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