Saturday, October 08, 2011

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: See, Polls Don't Matter

If you're new to the blog, this is a column that will appear virtually every Saturday during the college hockey season. We'll cover interesting things that have happened during the weekend, or are about to happen, with a focus on the WCHA.

As is common, especially early in the season, the two Division I men's hockey national polls couldn't agree on a No. 1 team. U.S. College Hockey Online thought it was Notre Dame. USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine liked Miami.

Monday, both will try again.

Friday night, Miami was upset at home by unranked Bemidji State. Without looking too carefully, I'd venture it was the biggest shocker of the first night of the season. Nothing against Bemidji, but the Beavers were picked in the bottom half of the WCHA preseason polls, and they weren't even close to a home-ice spot in either poll. Meanwhile, Miami has been to two Frozen Fours recently, was a favorite to make it back last year before running into New Hampshire, and has a strong team returning this year.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, fell to defending national champion UMD 4-3 last night at a loud Amsoil Arena. The Bulldogs were No. 8 in one poll, and No. 10 in the other, despite having a high number of first-place votes in both surveys. UMD was clearly one of the more polarizing teams in those polls, with voters not sure what to do with a team that won the title, but lost a lot of key players off that team.

Friday, UMD showed that it's a good possibility it won't spend much time rebuilding, and instead could reload and be a contender again this season.

The Bulldogs gave Mike Seidel (left wing) and J.T. Brown (right wing) the first shot at replacing departed top-line stars Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine. If Scott Sandelin didn't hit a home run with that line, he certainly hit a scorching double into the gap.

Seidel isn't the skater Connolly and Brown are, but he makes up for it with tremendous tenacity and a nose for the back of the net. He scored UMD's first goal, off a bit of a goofy bounce and a great setup by Brown. He threw a couple great hits and certainly held his own.

Brown, meanwhile, made a case for being the best player on the ice.

(And in a game with a two-time All American in Connolly, last year's HCA Rookie of the Year in Notre Dame's T.J. Tynan, one of the top young forwards in the nation in Anders Lee, and a top defenseman like Sean Lorenz, that's saying a lot.)

He just seems to play the game at a different speed than everyone else. As Kraig Karakas noted during the broadcast, there's the old addage "If he's even, he's leavin'." But in the case of a guy like Brown, he can go from being a step behind you to "leavin'" in a heartbeat. His speed and high-end skill -- exactly how the hell did this guy not get drafted, NHL ... really? -- will suit him well wherever he plays the game, and it could lead to some huge things at UMD this season.

Notre Dame has some great players, especially Tynan and Lee. But UMD did a good job slowing that line (with Bryan Rust at right wing) down over the last two periods. The Bulldogs have the speed in their lineup to make Tynan -- who didn't exactly get slower during the offseason -- maybe a bit less of a factor.

I think the Irish really missed junior center Riley Sheahan in the lineup. He sat out Friday with what I was told was an injury, though its nature was not disclosed. He gives them a defensively-responsible center with serious offensive upside when healthy, and it weakens the team's secondary lines when he isn't out there.

Heading into Saturday, I know Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson talked after the game about his team's effort being good. But they'll be better. I guarantee it.


Wisconsin was the only WCHA team to lose Friday, falling 3-2 in overtime to Northern Michigan. That's not much of a surprise, as I figure the Badgers will be a group that improves a lot as the season goes on, making them quite the dangerous foe in February and March.

Alaska-Anchorage tied Clarkson 4-4 in Anchorage, while St. Cloud State beat Alaska 4-1 in the other game at the Kendall Hockey Classic. Good win for the Huskies, who were decisively outshot (24-15), but got a good game out of Mike Lee in goal. Where have we heard that one before?

Minnesota pounded Sacred Heart 9-0. No surprise there, as SHU is a bottom-feeder in Atlantic Hockey, and probably shouldn't be more than target practice for the Gopher forwards.

North Dakota got two Brock Nelson goals to rally past Air Force 4-3 in Grand Forks. Don't mess with the Serratores. UND plays Boston College for the Ice Breaker title Saturday night, and while it should be a good game, it probably won't be as entertaining as watching a Serratore brother try to take down the Sioux.

Mel Pearson got a win in his Michigan Tech debut, as the Huskies rallied past American International 4-3. Jordan Baker scored the winner in the final minute after MTU scored three straight goals to erase a 3-0 deficit and draw even. Anyone who follows this league is likely happy for Tech. As I've said before, there are a lot of good people connected to that program, and there are a lot of good people in Houghton who continue to support it. For all of them, Friday had to be quite an enjoyable night, something that hasn't happened often in that town lately.


Saturday's broadcast time is 6:30 on 94X, KQ 105.5 (Grand Rapids), and KQ 106.7 (Babbitt/Ely). You can hear the games on the internet, too. Go to for more information.

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