Friday, October 07, 2011

And So It Begins ...

It still hasn't been six months. Even once it's been six months (Sunday), it will still be a special moment not easily forgotten.

With that being said, it's actually time to move on, and the onus is on a bunch of young men to lead that process along.

While UMD fans continue to enjoy the school's first men's hockey national championship, the players have no choice but to watch the banner make its way into the rafters at Amsoil Arena, and then move on to the next task.

Many coaches in many sports have talked about taking on the mentality of not defending a championship, but instead of developing a new identity for a new team. This is no different. Instead, it's a bit ironic.

You have one team (UMD) working to develop its own identity. You have a series of opponents, starting with Notre Dame Friday, looking for a chance to pick off the defending champions. Weird, isn't it?

The Bulldogs have lost a large part of last year's team, but you all know that. You know Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine are preparing to start the season in the AHL, and you know that Justin Faulk is making his NHL debut Friday.

However, it's no longer about that. It's about the guys who are here. The guys who will try to steer this ship to Florida.

Two-time All American Jack Connolly, off a 59-point season, loses his linemates from so much of last season. He starts anew Friday with J.T. Brown, the freshman star from a year ago who was Most Outstanding Player of the Frozen Four. Brown will work the right wing, while junior Mike Seidel plays on the left. Seidel hasn't scored a goal in Duluth since his freshman season (all eight last year were either road or neutral sites), but he has proven he can put the puck in the net, and there's no doubt playing with Connolly will give him ample opportunity to do that.

Heading into the opener, look for Travis Oleksuk to center Jake Henrickson and Joe Basaraba, which is a great opportunity for two younger guys to play with an experienced senior and continue their development.

Notre Dame is formidable. Up front, guys like T.J. Tynan, Anders Lee, Bryan Rust, Nick Larson, Riley Sheahan, Billy Maday, and others will present UMD with scoring threats across all four lines. Reigning CCHA Defensive Defenseman of the Year Sean Lorenz (plus-32) is back, as is honorable mention All-CCHA defenseman Sam Calabrese. Top youngster Robbie Russo joins the blue line this year, and it should tell you how good they are that Russo may struggle at times to get the kind of minutes a prospect of his caliber should be getting.

Wisconsinite Mike Johnson is back in goal. UMD got to him a bit in the Frozen Four, but Johnson was MVP of the Northeast Regional after beating Merrimack and New Hampshire.

Notre Dame has great players, a super coach, and recruits that many schools would jump at. They're preseason No. 1 for a reason, and this is a formidable challenge.

It's not insurmountable. UMD needs to continue developing the home ice advantage at Amsoil Arena, and getting at least one win this weekend is a big part of that process.

The banner is nice, but it guarantees this Bulldog team nothing, outside of a season of great efforts from opponents.

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