Thursday, March 29, 2012

Jack Connolly Makes Hobey Hat Trick

For the first time since 2004, a UMD player is in the Hobey Hat Trick.

The award's selection committee has spoken, and a list of ten finalists has been trimmed to three for next Friday's award ceremony in Tampa.

The Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation on Thursday announced the three Hobey Hat Trick finalists for the 2012 Hobey Baker Memorial Award, honoring college hockey’s top player.  Alphabetically, they are: Spencer Abbott, senior forward from the University of Maine; Jack Connolly, senior forward from the University of Minnesota-Duluth; and Austin Smith, senior forward from Colgate University.

The three finalists were selected from the initial list of Top Ten candidates by the 23-member Selection Committee and an additional round of online fan balloting to determine this year’s Hobey Baker winner.  Criteria for the award includes: displaying outstanding skills in all phases of the game, strength of character on and off the ice, sportsmanship and scholastic achievements.

This year’s Hobey Baker Award winner will be announced Friday, April 6, 2012 from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL during the NCAA Frozen Four.  The 32nd annual announcement will be aired live on the NHL Network at 6:00 p.m., ET, and at the Hobey website,  Here is more on this year’s three finalists:

Spencer Abbott – University of Maine, Senior, Forward, Hamilton, Ontario
From a recruited walk-on four years ago to a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, Spencer Abbott has had a remarkable four-year collegiate career.  Already recognized as the Player of the Year in Hockey East as well as a First Team all-star, the Black Bear assistant captain leads the nation in scoring and in assists.  In 39 games this season, Abbott scored 21 goals, assisted on another 41 for 62 total points.  His unselfish scoring exploits earned him the conference scoring title and he was named player of the month twice while piling up 18 multiple-point games.  Abbott is a Family Relations major and has been on the Dean’s List three times.  Spencer is active in the community helping with Special Olympics, assisting at youth hockey clinics and participating in charity games.  Abbott, a pro hockey free agent, just signed a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Jack Connolly – University of Minnesota-Duluth, Senior, Forward, Duluth, Minnesota
A repeat Hobey top ten finalist, the Bulldog captain had a fantastic season winning the WCHA scoring title, being named a First Team all-star for the third straight season and capped it off as the league’s Player of the Year.  A two-time All American, Connolly is second in the nation in points and assists accumulating 20 goals and 40 assists for 60 points in 41 games.  Duluth was the second highest scoring team in the nation this past season and Connolly never missed a college game, having played in 164 straight.  He was held pointless in consecutive games only twice in his illustrious four-year career.  The hometown hero is active in community endeavors helping with trash clean-up in the Adopt-A-Highway program, visiting Duluth hospitals, volunteering with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and working with various cancer fund-raisers.  He’s a Communications major with a 3.3 GPA.  He is a pro hockey free agent.  Hockey runs deep in the Connolly family as Jack’s older brother Chris, was the captain and second leading scorer for Boston University this past season.

Austin Smith – Colgate University, Senior, Forward, Dallas, Texas
Austin Smith completes the trifecta of Hobey scoring whizzes as the nation’s top sniper with 36 goals to go along with 21 assists for 57 total points, third best in the country.  Dangerous at all times, Smith leads the nation in short-handed goals with six and scored seven power play goals as well.  Winning the ECAC scoring title this past season, Smith was named the conference Player of the Year and a First Team all-star. Along the way, Smith scored 30 goals this season faster than any college player in the last 12 years and is currently third in the nation with a plus-25.  A Sociology and Anthropology major, Smith helps out with the Hamilton, NY Food Cupboard, assists with food and toy drives during the season and is involved with the local Goals for Good program.  He is a fifth round draft pick of the Dallas Stars.

The ceremony will take place a few miles from the Tampa Times Forum, the site of the 2012 Men's Frozen Four. This is the first time since 2006 that we will have a winner that did not play in the Frozen Four, and it's the first time since the Hat Trick format was put in place in 2002 that none of the three finalists played on teams that qualified for the Frozen Four.

Abbott signed a pro deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday, while Smith has signed on with the Dallas Stars, the organization that owned his draft rights. Connolly is unsigned.

Random Rabble: March 29

The Montreal Canadiens did the expected Thursday morning, firing general manager Pierre Gauthier. This has been a disastrous season for the Canadiens, who are last in the Eastern Conference and have already made waves by firing an assistant coach a couple hours before a game, firing the head coach on a game day, and hiring a non-French speaking coach to finish the season. Gauthier's reign being as bad as it was means most fans will probably look at this news as a positive.

But even that's relative. No one who roots for this team is truly happy, because the fact Gauthier had to go only means the franchise is in worse shape than when he took over, and that's just not acceptable.

No idea what direction Montreal will go for a new coach (no way Randy Cunneyworth stays) and GM. My guess is both will have French-speaking abilities.

Baseball is upon us, and the Brewers will again give the ball to Yovani Gallardo for Opening Day. It's not surprising, as this will be Gallardo's third straight season-opening start for the Crew. What might make it a mild surprise is the fact that Gallardo's career numbers against the Brewers' opponent next Friday -- defending World Series champion St. Louis -- are poor (11 starts, 1-7, 5.66).

The Cardinals' offense shouldn't be as menacing without Albert Pujols, but I really liked the Carlos Beltran signing. He can't hit 35 home runs or anything like that, but he has a good bat and can play center field as good as anyone around.

I'm pretty pumped for Opening Day, as usual. The Brewers won the division last year, and while the offseason wasn't exactly outstanding -- the team lost Prince Fielder, had the Braun drug controversy, and overpaid for Aramis Ramirez -- it looks like the Brewers should stay at or near the top of the Central this year.

Twins fans have reason for optimism, too, as Justin Morneau is mashing at spring training. After a 3-for-33 start to the spring, Morneau has been hot for a week or so. He's 8-for-17 with nine RBI over the last five games. Oh, and Joe is hitting .340. The Twins soooooo desperately need those bats back to snuff. The Twins don't figure to have great pitching this year, though good seasons from Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano might change that a bit.

It's hard to trust this rotation. We've danced this dance with Liriano numerous times. Pavano will never be more than he is now. Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn are solid pitchers, but can they stay healthy and consistent enough?

When next Friday rolls around, and the baseball games count again, it'll be interesting to see how long the Twins and Brewers can stay relevant.

JT Brown Signs With Tampa Bay

You've probably heard, but congratulations to UMD sophomore forward JT Brown, who inked a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday.

Here is the official announcement from the club.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed forward J.T. Brown to a two-year contract that runs through the 2012-13 season, Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman announced today.

“We are pleased to announce JT’s signing with the Lightning this evening,” said Yzerman. “He has all the top characteristics we look for in a player, including high skill and compete levels. We’re glad he chose to play for the Lightning and we look forward to getting him in the lineup as quickly as possible.”

Brown, 21, played in 39 games with the University of Minnesota-Duluth this season, recording 24 goals and 47 points to go along with 59 penalty minutes. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound forward ranked first on Minnesota-Duluth in goals and third in points. Brown ranked tied for sixth in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) in points. The sophomore was also named to the All-WCHA First Team this season.

“I am excited about this opportunity to come to Tampa Bay and play for the Lightning,” said Brown. “I see the organization as a great fit for me and although I had a tough decision to make, I definitely feel it was the right one. I can’t wait to get started.”

The Burnsville, Minnesota native has skated in 81 career games with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs over the past two seasons, collecting 40 goals and 84 points to go along with 109 penalty minutes. Last season, Brown was a member of the Bulldogs team that captured the 2011 Frozen Four Championship, being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

Brown looks to join the Lightning later this week and he most likely will see action for the team this season. 

Sounds like Saturday's game against Winnipeg at Tampa Times Forum is the target for Brown's NHL debut.

A player of Brown's caliber doesn't come around very often, especially undrafted. He has game-breaking speed, tenacity, edge, and serious goal-scoring ability. Are there holes in his game? Sure. No one is perfect, and Brown has yet to truly harness all of his talents on a consistent basis.

But when a player who has this kind of talent is a free agent, it's hard to argue that he's making a mistake when he leaves school. This isn't a case of a player having one good season and striking while the proverbial iron is hot. Brown flew under the radar until the NCAA Frozen Four last year, and probably could have left after being named Most Outstanding Player of that tournament. Instead, he stayed, got better as a player, and helped UMD to the NCAA Tournament again this season.

Someone who has Brown's speed and skill set was bound to be coveted by teams at the next level. The only question about his transition to the NHL, in my view, will be his ability to keep an edge to his game while gaining better control of his emotions. I think he did a better job this year than last in terms of avoiding unnecessary penalties, but he still took a few (he actually had more penalty minutes as a sophomore than as a freshman). There is a fine line where making adjustments to one's truculence level negatively affects the overall package. The Lightning need to find a way to keep Brown from taking unnecessary penalties without taking all the emotion out of his game.

The reason for this is simple. JT Brown doesn't help the Tampa Bay Lightning one iota if he's sitting in the penalty box.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Game 41: UMD vs. Boston College (NCAA Northeast Regional Championship)

WORCESTER, Mass. -- Hoping for better technology around me for this game. Fingers crossed.



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

Bergman - Lamb
Casto - Smith
Olson - McManus

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron)

Almeida - Arnold - Whitney
Kreider - Hayes - Straight
Gaudreau - Mullane - Carey
Smith - Sit - Lindell

Cross - Shea
Dumoulin - Wey
MacLeod - Alber

Milner - Billett - Venti

Sunday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Survives, Advances, Must Start Better

WORCESTER, Mass. -- For the ninth time this year, UMD allowed the first goal in a game and won anyway.

In this case, the timing was pretty good.

After falling behind 2-0, UMD used a huge power play goal and a funky bounce to gain momentum, and then never looked back, beating Maine 5-2 in the Northeast Regional semifinals Saturday night.

Maine took a 2-0 lead on a very strange play that I'll explain in just a little bit, and watching the ESPNU replay of the game Saturday night/Sunday morning, it looks as if UMD was able to regroup while the officials tried to sort out what the hell happened on that particular play. The Bulldogs came out with some jump immediately after play resumed, eventually getting a power play chance 2:44 later on when JT Brown was chopped to the ice while he skated across the slot.

Less than a minute into the power play, Jack Connolly scored on a wrist shot to get UMD on the board, and the comeback was on.

"They got on the power play and they buried," Maine defenseman Will O'Neill said. "They got some momentum to make it 2-1. Then it was a one-goal game, and there was no quit in our guys too. We still thought we had control of the game because we were playing well."

Every shift after Maine's second goal, it seemed UMD got better. It was not totally out of nowhere, but it also was in a way, because turning points are rarely obvious when you're viewing the game live. You often have to think back for them.

"But the guys have shown that kind of resiliency all year," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. "The latter part of the year here where we’ve dug ourselves a hole and come back in games is when we’ve been able to come back and get the lead."

Later in the second period, UMD began to forecheck much more effectively. The reward came on one of the more bizarre goals anyone will ever see. Caleb Herbert stole a puck near the Maine blue line and skated in all alone. His shot missed the net, bounced high off the glass behind the goal, and caromed back over the top of the net. The puck then hit Maine goalie Dan Sullivan in the back of the right leg (in the calf, it appeared) and went over the goal line before anyone knew what happened.

"I thought I had the goalie beat on the right side there and ended up missing the net," Herbert said, "but we’ve been working on it in practice you know where you bank it off the wall and it comes back over. I had that going for me and it ended up going in."

(Reporters love when people make jokes in press conferences, by the way. They ate that one up.)

(Great tweet from UMD freshman Adam Krause, by the way, who referred to Herbert's shot as a "bank off the nacho stand.")

From there, it was alllllll UMD.

"I thought we pressured the puck a little bit better in the second period and even the third," Sandelin said. "But we didn’t get caught as much on the wrong side of the puck and we had numbers back, so I thought our guys played a real smart period, which helped them not get a whole lot going."

"They were playing solid defensively," said Maine star Spencer Abbott, who returned from a concussion and scored a power-play goal, but was almost a complete non-factor five-on-five. "Our line had trouble getting the puck in their end. My hats off to them. They just did a great job defensively. They were all over us, especially on the power play."

UMD got the winner from Jake Hendrickson in the second, a rebound off a Brady Lamb steal and shot. The Bulldogs smothered Maine in the third. JT Brown and Hendrickson added goals, UMD held Maine to three shots on goal, and the Bulldogs had the win.

Now comes another huge challenge in the No. 1 overall seed, Boston College.

"The good thing, while we were watching Maine they were playing BC so that helped a little bit," Sandelin said. "But . . . I thought the game we watched in the Hockey East final they were good. They’ve got great depth, they’ve got some big players, some big skilled players, and I thought they smother you. They really play the game up and down the rink."

Maine coach Tim Whitehead expects a super game Sunday night.

"Yeah it will be a great game. I mean we were really hoping to get an opportunity to play BC again. They’re such a great team you know we have so much respect for them coming out of our conference. And so I think it will be a great hockey game. You’ve got two strong teams that have a lot of confidence and have earned that confidence and I just think that it will be a great hockey game."

Hopefully, there's a little bit more flow than the games Saturday had. I expect Boston College to be able to use a bit more of its speed and skill than Air Force allowed it to. That should make for a fantastic contest, with a Frozen Four bid on the line.


I keep getting questions about it, and since I'm here to help, here is the (final?) explanation on why Maine's second goal -- scored by Mark Mangene -- was indeed allowed to stand, and why it should have been.

Here's what happened: UMD forward Caleb Herbert lost an edge and crashed into the Maine goal while trying to forecheck. Play was allowed to continue as the Black Bears rushed up the rink. UMD stopped playing, almost unanimously. Mangene took a feed from Mike Cornell, skated in, and beat Reiter with a backhand shot.

It took me a while to find the right rule, but the NCAA did later issue a statement on the play, citing the rule I told everyone about on the radio:

6-10-c. A player, including the goalkeeper, shall not delay the game by deliberately displacing a goal post from its normal position. The referee shall stop play when a goal post has been displaced.

Note: If the non-offending team has an offensive opportunity and its defensive goal cage has been displaced, play shall be allowed to continue until the scoring chance is complete.

Simply put, UMD has to keep playing. No excuse for stopping the way the Bulldogs did there.

"It's a good lesson for your team," Sandelin said. "That's a good reason why you never quit playing on anything.

"I think it might have been different had it not happened earlier in the game, and they blew it."

Sandelin was referring to a play in the opening minute of the second period, where Brian Flynn of Maine ran into the UMD net while trying to go around on a forecheck. UMD was denied a scoring chance opportunity to dump the puck down the rink while short-handed. A different play, but certainly you can understand a bit why there might have been confusion on the UMD side.

It still was irritating to see so many guys in white just give up on the play. Yes, they are assuming a whistle, but in reality, it's no different than when you see a puck graze the netting above the glass on the ends. Sometimes, the officials miss it, even if the players see it. I've seen instances where teams have stopped playing because the players saw the puck hit the net, and since there was no whistle, those players paid a price. That's why everyone bangs into your head as a player to go until you hear a whistle.

You assume nothing.

Tough play to have go against you, but it was nice to see UMD rally from it in the end.


Two first-time entrants punched their tickets to the NCAA Frozen Four Saturday. In the East Regional, Union topped UMass-Lowell 4-2, and the Dutchmen found out later Saturday they will play another first-time Frozen Four entrant, Ferris State. The Bulldogs beat Cornell 2-1 for the Midwest Regional title in Green Bay.

The Frozen Four is April 5 and 7 in Tampa. Presumably, Union and Ferris State will be the early semifinal, to be followed by the winners of Sunday's regional finals. The UMD-Boston College winner will play the West Regional champion, which will be either North Dakota or Minnesota.

In those games Saturday, North Dakota held off Western Michigan 3-1. The Team That Shall Not Be Named took a 2-0 lead early in the second, then held off a furious WMU rally. Brock Nelson had two points for North Dakota. Minnesota advanced with a 7-3 whipping of Boston University. The game was tied 2-2 in the second period before Seth Helgeson scored from the high slot to give Minnesota the lead for good.

The announced attendance for Saturday's games in St. Paul was under 10,000, a possibly-shocking fact if you haven't been a regular follower of mine. I've said for months those tickets (close to $100 for the two-day package, which was all you could buy until late this past week) were severely overpriced, especially considering the WCHA Final Five, which also inexplicably did not sell out a single game, also has overpriced tickets.

I know the host committee has to recoup costs to conduct this event in that building, but everyone -- student athletes, fellow fans, broadcasters, and the surrounding area -- would have benefited from a bit more reasonable ticket prices. More people equals more atmosphere, and it's not like you don't have a vibrant group of hockey fans in the area. They were interested, but they were priced out of the event.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Game 40: UMD vs. Maine (NCAA Northeast Regional Semifinal)

WORCESTER, Mass. -- You're going to have to bear with us if you're looking for online updates without listening to the broadcast. I'll update at as much as I can, but the wireless in this building is pretty awful. It will be hard to use TweetDeck as I usually do.



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

Bergman - Lamb
Casto - Smith
Olson - McManus

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron)

Abbott - Flynn - Diamond
Anthoine - Higgins - Mangene
Andersson - Leidermark - Swavely
Shemansky - Beattie - Parker

O'Neill - Cornell
Hegarty - Nemec
Pryor - O'Connor

Sullivan - Ouellette - Seeley

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Now, You See Why I Give Everyone A Shot

WORCESTER, Mass. -- I get crap every year, it seems, for not wanting to make any predictions on the NCAA Tournament.

Now you see why.

16 teams make this tournament. Any damn one of them could hoist the trophy in Tampa, and they all have a shot until someone eliminates them.

It sounds like cliche-ish coach speak, and it might be, but it's also absolutely, positively true. 100 percent true.

Proven again Friday, when two lower-seeded teams -- including one that blew a 3-0 lead and took a five-minute major penalty that spilled into overtime -- won games on a scintillating night of action to open the tournament.

Seeds don't matter. "Skill level" doesn't matter.

I went on a Twitter rant earlier this week, talking about how this is NOT the best way to decide the best team in college hockey. In reality, this isn't even a way to decide something like that.

That doesn't mean it's not a great tournament.

Reality is that tournaments don't decide the best team, because the best team rarely wins, especially when it's "win or go home." Other sports try, by conducting best-of-five or best-of-seven series, but even those samples are often too small to do anything but muddy the water.

Over the course of the college hockey regular season, there's no question -- no doubt whatsoever -- that Michigan was a better team than Cornell. More wins. Better power ratings. Better strength of schedule. Head to head, no one would have argued when comparing the two teams.

Of course, none of that matters now, because Cornell beat Michigan 3-2 in overtime in Green Bay Friday night. It's Cornell that moves on, and Michigan -- a team many expected to get back to Tampa and take another shot at its tenth national title -- is left to pick up the pieces.

You just want to give the big trophy to the best team over the course of an entire season? Talk to European soccer leagues. As an example, the Barclays Premier League -- regarded as the best of its kind in the world -- has 20 teams. Over the course of a 38-game campaign, each team plays everyone else in the league twice, once home and once away. Three points for a win, one for a draw, and at the end, the team with the most points is the champion.

It's fair. Complete round robin. No unbalanced schedule.

And if you want to just figure out the best team, it's about the only way.

Tournaments are about generating drama (well, revenue, too). They're about generating excitement. And they're about the fact that your particular group of teams is too big to have a fully balanced schedule, where you just give the title to the top record.

This is what's so wrong about college football, which tries to have it both ways. By not instituting a full-on playoff, one of the big talking points from the BCS hacks is that the regular season -- where the top teams rarely play head-to-head -- matters. But how can you say the regular season matters when the national championship game pitted two teams that had already played each other, and the team that lost the regular-season meeting at home ended up dominating in the "playoff" game?

In college hockey and other sports with a playoff system, the regular season matters. But for most of the 16 teams in the NCAA Tournament, the regular season was nothing but preparation for the NCAAs. You can try to get hot at the right time, and you can try to play your "best hockey" heading into the tournament, but games like Friday in Green Bay blow those theories out of the water.

Cornell was not hot, and Cornell was not playing its best entering the tournament. What mattered most was just getting into the tournament. Same for Ferris State, which beat Denver 2-1 in Green Bay Friday. The Bulldogs hadn't played for two weeks, because as the top seed in the CCHA tournament, they lost at home to Bowling Green in a best-of-three quarterfinal series. Denver, meanwhile, played very well at the WCHA Final Five last weekend, beating Michigan Tech and UMD in overtime (UMD in two overtimes, actually) before falling to North Dakota in the title game.

UMass-Lowell was similar, as the RiverHawks lost to Providence in three games in the Hockey East quarterfinals, took a weekend off, and ended up beating Miami in overtime in the East Regional Friday.

Every time you have a theory about how this all works, something happens to destroy it.

Makes me think more and more about what UMD coach Scott Sandelin said Friday. In talking about tournament experience, he mentioned that one of the things he's learned is to let his players enjoy these moments. It's hard to argue with that notion, because no matter how well you think you've prepared your team for it, there's just no guarantee that the moment will last.


Just another NCAA Tournament lid-lifter, eh? In the East, we're guaranteed to have a team in the Frozen Four for the first time ever, as UMass-Lowell will play Union for a spot in Tampa. Union's 3-1 win over Michigan State was the school's first NCAA Tournament win ever. Those teams meet Saturday at 5:30pm.

The other regional final Saturday pits Cornell against Ferris State in the Midwest. The ECAC hasn't placed two teams in the Frozen Four since 1996. Cornell in 2003 was the last to make it. The CCHA, meanwhile, started with five teams and is down to two (Ferris State and Western Michigan).

The Northeast Regional and West Regional semifinals are Saturday, with title games set for Sunday.


The usual keys apply for UMD and Maine on Saturday. The Bulldogs need to avoid the little mistakes that can turn into big problems. Against Denver, those mistakes ended up in the back of UMD's net. A bad dump-in turned into DU's first goal. A blue-line turnover led to a Jason Zucker breakaway goal. The inability to clear the puck from the defensive zone led to the double-overtime winner.

UMD played great outside of those mistakes, and it needs to continue that thread against Maine. Get pucks to the net. Get bodies to the net. Pressure the Black Bears defense and get in goalie Dan Sullivan's kitchen.

At the other end, protect the goalie. Play a simple game with chips out of the zone if there is nothing else available. Don't get bottled up because of silly turnovers or poor puck support.

Even doing all the right things guarantees you nothing, but at least there are no regrets for UMD if it plays its best game and is still beaten.


Our coverage from DCU Center in Worcester starts at 6pm, with faceoff at 6:30pm. IF Boston College and Air Force play overtime in the opening game, it's unlikely that the UMD game will start on time. There must be 50 minutes between games, so as long as that first game ends by 5:40, UMD will start as scheduled.

You can hear the game on 94X -- 94.1 FM in town, and 104.3 FM everywhere else -- and along the Bulldog Sports Radio Network, which includes KQ 105.5 (Grand Rapids area) and KQ 106.7 (Babbitt/Ely). On the internet, we have two streams of the game. One at The other stream can be accessed here. If you can get that stream from wherever you are, we ask that you do so. The stream is capped at 200 listeners, so the more people that listen to the other stream -- which has an unlimited audience -- the better. That will allow people who are on the go to use the Red Rock Radio app to listen to the game.

Friday, March 23, 2012

NCAA Northeast Regional: Spencer Abbott a Game Time Decision

WORCESTER, Mass. -- As soon as I heard what happened to Maine senior forward Spencer Abbott -- a Hobey Baker finalist -- I knew this was going to be a story throughout the week.

Abbott sustained a head injury during the Black Bears' 5-3 win over Boston University in last week's Hockey East semifinals in Boston. He has not practiced much this week, but did skate without taking contact during Friday's workout at DCU Center.

Whitehead confirmed the terminology "game-time decision" to me Friday, not that it was really a surprise to anyone.

"Unfortunately, we have got to be patient," Maine head coach Tim Whitehead said Friday. "These are the kind of injuries that you don't mess around with.

"This isn't something that you say 'Hey, he's gonna give it a try,' or see how it feels. He's either cleared or he's not."

Pressed at Friday's press conference for details on the process Abbott must work through to be allowed on the ice Saturday, Whitehead made it abundantly clear that clearance could come in time for Abbott to play, even if it might seem somewhat unlikely.

In a conversation I had with him after the press conference, Whitehead joked that it seems you almost "need a presidential pardon to get cleared from a head injury," but he is fully understanding of the protocol that his star player must pass.

While it isn't clear if Abbott will play on Saturday, Whitehead is confident that his team will be okay if it doesn't work out in the Black Bears' favor.

"It’s been a week now," Whitehead said, "and I thought we handled the situation well against BU. We were able to bounce right back after three minutes and get the game-winning goal. . . I think the BU game was almost a microcosm of our season with our team.

"We’ve handled adversity within the game and off the ice with anything that’s thrown at us, and the boys have handled it very well. So I think we’re prepared and now we’ve had a week to adjust to it as well. So I think if he’s not playing we’ll certainly be ready, and if he is that’s just a bonus."

UMD is reporting no injuries. Expect a similar lineup to what you have seen so far in the playoffs.

NCAA Northeast Regional: Where Experience Could Matter

WORCESTER, Mass. -- I've danced this dance enough to know what the typical refrain is when it comes to the NCAA Tournament and the topic of experience.

Teams that don't have it talk about how it's not that big a deal. Teams that have it talk about how it is absolutely a big deal.

I've always been on the fence. Yeah, it's nice to have NCAA Tournament experience, but it doesn't grow on trees. It isn't something you buy in a hardware store. Total Hockey doesn't have bottles of it on its shelves. You can only get it by, yes, making the NCAA Tournament.

And hearing about how you don't have any experience in the tournament.

It's like a rite of passage. So congratulations, Maine, because you've made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007, allowing idiots like me to talk about how none of your players have experience in this event.

Naturally, Maine coach Tim Whitehead had an answer, and it was a good one.

"We’ve had the Frozen Fenway experience," he said Friday, "and I think they handled the distractions and the atmosphere that really reminded me of the regionals and Frozen Fours that I’ve been in. It was a very similar type of feel coming into Boston. All the excitement, four teams at the event, a lot of off-ice, good distractions. Great excitement for the game and for our league and for the state schools and we handled it very well."

Whitehead is no stranger to this event. Saturday will be his 17th NCAA Tournament game as a head coach, so he's been through all the built-in distractions. While there's more media involved in an NCAA regional than any conference event, he brings up a good point with the Frozen Fenway bit.

"When the puck was dropped they were able to keep their focus within the glass and the boards and we got to have a great victory over our arch rivals UNH in overtime – couldn’t have scripted it any better.

"So they had that experience, it was successful, and then last weekend again the experience at TD Garden is very similar to what you would get at a regional. The crowds were probably bigger there than we would even expect here, and again they handled that well so I think we’ll be fine with that."

That said, the NCAA Tournament is different than a league tournament or an outdoor hockey game. There's more pressure than in an outdoor game -- that's just a regular season game, with nothing more than maybe two points (if it's a league game) on the line -- and there's more media and outside stuff than in a conference tournament.

It's part of why UMD is confident heading into Saturday's regional semifinal.

"Coming down to this time of year, one game can keep your season going in a hurry," senior defenseman Brady Lamb said Friday. "Making sure you take care of every chance you get on the ice, whether it’s five shifts a game or 25 shifts a game, you have to make sure you’re ready to go at all times and take nothing for granted."

Senior captain, leading scorer, and Hobey Baker finalist Jack Connolly agrees.

"The experience helps a lot," he says. "We (have) some younger guys on the team this year that have never had a taste of the NCAAs, and how big of a stage it is and how difficult it is to get here. Having a good upperclass that has been through this the last few years definitely helps."

Head coach Scott Sandelin agrees to an extent, saying that teams that have been through the tournament grind still feel the excitement to get there, but it's not quite the same thing as it is for a newbie.

"When you have a team that doesn’t have that experience," the 12th-year coach -- a veteran of three previous NCAA trips as UMD's bench boss, said, "you can still have that excitement but you tend to be pretty wide-eyed and get caught up in it."

Sandelin himself has learned a few things along the way. One of them is the importance of letting his players enjoy the moment they're in.

"We can get so caught in not letting them enjoy it," he said. "I think that's one of the things I've learned from '04 to last year. We're gonna go out and play hard, and whatever happens happens.

"Obviously, the ultimate goal is to play into April. But right now I want them to enjoy tomorrow, and if we have another one on Sunday, we'll enjoy that."

None of this means that UMD's past experience will matter in the game Saturday. If the Bulldogs don't start better than they did in last week's Final Five game against Denver, it won't matter how much more experience they have on this stage than Maine does.

No one knows this better than Sandelin, and you can bet his players are well aware of it, too.

NCAA Northeast Regional Notes and Quotes: UMD vs Maine

WORCESTER, Mass. -- The practice sessions have wrapped up at DCU Center, as have the press conferences for each team involved in Saturday's Northeast Regional games, which begin at 4pm Eastern time.

UMD battles Maine at 7:30 Eastern in the second game. Here are some thoughts, starting with Maine.

Maine coach Tim Whitehead on the health of senior and Hobey Baker finalist Spencer Abbott:

"We just have to wait and see if he can get cleared by the doctor. . . Several people have asked me if he’s going to give it a go, but you don’t give it a go with a head injury. It’s whether or not he has been cleared yet, and he has not been cleared yet. We just have to take it day-by-day. It’s been a week now, and I thought we handled the situation well against BU. We were able to bounce right back after three minutes and get the game-winning goal. . . I think the BU game was almost a microcosm of our season with our team. We’ve handled adversity within the game and off the ice with anything that’s thrown at us, and the boys have handled it very well. So I think we’re prepared and now we’ve had a week to adjust to it as well. So I think if he’s not playing we’ll certainly be ready, and if he is that’s just a bonus."

Whitehead on his team's return to the NCAA Tournament:

"It feels great. It’s not about me as a coach or even our staff. We’re part of it of course. We have to try to guide them and I feel we’ve done a good job of that. But in the end it comes from them, and we just are continuing to encourage them to make sure they take ownership of the team and responsibility and do everything they can do. This particular year we’ve focused very much on staying healthy and we’ve altered our training. We’ve done everything we can possibly do to avoid serious injury. For the most part it’s been as good as it’s been. The last couple years were extremes, but that was important for us and we’ve worked hard to improve our goaltending and that was just time. Last year we had two freshmen and a sophomore and they just needed time to develop. They’ve done a great job, and we just focused on blocking out all the people that call themselves faithful and all that chatter, and just focus on us, focus on the locker room. We believe in each other. Coaches believe in the players, players in the coaches, players in each other and that’s all we can do – focus on that. And the guys have been great. I’m just real happy for them because that’s all they care about – what’s going on with our team, and they did it themselves. Now this is a great opportunity for us, and let’s make the most of it. We’re not just here to enjoy the ride, we’re here to win some hockey games. So we have an opportunity tomorrow to prove that we can play with these teams."

Senior forward Brian Flynn on getting back to the NCAA Tournament (Maine's first since 2007):

"It’s exciting. This is definitely something that we wanted to do before graduating here. And to get it in our senior year, and to be put in the bracket with BC who we just lost to in the (Hockey East) championship, and the (reigning) national champions, they’re a great team. We know we have our hands full and it’s a challenge we’re excited for."

Whitehead on his seniors:

"It’s a great feeling for them. We’re very proud of them. Obviously they’ve persevered through some very tough challenges, last season in particular. We felt we had a team that could get to the tournament the last two years and they never quit. And we’ve been on the doorstep for two years in a row and this is the third year that we’ve been on the bubble, so I’m really happy for them mostly that they’ve found a way to fight through all of that stuff and get to the tournament and have this opportunity. We’re very proud of them."

UMD coach Scott Sandelin on how he prepares his team for this game:

"We tend to try to focus on our team and what we need to do. For us, we have a lot of respect for their program and their team and how hard they're going to work. Getting off to a good start is really critical for us. Obviously, last Friday that didn't happen, and we dug a hole. Playing catchup hockey this time of year is kind of death."

UMD senior captain and Hobey Baker finalist Jack Connolly on what older brother Chris, the captain of Boston University, told him about Maine, a Hockey East rival:

"I picked his brain a little bit about the team. Obviously he’s played them quite a bit. He said they have a lot of speed, but I think we can get after their defense and capitalize on their weaknesses. They’ve been playing pretty good as of late and that’s an aspect of the team you can get after as well. I think we have a lot of speed on our team and will be able to work their team down low and will have to try and get some goals around the crease."

UMD senior defenseman Brady Lamb on his team's success on the road:

"The biggest thing we try and do is make sure our home is a tough place to play. We also like to put pressure on the other teams when we go to their place. Being on the road gives our team more chances to come together and unite a little tighter. We have a lot of fun on the road and I think that transfers to our team chemistry, and we have a lot of guys working for each other out there."

UMD senior center Travis Oleksuk on the season thus far:

"It’s been a long year, (we’ve) played a lot of games out, had a lot of ups and downs like any team has. Right now we’re feeling good about how we’re playing and real excited to get things started on Saturday and looking forward to try and have some success out here."

Sandelin on Connolly:

"Everyone thought he was too small, kind of that stigma I think we’ve heard with a lot of different college players. I think he’s fought that all the way. He’s a good athlete, a good hockey player. It was an easy decision for us. I’ll be honest with you, when we recruited him my biggest fear was that we had to tell him he was going to play two years of junior hockey, and I didn’t think we were going to get him. It took about five minutes for the commitment, and we got him in after one year at Sioux Falls and not two. He went to juniors under the understanding he was going to play two years – and that was my biggest fear, he’d say no, I want to come after one year, and we’re fortunate we got him. As good a hockey player (as) he is, he is a better person. He’s been a great ambassador for our program and our community."

NCAA Northeast Regional Notes and Quotes: Boston College vs. Air Force

WORCESTER, Mass. -- Greetings from the underbelly of the DCU Center in Worcester. I like the media working area in the basement, and the rink is wonderfully accessible.

The press box doesn't exist. It's a table set over some chairs, with chairs behind it. If this were a WCHA building, it would be the 12th- or 13th-best press box in the league, possibly ahead of Alaska Anchorage.

Doesn't say much about NCAA standards.

Later on, I'll send along some quotes from Maine head coach Tim Whitehead and seniors Brian Flynn and Will O'Neill, along with anything of interest that comes out of UMD's press conference.

For now, here are some nuggets from the earlier press conferences, involving the combatants in Saturday's early game, Boston College and Air Force.

Air Force coach Frank Serratore on the team's underdog status:

"First of all, even though we play in Atlantic Hockey we are the road team. . . Secondly, we are the underdog. I called my brother Tom in Bemidji last night and was chatting with him. And his kids had done the brackets in school – that’s part of the curriculum in Bemidji, Minn., to do the NCAA brackets. My three nephews and nieces filled out their brackets and none of them picked Air Force. I can’t even get my nephews and nieces to pick Air Force in a for fun bracket, so we are the road team and we are the underdog but we are sure happy to be here. We’ve earned our way here for the fifth time in six years, having to win our conference tournament. . . We’ve been here before, we’ve played the top seeds before, we’re looking forward to the game."

Air Force senior defenseman and Hobey Baker finalist Tim Kirby on Boston College:

"From what I’ve seen, and from video, they are a quick team. I mean, they’ve got nine NHL draft picks and I’m sure a bunch of (others) could go play pro after (college) too. We just have to minimize our turnovers and play our game, because they are going to be able to capitalize on mistakes that we make. We just have to play our game, play hard."
Kirby on the matchup:

"I think we can play our game. We’ve been here, maybe the past couple years a few of us were new to it, but this year basically our whole team has been to the NCAA Tournament, and fought the number one seed into overtime, and lost on a goal that maybe we could have had back, but I definitely think we can. We just have to play mistake free."

Serratore on the caliber of teams in this tournament:

"Hey they’re all good. If you don’t want to play the top seed, don’t be the 16th seed, or the 15th or the 14th. You know we play tough opponents. They’re all tough in their own way. All these teams are a little bit. I think I compare Boston College to that Michigan team we played because they’ve got that great speed and they want to impose their will on you in every facet of the game. Even watching their penalty kill, I mean, our penalty killers are instructed if they get possession of the puck in the defensive zone, you ice it 200 feet and get off the ice and we get fresh troops on the ice. They get it and they attack. I guess that’s how you score 11 shorthanded goals. Maybe that’s why we’ve only scored two but it just goes to show you how much confidence and swagger that they have. They’ll attack you even when they’re a man down. That Michigan team had that same element about them."

Serratore on Kirby:

"Tim is kind of, for our program, like our supermodel. I mean he’s got that ability. We don’t get many players that have the talent the skill to lift you out of your seat. At Air Force right now, whenever he touches the puck, our fans have gotten so used to his electric rushes. You know he attacks, his jersey is flapping. And he can break people down one on one. He’s got that ability to lift people out of their seats. Our fans at Air Force, when he grabs the puck in the D-zone they literally start cheering because they anticipate something exciting is going to happen."

Boston College coach Jerry York on Air Force:

"I like their club. I’ve watched them on tape and we watched them in the Ice Breaker earlier, and I think they lost two one-goal games to … North Dakota (and) Michigan (State) . . . very traditional, powerful teams. You think of a service academy, and they’ve almost done what Navy’s done with football with their program. They’re competing on a national level with some outstanding young people. Our admiration goes to the service academy because of what their commitment is. They are committed to an underdog role when they play Miami or Michigan or, last year, Yale. And certainly this year and we know that they’re going to push us to our limits tomorrow. Every year’s different. . . You don’t come into these national tournaments thinking it’s going to be easy – it’s difficult to win them. It’s difficult to get out of your regional and you understand that that’s sports. There’s no guarantees who advances here, and we’ve seen it. We’ve had teams go all the way and win trophies. We’ve also during that stretch won an awful lot of close games. We’ve been beaten by teams on those particular nights are better than us. . . We’re all aware of how hard it is to win, and this region is a very difficult region."

York on Kirby:

"He’s a legitimate All-America candidate. He’s been a backbone of their team for four years – big strong player, logs an awful lot of minutes. We’ve watched tape of him this week, and he’s probably up around 25 minutes a game, and he’s one of their keys to their attack and to the defense."
Boston College senior defenseman Tommy Cross on last year's 8-4 loss to Colorado College in the NCAA Tournament:

"We put that behind us a long time ago. Besides . . . getting asked questions about it, we don’t think about it too much. We’re focused on Air Force. We’re a different team this year and . . . it’s been different. This year has been unique from my other three years here. . . We have a pretty focused team as far as win or lose. Move on and focus on the next one.  It’s definitely no different this time. We’re pretty pumped for tomorrow."

Cross on the Boston College program's success:

"The first thing that comes to my mind is just the coaching that we have. That comes from coach York, obviously. But the kids that are in the program, there’s a big trickle-down effect. . . Ben Smith and Matt Lombardi, they learned from guys above them, and we learned from those guys. I think (there are) a lot of constants from year to year, and at the same time each group is different."
York on defenseman and Hobey finalist Brian Dumoulin:

"He was a very good player when he enrolled at our school, and to his credit he’s worked really hard in the weight room. He’s stronger now, each year he gets better at every aspect of his game. So I’ve seen improvement in his puck handling ability, his skating of course, his strength – which is the biggest factor – and I think he’s become more of a team leader. He’s more vocal now than he was when he first came, and he’s a real central part of our team core."

NCAA Tournament Underway

WORCESTER, Mass. -- Greetings from downtown Worcester, which bears a resemblance to downtown Bridgeport. Very industrial, and not a whole lot going on around our hotel.

UMD arrived via charter flight at around 9 Eastern time Thursday evening. The Bulldogs arrived at the hotel a little after 10, once they dropped their gear off at the DCU Center.

All four teams in the Northeast Regional practice on Friday, starting with Air Force and Boston College, then Maine and UMD. Teams will participate in press conferences after their practices.

I'll be at the rink for most of Maine's practice, and will attend both Maine and UMD's press conferences. I'll post notes and quotes from the day later on.

Also, since I'm apparently into shameless self-promotion, I'll be on Beyond The Pond Saturday at 10:35am. Listen on KFAN in the Cities, The Fan 1490 in the Twin Ports, or and iHeartRadio. I'm presuming that the basis for my appearance will be to talk about UMD.

A few nuggets to chew on, mostly courtesy of the NCAA media guide and weekly note packets filed by the participating leagues and teams.
  • Maine is making its first NCAA men's hockey tournament appearance since 2007, but the Black Bears have had at least one team or individual from its athletic program take part in an NCAA Tournament every year since 1986. Amazing run for a school probably not regarded as a sports powerhouse.
  • Maine won men's hockey national championships in 1993 and 1999, and played for titles in 2002 (lost in overtime to Minnesota) and 2004 (lost 1-0 to Denver). This program is not a stranger to the NCAA Tournament, though it's been a while since its last appearance.
  • The Black Bears are 7-1 all-time in NCAA games in Worcester. Boston College is 8-1, and its last three national championships have started with regionals in Worcester.
  • Maine coach Tim Whitehead is 10-6 (.625) in NCAA Tournament games. UMD's Scott Sandelin is 7-2 (.778).
Two regionals are underway Friday. In the East Regional in Bridgeport, Union faces Michigan State, and UMass-Lowell takes on Miami. Winners play Saturday in the regional final. The Midwest Regional in Green Bay kicks off with Michigan playing Cornell, and Denver battling Ferris State.

All the games in the tournament can be seen online at

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

UMD Game Will Air on Fox Sports North

For those who haven't heard, UMD's game Saturday in Worcester against Maine will air on Fox Sports North's Plus channel.

Game time is at 6:30pm, and it will air following the conclusion of the Minnesota-Boston University game in the West Regional, which starts at 4pm. The full broadcast will air live on, regardless of when FSN Plus is able to join the game.

You can find out where you can see the game on your TV set here.

UMD doesn't report any injuries or anything like that. Maine star Spencer Abbott -- a Hobey Baker finalist -- is not practicing because of a head injury, and multiple reports indicate that the Black Bears are "preparing as if he won't be available," or something along those lines.

I don't doubt that Abbott is injured, and I certainly hope it's not serious, but I'd bet UMD is preparing as if Abbott will be available. If he's not, Maine still has some hella dangerous players like Brian Flynn and Joey Diamond up front, guys who are certainly capable of making things difficult on a UMD defense that -- in my view -- struggled a bit at times against Denver on Friday.

I'll be on Maine Sports Network at around 10:40 Wednesday morning (Central time) to talk about the game. You can stream it here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Random Rabble: March 19

Where Bruce rambles about topics that interest him but have nothing to do with college hockey.

Haven't done anything like this in a while, so here goes.

The NCAA Tournament is remarkably low on Cinderellas this year. Yeah, there are some double-digit seeds still alive for the round of 16, but it's hard to look at North Carolina State as a Cinderella. They do play in the ACC, after all. Ohio is about the only one left.

Well, until the Bobcats get waxed by North Carolina Friday.

Can Wisconsin advance? Bo Ryan is notorious for getting teams to the Sweet 16 but not any further than that. But his Achilles heel has been lower-seeded teams, not higher. It's games against teams like Davidson and Butler that have left fans steaming, not games like the one coming on Thursday against Syracuse. In some ways, people may actually like the Badgers' chances more in that game, largely because Fab Melo won't play for the Orange, and also because Wisconsin will go in as the underdog.

You could argue Wisconsin beat Vanderbilt as an underdog, too. The Commodores became a sexy pick to come out of that region after Melo's suspension was announced. Suddenly, the Badgers' suffocating defense has knocked the 'Dores out of the dance.

14 of the 16 teams left come out of major conferences. There are low seeds left -- like NC State and Florida and Cincinnati, for example. But the tournament is void of the kind of story it's had with the Butlers and VCUs of recent years.

That is, unless Ohio does the improbable against the Heels on Friday.

Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, ESPN's Bob Knight is getting plenty of heat, and justifiably so. Previewing Saturday's NCAA Tournament games for ESPN, Knight was asked to put a team on upset alert. He chose Kentucky, set to play a game against Iowa State, but he refused to say "Kentucky," instead referring to the Wildcats as "the team from the SEC."

Fellow ESPNer Rick Reilly, shockingly, threw out a pretty funny tweet ripping Knight.

It's pretty lame for Knight to go this route. Obviously, there are petty issues with Knight and Kentucky. While those issues might go back to when Knight coached at Indiana, don't forget that Knight had it out with UK coach John Calipari over players attending class.

Knight apologized for those idiotic remarks, but obviously still feels some sort of bitterness toward Calipari. I'm not saying Calipari is clean as a whistle, because I don't know, but it doesn't justify Knight's unprofessional behavior. If he can't talk about Kentucky in an objective manner, he needs to recuse himself from the conversation.

He might feel people would think he's a chicken for doing that, but he'd be the bigger person, something Knight has never been known for in his career.

NFL free agency has been quiet for the Vikings and Packers so far. No one is surprised that the Packers have been in a slumber. Green Bay, under GM Ted Thompson, just hasn't splurged much, if at all. Thompson builds through the draft, and he prefers to spend money on contract extensions for his young talent as warranted. He lets guys walk and makes it look callous and without any real thought attached to it. In reality, these are tough decisions that Thompson has always taken seriously, and I think his success at making good decisions has made some fans lay off the boss.

It seems Minnesota is trying to copy the blueprint Thompson is following. Asked about his team's lack of spending last week, general manager Rick Spielman told KFAN in the Cities that the organization did spend money, noting contract extensions for guys like Adrian Peterson, Chad Greenway, and John Sullivan.

This seems like something Thompson would say, and it's a fair point. Spielman wants to build a quality team through the draft, and use free agency to supplement the guys he's able to find and develop. This keeps the team from overspending on guys like Pierre Garcon, a quality player who got a lot more money than his production to this point warrants.

Did the Vikings overpay Peterson? You could argue they did, and you'd have a point. But teams are almost always better off overpaying their own guys than overpaying for someone else's guys who could easily become questionable fits in their new team's system, not to mention the locker room.

Greenway, on the other hand, was not a smart signing. He's an average linebacker who tackles well, fills against the run well, and can cover people, but he's not explosive, he's not dynamic, and he's not a playmaker. He doesn't make this a better team, and it was a reach of a signing.

The Twins made a move Monday, sending Tsuyoshi Nishioka to the minors. Nishioka wasn't hitting in spring training (.240 average), and he was continuing to make mistakes in the field. I don't know if this ends the experiment completely, but it certainly is a bad sign.

It doesn't necessarily mean that Minnesota is keeping a better player on the major-league roster. Given his injury setback last year, it could be argued that Nishioka doesn't need to be a bench player for the Twins. He needs to play games. I'm not saying that a two-month stint in Rochester is going to make this signing look good. I'm saying that a two-month stint in Rochester could be just what the doctor ordered to make this signing look like something less than the colossal bust it appears to be right now.

For the Twins, it's probably the last chance to make anything out of the money they gave the former Japanese batting champion.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

NCAA Tournament Brackets Out; UMD to Worcester Saturday

Here are the pairings for the 2012 NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championship, which begins with regional play at two sites Friday. UMD has been placed in the Northeast Regional, a Saturday/Sunday regional that includes No. 1 overall seed Boston College.

All times are Central.

EAST REGIONAL (Bridgeport, CT)
No. 1 Union vs. No. 4 Michigan State, 2pm
No. 2 Miami vs. No. 3 UMass-Lowell, 5:30pm
Semifinal winners, 5:30pm

No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 4 Cornell, 8pm
No. 2 Ferris State vs. No. 3 Denver, 4:30pm
Semifinal winners, 8pm

No. 1 Boston College vs. No. 4 Air Force, 3pm
No. 2 UMD vs. No. 3 Maine, 6:30pm
Semifinal winners, 7pm

No. 1 North Dakota vs. No. 4 Western Michigan, 12:30pm
No. 2 Minnesota vs. No. 3 Boston University, 4pm
Semifinal winners, 4:30pm

Friday, March 16, 2012

Game 39: UMD vs. Denver (WCHA Final Five)

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Here we go from the Mecca of Minnesota hockey. The last time UMD played in this building ...

Well, you know.

Time for an afternoon affair with Denver. UMD seeks a bit of redemption after going one-and-done in this tournament last year.



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

Bergman - Lamb
Casto - Smith
Olson - Kishel

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron)

Loney - Shore (Drew) - Salazar
Zucker - Shore (Nick) - Doremus
Dewhurst - Ostrow - Jackson
Jacobson - Tabrum - Mermis

LaLeggia - Lee
Ryder - Didier

Brittain - Murray - Olkinuora

WCHA Final Five Should Have Crazy Friday

Before I make my way down I-35 for the semifinals of the WCHA Final Five, here are a few quick thoughts on what's happened and what is to come.
  • Michigan Tech gave Denver all it could handle, largely thanks to goalie Josh Robinson. You might not see a better goaltending performance all weekend. He was in good position, saw the puck well, and was aggressively challenging all afternoon. That Denver found a way to beat him was not a problem of Robinson's, but instead an issue with the players in front of him, who seemed to run out of gas in a way. I thought Denver owned a good chunk of the third period, and then they scored too early in overtime for either team to really establish dominance.
  • Luke Salazar will be a player to watch Friday afternoon. The Pioneers might not be in the Final Five without him, and his goal late in the third period Thursday extended that game so Jason Zucker could win it in overtime. Coaches like to talk about needing their best players to be their best players, and I'm not disputing that at all. But more often than not, teams get major contributions from guys who are not superstar players (Kyle Schmidt, anyone?).
  • I'm not a huge fan of rooting for the Gophers, but you can bet I'll be doing it if UMD wins the Friday afternoon semifinal. As much as I respect North Dakota, this isn't about North Dakota. UMD fans have wanted another shot at the Gophers since October, and this is the best chance to get one with little consequence. Hell, there are realistic scenarios where UMD could still get a No. 1 regional seed if it loses to Minnesota in the championship game. Better than playing them with everything on the line next week.
  • Friday night is going to be a bonkers atmosphere in St. Paul. There was a fight in the stands Thursday involving fans of Minnesota and North Dakota. Imagine what it will be like when those teams are actually playing each other. Fans of Friday afternoon's winner are advised to be in the lobby when the game ends, as there should be some cheap tickets available for Saturday's championship game.
  • Too much up for grabs the next two days to lay down any kind of prediction which regional UMD will end up in. I'd say with about 85 percent (or maybe a bit higher) confidence that UMD will not be playing in a regional that involves a flight.
  • If you're heading down Saturday, remember that the St. Patrick's Day parade in St. Paul will bring in huge crowds of people, hampering your ability to find a ramp to park in, and your ability to drive to where you want to go in downtown. Plan to arrive early so you have time to find a way to get where you want to go and find a spot to park.
Wherever you will be Friday, enjoy. This should be a great environment for the players and fans in attendance.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

WCHA Final Five Previews

Instead of writing completely separate previews on all the Final Five teams here, I partnered with my pals at Hockey Wilderness (SB Nation), and I wrote team previews for them.

Here are links to all the pieces, along with one more look at the tournament schedule.

1. Minnesota
2. UMD
3. Denver
4. North Dakota
5. St. Cloud State
6. Michigan Tech

Denver vs. Michigan Tech, 2pm
North Dakota vs. St. Cloud State, 7pm

UMD vs. Denver/Mich Tech winner, 2pm
Minnesota vs. UND/SCSU winner, 7pm

Semifinal winners, 7pm

UMD Readies for Final Five Test

Some of what you're seeing here is similar to last year, when UMD made the trek to St. Paul knowing it had an NCAA Tournament bid locked down.

Armed with that knowledge last year, UMD laid a bit of an egg at the Final Five, losing to Bemidji State 3-2 in overtime in the quarterfinals. We all know what happened from there.

And, yes, that was an excuse to embed this video again. Enjoy.

This time around, UMD is heading down I-35 with not only an NCAA bid in its back pocket, but also the chance to earn the tournament's No. 1 overall seed with a pair of wins at the WCHA Final Five.

"That one stung for a while," senior captain Jack Connolly said. "Obviously you don't want to go down and lose in the play-in game like that."

The Broadmoor Trophy was last won by UMD in 2009.

"We've put ourselves in a great position to try to do that, and it would mean an awful lot for the program to get another one of those," Connolly noted.

Just because it worked out for UMD to lose in the Final Five last year doesn't mean it's a good idea to go that route again.

This Bulldog team is hungry for a shot at Minnesota. Connolly admits it would be great to play the Gophers again. This Bulldog team is also hungry to, in a way, atone for last year's performance in the Final Five.

"I think we're in decent shape," head coach Scott Sandelin said this week. "I know our players are excited to get back there. It's the fourth time for our seniors to play in this tournament."

UMD's fourth straight trip to the Final Five starts with a Friday semifinal game against either Denver or Michigan Tech. Even though Denver is the higher seed, there are arguments for UMD fans to root for that matchup to happen.

For starters, UMD and Denver always seem to play good hockey together. I don't know if it's just a perfect match of playing styles, or if it's because the teams don't hate each other enough to play any other way, but it seems like -- for lack of a better way to describe it -- there is good chemistry between the two. Not only that, but UMD goalie Kenny Reiter has a .943 save percentage in four games (three starts) against the Pioneers.

The Bulldogs, though, might have some unfinished business with Michigan Tech. Hopefully, you haven't forgotten the teams' last meeting, a 5-0 Tech win at Amsoil Arena. I know I still haven't forgotten it, despite my best efforts.

No matter who UMD plays, the goal is clear. Win two games. By doing so, UMD will help its NCAA Tournament seeding, and also head into the tournament on a strong note.


As for what will happen on Sunday, when the brackets are announced, it's too early to say for sure. I'm of the belief that UMD will be placed in the West Regional in St. Paul unless UMD and Minnesota are on the same or opposite seed lines (meaning they'd play in the first round of the tournament, which can't happen per the NCAA handbook unless a league has at least five teams in). If UMD is not placed in St. Paul for that reason or some other, it will head to Green Bay.

But I think St. Paul is most likely right now.

For those wondering, Michigan Tech would be automatically placed in the Midwest Regional (Green Bay) if it wins the Final Five, because it is the host of that regional. But if that happens, UMD can't be a No. 1 regional seed, and neither can Minnesota. UMD would still end up in Green Bay, as Minnesota can't be moved from the regional in St. Paul.


Six UMD players have consecutive game streaks higher than 60 games heading into Friday. Jack Connolly is at a school-record 163, Travis Oleksuk 112, and David Grun hit 100 on Saturday. Keegan Flaherty has played in 78 straight games, and Wade Bergman and Jake Hendrickson are both at 62.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

ESPN Announces College Hockey Tournament Coverage Plans

I'll present the ESPN information to you, largely because I know many of you are interested in watching the NCAA Tournament, and because a lot of you won't be traveling to regionals or the Frozen Four, even if UMD is involved.

This came from the Worldwide Leader in Sports Other Than Hockey on Wednesday.

For the eighth consecutive year, ESPN will present every glass-crushing moment of the 2012 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship starting with the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Selection Show on Sunday, March 18, and culminating with the Men's Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla., April 5 and 7.  All 15 games will air live on ESPN2, ESPNU or ESPN3. Four regional games will be shown on ESPN3 with additional coverage on ESPNU in tape delay. For 2012, ESPN will debut its Advanced Replay Tool (ART) which allows graphics to be used in a replay, a first in the network’s coverage of NCAA hockey.

As in past years, the tournament brackets will be announced on the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Selection Show by SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross, analyst Barry Melrose and new to the selection show this year, three-time Stanley Cup champion Aaron Ward. Airing Sunday, March 18, at noon ET on ESPNU, Ward’s three-consecutive NCAA Championship appearances while playing at Michigan brings a second layer of expertise to the passion and enthusiasm Melrose infuses into the 30-minute special. The show will also include features from current NHL standouts reflecting on their own NCAA memories, including Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis, Buffalo’s Ryan Miller, New Jersey’s Zach Praise and Ottawa’s Matt Gilroy.

The ART, developed by ESPN Emerging Technology, allows graphics to be instantaneously embedded within a replay, providing commentators greater visual resources to communicate analysis to viewers.  It has seen previous success in ESPN’s coverage of basketball, football and golf telecasts (see video).

Melrose, Gary Thorne and Clay Matvick will utilize the tool during ESPN’s Frozen Four telecasts. Former NCAA players Sean Ritchlin (Michigan), Dave Starman (Hartford) and Billy Jaffe (Michigan) will also contribute analysis throughout the two week coverage span. ESPN has aired games from the men's championship since 1980 and recently extended its commitment to the NCAA, which includes airing the entire Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship through 2024.

Here is the link.

East Regional (Bridgeport, Conn.) games will be worked by John Buccigross and Barry Melrose. Northeast Regional (Worcester, Mass.) games will have Dan Parkhurst and Billy Jaffe on commentary. Ben Holden and Sean Ritchlin will head to Green Bay for the Midwest Regional. Minnesota's own Clay Matvick and Dave Starman will work the West Regional in St. Paul. Gary Thorne, Melrose, and Matvick will have Frozen Four duty in Tampa.

Jason Garrison Makes History

It's been a hell of a year for Florida defenseman and former UMD Bulldog Jason Garrison. He spent much of the season leading NHL defensemen in goals, and he made some history Tuesday night in Sunrise. During Florida's 5-2 win over Toronto, Garrison tallied his 15th goal of the season, tying a Panthers franchise record held by Jay Bouwmeester and Brian McCabe.

The goal comes at around the 1:40 mark on the above video.

It was Garrison's ninth power play goal of the season, which sets a franchise single-season record for defensemen.

Garrison has career highs with 15 goals and 28 points, and to make it better, he's doing it all in a contract year. He'll be a free agent July 1, barring something unforeseen.

Monday, March 12, 2012

WCHA Final Five Set

Thanks to Denver's 3-2 overtime win over Wisconsin Sunday night, the field of six is finally set for the WCHA Final Five, which starts Thursday in St. Paul.

Luke Salazar's wrap-around at 1:40 of overtime pushed the Pioneers into the field, and likely locked DU into the NCAA Tournament, meaning the WCHA will get four teams -- and maybe five -- into the tournament.

Here is the Final Five schedule:

No. 6 Michigan Tech  vs. No. 3 Denver, 2pm
No. 5 St. Cloud State vs. No. 4 North Dakota, 7pm

Michigan Tech/Denver winner vs. No. 2 UMD, 2pm
SCSU/North Dakota winner vs. No. 1 Minnesota, 7pm

Semifinal winners, 7pm

Barring a catastrophic turn of events that might be mathematically impossible, Denver and North Dakota will join Minnesota and UMD in the NCAAs. If Michigan Tech or St. Cloud State win the tournament, the WCHA would likely get five teams in the field.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Game 38: Minnesota State at UMD (WCHA Playoffs Game Two)

Here we go with the second game.

There better not be a third.



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

Bergman - Lamb
Casto - Smith
Olson - Kishel

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron) - Gaffy

Dorr - Louwerse - Gaede
Lafontaine - Leitner - Hayes
Mueller - Schiller - McInnis
Burkemper - Zuck - Jokinen

Elbrecht - Nelson
Palmquist - Stern
Cooper - Mosey

Lee - Karambelas

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Work to Do, But UMD Starts Playoffs Strong

Friday night was a pretty good example of playoff hockey, not only in Duluth but many other WCHA venues.

Games were tight on the scoreboard. Many of the games were "loosely" officiated, meaning the standard for a penalty was blatantly obvious (too many men) or flagrant (foul from behind on a breakaway).

In Duluth, only three minor penalties were served, and a fourth was called that led to a penalty shot. Two of the three served minors were for too many men on the ice, and both were so obvious that there was no reason for anyone to question them.

In the end, it wasn't anything related to the power plays that decided the game's outcome. Instead, UMD did what it has done for much of the season's second half, riding even-strength goals to a 4-2 win over Minnesota State.

The Bulldogs got quality shifts out of all four lines, outstanding play out of Travis Oleksuk's line yet again, a strong game from captain Jack Connolly, and two goals by senior defenseman Brady Lamb.

Oleksuk's line was good from the start Friday. JT Brown and Caleb Herbert combined for a great scoring chance in the first 30 seconds. Brown connected just past the halfway mark of the first for the game's opening goal. Herbert -- who played like he was chafed about not being on the WCHA All-Rookie team -- was all over the ice, back-checking, hustling, and playing with an impressive edge.

He also provided some comic relief. On the game's first penalty, a UMD bench minor for too many men, Herbert went to serve the penalty, but decided to take a seat in Minnesota State's penalty box. He was directed to the correct penalty bench, and UMD killed the penalty. It would be MSU's only power play of the game.

Connolly launched some obscene passes to spring linemates Keegan Flaherty and Mike Seidel, but the three were pretty tightly-checked throughout the game. As the game wore on, MSU did a better job on Oleksuk's line, but they couldn't contain the speedy Bulldogs all night.

Lamb's second goal of the game -- which I'm convinced hit the stick of Maverick forward Matt Leitner -- gave UMD the lead for good in the third period, and the Bulldogs withstood a furious MSU rally in the final minute-plus. Wade Bergman's 160-foot shot iced it with five seconds left.

It was a good playoff hockey game, and a good win for UMD, one that temporarily moved the Bulldogs to first in the Pairwise (when all the games of the night were done, UMD had settled into second, behind Boston College). A win on Saturday would move UMD into the WCHA Final Five for a fourth straight season. It would also put UMD in a good position for nothing worse than a top-two NCAA regional seed, no matter how next weekend plays out around the country.

UMD ground out this win in a way. It wasn't at its best in the second period, from the goalie out. MSU's first goal came on a bad rebound allowed by Kenny Reiter, and the second came from a bad-angle shot that trickled through. Those are the kinds of goals everyone allows once in a while, but one of Reiter's strong points is that he rarely lets it happen twice in a month, much less in a game.

Obviously, he'll be working to avoid those errors, but if you remember, Reiter gave up a softie in the Frozen Four last year, but was still one of UMD's best players throughout the NCAA Tournament. It's not exactly cause for alarm.


Elsewhere in the WCHA, the road teams in the Mountain time zone were the only ones to succeed on Friday.

Wisconsin got a third-period goal from Sean Little to beat Denver 1-0. In Colorado Springs, it was Michigan Tech outshooting Colorado College 29-17 in a 3-1 win.

Home teams won the other games. Minnesota held off Alaska-Anchorage 2-1, North Dakota beat Bemidji State 4-1, and St. Cloud State got the other shutout and most lopsided win, beating Nebraska Omaha 4-0.

The series all continue Saturday.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Game 37: Minnesota State at UMD (WCHA Playoffs Game One)




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

Bergman - Lamb
Casto - Smith
Olson - Kishel

Reiter - Crandall (Aaron) - Gaffy

Dorr - Louwerse - Gaede
Lafontaine - Leitner - Hayes
Mueller - Schiller - McInnis
Burkemper - Zuck - Jokinen

Elbrecht - Nelson
Palmquist - Stern
Cooper - Mosey

Lee - Karambelas

UMD Ready to Crank It Up Again

The ultimate prize has yet to be decided, by any stretch. That doesn't happen until April 7, when two teams will collide in Tampa for the right to spend the year known as the national champions.

However, the drive to Tampa is underway in college hockey, as the five Division I leagues hold their postseason tournaments. On the line? Automatic bids to the NCAAs for tournament champions, but there are also 11 at large bids up for grabs, with very few of those 11 being spoken for at this point.

UMD seems to be a virtual lock to make the tournament (various Pairwise information I've searched out shows UMD could fall to 12th in the Pairwise by getting swept this weekend, but even that seems unlikely), but the Bulldogs can remove all doubt this weekend by beating Minnesota State in a two-game WCHA playoff series.

Things went UMD's way in the postseason last year, but not before Bemidji State generally outplayed UMD in a 3-2 win at the WCHA Final Five. That touched off a run of four straight wins that saw UMD claim a national championship.

While the MacNaughton Cup eluded these Bulldogs, UMD is optimistic about its playoff chances, as well it should be.

"We bring a lot of experience into these playoffs," senior defenseman Brady Lamb. "Mostly, just taking care of your body and making sure you stay hydrated. It's a long five week battle, but we think we're up for it."

Minnesota State is an opponent UMD has seen success against this year. UMD has three wins and a tie in four games against the Mavericks, but it's the last of that four-game season series that eats at UMD a bit.

"We gave up a big point Saturday out there, and that hasn't left our memory," Lamb said. "It still burns a little bit."

Playoffs are all about bearing down. You have to be stronger on the puck, make consistently smarter decisions, and avoid the little mistakes that can add up to pucks in the back of your net. UMD knows this from last year, but the Bulldogs have struggled at times to avoid those little mistakes this season. You can't sleep-walk for ten minutes in a playoff game, as UMD did on Saturday in St. Cloud, and expect to have the chance to win or force overtime. You don't give up the kind of puck possession UMD did in a loss to North Dakota Feb. 10 and live another day, and you certainly can't blow leads, something UMD has done multiple times to cost itself points.

Minnesota State has some guys who can play, including freshmen like Zach Palmquist (defense), Matt Leitner, and Jean-Paul Lafontaine (forwards). The future is bright in Mankato thanks to these three, but the present isn't so bad, because the Mavericks know they can play with UMD. They need to look no further than the last time they played the Bulldogs to know that. MSU completely erased the memory of that two-game sweep UMD handed it in Duluth by playing both games tight in Mankato, staying in Saturday's game long enough to rally late to tie, and then control a good bit of overtime.

UMD has to be better this weekend. On paper, the Bulldogs have the better hockey team. But they don't have to look outside of Duluth to see what having the best team on paper gets you. After all, look what happened to Duluth East when its opponent -- an inferior team on paper -- came out and outskated, outhustled, and outexecuted the Greyhounds for the better part of the last two periods. That's how upsets happen.

The old adage is "Will beats skill." We're not talking about people named Will. The power of will beats the power of skill in hockey, especially when the skill doesn't have enough will. Mix a skilled team with the will of a champion, and you have a team that is likely unbeatable.

That's the recipe. Can UMD concoct the potion again?

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Jack Connolly Named WCHA Player of the Year; Other League Honors

As usual, I present the WCHA press release announcing the league honors without commentary or snark. Just the facts, ma'am/sir.

A pair of seniors have earned two of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s most prestigious individual awards as announced today (March 8), with forward Jack Connolly of the University of Minnesota Duluth being named WCHA Player of the Year for 2011-12 and Brad Eidsness, a goaltender at the University of North Dakota, selected as WCHA Outstanding Student-Athlete of the Year.

The league’s five other major individual awards went to University of Wisconsin defenseman Justin Schultz as WCHA Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season, University of Denver defenseman Joey LaLeggia as WCHA Rookie of the Year, Connolly as WCHA Scoring Champion, University of Minnesota netminder Kent Patterson as WCHA Goaltending Champion, and to first-year head coach Mel Pearson of Michigan Technological University as WCHA Coach of the Year.

Connolly, who received 48 of the 96 votes in player of the year balloting, also captured the league’s scoring title (conference games only) with 43 points (16g, 27a) while playing in all 28 games for the defending national champion Bulldogs – after finishing second a year ago. Named to the All-WCHA First Team for the second straight season and a two-time WCHA Offensive Player of the Week (Nov. 15, Feb. 14), he averaged a league-best 1.54 points per game, was first in assists, first in power-play points (8-16=24) and had three game-winning goals. A native of Duluth, Minn., Connolly was a finalist for the 2010-11 Hobey Baker Memorial Award, was a first team All-American last season, and is a finalist for this season’s Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. He is currently second nationally in points with 55 and for his career (through March 8) he has 64 goals, 128 assists and 192 points, which ties him for ninth place on UMD’s all-time career scoring list with 1984 Hobey Baker winner Tom Kurvers. Connolly has also been held pointless for more than two games in a row only twice since the start of his sophomore season – six weeks ago when he was blanked in the Michigan Tech series – which ended his school single-season record 22-game point-scoring streak. He has also played in a school-record 161 consecutive games.

North Dakota’s Eidsness, a three-time WCHA Scholar-Athlete, was named the men’s WCHA Outstanding Student-Athlete of the Year in a vote of league member team Faculty Athletic Representatives. Over the course of his four years he has not only stayed on track with progress towards a degree but he has completed both a Bachelor of Business Administration degree and by May will have completed the requirements and be awarded a Master of Business Administration degree. In recognition of his academic efforts, he was awarded an NCAA Elite 88 Award for men’s ice hockey at the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four. Eidsness graduated Magna Cum Laude with a 3.779 cumulative GPA in undergraduate work and has a 3.625 cumulative GPA in graduate school. During this past fall semester, he completed 15 credits of graduate coursework with a term GPA of 3.80 while continuing to perform well for the UND hockey team as a regular goaltender. He has seen action in 14 games this season and sports a 7-3-1 record, a noteable 2.09 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. Over his career at UND, he has a 57-27-10 won-loss record with a 2.41 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage along with five shutouts. In addition to his stellar work in the classroom and on the ice, Eidsness has been active on campus as a team representative to SAAC and with community service. His contributions include annual food drives, fan fests, Sioux Kids Club events and speaking engagements at a number of different community events.

The WCHA Outstanding Student-Athlete of the Year Award is determined from nominations made by the member institutions and each institution then has one final vote. The criteria is as follows: 1) must be a senior student-athlete, i.e. one who is finishing his competition as an eligible player in the WCHA; 2) consistently displays outstanding sportsmanship on and off the ice; 3) is a good student making satisfactory progress toward a degree; and 4) is a good hockey player who has performed consistently as a regular member of the team.

For the second straight season, the league’s 12 head coaches voted University of Wisconsin blueliner Justin Schultz as the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year. This is only the third time in the history of the award that started in 1991 that a player has won it twice. Colorado College defenseman Eric Rud won the award in both 1995-96 and 1996-97 while Minnesota defenseman Jordan Leopold earned the honor in both 2000-01 and 2001-02. From West Kelowna, B.C., and a first team All-American honoree and Hobey Baker Memorial Award Top 10 Finalist as a sophomore, Schultz also earned All-WCHA First Team honors for the second straight season and he is the third straight Wisconsin player to earn the league’s defensive player of the year award (Brendan Smith in 2009-10). The nation’s, and the WCHA’s, top point-producing defenseman, Schultz is averaging 1.24 points per game through 34 games this season (15-27=42) and if he stays on top of the UW’s current goal-scoring list for 2011-12, he’ll become the first defenseman in school history to lead the team in goal scoring. A draftee of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, he logs 30-35 minutes of ice time per game, leads the Badgers with a +11 plus/minus rating, and has produced almost a point per game over his 118-game collegiate career, with 39 goals, 72 assists and 111 points. Schultz was the league’s defensive player of the week on both Nov. 29 and Jan. 24.

Honored as the WCHA Rookie of the Year for 2011-12 was University of Denver freshman defenseman Joey LaLeggia, who was named on 55 ballots, and also earned All-WCHA First Team and All-WCHA Rookie Team accolades. From Burnaby, B.C., LaLeggia has stepped in as a rookie and averaged better than a point per game for the Pioneers, ranking just behind Schultz in scoring overall among league defensemen with 37 points (11g, 26a) in 36 games. He was also the top scoring rookie in WCHA play this season with 8-20=28 in 28 conference games, leads all NCAA rookie defensemen in points, goals and assists, and owns an impressive +16 plus/minus rating. He is tied with teammate Jason Zucker for the team lead with 13 multiple-point games, he was named the HCA (Hockey Commissioners’ Association) National Rookie of the Month for January, and was the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week on Jan. 17.

Earning the WCHA goaltending crown for 2011-12 was Minnesota veteran Kent Patterson, who was also voted to the All-WCHA First Team. A senior from Plymouth, Minn., Patterson owned a league-best 2.06 goals-against average while playing in all 28 games and a league-leading 1659:41 of action for the WCHA regular season and MacNaughton Cup-champion Golden Gophers. He also owned a WCHA-best 20 victories (20-8-0, .714) and his .918 conference save percentage ranked third. Patterson,w ho earned three WCHA Defensive Player of the Week awards on Oct. 11, Nov. 1 and Feb. 21, has played in 82 games at UM (through March 8) with a 40-27-9 record, a 2.38 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage over 4,559:54 of action.

The WCHA Coach of the Year for 2011-12 is Mel Pearson of Michigan Technological University, who led a resurgent Huskies team to an 11-13-4 league record and 26 points, just two points out of a top six finish and a first round home playoff berth. The most improved team in the WCHA this winter, Pearson left a long and successful tenure as the top assistant coach at CCHA-powerhouse Michigan to take over the MTU program and had the Huskies in contention for a top division finish through the final weekend of the regular season. A former Michigan Tech player, Pearson elevated the Huskies from a 4-30-4 overall record a year ago to a 14-18-4 mark so far this season and lifted them from a 2-24-2 league slate in 2010-11 to a 11-13-4 record in his first year behind the bench. Along the way, MTU posted a 7-5-2 home record in WCHA play, earned sweeps over Wisconsin and Alaska Anchorage, took three of four points from visiting Denver in late October and at defending national champion Minnesota Duluth on Jan. 27-28, and had an impressive WCHA road victory at Minnesota on Dec. 9.

Four conference-member teams – Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Denver – are represented on the All-WCHA First Team for 2011-12, with the Bulldogs and Gophers each landing two players.

Named to the All-WCHA First Team, with statistics for league games only, were: F – Jack Connolly, Sr., Minnesota Duluth (28 gp, 16-27=43); F - Nick Bjugstad, So., Minnesota (27 gp, 16-13=29); F - J.T. Brown, So., Minnesota Duluth (26 gp, 18-19=37); D - Justin Schultz, Jr., Wisconsin (28 gp, 10-18=28); D - Joey LaLeggia, Fr., Denver (28 gp, 8-20=28); G - Kent Patterson, Sr., Minnesota (20-8-0, 2.06, .918). Connolly was the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week on both Nov. 15 and Feb. 14, Bjugstad was the HCA National Player of the Month for November and the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week on Nov. 22. Brown was WCHA Offensive Player of the Week on both Feb. 7 and Feb. 28. Schultz earned the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week award on Nov. 29 and Jan. 24 and LaLeggia was so-honored on Jan. 17. Patterson, who was the HCA National Player of the Month for October, also received the league’s weekly defensive honor on Oct. 11, Nov. 1 and Feb. 21.

Members of the 2011-12 All-WCHA Second Team are: F - Jaden Schwartz, So., Colorado College (25 gp, 12-23=35); F - Drew Shore, Jr., Denver (27 gp, 14-23=37); F - Jason Zucker, So., Denver (27 gp, 19-18=37); D - Gabe Guentzel, Sr., Colorado College (28 gp, 4-16=20); D - Nate Schmidt, So., Minnesota (28 gp, 2-21=23); G - Kenny Reiter, Sr., Minnesota Duluth (15-7-5, 2.58, .904). Shore was the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week on both Oct. 25 and Jan. 4. Schmidt was the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week on Feb. 28 and Reiter earned the award on three occasions – Nov. 8, Nov. 15 and Jan. 11.

Voted to the All-WCHA Third Team for 2011-12 were: F - Mark Zengerle, So., Wisconsin (28 gp, 11-25=36); F - Brock Nelson, So., North Dakota (28 gp, 20-13=33); F - Travis Oleksuk, Sr., Minnesota Duluth (18 gp, 14-22=36); D - Nick Jensen, So., St. Cloud State (28 gp, 5-18=23); D - Ben Blood, Sr., North Dakota (28 gp, 1-13=14); G - Josh Thorimbert, So., Colorado College (12-4-1, 2.33, .928). Zengerle was the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week on March 6, Nelson was the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week on both Nov. 29 and Dec. 6 and Oleksuk was the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week on Jan. 11. Jensen earned the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week award on Dec. 20 while Thorimbert was so honored on Nov. 22 and March 6.

Members of the All-WCHA Rookie Team as selected by the voters for 2011-12 were: F - Kyle Rau, Fr., Minnesota (27 gp, 12-15=27); F - Jean-Paul Lafontaine, Fr., Minnesota State (28 gp, 10-13=23); F - Jayson Megna, Fr., Nebraska Omaha (28 gp, 12-12=24); D - Joey LaLeggia, Fr., Denver (28 gp, 8-20=28); D - Andrew Prochno, Fr., St. Cloud State (28 gp, 4-18=22); G - Juho Olkinuora, Fr., Denver (5-4-3, 2.32, .915). Rau, who was the HCA National Rookie of the Week for October,  was a three-time WCHA Rookie of the Week – on Oct. 18, Feb. 21 and Feb. 28. Lafontaine earned the WCHA Rookie of the Week award on Nov. 8 and Prochno earned the honor on Jan. 24. Olkinuora earned both the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week honor on Jan. 4 and the WCHA Rookie of the Week award on Nov. 29.

Repeat members of all-league teams from 2010-11 were: Jack Connolly, F, UMD (All-WCHA First Team in 2010-11); Justin Schultz, D, UW (All-WCHA First Team); Jason Zucker, F, DU (All-WCHA Second Team); Drew Shore, F, DU (All-WCHA Second Team); Kent Patterson, G, UM (All-WCHA Second Team); and Jaden Schwartz, F, CC (All-WCHA Third Team). Zucker, Schwartz and UMD forward J. T. Brown were members of the All-WCHA Rookie Team last season.

Two players named to the all-league teams were also honored on Feb. 15 as WCHA Scholar-Athletes for 2011-12. They were: Kenny Reiter, Sr., G, Minnesota Duluth (All-WCHA Second Team) and Nick Jensen, So., D, St. Cloud State (All-WCHA Third Team).

To earn recognition as a WCHA Scholar-Athlete, student-athletes must have completed at least one year of residency at their present institution prior to the current academic year and must also have a grade-point average of at least 3.50 on a 4.0 scale for the previous two semesters or three quarters, or may qualify if his or her overall GPA is at least 3.50 for all terms at his or her present institution.

Major award winners and members of the various all-league teams who were also recognized today as member of the 2011-12 men’s All-WCHA Academic Team were: Gabe Guentzel, Sr., D, Colorado College (All-WCHA Second Team); Drew Shore, Jr., F, Denver (All-WCHA Second Team); Jason Zucker, So., F, Denver (All-WCHA Second Team); Kent Patterson, Sr., G, Minnesota (All-WCHA First Team, WCHA Goaltending Champion); Nate Schmidt, So., D, Minnesota (All-WCHA Second Team); Jack Connolly, Sr., F, Minnesota Duluth (WCHA Player of the Year, WCHA Scoring Champion, All-WCHA First Team); Kenny Reiter, Sr., G, Minnesota Duluth (All-WCHA Second Team); Ben Blood, Sr., D, North Dakota (All-WCHA Third Team); Brad Eidsness, Sr., G, North Dakota (WCHA Outstanding Student-Athlete of the Year); Brock Nelson, So., F, North Dakota (All-WCHA Third Team); Nick Jensen, So., D, St. Cloud State (All-WCHA Third Team); and Mark Zengerle, So., F, Wisconsin (All-WCHA Third Team).

Voting for the WCHA awards is done by conference member coaches, players, sports information directors and local media. Each team receives eight ballots for a total of 96 voters. Points for awards and all-league teams are awarded on a 5 (1st team vote), t3 (2nd team), and 1 (3rd team vote) basis. The WCHA Outstanding Student-Athlete of the Year award is selected by member team Faculty Athletic Representatives while the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year is selected by the league’s 12 head coaches.