tone, and it was up to UMD to provide a physical response.

They couldn't answer the challenge.

This wasn't about one guy making some mistakes and setting the home team back. It wasn't about bad goaltending, though that played a part. It wasn't about a bad shift here or there.

It was all bad.

How do you respond? Well, for starters, you take your medicine. There isn't a dadgum thing you can do about it now. No matter what happens Saturday, Friday's game is a loss. And a waste, in a way.

Saturday has to be better, in part, because Friday was so bad. But the Bulldogs also have to refocus in a way. There's no easy answer, but they have to be tougher, smarter, sharper, hungrier, and better in every way.

Given how much of an aberration Friday's game is when you look at UMD's body of work, I doubt any of that will be a serious problem.


The big story Friday wasn't what happened anywhere in college hockey. Instead, it was the embarrassing performance of the New York Islanders against Pittsburgh.

Trevor Gillies wins the jackpot for his cheapshot on Eric Tangradi.

This is beyond ridiculous, and has no place in the NHL. Luckily, it sounds like the NHL agrees, and stiff punishments -- beyond the ten-game suspension Eric Godard of Pittsburgh gets for leaving the bench to stop his goalie from fighting a goon -- are on the way.

Start with Gillies. You want a poster child for what the NHL isn't supposed to be? Look for the guy who takes a shot at a defenseless player's head, then starts punching that player when he goes down, and then taunts him while he's struggling to get up.

That's garbage, which is par for the course with this Islanders franchise.


On a lighter note, Saturday is Hockey Day Twin Cities Minnesota. As part of it, the Wild's website has a very cool video about Duluth youth hockey.

Definitely worth checking out.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Game 28: St. Cloud State at UMD

I can vouch that -- despite the fact that they haven't been to Duluth since November of 2008 -- the Huskies made it here just fine.

UMD looks to improve on their 6-1-1 record in 2011, and St. Cloud State is trying to snap a three-game skid while keeping alive what minimal hopes are left for them to earn a top-six spot in the WCHA playoffs.



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Schmidt - Oleksuk - Brown
Grun - Flaherty - Seidel
Tardy - Hendrickson - Basaraba

Faulk - Montgomery
Bergman - Lamb
Olson - Palm

Reiter - Crandall - Gaffy

Hanowski - Rose - Eddy
Festler - Marvin - Novak
Reid - LeBlanc - Dowd
MacMillan - Christian - Oslund

Lauridsen - Johnson
Gravel - Barta
Zabkowicz - Jensen

Lee - Dunn

Resilient Bulldogs Look to Establish Dominance Defensively

So far this season, the UMD Bulldogs have overcome a lot of on-ice and off-ice adversity. The night before the Amsoil Arena opener, senior Kyle Schmidt broke his hand in practice, necessitating a five-week layoff and shaking up the team's cohesive forward lines the night before a huge event in Duluth. UMD entered that game already without defensemen Justin Faulk and Dylan Olsen (World Juniors), and they were pasted 5-0 in the opener.

The next day, Olsen signed with the Blackhawks, becoming the scourge of UMD fans across the Northland.

This was a point where negativity among UMD fans couldn't have been higher, but the Bulldogs simply flew out to New York, overcame freak illnesses to at least three players, and swept Clarkson to right the ship, so to speak.

(As much as a 12-4-3 team needed their ship righted, UMD did, and they got it done.)

UMD is now 6-1-1 in the calendar year 2011, including a 4-1-1 mark in WCHA play that's allowed them to move into a share of first place in the league.

Frankly, there isn't much to complain about right now. And that's coming from a guy who tends to find things to complain about sometimes. Smiley

With St. Cloud State coming to town, the Bulldogs are trying to do a few things. For starters, they need to keep getting better. Yes, even Mike Connolly.

The Bulldogs won't turn down more production from a power play that's been struggling at under 20 percent since Olsen left, and they probably would like to see more scoring from their third and fourth lines.

(That's not to say that Keegan Flaherty's and Jake Hendrickson's lines haven't played well. Hendrickson, Max Tardy, and Joe Basaraba have been very good as of late, and are on the verge of breaking out.)

More than that, though, I think UMD would like to see a bit more responsible play out of their defense. There have been some mishandled pucks, bad passes, and bad decisions (when to get back and when to pinch in the offensive zone, for example) that have led to turnovers, scoring chances, and goals recently.

If there's something about UMD's play right now that could really hurt them in the NCAA Tournament, this is it. No matter what it takes, the Bulldogs have to find a way to take better care of the puck, especially on their side of the red line. As we get closer to the tournament, teams will feed more and more off those transition opportunities. The team that does the best job preventing odd-man rushes the other way will have a great chance to win games.

With guys like Garrett Roe and Ben Hanowski on the ice, St. Cloud State will provide a good test for UMD's defensive responsibility. If you give Roe an inch, he'll either take a mile or perhaps find a way to make it look like he did. He's great with the puck, and he can frustrate opponents with his tenaciousness and ability to draw attention from officials (read: dive).

You have to be careful with Roe.

Don't sleep on the Huskies goaltending, either. Mike Lee's numbers are improving, and we'll probably see a lot of the former Roseau Ram this weekend.

Speaking of people not to sleep on, David Eddy's been clicking at a point per game since he returned from an academic suspension. He's talented and bears watching.

There's a lot for UMD to play for here. The Bulldogs have the stated goals of winning the MacNaughton, Broadmoor, and NCAA trophies this season. Every weekend in these final four needs to be considered important, because it can get UMD closer to the MacNaughton.

From there, it's one down, two to go.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

UMD's FCC Line Close to History

The (bad) joke about the Connolly-Connolly-Fontaine line for UMD is that we call them "FCC" because no one can regulate them.

That was certainly true Saturday at Amsoil Arena, when Mike Connolly scored a school record-tying five goals, Jack Connolly chipped in four assists, and Justin Fontaine had three. 12 points out of one line ... not bad. Nice way for them to shut me up.

(Full disclosure requires me to mention that I saw the line chart Saturday night, and privately didn't think it was a great idea. I've learned, though, to expect great things from this group. The fact that the coaches decided to put them back together for Saturday's game was -- in a way -- a message that big things were expected from the three. They've responded incredibly well to challenges all season, and they did that again Saturday.)

The big seasons all three players are having got me thinking about the potential historical ramifications.

Dan Lempe is UMD's all-time leading scorer, and that number (222 points in 146 games) doesn't appear to be in significant danger from any of the Bulldogs' current top three scorers. However, Fontaine and the Connollys do have a chance to leave a real mark on the program.

Fontaine has played 144 games in a UMD uniform as of this writing. He has 143 points on 56 goals and 87 assists. That's close to a point-per-game average as a Bulldog. Not bad for a guy who had 12 points in 35 games as a freshman, eh?

Not only is that a pretty significant accomplishment by itself, but if Fontaine can hoist his scoring average to at least a point per game, and end his UMD career there, he'll become the first Bulldog since Mike Peluso to play four years in a UMD uniform and end his career averaging a point per game or more.

Peluso played from 1994-1998, scoring 163 points (80 goals, 83 assists) in 153 games. Approximately 74 of those points came against Minnesota (possibly made up).

(Tim Stapleton was the closest since, hitting for 152 points in 162 games.)

It's not exactly a record, but it's a big deal in an era of college hockey where goals aren't as easy to come by as they used to be.

As for the Connollys, the future is more intriguing than the present. Mike has 117 points in 108 games, while Jack has 118 in 110. Both have cracked the top 40 on UMD's all-time list. It's probably reasonable to suggest that if both players return next season and stay reasonably healthy, they'll each top 160 points in a UMD uniform. That would put them in the top 20 all-time.

Not only that, but both Connollys have a real shot at finishing their careers with 100 assists, something that hasn't been done by a Bulldog since current assistant coach Derek Plante got to 123 assists in a stellar career that ended in 1993.

(Fontaine has a real outside shot at 100 assists, needing 13 before UMD's season ends.)

Of course, I'm all in favor of all three finding a way to get even higher up the charts than I'm projecting. The "___ has passed ___ on the list" bit is always fun. The next one is fun, because Fontaine's next point ties him with Brett Hull at 144 points, in 21st place on UMD's all-time list.

If he hits 146 points, he'll move into the top 20, passing Bob Lakso.

These are heady times for UMD hockey, in more ways than just their overall record.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Mike Connolly Shocks World With Offensive Player of the Week Honor

That decent performance UMD fans got from junior Mike Connolly gained him some league and national recognition.

National website Inside College Hockey named Connolly its National Player of the Week.

As expected, the WCHA Tuesday named Mike its Offensive Player of the Week.

University of Minnesota Duluth left winger Mike Connolly, who scored six goals – including a school-record tying five in one game – to help the Bulldogs take three of four points from visiting Minnesota last weekend has been named the Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week for Feb. 8, 2011.

A 5-9, 180-pound junior from Calgary, Alberta, Connolly equaled a team record by scoring five times in UMD’s 6-4 triumph over Minnesota last Saturday (Feb. 5) night at AMSOIL Arena. He put the host Bulldogs up 3-0 with a natural hat trick (three straight goals) 21 minutes into the game, added a fourth goal with 1:17 to go in the second period and capped off his historic night with an empty-netter at the 18:40 mark of the third. His five-goal outburst matched the previous Bulldog single-game mark set by Steve ‘Pokey’ Trachsel on Nov. 17, 1972 against Lake Superior State. Connolly, who also fired 15 shots on goal in the series and earned a +4 plus/minus rating, also scored the game-tying goal for UMD in last Friday’s 2-2 (ot) deadlock with UM.

Connolly has now moved up to the No. 4 spot on the WCHA’s overall scoring charts this season with a team-leading and career-best 19 goals and 16 assists.

The No. 3 Bulldogs host St. Cloud State Friday and Saturday at Amsoil Arena.

The Ultimate for Fans

I'm 33 years old. My primary rooting interests have consistently been the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Wild, Minnesota Timberwolves, Wisconsin Badgers (Division I sports outside of men's hockey), and UMD.

In my lifetime on Earth the planet, only the Packers have managed to win a pro or Division I championship. They've now done it twice.

Watching UMD win two Division II titles has been a total thrill. This past year was -- for this UMD supporter -- especially gratifying, because of everything the Bulldogs overcame. Injuries, suspensions, horrid officiating, weather, etc.

It was special to see.

However, nothing beats seeing a team climb the biggest mountains that exist.

Especially when they overcome what the Packers did.

I've talked before about how there is a certain amount of luck that has to go your way to win a major championship. Even in UMD's case, there were some bounces of oblong football that went their way to help them win, even when it didn't look like UMD could buy a break when it came to health and officiating. Guts, determination, drive, and intensity are wonderful and generally necessary qualities, but you have to get lucky at some point.

Maybe it's Michael Vick underthrowing a taller receiver in the end zone, allowing Tramon Williams to extend and make the interception. It might be a turning-point play like Williams' pick-six in the divisional round, a horrific decision made by Matt Ryan with no duress. He just lobbed the ball where he shouldn't have. Maybe it's the Bears being stupid enough to keep Todd Collins as their No. 2 quarterback, essentially delaying Caleb Hanie's entrance until it was almost the fourth quarter.

The Packers deserve this title, no question. But that's not to say that luck didn't play a role. Clay Matthews wasn't looking to strip the ball from Rashard Mendenhall, and even if he was, he had no way of knowing it would bounce where it did, and that Pittsburgh would have a couple players unable to recognize the situation and locate the ball before Desmond Bishop did.

They deserve it not because they got lucky, but because they were a resilient team that didn't let injuries or momentum swings keep them down. They won three straight road games to get to the Super Bowl, then beat a Pittsburgh team that -- while you could argue they beat themselves -- so rarely does such a thing that you have to think the Packers had something to do with it.

It's the best for a fan. It's bragging rights for a year. It's getting to hear your team called "World Champions" over and over again.


Now, wouldn't it be nice if the Brewers followed suit? And UMD hockey?

Man, this could be quite the sports year.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Mike Connolly's Special Night

A lot happened over the weekend, but as much as I want to crow about the Packers winning, I also want to make absolutely certain that Mike Connolly's accomplishment isn't lost in the hoopla.

Connolly scored a couple goals as UMD beat Minnesota Saturday night. Here's video from the Northland's NewsCenter.

Our analyst, Kraig Karakas, probably said it best when he intimated that Connolly's big game was even more special because it happened to come against the Gophers.

I had a chance to visit briefly with Mike at Skate With The Bulldogs yesterday, and you have to love his team-first mindset. He had a chance to put the puck in the empty net for a sixth goal Saturday night, which would have been a school record, but he didn't want that. The win was more important, and UMD got it.

Mike Connolly had already gotten my vote as WCHA Player of the Year when I did an informal mid-season ballot. What he did over the weekend should open some eyes around the country. It's easy to forget -- given what happened Saturday -- that Mike was the best player on the ice Friday night, too. It was enough that head coach Scott Sandelin and I spent significant time in our pregame chat Saturday talking about his performance.

"He played Michigan Tech and wasn't 100 percent," Sandelin said Saturday. "(Friday) he was extremely competitive, finished checks. He's been one of our top players most of the year. The month before Christmas he really took off and brought his game to another level."

I'll freely admit my biases, but I'll also be the first one to argue for anyone in the league as Player of the Year. I don't blindly vote UMD players for awards or honors they don't deserve, and Mike Connolly is no exception, because he deserves the serious consideration of everyone who covers this league for that major honor.

As Jess Myers of Inside College Hockey pointed out Saturday night (and he should know, since he's a Hobey voter), the award isn't won in November or December. Last year, Blake Geoffrion separated himself by playing some unreal hockey in February and March, while other candidates (most notably Marc Cheverie) didn't distinguish themselves in those clutch games.

The lesson here? Voting hasn't happened yet, and decisions aren't made. This prestigious honor will go to a guy who plays great in February and March.

With that being said, Mike Connolly is off to a great start.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Game 27: Minnesota at UMD

After tying Friday, UMD cannot win the season series from Minnesota as hoped this weekend. What they can do, though, is at least tie for first place in the WCHA with a win. They haven't sat atop the league table this late in a season since 2004, the year they went to the Frozen Four.



Connolly (Mike) - Connolly (Jack) - Fontaine
Schmidt - Oleksuk - Brown
Grun - Flaherty - Seidel
Tardy - Hendrickson - Basaraba

Faulk - Montgomery
Bergman - Lamb
Olson - Palm

Crandall - Reiter - Gaffy

Cepis - Haula - Barriball
Hoeffel - Bjugstad - Hansen
Condon - Matson - Larson
Gardiner - White - Sacchetti

Fairchild - Helgeson
Ness - Alt
Wehrs - Schmidt

Patterson - Kremer

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: No Need to Worry About the Pairwise

If you take a trip around the college hockey twitterverse, you'll usually have no trouble finding some sort of anxiety over the latest update of the Pairwise ratings. It's about as automatic as sunrise and sunset.

I've received a few texts and tweets from people over the last few weeks who were in full-on grip mode regarding the ratings, even though we are still six weeks away from them being remotely useful.

For UMD, a "fall" from a peak of second to fourth in the ratings after Friday's tie against Minnesota probably has people squeezing the life out of the mouse as they look online at the Pairwise.

Don't worry, fans. It's still nothing more than a meaningless discussion piece, a measuring stick of where your favorite team stands against the others. Not only that, but as long as your team doesn't go into a slump (and, no, saying "UMD hasn't won a game since Jan. 22" doesn't mean UMD is in a slump), everything is fine.

Not only that, but with it being so early in the season, we're going to see more turnover with the teams actually in the Pairwise. As teams like Robert Morris, Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, and others drop off and come back on, it is going to lead to some volatility in the way the rankings shape up.

Once we get closer to March 20 and the selections, there will be less volatility and a bit more certainty as to which teams will actually be in the Pairwise when it's all said and done.

For now, just relax and enjoy the hockey. Especially if you're a UMD fan, because there's nothing to be upset about when your favorite hockey team is still in position for No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.


Friday night, we saw the pitcher's duel we expected to see. UMD goalie Kenny Reiter and Minnesota's Kent Patterson were rock solid, and the teams skated to a 2-2 draw.

Patterson made a few more saves, but Reiter's stop of Jay Barriball on a breakaway was easily the best save of the night. Patterson made a beauty earlier in the second period to stop what inexplicably turned into a three-on-one UMD rush off the opening faceoff. I'm pretty sure I hadn't seen that happen above the Mite level before.

It was an entertaining game, and probably should have been a tie. Minnesota -- as they showed with the sweep at Colorado College and the win at North Dakota -- is capable of being a very dangerous group in the second half of the season, and it's simply a matter of playing with more consistency.

UMD simply has to find a way to generate some life in the power play. Too many times Friday, the Bulldogs played on the perimeter, and were simply incapable of getting serious pressure in front of Patterson. Given that Minnesota's penaly kill was last in the league entering the game, that's probably something that ate away at the coaches as they watched the video.

Before the game, Minnesota coach Don Lucia told me that he was hoping his team would hold UMD to a draw on special teams. He got better than that, as Cade Fairchild's power-play goal was the only goal in the game not scored five-on-five. Certainly, it's good that UMD could score five-on-five, but when you're up against a penalty kill as statistically bad as the Gophers, it isn't good enough to score twice in 17 chances over three games.

If UMD doesn't win the special teams battle Saturday, it could be a sign of trouble.


Minnesota State got an overtime goal from Channing Boe to beat Bemidji State 2-1. Considering that MSU outshot BSU 43-19, it's probably fair.

Nebraska-Omaha's 3-0 win over St. Cloud State was John Faulkner's fifth shutout of the season. That's Stalockian.

Colorado College beat Denver 3-2 to put themselves in position to win the Gold Pan at Denver Saturday night. The Tigers have taken sole possession of sixth, thanks to Minnesota's tie.

Michigan Tech has now lost 17 straight after falling 4-1 at Alaska-Anchorage. The Huskies managed just 14 shots on goal, which should sound familiar, since they had 14 in each of UMD's two shutout wins there two weeks ago.