Monday, March 16, 2015

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Wait For Selection Sunday

DENVER -- For UMD, a frustrating Saturday defeat starts up the waiting game.

UMD fell 4-0 to Denver Saturday. A strong start -- the Bulldogs had the game's first seven shots on goal and also hit a post in the early going -- went for naught when DU's Trevor Moore scored with 22 seconds left in the first period. Danton Heinen made the highlight reel in the second, then Matt Tabrum added one off sloppy defensive zone play by UMD. The Pioneers added an empty-netter from Joey LaLeggia late to get us to the final margin.

Like Friday, there were more than a few bounces that didn't go UMD's way. But I thought Denver was the better team for more of Saturday's game than was the case Friday. By late in the Saturday rematch, the Bulldogs looked much more fatigued than they did at any point Friday.

That's become the reality. UMD has played 22 games over 11 weekends, and it's come with some tough travel -- two trips to Denver, plane trips to Western Michigan and Miami that included plenty of bus time as well, along with January bus trips to Thunder Bay and Grand Forks -- and a thinning roster hit by illness and injuries.

I wrote about this in December, and again in January. UMD needed to stay healthy because of the thinned-out roster. Before the January part of the schedule started, UMD lost Sammy Spurrell (medical redshirt after back surgery) and Brett Boehm (left team mid-season). Coming out of break, Dan Molenaar fell ill with mono, and eventually Alex Iafallo got that, too. Throw in Dominic Toninato's injury and one to freshman Blake Young, and it's been since Feb. 5, the night Toninato went down, since UMD has been able to field its preferred lineup. That's 11 games where UMD has gone 4-5-2, and amazingly still holds a strong position in the PairWise (more on that in a moment).

And trust me, not everyone in that lineup is 100 percent. Many players aren't at this point around college hockey. There are almost always guys playing with injuries of some sort. In a lot of cases, players who can manage the pain and aren't going to make whatever is wrong worse will do everything they can to get in the lineup. The spread of illness is almost inevitable as the winter months move along, too.

Do the Bulldogs need to play better to make a run? Yes. Starts with the power play, which is scoreless in three straight games and five of six after a very good weekend against Miami. Spills into five-on-five play, where UMD has been much leakier than earlier in the season.

(Iafallo has missed six games with mono. Over those six games, UMD has been outshot by an average of around three per game. It's a departure of nine shots per game from before Iafallo went down. In those 32 games, UMD outshot opponents by six per game. It's not all about getting Iafallo back, but he's a key to this team's puck possession, power play, offensive dynamic, and also to its defensive play.)

But UMD's health should improve with this week off. I have to think Iafallo will be dying to return for regionals, and it gives guys a few extra days to heal minor bumps and bruises. The week off guarantees nothing, because we've all seen teams come off a bye rusty in the past. It'll be a challenge for UMD to avoid that. But it's hard to imagine this not helping in the long run.


Now it's time to hurry up and wait. UMD will be off this week before learning its NCAA Tournament fate Sunday morning. Of course, we'll know before the actual selection show on ESPN, but it won't be official until then.

We're certain UMD will make the tournament. As of this writing, the Bulldogs are sixth in the PairWise, which mimics the selection process and has yet to be wrong about which teams get in. With Denver third, I would imagine the committee sends UMD to whatever regional the Pioneers are in.

North Dakota is No. 1 and has to play in Fargo. I'd imagine Boston University is sent to the Manchester bracket if it's at all possible to help attendance there, especially if Providence makes the tournament and can be sent to Providence (Brown is actually the host there, so Providence doesn't have to go to that regional).

The committee doesn't have to drive attendance to Fargo. It's sold out and has been for like 14 years. It's the other three regionals that face "empty arena" prospects, especially South Bend now that Notre Dame is officially out (lost Game 3 to Lowell Sunday and couldn't make the tourney as an at-large even if it was ranked high enough, thanks to a losing record overall).

I'm not a PairWise or NCAA committee expert, but if I had to guess, UMD would be placed in the Providence regional, which would look like this:

3 Denver vs 14 Providence
6 UMD vs 11 St. Cloud State

Whoa, tiger, SCSU and UMD are in the same conference. Well, let's look at the Manchester regional, as it stands right now:

4 Boston University vs 13 Minnesota
5 Michigan Tech vs 12 Bowling Green

Well, Tech and Bowling Green are also in the same conference. Easy swap of Bowling Green and St. Cloud State, and you have two straight-forward brackets.

3 Denver vs 14 Providence
6 UMD vs 12 Bowling Green

4 Boston University vs 13 Minnesota
5 Michigan Tech vs 11 St. Cloud State

The rest of the field, I think:

1 North Dakota vs 16 AHA champ (Robert Morris is the No. 1 seed)
8 Omaha vs 9 Boston College

2 Minnesota State vs 15 Harvard
7 Miami vs 10 Quinnipiac

That's right now. It'll change by Saturday night. And you can see the possibilities for yourself. USCHO and College Hockey News both run programs this time of year where you can plug in winners of conference tournament games to see how it affects the PairWise.

I don't have a dog in the competition between these two sites for your clicks/eyeballs, but I do like USCHO's new wrinkle, which is a table that shows where each team is landing based on the unique scenarios already run by users. As of this early Monday morning writing, this table is showing UMD as high as third and no lower than seventh in the final standings. Anything fourth or higher is a No. 1 regional seed.

I know there are some hardcore UMD fans out there reading this blog. I thank you, and now I have a challenge for you. If you are inclined to run different scenarios, I'm looking for a couple specific results, just to see if they're possible.

I'd like to know if UMD can possible be placed in North Dakota's regional. That would require UND be No. 1 and UMD either No. 8 or No. 9, or UMD can be No. 7 in the final rankings if North Dakota falls to second.

Also, I'm curious if it's possible to get three NCHC teams in the top four of the final PairWise.

If you run a scenario that makes any of the above happen, copy the URL of your PWR standings page once you've run the scenario (both sites give you a unique URL that shows the scenario you concocted), and either post it in the comments, email it to me, or send me a tweet @bruceciskie.

I doubt you'll hear from me much before Sunday, barring UMD-related news that I'm not expecting.

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