Monday, November 29, 2010

Weekly Links

Picture of the Week: Lady Liberty Lightning - Via National Geographic's 2010 Photography Contest

  • Former Bulldog Rob Bordson was traded recently, from the Anaheim organization to Philly. It sounded like it wasn't working out for him in Syracuse. Per Syracuse's assistant GM:
"He gives us an honest effort. Rob had trouble putting up numbers. To this point, it hasn't happened. It hasn't been because of a lack of effort. He definitely has a chance of being an NHL player someday.''

Video of the Week: Aaron Crandall throws down!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Maroon Loon Tribute to the DECC

Jay Jackson, Maroon Loon from 1983-86, put together this video in honor of the closing of the DECC this weekend. It's pretty neat to see the Patron Saint of this blog in action, and the old game footage is pretty sweet. With all of the hoopla from moving into a new arena combined with our squad being tops in the nation, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Loon make an appearance soon.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why Does Huntsville, Alabama Have a Division I Hockey Team?

On the show a couple weeks back, Kriz and I were left wondering why there was a Division I college hockey team in Alabama. I did a little research and found that Alabama-Huntsville is the only independent team in Division I, being the odd man out in the College Hockey America conference dissolution. It hasn't been pretty for the Chargers in recent years. They haven't had a winning season in five years, and this year they're off to a 1-10-1 start. This intrigued me even further. Why bother paying for a crappy hockey team in Alabama? Who is supporting this? Well, without further ado, an abridged history of Alabama-Huntsville, and how hockey managed to find its way there:

In 1940 Huntville was just another sleepy town in northern Alabama, a two-hour drive south of Nashville nestled into the Tennessee valley. When America entered into WWII that all changed. Huntsville was chosen as the site of the Redstone Arsenal, which first served as a chemical warfare manufacturing and storage plant. At Redstone mustard gas, tear gas, Lewisite, and myriad of other terrible substances were made and stored.

In 1949 Redstone was slated to close, but luckily northern Alabama had a powerful Congressman in Washington. John Sparkman, who served from 1936-1978, (42 years! More than Oberstar!) happened to be on the Joint Committee on Defense Production, and through his influence the Marshall Space Flight Center was built in Huntsville. Now Redstone would shift emphasis from chemical weaponry to rocket science, with renowned German scientist Wernher von Braun heading up the effort to send a man into space.
Redstone rocket in action
As the de facto headquarters for all experimental rocket design, production, and testing, Huntsville attracted the best and brightest scientific and engineering minds from across America. In 1950 Huntsville's population was 16,437, in 1960 it had grown to 72,365, and by 1970 it was 139,282.

All of these engineers and scientists brought their hockey sticks and skates with them. By the late 1970s the first generation of the scientist's children were starting to enter college, and in 1979 the University of Alabama-Huntsville club hockey team debuted. The club team was incredibly successful, at one point winning three straight national championships in the early 1980s before being foiled by Bemidji State in the finals in an attempt for a fourth straight title.

From 1986-98 the Chargers bounced between Division I and II, picking up two Division II championships. So far they've been unable to sustain success in Division I, and were the only team left without a conference when College Hockey America dissolved. This year they're playing as an independent but the long-term future of hockey at Alabama-Huntsville is in question - Save UAH Hockey, Facebook.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Overtime Emotion and the Three Act Season

No event in athletics is as emotionally polarizing for a fan than the overtime goal in hockey. All of the shots and checks, dives and battles, the entire energy of the game is compressed into five minutes. One goal, fluke or fantastic, and it's over. When your team loses it's a deflating feeling. Battle all game and come away with nothing. Might as well been beat by five goals. When your team wins it's instant jubilation. Yell and high-five and whoop it up all night long, because it's all over, and you are the winner.

Bulldog fans have been experiencing a whole lot of instant jubilation lately. The Bulldogs got their 5th overtime-winner of the season in Madison Saturday night when Jack Connolly scored just over a minute into overtime to complete yet another sweep. Half of UMD's games this season have gone an extra session and they have yet to lose. In fact, they've only lost one of the last 23 overtime games. We've only experienced that dull, deflating feeling once in the last three years. We're blessed.

Although blessings/luck/mojo definitely play into the Bulldogs' overtime success this season, there's a much bigger reason for it than that. UMD has more legitimate scoring threats than any other team in the nation. Four different players have scored overtime winners. Eight different players have two-goal games. With the scoring burden spread so thin, no player has to be “the man” all weekend. Opposing teams can't key on one guy, or even one line. Every game a new guy, or a few guys, can be the hero.

So how did the Bulldogs make the leap from middle of the pack to top of the pile in one season? The reasons are threefold:

  1. The continued excellence of our top line 
The Bulldogs were counting on the Connolly-Fontaine line was going to deliver the bulk of the offense this year, and they have so far, accounting for 40% of UMD's goals. Last season they accounted for 42% of the scoring, so there's been no tangible drop-off there.

     2. Oleksuk, Olsen, and Schmitt have made the leap this season. 

Travis Oleksuk could make a case for team MVP this year. His phenomenal awareness has led to FIVE game-winning goals. Any other team in the WCHA would have Oleksuk on its first line. Dylan Olsen came into last season with a lot of hype, and at times looked lost, or at least unsure of himself. There is none of that this season. He now carries himself with a level of confidence that only the Connolly-Fontaine line can match. Olsen is the best NHL prospect on the team – great slapshot, great size, great speed. He won't be around for long. Schmitt has been somewhat overlooked on the stellar second line this year. He's quietly piled up six goals, and they always seem to come when one is sorely needed.

Dylan Olsen will be in that uniform sooner than you think

     3. Rookies have played far above expectations.

Justin Faulk came in with a lot of the same hype we saw for Olsen last season, and so far has shown the poise of a veteran, leading the Bulldogs in plus/minus coming into the Wisconsin series. He possesses a cannon of a shot – assistant coach Brett Larson said recently that Faulk has been denting the goalpost in practice. JT Brown has been electric. He hits much better than his wiry frame would suggest, and is one of our quickest and craftiest players. Aaron Crandall, who walked-on at UMD after Mike Eaves pulled his scholarship at Wisconsin, is leading the WCHA with a 1.80 goals against average. The sweet satisfaction of sweeping Eaves' squad was clearly visible through the vindictive nature of Crandall's taunts towards the Wisconsin bench in the aftermath of Saturday's tilt. Good for him.
Although Crandall and Reiter have put up decent stats so far, goaltending is the clear weakness of the Bulldogs at this point. Even though he is leading the WCHA is GAA, keep in mind that Crandall is a former walk-on who did not even see the ice until this season, and left the USHL with a career 12-40-5 record. Reiter was average last season and has looked average this season. He still struggles with positioning and rebound control, which the Badgers exposed Friday night. Compounding that weakness is our defense corps. Although they have been awesome offensively, they still leave way too many bodies out in front of the net and uncontested in the slot on defense.

Goaltending solid so far, but how far can Crandall and Reiter take us?
I see the regular season as a three act play. The first act stretches from the opener at Lake Superior State through last weekend's Michigan Tech series. We got to know the characters, warm up against some patsies, (combined winning percentage of Act 1 opponents - .458) and passed our only real test, which was going to North Dakota and getting a split.

The second act started against Wisconsin last weekend. This is the real meat grinder - @Wisconsin, hosting 2nd place Denver in the last series at the DECC, @UMTC, then the final scene, a rematch with North Dakota in the Amsoil Arena opener. Combined winning percentage of those teams: .591.

It's clear five weeks into league play that it's going to be a battle between UMD and North Dakota for the McNaughton Cup. They're in a class of their own at the top, with UNO and Denver not far behind. It took the play of the year for UMD to salvage a split at the Ralph, so undoubtedly emotions will be running high on December 30th when the Sioux come looking for revenge.

After a short intermission over Winter Break against Clarkson and the US Under-18 squad, the third act begins. We get UNO, Wisconsin, UMTC, and St. Cloud at Amsoil, and go on the road to face Colorado College, Mankato, and Michigan Tech. The Bulldogs couldn't ask for a better schedule. We go on the road for the three worst teams, and host the four best teams at our shiny new arena.

The first three acts are all just a warm up for the final two acts: The Final Five and NCAA Tournament. Only time will tell the ending to this play.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 6

This week we gush over Dylan Olsen, Jack Connolly, JT Brown, well pretty much everyone after dismantling Michigan Tech last weekend. We hear from Justin Fontaine and Jay Basaraba after scoring his first career goal. Also, we talk to JT Brown's father, Viking great Ted Brown at the Curling Club following the game.


Craig Smith Crashes the Net Like Hirsch and Some Badger Notes

I've probably watched that video 25 times this week. Crazy Sconnies.
After getting heartily booed by their home crowd in a 1-0 loss Friday, (in which they failed to get off a single shot on TWO five minute powerplays) the Badgers get outshot 43-16 in a 4-2 loss Saturday. That, my friends, is a terrible weekend. Goaltender Gudmundson kept them in it all weekend with 63 saves, but obviously, as Craig Smith displayed above, there were some frustrations in Badger Nation. Speaking of goalies, it will be interesting to see how Crandall does against the Badgers, considering Eaves yanked his scholarship a couple years back.

More negativity: It was the first time the Badgers lost back-to-back in 61 games, and leading goal scorer Jordy Murray left Saturday with a concussion. Head Coach Mike Eaves said he'll play this weekend though.

Prediction: It all hinges on Friday. If the Badgers come out flat tUMD will roll to a sweep. If not, we'll just have to hope for points.

I'll leave you guys with Hirsch's masterpiece. Craig Smith, take heed:

Weekly Links

  • Picture of the Week: Bonus Gif! Albert Haynesworth: Lazy Bastard. 
Video of the Week - This girl could make a LOT of money hustling Pop-a-Shots

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Surprisingly Good Second Line Comes From Impressive Pedigrees

A lot this year has been made about the Brown-Oleksuk-Schmitt line this year, and with good reason. Their emergence has pushed the Dogs from middle of the pack to the top of the WCHA. UMD's second line success was a surprise to me, but it makes sense when I took a look at all three of their pedigrees.

  • JT Brown - Father Ted Brown, Vikings RB (1979-86)
Ted Brown played running back for the Vikings for eight years, amassing 4,546 rushing yards, 2,850 receiving yards, and 53 touchdowns over his career. The 4,546 yards rushing is good enough to make him the Vikings 5th all-time leading rusher behind Robert Smith, Chuck Foreman, Bill Brown, and Adrian Peterson, who will probably be #1 on the list sometime next season. Also JT wears 23, just like his dad did.

  • Travis Oleksuk - Father Bill Oleksuk, UMD F (1978-82)
Bill Oleksuk played hockey for UMD from 1978-82, and racked up some pretty impressive numbers:


Travis has 41 career points ten games into his junior year after failing to lock down a secure spot in Sandelin's rotation his freshman year, and spraining his knee in the season opener last year. He won't catch his pops in career scoring, but he has a pretty good shot at 100 career points.

  • Kyle Schmitt - Uncle Brian Thun, C (Baseball) UMD, Brother Ryan Schmitt, Hockey, UWS

Schmitt's brother Ryan lettered in hockey at UW-Superior for a year and his uncle played catcher for the Bulldogs in 1986-87. In 1987 he batted .276 with 6 RBI and 3 steals. Pretty frisky for a catcher.

I know a lot of the roster comes from athletic backgrounds, it's no secret that athleticism runs in certain families. For instance, Jack Connolly's older brother Chris captains Boston University, the top-ranked team in the nation. Still it's interesting that all three players have can trace their lineage back through the local sports scene.

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 5

In this week's episode we recap our road trip out to Grand Forks for the split against the Sioux and talk about other happenings around the WCHA. Later we preview the upcoming series against the lowly yet feisty Michigan Tech Huskies and give props to the #1 ranked UMD Football squad.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mike Connolly's Ridiculous Behind-the-Back Pass & Some Tech Notes

Northland's NewsCenter was kind enough to post highlights of Saturday's win online, so now you can all see Mike's magic for yourselves. Stick tap to Rink and Run for the link.

A few notes on this weekend's series before I go.

  • Michigan Tech is bringing two busloads of band nerds again this year, so we'll have to bring our A game in drowning them out. A couple of quick goals would definitely help our cause.
  • Michigan Tech was off to it's best start since 1972-73 by going 3-0-2 in its first five games. Pretty pathetic. Last weekend they were idle and before that they were swept handily by Wisconsin, which means we should sweep them handily this weekend.
  • A lot of their quick start was due to their PP. They're 11/36 (30.6%) this year with the man advantage, which is second-best in the WCHA, behind Wisconsin. We're not too shabby ourselves, going 13/51, but our PK is ranked 7th in the WCHA. I'm feeling a shutout sometime this weekend. It just feels like we got the mojo this year.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 4

In this week's episode we talk about picking up 3 points at Bemidji's new rink and all the new happenings around the WCHA. Later we rehash our incredible championship run in intramural softball and talk a little women's hockey and football.

Catch the Maroon Loon every Thursday night at 9 PM on 103.3 KUMD.

Weekly Links

Picture of the Week: The Most Canadian Picture of All-Time: Mulleted, Mustachioed Hockey Players Sporting Denim Jerseys

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Weekend at the Ralph

    Left to Right: Ben Johnson, Dan Swangler, Alex Kriz
    Last year we went out to Grand Forks to take in a Bulldogs-Sioux series and visit our buddies Duke and Swangler. It did not go well. We were swept, getting outscored 10-3, and I awoke Sunday morning duct-taped to the pool table and sporting a massive black eye. Kriz was several feet to my left, curled up in the fetal position on the floor, looking in even rougher shape than I was.

    This year proved to be much different. After being outplayed in a 4-2 loss Friday, the Dogs bounced back with an exciting 3-2 OT victory on Saturday night. I awoke fairly comfortably on my buddy's futon, and Kriz awoke next to Swangler's cousin. Good times!

    We hit Highway 2 early Friday afternoon. Let me tell you something about Highway 2: It blows. It seemed like every time I got my '94 Camry rattling up to 75 mph, we would hit one of the many tiny towns built along the highway, and be forced to reduce speed to 50, then 40, then 30 for a mile or so. Finally we would get out of town and the process of coaxing the Camry back to 75 would start all over again. Highlights of the drive included seeing a woman on horseback pull into a liquor store in Erskine and numerous gigantic pickups hauling big bucks.

    Hunting Opener on Hwy 2:
    Huge truck, 4-wheeler, deer carcass.
    Friday's game was a disappointment. The Bulldogs played on their heels all game and couldn't carry the puck into the offensive zone at all. They were forced to dump and chase and the Sioux defense swallowed them up. The 4-2 final score, even with Corbin Knight's empty-netter with 11 seconds left, wasn't indicative to how lopsided the play was.

    On Friday UND's depth really shone. They were missing Malone, Rowney, Forbot and MacWilliam, and still looked to be much deeper than UMD. The numbers support it: Our third and fourth lines have combined for 8 points on the season and the Sioux's have 15. Our top two lines are as good as any team's, but we may have trouble this season with squads like the Sioux or the Gophers, who both have 15+ draft picks, which allows them to stack talent all the way through the lineup.  Oleksuk scored on a rebound goal, Fontaine finished off a ridiculous tic-tac-toe from the Connollys, and Crandall was solid enough to keep the game interesting, but it was the Sioux who carried the play from start to finish.

    Our seats were in the corner, three rows from the top of the arena.
    Sightline was great still, the Ralph is a top-notch venue.
    Saturday was much more even. UMD fell behind twice, but Mike Connolly and JT Brown both scored in the second period to leave it tied 2-2 going into the third. The third period might've been the most exciting period of the Bulldog's season, despite both teams going scoreless. Both teams had a bunch of chances but the goaltending was excellent, especially Reiter.

    Then in OT, the play of the year (so far) happened. Justin Faulk connected on a beautiful 100-foot pass (top of our circle across rink to ND blue line) to Mike Connolly to give the Bulldogs a 2-on-1 breakaway. Then Mike made a absolutely dirty behind-the-back drop pass to Fontaine, who was left uncontested, point-blank in the slot to bury the game winner. 3-2 Dogs. We finally won one at the Ralph. Whew. You can see the goal for yourself here. (play starts around the 2:38 mark if you don't want to watch all of the highlights)
    Post-game celebration

    A couple of parting thoughts:
    • Places I was heckled: In the parking lot, the bathroom, stands, bar, well, pretty much everywhere we went we were mean-mugged or yelled at. I realize we were wearing the opposing team's jersey and this is to be expected, but the vitriol towards us was much more intense than last year. I don't think the Sioux fans like the "Gopher Rejects" coming into their arena ranked six spots higher than them.
    • As much as we were heckled, it was nothing compared to what the refs got Saturday night. Sioux fans hate Shepard. Wow. There was scarcely a moment during the second half of Saturday's game when I couldn't hear a Sioux fan crying about some call. Apparently every single call went against North Dakota and Shepard has a longstanding, personal vendetta against them. I was embarrassed for the Sioux faithful. 
    • We entered the weekend in first place and ranked #2 in the nation. Today we're still in first place and still ranked #2 in the nation. 
    • Hopefully we don't have to go back to the Ralph again this season. We're 3-16-2 there in the last 21 games. It was a hard-fought split between the two best teams in the WCHA. Until December 30th...
    Nice to have Grand Forks in the rearview mirror.

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    Weekly Links

    I love the internet. I also spend way too much time wading through all of its filth trying to find nuggets of gold. Here's what I found this week:

    • Yesterday I mentioned how hard Dylan Olsen's shot was, but he has a long way to go to beat Brad Richards.
    • Alex Ovechkin scores two times in 12 seconds. That's the same amount he scored in four career Game 7s.
    • We have some competition for best car ever. Duluth's own convertible van.
    • As someone who studied abroad in England for a year, this doesn't surprise me at all. Note: I don't personally have anything against gays, just saying English guys tend to be very 'metrosexual' and lame.
    • I bet the Stewart/Colbert rally last weekend was a madhouse. Wish I could've gone, because I thought the signs were great. 
    • YouTube Video of the Week - Insane HS Sports Announcers go Insane. I'd love to hear Bruce Ciskie do this sometime.
    2010_1022_Abington_vs_Rockland_Touchdown_Nullified from Norm Caseley on Vimeo.