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.