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.