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.

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