Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bulldogs' Record Proves Altitude Isn't Huge Issue During Colorado Visits

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- When you go to Magness Arena, the visiting team -- be it for basketball or hockey -- is greeted with one of those goofy signs that welcomes you to whatever the elevation there is (5,280-some odd feet).

The tunnel at the World Arena in Colorado Springs doesn't have such a sign. Instead, two signs like the one I snapped a picture of at the rink Thursday adorn the inside of the facility.

These aren't there for the fans. The fans aren't exerting enough energy to have to worry about altitude.

They also aren't there for the broadcasters, though there was this one time the elevator there was on the fritz and I had to haul my fat body up all those stairs. And then I was worried a bit about the altitude.

But I digress.

The altitude reminders are out there. Home teams love to remind visitors about it, and the media loves to use it as a talking point whenever there's a significant game out here.

Does it matter?

Longtime UMD strength and conditioning coach and current marketing guru Justin May never believed in it. He believed in the conditioning of his athletes, and didn't think there was a whole lot to the altitude talk as long as the athletes took care of themselves.

Coaches don't want to even let someone suggest it could matter in a game. That's excuse chatter, and coaches hate that. Not only that, but it's part of the mental game. If you go into a game thinking your body is going to break down because of altitude, it probably will.

Athletes are wired the same way.

"Obviously, being reminded of that, it's in your mind," sophomore center Tony Cameranesi said this week when asked about the visual notes of elevation in the Colorado arenas. "But for the most part, as long as you work hard and don't really think about it, it goes away a little bit."

And if you look at the records UMD has posted both in Denver and Colorado Springs, there's reason to believe that the altitude talk is nothing but that ... talk.

In its last 18 games at the Colorado Springs World Arena (since the start of the 2003-04 season), where UMD opens NCHC play against Colorado Springs Friday night, the record is 9-6-3. Included in that are some very impressive performances, including a two-game WCHA playoff series sweep that started the team's run to a Final Five championship in 2009. Over the same stretch, the Tigers are 140-72-13 on home ice, a winning percentage of .651, a much higher total than the .417 they've posted against UMD in the same building.

Up Interstate 25, the Bulldogs have been solid, though not as impressive, in Denver over the years. Since the start of the 2003-04 season, UMD is 8-8-1 against the Pioneers at Magness Arena. I guarantee you DU has won more than half its home games in the last decade. Don't even have to look it up.

My point? UMD hasn't cared about the altitude in the last decade, at least (UMD was 1-7 in its first eight games at the World Arena once it opened in 1998). I'm not saying you shouldn't, but it's humorously overrated.

Maybe in football, where the 300-pounders are running around, it matters a bit more. We all know what thin air can do to a baseball. But the Bulldogs aren't suffering when they play out there. Quite the opposite, actually.


In other matters, it is a historic night on Friday, as conference games are played in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference for the first time. Everyone seems to have been able to poke their fun at the "Super League" after Omaha lost to Bentley last week. They must have forgotten about Michigan losing to a Canadian college team (Waterloo) the previous weekend, and the No. 1 team in the nation (UMass-Lowell) losing its home opener to a Sacred Heart squad that won exactly two games a year ago, and one that got pasted by RPI 6-0 the next night.

The NCHC is going to be a very, very good league. Other things will work themselves out. No, the app isn't perfect yet. But at least there is one, and they'll work to make it better. I mentioned on Twitter last week that in-progress scores on the league website need to show what period the game is in, and how much time is left. The league responded and said it will try to make it better.

I know this thing has been in the works for a while, but it doesn't mean every kink will be ironed out before games are played. What matters is that when those imperfections rear their ugly heads, someone actually makes an effort to improve. In that way, I really like the responses I've seen from the league to certain questions and concerns.

I do believe the league made a mistake in not setting up a streamlined video streaming package, where everyone goes through the same service, and games can be easily found on the league website with little hassle. A UMD fan should be able to watch every UMD game played (in league play, that is) without buying access from a bunch of different schools. Hopefully, it's something that is looked at in the future.

It's next to impossible to predict how this league will play out, and even opening weekend is going to be fun. Colorado College hasn't played a game that counts yet, and while UMD has, I tend to think UMD will average more than three goals per weekend.

In Oxford, Miami hosts North Dakota in a battle of programs who have gone without a national championship since UND won in 2000, no matter what the fans want you to believe (Miami has never won one, though it's certainly been close a couple times). They're tremendous programs, however, and this weekend should be some fantastic hockey.

More than anything, that's what we should be focused on. I think those expecting these teams to go unbeaten through conference play, and for the league to have everything instantly figured out, are barking up the wrong tree. In the end, the hockey will win out, and NCHC hockey is going to be good.


It's hard to get a good read on this weekend series. I think the style of play will be completely different from what we saw with Michigan Tech last week. Colorado College wants to get out and skate, and so does UMD. More than anything, the good mesh of playing styles is why UMD has done so well against the Tigers.

CC has Alex Krushelnyski, one of the nation's most underrated players, leading the charge up front, along with Archie Skalbeck and promising young talent like sophomore forward Hunter Fejes. The Tigers are not as deep in the back, unless Wild draft pick Gustav Olafsson develops quickly. And the loss of Joe Howe in goal could be significant unless senior Josh Thorimbert reverts to his third team All-WCHA form from his sophomore season.

UMD will get a chance to push the pace with its lethal top two forward lines, and I think we'll see a lot more from the second line than we did last week, when Dominic Toninato, Alex Iafallo, and Caleb Herbert struggled to get room against the Huskies.


Finally, congratulations to future UMD Bulldogs Neal Pionk and Karson Kuhlman. Both have been named to Team USA for the World Junior A Challenge next month in Nova Scotia. Pionk is a defenseman from Hermantown, and Kuhlman is a forward from Cloquet/Esko/Carlton.

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