Wednesday, March 23, 2011

UMD Travels in Style

SHELTON, Conn. -- I told Jack Connolly he had to blog about this, but hockey players aren't always the quickest to do such things.

UMD was forced by circumstances to take a charter flight to Connecticut for Friday's NCAA East Regional clash with Union College of Schenectady, N.Y.

(You try to find 40 seats on a flight to Connecticut -- or even nearby New York City -- on this short of notice. It ain't easy.)

The aircraft that was sent to Duluth for this task? A 737 equipped with so many seats that entire rows were empty. Fantastic. Nice and comfortable, and enough to draw some looks and words of surprise from players as they boarded. The best part? Dan DeLisle didn't have to duck.

Neither did I.

Even better? Most of the people who wanted to were able to sit in their own row. At worst, take the window, and someone takes the aisle, leaving plenty of leg room.

Best hockey plane trip of the year, no doubt. We should charter more often.

Now, we have to hope that this isn't the highlight of the weekend.

The Bulldogs match up well with a Union team that -- by all accounts -- likes to get up and down the rink. I'm not sure if the comparison to Nebraska-Omaha is valid, but UNO brings a lot of speed to the table, with some physical guys in the back to help keep those forwards skating.

I haven't seen enough of Union to label them as similar, but when I hear about teams in our league that like to get up and down the rink and might not be the most physical up front, that's who I think of first.

If UMD doesn't play their game, they're in trouble. Anyone will acknowledge that.

But if you look at the four regional brackets for the tournament, there is no question that the East Regional is the most favorable for UMD in terms of their chances of advancing.

In the Midwest, there are two WCHA teams in Denver and North Dakota. While I'm wholly convinced that UMD can beat both of them, the UND matchup isn't the most favorable because of their size and ability to win battles along the wall.

The Northeast Regional includes a Miami team that ended UMD's magical run in 2009. It also has a Merrimack team that looks scary as hell. The Warriors have a legit star in Stephane da Costa, and some big bangers on defense. Merrimack was the most penalized team in the country during the season, and it wasn't for a bunch of hooking minors.

All you have to look at in the West is top seed and defending champion Boston College. They're not big and imposing, but they're tough, smart, damn good, and very experienced. I tend to believe experience is overrated, because when people talk about rings in college sports, credit is often given to guys who didn't play a big role on a past championship team. Boston College has those guys. They also have a goalie -- John Muse -- who is 8-0 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. They have guys like Cam Atkinson up front, who was a star on last year's title team.

It's not just experience. It's guys who played a big role in their titles and are still around.

In the East, you have a Yale team that nearly tasted the Frozen Four last year, went out because their defense and goaltending needed to improve, and then improved those things. Union has steadily gotten better under Nate Leaman, and they are not a slouch despite their history.

If you believe in experience, UMD has advantages, thanks to guys like Jack Connolly, Mike Connolly, Justin Fontaine (them again!), Mike Montgomery, Brady Lamb, and Travis Oleksuk, all of whom -- among others -- played on the 2009 team. However, this is the first NCAA dance for key players like Kenny Reiter, Justin Faulk, J.T. Brown, Jake Hendrickson, and Wade Bergman.

In the end, in a tournament that is typically all about matchups, UMD did well with their draw. For a No. 3 seed, you can't ask much more than that.

Now, it's up to them to show everyone why they were a top team in the polls and Pairwise for much of the season.

1 comment:

Runninwiththedogs said...

JT didn't break anything this time, did he?