Tuesday, January 31, 2012

NCHC Inks Deal With CBS Sports Network

As expected for some time, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference -- which launches in 2013 and includes UMD -- has signed a multi-year deal with CBS Sports Network.

The press release is below.

CBS Sports Network has agreed to a multi-year agreement with the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference, beginning in the 2013-14 season. CBS Sports Network will be the exclusive national television partner for the conference, which will feature eight of the nation's top college hockey programs.  The announcement was made today by Dan Weinberg, Senior Vice President, Programming, CBS Sports Network, and Jim Scherr, Commissioner of the National.

The agreement calls for a minimum of 18 conference games, including the National's semifinal and championship contests. Currently six teams that will be in the new conference are ranked in the USCHO.com Top 20 poll.

"With top teams and passionate fan bases, the National is poised to be an elite college hockey conference, and we're thrilled to be the national television partner," said Weinberg. "College hockey has been a staple of our programming and we're pleased to expand our coverage and further serve fans with compelling and competitive conference action."

"We are delighted to be associated with the preeminent national broadcaster of college hockey," said Scherr. "It is our goal to be the premier single-sport conference in intercollegiate athletics and the unmatched exposure and production quality that will be provided by CBS Sports Network will contribute significantly to realizing that vision."

Currently, CBS Sports Network's comprehensive college hockey coverage includes action from Hockey East, ECAC, CCHA, WCHA and Atlantic Hockey.

# # #

About CBS Sports Network:

CBS Sports Network, the cable channel of CBS Sports, features comprehensive sports programming. The Network covers more than 300 live games annually, showcasing 30 men's and women's sports, in addition to a variety of studio shows, documentaries and original programs. CBSSN's live programming is highlighted by college sports including, teams from the Mountain West, Conference USA, Atlantic 10, Patriot League, the United States Naval Academy and the United States Military Academy, as well as Major League Lacrosse and National Lacrosse League. The Network also airs the weekday "Tim Brando Show" and is the new home of Professional Bull Riders (PBR).

CBS Sports Network is available across the country through local cable, video and telco providers on Verizon FiOS Channel 94 and AT&T U-Verse Channel 643 (1643 in HD) and via satellite on DirecTV Channel 613 and Dish Network Channel 152. For more information, including a full programming schedule and how to get CBS Sports Network, go to www.cbssportsnetwork.com.

About National Collegiate Hockey Conference:

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference is the eight-school, Division I men's hockey conference that will start play in the 2013-14 season. The conference's member institutions are: Colorado College, University of Denver, Miami University, University of Minnesota Duluth, University of Nebraska Omaha, University of North Dakota, St. Cloud State University and Western Michigan University. Dating back to the year 2000, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference boasts four NCAA National Champions, 14 NCAA Frozen Four appearances, 12 conference regular-season championships and 10 conference tournament championships. All eight members were participants in the NCAA Ice Hockey Championship tournament in one or both of the last two seasons. Jim Scherr, former Chief Executive Officer of the United States Olympic Committee, is the conference's Commissioner.

The network isn't widely available like, say, ESPN, or even the Fox Sports regional networks. However, its hockey coverage, led by on-site talents like Matt McConnell, Ben Holden, Jim Paradise, and Dave Starman, is better than that of any other cable network currently airing college hockey. The broadcasts look good, and the talent are passionate and knowledgeable about the college game.

NBC Sports Network's production is probably a tick better, but its revolving door of announcers -- many of whom don't have a lot of familiarity with the college game -- brings the overall package down a bit.

From what I have seen so far, hockey coverage on Big Ten Network is almost laughable. The network didn't even bother to send game announcers to the UMD-Wisconsin game in Madison, having two guys instead call the game off TVs in Chicago, while a solo reporter handled intermission interviews in Madison. What I saw during the SCSU-Minnesota game Friday wasn't much more impressive, though at least the play-by-play guy and analyst were on site.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mike Montgomery Involved in ECHL Line Brawl

Former UMD defenseman Mike Montgomery -- the captain of last season's national championship team -- has bounced between the ECHL and AHL this season. His time in the ECHL has been spent with the Ontario (Calif.) Reign, while he's had a couple cups of coffee in the AHL, including with the Wild affiliate in Houston.

Saturday night, Montgomery was involved in a line brawl that has gone viral on the YouTubes.

He's No. 6 in white, by the way.

Montgomery's Reign won 5-1. He had an assist on their last goal. By my count, the game featured close to 300 total penalty minutes.

UMD Back to Work

After a weekend that shocked many and was deemed unacceptable by most around the program, the UMD men's hockey team is back to work Monday in preparation for a weekend set against Alaska-Anchorage.

Saturday's 5-0 loss to Michigan Tech was UMD's first home loss since Oct. 15 to Minnesota, and the first time it had been shut out in a league game in over 100 games.

(Shutout losses to North Dakota at the 2010 Final Five and the Amsoil Arena opening game were officially non-conference games.)

There is no explanation from our standpoint for what happened. Honestly, I'd be surprised if the players could offer much. I'll be at the facility Tuesday, but don't expect to hear anyone say "Well, this is what really happened ..."

It's not that easy.

Add in the blown 4-0 lead on Friday, and Michigan Tech scored nine straight goals in the series to take three points.

These are tough times in Bulldog land. The best explanation I can come up with is the idea that a team that goes on the kind of run UMD went on (17 straight unbeaten, 20 of 21 without a loss before Saturday) is bound to struggle at some point.

No one in college hockey has been immune to it. Boston University -- No. 1 in the Pairwise entering the weekend -- was swept at home by Maine. Top six teams Notre Dame and Ohio State lost games over the weekend, too. The landscape is full of flawed teams who can't seem to find any consistency through this mid-season stretch.

Minnesota swept St. Cloud State, which is huge for the Gophers, but it's not like Minnesota was setting the world on fire prior to that.

Everyone has struggled, and now it's apparently UMD's turn.

The mindset now, though, has to be to stop the bleeding. UMD is still in a good position, but can ill afford a hiccup against Alaska-Anchorage this weekend. It's easier said than done, because the Bulldogs haven't swept a two-game series in Anchorage since 1996. Now'd be a good time to end that drought.

With North Dakota, Colorado College, and St. Cloud State on the schedule over the last four weekends, UMD needs four points here. It would be a huge step back in the right direction.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Game 26: Michigan Tech at UMD

No time for chit chat. Sorry.



Seidel - Connolly - Herbert
Crandall (Justin) - Oleksuk - Brown
Flaherty - Hendrickson - Basaraba
Krause - Tardy - Grun

Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Casto
Olson - Smith

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron) - Gaffy

Pietila (Blake) - Olson - Baker
Johnston (David) - Johnstone (Jacob) - MacLeod
Furne - Kero - Gordic
Reddick - Rix - Pietila (Chad)

Stebner - Nielsen
Sova - Fillion
Seigo - Sweeney

Robinson - Genoe

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Now THAT'S a Bad Point

When UMD rallied from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to earn a 3-3 tie at Denver in November, it was deemed a good point by everyone on the UMD side.

When UMD rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to earn a 3-3 tie at Wisconsin in December, it was deemed a good point by everyone on the UMD side.

They were right.

Along the way, I got a couple questions from people asking what would constitute a "bad point," something I thought was somewhat clear along the way.

If it wasn't clear, UMD made it so Friday night.

The Bulldogs blew a 4-0 deficit by getting completely out-hustled and out-"want-to"ed for the better part of 40 minutes by Michigan Tech in a 4-4 tie. It marks -- unofficially, because I am hardly perfect in my research, no matter how hard I try -- the first time UMD blew a lead of at least three goals in a game it failed to win since 2006.

(That was the infamous "Teddy Bear Toss" game against Bemidji State, where the Bulldogs invited fans to throw teddy bears on the ice for charity after the team's first goal. The first goal came less than two minutes into the game, and when UMD scored a couple minutes later, some knuckleheads threw teddy bears on the ice. That prompted a warning from the officials. Any more of that, and UMD would be assessed a delay of game penalty. Sure enough, UMD scored to make it 3-0, and some idiot threw a teddy bear on the ice. Bemidji would score on the ensuing power play, and eventually complete the comeback in a 6-5 win.)

There was no fan-induced turning point in this game. Michigan Tech upped the physical, started chipping pucks down the rink instead of almost-willfully turning them over, and UMD had no response to either. Instead of keeping the foot on the gas, UMD practically slammed on its brakes, and this is what you get when you slam on the breaks.

The third period was much worse than the second. In the second, Jack Connolly, JT Brown, and Chris Casto had glorious scoring chances that Tech goalie Josh Robinson thwarted. It was a great rally for Robinson, who didn't get much help in the first, but also didn't make any of the tough saves. He made tough saves in the second, and his team responded.

UMD's only real mistake of the second period -- besides not burying chances -- was a pinch by defenseman Drew Olson in the neutral zone that led to a three-on-one. Olson is a fearless player, and he's vastly improved over his three years. His speed and puck skills are a huge factor on the blue line, but this was an ill-advised play given 1) the score, and 2) the fact that Tech had numbers coming up the rink. The goal made it a 4-1 game and set the stage for the disaster that was the third period.

(For the record, I thought Olson played pretty well Friday, and this is simply an example of how the smallest mistake can end up in the back of your net.)

UMD failed on a five-minute power play in the third, one on which Tech scored to pull within 4-3. Then David Johnstone tied it on a power play caused by a post-whistle hit by JT Brown.

That's all it takes in this league. You can't quit playing for any reason. And I guess it's a lesson UMD needed to learn.

We'll find out Saturday if it was learned quickly, or if the Bulldogs will need to have it beaten over their heads.


Lots of comments on the Facebook page and Twitter about the officiating. It was bad. UMD could have gone short-handed probably a half-dozen times in the first eight or so minutes, but nothing was called. On the flip side, Jack Connolly was either tripped or slew-footed on a play that led directly to Tech's shortie in the third.

Oh, and I have never seen a goalie called for diving in the nearly 250 UMD games I've called. That includes the career of Alex Stalock, who had the ability to make a slight brush by a guy the size of Ryan Lasch look like he got run over by something Lisa Kelly would drive to Coldfoot. If you're going to call someone for "charging the goalie" and then call the goalie for diving, you've lost me. That's a penalty that's either one or the other. It's not like we're talking about someone over-reacting to a stick in the skates or something. Either the Tech player ran Kenny Reiter over, or he didn't.

By the third period, neither team had to have a clue what a penalty was and what it wasn't. Picks were apparently legal, because both teams were guilty of them.

In the end, none of it excuses UMD's lack of effort for the majority of the game's second half, especially the third period.

There will be questions asked about the power play, which is last in the WCHA at under 20 percent, and also has scored just three times in 31 chances -- including three uninterrupted five-minute power plays -- since Christmas. Will there be changes? As I mentioned in the postgame Friday night, there is another personnel grouping that UMD has used and seen success with, and it involves using Brown at a point in place of Scott Kishel, with Mike Seidel in Brown's place on the half-wall. Another option might be something we saw briefly during the UAH series, with Connolly working a point and Brady Lamb going to the front of the net.

(It's pretty obvious Connolly is a focal point for the opposition when killing penalties. Moving him around a bit is not going to make anything worse. Yes, he's probably most effective on the half-wall. But he's not effective anywhere with the number of teams that are trying to take him out of the action. The issues have nothing to do with chemistry, in my opinion, but are instead all about execution. You don't need a massive personnel overhaul to fix execution. Sometimes a little tweak -- changing the look -- will do the trick.)

Outside of 21 shots over the six chances last weekend, there isn't much positive going on here, especially since the UNO series started two weeks ago.


Elsewhere, Minnesota held St. Cloud State to one shot in the third period in a 2-1 win. Mike Lee returned in goal for St. Cloud State, but Travis Novak was injured in the third period, and the tweets about him not putting weight on one leg because of a knee injury sure didn't look promising. The series shifts to St. Cloud for a Saturday affair.

North Dakota got two goals late to beat Wisconsin 5-3 in a back and forth game in Grand Forks. Brock Nelson had two points for UND, which went two-for-three on the power play. The Badgers trailed 2-0 and 3-2 before tying the score twice, but Stephane Pattyn got the winner late for UND, followed by a Nelson empty-netter.

Bemidji State got a third-period goal from Jordan George to beat Minnesota State 2-1 in Bemidji. Also, Denver won at Alaska-Anchorage 4-2.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Game 25: Michigan Tech at UMD

Roads around these parts are a tad greasy, so be cautious on your way to the rink. Arrive early if you can, because if this game isn't sold out already, it will at least end up being close.


Seidel - Connolly - Basaraba
Herbert - Oleksuk - Brown
Crandall (Justin) - Hendrickson - Grun
DeLisle - Tardy - Flaherty

Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Casto
Olson - McManus

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron) - Gaffy

Pietila (Blake) - Olson - Baker
Johnston (David) - Johnstone (Jacob) - MacLeod
Furne - Kero - Gordic
Reddick - Rix - Pietila (Chad)

Stebner - Nielsen
Sova - Fillion
Seigo - Sweeney

Robinson - Genoe

UMD Wants To Go Streaking Again

Two weeks ago, UMD experienced the unfamiliar feeling of a loss. The Bulldogs hadn't lost in 18 games, and it doesn't sound like they enjoyed the feeling very much.

"It was pretty special," sophomore forward Joe Basaraba said of the streak. "We can't sit back now that we've started a new one. We got two here, we're looking for number three on Friday night."

I've mentioned this before, but the pride this team took in the streak was notable.

"We knew once we got up there in the early teens that we had the chance to something special that this program has never done before," Basaraba said. "It was a great opportunity for our team to bond together and create some special moments."

The opportunity to run this new streak to four comes this weekend, when Michigan Tech visits Amsoil Arena. It's the second week of a two-week homestand for the Bulldogs, who played in front of a near sellout last Friday and a sellout crowd Saturday. This weekend looks similar, with Friday's game showing only limited seats remaining, and Saturday's game sold out.

That right there isn't bad, considering UMD sold out just one of its first ten home games.

Michigan Tech is an interesting opponent, one that isn't the same as the last time it visited Duluth. This Tech team is much more skilled and plays a different system, one that is much easier on the eyes. Senior leaders Brett Olson (Superior native) and Jordan Baker are joined by skilled freshmen David Johnstone, Blake Pietila, and Tanner Kero. The latter three were recruited by former coach Jamie Russell, who was let go after last season's beyond-disaster and is now an assistant at Providence. It's a bit of a shame that Russell wasn't allowed to see these players develop in a Tech uniform, but Mel Pearson is a pretty good coach in his own right.

Pearson's in his first year at Tech, and the Huskies are one win -- one that could easily come this weekend -- away from tripling their win total from last year (four). He's leaned on his seniors a fair amount, but the freshman class is promising, too.

"I'm really pleased with their progress," Pearson said. "They're the future of our team. I would say those two guys (Johnstone and Pietila) have been really good."

Pearson knows his seniors are a huge key, though.

"This is their team. We're only going to go as far as they take us. They're key players who play in a lot of different situations. I just want them to have their best year and their best half year of hockey here, and have no regrets."

As UMD saw last weekend with Alabama-Huntsville, there is no gimme in Division I college hockey. Playing an 11-win Tech team itching to break a seven-game losing streak to UMD is not going to be a picnic, either.

"I think they're much improved," UMD coach Scott Sandelin says. "We had to have two good third periods to win at their place. They've got a healthy Olson, and Baker, and (Steven) Seigo, so they've got some depth.

"Every time we play them, it's always a battle. We expect the same thing. As you head down the stretch, every game's going to be tight."

In order for UMD to add two more notches to its new belt, the Bulldogs will have to be at their best. They weren't necessarily at their best last weekend, but the ability to grind out two wins is not lost on this team.

Neither is the need to keep playing better hockey as the playoffs approach.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Jack Connolly Marches Toward History

Jack Connolly's season goes beyond his Hobey Baker candidacy, his point streak, his exemplary work as UMD's captain, or his march up UMD's all-time scoring list.

The UMD senior center had four points last weekend -- including three on Saturday -- in a non-conference sweep of Alabama-Huntsville. That lifted Connolly into sole possession of 12th place on UMD's all-time list with 177 points. It also ran his point scoring streak to 22 straight, tying a school single-season record.

Connolly is on the verge of being a three-time All American -- which would be a UMD first. He's also on pace to top 200 career points, assuming UMD plays in at least three postseason games (a virtual certainty between the WCHA and NCAA playoffs). To put that in perspective, TJ Hensick was the last college player to hit 200 career points. And that was a while ago. As Chris Dilks noted this week on Western College Hockey, it's not like there's a long line of guys behind Connolly who have a chance at the number.

Only six players in UMD's history have 200 career points. The last one to hit the milestone in a UMD uniform was Derek Plante in 1993 (219 points). Dan Lempe (222), Matt Christiansen (219), Bill Watson (210), Gregg Moore (206), and Scott Carlston (203) are the others.

In case you're wondering, it's not unrealistic for Connolly to reach 210 points if UMD plays more than one game at the Final Five and four games in the NCAA Tournament. That would tie Connolly for fourth all-time with Watson.

Reality suggests that Connolly's feats will be exceptionally difficult to duplicate. Most players who are talented enough to rack up this many points would be serious flight risks before they've played four years of college hockey. Any chance we have of seeing 200-point players in the future probably lie in undersized, undrafted players like Connolly.

Over the rest of the season, there will be a lot of chatter -- both in this space and in other places -- about Connolly's candidacy for the Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey's top player. Unlike some other awards, there are components to the award criteria that have little to do with hockey. However, you're not winning the Hobey if you roll up 15 points in 39 games on a team that goes 12-23-4, no matter what you do with your time away from the rink.

Connolly figures to be a strong possibility for the final ten that the Hobey folks will announce in mid-March, and there's a chance he'll make the Hobey Hat Trick, which is announced shortly after that. He leads the nation in points and points per game, he doesn't "fatten up" on power plays, he doesn't lack in goal-scoring ability (on pace to shatter his previous career high of 18 goals), and he plays in all key situations for UMD, including late in games where UMD is defending a lead. He's developed into a key penalty-killer over his career.

"Obviously, he's a heck of a player on a very good and a very deep team," Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson says. "So sneaky, so smart. You have to be aware of when he's on the ice."

Pearson would know. For 40 minutes of each game of the teams' series in Houghton in December, Connolly was shut down. In the third period of each game, the Huskies couldn't stop him. Connolly had two goals and an assist in the third period of a 5-3 win Friday, then scored the game-winner in a 5-3 win Saturday.

"They have other parts, but he stirs the drink," Pearson said. "I thought we did an excellent job on him. You might be able to shut him down for 58 minutes, but those two minutes you don't, look out."

UMD coach Scott Sandelin thought Connolly's line -- he centers Mike Seidel and Joe Basaraba -- was out of synch and off its game in Friday's 2-1 win over Alabama-Huntsville. Last year, Connolly and his star linemates Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine rarely put together a stretch of two sub-par games in a row.

Connolly wasn't going to let it happen this year, either.

"I thought he was outstanding from the drop of the puck," Sandelin said. "I thought he was at another level. It's hard to keep them down. Even those guys not having their best night is still good, but they were very good on Saturday."

UMD's balance is certainly a key to the team's success, but Connolly's ability to dominate in the clutch is what could take this group to another level. Focus too much on Connolly, and you risk getting torched by Travis Oleksuk and JT Brown. And even if you can contain both top lines, you still have to find a way to keep the third and fourth lines -- more than capable of contributing -- off the scoreboard.

Connolly is -- as Pearson says -- the straw stirring the drink. He's the most valuable player you'll find on any top team in college hockey, and he might be the best you'll see anywhere.

The Hobey debate is always an interesting one, because you get into a world where guys play different positions, different roles, and put up different statistics while playing on different teams in different leagues. Being on that committee is a hell of a responsibility, because it's your job to make sense if it all, even though there's a good chance you haven't seen all the candidates play in person.

When the dust clears and there are three guys sitting in the front row at the Hobey ceremony Apr. 6 in Tampa, you'll have a hard time convincing me Jack Connolly won't be one of them.

The only question that carries real intrigue, besides the obvious, is this:

Will he still have his Zac Brown-like playoff beard when he's sitting there?

It's a question we'll have a hard time answering until that day comes.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jason Garrison Leads Successful Group of UMD Alumni in NHL

One of the prices you pay for success in college hockey is the risk of losing star players early to professional hockey. Sometimes, even losing teams can have players coveted by the pros.

Defenseman Jason Garrison played at UMD from 2005-2008, flashing his big slapshot at times and developing his game enough that he got noticed by pro scouts. Garrison signed as a free agent with the Florida Panthers after the 2007-2008 season, forgoing his final year of college eligibility.

The move has paid off for Garrison, who is enjoying his best season -- by far -- in the NHL this year. As the league gets into the All-Star break, Garrison leads all NHL defensemen with a career-high 13 goals. He also has set a new career high with 21 points. The Panthers, under first-year coach Kevin Dineen, went into the break with 55 points, good for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and a tie for first place in the Southeast Division with Washington.

So what took the Panthers so long to figure out that Garrison could shoot?

"I guess it was just passed along from one of the assistant coaches who stayed after last season, and he let the new staff know about it," Garrison said this week. "They've used it to their advantage, and put me on the power play in a position to shoot the puck."

Garrison has 107 shots on goal this season in 48 games, compared to 113 last season. It's pretty clear that teams are adjusting their defensive zone coverages to account for Garrison, which doesn't mean the Panthers can't continue to utilize his offensive ability.

"You're gonna be a bit more of a focus," he said. "It will create more space somewhere else, so you can use that to your advantage."

Garrison spoke highly of Florida general manager Dale Tallon and the moves he made last summer to strengthen the team. Included in that were the acquisitions of former Blackhawks (Tallon was the GM in Chicago until 2009) like forwards Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky and defenseman Brian Campbell, all players who were part of the 2010 team that won the Stanley Cup in Chicago.

"Dale's brought in the right guys," Garrison said, "guys that want to win and guys that have won. That's the biggest thing. These guys have won Stanley Cups, and know what it takes, and they pass it along."

Garrison is one of a growing group of UMD alumni playing in the NHL. Getting regular ice time are forwards Mason Raymond (Vancouver) and Tim Stapleton (Winnipeg), along with defensemen Justin Faulk (Carolina) and Matt Niskanen (Pittsburgh). Former Bulldog defensemen Dylan Olsen (Chicago) and Evan Oberg (Tampa Bay) have also seen time in the NHL this season, and forward Jay Rosehill is one of the tough guys employed by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Stapleton has set a career high with seven goals going into the break, Niskanen is enjoying a nice season in Pittsburgh after a rough go in Dallas for a couple years, Raymond came back from a scary back injury suffered during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, and Faulk is one of the top rookie defensemen in the league.

What's interesting about Garrison's situation is that he's doing this in a contract year. Garrison signed a two-year, one-way deal in 2010 (meaning he would have to pass through waivers to go the minors and be brought back to the NHL roster, and he would make his NHL salary no matter where he played), and he can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. While teammate Mike Weaver recently signed an extension with the club, Garrison doesn't sound like a guy in a hurry.

"It's something I'm just going to have to deal with at the end of the year," he told me. "We want to make the playoffs and put ourselves in a position to go far. It's a team game, and I don't want to do anything other than focus on the game."

I'm not an expert on NHL salaries, but I have to figure a 27-year-old defenseman with a huge shot and a great attitude could probably net himself a chunk of change on the open market, whether he chooses to re-sign in Florida or go elsewhere.

For now, though, the focus is on helping the Panthers secure their first playoff berth since 2000. The ten-season drought is the longest in the NHL.

Conventional wisdom is that sophomore forward JT Brown will join this alumni-turned-pro list after the season, but we have a ways to go before we get there. The Bulldogs have 12 games left in the regular season, and hopefully a bunch more in the playoffs.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dom Toninato Commits as UMD Makes Recruiting Noise

Within a couple days of UMD winning the NCAA title last April, I had already grown tired of people -- both in and out of the Twin Ports area -- asking if the championship would make a difference in UMD's recruiting.

After all, the Bulldogs had already secured the services of players like forwards Tony Camaranesi and Kyle Osterberg, defenseman Andy Welinski, and goalie Matt McNeely, and while I don't spend oodles of time covering recruiting, I hadn't heard a bad word about any of those guys.

The reality was that UMD was already doing quite well in recruiting, and any help the program was going to get would only make things better than they already were going to be.

Well, since winning the title, the Bulldogs have added more potential stars to the stable. I guess there's some pull in a national championship and a beautiful new arena.

Per Chris Heisenberg's very fine recruiting site, UMD has added five prospects since hoisting the trophy, including three in the last couple weeks.

Fargo Force forward Austin Farley is going to follow former coach Jason Herter to UMD in -- from the sounds of it -- 2013 (the dates on most recruits are flexible, depending on early departures and other factors). If you don't know anything about Farley, just enjoy this bit.

“He says a lot of things, a lot of things I can’t say right now,” said (defenseman Willie) Corrin, who along with Farley, is committed to play college hockey at Minnesota-Duluth.

“A player from another team will call him cocky, and he’ll tell them to suck on his 44 points or point at the scoreboard.”

The linked piece from Ryan Clark makes Farley out to be the perfect example of a player who irritates the hell out of you until he's on your team.

A couple weeks ago, Saskatchewan forward Brett Boehm committed to UMD. He's being courted by the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, but would make a very nice addition to UMD in, most likely, 2014. I don't know a lot about Boehm, but what I've heard sounds quite impressive. He may be a flight risk because of the WHL interest, and kids are allowed to change their minds, but when he arrives at UMD, he'll make an impact.

In the last few days, UMD has added a couple more local players. On Friday, Hermantown senior forward Jared Thomas committed to UMD. Thomas leads the unbeaten Hawks in scoring. At last check, he was averaging close to three points per game. He's expected to play at least one year of juniors and join UMD in 2013 or 2014.

Earlier Tuesday, I reported that Duluth East senior Dom Toninato will also join the Bulldogs, likely after a year with the USHL's Fargo Force. Toninato's father, Jim, played four years at UMD from 1982-1986, logging 155 games. Dom Toninato is the second-leading scorer on the top-ranked Greyhounds, who started the season 17-0 before losing Saturday to Minnetonka. The younger Toninato has 47 points in 18 games this season.

East's leading scorer, Jake Randolph, committed to Nebraska Omaha Monday. He will play a year for the USHL's Omaha Lancers before joining the red Mavericks. Randolph has 49 points this season. His father, Mike, is the longtime coach at East.

That UMD is doing well in getting local players is huge. It doesn't hurt that guys like Kyle Schmidt and Chad Huttel have moved through the program and made an impact. This year's roster features Hobey Baker candidate (favorite?) Jack Connolly, Keegan Flaherty, Tim Smith, Scott Kishel, Max Tardy, Adam Krause, and Aaron Jamnick, a transfer eligible next season.

Add in Thomas and Toninato, and the potential for more, and you have a situation where UMD is getting as close as it ever will to building the proverbial fence around the Northland.

You're not going to ever get them all, for a variety of reasons, but as long as UMD is getting the majority of local players who have serious Division I potential, it's a good start. You don't want a ton of kids who live within an hour or so drive going to rival schools, because it makes your job even more difficult as a recruiter. There are enough challenges and there is enough competition without a bunch of local kids bolting the area.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Brendan Shanahan's Biggest Challenge So Far: Suspend Alex Ovechkin?

Since taking over as the NHL's dean of discipline, there have been a lot of tough decisions for Brendan Shanahan and his group in the Department of Player Safety.

Outside of dropping the ball a couple times -- most notably involving hits on Minnesota Wild players -- Shanahan and his people have done a pretty good job.

But Shanahan's biggest challenge comes Monday, when he has a hearing with Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin over an obviously illegal hit on Pittsburgh defenseman Zbynek Michalek.

No question here. Ovechkin leaves his feet, the head is the principal point of contact, and he's a repeat offender.

It's not going to be easy to suspend a star player, but Shanahan has to make a clear case here that no player is above the law as defined again and again in his suspension videos.

This should be a two-game ban. And, no, it won't affect Ovechkin's status for the All-Star Game this weekend.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Game 24: Alabama-Huntsville at UMD

Unhappy with most of his team's Friday night effort, UMD coach Scott Sandelin is looking for more in Saturday's series finale.

Alabama-Huntsville kept UMD largely in check Friday night, and the Bulldogs seemed to struggle more as the game went on.

We'll see how this one goes, with some changes for UMD.



Seidel - Connolly - Basaraba
Herbert - Oleksuk - Brown
Crandall (Justin) - Hendrickson - Grun
Krause - Tardy - Flaherty

Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Casto
Olson - Johnson

Crandall (Aaron) - Reiter - Gaffy

Roy - Csester - Lysaght
Geoffrion (Sebastian) - Easton - Kotlarz
Geoffrion (Brice) - Vanderlugt - Reid
Creppin - Allan - Pierce

Strukoff - DeBruyn
Reinhardt - Durnie
Uusivirta - Hagen

Saunders - Groh - Griggs

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UAH Future Looking Better

It's been a hell of a few months for second-year head coach Chris Luongo and Alabama-Huntsville. Faced with plenty of gloom and doom surrounding his independent program already, the Chargers players found out early in the season that this would be their last season as a varsity program.

Many in the community and among UAH's alumni protested, and Luongo was recently made aware of his team's status going forward.

"The president, Dr. (Robert) Altenkirch, is behind our program 100 percent," Luongo said. "We've been told that we're moving forward for next year, and beyond that, our intention is to get things in order, our house in order."

Among the possibilities for UAH is -- they hope -- admission to the WCHA. The conference upheaval that affected so many Division I programs has not touched UAH, meaning the Chargers are still an independent.

That's no way to sustain a program. Luongo can find some diamonds in the rough, as he has with players like goalie Clarke Saunders. The sophomore had 52 saves in Friday's 2-1 non-conference loss to UMD at Amsoil Arena. Saunders has decided to transfer to North Dakota, and because of the uncertainty surrounding the program's future, he will be eligible to play next season.

(Forward Mac Roy is moving on to Robert Morris next season, and defenseman Nick Gatt is going to transfer to Michigan State.)

But for UAH to have any real chance for success long term, Luongo's program has to find a conference to play in. It's not about developing rivalries or scheduling certainty, though those things are undoubtedly important. Instead, from a recruiting standpoint, what can be almost as important is the carrot of making the NCAA Tournament. No, UAH may never be an elite program in Division I. But admission to a conference provides the prospect of an NCAA spot that is unrealistic as long as the school is independent.

The WCHA wouldn't be as bad a fit as you might imagine, especially if UAH is willing to subsidize travel for teams to play in Huntsville. The biggest problem for UAH to overcome might not be finances, but instead the fact they share the Von Braun Center with a pro team -- the Huntsville Havoc -- that has priority, meaning the Chargers are stuck playing a lot of Saturday afternoon games, something that might be undesirable for the WCHA as a whole.

We'll see what ends up happening, but the news -- at least off the ice -- has been good for Alabama-Huntsville lately. Many around college hockey are pulling for that trend to continue.


Saunders was the story Friday night, even though UMD did what it could to keep that from happening. Friday didn't seem like a case of UMD making a mediocre goalie look like an all-star. Instead, Saunders got sharper every time UMD threw a puck at him. It was a good thing for Saunders, because he looked very shaky on the game's first few shots.

The Bulldogs need to do a better job winning one-on-one battles for position in the middle of the rink. UMD had a lot of play on the perimeter Friday, but struggled to get the puck to the front of the net at times because UAH was pretty strong defending the front of the net.

I expect UMD to start sophomore Aaron Crandall in the series finale Saturday night, though the scare UAH threw into UMD Friday could lead to a change in that plan. Other lineup rotations will continue.


The other action involving WCHA teams all came in league games. Colorado College got a last-minute goal from Tim Hall to beat Minnesota 2-1. That loss dropped Minnesota to 16th in the Pairwise, despite being second in one national poll and tied for first in the WCHA standings. Non-conference losses to Vermont, Northeastern, and Notre Dame are less than helpful.

St. Cloud State topped North Dakota 3-1 despite being decisively outshot. Goalie Ryan Faragher was great for the Huskies, and has continues to hold down the fort in the absence of normal starter Mike Lee. While Lee could be back soon, it seems SCSU has the chance to ease him back into the lineup, because Faragher shouldn't go to the bench quietly.

Also, Wisconsin shut out Alaska-Anchorage 4-0, and Nebraska-Omaha beat Minnesota State 2-1 in overtime in Mankato. The red Mavericks survived a scare, as freshman goalie Ryan Massa was stretchered off the ice with an apparent head injury. Massa is out of the hospital and attended Saturday's morning skate in Mankato, but will not play in the game.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Game 23: Alabama-Huntsville at UMD

Good news. I didn't get lost on the way in here.

Now let's pack this place and make it loud ... like home.



Seidel - Connolly - Basaraba
Herbert - Oleksuk - Brown
Crandall (Justin) - Hendrickson - Grun
DeLisle - Tardy - Flaherty

Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Casto
Olson - Smith

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron) - Gaffy

Roy - Csester - Lysaght
Geoffrion (Sebastian) - Easton - Kotlarz
Geoffrion (Brice) - Vanderlugt - Reid
Webley - Allan - Pierce

Strukoff - DeBruyn
Reinhardt - Durnie
Uusivirta - Hagen

Saunders - Groh - Griggs

Bulldogs Back Home Again

After nine weeks, it's nice to have a home game to look forward to again.

UMD is back at Amsoil Arena to host Alabama-Huntsville in a two-game series. The Chargers aren't having a good year -- 2-22-1 playing an independent schedule that includes just ten home games out of 31 total -- but they are coming off a weekend split at Denver Jan. 6-7, a split that came after it was announced the program wouldn't be dropping to club status after this season.

"For their players, that gives them a little new life," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said about the program's revival. "In college hockey, if you're not ready to play, anybody can beat anybody, and they've proven that."

UAH's only two wins this season are against WCHA teams, as the Chargers also beat Nebraska-Omaha in Nashville.

"They've got a guy who is good in net and can win games for them and give them opportunities," Sandelin said of goalie Clarke Saunders. A sophomore, Saunders has a 3.72 goals against, but his save percentage is .904 in 21 appearances for the Chargers. Upon learning of the program's demise, Saunders was able to secure a spot with North Dakota, and because of all the uncertainty surrounding UAH, he will be eligible next season.

With a non-conference series, there often isn't a ton of preparation for the opponent. When the opponent is 2-22-1 and has just 28 goals all season, there is even less preparation. This is similar to last year's January series at Michigan Tech. That weekend, UMD focused on itself, instead of preparing to face an opponent on a long winless streak and in the midst of a record-setting scoreless drought. The approach worked, and UMD won 5-0 and 3-0.

There's a lot of good reason for UMD to take a similar approach this weekend against UAH.

"I think that's our message most weekends (focus on playing well and not the opponent)," Sandelin said. "Coming off Saturday's game, and the disappointment our guys had, and the excitement of playing at home for the first time in two months, I think all those things are good things. If we can just go in there and do what we need to do ... we gotta worry about how we need to play and get back on track."

The Bulldogs are facing a team that is statistically not very good. UAH has been outscored 104-28 overall, 33-6 on the power play, and outshot by an average of 37-22.

But the Chargers have wins over two WCHA teams, and the Bulldogs need to come out from the outset Friday determined not to let it become three.

Focus will be a key. There are some huge weekends coming up for UMD, starting with Michigan Tech at home next weekend. The Bulldogs don't have a weekend off down the stretch of the regular season, and they can't act like this is a bye.

If they do, UAH will add another notch to its belt.

UMD has done little wrong this season, so there's no reason to start. Get two wins, stay relatively healthy, and get on to the league schedule.


No lineup changes are expected. JT Brown practiced all week and will play despite a knee injury suffered last Saturday on that hit by UNO's Dominic Zombo.

Expect the normal rotations to continue, with Dan DeLisle and Adam Krause splitting the left wing on UMD's fourth line. I expect to see Derik Johnson and Tim Smith in the back, though Luke McManus might play one of the games. The three have each played twice over UMD's last six games.


Senior forward Cody Danberg is working out and hopes to begin skating soon. He suffered a shoulder injury on his first shift Oct. 7 against Notre Dame that required surgery.

Danberg told me this week he hopes to be able to return in late February. His return would be a huge boost to the room, as Danberg is a popular guy on that team and was expected to be one of the leaders heading into the season.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

North Dakota, Gophers Misbehave Again; Announcer Off the Rails, Coach Angry

Outside of Danny Kristo's hit from behind, last Friday's North Dakota-Minnesota game was relatively tame. Just two rivals playing a hard, physical game that ended on a third-period goal by Brock Nelson.

Saturday was more of the same, for the most part. Minnesota defenseman Mark Alt was sent off for a hit from behind, but otherwise, the game stayed clean until the clock was at zeroes.

Here is longtime Minnesota radio voice Wally Shaver's description of the incident.

UND defenseman Ben Blood was stripped of his assistant captaincy by UND coach Dave Hakstol. As of this writing, and based on the people I've talked to about the incident, it appears the WCHA will pass on any further discipline for those involved.

Wednesday, Hakstol made his weekly appearance on the UND Coaches Show. It's available for download on iTunes, but I went through and pulled some relevant quotes.

First off, Hakstol is making no excuses for Blood, a four-year player for UND who earned the right to hold a leadership position with this relatively young team.

"One of the points of responsibility is ours," Hakstol said. "That's what we've dealt with with Ben Blood. In no uncertain terms is that acceptable to us."

Hakstol said it was a "heated incident," and he noted the Blood did indeed snap.

However, the coach wasn't mincing words when talking about the likely reason Blood snapped like he did.

"Go back and watch the videotape," he said. "At the 0:00 mark of the game, No. 21 for Minnesota (Jake Hansen) comes off the bench as a sixth skater, from behind, two-hands Ben Blood. In other words, off the bench, enters an altercation."

Hakstol also had a serious issue with Shaver's call of the action, which went viral after it aired on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities Monday morning.

"We all work for somebody," Hakstol said, referring to Shaver working the broadcast for the Gophers' statewide radio network. "I get it. I understand it. But a man I have known for almost 20 years (Shaver) really crossed the line.

"First of all, calling a student athlete a 'lunkhead,' referring to our program as a bunch of hoseheads. He's got Canada covered, and he's talked about a Minnesota-born student athlete. That's really crossing the line."

Hakstol referenced Hansen's slash, which he believes instigated everything else that went on, and notes "nothing's mentioned about that, that begins the whole thing, from Wally's standpoint. Wally attacks our player and our program, and that's political crap."

I handle this with care, for a couple different reasons.

For starters, since I got this job seven years ago, I've respected the hell out of Hakstol. He handles himself exceptionally well in the media, and has always been very giving of his time and insights to me. I'm not stupid enough to think that just because I respect the coach, that means his program is without flaws and never does anything wrong.

I argued vehemently Saturday -- and still maintain -- that the WCHA should have suspended Kristo for his flagrant and dangerous hit on Ben Marshall Friday night, along with his actions after being ejected from that game. This isn't some pro-UND rant because I happen to like their coach, radio and TV voices, their beat writer, and their SID.

Wally Shaver is one of my favorite play-by-play guys in the WCHA. Is he slanted? Hell yes. And he's not going to run and hide from it. His broadcast is produced for the Gophers' statewide network, and he caters to Gopher fans. His former color guy -- Glen Sonmor, an insanely wonderful individual -- openly and unapologetically cheered Gopher players on the air. His new partner, Frank Mazzocco, is one of the nicest guys you'll find anywhere on the WCHA beat.

I'm not going to criticize Wally, because I've been there before. Hell, I freely admit that I probably would have gone off the rails Saturday and called it similar to the way he did.

I also know I can't do that. Not only is it not professional, but my audience is bigger than I think. So is Wally's.

It's a broadcast conducted by Gopher supporters, and it's meant for Gopher supporters. But the internet and social media have changed all that. I see that every time I mispronounce the name of a UMD opponent's player, or whenever I tell a heinously bad joke on the air. Our broadcasts are worldwide, and fans of all sorts of teams listen in. That doesn't mean you have to abandon your principles and be 100 percent objective, but you also can't do what you might have done 10 years ago with no one outside your fanbase noticing.

Gopher fans will back his words. They probably think Ben Blood is a punk, or a lunkhead. They probably think the UND program is cheap, and at least some of them probably can't wait until they don't have to play UND unless their program chooses to in non-conference play.

But the reality is Hakstol has a point. It's cool to call a player's individual actions idiotic, classless, or whatever. But when you jump from that to calling student athletes names, you're more than likely crossing a line.

I should know, as I'm sure I've done it before. That doesn't make it okay.

(I need to mention that Wally's line about "Go start your own league" was hilarious and not a part of any negativity I may feel towards his call.)

(For the record, I have emailed Wally to see if he has anything he'd like to say in response. If I receive a reply, at any point in time, this post will be updated.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blais Comments on Zombo Suspension

On Tuesday, the WCHA shocked some -- namely me -- by suspending Nebraska Omaha freshman forward Dominic Zombo one game for a kneeing incident during Saturday's game against UMD.

If you were listening to our broadcast, or you follow me on Twitter, you know how upset I was by the hit. Zombo clearly was guilty of a blatant knee-on-knee hit on JT Brown, a hit that probably should have been a five-minute major penalty.

Instead, referees Brad Shepherd and Todd Anderson gave Zombo a two-minute minor penalty for roughing.

(Yes, I know the WCHA said in its statement announcing the suspension that Zombo was penalized for kneeing. But the penalty on Zombo was announced in the arena as roughing, it was posted on the live stats as roughing, and it still appears on the official box score as roughing.)

It was clearly intentional knee-on-knee contact, and a hit similar to one that knocked Vancouver Canucks forward David Booth out of the lineup for over a month. That particular hit led to a four-game suspension for Colorado's Kevin Porter. There is no justification for this hit, and no way to excuse it as some effort to deliver a clean check. It was a dirty play, and one that the WCHA was totally justified in acting on.

Of course, that doesn't mean UNO coach Dean Blais thinks it was all handled properly. Blais told the Omaha World Herald that he felt Brown should have faced discipline, too. No, not for falling down after the hit.

Blais said Tuesday that he doesn't disagree with Zombo's suspension, but that he also wants the WCHA to discipline Brown. According to his players, Blais said Brown flashed an obscene gesture after the second of his three goals in Friday's victory by the top-ranked Bulldogs.

"You suspended Zombo for a hit, OK. Now, what are you going to do with J.T. Brown?" Blais said. "To me, that's worse than the hit."

... "I'm OK with the penalty," Blais said. "And I'm OK with the suspension. But I'm not OK with learning (Monday), in discussing with my team, what had happened.

"It's funny how the hockey gods will punish a player from the night before. Zombo didn't go out looking for the hit on J.T. Brown. It's not a payback. But things have a way of evening out." 

Listen, I respect Blais a great deal. But he's allowed to be dead wrong about something, and he is here.

I don't know if Brown was guilty of an obscene gesture. I didn't see it when I watched the game back on DVR Sunday, but I also wasn't looking for it. I've since deleted the game, because I didn't see any reason to keep it.

While I'd be the first to criticize such behavior -- frankly, I'm not a fan of obscene gestures in any situations -- criticizing the behavior and asking for a suspension are two different things.

I can't imagine the WCHA issuing a one-game suspension to a player guilty of an obscene gesture. Yes, the league endorsed a two-game suspension for North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol that was the result of an obscene gesture the coach made at a referee in 2008. But that was a school-imposed suspension. Of a coach.

If Scott Sandelin flipped off Shepherd and Anderson during the game, I'd be all in favor of suspending him for a game or a weekend series. Coaches should be held to a higher behavioral standard than players.

If Brown did what Blais and his players allege, he should face internal punishment, but not a league-imposed one-game suspension. That's just silly. Are we going to start suspending players who swear at the opposing bench, too?

As for Blais' reference to the hockey gods when it comes to Brown being left in a heap on the ice by an illegal hit ... well, I'd prefer not to dignify it with a remark.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Packers Post-Mortem: Plenty of Blame to Go Around

Yes, we know. The Packers lost.

It was glorious, assuming you're not a fan of the Packers. And I don't blame you one bit for thinking it was glorious. Packer fans can be an insufferable bunch, especially when their favorite team looks like it's going to repeat.

The team isn't going to repeat now. A virtual no-show against the New York Giants Sunday made that a certainty.

(GIVE CREDIT TO THE OPPONENT. I don't think I should have to. The Giants played well, but the Packers coughed the ball up more in one game than virtually the entire season, Aaron Rodgers was as sharp as a pillowcase, and the Giants turned the game's momentum on a Hail Mary pass before halftime that never should have happened in the first place. Green Bay would have lost to Miami on Sunday, they played so badly.)

It just wasn't Green Bay's day. As I saw someone point out, the Giants' star players all played well. Osi Umenyiora had a huge strip-sack in the third quarter. The secondary locked up the Packers' receivers all night. Rodgers was harassed and appeared to alternate between being skittish to throw downfield and holding on to the ball entirely too long, allowing sacks and hits he never should have taken. The running backs -- Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs -- made some big plays.

Conversely, Rodgers was off all night. Receivers were dropping passes. Ryan Grant looked terrible. The offensive line -- namely left tackle Chad Clifton -- struggled. Defensive stars Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson were only known to be on the field because you could see them chasing after Giants running down the field.

Mike McCarthy didn't have his best day, foolishly calling a timeout to help set up the Hail Mary pass, going for it on a fourth down in the fourth quarter when the Pack was only down a score, and calling for an onside kick with five minutes left in a ten-point game, while the Packers had all three timeouts. His aggression has benefited more often than not, and this was a case where it probably did not. That doesn't change the fact that I'd much rather have an aggressive coach who takes chances than a passive one who sees fourth down and sends on the kicking team almost every time, regardless. Mistakes of aggression are always easier for me to stomach than the opposite.

These things happen. Teams aren't always going to be at their best, and that's part of why it's so freaking hard to win championships. You have to get your team to play consistently enough to get in the playoffs, then your reward for a high seed is the challenge of keeping rhythm and cohesiveness going through a long layoff.

Regular readers and listeners know I hate when coaches pull back in Week 17 and rest guys when they know a bye week is coming. I think it's a huge mistake to take them out of their routine right before the important games. McCarthy did it this year, taking guys like Rodgers, Matthews, and Woodson out of the lineup for the game against Detroit.

It might have seemed like a good idea, because Matthews and Woodson were dinged, and Rodgers was working behind a patchwork offensive line.

It blew up in the Packers' faces, because none of the players who sat in Week 17 played well. It's not that anyone else really did, but these three were the ringleaders all year long. When they're off, it's going to be tough on anyone else to get going.

There's plenty of blame to go around. It's not on one individual, or one unit. Lots of guys screwed up, and most of the team failed to play to its potential.

It's sad for Packers fans, but it's hard to complain about a team that won 21 of 22 before the Giants game, and a team that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy not even 365 days ago.

Hopefully, it isn't 15 years before the team gets back, because the 1997 team failed to repeat, and we all thought the window of opportunity was still wide open before Randy Moss showed up in the NFC Central.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Game 22: UMD at Nebraska Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- After Friday's sellout promotion, the crowd doesn't look to be as big for Saturday's finale. There are large pieces of tarp over a large part of the seating in the higher reaches of this facility. If the rest of the seats are filled, you're probably looking at a crowd in the neighborhood of 11,000 at the most.

UMD tries to run its unbeaten streak to 18, and improve to 13-0-3 away from Duluth since last year's WCHA Final Five game against Bemidji State.



Seidel - Connolly - Basaraba
Herbert - Oleksuk - Brown
Crandall (Justin) - Hendrickson - Grun
Krause - Tardy - Flaherty

Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Casto
Olson - McManus

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron)

Broadhurst - Montpetit - White
Walters - Megna - Archibald
Polk - Gwidt - Schmit
Zombo - Krause - Simonson

Young - Aneloski
Megna - Ensign
Smith - O'Rourke

Massa - Belfour - Bergman

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: The Train Keeps A Rolling

OMAHA, Neb. -- For the UMD men's hockey team, it's unquestionably been an awesome ride.

J.T. Brown made sure it continued.

The sophomore's career night Friday helped UMD past Nebraska Omaha 6-2 in front of over 16,000 paid customers, a record crowd for this program. It was a monumental night for UNO hockey, but the Bulldogs did their thing and ruined it.

UMD used a four-goal third period to pull away from another tight game, and Brown was the ringleader on this night. UNO did a solid job against scoring leader Jack Connolly's line, keeping that group off the board until it was already a 4-2 lead.

They had nothing for Brown and linemates Travis Oleksuk and Caleb Herbert. A Herbert shot led to a Brown rebound goal at 1:23 of the first. UMD led 2-0 before UNO answered with two second-period goals to tie the score.

As we talked about last week, though, the third period is where UMD makes things happen.

The margin over the last 17 games is now 31-10. You can point to a lot of things over this 17-game streak, but this might be the most important factor.

Either opponents are completely out of the game through two periods, or they simply have no chance because UMD will wear them down in the last 20 minutes.

The Bulldogs are now 15-3-3 overall, in first place in the WCHA at 11-2-2 (the Gophers lost at North Dakota), and the road record is now 8-0-3. UMD hasn't lost a game away from Duluth in its last 15 (12-0-3). UMD is 22-5-7 in its last 34 games away from Duluth, dating back to the start of last season.

Brown's other two goals came :28 apart in what was a tie game in the third period. Mike Seidel had already been stopped on a penalty shot attempt (never actually got a shot off, because the puck was poke-checked by UNO goalie John Faulkner).

For Faulkner, who I thought had played pretty well, the roof caved in during that third period. UMD pressured with 20 shots, many of them of quality. And they did it without the benefit of a single power play. The entire third period was played at even strength.

UMD is 14-0-3 over the last 17 games, and the Bulldogs have indeed found some different ways to win. The third period dominance, however, is a repeat storyline, and it's no accident. UMD assistant coach Jason Herter was on our coaches' show back in September, and one of the things he noted was that the players almost all came back with superior scores on their conditioning tests than they did prior to last season. This is where that conditioning pays off.

The Bulldogs looked fresh in the third period Friday. They looked like a team that hadn't just played 40 minutes against a Division I opponent. It continues to be a big key for the nation's hottest -- and perhaps deepest -- team.

In Saturday's game, we'll see if Dean Blais can find an answer for Oleksuk's line. We'll also see if that answer comes at the expense of stopping Connolly's line.

No matter what, UMD will return home next week, and it's likely they will remain the nation's top-ranked team in all metrics. The other four teams in the top five all lost Friday, including Ohio State at home to Michigan and Boston College to Massachusetts, both shutouts.


Connolly's two points in Friday's game ran his point-scoring streak to 19, three off the school single-season record. The captain now has eight goals and 12 assists during the third periods of these 17 games.

The points push his career total at UMD to 172, moving him into a tie for 13th place on UMD's all-time scoring list with Dan Fishback (1979-83). Former Hobey Baker winner Chris Marinucci is in 12th place, one point ahead of Connolly and Fishback.

Bill Oleksuk -- Travis' dad -- sits in 11th place at 190 points. Connolly is on pace for 60 points in the regular season, a total that would move him into eighth place all-time, one ahead of Huffer Christiansen. If UMD can extend the season long enough, a top-five slot might not be out of reach for Connolly.


In Grand Forks Friday, North Dakota got a third-period goal from Brock Nelson to beat Minnesota 2-1. That gives UMD sole possession of first place in the WCHA.

In the first period, UND junior Danny Kristo got the boot for a hit from behind on Minnesota defenseman Ben Marshall. Here is the video, courtesy of nearly half my Twitter followers.

Clear-cut. Blatant.

So what the hell is Kristo trying to argue?

I know it's not much of a tantrum, but combine that with the hit itself, which was bad enough, and a message needs to be sent.

The rules regarding checking from behind have been in place since like 2005. That's six years. At what point is it fair to expect that we will start to see some changes in the way the game is played?

Josh Archibald's hit on Connolly here Friday was not much different, only without the additional jab thrown as part of the follow-through on the hit. The irony about it is that Archibald -- and every player on both teams -- took Jack's Pledge during the week leading up to this game.

These hits have to stop. There can be no way around it. And, obviously, the current system isn't working. You might argue that we're not seeing as many hits from behind lead to ejections, but it doesn't mean we're not seeing notably fewer hits from behind.

This is on players, coaches, and officials. We know WCHA officials -- and college officials in general -- aren't perfect. They aren't going to see everything, and they're not going to call everything. That's just human nature. But we need them to be better than they are. We need coaches to preach the importance of clean play that abides by the rules.

And players need to have that respect for one another. It's that respect that will prevent many of these dangerous and unnecessary hits. No, not everyone will practice that respect for opponents. But with improved teaching from coaches, more respect from players, and hopefully more accurate and consistent officiating, perhaps we can get this problem fixed.

It starts, in this case, with discipline. There is no reason why the WCHA should allow Kristo to play Saturday night. He embarrassed himself and his program with that sophomoric tirade after getting the boot, but before that, he committed a flagrant infraction with a dangerous hit. His follow-through suggests an intent beyond just playing a physical game.

At some point, someone has to get serious about this. With all the talk about hitting from behind all week long -- and at all levels of the game -- how can anyone think this is a clean hit? Not only is it not a clean hit, but at no point in the play is Kristo moving to do anything that would be a clean hit. Marshall didn't turn at the last second. Kristo didn't bump a guy who lost an edge. He plastered a guy from behind, and followed through with a jab to the head as he "finished his check."

I have a lot of respect for Kristo, and even more for North Dakota's coaching staff and program. But Kristo's play in this instance was disrespectful, and it would be nice to see the WCHA show some leadership on this issue. It would be the opposite of what we usually see in college hockey, and you could track something like this as one of the reasons we're seeing the changes we're seeing come 2013.

The WCHA won't do anything, and Kristo will probably play Saturday. Hopefully nothing stupid happens. If this were the NHL, Kristo would be asked to drop the gloves and answer for what he did. In the college game, he will probably get chirped at all night, and if the Gophers get a chance to get an extra shot in, they'll probably take it. I just hope they remember that two wrongs don't make a right.


The rest of the scores from Friday saw Michigan Tech beat Alaska Anchorage 6-2, Denver knock off Bemidji State 6-3, Wisconsin shut out Minnesota State 4-0, and Colorado College get by St. Cloud State 3-1.

The standings show UMD (24 points) up on Minnesota (22). Colorado College (20) is third, followed by Denver and Nebraska Omaha (17), North Dakota (16), Michigan Tech (15), St. Cloud State (13), Bemidji State and Wisconsin (12), Alaska Anchorage (7), and Minnesota State (5).

Friday, January 13, 2012

Game 21: UMD at Nebraska Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- Only standing room and single seats remain for this Friday night tilt. UMD and Nebraska Omaha should have an awesome atmosphere to play in front of, and they are the kind of teams that can produce an awesome game in that environment.



Seidel - Connolly - Basaraba
Herbert - Oleksuk - Brown
Crandall (Justin) - Hendrickson - Grun
DeLisle - Tardy - Flaherty

Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Casto
Olson - Smith

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron)

Broadhurst - Montpetit - White
Walters - Megna - Raubenheimer
Searfoss - Gwidt - Simonson
Zombo - Krause - Archibald

Young - Aneloski
Megna - Ensign
Turgeon - Smith

Faulkner - Massa - Belfour

Thursday, January 12, 2012

UMD Stays Humble Through Streak, Ready for Test From UNO

OMAHA, Neb. -- It's almost getting to the point where UMD's next loss can be greeted by a table talking about what the price of gas was the last time UMD lost, or how much it cost to buy a gallon of milk.

That's somewhat sarcastic, but Oct. 15 was a long time ago. After all, we had no idea the Wild would be good.

(Wait, we still don't really know. Carry on.)

The 16-game unbeaten streak is something for this team to be proud of. They're not really hiding from it, which is odd, because most of the time, you hear teams in this spot talking about the need to take things one game at a time, or some gobbledegook like that.

"It's been a lot of fun," junior defenseman Drew Olson says, "and you don't want it to stop."

Fans will often think teams this hot need to be humbled.

For this group, it doesn't seem like a huge problem.

Instead, it seems they're thriving off the attention, even though the attention and pressure will only increase with every game they win.

"The way we look at it as a team is we like to have fun with it," Olson said. "We don't have guys on this team who get cocky or anything like that. They're very down-to-earth. They just want to get to the rink and get the job done.

"We have confidence in our team, and it doesn't matter what anyone else says."

This weekend, No. 1 UMD plays Nebraska Omaha, a team desperate for the kinds of wins that define a season. You know, the kind you can get against the hottest team in college hockey.

UNO has some nice wins this season, beating North Dakota and Colorado College. There are also head-scratching and potentially damaging losses to Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska-Anchorage, and Alaska. The Mavericks' record has ranged from two games below .500 (1-3) to two games above .500 (9-7-3 and 10-8-4, where it is now).

Coach Dean Blais has dealt with disciplinary issues, centering around the eventual dismissal of senior Alex Hudson from the team, and he hasn't gotten nearly the goaltending any of us expected him to. Senior John Faulkner has struggled, holding just an .877 save percentage in 11 games. Freshmen Ryan Massa and Dayn Belfour haven't been a ton better, and the UNO team save percentage of .886 won't take the club very far.

Up front, Blais has some impressive players. Matt White has 27 points, Terry Broadhurst has 14 goals, and freshman Jayson Megna is at nearly a point per game (21 points in 22 games).

UNO doesn't take a lot of penalties (fewest per game in the WCHA), and the penalty kill is solid when they do.

As you would expect, the Mavericks have speed to burn up front. In fact, they could be fairly compared to Western Michigan in terms of the forwards' skating ability.

Where WMU probably has an edge is on the blue line, where UNO doesn't appear as mobile. They're big and tough in the back, though, and those guys can indeed move the puck when they have to.

Key for UMD this weekend will be using their speed up front to get UNO off balance defensively. You also want to make those big defensemen skate early in the game, then take advantage of that in the third period.

It's a formula UMD has used with great success over the last 16 games. As long as the guys are working hard and staying true to their way of doing things, there's no need for a humbling here.

These guys are already humble. That's why they're so good.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mike Smith's Save on Marian Gaborik






Incredible save by Smith. Big spot, too.

And, yes, I'm accounting for the fact the Rangers got the two points anyway.

Central Scouting Releases Mid-Term Rankings, Including UMD Recruits

NHL Central Scouting released its mid-term rankings Wednesday morning. A number of players with local ties -- including some UMD recruits -- are included.

North American skaters are here. Follow the links to check out the other lists.

UMD recruits on the list are as follows:

100. Austyn Young, F, Sioux Falls (USHL)
139. Adam Johnson, F, Hibbing
187. Austin Farley, F, Fargo (USHL)
34 (goalies). Matt McNeely, Cedar Rapids (USHL)

Local players on the list:

132. Jake Bischoff, D, Grand Rapids
178. Trevor Olson, F, Duluth East
198. Dom Toninato, F, Duluth East

Not all these players will be drafted. For many of them, they're probably better off if they don't.

But it's nice recognition for some young players who have bright futures.

Streaking Bulldogs Atop, Like, Everything

The UMD Bulldogs are unbeaten in 16 straight. You know this. You're aware they haven't lost since Oct. 15. You're aware who that loss came to. You're aware that it doesn't seem to matter as much now as it did then.

This school-record run started innocently enough, as the Bulldogs got back on the proverbial horse with a win and tie at Providence Oct. 21-22. What's happened since is almost incredible.

The Bulldogs have rallied from 2-0 deficits, a 3-1 deficit, third-period holes, and dealt with stretches where it seemed they couldn't buy a bounce. Now, they're about to finish a run of eight straight road games, and UMD is 5-0-1 so far.

The pollsters and computers have all recognized what's going on in Duluth. UMD is a unanimous No. 1 in both national polls -- conducted by USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine. The Bulldogs have the best winning percentage in the country. UMD leads the way in the computer-generated RPI, as well as the Pairwise -- which mimics the NCAA selection process -- and KRACH -- which many people wish mimicked the NCAA selection process.

There isn't a metric by which UMD isn't the top team in college hockey as they get ready to play at Century Link Center Omaha for the first time ever.

(UMD's other games in Omaha were played at the old Civic Auditorium.)

It might not seem like it should matter, but it's a point of pride for this team, and part of the motivation right now is making sure UMD doesn't fall off the radar.

Nebraska Omaha has struggled a bit this year, but the Mavericks will be a factor in who wins this league. UNO plays an awfully difficult schedule in the second half, and while it will define the Mavericks' season, it will also probably help decide the MacNaughton Cup winner.

For those unaware, UNO has been marketing like crazy to sell out Friday's game. The arena seats nearly 17,000 for hockey, and the school reports just over 2,000 tickets remain for the contest, which will be televised by NBC Sports Network. Popular TSN play-by-play voice Gord Miller will call the game, with Wild television analyst Mike Greenlay working alongside.

At another crisp and fast practice Tuesday, UMD showed no line changes. Defenseman Scott Kishel, who took a puck off his leg late in Saturday's game and had to be helped to the room, was on the ice and appears to be fine. It's the closest thing UMD has seen to an injury scare since freshman Chris Casto left the Minnesota State game Nov. 18 with a lower-body injury. He missed the rest of that game but was back in the lineup for the next game.

(Knock on wood!)

UMD has one more national television game in the regular season after Friday. The Feb. 10 game at home against North Dakota will be on CBS Sports Network.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Game 20: UMD at Western Michigan

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- The record is theirs. Can they add to it?

UMD is set to try to run its unbeaten streak to 16. Friday's win -- among other things -- sealed a winning road trip for the Bulldogs, who are 4-0-1 with three road games left before the Jan. 20-21 dates with Alabama-Huntsville.

Another win here could be huge in the Pairwise, and that's a plus for a league that is flat-out hurting in that area right now.



Seidel - Connolly - Basaraba
Herbert - Oleksuk - Brown
Crandall (Justin) - Hendrickson - Grun
Krause - Tardy - Flaherty

Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Casto
Olson - Smith

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron)

Berschbach - Balisy - Walters
Elias - Leone - Squires
Roehl - Crew - Slater
Kessel - Kovacs - Francis

DeKeyser - Witkowski
Stewart - Tennyson
Oesterle - Brown

Pisellini - Slubowski - Moore

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Another Dominant Third Period

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- You could see it coming. It almost seemed as inevitable as a sunrise and sunset. And Western Michigan couldn't stop it. Not even a 27-day layoff could stop it.

The UMD men kept it rolling here Friday night, beating Western Michigan 4-1 to run its unbeaten streak to a school-record 15.

As has been the case for much of this streak, the Bulldogs got the job done with an overwhelming third period effort. Friday was the third time in 15 games that UMD scored three goals in the third period. UMD has at least one goal in the third period of 14 of the 15 games. The only game where UMD didn't score in the third period was its last before Friday, a 4-2 win at Wisconsin in which the Bulldogs did all the necessary damage in the first two periods.

In the last 15 games, UMD has outscored opponents 24-10 in the third period.

(For the season, UMD has outscored the opposition 77-45. The first period is even at 17, so UMD has a 60-28 edge from the start of the second period on.)

Friday night's third period was just like many of the others. UMD looked like the superior team. They were physical. They made good passes (not perfect, but good). They won battles all over the ice. For the most part, they kept goalie Kenny Reiter from having to do too much back there (one shot on goal, according to the official stats, in the last half of the period).

UMD also took advantage of its opponent's lack of discipline.

In the third period, Western took two minor penalties. They came 28 seconds apart, and the accompanying five-on-three was too much for the Broncos to defend. It didn't help that Luke Witkowski, one of their top defensmen, was one of the two offending parties.

(WMU coach Andy Murray was not happy with Witkowski's hooking penalty, but it was a hook. He got his stick up into the hands of a UMD player, forcing a turnover that sent the puck into the neutral zone. The Broncos got away with a much more flagrant foul in an earlier UMD power play, but that's no excuse for missing another obvious penalty. The kneeing call that led to the original power play was an easy, textbook call for the officials to make.)

During the five-on-three in a 1-1 game, some guy named Jack Connolly skated across the top of the UMD formation, left to right. He stopped and sent a tape-to-tape pass back to his left, where Travis Oleksuk was all by himself at the bottom of the faceoff circle. Oleksuk isn't going to miss that shot in his sleep.

Three minutes later, Joe Basaraba came into the offensive zone two-on-two with Mike Seidel. Seidel drove to the net, and Basaraba waited for the WMU defenseman to give him enough of an opening for a shot from the left circle. Once he had that room -- and it wasn't much -- he let one rip through WMU goalie Frank Slubowski to give UMD a 3-1 lead.

Jake Hendrickson added the empty-netter, and UMD had a 4-1 win.

UMD is not immune to anything. The Bulldogs started this game slowly, as expected, and they certainly had their share of average shifts in the first 20 minutes. You could see players keeping the game somewhat simple. Shorter passes, quicker shifts. A couple penalties in the first period didn't help the cause, including one before all four lines could take a shift.

I still thought there was some inconsistency in the second period, but you could see UMD starting to get things going again. They had a couple tremendous shifts after J.T. Brown's tying goal, including one that led to a Brown breakaway that Slubowski had to stop. The third period was a lot of nothing for a while, but UMD took advantage of the five-on-three, and that really seemed to change the rest of the game. The Broncos were somewhat deflated after that, and not even a good five-on-four kill where they didn't allow any real chances could get them back in their groove.

And, yes, someone grabbed the puck. When you make history, you make sure you get the puck.


The Broncos tried their very best to knock Connolly off his game. They hit him, denied him space, and hit him some more. It was a good, hard, physical effort against college hockey's best player (yes, I just said it, and I'm probably going to say it a few dozen more times before the season ends). Wasn't dirty, though a couple hits were a bit on the high side. Instead, it was a team doing its best to use physicality and intimidation to keep a guy from controlling the game.

Didn't matter.

You could see it coming. Connolly, Basaraba, and Seidel had a quality shift to close the first period, generating pressure and a nice scoring chance. They had a few more good shifts in the second period, and Caleb Herbert certainly looked good with that group while Seidel was serving a ten-minute misconduct. UMD's top line had a dominant third period, as it's done a lot during this streak.

For Connolly, it was just another day at the office. In the third periods of UMD's last 15 games, the team's senior captain has eight goals and nine assists. That's 17 points in 15 third periods, kids. A three-point-per-game pace. He steps up in third periods of games, and he is a huge reason why UMD continues to put such games away.

On the season, Jack has 32 points in 19 games. If UMD plays in 41 games, as it did last year, Connolly is on pace for 69 points, ten more than last season (59). At this rate, he'll have 60 before the WCHA playoffs even start.

Oh, and he is doing this -- scoring at this pace -- despite a "slow start" that had people wondering if the preseason Hobey hype was unwarranted. Seriously.

Over his 17-game point streak, he has 12 goals and 18 assists. I already quoted the third period numbers, which are incredible. But over 17 full games, he's almost at two points per game. At this rate, he's going to blow everyone out of the water in the scoring race.

After all, the Gophers are done playing cupcakes, and Wisconsin is done with them after taking care of RIT Saturday night.

"In the first month, I think Jack played well," coach Scott Sandelin said before the game Friday. "It seems like since we switched the lines in Denver, that was the weekend where he really took off. Showed his leadership, and showed his ability to be a top player in the country. Sometimes we get spoiled. We expect great things from him.

"I can't speak enough about how his play, and I think he's matured into a really good leader."

There are some great players in college hockey. Justin Schultz comes to mind immediately, as do guys like Austin Smith, Nick Bjugstad, T.J. Tynan, and Brian Flynn, and so many others.

But none of them are doing what Jack Connolly is doing right now. Namely, carrying college hockey's best team on a school-record unbeaten streak.

If that's not enough to make you think "Hobey," go ahead and hang out, because I'm sure he'll give you some more reasons before we're all said and done.


Elsewhere in the WCHA, well, guh.

Alabama-Huntsville got a late goal to beat Denver 3-2. The loss dropped Denver out of the top 20 in the Pairwise. Simply a disastrous loss for the Pioneers, and the WCHA in general, which has now dropped two games to UAH. The Chargers only have two wins. Blah. DU chose to rest Jason Zucker after the World Juniors, and they paid dearly. Zucker will not play in Saturday's finale, either, and that's a must-win for Denver.

Wisconsin beat RIT 6-3. Schultz -- easily the best defenseman in the country, and possibly the best I've seen at this level in my seven years of calling UMD games -- scored two goals and had two assists. He's pretty good.

St. Lawrence knocked off Minnesota State 4-3, and Cornell beat Colorado College 3-1.

So, yeah, not a good night for the WCHA.

On Saturday, in addition to all these series finishing up, North Dakota plays Clarkson in Winnipeg, and the Gophers host Notre Dame.

You almost have to root for Minnesota, kids. Seriously. This league needs another non-conference loss like Jessica Biel needs to go on a diet.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Game 19: UMD at Western Michigan

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- Here we go. Off a break of almost exactly four weeks, the UMD men return here to start a two-game series.

Along with the normal radio coverage, the Friday clash can be seen on CBS Sports Network if you have DirecTV or Dish Network. Ben Holden, the great Dave Starman, and Shireen Saski provide the coverage.



Seidel - Connolly - Basaraba
Herbert - Oleksuk - Brown
Crandall (Justin) - Hendrickson - Grun
DeLisle - Tardy - Flaherty

Bergman - Lamb
Kishel - Casto
Olson - Johnson

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron)

Berschbach - Balisy - Walters
Elias - Squires - Slater
Roehl - Crew - Beebe
Kessel - Leone - Kovacs

DeKeyser - Witkowski
Stewart - Tennyson
Oesterle - Brown

Pisellini - Slubowski - Moore

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Jim Scherr's Job Not an Easy One

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- The National Collegiate Hockey Conference doesn't launch until 2013, but the league's formation has already begun. The eight teams -- UMD, Colorado College, Denver, Miami, Nebraska Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State, and Western Michigan -- have been announced, and the league hired its first commissioner Wednesday. Former USOC head Jim Scherr is going to be front and center as the league's top executive.

Scherr spoke about the job Wednesday in Colorado Springs. There were a few things brought up that I found noteworthy. I also have some unsolicited thoughts on what the league needs to do as it moves toward Opening Night in October 2013.

Scherr is not a hockey guy.

I kind of expected this. To get this right, the NCHC is more in need of a commissioner that has a business/marketing background. Hiring a hockey guy as a commissioner is not the way to start a new hockey league.

There are relationships to be forged. There are deals to be cut. You need someone with business acumen, not someone who played hockey for 30 years and has no background running an organization or negotiating these types of arrangements.

I don't intend to demean hockey in any way here, but it's a lot easier to teach someone like Scherr -- who might not have a hockey background but is also no stranger to the game -- a thing or two about hockey than it would be to teach someone else the nuances of business deals.

Not only that, but the bulk of Scherr's work in the runup to the league's launch will involve things that have little to do with hockey, but a lot to do with how the league will conduct its business.

Scherr's most important move in the short term will be hiring a hockey operations person.

Scherr's lack of a hockey background is a huge one. He needs a right-hand man who has such a background and can make the hockey-related decisions.

He shouldn't be expected to decide on a league scheduling format, how the schedule will work, or who will oversee the league's officials.

This person will be -- for many fans -- the main face of the league, the person responsible for the most important decisions.

(This will shock you, but most hockey fans don't give a crap about corporate sponsorships or marketing. That's silly. They want to know how the league will work on the ice.)

I would also lean against hiring someone who has ties to the NCHC members, just to eliminate the perception of a good ol' boy network in the league office. It's an issue that helped drive a wedge between the WCHA and the departing schools, and it's silly that they would start up their new league with more of the same.

This isn't to say there aren't some wonderfully qualified candidates within the league. My only point is that an independent voice could work wonders for a lot of the NCHC teams' fans, many of whom are still confused about why the hell this is happening to start with.

Someone in the league needs to figure out what to do with online video.

I've seen systems for online video that work quite well. I've never heard a complaint, for example, about Denver's Pioneer Vision, even though fans who want to watch their favorite hockey team play at Denver have to remember to cancel their subscription before it auto renews (just a dumb system, in my opinion).

On the other hand, I get a complaint about America One about once a month, and I don't even have anything to do with it. No one is perfect, but one of the things the NCHC can do is package its eight member schools to do an online streaming deal that benefits everyone.

Fans can probably give up on the idea of getting the games for free. However, I think it's reasonable to assume the league is better off doing one deal for streaming. It centralizes everything and makes it less confusing for fans. It also makes the package a more attractive buy for a fan. If a game isn't on television, fans know they can go to the league website and watch it over the interwebs.

Scherr will be in Kalamazoo for Friday's UMD-Western Michigan game. I hope we'll be able to talk to him on the air. I'll update the blog if I get any information on that.

Bulldogs Finally Back At It

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- This break felt like it was six months, instead of close to one month.

In some ways, it feels like the UMD men's hockey team is starting the season all over again. The Bulldogs haven't played since beating Wisconsin 4-2 in Madison on Dec. 10.

The team practiced the following week, then went their separate ways for a two-week hiatus. They returned to practice at the DECC last week, and started serious preparations Monday for a series here against Western Michigan that begins Friday night (6:30, CBS Sports Network on television, 94X and the network on the radio).

To get back in the swing of things, assistant coach Jason Herter -- running practice along with assistant Derek Plante while head coach Scott Sandelin worked with Team USA at the World Juniors -- did a lot of fundamental drills in the team's first couple days back.

Lots of skating, passing, and simple stuff.

The challenge ahead is twofold. For starters, this Western Michigan team is pretty good. The Broncos made the NCAA Tournament last year under one-and-done coach Jeff Blashill. Their performance surprised many college hockey observers, and impressed enough hockye people that Blashill was in high demand. Not even a raise at WMU could keep him from taking an offer to become an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings.

Enter Andy Murray. The veteran coach has worked in Europe, the NHL (most notably with the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues), and with Canadian national teams. He'd never coached college hockey.

Until now.

"I firmly believe you only live once," Murray said. "I admire the coaches who work in the business. I had three children that played college hockey. I had a number of players I had coached in the NHL who played here at Western, and when the opening came up, they contacted me and said 'Coach, they need some help here.'"

Murray's team is pretty solid. They have some speed and skill with guys like Chase Balisy and Dane Walters. There is plenty of youth, and guys like defenseman Garrett Haar are slowly getting used to playing at this level.

Western Michigan doesn't overwhelm people with their talent, but there is speed on this team, and a superb work ethic.

The Broncos aren't a high-scoring team, and they may be more interested in slowing down UMD rather than trying to skate with the Bulldogs.

In a 15-minute conversation, Murray mentioned UMD's team speed a number of times, and clearly has great respect for the program Sandelin has built. Murray isn't a stranger to UMD hockey, as daughter Sarah played four years at UMD and was part of two NCAA women's championship teams. She and brothers Brady (North Dakota) and Jordy (Wisconsin) are all playing professionally in Switzerland.

I'm babbling. I mentioned that this challenge for UMD is twofold. The other part of it is fighting the natural rustiness you will see after such a long stretch with no games.

I'd lay in the "this affects both teams" counter, but Western played a series at St. Cloud State, getting a Balisy overtime goal on Friday to earn a split after a three-goal third period got SCSU a win Thursday. The Broncos already kicked off the rust, and they'll be ready to play Friday.

Herter has been guarding against this all week. The reality is that no practice, no matter how crisp, can properly simulate game speed. Game situations, yes. Game speed, not so much.

"As good as we feel we're practicing right now, multiply that by ten for what's going to be happening Friday night," Herter said. "It's right back into the fire. Our kids are prepared for it, and they just have to weather the storm."

The primary responsibility for weathering the storm could fall on senior goalie Kenny Reiter. During UMD's 14-game unbeaten streak, Reiter has a 1.83 goals against and a save percentage of .934. As good as he's been, he may have to be better early on Friday if UMD comes out sloppy or a bit slow.

UMD has a number of things working in its favor. For starters, it's a very mature team. Slow starts, deficits, and adversity don't really bug this team much. Neither does playing on the road. UMD is unbeaten in 12 straight games away from Duluth, dating back to last year's Final Five loss to Bemidji State. UMD is 5-0-3 on the road this season.

The Bulldogs also have a little more scoring depth than WMU, if you look at the teams on paper. The Broncos will probably remind you of a more-skilled version of Providence, another team that had some skating ability and a great work ethic, but didn't overwhelm you with their offensive depth.

Whether or not the streak lives another weekend will probably be determined by UMD's ability to play a crisp, fast game after taking nearly four full weeks off.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Wisconsin Lets Great Season Slip Away

Hope everyone had a good New Year's weekend. Back in the grind we go, I guess.

After back-to-back losses on Hail Mary throws derailed Wisconsin's BCS title hopes before October was over, there was still a chance for the Badgers to finish the season on a high note. The Big Ten title was within their grasp -- thanks in large part to the numerous flaws shown by division foes Ohio State and Penn State throughout the season -- and therefore the Rose Bowl was still a possibility.

By winning out, Wisconsin was able to earn the Big Ten championship, and they got that Rose Bowl slot against Oregon Monday.

It was there that Wisconsin's inability to manage the clock and close a game again bit them hard. This time, Oregon found a way to win the highest-scoring Rose Bowl ever, 45-38. Both teams led, but neither ever led by more than seven points.

Turnovers were a factor, with Wisconsin getting a touchdown off an Oregon fumble, and Oregon getting a huge touchdown off a Wisconsin interception. But it was a turnover that only led to a punt that turned the game for good.

Wisconsin sophomore receiver Jared Abbrederis caught a long pass from Russell Wilson. As he was being tackled near the sideline, he lost the ball. Inexplicably, the ball died on the grass and didn't bounce out of bounds. Oregon recovered. Abbrederis has to secure the ball more effectively, but it was a great strip and a hell of a lucky break for Oregon, because the ball totally should have bounced out of bounds.

The other big play in the game was a Wisconsin kickoff that went for a touchback.

The Oregon returner fielded the kick in the end zone, took a couple steps, then thought better of it and dropped to a knee. The rules say the ball must be completely out of the end zone to be out of it (just like the tip of the ball just has to cross the goal line for a touchdown to stand). The ball was clearly not out of the end zone. Only half of it (maybe) was.

Badgers coach Bret Bielema protested the call, then burned a timeout to try to get the officials to review it. That left Wisconsin with only one timeout later, and instead of getting the ball back with 50 seconds left, Wisconsin didn't even have 20.

Then came the spike at the end of the game. Wilson tried to kill the clock, but there wasn't enough time for that. I don't know if that call came from Wilson or Bielema, but it was a poor decision. Along with the unnecessarily burned timeout, it was another example of Bielema struggling with clock management.

To recap, Wisconsin lost three games this season. The first came on a Hail Mary pass at the end of the game where three Badgers watched a Michigan State player catch an already-tipped pass before any of them tried to tackle the receiver (on a tipped pass, there can be no pass interference ... everyone is fair game). The second came on a glorified Hail Mary pass in which Wisconsin let an Ohio State player run down the field without bothering to do much about it.

Then came the Rose Bowl.


Bielema is getting shredded for his clock/timeout management. He should. It's not getting better.

However, the big picture dictates that Bielema is doing a pretty good job. Yeah, he's 2-4 in bowl games (Barry Alvarez was 8-3). Yeah, he's 0-2 at the Rose Bowl (Alvarez was 3-0). But this is not a program that tasted a ton of success before Alvarez arrived. The transition wasn't perfect, but Bielema did well taking over and keeping things going with at least a solid rate of success on the field.

He doesn't strike me as a threat to win a national championship, but neither did Gene Chizik, either. And Les Miles is potentially crazy, yet is going for another title on Monday. Chip Kelly is nuts, too, and he could have won last year.

Bielema is flawed, but is he more flawed than others who have caught lightning in a bottle and won? I don't know.

It's frustrating to be sunk by similar circumstances in losses, but it's also easy to lose sight of all the good Bielema has done. The Badgers had a great power running game this season, but Wilson's presence allowed them to form a formidable passing game that consistently took pressure off Montee Ball. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will be missed as he makes his way to Pittsburgh to become head coach, but there is talent, and if Bielema can solve the inconsistency at quarterback that forced him to recruit Wilson in the first place, Wisconsin will be back in Pasadena soon.

As Bielema himself said Monday, hopefully a future trip is accompanied by tears of joy, not tears of sorrow.