Saturday, January 26, 2013

Exhibition Game: US Under 18 at UMD

Not sure if we'll get line charts for the Under 18s or not. It's always hit and miss when we play exhibition games.

Either way, here is UMD's line chart for this afternoon affair. If I get one for the Under 18s, I'll update this post to pass it along.

Farley - Cameranesi - Seidel
Crandall (Justin) - Herbert - Krause
Sampair - Hendrickson - Basaraba
DeLisle - Tardy - Flaherty
Decowski - Young (extra forwards)

Corrin - Welinski
Smith - Casto
Bergman - Johnson
McManus (extra D)

McNeely - Crandall (Aaron) - Fons

Louis - Malone - Labanc
Motte - Compher - Hayden
Allen - Kelleher - McCarron
Eiserman - Cook - Fasching

Butcher - Thompson
Ausmus - Santini
Savage - Clifton
Hamilton (extra D)

Demko - Miska

No Drew Olson or Cody Danberg, as they sit out to heal some injuries. All three goalies should play. For Crandall, it'll be his first time on the ice since suffering a lower-body injury in Florida.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Challenging Exhibition Game Awaits UMD

Normally, an in-season exhibition game provides an opportunity to work on a few things. An exhibition game in late January can be quite beneficial, allowing a team like UMD to tinker with line combinations and special teams personnel without penalty of losing a game that counts.

Of course, all of that is assuming that it's an exhibition game your team wins.

Saturday at Amsoil Arena, UMD will take on one of the most dangerous teams its played in an exhibition in the nearly 13 seasons Scott Sandelin has patrolled the bench.

The U.S. Under-18 National Team is in town, and unlike past seasons, there's plenty of reason to believe this band of teenagers can easily walk out of Duluth with another win over a Division I team.

The National Team Development Program, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., has been around for some time now. The idea is very much what the name suggests. The program is there to help train elite teenage hockey players for international play. The Under-18 Team plays a United States Hockey League schedule, allowing it to match up reguarly with plenty of Division I prospects. The team also plays a number of exhibition games against Division I teams.

This year, the Under-18s have been quite impressive in those exhibitions. Team USA is 6-4-2 against Division I teams this season, including a tie at Notre Dame (1-1), a win at Michigan (5-3), and Tuesday's 3-0 whitewashing of Michigan State in East Lansing. The team also played No. 1 Minnesota to a 2-2 tie at Mariucci Arena earlier this season, and it played nationally-ranked New Hampshire very close, losing 2-1.

The U18s latest victim, Michigan State, is in last place in the CCHA, but the Lansing Journal noted that the team believes Tuesday's loss was a low point.

This is a confident group, one that knows it can compete against anyone in Division I. It won't be intimidated by the bright lights or booming sounds of Amsoil Arena.

Goalie Thatcher Demko shut out MSU on only 22 saves, as the Spartans were outshot 39-22. There are some really high-end talents on this team, including future Denver defenseman Will Butcher and North Dakota commit Keaton Thompson. Future Gopher Hudson Fasching is the only player on the team committed to go to Minnesota, as many high-end Minnesota kids in this age group decided against playing for the NTDP, preferring to either play for their high school team or move into the USHL.

UMD isn't out for blood on Saturday, but the Bulldogs aren't going to be able to take this team lightly. The Under-18 Team has won in Duluth before (2-1 in December of 2007), and in the last trip here, we saw now-UMD goalie Matt McNeely stand on his head to keep his team in a game UMD eventually won 4-1.

(That was the second "live" game at Amsoil Arena, following the North Dakota game we won't be revisiting any time soon.)

It's a game the Bulldogs should and probably will win, but it won't be the typical exhibition blowout. Instead, it's going to be a highly-competitive game we witness on Saturday, and it's one that could actually help prepare UMD for a stretch run that sees the Bulldogs play five conference series (three at home) that will decide their home-ice fate.

Before Denver, Minnesota State, Alabama Huntsville, and Omaha visit to close out a busy home schedule down the stretch, let's enjoy a chance to take down what could be the best Under 18 Team we've seen in some time.

No matter what happens, performances like the ones we've seen from these kids this winter show that things continue to look up for USA Hockey. This is a group that'll have a chance to play in the pretiguous World Juniors in a couple years. When that happens, there's no reason to think they can't contend for a medal and help follow up on our gold medal from this year's tournament.

Since it's an exhibition, UMD can dress virtually anyone it wants. It sounds like senior defenseman Drew Olson, who has been dealing with some nagging issues, might be the only one to sit out.

Also, don't forget that Skate With The Bulldogs is Sunday at 3:30pm at Amsoil Arena. Admission and parking are both free for the event. UMD players will be on the ice with the kids to hang out and sign autographs.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Duluth Clydesdales Franchise Revoked

Sad news for the local hockey community, as the Duluth Clydesdales have had their franchise revoked.

The third year franchise has been playing in the Superior International Junior Hockey League, a conglomerate based in Canada but with three Minnesota teams. The other Minnesota franchises are based on the Iron Range and in Cloquet.

Here is the league's official statement, circulated to media Tuesday night.

The Superior International Junior Hockey League announced Tuesday that the SIJHL board of governors has voted to revoke the Duluth Clydesdales member franchise, effective immediately.

The SIJHL Board made the decision based on a number of determining factors, including Duluth not being able to ice enough players on a consistent basis for the remainder of the season.

“It’s extremely unfortunate that this step has been taken, but we must take into account that with the Clydesdales having postponed or forfeited a number of games already and an uncertainty of whether they would be able to have enough players on a consistent basis moving forward, it is in the best interest of player safety and the league as a whole that this decision has been made,” stated SIJHL President/Commissioner Ron Whitehead.

“Duluth is a great hockey market and the success of our two other Minnesota-based organizations this season bodes well for the league,” added Whitehead. “We certainly look forward to working with the people in Duluth in an effort to reestablish a franchise there in the not too distant future.”

Despite this decision the league is looking forward to the remainder of the regular season and upcoming playoffs.

“Certainly we’ve had a couple setbacks this season, but we’ve also had some major positives as well,” offered Whitehead.

“The Minnesota Wilderness is currently the No. 2 team overall in the entire CJHL; the Minnesota Iron Rangers have done a great job getting things turned around there while Dryden, Fort Frances and Thunder Bay remain ultra-competitive with each member group having solid ownership, management and coaching staffs in place.”

An announcement on the remaining games in the regular season that were to have involved Duluth will be made once that is finalized.

Clydesdales owner and GM Butch Williams sent a statement to me Tuesday night.

We just received official confirmation of the league's decision to revoke our franchise. Needless to say we're disappointed the league made the decision they did, as we had a dedicated group of players and staff ready to finish out the final month and a half. We're still investigating different paths, first and foremost is an appeal of the decision. Another option we're seriously considering is playing an independent schedule the rest of the season, possibly involving a mix of nearby junior teams from the MnJHL, NA3HL, NAHL, and NOJHL. At any rate, we do not intend for the Clydesdales to have played their final game. Over the spring and summer, we'll be seriously considering all options for the Clydesdales to compete within in 2013-14 and the foreseeable future.

It's a franchise that hasn't done terribly well on the ice, and its had issues keeping players around. Unlike at least some other SIJHL teams, the Clydesdales charge players a fee -- around $5,000, I've heard -- to be on the team (the amount is pro-rated based on how many games are played). It doesn't take a genius to figure out that someone would really have to want to be on this team to play that amount, if it's indeed true that there are other teams that don't charge.

Beyond that, the Clydesdales have found it isn't terribly easy to draw fans to junior hockey games in this market. Just ask the Minnesota Wilderness, one of the top teams in the Canadian junior system, but one that isn't exactly ripping the turnstiles out of the floor at Northwoods Credit Union Arena in Cloquet.

(A quick search through their schedule shows the Wilderness struggle to get even 500 fans to a home game, despite a stellar record and ranking among the top teams in Canada-based leagues.)

There are a multitude of issues here, issues that go beyond whether a franchise is well-run, successful on the ice, or doing well in terms of sponsors. Do well there, and the other stuff doesn't matter as much.

For starters, look at the market. Want to draw hockey fans to junior hockey games in the Duluth area? Well, you want the same dollars that people are already shelling out to see UMD, UWS, St. Scholastica, any of the area high school teams, or to go to watch their kids, their friends' kids, or their kids' kids playing youth hockey.

Another problem: What night of the week are you going to play? Youth hockey teams play just about any day they can get ice; high school games are typically Tuesdays, Thursdays, and/or Saturdays; college teams play on Friday and Saturday.

You're going to have to compete against someone. Who's it going to be? They all have drawbacks. UMD plays at a level you can never approach. UWS and St. Scholastica would be good destinations for most of your players (and those programs aren't drawing terribly well these days, so folks aren't paying in large numbers to see current Division III players, much less future Division III players). High school hockey is steeped in tradition in Minnesota communities, and asking people to pick your product over that is probably poisonous.

It's a tough sell on the already-tight dollars of the hockey zealots in this area, many of whom already spend four to five nights a week at a rink watching games. Oh, and a bunch of them play hockey, too.

The argument I used to get on the radio was that junior hockey works in places like Omaha that aren't known for hockey.

Yeah, it does. Works in Sioux Falls and Sioux City, too, even though those aren't hockey-mad areas.

But that's part of why it works. They have population to draw from, and they don't need to bring in 6,000 people a night to succeed. Those 6,000 people aren't going to see that level of hockey anywhere else, so it's a sellable commodity.

In Duluth, Cloquet, or the Iron Range, the same can't be said. The SIJHL is not a league known for producing gobs of Division I players, the way the USHL does in the States. It's not as high a level of hockey, and it's taking place in an area where the people who like to spend money on hockey have already spent it.

It also helps the folks in Omaha or Siouxland that they don't need local players to field a successful operation. People are more territorial here. They aren't as tolerant of a team filled with outsiders trying to take their dollar. Just ask UMD. When that program wasn't successful and didn't have local players, attendance wasn't as good.

Oh, and as much as I hate to say it, if you're going to try to make a junior hockey franchise work here, you probably have to have beer available at home games. No one else can around here, and it might make the product unique in a different way. It makes a difference in other cities, for sure.

If someone wants to try to make a junior team work in this area, it has to be heavily-marketed. It has to have plenty of local flavor, and it probably has to be in a league where the players are Division I caliber.

Until then, it is destined -- unfortunately -- to struggle or -- worse yet -- completely fail.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Game 24: UMD at Colorado College

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The wild WCHA season continues, and UMD hopes a win here can propel it into an improbable five-way tie for first place in the league standings.

Colorado College coach Scott Owens voiced his displeasure with his top players after Friday's game, so expect a lot of jump from CC early.

If UMD can weather that storm, a sixth straight WCHA win is very much within reach.



Farley - Cameranesi - Seidel
Crandall - Herbert - Krause
Sampair - Hendrickson - Basaraba
Danberg - Tardy - Flaherty

Olson - Welinski
Bergman - Casto
McManus - Johnson

McNeely - Fons

Krushelnyski - Schwartz - Taft
Skalbeck - Winkler - Hanson
Fejes - Bradley - Rapuzzi
Morin - Collett - Hamburg

Stoykewich - Boivin
Harstad - McDermott
Young - Marciano

Howe - Thorimbert - Lockwood

2013 NHL Season Predictions

I'm sure this will go well, eh? It always does.

My division winners, Stanley Cup pick, and awards picks posted on SB Nation Friday. Here are the rest of my guesses on a season that is sure to be exciting to watch. As much as the shortened season was a win for the NBA last season, I believe firmly that the NHL can win here, if it plays its cards right.

And, yes, that's a big "if."

Anyway, here are full division and conference predictions, so it's all on the record for when I'm wrong.

Atlantic Division
1. Pittsburgh
2. NY Rangers
3. Philadelphia
4. New Jersey
5. NY Islanders

This is very much contingent on Sid being healthy, as well as Marc-Andre Fleury regaining some semblance of confidence after it looked like Philly shattered most of it in last year's playoff series. I like this Rangers team, but I don't trust this Rangers team. As Barry Melrose said on ESPN Friday, there are no excuses now. They have everything they've asked for there. The Flyers need goaltending to be a serious contender. The Devils have to replace a lot of goals lost, and didn't sign anyone to do it, while the Islanders ... um, yeah. They have John Tavares.

Northeast Division
1. Boston
2. Buffalo
3. Ottawa
4. Toronto
5. Montreal

The Bruins look made for a short season, provided Tuukka Rask can take over capably for Tim Thomas in goal. Thomas' departure also makes Boston a much more likable team. The Sabres will ride Ryan Miller to the playoffs, while I think the Senators have a real chance to sneak in. Ottawa does better if Craig Anderson does it again. I just don't know that the Sens have enough to make a run again this year. The Maple Leafs and Canadiens look positively wretched.

Southeast Division
1. Washington
2. Florida
3. Carolina
4. Winnipeg
5. Tampa Bay

First-year coach Adam Oates looks to reinvigorate Alex Ovechkin, who admitted he didn't exactly enjoy himself last season. It'll be an interesting battle with the defending division champion Panthers, along with Carolina and Winnipeg, both of which should be improved. The Hurricanes added Jordan Staal, while the Jets didn't make a lot of moves but will instead be improved. Don't count Tampa Bay out, either, but I don't think the Lightning are strong enough defensively.

Central Division
1. St. Louis
2. Chicago
3. Nashville
4. Detroit
5. Columbus

There are potential issues with the Blues. For starters, they won a lot of low-scoring games. They also won a ton against the East, a conference they don't play a single game against in a shortened season. But Ken Hitchcock has skill, toughness, and grit up front, along with great defense and tandem goaltending. Chicago contends if Corey Crawford holds up, but that's not a given. I think the loss of Ryan Suter will do more damage to Nashville than losing Shea Weber would have. But that could just be an overly-optimistic Wild fan talking. Detroit better score tons of goals. Columbus, ah, yeah.

Northwest Division
1. Minnesota
2. Vancouver
3. Edmonton
4. Colorado
5. Calgary

Call me crazy, but the Wild made some really good moves, not even including signing Suter and Zach Parise. Suter is huge because of the impact he'll make on the blue line. Don't forget the signings of Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell, or the addition of stud center Mikael Granlund. No knock on Vancouver, because this should be a hell of a division race. Cory Schneider makes an impact as the No. 1 goalie. The young guns in Edmonton will be ready to go after a half-season of seasoning in the AHL. Look for a fast start there. The Avalanche will continue to improve, while I think the Flames will drop off a bit this year. Change could be coming to that roster.

Pacific Division
1. San Jose
2. Los Angeles
3. Dallas
4. Phoenix
5. Anaheim

LA is the hot pick here, but I'm taking the Sharks, who have scoring depth, defense, and a determined goalie in Antti Niemi. The Kings will nip at their heels if they don't beat them out. Dallas will surge ahead if Jamie Benn signs quickly, which he should. Who will score for Phoenix? It's a question that sounds familiar, but at some point we will run out of answers. The Ducks are a mess in many phases, but there is star power here, and if their heads are right, the team should improve.

1. Boston
2. Washington
3. Pittsburgh
4. NY Rangers
5. Buffalo
6. Philadelphia
7. Florida
8. Carolina
9. New Jersey
10. Winnipeg
11. Ottawa
12. Tampa Bay
13. Toronto
14. NY Islanders
15. Montreal

1. St. Louis
2. San Jose
3. Minnesota
4. Los Angeles
5. Vancouver
6. Chicago
7. Dallas
8. Edmonton
9. Nashville
10. Detroit
11. Colorado
12. Phoenix
13. Anaheim
14. Calgary
15. Columbus

St. Louis

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Keeps Climbing Up Crazy WCHA Ladder

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Were it not for the Florida follies, the UMD men's hockey team would be one of the nation's hottest right now.

Instead, the Bulldogs have to settle for being one of the WCHA's hottest. After giving up a tying goal with 2:45 left, Caleb Herbert scored on a rebound with 1:43 to go, lifting UMD to a 3-2 win over Colorado College Friday night in front of over 7,000 at World Arena.

Herbert also assisted on UMD's first goal, a power-play goal by Justin Crandall. On that play, a power play that had done nothing scored when Herbert took the puck on the half-wall and bulldozed to the net, putting it through CC goalie Joe Howe. Crandall was free on the weakside to jam the puck in from its position on the goal line.

UMD came out flying, aided by an early power play, but couldn't score despite an early 10-0 edge in shots on goal. The Tigers scored late in the first for a 1-0 lead before Crandall equalized in the second.

The Bulldogs outshot CC 11-4 in the second period and 38-26 for the game. Howe was great early in the game and solid throughout, but the last two goals may be ones he'd like to have back.

At 9:53 of the third, senior Mike Seidel intercepted a pass at the Tigers blue line and broke into the slot, where he beat Howe on a back-hander to give UMD a 2-1 lead.

Mike Boivin tied it for CC at 17:15, but then Herbert capped one of his better games this season with the winner. Adam Krause stole a puck in the neutral zone and ripped a shot at Howe that trickled through his pads. Herbert jammed it home after driving the net on the shot.

Herbert was active in all three zones. He only had three shots, but he drove the net on numerous occasions, causing trouble in front of Howe and showing the kind of jam that makes a highly-skilled player very dangerous. He wasn't great on faceoffs, losing more than half of the 16 draws he took. But he made up for it by competing for pucks, making smart plays, and being aggressive in the offensive zone.

The play he made on the Crandall goal can't be overstated, either. On a power play that did nothing, Herbert basically said "F this, I'm going to the net."

And no one could stop him. By getting the puck to the goal line, he was able to set up Crandall for the team's first goal.

This line with Herbert, Crandall, and Krause is working. Tony Cameranesi's line had an average game, and Jake Hendrickson's line was a surprising minus in the game. But all three had their moments, chances, and all three of them made plays. Max Tardy's line had some good shifts, too, though their chances were generally kept to a minimum.

With the win, UMD moved into a tie for fifth in the league standings with North Dakota at 19 points, two points back of first-place Minnesota. The Bulldogs continue to be in an increasingly good position, and they've done with quality play as of late.

UMD is now 7-1-1 in its last nine WCHA games, including five straight wins in league play.

Expect a big push from CC Saturday, especially its older players. Boivin led the team with nine shots on goal, but top-line guys Rylan Schwartz, Alexander Krushelnyski, and William Rapuzzi only had five between them. Senior center Scott Winkler's line was on the ice for the winning goal.

If UMD can find a way to win, things will set up quite nicely for the stretch run, during which UMD will play on six straight weekends (five of them in WCHA play).


The WCHA got nuttier on Friday. With the way things played out, check out this scenario for Saturday.

UMD wins.
North Dakota beats Minnesota.
Denver ties St. Cloud State.

If those things happen, the standings would look like this.

Denver 21 points
Minnesota 21
UMD 21
North Dakota 21
St. Cloud State 21

Seriously. A five-way tie for first place could very well happen on Saturday.

Also, a UMD win means the Bulldogs would go into next week's bye in no worse than fifth place in the standings.


Those games on Friday went like this:

Nate Condon had three points and five different players scored for Minnesota in a 5-1 win over North Dakota. Adam Wilcox outplayed Clarke Saunders in goal.

St. Cloud State got two goals from defenseman Nick Jensen in the third period to break open a 2-2 game on the way to a 5-2 home win over Denver.

Pheonix Copley pitched his third shutout in five starts as Michigan Tech beat Bemidji State 4-0. Blake Pietila had two goals and one assist for the Huskies.

Minnesota State blew a 3-1 lead and had to settle for a 3-3 tie at Alaska Anchorage. Blake Tatchell and Bobby Murphy scored :40 apart late in the third for UAA.

Wisconsin got a third-period goal from Joseph LaBate and held off Miami 1-0. Goalie Joel Rumpel got the win with 26 saves.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Game 23: UMD at Colorado College

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Greetings from 6,230 feet above sea level, where we hope the Bulldogs don't suffer from altitude sickness.

(That would be news if it happened, but not necessarily good news.)

UMD is trying to extend a run of 6-1-1 over eight WCHA games and perhaps make a move up the league ladder. Standing in the way is a Colorado College team that hasn't been home since the Bush administration (or for a month and a half).



Farley - Cameranesi - Seidel
Crandall - Herbert - Krause
Sampair - Hendrickson - Basaraba
Danberg - Tardy - Flaherty

Olson - Welinski
Smith - Casto
Bergman - Johnson

McNeely - Fons

Krushelnyski - Schwartz - Rapuzzi
Skalbeck - Winkler - Hanson
Fejes - Bradley - Collett
Wamsganz - DiGiando - Hamburg

Stoykewych - Boivin
Harstad - McDermott
Young - Marciano

Howe - Thorimbert - Lockwood

End of Minnesota-North Dakota A Loss For College Hockey

One of the enduring things with college sports has to be the rivalries that exist.

In football, we have a multitude of great traditions, including Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, Cal-Stanford, Harvard-Yale, Amherst-Williams, and so many others.

In basketball, there's Duke-North Carolina, Michigan-Michigan State, Kentucky-Louisville, Syracuse-Georgetown, and the list goes on.

Hockey has many great traditional rivalries, too. Among them: Minnesota vs. North Dakota.

And this weekend, the two will meet for the last scheduled time for at least a few years.

How did we get to this point?

Well, the fact of the matter is that Minnesota is moving to the Big Ten next season, while North Dakota joins UMD and six others in helping launch the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. They are under no obligation to play, and it doesn't appear they will for some time.

Minnesota coach Don Lucia has offered multiple reasons for the end of the rivalry. He's talked generically in the past about things becoming too heated (more on that in a second), as well as mentioning the UND nickname fiasco, the need to continue playing in-state teams, and a desire to take his players to see different places.

(Minnesota has scheduling deals in place with Notre Dame, along with the eastern tandem of Boston College and Northeastern.)

The nickname bit is tired. Minnesota had a policy in place that would have banned Lucia from scheduling UND for non-conference games had UND not dropped the Fighting Sioux nickname, one that went away last year. Wisconsin had a similar policy, but managed to make a scheduling deal with UND going forward. Hearing that Lucia went with that card as recently as a Friday morning interview with Paul Allen on The Fan is somewhat troublesome, largely because I don't buy it.

The in-state argument holds water. Minnesota will have no fewer than four games against in-state teams in future seasons. Next year, they have a two-game home series with UMD, as well as the Minnesota Cup, where the Gophers match up against St. Cloud State in the opening round and then either UMD or Minnesota State the next day.

(I believe I heard somewhere that Minnesota is also planning to play the in-state team that rotates out of the Minnesota Cup every year, meaning the Gophers would also be playing Bemidji State next season. However, I can't confirm that.)

That's a lot of games tied up. Even UMD coach Scott Sandelin has told me he'd like to continue playing teams outside the region in non-league play, if for no other reason than to give his kids some different experiences. So I can buy that part of the argument.

However, one of the things I've heard behind the scenes more than anything is that Minnesota -- Lucia in particular -- is tired of some of the shenanigans that happen when these two teams play. It's not all about what you see on the ice, though let's go back to the last time the teams met in Grand Forks. Watch how that game ended.

At the time, I wrote that Minnesota's Jake Hansen was culpable here, because he came off the bench and two-handed Ben Blood after the game ended, and he did it while Blood was already mixed up with Minnesota players on the ice.

That doesn't excuse Blood's idiotic actions in the handshake line, which came after he was chirped by Kyle Rau, a player known for chirping. Blood behaved idiotically there, and deserved the internal punishment coach Dave Hakstol levied.

Of course, the internet tried to make Blood out to be acting alone, largely ignoring Hansen's slash that put him on tilt, and largely ignoring the possibility that a mouthy player said something he shouldn't have after an emotional game.

Incidents like this have been too common lately, but that's not all.

"The Gophers have had some really unpleasant travel experiences in Grand Forks," UMD alum Jess Myers said this week. Myers, who covers the Gophers for 1500 ESPN, came the closest to laying out one of the specific reasons why Minnesota is generally being credited with blamed for discontinuing this rivalry.

"If you're the schedule makers, and you're Don Lucia, you're looking at them as a non-conference team, and you're saying 'I don't need to subject myself to that anymore.'

"'I don't need to go up there and get spit at on the bench, and get my wife and kids harassed.'

"God bless North Dakota fans for being as passionate as they are, but there's a place where you have to draw a line."

(You'll hear this in our normal Friday night chat in the second intermission. Jess goes on to talk about how this is somewhat personal for him, because Minnesota-UND was his first exposure to college hockey while growing up in Warroad.)

It's not all on Lucia, but he's taking the brunt of the criticism for it. I'm sure he's okay with that, and if not, he has no choice.

Perhaps a cooling-off period is what is best for these two heated rivals. The fact that people beat each other up over the Alabama-Auburn game, or the fact that soccer fans riot during rivalry matches, none of that makes the action okay.

If Minnesota thinks the Minnesota-North Dakota rivalry has gone too far, Minnesota should fess up and say that, however. It shouldn't be my job or Jess' job to talk about that stuff. If Don Lucia is discontinuing this series -- even in part -- because he's sick of how he, his family, or his players, get treated in Grand Forks, he needs to say that.

I tend to believe it's a big part of this, because the other stuff doesn't hold water. If you were responsible for making your team's schedule, and you had a traditional rival you were no longer going to share a conference with, why wouldn't you hold a spot on the schedule for that rival? College sports can be all about rivalries for some, and certainly the players feel that intensity, too. For a young man who grew up wanting to be a Gopher, isn't at least part of that the chance to feel the Minnesota-UND rivalry? Certainly, that youngster didn't dream of growing up and wanting to play Northeastern or Boston College. Or Penn State, for that matter.

It's the reality, the hand we're dealt. As a college hockey fan, I'm going to really miss these two teams playing each other. Hopefully, cooler heads prevail, and the teams can start scheduling each other as soon as it's humanly possible to do so.

In the meantime, I can only hope a couple years off will make people appreciate what this rivalry should be about. It's not about the extracurriculars that have marred games. It's not about handshake-line hi jinx. It's not about taking a chance to spit on a coach or throw something at a player.

It's about great players and great hockey. Just ask Blake Wheeler.

Or Chris Porter.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

League Title Still Realistic Goal for UMD, But Colorado College Series Vitally Important

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- When UMD started its 2012-13 WCHA schedule 0-4-2 and sat tied for last place with two points, no one was thinking about the Bulldogs making a run for the MacNaughton Cup title in their last season in the league.

You can't win the league in October/November, but getting two points in six games is usually not a recipe for future success.

However, this WCHA isn't quite like the others.

Entering this weekend, there are eight teams at the top of the standings separated by a mere four points. The jumble is so tight that eighth-place Minnesota State -- swept by Wisconsin in two overtime games last week in Mankato -- would be tied for first if it had won those two games instead of losing them.


Since that 0-4-2 beginning, UMD is 7-2-1 in WCHA play, including 6-1-1 in the last eight league games.

That surge has left UMD just three points out of first place entering a weekend series here against Colorado College.

"Our big goal is to win the league, and then move on from there," junior forward Joe Basaraba said this week.

The best part? He wasn't kidding.

UMD has as good a chance of winning this league as anyone does at this point. The Bulldogs have been playing well, and have swept their last two league series. Yes, three of their remaining six league series are against teams currently ahead of them, but two of those (Denver and UNO) are at home. The other (Minnesota) is a rivalry series that we'll take our chances in.

These two games at CC are vitally important. The Tigers have slumped as of late, but much of that coincides with a long stretch without a home game, along with a very tough schedule.

"We played poorly at Omaha," coach Scott Owens said. But he feels his team was better in a weekend split last week at Grand Forks.

"We had a nice game Friday. Played a good 60-minute game. Up there, any win or points you can get is a good thing.

"We've been out of the World Arena for 40 days, and we're excited to get back home."

The Bulldogs have some tough league series coming. Hell, look at the standings. Every game is tough. But it won't be easy to get points from any of these teams. Not Denver. Not Minnesota State. Not Bemidji State. Certainly not Minnesota or Omaha.

And not Colorado College.

UMD has to continue trending upward, as it did last week against Michigan Tech. The Bulldogs blocked 20 shots in Friday's win, then turned around and blocked 23 shots Saturday. The back end wasn't as sharp Saturday, allowing too many good scoring chances and too much traffic in front of Matt McNeely. However, UMD did a great job bearing down on its scoring chances and wreaking havoc on the other end of the rink.

More of the same is needed this weekend. CC is 56th of 59 teams in Division I in scoring defense, giving up 3.75 goals per game. The Tigers have allowed three or more goals in 15 straight games. On the flip side, only two of their nine wins have come in games where they scored fewer than four goals.

If UMD can do the same kind of job defensively that it did last weekend, it should be at least a good weekend for the visitors. It's oversimplifying, but the Tigers aren't the kind of team that has shown it can win a close, low-scoring game. You have to slow them down to beat them.

It's easier said than done. Rylan Schwartz hasn't forgotten how to play hockey because his brother turned pro. William Rapuzzi and Alexander Krushelnyski are producing, as is Scott Winkler. This team can fill the net, so a puck-possession game and strong defense are keys. They can't score without the puck, and if you force their top guys to play defense, you stand a chance of either wearing them down or frustrating them. Either way, odds of winning increase.

UMD has to keep improving on draws, use the big sheet (get the puck wide and make sure to make CC defend the whole ice, not just the middle of the rink), and get points in this series. Preferably four.

If the climb continues, there will be more talk about walking out of this league with the championship. If that happens, UMD can compare itself to the Best In The World.

Yes, I just made a wrestling reference in a hockey post. And if you know what I'm talking about, you're nodding your head over it.

(By the way, that was an amazing match. Great stuff.)

Anyway, UMD is right in this thing, but there can be no letdown this weekend. No matter how close the standings are, there will eventually be some separation, and the Bulldogs can ill afford to make this chase more difficult than it already is.

Alabama-Huntsville Program Saved With Membership to WCHA

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Greetings from the home of National Collegiate Hockey Conference headquarters, where news from the league UMD and Colorado College are leaving after this season is making waves throughout college hockey.

I'll have more on the UMD-CC series later, and you can check here Friday for lines and throughout the weekend for notes and things.

Thursday, the WCHA announced it has granted full membership to the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

Here is the league's press release.

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s membership voted today (January 17) to admit the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) as a full-time men’s conference member. The vote of approval was taken after UAH submitted an application for membership and made a formal presentation to a WCHA group of member-team Presidents and Athletic Directors at a meeting held in conjunction with the NCAA Convention in Dallas, Tex.
The addition of University of Alabama in Huntsville into college hockey’s most historic and successful conference will bring future men’s league membership to 10 teams. Their membership will be effective as soon as 2013-14.

WCHA men’s membership in 2013-14 currently consists of University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Bemidji State University, Bowling Green State University, Ferris State University, Lake Superior State University, Michigan Technological University, Minnesota State University, Mankato and Northern Michigan University.

In issuing a joint statement on behalf of the Association, Dr. Richard Davenport, President of Minnesota State University, Mankato and Chair of the WCHA President’s Group, and Bruce McLeod, Commissioner of the WCHA, said “The WCHA is delighted to have reached in principle an agreement to officially welcome University of Alabama in Huntsville into the Association family as a full-time men’s member. This is a significant day for the Chargers, the community of Huntsville, the conference itself, and college hockey in general. Growing the game and assisting developing programs however possible has always been a charge of the WCHA and this is another positive evolution in our history.

“Each of our member institutions are 100% committed to keeping the WCHA among the premier conferences in all of collegiate athletics and our respective ice hockey programs both strong and vibrant. The University of Alabama in Huntsville is a dynamic, top-quality institution with an excellent academic and athletic reputation and without question the Chargers are going to be a great fit and a successful, contributing member.

“Just as the entire UAH campus and the Huntsville community are exhilarated to now have a welcoming home for their men’s hockey program, the WCHA is also extremely proud and gratified to be providing that home.”

Said University of Alabama in Huntsville President Robert Altenkirch, “We’re pleased that our ice hockey team is going to have the opportunity to compete and grow in a NCAA Division 1 conference. We believe that our affiliation with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association will be a tremendous boost to our recruiting, scheduling and our ability to be competitive on the ice.

“We want to thank the WCHA and its member institutions for their confidence in allowing us to be a part of their conference. Their affirmative vote will invigorate our ability to maintain our great hockey tradition.”

UAH Director of Athletics Dr. E.J. Brophy said, “All athletic programs experience special defining moments, and our hockey program’s acceptance today into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association is certainly one of those moments. The WCHA is a preeminent hockey conference in America, and I know that our student-athletes, coaches, fans, friends, alums and the people of Huntsville are ecstatic and proud of this giant step for our ice hockey program.

“The last time we were in a conference, we won the conference tournament and advanced to the NCAA tournament, which will be our immediate and ambitious goal when we begin play in the WCHA. It is a banner day for the Chargers.”

This is great news for UAH. It's a program that almost died once, and has been rejected multiple times by conferences. UAH made a serious bid to join the CCHA a few years ago, but the league rejected the program, even knowing it was on the verge of losing its conference, and despite the fact that Huntsville isn't exactly a million miles away from the "epicenter" of what the CCHA once was.

The WCHA did a good thing when it took Bemidji State, and it's doing a good thing here. There is upside with the UAH program, which outdrew CCHA teams while a member of the CHA, despite a ten-game home schedule with absolutely no marquee opponents.

The move makes the WCHA a ten-team league, which removes a bit of a burden on the scheduler (you don't have to have a team on bye every week if you don't want to). If I were the league, I'd shoot for a 24 game conference schedule, allowing teams to schedule out of conference games, and making sure that not everyone has to go to Alaska twice in a season. At 26 games, a team would play four opponents four times (home and away series) each. The other five teams would be faced either at home or on the road. It leaves an uneven number of home games, though, and is probably undesirable for that reason.

24 games would be home and away series against three opponents, and either a home or away series against the other six. Teams would rarely -- if ever -- have to go to Alaska twice in this format, depending on how you laid it out.

The WCHA has options here, and thanks to the WCHA, Huntsville's hockey program has a future. A tip of the cap to all involved for getting this done.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Game 22: Michigan Tech at UMD

This is going to be quick. Lots going on, so no time to chat.



Farley - Cameranesi - Seidel
Crandall - Herbert - Krause
Sampair - Hendrickson - Basaraba
Danberg - Tardy - Flaherty

Olson - Welinski
Smith - Casto
Bergman - Johnson

McNeely - Fons

Johnstone (David) - Khaira - Petan
Furne - Holmberg - Hietala
Pietila (Blake) - Kero - Gould
Eick - Rix - Pietila (Chad)

Stebner - Nielsen
Sova - Hyland
Seigo - Sweeney

Copley - Genoe

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Get the Goaltending to Win Close Game

For UMD, the season's first 20 games featured some solid goaltending, some not-as-good goaltending, and never a performance that was good enough to completely hold a team off the scoreboard.

Until now.

Freshman Matt McNeely was outstanding when called upon Friday, making 28 saves in a 1-0 win over Michigan Tech. The win keeps UMD very much in the thick of the WCHA's jumbled home ice race. After Friday's games, the Bulldogs sit a point behind sixth-place Minnesota State.

UMD controlled chunks of Friday's game, and when Michigan Tech had offensive zone possession, the Bulldogs took to blocking shots. The game's official stat sheet credited UMD with 20 blocked shots, though that number even seemed a tad low.

Freshman defenseman Andy Welinski returned earlier than expected from an upper body injury. While there were a few in the press box who thought Welinski would only play an occasional five-on-five shift, the plan was clear early. Welinski didn't appear to have any restrictions, and he played probably in the neighborhood of 26-28 minutes.

(It was probably a good thing Welinski wasn't being saved for special teams, as each team only had three power plays.)

Max Tardy got his first point of the season, thanks to a nice setup for Joe Basaraba on the game's only goal. Tardy found Basaraba streaking down the slot, and the big junior found a way to fish the puck underneath Tech goalie Pheonix Copley, who made 41 saves and looked at times like he was bigger than the goal he was protecting.

McNeely had his moments late in the game, making a succession of saves when Tech pulled Copley in the final 90 seconds.

There was a lot of neutral-zone play in this game, there was some sloppy play, and there was some tight defensive coverage, despite the high number of shots. UMD had its moments where there were too many turnovers and bad decisions with the puck, but players made better decisions than in Florida, where McNeely was hung out to dry way too much for anyone's liking.

As the drive for a top six spot continues, the next step for these Bulldogs is winning at home on a Saturday. The last league series -- in Anchorage -- ended up with UMD sweeping the Seawolves after a tightly-contested Saturday game. However, UMD is 0-3-1 on Saturdays at home, including relatively unacceptable performances against St. Cloud State and Bemidji State.

Turn that around this weekend, and things might again start to look in the right direction for UMD.


Controversy in Minneapolis Friday, as Minnesota got two late power-play goals to beat Alaska-Anchorage 4-3.

In the final five minutes, UAA's Tyler Currier was ejected for hitting Minnesota captain Zach Budish from behind. The ensuing power play gave the Gophers the chance to score two pivotal goals and win.

Currier's hit was one of those where the target -- Budish -- turned at the last second, long after Currier had committed himself to the check. The turn came so late that Currier didn't hit Budish clean in the numbers. Instead, the principal point of contact appeared to be more on the side than the back.

By the letter of the law, with the officials not given the benefit of video review on these calls, it's absolutely defensible. The NCAA Rules Committee has placed an emphasis on hits from behind that come along the boards, long mandating major penalties and ejections for offending players.

Of course, we all know better. Especially in the WCHA, major penalties have required a different threshold not outlined in the rulebook. Instead, there seems to be a premium placed on the need for a player to be injured.

Knowing this, Budish did what he's supposed to do. He sold the hit long enough to get the call.

Then he didn't miss a shift, as he was out to start the power play.

Just watch, everyone. There's been enough of this going on to create support for making players who draw these major penalties sit for at least a chunk of the power play that results from the call. Doesn't seem fair, but it's out there.


Wisconsin won again, beating Minnesota State in overtime 4-3 on a goal by captain John Ramage. MSU goalie Stephon Williams had to leave the game in the third period to serve a five-minute major penalty for face-masking. After the penalty expired, but before there was a stoppage in play so MSU could re-insert Williams, the Badgers scored on backup Phil Cook. Bizarre.

Colorado College got by North Dakota in overtime, 4-3. The Tigers were swept in Omaha last weekend, but pulled off a really big win in Grand Forks, keeping their hopes alive to make a run.

Also, Denver got a Zac Larraza hat trick to beat Omaha 7-4. DU goalie Juho Olkinuora made 42 saves to help the Pioneers win a game in which they were badly outplayed for a good chunk by the league-leading Mavericks.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Game 21: Michigan Tech at UMD

For UMD, it's the start of a key stretch of games. If the Bulldogs are to make any kind of a run, it has to begin here.

This Michigan Tech team isn't quite the same as the one UMD took three points from Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Houghton. The Huskies have confident goaltending with Pheonix Copley, and the mission starts with trying to get in his kitchen and shake the confidence that comes with 70 saves over back-to-back shutouts.



Herbert - Cameranesi - Seidel
Crandall (Justin) - Hendrickson - Basaraba
Sampair - Young - Krause
DeLisle - Tardy - Flaherty

Olson - Welinski
Smith - Casto
McManus - Johnson

McNeely - Fons

Furne - Khaira - Petan
Pietila (Blake) - Johnstone (Jacob) - Hietala
Johnstone (David) - Kero - Gould
Eick - Rix - Pietila (Chad)

Stebner - Nielsen
Brown - Hyland
Seigo - Sweeney

Copley - Genoe

UMD's Home Ice Quest Starts With Michigan Tech

The season is far from over, but the UMD men's hockey team is in an interesting position.

Though only two points back of a home-ice spot in the WCHA playoffs, the Bulldogs have a sub-.500 RPI, and barring a serious run in the second half, are not likely to be in position to attain an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, thanks in large part to a 2-4 non-conference record.

Hurting the UMD cause more is the fact that the team has yet to go more than three games without a loss at any point over 20 games. To get in position for an NCAA bid, UMD needs to start stringing together strong play on a more consistent basis.

"At the end of the year, we want to play our best hockey going into the playoffs," coach Scott Sandelin said this week.

Judging by the first 20 games, UMD's best hockey is still to come. Let's hope it doesn't come too late.

Searching for consistency and balance, Sandelin has tweaked UMD's forward lines. The plan for Friday's series opener against Michigan Tech is to have Tony Cameranesi center Caleb Herbert and Mike Seidel, while Jake Hendrickson centers Justin Crandall and Joe Basaraba. Austyn Young's line with Charlie Sampair and Adam Krause is now the third line, meaning they will justifiably get more minutes after playing quite well over a four-game stretch together. The fourth line Friday has Max Tardy centering Dan DeLisle and Keegan Flaherty.

"Hopefully we can get three or all four lines to contribute," Sandelin said.

Young has been particularly impressive recently, earning time on UMD's second line and power play units during the Florida trip because of ejections and ineffective play on the part of others.

"It's a tough position (center) to play at this level," Sandelin notes. "There's a lot of responsibility. I think he's learning the defensive part of it. It's a work in progress."

If UMD is going to get on a run, it has to start this weekend, at least in part because the Bulldogs need to start getting better at home. UMD has ten home games and six on the road over the rest of the regular season, but the home record so far is a very pedestrian 3-4-1, including 0-3-1 on Saturdays.

"Maybe it's just a focus, a mindset, but we've been pretty good on the road the last four or five years," Sandelin said. "We have to take advantage of playing at home and make this a difficult place to play. Overall, we need to be better, period."

Michigan Tech won the Great Lakes Invitational two weeks ago, posting 4-0 wins over Michigan and Western Michigan to take the crown for the first time since 1982. Freshman Pheonix Copley made 70 saves over the two nights, picking up his second and third career wins. Sandelin said goaltending is a big difference in the Huskies' play from when UMD was in Houghton a month and a half ago. Tech coach Mel Pearson agrees, saying he doesn't think his team is playing better, outside of the goaltending being much improved at the GLI.

I thought Tech's defense gave Western fits in that championship game, keeping people from getting to Copley and disrupting his rhythm and vision. UMD needs to win those position battles this weekend and continue to get pucks to the net. Copley looked a bit shaky with his angles when we saw him in November, but he didn't have those problems at the GLI.

Perhaps a little traffic in his face will change the way he plays the game.

For UMD's sake, the need to win exists, so it'll be really interesting to see how the team comes out in this series. No longer are splits acceptable. Wins are a must.


Violations of team rules have caused the one-game suspensions of senior forward Cody Danberg, freshman forward Austin Farley, and senior defenseman Wade Bergman. They will all sit Friday's game.

Also, freshman defenseman Andy Welinski is injured (upper body). Word is that the plan is to have him sit this weekend and play next weekend at Colorado College, but he has looked good in practice this week.

Junior goalie Aaron Crandall (lower) is day to day. I'm not sure his availability for Friday. Expect freshman Matt McNeely to start either way, even if Crandall is deemed good to go.

There are no other significant injuries or maladies to report. As far as I'm aware, everyone else is good to go for Friday.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Random Rabble: Packers End Vikings Season

It probably went a week longer than even the biggest Vikings diehard could honestly have predicted, and it was relevant a good month-plus longer than expected, but the Minnesota Vikings saw their season end Saturday in Green Bay.

It probably didn't help much that Christian Ponder didn't play for Minnesota. I'm guessing that Bill Musgrave's inexplicable decision to have Joe Webb stand in the pocket and try to throw the ball didn't do the team any favors, either.

Also, give credit where it is due. The Packers were more physical, tougher at both lines of scrimmage, and showed why they were the better team for the preponderance of the season.

While we're dishing out credit, let's give some to the Vikings. First off, Leslie Frazier earned himself a contract extension (hopefully) with a seven-win improvement this season. Also, Adrian Peterson should be the NFL MVP after a 2,000-plus yard season that ended just nine yards short of the all-time single-season record. Ponder led this team to the playoffs with an outstanding performance against Green Bay (120.2 rating in that game was a career high for the QB).

Oh, and when the chips were down Saturday, and it was clear Ponder's elbow/arm injury was not going to permit him to throw the ball, Frazier and trainer Eric Sugarman made the kind of adult decision that Mike Shanahan -- perception-wise a much better NFL coach than Frazier -- failed to make with Robert Griffin III on Sunday.

They told Ponder to put on a hoody and watch the game. It significantly hurt the team's chance to win, but it did show that Ponder's health and well-being were more important.

(And they had the good sense to recognize that the injury severely hampered Ponder's ability to throw, something that meant it was stupid to have him play. If only Shanahan knew such logic.)

The Vikings did right in that decision, and the team played hard to try to stay in it with Green Bay. But Webb is suited for the option, not straight-drop passing. The Vikings probably asked him to do too much of the latter and not enough of the former, and Webb just couldn't hold up.

It highlights the need for Minnesota to acquire an NFL quarterback to back up Ponder, instead of having a gimmicky one-trick pony in Webb there.

For Green Bay, it was hardly a virtuoso performance. However, the Packers were good when they had to be, and the defense got the job done. They have some zone-read plays on tape now to look at and figure out how to defend it better. That's important, because San Francisco will run it plenty with Colin Kaepernick, and the Packers didn't do a great job of slowing Webb down when he ran.

Aaron Rodgers hit ten different receivers, didn't make any glaring mistakes, and knows his team has to get better in San Francisco. I expect QB1 to be ready, because he always finds weird ways to get pumped up, and San Francisco offers a homecoming against a team that passed on him in the draft in 2005.

He'll be pumped up for this, and his teammates will follow.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

WCHA Mid-Season Awards

Halfway through the WCHA season, it's time for my annual look back at what we've seen so far, complete with a look at what my All-WCHA ballot would look like if I had to fill it out now.

(Which, thankfully, I do not.)

We'll start with all-league teams.

Corban Knight, North Dakota
Ryan Walters, Omaha
Nic Dowd, St. Cloud State

Nick Jensen, St. Cloud State
Joey LaLeggia, Denver

Adam Wilcox, Minnesota

Drew LeBlanc, St. Cloud State
Alexander Krushelnyski, Colorado College
Erik Haula, Minnesota

Andy Welinski, UMD
Nate Schmidt, Minnesota

Stephon Williams, Minnesota State

Tony Cameranesi, UMD
Danny Kristo, North Dakota
Chris Knowlton, Denver

Derek Forbort, North Dakota
Jake McCabe, Wisconsin

Juho Olkinuora, Denver

Ben Hanowski, St. Cloud State; Kalle Kossila, St. Cloud State; JP Lafontaine and Matt Leitner, Minnesota State; Rylan Schwartz, Colorado College; Mike Seidel, UMD; Scott Winkler, Colorado College; Dominic Zombo, Omaha.

Wade Bergman, UMD: Mike Boivin, Colorado College; Andrew Prochno, St. Cloud State; Dillon Simpson, North Dakota.

Joel Rumpel, Wisconsin; Clarke Saunders, North Dakota

Tony Cameranesi, UMD
Kalle Kossila, St. Cloud State
Austin Farley, UMD

Andy Welinski, UMD
Mike Reilly, Minnesota

Adam Wilcox, Minnesota

WCHA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ryan Walters, Omaha
WCHA COACH OF THE YEAR: Mike Hastings, Minnesota State