Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bring on the Gophers

Well, well, well, a ragtag bunch of Bulldog rejects from the southern branch of our fine university is making their way north this weekend. Maybe we'll let them admire our new hardware. Maybe we can set up a scrimmage pitting our other defending champs (football) against their especially hapless excuse for a team. (Michigan 58, Minnesota 0 was the most pitiful football game I've ever watched)

In all seriousness though, this series screams split. We went 1-1-2 against the Gophers last year, outscoring them 12-11 in the process. Every game was close. Mike Connolly going off for five goals at Amsoil and Kent Patterson stopping 78 of 82 shots - including some absolute beauties in the clutch - in a series at Mariuchi stand out as the most memorable moments from our meetings last year.

Fresh off a Class 2A title at Eden Prarie, highly-touted freshman Kyle Rau teams up with Zach Budish and Nick Bjugstad on the Gophers' top line. In goal Patterson has always been good against the Bulldogs, posting a .936 save percentage and a 2.38 goals against, although he has only won one game in six tries.

This weekend is paramount in building UMD's budding reputation as a true Minnesota hockey power program, as well as setting the tone for a successful run in WCHA play this year. Let's go get it.

Opening Weekend in the Books

We had an electrifying 4-3 win Friday after raising the banner only to fall apart and give up five straight goals after a bad bounce Saturday. I'll take a split against the top-ranked team in the nation. Let's talk about the good and the bad from the weekend that was.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Five Predictions for the 2011-12 Season

5) UMD will win more games than people think because of an easy schedule
This year the Bulldogs play both home and away series with only three teams in the WCHA: Alaska-Anchorage, Mankato, and Michigan Tech, AKA the three perennial conference doormats. Not one of these teams has finished above 8th place for the last three years, and they're expected to finish 10th, 11th and 12th again this year.

Now this is good news for the Bulldogs because they can rack up conference points and have a good shot at making the Final Five. Also winning builds confidence, which will be important to a squad that just lost three of its top six scorers and its top two defensemen. In the long run a weak schedule will negatively affect UMD's Pairwise ranking, which could leave the Bulldogs on the outside looking in if they're on the bubble come NCAA tournament selection day.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Offseason Recap

Whew, well that was an eventful offseason. A quick recap:

Comings & Goings
Smile Scott, you're rich now
  • Sandelin briefly flirted with the brand-new Penn State coaching vacancy, but ultimately ended up signing a fat extension on the heels of his first ever national championship.
  • Assistant Coach Brett Larson did leave, however. He took a hefty raise to become the Sioux City Musketeers' (USHL) head coach/general manager. 
  • Sandelin replaced Larson with fellow UND alum Jason Herter, who, oddly enough was the head coach/general manager of the Fargo Force (USHL) last season.
  • Recent UMD alums Justin Fontaine (Wild), Mike Connolly (Sharks), Evan Oberg (Panthers) and Dylan Olsen (Blackhawks) will begin the season in the AHL. 
  • Justin Faulk (Hurricanes) and Tim Stapleton (Jets) have a good chance to make the opening day roster. 
  • Mason Raymond hopes to be back by mid-season after breaking a vertebrae in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. 
  • Championship game hero Kyle Schmidt will play in Norway this season.
College Hockey Apocolypse

What's less creative? The name or the logo?

It all started when Penn State decided to take their hockey program to the Division I level behind an $88 million donation by Sabres owner Terry Pegula.

This led to the formation of the Big 10 conference, which led to the formation of National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) which led to the leftover programs from the CCHA joining the depleted ranks of the WCHA. Also, as of today, Notre Dame, Bowling Green, and Alabama-Huntsville don't have a formal conference affiliation for the 2013-14 season, but that is sure to change.

So, right now this is what college hockey will look like in 2013-14:

NCHC                                                    Big 10
North Dakota                                          Minnesota
Nebraska-Omaha                                    Wisconsin
Denver                                                    Penn State
Colorado College                                     Michigan
UMD                                                      Michigan State
Western Michigan                                   Ohio State
St. Cloud

WCHA                                                   Unaffiliated
Bemidji State                                         Notre Dame
Minnesota State-Mankato                       Bowling Green
Alaska-Anchorage                                  Alabama-Huntsville
Michigan Tech
Northern Michigan
Lake Superior State
Ferris State

Image (via)
The Big 10 conference was a no-brainer once Pegula poinied up the cash for Penn State. They already have strong rivalries in place and a programming-hungry TV network to feed. The NCHC was a bit of a surprise, but I can understand the reasoning behind it. Top-tier WCHA and CCHA teams didn't want to get left behind money or recruiting-wise by the new, rich Big 10 conference, so they allied together to create their own powerful conference.

Of course this ruins a lot of the decades of history and rivalries the two conferences had built. I, for one, loved that all five Division I hockey programs in Minnesota were in the same conference, because it made for great roadtrip opportunities. I doubt I will be driving out to Miami, Ohio or Kalamazoo, Michigan anytime soon to catch a series, but I suppose over the years that could change.

The good news is that these new 'power conferences' will probably lead to a higher national profile for college hockey. It would be cool to see college hockey get a shoutout on SportsCenter every once in a while, or a package of nationally televised games on Versus/NBC Sports.

The bad news is that it segregates college hockey into the haves and the have-nots. It's like in college football and basketball, where there are the power conferences and the mid-majors, and I'm not sure Division I college hockey is popular enough to sustain a whole sub-division of mid-major programs.

Only time will tell if the 2011 offseason brought good or bad onto the world of college hockey. In the meantime let's just agree to enjoy the season. Season preview starts tomorrow, with one post going up every day until puck drop Friday against Notre Dame.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On Hiatus

Summer is here and it's probably sunny out. Go outside and turn that pasty white into peeling pink. Back in July with some season review/preview stuff.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Offseason Notes

The Bulldogs are national champs. Has it sunk in yet? Well their chances at a repeat took a beating in the last week. Let's break it down:
  • The biggest loss of the offseason was Mike Connolly signing with San Jose. He was UMD's best player last season, and due to his size he wasn't a lock to go pro like Justin Faulk was. But his cocky, feisty on-ice demeanor combined with the NHL's efforts to crack down on clutching and grabbing bode well for his professional success. It would be awesome to see him on the ice with Stalock in the Shark Tank in the near future.
    • NHL $600K/AHL $67.5K/Bonus $180K
  • As expected, Justin Faulk signed with the Hurricanes and is skating with their AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers in the playoffs this week. I can't imagine that booming slapper and remarkable poise (especially for a 19 year-old) keeping him in the AHL for long.
    • NHL $750K/AHL $67.5K/Bonus $270K
  • Justin Fontaine signed with the Minnesota Wild. This was somewhat expected, as he skated at the Wild's Development Camp last offseason and played well. This signing comes on the heels of the Wild locking up Chay Genoway to a max deal. As a college hockey and Wild fan I'm pleased to see the Wild brass go after top college talent.
    • NHL $550K/AHL $60K/Bonus $90K
    • Genoway $1.2 million NHL
  • Head Coach Scott Sandelin confirmed today that he will interview for the Penn St. head coaching vacancy. The Penn St. job is the premier opening in college hockey, with billionaire Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pagula bankrolling the program. Penn State is expected to spend between $200K-350K on their first head coach. Sandelin made $169,552 in 2009, and has one year left on his deal. I expect him to stay at UMD and leverage the Penn St. interview into a hefty raise, but it is worth noting his wife graduated from Penn St.
  • No one else from the reigning national champs is expected to leave early. Brady Lamb, JT Brown, and Travis Oleksuk are possible candidates, however. 
  • Mike Montgomery is expected to sign a professional contract sometime this offseason and Kyle Schmitt has stated that he would love to continue his career professionally in the US or Europe next year. Best of luck to both of them.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 23

NATIONAL CHAMPS!!! After opening with a championship celebration montage, we break down the game period by period and offer five thoughts to chew on. Later we preview next season and give out some awards. If nothing else tune in for Kriz's ridiculous screams I caught on tape right after we won it all.

Runtime: 32:32

Monday, April 11, 2011

Some Great Videos

Gonna rewatch the game tonight and take a little more time to reflect before writing the season-ending column. In the mean time here's some great videos:

Schmitt's Gamewinner
How great was his celebration? The sliding snow angel is a special move. I might try that next time I score playing pickup hockey out in Hermantown.

Jack Connolly Post-game Interview
From the limited interaction I've had with Jack this season, I can tell you he's a stand-up guy. Definite similarities exist between him and Mauer. Both are very nice and personable, if not a little bland, and both are hometown kids who have had much success playing for the hometown squad. Either way this interview brings a huge smile to my face:

(cue Jack's super Minnesoootan accent) "Yeah... I was definitely a little choked up. Ya know, being a hometown kid, making history, first national championship in the program, especially having it down here in St. Paul having my family and friends watch me, and ya know, now we got two (national titles) in the family now, got to match my brother (Jack's brother Chris won a national championship in 2009 with Boston University) which was definitely a special moment for me.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Bulldogs are Back Where They Started, Just in Time For the Championship

The Bulldogs are playing for a national championship tomorrow. How did this happen?

As a Minnesota sports fan, I'm conditioned to expect failure from my favorite teams: the Viking's traumatic embarrassments in '98, '00, and '09, Timberwolves' eight straight first round playoff exits and subsequent slide into becoming the NBA's worst team, Twins losing five straight playoff series, ten years of consistently mediocre and underwhelming Wild hockey, the underachieving Tubby Smith teams and Tim Brewster's disastrous reign, the list goes on and on. It should be no surprise that the Bulldog's collapse in the 2004 Frozen Four came to mind yesterday as we entered the third period with that dangerous two goal lead.

All year everyone knew the Bulldogs were capable of contending for the national title. After a second half slide punctuated by an overtime loss to Bemidji in the Final Five, UMD fell out of the short list of contenders. Many, including myself, thought that the Bulldogs' inconsistent defense and goaltending was too much of a question mark to build a sustained playoff run.

Yet here we are now. Sixty minutes away from a national championship. Three things, above all else are essential to playoff success: special teams, goaltending, and luck, and the Bulldogs gotten huge contributions in all three of these categories.

Yale sucks. Remember
this goon?
The Bulldogs got lucky by being put in the East Regional. They got to play two overrated teams from the EZAC and that allowed them to build a lot of confidence going into the Frozen Four. Yesterday they faced Notre Dame, a very solid team from top to bottom, but one that was seeded lower than us in the Pairwise. UMD made the championship game without playing a top five team.

Michigan had to beat a big, physical UNO squad led by the best coach in college hockey, a Colorado College team that hung up eight goals on the defending national champion, and North Dakota, the consensus title favorite all season long. Nevertheless, the Wolverines have had some luck of their own too, escaping their first round tilt with UNO on a very questionable goal in overtime. A goal that only became a goal only after a lengthy replay review.

Kenny Reiter was great in the NCAA Regional, shutting out Union and standing tall during the early onslaught against Yale. Yesterday he slipped back into regular season mode, giving up a couple of softies in the first period before settling down and making enough plays to hold on for the win. Which Kenny will show up for the championship?

Above all else, UMD will have to rely on its unbelievable special teams tomorrow. The Bulldogs' penalty kill has been equal parts opportunistic and sacrificial, which is why they have killed off 19 of 22 penalties in the playoffs. Guys have been just eating pucks lately. We have almost double the blocks that our opponents have since the beginning of the NCAA Tournament, and it seems like every time the opposing team makes a mistake on the powerplay, we track the puck down and clear it. Notre Dame had a man advantage five times yesterday, and they managed just TWO SHOTS.

Really though, the best part about watching this team all season has been the chemistry of our top guys. Watching the Connollys, Fontaine, Faulk, and JT cycle the puck in the offensive zone is a delight. They display a combination of trust, creativity and execution that is unparalleled in college hockey. Yesterday they scored twice on that same beautiful tic-tac-toe play they've been running all year. I swear they've scored on that play at least 15 times this season. Fontaine even alluded to it in his post game comments: “We're hitting the exact same plays we've used all year, and we're riding that confidence.”

It's funny how cyclical this season has been. UMD started off hot, with the top two lines clicking and lots of puck luck. The goaltending and defense wasn't great, but it was almost always good enough to win. Then the Bulldogs came back to earth just long enough to put serious doubts in the minds of the fans, only to turn around and play the same exact way they did at the beginning of the season in time for the playoffs. So now here we are: a team with two great lines, great special teams and juuust good enough defense and goaltending. I wanted North Dakota, but most of all I want a national title. And the Bulldogs will have a shot at that Saturday night.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Notre Dame Preview

Ahhhh, still 40 hours until puck drop! An entire workweek of life still to go. Oh, well, here's some Notre Dame notes to pass the time:

Road to Frozen Four
After losing only once in their last nine regular season games, the Fighting Irish finished second in the CCHA to fellow Frozen Four participant Michigan. Much like the Bulldogs, they had a disappointing showing in the conference tournament, getting routed by Miami 6-2 in the semifinals and losing 4-2 to Michigan in the third place game.

Notre Dame ended up ranked 11th in the Pairwise (UMD finished 9th) and received the 3 seed in the Northeast regional. In the NCAA tournament's opening round they beat Merrimack 4-3 in overtime. Former Edina (previously of St. Thomas Academy) football and hockey star Anders Lee scored the game-winning goal. More on him later.

In the quarterfinals Notre Dame beat New Hampshire 2-1. I watched about half of this game and it was pretty entertaining. Lots of chances for both squads, but in the end Notre Dame goalie Mike Johnson was just too damn good.

The Irish are 0-2-1 vs. the WCHA this season, losing to Mankato, and losing and tying in a series with the Sioux in Grand Forks. They beat UMD 3-1 in the teams' last meeting, which was two years ago.

Key Guys

L to R: Anders Lee, TJ Tynan, Mike Johnson

Anders Lee
#9 Fr. LW 6-3, 218
Led the Irish with 24 goals this year. Big, Strong, Athletic. Think Dylan Olsen, if he played wing. Lee played quarterback for Edina and was the 2008 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, so yeah, he's quite an athlete.

TJ Tynan
#18 Fr. C 5-8, 156
Led the Irish with 53 points this year. Small, Quick, Ginger. Think Jack Connolly. Named College Hockey News and CCHA Freshman of the Year. Not a great fighter.

Mike Johnson
#32 So. G 5-10, 194
Carried Notre Dame for stretches in the Northeast Regional. Named Regional MVP, stopping 69 of 73 shots. He's young, but he's good.

The Irish are young - 12 freshman and five seniors on their roster, whereas UMD has six seniors/seven freshman - but the upperclassmen have experience. Notre Dame has made the NCAA Tournament three of the last four years. From what I saw against New Hampshire, they are pretty skilled and would rank right up with the upper echelon of the WCHA. That being said, it's always dicey when a team relies on freshman to score in high-pressure games.

The Bulldogs have the top line in the nation, a hot goalie, just knocked off the #1 overall seed (yes Yale was way overrated, but still) and the Xcel will be full of UMD fans. This will be our toughest playoff test so far, but I feel pretty good about the game overall. I would love to see an all-WCHA final and get another crack at the Sioux, and I think we will. Bulldogs over Notre Dame and Sioux over Michigan. Let's do it boys.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 22

THE BULLDOGS ARE GOING TO THE FROZEN FOUR!! We bring East Regional MVP Kenny Reiter into the studio to discuss the victories over Union College and Yale, and also the blonde thing. Later Kriz and I preview Thursday's game against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

Runtime: 27:54

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Frozen Four Bound

We're going to the Frozen Four! Midway through the second period Yale's star forward Brian O'Neill scored to bring the pride of the ECAC to within two goals of UMD. Eight seconds later he was sent off for contact to the head on a vicious hit on Jake Hendrickson, and it was all over after that. We got two goals in the next 72 seconds to go up 5-1 and the rest is history. FROZEN FOUR BOUND! Whoohooo!

The top line combined for nine points and three pretty goals and Kenny Reiter is playing out of his mind right now. This is good. This is very good. We play the winner of New Hampshire-Notre Dame, who square off at 7 tonight. I'll have more on whoever wins tomorrow, but for now let's celebrate.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Union Was Who We Thought They Were & Other Notes From Day 1

Rapid fire notes from yesterday's 2-0 win over Union:

  • Union goalie Keith Kinkaid was as good as advertised but it was Kenny Reiter who walked away with the shutout. Kenny was great, keeping UMD in the game early on through some shaky penalty kills.
  • Overall though, the PK was great for UMD. Did you know Union College had the best power play in the nation? Well, they went 0-9 yesterday.
  • 17 penalties were called total. According to RWD, 49% of the game was played 5x5. In the ref's defense, there was a lot of cheap stuff going on, but you gotta let em play in the playoffs.
  • Union was who I thought they were. Obviously a talented team, but a team that looked nervous and inexperienced. A team coming off two straight losses to lowly Colgate and not accustomed to facing the depth and talent found throughout the WCHA.
  • So how good is Yale? I don't think they impressed anyone last night, eeking out an OT win over #16 seed Air Force. Their best win all year was a 5-1 victory over Colorado College (sans Jaden Schwartz) back in November. They've been overrated by Pairwise all year, and I feel we will be playing in St. Paul next weekend at the Frozen Four.
  • I've been hearing a lot of chatter about how much Jack Connolly looks like country singer Zac Brown. I finally googled Zac Brown yesterday and the resemblance is pretty uncanny:

  • Colorado College looked impressive in the Final Five last weekend and continued that yesterday, beating defending champ Boston College 8-4. Must be that #tigerblood. Or the Schwartz brothers are really, really good.
  • UNO was ousted by Michigan on a controversial call in OT. Here's what happened: Michigan put a puck underneath UNO goalie John Faulkner's pads and it was originally ruled no-goal on the ice. After a ten minute review, the refs reversed the call, calling it a goal and ending the game. Although there is no clear, definitive evidence, it was pretty clear that the puck crossed the line. 
  • The ref ruled on common sense instead of definitive proof, a big no-no for officials in any sport. BUT, it was probably a goal, and Michigan moves on. Bemidji beat writer Eric Stromgren tweeted the best visual evidence, you be the judge -

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 21

This week we break down the Final Five, including UMD's disappointing overtime loss to Bemidji on St. Patty's Day. Then we look ahead to NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs were seeded ninth overall and lucked into a weak bracket, so we have a very real chance at a Frozen Four berth. Later we talk about the positives and negatives to take from the formation of the Big Ten hockey conference, which was officially announced on Tuesday.

Runtime: 27:06

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why UMD Will Beat Union College

Hobey Baker finalist Keith Kinkaid will have to be good
Friday afternoon to slow down UMD's offensive attack
Union College is a really old, (est. 1795 according to their jerseys) small, (2,133 enrollment) liberal arts college located in upstate New York. Schenectady, (ska-neck-ta-dee) New York, to be exact, 150 miles north of Friday's game in Bridgeport, Connecticut. But enough with the parentheses and on with the bullet points. Here's why the Bulldogs will beat the Dutchmen on Friday:

  • Union College plays in the ECAC, one of the weaker conferences in college hockey. The Dutchman only played 3 teams who made the NCAA tournament this year and went 2-4 against those opponents: #1 seed Yale (1-1), #10 Western Michigan (0-2), and #15 Rensselaer (1-1).
  • Union finished on fire, closing out the regular season 14-1-1. They started the ECAC conference tournament as the #1 seed and proceeded to lose in the first round to last-place Colgate, who managed only four conference wins all season.
  • The Dutchmen only made the jump to Division I hockey prior to the 1991-92 season and this is their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. After losing to Colgate this year, Union is 5-8 in the ECAC playoffs the last four years.
So they're inexperienced, coming off an embarrassing playoff loss, and haven't faced much stiff competition. Honestly I don't have a lot of respect for the ECAC. I think the fact that Yale was ranked #1 all year was a joke. Plus UMD has a 6-0-1 all-time record against Union.

It won't be a cakewalk though. Union is the best defensive team in the country, allowing only 1.95 goals per game. They have the ECAC Defensive Defenseman, Defensive Forward, Goalie, and Coach of the Year. Their goalie, Keith Kinkaid, put up a 1.98 GAA and a .920 save percentage on his way to a Hobey Baker nomination. Zane Kalemba flashbacks, anyone?

My earlier misgivings about the Bulldogs' playoff chances have not evaporated, but UMD was put in the weakest bracket and could potentially do some damage against opponents from weaker conferences. In the end, the sudden-death format of the tournament makes the whole thing a crapshoot. A few bad bounces, bad calls, or a hot goalie and it's all over. Hopefully Lady Luck is on our side.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 20

This week I'm flying solo, with Kriz enjoying his Spring Break. After a quick rundown of UMD's sweep over St. Cloud in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs, I bring on Rick Weegman of the Duluth News Tribune to talk about the Hermantown and Duluth East boys' run to the state hockey championship games.

Runtime 26:51

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pictures From the "Suicide Box"

About a month ago, I saw a photo essay in the Duluth News Tribune by Bob King. This particular photo caught a number of students' reactions to a scoring chance for UMD. King took it from a new addition to Amsoil Arena called the suicide box. The poorly-named 'suicide box' sits right at center ice, in between the home and away benches, and is for photographers and TV cameras.

After reading King's little blurb I immediately thought about how cool would it be to sit right on the red line, ice-level, and try to snap some photos. After some pressbox inquiries and a visit to the Multimedia Hub, I was all set. During the second and third period of Saturday's game I put my amateur photography skills to the test in the suicide box.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

More Classic Footage Compliments of the Maroon Loon

Jay Jackson put together another nice video with a ton of great UMD highlights and Loon footage.

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 19

We bring in UMD Sports Information Director Bob Nygaard to talk UMD football and hockey. Later we debate All-WCHA selections and preview the playoffs, with the St. Cloud Huskies coming to the Amsoil for the first round.

Runtime: 32:10

Monday, March 7, 2011

After an Up and Down Season, It Is What It Is at This Point for the Dogs

An explosive, top-heavy offense will have to carry UMD for an extended playoff run

UMD started the season on fire, losing only once in their first 14 games, including a ridiculous 5-0-2 record in overtime. Everyone knew the Bulldogs' top line was arguably the most talented in the nation, but with the emergence of freshman JT Brown and improvement of Travis Oleksuk's play, suddenly the second line was legitimately dangerous. Dylan Olsen and Justin Faulk anchored a powerful top defensive pairing, and even Aaron Crandall, the former walk-on goalie with a 12-40-5 career USHL record, led the nation in save percentage for a few weeks in November. Things were all good as the Bulldogs went 7-1 in the last eight games at the DECC.

In retrospect, a second half drop-off should have been expected. Starting with the 5-0 shellacking at the hands of the Sioux at the Amsoil Arena opening December 30th, UMD's flaws have become increasingly apparent. Dylan Olsen flunked out and bolted for juniors in mid-December, helping expose the Bulldogs' inconsistent defense corps. The goaltending, the second line, and UMD's luck all came back to earth.

The Bulldogs finished the regular season on a 2-4-2 slide, settling for fourth place in the WCHA after being ranked top-5 nationally for the majority of the year. Now they face a red-hot St. Cloud squad in the first round of the WCHA playoffs this weekend.

The Huskies were picked to finish second in the preseason WCHA coaches poll, but had a terribly disappointing first half of the season, both on and off the ice. Garrett Roe, coming off of a 49-point campaign a year ago, was an early favorite for WCHA player of the year. In the first 18 games he was terrible, managing only 11 points as the Huskies fell to a 5-11-2 record. After a spring-break boozefest, two seniors, including assistant team captain Chris Hepp were booted off the team.

Many wrote off the year as a disappointment, but instead St. Cloud rallied, going 10-5-3 in the second half. Roe notched 24 points in the season's final 18 games and currently the Huskies sit 20th in the Pairwise Rankings, a solid Final Five run away from an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. Obviously this is not a team anyone wants to face in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

St. Cloud routed UMD 8-2 exactly one month from Friday's series opener. Hopefully revenge will be a powerful motivator this weekend, but even with a win over St. Cloud this weekend, persistent doubts still linger over the Bulldogs' long-term prospects of success in the postseason.

First, UMD is maddeningly inconsistent, with a terrible tendency to allow goals in bunches. Just look at UMD's last 4 losses:
  • 8-2, St. Cloud – Gave up two goals in 2:26 to blow a lead, and two more in 2:10 to let it get out of hand.
  • 3-1, Mankato – Gave up two goals in 2:50 to blow a lead.
  • 5-4, Colorado College – Gave up two goals in 18 seconds at the beginning of the third period to go down 5-3.
  • 5-2, UNO – Two goals in 22 seconds left UMD in a 2-0 deficit.

Also, as a unit, the defense ranges from porous to average at best. They're not very physical and allow too much traffic in front. Getting Brady Lamb back from injury helped, but the blue line is more likely to lose a game for the Dogs rather than win one.

It's not all negative with the Bulldogs right now. Anyone on the top line is liable to explode for a monster scoring effort on any given night. It's nearly impossible to contain both Connollys and Justin Fontaine for 60 minutes – the only time the trio has been held without a point all year was the season's sole shutout loss, against North Dakota on December 30th. The second line seems to be clicking again after a mid-season drop-off in production, and although Kenny Reiter probably isn't capable of carrying this team, but he will play good enough to keep the Bulldogs in games. He made a handful of great saves in Saturday's loss to UNO.

The Final Five and Frozen Four are sudden death. One bad game and it's over. Unfortunately, it will be easier for a good team to contain UMD's top line for a game than it will be for the Bulldogs to mask their inconsistency and poor defense long enough to go deep into the playoffs.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 18

We preview the regular season finale against the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks and go in depth on the causes behind UMD's late-season funk.

Runtime: 29:52

Friday, February 25, 2011

Roadtrip: Mankato

With the sour taste of Friday's 3-1 loss in Mankato still lingering, Kriz and I hopped in my trusty Camry and embarked on another roadtrip to visit my brother Grady.  We stopped in the Cities to pick up our buddy Mossberg, and after some shaky driving by yours truly, we finally arrived at Grady's dorm around five.

After a few pregame beers we went down to the Verizon Center. Saturday's game was a sellout, but we were lucky enough to nab some standing room only tickets and squeezed into the student section. Mankato's student section was WEAK. No creativity, no passion, and everyone had thunder sticks. Gross. It reminded me of going to high school football games with my buddies when I was in middle school. Sure we were there, but strictly to socialize. And by the middle of the third period everyone was long gone.

A few more notes about the Verizon Center:

  • Jack Links is a big sponsor of Mankato hockey. They threw sample packets of something called 'Ham Nuggets' into the crowd during the second intermission and had a Sasquatch mascot running around. Free beef jerky, (or ham nuggets, which were actually not terrible) is always great.

Every lady's dream

  • The UMD student section is far from sober, but a strategically placed bar directly above the Mankato student section made definitely upped its collective BAC.
Two guys, Four beers, One thunderstick.
  • The replay screen was absolutely pitiful. Not to sound like a snob now that Amsoil has opened in all of its world-class glory, but the screen was 100 feet up on the far end of the rink, and it was about 10 feet across. Also the blue/green tint was seriously off. I'd rather have the old-school, cheesy screen we had the DECC over Mankato's piece of garbage. Look at the picture at the top of this post. Try and find the replay screen.
We went to bed around 3 am with no signs of storms or snow. We awoke around noon to 8 inches and counting of blowing snow. It made for an awesome drive back. For some reason Kriz was super concerned about my ability to take video and drive at the same time.

As for the actual game, it was awesome. JT got two, Fontaine got two, and we dug ourselves out of an early deficit to salvage a split. Good times. Overall though, I'm worried about the Bulldogs long-term. They're too reliant on cutesy stickhandling and backdoor passes on offense. They need to get more traffic in front and let Faulk rip shots from the point. They also need to get tougher in front of the net on both ends, which is something I talked about back in December.

Also, the goaltending situation is less than ideal. Reiter is still really shaky at times, and gave up a pretty bad goal on Friday. Still, he has been better than Crandall, who left two wide open nets which the Mavericks inexplicably missed on Saturday. It was about this time last year Sandelin handed the reigns over to Reiter and he responded well, and I'd like to see that happen again.

Now we go on the road to face a Colorado College squad that is fighting for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. They just got back dynamic freshman Jaden Schwartz, so it's going to be tough. Luckily history is on UMD's side. In the last two years the Bulldogs are 8-2-1 against the Tigers. This is the time of year we need to be peaking, and it feels like the Bulldogs are sliding. They can change that this weekend.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 17

We recap our roadtrip down to Mankato and look ahead to Colorado College next weekend.

Runtime 28:58

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 16

We bring in special in-studio guest Jack Connolly to discuss St. Cloud last weekend, the upcoming trip to Mankato, the season so far, hockey in Duluth, and much, much more.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Let's just watch Mike's highlights from last Saturday.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 15

This week we recap the fun weekend spent taking three points from the Gophers while for the first time ever at Amsoil Arena. We drool all over Mike Connolly's five goal effort on Saturday and look ahead to St. Cloud next weekend.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gopher Week Questions: How Many More Mediocre Seasons Does Don Lucia Have Left?

In preparation for the big series against UMTC at Amsoil Arena this weekend, I'll be answering one big question about either team every day leading up to Friday's puck drop. Today: How much longer should the Don stay at the helm in Dinkytown?

Don Lucia's credentials as a top-flight DI hockey coach are unquestionably great:
  • Back-to-back National titles with only four non-Minnesotan players on the two rosters combined. 
  • 500+ career coaching victories, including a 285-155-50 mark with the Gophers. 
  • Ability to recruit elite talent. In his tenure at UMTC he has coached 50 all-WCHA players, 16 All-Americans, and eight Hobey Baker finalists. Last season 13 of his former Gophers played in the NHL.
His last three and a half seasons have been unquestionably mediocre. During those years the Gophers have placed 7th, 5th, 7th, and currently are in a tie for 6th place in the WCHA. Obviously a coach of Lucia's caliber deserves a long leash from his AD and fan base, but the latter grows more and more restless with every loss. Efforts like last Saturday's shutout by the unheralded Chris Kamal and the sub-par Seawolves continue to drain the reservoir of goodwill Lucia spent filling in the early-mid 00s.

His supporters can point to the steady exodus of the Gopher's high-end talent to the NHL - 14 players have left Lucia's program early to go pro in the last five years - as a big reason for the drop-off, but players leaving early has become the norm for college hockey. Everyone has to deal with it, UMD lost its top blueliner, Dylan Olsen, right before our first series against the Gophers this year.

The fact that only recently Lucia started trying to recruit older guys who are more likely to stick around until graduation is an indictment of his ability to keep with the times. College hockey is changing, and that change has left the Gophers mired in mediocrity. With his health issues and son set to graduate as the top undecided recruit in Minnesota, it might make sense for Lucia to move on if this season ends poorly.

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 14

We preview the first ever Gophers series at Amsoil with special guest Brandon Mileski, producer of the Common Man progrum and co-host of Beyond the Pond on AM 1490. Later we talk Super Bowl and Super Bowl parties, and Kriz offends all the ladies out there.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Stalock's First NHL Victory! Let the Rise to Super Stardom Begin

Alex Stalock won his first NHL game on Tuesday night in dramatic fashion. He came in for Antti Niemi midway through the second period down 3-0 and stopped nine shots, including one lackluster breakaway, on the way to a 4-3 win. Patrick Marleau scored the game-winner shorthanded with six minutes left, you can see the full game highlights here.

The post-game interview was pretty sweet despite the lack of his usual acrobatic highlight reel. It was awesome to see the Sharks fans support him like that after his first NHL appearance. It's still more likely than not that Stalock will only get a taste of the NHL this season, but I have a feeling he will enjoy many more post-victory interviews in front of cheering fans in the future.

Gopher Week Questions: How Long Will it Take for Amsoil Arena to Become a Hockey Arena?

Amsoil Arena sure is purdy
In preparation for the big series against UMTC at Amsoil Arena this weekend, I'll be answering one big question about either team every day leading up to Friday's puck drop. Today: When will we get Amsoil rocking like the old DECC?

Alright, I'll admit it: I miss the DECC. I'd rather be playing the Gophers at that cramped, crumbling, old-smelling structure than at modern, state-of-the-art Amsoil Arena.

When there was a big game, especially a big game against the Gophers, you could feel it at the DECC. It was more crowded, louder, hotter, stinkier, and the student section brought the vitriol up a notch. The proverbial buzz was in the air.

I have not felt any of that big-game buzz at the Amsoil yet. None. The crowd at the North Dakota opener was embarrassingly (but perhaps understandably) distracted and quiet. And everyone streamed for the exits with about five minutes left in the 5-0 blowout. The US-U18 game was an exhibition, and the fans treated it as such. I thought things would at least show promise at the Badger series, but alas, there was nothing. After four games most fans still seem to be more interested in chowing down a foot-long porketta while reading Sam Cook quotes off the wall than engaging in the game.

Of course this was all expected. Early on in the season, I read Brad Elliott Schlossman in the Grand Forks Herald on the lack of buzz in Bemidji's new arena, and how it related to the opening of the Ralph. His story made too much sense for Amsoil the Attraction to be anything but inevitable.

"Multiple people I talked to tonight couldn’t believe how quiet it was in [Bemidji's new Sanford Center]. The atmosphere was a little unimpressive, especially considering how nuts The Glas could get. So, the story….

When Ralph Engelstad Arena opened in 2001, the Sioux coaches used to take recruits around the building. Many times, the recruit would not say a word. The coaches would look at each other like, “Is he not liking this?” Eventually, the coaches learned that the kids were just so in awe of the building, there wasn’t anything to say. In a way, it was like that with the fans as well.
Ralph Engelstad Arena was a novelty. It was a sight to see. It was a place to be. And it was not nearly the atmosphere of the old building.
Dave Hakstol can point to a weekend when Denver came in for a first-round playoff series in 2003. UND needed to win it, or else the Sioux were not going to make the NCAA tournament. The Sioux lost the first game, then won back-to-back games in OT. The building went wild that weekend as UND rallied for the last two wins. And Hakstol said, “That weekend, it became a hockey arena again.”
Since then, UND’s record in The Ralph is incredible. It is once again a big home-ice advantage.
I thought of that story tonight when leaving the Sanford Center. Tonight, the Sanford Center was a novelty. It was a sight to see. It was the place to be. It was not a hockey arena. Will the Sanford Center capture some of the old Glas Fieldhouse magic in the series finale? Or will it take a while like it did with The Ralph? We’ll find out."

Yes, we did steal part of the DECC's crumbling, asbestos-laden
ceiling tile after the last game.

The DECC's familiarity was its home-ice advantage. Everyone knew where to go, what to do and when to do it, what to say and how to say it. There weren't any non-game surprises, and so we as fans could focus our energy on the game; on creating the Bulldog's home-ice advantage.

Now at Amsoil everything is different: the concessions are better, the concourse is open, the walk to the curling club is shorter, the JumboTron has instant replay and KissCam, there's a gift shop and more interesting stuff on the walls to look at than the Tweed Art Museum. The students, the band, the press box, and Dick Stewart are all in different spots. Everything is different and everything is more. It's cool, but when will our collective attention turn back to the action on the ice?

UMD took a risk when they decided to move into Amsoil halfway through the season. What if it takes a full season for Amsoil to become a hockey rink, instead of a shiny attraction? That risk is amplified this year because the Bulldogs happen to have the deepest, most talented team to come along in at least a decade.

We need to start the transformation this weekend. All of the students are back from break, there have been ample events showcasing Amsoil the attraction, and it's the Gophers for Stalock's sake. Maybe the arena won't rock like it did after the Gopher's sweep in 03-04, but we can sure as hell try.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gopher Week Questions: Will Patterson and the 1st Line Show Up?

To come away with points, Haula and Patterson better bring their A games

In preparation for the big series against UMTC at Amsoil Arena this weekend, I'll be answering one big question about either team every day leading up to Friday's puck drop. Today: Will the Gopher's 'stars' show up to play?

"I had a bunch [of chances]," he said. "That's what you try to do, is get chances. But sooner or later you have to put them in, especially as these games get bigger toward the end of the year. It is on me, it is on the first line. We've got to score some goals. To go scoreless two games, two big games against Anchorage is pretty bad for the first line. We got to pick it up."
-Jay Barriball, via Goal Gophers blog

The Gopher's top line of Hoeffel-Haula-Barriball failed to register a single point at home last weekend, against an Alaska-Anchorage squad that frankly sucks. Although they got plenty of shots, nothing found the back of the net, and that combination of ineptitude and misfortune has defined the Gopher's offense this season. Minnesota has scored 72 goals in 24 games this season, only doormats Alaska-Anchorage, Michigan Tech, and Bemidji State have scored less among teams in the WCHA.

The Gophers should not be able to match UMD's top 3-4 guys this weekend in terms of playmaking ability or goal scoring, but they have to get something from their supposed offensive leaders. If little-known Chris Kamal and the Seawolves' big, slow, lumbering defensemen can shut them down, then the Bulldogs' defense, which is ranked second in the WCHA in goals allowed, should be licking its chops.

Kent Patterson carried the Gophers to three points the last time these two teams met, stopping 78 of 82 shots. More than a handful of those 78 saves were spectacular, clutch stops, like denying Justin Fontaine's open, point-blank attempt to tie it in the last minute of Friday's game. I was there, and there was no denying it: Patterson was in the zone. He was Stalock-esque.

As luck would have it, Patterson's platoon partner in goal, Alex Kangas, suffered a season-ending injury in practice the day after Patterson's dominant performance. Since then he has started every game for the Gophers, and has performed well, sporting a 2.33 GAA and .933 save percentage since Kangas went down. The Gophers will need Patterson to continue to be solid, or better, to come away with more than a point on the weekend.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Gopher Week Questions: Where Will Kyle Schmitt Play?

Schmitt back in action just in time for the Gophers

In preparation for the big series against UMTC at Amsoil Arena this weekend, I'll be answering one big question about either team every day leading up to Friday's puck drop. Today: Where will Kyle Schmitt play upon his return from a broken hand this weekend?

The speedy senior winger is set to return to the lineup for the Bulldogs Friday after spending five weeks mending a broken hand, suffered in practice in mid-December. Before his injury, Schmitt had seven goals and five assists in 18 games, while playing on the second line with Travis Oleksuk and JT Brown. After a great start to the season, the play of the second line had begun to drop off towards the middle of the season, and at one point Brown went eight games without a goal or assist.

After losing Schmitt, Sandelin was forced to tinker with the lines, eventually settling on Connolly-Connolly-Grun, Fontaine-Oleksuk-Brown, and some combination of Seidel, DeLisle, Flaherty and Hendrickson on the third line. Normally thought of as a grinder, Grun proved to be a nice compliment to the playmaking Connollys, notching three assists and a goal since being moved up. The Fotaine-Oleksuk-Brown line has been even better, scoring four even-strength goals while compiling a +12 in the five games they have played together. It's unlikely, although not impossible, that Sandelin breaks up either of those two lines.

The most likely option is easing Schmitt back into play on the third line with Seidel and either DeLisle or Flaherty. Another intriguing option would be to pair the Connollys with Schmitt, leave the red-hot Fontaine-Oleksuk-Brown line alone, and move Grun back down to the third line with Seidel and DeLisle. 

For the long-term it would seem that Schmitt's ability to shake off the rust and Grun's ability to continue his chemistry with the Connollys will be the deciding factors for Sandelin to set his lines for the WCHA stretch run.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 13

We have on the Patron Saint of our show, Brian Haedrich, one of the men behind the antics of the Maroon Loon mascot. We talk with Brian about some of his favorite stunts, UMD hockey then and now, and the creation of college hockey's greatest mascot. Later we recap the sweep at Michigan Tech.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 12

This week we recount our disastrous experience as contestants in intermission on-ice entertainment, talk about the UMD-Wisconsin split, and preview Michigan Tech.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Maroon Loon Show - Episode 11

Alex Sienko, the man behind Champ the Bulldog at most UMD Men's hockey games, stars in this mid-season edition of the Maroon Loon Show. Kriz co-hosts via telephone again as we preview the second half WHCA league play and share more observations from Amsoil Arena.