Thursday, April 02, 2015

Adam Krause Gets AHL Deal

While former UMD forward Justin Crandall made his pro debut Wednesday (two assists for ECHL Reading against Florida) and defenseman Derik Johnson should debut this weekend, we were waiting for word on UMD captain Adam Krause.

Wait no more.

I've learned that Krause -- from Hermantown -- is moving on to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on an AHL deal starting next season. The two-year Bulldog captain will report to the team's ECHL affiliate, the Wheeling Nailers (great name and logo).

Krause completed his four-year run at UMD in Saturday's Northeast Regional final loss to Boston University. In 133 games, Krause compiled 16 goals and 37 points, including seven goals and 17 points in 31 games this season. Krause also was a plus-15 on the 2014-15 campaign, as UMD went 21-16-3.

A strong leader in the locker room, Krause was also a fantastic student (NCHC Scholar-Athlete Team this year) and one of the most active UMD players you'll ever find when it comes to community service. He was a nominee for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, as well as the Hockey Humanitarian Award.

By the way, Krause's Wheeling Nailers face the Reading Royals on Wednesday. Just saying.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

UMD Notes: Scott Sandelin Laments Loss to BU

Scott Sandelin apologized for going off on a tangent a little bit, but who could blame him?

Asked what he would remember about his 15th UMD team, the fifth to make an NCAA Tournament and the eighth to win 20 or more games, Sandelin started by talking about how this was really "a team," one that didn't have a superstar but had a lot of unselfish players.

Then came the tangent.

"I've had a lot of great teams," Sandelin said. "It's not even about winning. We've had some great kids. This group was pretty special. Unfortunately, they almost got to where they wanted to go. That's the part that's hard for a coach, when you see that. It was a fun group to work with. They worked hard. They cared about each other.

"Like I've said, some things you can't control. I kind of feel like that last game kind of got taken out of our hands. I don't like that, because I think it cheats the kids a little bit. They're the ones that people come to watch. You just want them to play and decide a game. That's the unfortunate thing, that's the thing that probably stings the most. Whether that sounds like whining, I really don't care. Because the bottom line is that for four of those guys, they can't play again.

"Sorry, I went off the deep end a little."

The topic, not surprisingly, came up a couple times at Sandelin's season-ending press conference Wednesday. In this case, he sort of brought it up on his own, but he was asked about it earlier.

"Obviously disappointed, but proud of our team and how we played," he said. "Some things you can't control as we saw. Came up a little short."

Asked about memories of the Minnesota win, Sandelin acknowledged it's a highlight for a lot of people, but also said "I'll remember more the disappointment of losing a game that some other factors came into play, and our kids not advancing to play in Boston."

I haven't brought this up much, largely because I know most of you are UMD fans, you're probably bitter about what happened, and I doubt you need any reminders. Also, the more I think about the way that game ended, the more bitter I get about it. Can only imagine at least a few of you are the same way.

It might be a topic we can discuss more in-depth at some point, but now is not the time. I'm glad the coach said what he said, because frankly the easy way out would be to repeat the "Some things you can't control" line until everyone goes away. Sandelin did a good job elaborating on his frustration without really stepping in something.

******

For those who haven't heard, UMD's non-conference schedule is as follows for 2015-16:

Sunday night exhibition vs. Lakehead
Opening weekend home and home vs. Bemidji State (Fitzgerald triplets!)
Then a home and home vs. Minnesota
The following weekend, at Notre Dame
Then home vs UMass-Lowell to finish October

The other non-conference series is a two-game set at Northern Michigan in early February. UMD will also host the U.S. Under-18 Team for an exhibition after Christmas.

I have not seen the full schedule, but clearly it will become NCHC-heavy beginning in the first week of November.

******

According to sources, UMD picked up a verbal commitment from Hibbing/Chisholm defenseman Scott Perunovich this week. Since I reported the commitment on Twitter, Perunovich has made it official. One of the first people to congratulate him on Twitter? Hermantown sophomore Ryan Sandelin. I think you've heard of his dad.

Anyway, Perunovich was one of the top 1998-born players in the Northland last year. As a sophomore for Hibbing, he racked up 56 points on 11 goals and 45 assists in 27 games. Perunovich is likely three to four years away from pulling on a Bulldog jersey, but I've heard nothing but good things about his puck skills and vision.

Former Bluejacket Adam Johnson is the top forward in UMD's 2015 recruiting class. Oh, and Scott Sandelin hails from Hibbing. There's that, too.

Andy Welinski Undecided on UMD Return

UMD defenseman Andy Welinski will either get paid to play hockey next season, or he'll captain what could be one of the top teams in college hockey.

While he is leaning toward a return to UMD, Welinski hasn't made a decision yet. The Ducks draft pick is weighing his options carefully before making one.

"Something that I looked at coming into school, and it's been this situation after each year," Welinski told me. "It's gotten bigger after every year, so I've got some options to look at, and we'll see where it goes.

"With the resources I've used and people I've talked to about previous guys who've made this decision, it needs to be what I want to do. Do I think I'm ready? What I learned when I was younger in high school is you need to set both feet and stick with it. It does no good to look back and say 'Wish I would have done that.' It's purely a development decision. Do I think I can play?"

(For those who don't know, Welinski left Duluth East a year early and went to the USHL, where he put together a couple pretty strong years with the Green Bay Gamblers.)

Welinski said he doesn't have a timetable for his final answer.

Will he be motivated by the bitter ending to UMD's 2014-15 season? Perhaps.

"Initially, right after, I made my decision right away that I was coming back," he said. "The emotions and everything, without weighing anything on it, I wanted to be back. You want to play one more game in a year. The opportunity to have one more year is something not everybody has."

The well-spoken blue-liner will graduate next year if he returns, another piece that will weigh on his decision.

If he leaves, he says Duluth and UMD will always have a special place in his heart.

"I've been living a dream here for three years. I grew up going to UMD games, and idolizing all these players. It's easy to get lost in it. It's unbelievable, the facilities and university, being just a couple miles from my house. It's something that I'll never forget.

"From a people standpoint, the people I've met in college, especially my teammates and coaches, they've really impacted my last three years."

If he stays, Welinski will be honored to wear the "C" for the program he grew up watching.

"Kind of a dream. We came in with eight guys in our class. You never know who's going to be there our senior year. It would be a huge honor. From the seniors and older guys who've worn letters my first three years, I've learned a lot from them."

Welinski might be a little conflicted about this decision, and there may be some lingering bitterness over the end of the season (justifiably so), but that smile was as wide as I'm sure most of yours were when I asked about being on the third UMD team in history that can brag about ending Minnesota's season.

"Can't complain here," he said, laughing. "We matched up well against them. It's the biggest upset that a two-seed beat a three-seed in the tournament. It's obviously exciting."

(Yes, people actually called it an "upset." The other three UMD wins must have been accidents or something.)

From a readiness standpoint, my eyes are biased, but I think Welinski has some development he can achieve at this level. By no means was he ever rotten, but I do think he tailed off a little bit in the second half compared to the first. It showed itself with more inconsistency from him than we had seen before Christmas.

That said, Welinski's been a big-minute guy for UMD now for three years. Not many guys come in as freshmen at this level and play the number of minutes he logged from the outset, and he has been on UMD's top pair for most of his Bulldog career. If he leaves, it's hard to begrudge him, given the resume he's got from his college career.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday Musings: BU Takes Advantage of Late Power Play to Eliminate UMD

One second.

That's all that separated UMD from a successful penalty kill in the third period against Boston University. Crow all you want about the holding penalty against Andy Welinski -- and based on the standard that had been set by the WCHA crew in calling nothing for most of the first 55 minutes and change, it was a terrible call -- but the Bulldogs were that close to rendering the call moot.

But Evan Rodrigues got open enough to rip a shot by Kasimir Kaskisuo and give BU a 3-2 lead it would hold for the final 2:24 to advance to the Frozen Four.

It was one of those moments. You could see the play develop, and there wasn't much that could be done. Rodriguez made a great play to drag the puck around a sliding defender, and he ripped a shot Kaskisuo had little chance to stop. Sometimes, you have to tip your cap.

UMD shut down Jack Eichel, who was held off the scoreboard for just the sixth time in 39 games, but the Bulldogs couldn't contain linemate Rodrigues, who scored twice. As a result, BU heads to the Frozen Four with North Dakota, Omaha, and Providence.

For most of Saturday, I actually thought UMD was the better team. The difference was that Rodrigues ripped off a couple great shots, and the Bulldogs couldn't solve BU goalie Matt O'Connor when they were able to generate gobs of offensive zone time and wear down BU a bit.

UMD showed its best traits on Saturday. The Bulldogs played with speed, were physical when required, rarely got pushed around despite BU possessing some bigger guys, and clearly weren't awed or intimidated by the Eichel line, even though it's damn good and Eichel's going to win the Hobey. Kaskisuo battled, played calm and relaxed, and just didn't get rattled. Neither did the rest of the team.

******

Four Bulldog careers closed on Saturday night in Manchester. Senior forwards Justin Crandall and Adam Krause, defenseman Derik Johnson, and goalie Alex Fons put on our colors for the final time.

Those doors close, and more doors open. Both the "warm bodies" door -- UMD has four recruits lined up for 2015 -- and the "leadership" door.

The 2015-16 recruiting class includes forward Adam Johnson of Hibbing, near the top of the USHL in scoring this season, and defenseman Neal Pionk of Hermantown, who leads the USHL in scoring by defensemen. Also, the staff has added Spruce Grove forward Parker MacKay, who should sign this spring. Nick Deery will come in from the MJHL as the third goalie starting next year.

(MacKay and the Saints are in the AJHL North Division finals at the moment, tied 1-1 in a best-of-seven series against Bonnyville. MacKay has eight goals in eight playoff games so far.)

That will fill the physical void.

How about leadership?

Great teams need strong leaders. Oftentimes, leaders emerge who aren't wearing a letter on their jersey. But UMD is losing two strong captains and a third guy in Johnson who -- in his last two years -- went from "barely able to get in the lineup" to being relied on for big minutes in big spots.

If Andy Welinski returns, the Bulldogs have a good candidate to be captain.

(More on this in a bit.)

But others will be needed. Will some seniors step up, like Cal Decowski (ahem, CAL DECOWSKI!!!11!1!), Tony Cameranesi, Austin Farley, etc.? Will we see leadership from juniors like Dominic Toninato, Kyle Osterberg, or maybe Carson Soucy?

Too early to tell.

But it will come from somewhere. If it's effective and strong leadership, UMD will be a contender again in 2015-16.

******

Kaskisuo was fantastic in the NCAA Tournament, to the point I voted him Most Outstanding Player for the Northeast Regional (votes were due before BU got the late power play). He played well in both games, and this summer will be a key to his success going forward. I think he has a chance to be one of the best goalies in the NCHC, if not Division I, next season if he has a good offseason.

His presence allows Hunter Miska to play one more year in the BCHL with Penticton. Senior Matt McNeely will back up Kaskisuo. His work ethic, even in not playing much this season, caught the eye of many around the program. McNeely is a highly-respected part of this team, and for good reason. His play against Minnesota at the North Star College Cup wasn't an accident, and if something had happened to Kas, he would have been ready to go when called on.

******

Now, for potential flight risks.

Welinski is the big one. The Ducks draft pick has multiple options, beyond "return for his senior season" and "sign with Anaheim." Because he was drafted in 2011, he could become a free agent if he waits out 30 days after leaving school and turning pro.

I have no indication what the mobile defenseman will do at this point.

Our other drafted players were sophomores Soucy and Toninato and junior Cameranesi. Soucy (Wild) will almost certainly be back. I'd be surprised if Toronto signed either Cameranesi or Toninato, though Cameranesi could be tempting given the organization's need for a reset and the strong year he had. His lack of size could be a hindrance, though he has plenty of speed and skill, and he showed a lot of toughness shaking off that big hit he took in the second period Saturday and not missing a shift.

Of the undrafted players, forward Alex Iafallo bears the most watching, I believe. I wouldn't rule out interest from the pro ranks, but will it be the right fit and make him decide he wants to leave?

Last year, we went into the offseason fairly certain Caleb Herbert would turn pro, and he signed within a week. The year before, we were surprised to see Chris Casto make the jump, but that also happened pretty quick after the season ended.

Reality: We should know within a month what departures we're dealing with for 2015-16, if any.

******

Finally, a word of thanks. First, the UMD staff -- Scott Sandelin, Jason Herter, Derek Plante, Christian Koelling, Chris Garner, DR. Suz Hoppe, Hogie, Bill Watson, Brant Nicklin, Blake Palmer, Josh Berlo, Bob Nygaard, Brian Nystrom, Jay Finnerty, Morgan "Li'l Nyggs" Nygaard, Jeff Stark, and everyone at Amsoil Arena and within the athletic department who help make this job easier.

It's cliche, but this job isn't worth doing if it ever stops being fun. I enjoy every day I get to spend around the UMD staff and players. I told Josh Berlo Saturday that this was the best group I've worked with in my ten years calling games, and I meant it. These kids were a treat to deal with, and they were a hoot to be around at the rink, on the bus, and at the airport.

Thanks to Matt Wellens for assimilating himself as best as possible, and for the transportation help in Manchester.

Most importantly, thanks to my wife and son for continuing to sacrifice and allow me to do this. Couldn't ever manage doing it without their support.

And thanks to all of you. I don't spend much time on blog metrics, and I'd probably keep writing this even if no one was reading it regularly. But I know a lot of you do, and I appreciate it. We're doing some different stuff at the radio ranch, and that's affected my ability to give you the kinds of updates I used to. Thanks for the patience, and for your loyalty. It isn't unnoticed.

Hopefully we can reconvene the band in October and take this thing to the beaches of Tampa next April for the 2016 Frozen Four.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Game 40: UMD vs Boston University (NCAA Northeast Regional Final)

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- High-end skill vs depth.

Experienced goaltending vs freshman.

What's the storyline for this regional championship? We're about to find out.

I believe this game comes down to UMD's ability to neutralize the top line of the top seed Terriers, centered by Hobey Baker favorite Jack Eichel. Teams have been able to play with Eichel, Evan Rodriguez, and Danny O'Regan (65 combined goals, 173 combined points) for spurts of games, but not for 60 minutes.

Can UMD's depth play a role in the game? Scott Sandelin wasn't averse to using all four forward lines in the regional semifinals against Minnesota. He won't be in the regional final, either, especially if Cal Decowski, Austyn Young, and Charlie Sampair can give the kind of quality shifts they gave Friday. Can Sandelin indirectly affect BU's choices for line matchups by consistently rolling three or four lines when BU wants to use its top line more?

We'll find out. To paraphrase Sandelin after Friday's win, if you can't get excited this time of year, something's wrong with you.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Crandall
Sampair - Decowski - Young (Austyn)

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Fons

BU
Rodrigues - Eichel - O'Regan
Baillargeon - Hohmann - Oksanen
Greer - Lane - Roberto
Phelps - Moran - Piccinich

Grzelcyk - MacLeod
Hickey - Fortunato
Somerby - Diffley

O'Connor - LaCouvee - Moccia

Friday, March 27, 2015

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Trample Gophers, Advance to Northeast Regional Final

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Sometimes, you survive and advance.

Friday at Verizon Wireless Arena, it was more like "thrive and advance" for the UMD Bulldogs.

After a sleepy start, UMD put up three goals in a 5:59 span of the first period en route to a 4-1 win over Minnesota in the NCAA Northeast Regional semifinals. The win puts the Bulldogs in Saturday's regional final against No. 1 seed Boston University.

"I thought we started a little slow," head coach Scott Sandelin said. "Kas (freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo) made a couple saves early on, then we found our legs. From that point on, we played a pretty good game."

I'd say.

For the first six or seven minutes, the Bulldogs looked every bit a team coming off a bye. The Gophers took it to UMD, getting the early lead in shots and generating a couple scoring chances, though UMD did a good job sticking with its structure and avoiding big defensive zone breakdowns.

The Bulldogs' third line, centered by Jared Thomas with wings Justin Crandall and Kyle Osterberg, put together a strong shift in the UMN zone, getting UMD its first real scoring chances about eight minutes into the first. It wasn't the turning point, but it started to get the Bulldogs going and get them into the game.

Then Willie Raskob set up Tony Cameranesi for a back-door tap-in to get UMD on the board. From there, it was all Bulldogs until the outcome was decided.

"It's really important against any team," Sandelin said, "but certainly our success against Minnesota in the four wins, we scored the first goal."

Less than three minutes later, Brenden Kotyk set up a Justin Crandall tip that made it 2-0. Then Raskob added one -- that went in off Minnesota junior Mike Reilly -- before the first period ended, and at 3-0, there were actual Gopher fans on social media declaring the end of the game.

Sandelin noted that he implored his guys to do a better job getting to the net, and clearly players took heed.

"We talked pretty much the last two weeks that we need to do a better job of getting to the net, getting pucks to the net," he said. "I thought we did a better job of that and we were rewarded with some goals."

The second period was all UMD on Friday. The Gophers barely had the puck long enough to turn it over. UMD created chances, cycled pucks, intercepted clearing attempts, and had huge gobs of offensive zone time. Each line, it seemed, took a turn doing something of note in the offensive zone.

Minnesota just didn't have anything.

"Maybe it just seemed like we were a bit emotionally flat at times," Gophers coach Don Lucia said.

More than anything, I think this is what surprised me the most. Yeah, Minnesota pushed back in the third period a bit. AJ Michaelson had a nice scoring chance, Hudson Fasching got loose down low a couple times, and Seth Ambroz got a late goal to spoil Kaskisuo's shutout bid (so much for Kaskisuo being overcome by nerves in his NCAA Tournament debut; he said afterward it was just a "normal game" for him). And I've never really thought of the Gophers as a chippy, dirty team that takes cheap shots when it's behind late. 

That said, there just seemed to be a lack of emotion. They weren't engaging UMD physically, instead just standing around and letting the Bulldogs do whatever they wanted.

A reporter asked the Gopher players who were made available at the press conference if they thought the small crowd played a role. For his part, sophomore Vinny Lettieri wasn't having anything to do with it.

"There were more fans here than when we came out in Detroit (at the Big Ten Championship last weekend)," he said.

I've said that I think small crowds at regionals tend to randomize results in some cases.

But in this case, there was nothing random. For the better part of 40 minutes, this was a nationally televised whipping administered by a UMD team that has spent the entire season showing it has Minnesota's number. Over the last seven meetings dating to last season, UMD is 5-1-1 against the Gophers with four straight wins. Considering Minnesota hasn't been some middling outfit the last two seasons, that's a really impressive number.

******

This sets up what should be a great regional final Saturday between UMD and Boston University. The Terriers got a Danny O'Regan overtime goal to edge past No. 4 seed Yale 3-2 in the first game Friday. Hobey favorite Jack Eichel set up the winner with a blast from right point that came off the pad of Yale goalie Alex Lyon and went right to O'Regan for the winner.

O'Regan, Eichel, and Evan Rodrigues have combined for 65 goals and 173 points this season. Eichel has 67 points on 24 goals and 43 assists. Oh, and he's a draft-eligible freshman.

(BU dressed eight freshman skaters on Friday. Neither team is blessed with much NCAA Tournament experience.)

BU coach David Quinn -- an alum in his second season after taking over for retired legend Jack Parker -- made it clear Thursday that his team is not a one-line team. Second-line center Cason Hohmann has 28 points, and right wing Ahti Oksanen has 24 goals after getting one Friday.

But UMD got goals from its second and third lines, plenty of pressure from its top line, and fourth-line wings Austyn Young and Charlie "Chuck" Sampair had five shots between them against Minnesota. It's a one-game snapshot, but BU's third and fourth lines combined for six shots against Yale, two for Nick Roberto and three for Robbie Baillargeon.

I think that will be a huge part of Saturday's game. Definitely bears watching. Will UMD's depth make the difference? Or is Boston University's high-end top line going to be too much for UMD to handle?

Also, with somewhat limited time to study up, how will Quinn handle matchups. He's the home team coach, so he has last change. I'd guess he tries Eichel's line against Dominic Toninato's line at first. Neither team is good on draws, but Cameranesi has become very good as of late, and Toninato really struggled in the circle (3-16) against the Gophers.

I don't think Sandelin minds this matchup. Toninato, Alex Iafallo, and Adam Krause have the ability to play physical and possess the puck. Just like Minnesota, I think that'll be a huge part of this regional final. UMD wants to play a possession game, make opponents play defense and play a 200-foot game to generate any kind of possession on their own. The best defense is puck possession. Eichel and friends can't score if they're defending in their own zone.

Sounds simple. It won't be.

But equally important to the Eichel line matchup is how the other lines play against BU's other lines. If UMD can show an advantage in depth, and whoever plays against the Eichel group can find a way to slow those guys down, the Bulldogs will work from a position of strength.

******

Good Friday for the NCHC, not so good for everyone else.

In Fargo, St. Cloud State -- should I do the ESPN thing and call them "St. Cloud (Minn.) State"? -- and North Dakota pushed the NCHC to a 3-0 start to this NCAA Tournament, and also guaranteed the second-year league at least one Frozen Four team.

St. Cloud got an overtime goal from Duluth's Judd Peterson to beat Michigan Tech 3-2. The Huskies couldn't hold a late lead, as Jonny Brodzinski tied the score with 37 seconds left in regulation. Peterson's goal was set up by Joe Rehkamp after Tech defenseman Riley Sweeney fell down at the blue line, creating an odd-man rush.

West Regional host North Dakota polished off Quinnipiac 4-1 to finish the day in Fargo. Drake Caggiula scored and had an assist, while Zane McIntyre made 29 saves for UND to set up a rematch against a Huskies team that won over North Dakota at last week's NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

After his team's win, birthday boy Bob Motzko said his SCSU team would either get a road game or a neutral-site game on Saturday.

It'll be a road game, not that I have to tell you.

Also Saturday, the Midwest and Northeast Regionals open up. In the Midwest Regional at South Bend, No. 1 Minnesota State plays RIT, while Omaha battles Harvard. Providence houses the East Regional, which has top seed Miami playing Providence while Denver takes on Boston College. Those regional finals are Sunday evening to finish filling out the Frozen Four field.

Coverage of UMD-BU can be heard on 92.1 The Fan and the Red Rock Radio Bulldog Sports Network starting at 4pm (Central). The game will be televised on ESPN2 and available on the WatchESPN app (sign in with your TV provider, and you'll have access to the stream as long as you get ESPN2 at home, which I think is available on even the most basic cable/satellite packages).

Game 39: UMD vs Minnesota (NCAA Northeast Regional)

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Off and running with the NCAA Tournament. For UMD, it's the ninth trip to the national tourney, and the second time it will face archrival Minnesota in the NCAAs.

The other was 11 years ago, so while it went our way, it means nothing.

Hell, I'm not convinced that the games played earlier in the season mean much of anything. Wipe the slate clean, guys. Let's roll.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Crandall
Sampair - Decowski - Young (Austyn)

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Fons

UMN
Bristedt - Rau - Fasching
Warning - Boyd - Ambroz
Cammarata - Kloos - Lettieri
Michaelson - Isackson - Glover

Skjei - Collins
Reilly (Mike) - Bischoff
Marshall - Brodzinski

Wilcox - Lehr

Thursday, March 26, 2015

UMD-Minnesota Rivalry Makes More History

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- For Minnesota and UMD, playing head-to-head is old hat. They've done it a few times in the past, and surely are not done scheduling each other non-conference.

But this is crazy.

When the Gophers and Bulldogs parted ways from the WCHA after the 2012-13 season, fans were left wondering if they would ever lock horns as much as they had in the past.

After Friday's NCAA Northeast Regional semifinal here, the teams will have met five times this season and eight since becoming non-conference adversaries two years ago.

To put that in perspective, the teams met twice in each of the last two years of their WCHA affiliation. They hadn't met four times in a regular season since UMD's national championship season of 2010-11.

(Omen?)

(Scratch that. I'm bad with omens. I thought hearing "Holiday Road" at the hotel in Denver before the Friday playoff game was a good omen. Forget I brought the subject up.)

"You grow up playing against some of these guys," Minnesota senior captain Kyle Rau said. "It's fun playing them in college."

Senior Travis Boyd ranks the rivalry "right up there" with Wisconsin and North Dakota. "I guess this one's got a bit more of a rivalry because more Minnesota kids are playing for Duluth."

Head coach Don Lucia doesn't disagree with his players.

"It's a respectful rivalry. I like their coaches. I like their players. UMD does have a lot of Minnesota kids, more than St. Cloud, or Mankato, or Bemidji does."

They're ready to make some more history on Friday afternoon (4:30pm Central time).

UMD and Minnesota have met 227 times previously. Only one of those meetings has come in the NCAA Tournament (2004, won by UMD 3-1). Furthermore, the teams have only had nine meetings where one team could end the other's season. The first of those came in the 1970 WCHA playoffs, where Minnesota dispatched UMD 3-2 in three overtimes before losing to Michigan Tech the next night to end the season.

The Gophers also ended UMD's season in 1975, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1988, and 1995, all in the WCHA playoffs. Since then, UMD has turned the tables, winning an epic 1998 WCHA playoff series in three games to finish the Gophers' season, then taking down Minnesota in that 2004 NCAA Tournament game, as well as the 2009 WCHA Final Five play-in game.

(Who can forget that 1998 game? I wrote about it the week the DECC closed. Can't say I've watched the DVD since that week, but 17 years later, I still get goosebumps. I miss the old goal siren at the DECC.)

Friday, someone's season will again be over at the hands of the other.

Oh, and I believe their home-and-home next season is in October. So that'll be fun -- ooh, the revenge angle. Can't wait.

Why have three of the four meetings been decided by one goal? It's not just because of the familiarity, though it doesn't hurt.

It's because the teams are very similar in their styles. Both like to get up and down the rink, play a pace game. They are blessed with the kind of skaters who can help accomplish that. And there are players on both teams that seem to really flourish against this particular opponent.

(On the UMD side, I'd count in honorary Minnesotan Austin Farley among those.)

But let's level here. The matchup is so closely contested that it will probably come down to goaltending and special teams.

UMD coach Scott Sandelin admitted Thursday the Gophers have a better power play, joking he wants to keep that "on the bench."

Lucia is confident in his goalie, junior Adam Wilcox, but he knows it's the biggest thing this time of year, and it's a lot of pressure to put on a player, no matter how good he is.

"It's very difficult to win this time of year without really good goaltending," he said. "Because you're playing such good teams. You're going to have some breakdowns. The teams that go on in these short tournaments, you have to have outstanding goaltending play. You can't let in leakers this time of year. That one goal's a difference maker."

Sandelin is fully confident in his freshman, Kasimir Kaskisuo.

"I think he's been pretty consistent. He's older, and he's got a pretty good demeanor about him. He's pretty focused on what he needs to do. Our guys have a lot of confidence in him."

These teams know each other entirely too well for this matchup to come down to anything else. No surprises are left in the bag. It's about execution now.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Familiar Foe Awaits UMD at NCAA Tournament

Well, didn't see that coming.

Going into the NCAA Selection Show on Sunday, most, I think, thought UMD would be matched up with Boston College in Manchester, N.H., to open the NCAA Tournament on Friday. I believe I even saw a speculative tweet that UMD would play Harvard if the selection committee danced a couple teams around to avoid conference matchups and try to boost attendance at regional sites.

We got the venue right, and the team horribly wrong.

Instead of playing No. 11 Boston College, as it would have in a true 16-team bracket, UMD matches up with No. 10 Minnesota Friday. It will be the fifth time the longtime rivals have played this season, and this will be the fifth different arena they've played in.

(Ice Breaker at South Bend, Ind, Mariucci Arena, Amsoil Arena, XCel Energy Center, and now Verizon Wireless Arena, in case you didn't believe me.)

At Amsoil Arena Sunday, the UMD players watched the show on ESPNU. It was obvious when the matchup was revealed on TV, because a loud cheer came from the players' lounge.

I'm sure there are some out there who don't like the teams meeting for a fifth time (UMD is 3-1 this season against Minnesota, making a bit of a dent in a huge Minnesota lead in the all-time series), but you aren't going to hear the players complaining. At least not UMD's.

"I think we're all pretty excited for this opportunity," senior forward Justin Crandall of Lakeville, one of 18 rostered UMD players from Minnesota. "I think there's a lot of hatred there, and obviously we respect them as a program. I'm really excited for the challenge."

Senior captain Adam Krause of Hermantown said he was checking Twitter on Saturday night, trying to keep up with everything going on. He laughed when I said everyone was wrong on Saturday.

"It'll be fun, emotional, a good matchup," Krause said.

The four meetings between UMD and Minnesota have been played at a tremendous pace, as you'd expect with two teams that love to get up and down the rink. But a 4-3 Gopher win Oct. 10 at the Ice Breaker was the outlier. Not just because the Gophers won, but because only three goals were scored in each of the other meetings (A 3-0 UMD win at Minnesota, followed by a pair of 2-1 UMD wins).

Adam Wilcox was great in virtually every game for Minnesota, while Kasimir Kaskisuo shut the Gophers down in that home-and-home sweep back in November, and Matt McNeely turned in one of his best performances as a Bulldog at the North Star College Cup against Minnesota.

"They get up and down the rink, got a lot of skill," head coach Scott Sandelin said. "We play the same way. The big difference anytime you play them is staying out of the box, because their power play is really good."

Of course, if the goalies are as good Friday as they were in November and January, it'll come down to things like special teams or puck management, just like it has between these two teams already.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Still in Limbo as Final Night Nears

Greetings from the mansion. I won't keep you too long, because Matt Wellens has already done a pretty good job laying out what we know regarding UMD's NCAA seeding.

It isn't much.

With the logjam of NCHC teams -- six -- making the NCAA Tournament, the art of "Bracketology" becomes more difficult this year than in the past. Will the committee break up the NCHC teams that are on the same 2/3 seed line, or will it let those teams play each other, which it's allowed to do?

Will it move teams for the sake of attendance?

(We know Fargo isn't an attendance issue. I'm told South Bend tickets were generally sold to Notre Dame season ticket holders, so even if that means there won't be many butts in the seats there's no need to get Miami and/or Michigan there to sell more seats. But Manchester -- hosted by New Hampshire, which won't make the tournament -- is a problem, and Providence -- hosted by Brown University and not Providence, which might make the tournament -- will likely be an attendance problem if Providence isn't in that regional. So attendance concerns are strictly out east for this bracket, meaning it wouldn't be smart to move qualifying eastern teams to the west half of the bracket.)

I ran a few scenarios Friday night and a few more here now.

I've been open about my desire to have UMD head to Fargo. It's unlikely, but as we enter the final games of the season, it's entirely possible.

Here's one way it happens.

Atlantic Hockey Championship: Mercyhurst def. RIT
Big Ten Championship: Minnesota def. Michigan
ECAC Championship: Colgate def. Harvard
Hockey East Championship: Boston University def. Mass.-Lowell
NCHC Championship: Miami def. St. Cloud State
NCHC Consolation: Denver def. North Dakota
WCHA Championship: Michigan Tech def. Minnesota State


If that happens, the Fargo bracket has No. 1 North Dakota and No. 2 UMD. And then it gets interesting. The NCHC would have five teams -- Miami, Denver, UMD, UNO, and St. Cloud -- ranked between fifth and tenth. In this instance, at least one NCHC matchup is virtually unavoidable, so you might as well keep UMD and SCSU paired together. Miami would play No. 12 Boston College, Denver gets No. 11 Colgate, and UNO is paired with No. 9 Minnesota.

This scenario sends Minnesota State -- in all likelihood -- to South Bend, Boston University to Manchester, and Michigan Tech to Providence as the other No. 1 seeds.

Here is another way to get UMD in Fargo.

So Michigan Tech can lose to Minnesota State and still stay ahead of UMD.

Want UMD to play the Gophers in Fargo in the first round? I saw a way to make that happen on Friday, but haven't been able to duplicate it now.

If you want UMD as a No. 1 regional seed, there's probably north of a 25 percent chance that happens. There are a bunch of ways UMD can end up moving into the top four. The most common of them involve St. Cloud State beating Miami for the NCHC title, while UMass-Lowell knocks off Boston University in Hockey East.

If that happens, it's most likely UMD heads to Providence. There are also scenarios where UMD is No. 2 in a regional and likely heading to Providence. I'd say Rhode Island is the most likely destination for the Bulldogs. As for the most likely first-round opponent, I've probably seen Boston College banded with UMD more often than any in the myriad of scenarios I've run.

Other potential opponents include Colgate, Harvard, Minnesota, and the possibility of an NCHC foe continues to exist.

If Harvard beats Colgate for the ECAC title, the odds increase that the committee will be able to break up the NCHC teams a bit without messing with the bracket. Otherwise, expect some controversy, because it becomes more likely the NCHC will have two teams meeting in the opening round.

Also, the need -- if it's actually a need -- to get Providence into the East Regional in Providence might cause the committee to move away from a true serpentine bracket setup (i.e. 1v16, 2v15, 3v14, etc.) that we're used to seeing.

Depending on Saturday night results, we could have a little more intrigue than usual for the actual bracket announcement.

More Sunday after the 11am selection show on ESPNU.