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