Saturday, February 26, 2011

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.

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