Monday, November 30, 2015

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Back to Work

Hope you all had a good Thanksgiving. It was another holiday weekend off for UMD, which regularly does not play that weekend. It's a good time for a week off, as the Bulldogs were going every weekend from the start of the season. With final exams coming soon, UMD has two weekends of hockey left before the holiday break.

Of course, anytime you go unbeaten in three, get a rousing "win" at home and back-to-back road shutouts, you probably don't want to have a bye. Alas, the schedule is what the schedule is.

Now, UMD will be tasked with coming out of the rest with four strong performances before the halfway mark of the season hits.

There isn't much to say about the Colorado College sweep. UMD took care of business against a team it needed desperately to beat twice. The Tigers went to 0-12 with the losses, and while they got their first win of the year by beating Air Force on Saturday night, they're not a good team. UMD couldn't afford to lose, but I thought the Bulldogs played pretty well, especially in the first period on Friday and then most of Saturday's game. Shots were more even on Saturday because CC played much better, but UMD wasn't as leaky defensively.

Scott Sandelin wanted a more responsible performance from his group, and it looked like he got it. And once UMD popped a couple goals in late in the first period, the Tigers weren't the same. They were a shaken outfit that played like it. Good in spurts, but no confidence that anything good would come of the effort.

Don't discount these games, though. UMD needed to get some confidence of its own, especially in the offensive zone. After scoring 24 goals on 407 shots in 11 games (5.9 percent), the Bulldogs potted 11 on 70 shots against Colorado College (15.7 percent).

By comparison, St. Cloud State has 60 goals this season, on just 447 shots on goal (13.4 percent). If UMD scored on 13 percent of its 477 shots this season, the Bulldogs would have 62 goals, not 35.


(Yes, we're staying on that story. Much of SCSU's crazy shooting percentage is the result of a power play that's clicking at 30 percent, and that's more than double UMD's power play success rate of 14 percent. But it's something worth watching as the season goes on.)


Up next is Western Michigan. It'll be interesting to see how UMD fares this weekend after going 1-4-1 in the last six games against the Broncos, including a very meh 1-2-1 last year. At home, UMD is 1-4-1 against Western Michigan since the NCHC launched in 2013-14.

Western is a very structured team, but the Broncos have struggled as of late. WMU has lost six straight -- outscored 27-7, though one of those games is an 11-1 loss to St. Cloud State, so the total is a little misleading -- since a sweep of Omaha to open NCHC play. At 4-8-1, the Broncos are badly in search of a pick-me-up, and they probably look forward to this trip to Duluth, a place they've recently played well.

I'll get a chance later this week to watch back Western Michigan's losses to RPI (4-1) and Notre Dame (3-1) at the Shillelagh Tournament in South Bend over the holiday weekend. What's clear without the magic of digital video is that Western didn't score even-strength on the weekend, and the Broncos have scored just one even-strength goal in four games.

I like this Western team, honestly. They've got size (Mike McKee is 6-5 and having a good season so far, Willem Nong-Lambert is 6-4, Aaron Hadley 6-3, Aidan Muir 6-4, Scott Moldenhauer is 6-4, Neal Goff 6-5, and you get the drift) and what I think is underrated skill with guys like Sheldon Dries, Nolan LaPorte, Kyle Novak, Griffen Molino, and Colt Conrad. Despite allowing 11 goals in that SCSU disaster, the team save percentage is a respectable .900. Andy Murray has rotated goalies so far, with senior Lukas Hafner getting seven starts and Ohio State transfer Collin Olson six. The blue line has been shaky at times, and if UMD can play well in the neutral zone (a huge key this weekend, in my opinion), there should be opportunities to attack with speed.

Just don't assume that Western has all these trees and can't skate. You'll be quickly proven very wrong if you do.

(By the way, a country concert at Amsoil Arena will push UMD's practices to the DECC Wednesday and Thursday of this week. They aren't taking the ice out, only covering it for the show, so hopefully there aren't a lot of adverse impacts in that regard.)


During the bye week, College Hockey News broke some pretty significant news, reporting the Big Ten proposed legislation that would prevent 21-year-olds from entering college hockey with a full four years of eligibility.

(The site has a special section with updates on the story here.)

It's a proposal that -- per the story -- came largely from Minnesota coach Don Lucia, and he didn't really deny that at his weekly press conference last week. He said it was discussed as a Big Ten group, and once the Big Ten's coaches were on board, they decided to go forward with it.

I'm going to tread carefully. Frankly, I value my relationship with the University of Minnesota and with Lucia, both of which -- I think, at least -- have been good. Lucia has always made time for me, which can be difficult with televised games against UMD, because there TV wanting both coaches, and both coaches have similar pregame availability. He's never blown me off, and I appreciate that. I also think he's always been honest with me (and, by extension, my audience). I value that in coaches, because you don't always get it.

I respect what Lucia has accomplished in this sport, and I do think his perspective is a valuable one, even if I don't see eye to eye with him. And I don't see eye to eye with him, or any of the 11 coaches who -- according to CHN -- are in favor of this proposal.

Lucia answered every question that was asked last week of him. Here are a couple quotes, and I swear I'll try to move on.

"I don’t buy the fact that schools recruit older players. They recruit players and then delay them."

There are many examples of 20-year-olds being recruited and signing late in the process, often to take the spot of a kid who left early. When a school unexpectedly loses a player to pro hockey, there are two choices: Bring an existing recruit in a year early, or find a late bloomer.

For me, as a parent, I don’t think many kids leave to go play junior hockey thinking, "I’m gonna play [in juniors] three years." And every kid that’s playing college hockey, the beauty of it would be they just go to college a year earlier. I don’t see anything wrong with that. For me, philisophically, I don’t think there should be 22-year old freshmen (by the end of the season). Other people can disagree, and that’s fine. That’s what the intent was, I think it’s a good rule; it’s good for fans, it’s good for kids to be in college in closer proximity to the age of their peers.

Feel how you want to feel, but can you at least give me a reason why there shouldn't be 22-year-old freshmen? Why is this such a big problem that we need to change a rule to stop it?

With all due respect to Lucia (and that's a lot), I think he and the other coaches are off-base here. And it's not a good optic for any of them.

Most kids don't play three years of juniors post-high school. This rule isn't going to change much. There will still be the chance of facing 25-year-old kids who either redshirted or turned 21 after starting their freshman season, which followed two years of junior hockey.

It makes the Big Ten look bad, something the new conference in college hockey doesn't need right now. The league already has the perception of the group responsible for all these changes in college hockey, and the league isn't good right now (1-14-1 against the NCHC, for example). Now it looks like B1G coaches are trying to use the conference's position of power to push a rule change that is all about their inability to win. Even if that's an unfair sentiment, it's the prevailing public opinion in the wake of this story coming out.

Basically, I see a rule proposal that's searching for a problem to solve.

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