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.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Wait For Selection Sunday

DENVER -- For UMD, a frustrating Saturday defeat starts up the waiting game.

UMD fell 4-0 to Denver Saturday. A strong start -- the Bulldogs had the game's first seven shots on goal and also hit a post in the early going -- went for naught when DU's Trevor Moore scored with 22 seconds left in the first period. Danton Heinen made the highlight reel in the second, then Matt Tabrum added one off sloppy defensive zone play by UMD. The Pioneers added an empty-netter from Joey LaLeggia late to get us to the final margin.

Like Friday, there were more than a few bounces that didn't go UMD's way. But I thought Denver was the better team for more of Saturday's game than was the case Friday. By late in the Saturday rematch, the Bulldogs looked much more fatigued than they did at any point Friday.

That's become the reality. UMD has played 22 games over 11 weekends, and it's come with some tough travel -- two trips to Denver, plane trips to Western Michigan and Miami that included plenty of bus time as well, along with January bus trips to Thunder Bay and Grand Forks -- and a thinning roster hit by illness and injuries.

I wrote about this in December, and again in January. UMD needed to stay healthy because of the thinned-out roster. Before the January part of the schedule started, UMD lost Sammy Spurrell (medical redshirt after back surgery) and Brett Boehm (left team mid-season). Coming out of break, Dan Molenaar fell ill with mono, and eventually Alex Iafallo got that, too. Throw in Dominic Toninato's injury and one to freshman Blake Young, and it's been since Feb. 5, the night Toninato went down, since UMD has been able to field its preferred lineup. That's 11 games where UMD has gone 4-5-2, and amazingly still holds a strong position in the PairWise (more on that in a moment).

And trust me, not everyone in that lineup is 100 percent. Many players aren't at this point around college hockey. There are almost always guys playing with injuries of some sort. In a lot of cases, players who can manage the pain and aren't going to make whatever is wrong worse will do everything they can to get in the lineup. The spread of illness is almost inevitable as the winter months move along, too.

Do the Bulldogs need to play better to make a run? Yes. Starts with the power play, which is scoreless in three straight games and five of six after a very good weekend against Miami. Spills into five-on-five play, where UMD has been much leakier than earlier in the season.

(Iafallo has missed six games with mono. Over those six games, UMD has been outshot by an average of around three per game. It's a departure of nine shots per game from before Iafallo went down. In those 32 games, UMD outshot opponents by six per game. It's not all about getting Iafallo back, but he's a key to this team's puck possession, power play, offensive dynamic, and also to its defensive play.)

But UMD's health should improve with this week off. I have to think Iafallo will be dying to return for regionals, and it gives guys a few extra days to heal minor bumps and bruises. The week off guarantees nothing, because we've all seen teams come off a bye rusty in the past. It'll be a challenge for UMD to avoid that. But it's hard to imagine this not helping in the long run.

******

Now it's time to hurry up and wait. UMD will be off this week before learning its NCAA Tournament fate Sunday morning. Of course, we'll know before the actual selection show on ESPN, but it won't be official until then.

We're certain UMD will make the tournament. As of this writing, the Bulldogs are sixth in the PairWise, which mimics the selection process and has yet to be wrong about which teams get in. With Denver third, I would imagine the committee sends UMD to whatever regional the Pioneers are in.

North Dakota is No. 1 and has to play in Fargo. I'd imagine Boston University is sent to the Manchester bracket if it's at all possible to help attendance there, especially if Providence makes the tournament and can be sent to Providence (Brown is actually the host there, so Providence doesn't have to go to that regional).

The committee doesn't have to drive attendance to Fargo. It's sold out and has been for like 14 years. It's the other three regionals that face "empty arena" prospects, especially South Bend now that Notre Dame is officially out (lost Game 3 to Lowell Sunday and couldn't make the tourney as an at-large even if it was ranked high enough, thanks to a losing record overall).

I'm not a PairWise or NCAA committee expert, but if I had to guess, UMD would be placed in the Providence regional, which would look like this:

3 Denver vs 14 Providence
6 UMD vs 11 St. Cloud State

Whoa, tiger, SCSU and UMD are in the same conference. Well, let's look at the Manchester regional, as it stands right now:

4 Boston University vs 13 Minnesota
5 Michigan Tech vs 12 Bowling Green

Well, Tech and Bowling Green are also in the same conference. Easy swap of Bowling Green and St. Cloud State, and you have two straight-forward brackets.

PROVIDENCE
3 Denver vs 14 Providence
6 UMD vs 12 Bowling Green

MANCHESTER
4 Boston University vs 13 Minnesota
5 Michigan Tech vs 11 St. Cloud State

The rest of the field, I think:

FARGO
1 North Dakota vs 16 AHA champ (Robert Morris is the No. 1 seed)
8 Omaha vs 9 Boston College

SOUTH BEND
2 Minnesota State vs 15 Harvard
7 Miami vs 10 Quinnipiac

That's right now. It'll change by Saturday night. And you can see the possibilities for yourself. USCHO and College Hockey News both run programs this time of year where you can plug in winners of conference tournament games to see how it affects the PairWise.

I don't have a dog in the competition between these two sites for your clicks/eyeballs, but I do like USCHO's new wrinkle, which is a table that shows where each team is landing based on the unique scenarios already run by users. As of this early Monday morning writing, this table is showing UMD as high as third and no lower than seventh in the final standings. Anything fourth or higher is a No. 1 regional seed.

I know there are some hardcore UMD fans out there reading this blog. I thank you, and now I have a challenge for you. If you are inclined to run different scenarios, I'm looking for a couple specific results, just to see if they're possible.

I'd like to know if UMD can possible be placed in North Dakota's regional. That would require UND be No. 1 and UMD either No. 8 or No. 9, or UMD can be No. 7 in the final rankings if North Dakota falls to second.

Also, I'm curious if it's possible to get three NCHC teams in the top four of the final PairWise.

If you run a scenario that makes any of the above happen, copy the URL of your PWR standings page once you've run the scenario (both sites give you a unique URL that shows the scenario you concocted), and either post it in the comments, email it to me, or send me a tweet @bruceciskie.

I doubt you'll hear from me much before Sunday, barring UMD-related news that I'm not expecting.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Game 38: UMD at Denver (NCHC Playoffs Game 2)

DENVER -- For the third straight year, UMD goes into the second game of a league playoff series facing elimination. This one is a bit different than the last two, however.

UMD knew its season would be over with one more loss in both 2013 and 2014. No such issue exists in 2015. The Bulldogs are still fourth in the PairWise and a near-mortal lock to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. That's regardless of the result of this game.

Since beating Minnesota State 6-2 on March 13, 2004, at the DECC, UMD is 0-4 in Saturday playoff games after losing Friday. In that 2004 series, the Bulldogs forced a Game 3, then beat the Mavericks to move on to the WCHA Final Five.

Time to see if the proverbial ball bounces in UMD's favor a little more than it did in Game 1. I'll reiterate what I said on the earlier blog: If the Bulldogs' effort level matches Game 1, UMD wins Game 2.

Senior captain Adam Krause returns after missing Friday due to suspension. Meanwhile, senior Justin Crandall will play after sustaining what appeared -- to anyone with functioning eyes, at least -- to be a lower-body injury during Friday's game.

Lines?

Lines.

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

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely

DU
Moore - Doremus - Heinen
Janssen - Shore - Loney
Larazza - Levin - Romig
Jacobson - Tabrum - Arnold

LaLeggia - Zajac
Plant - Didier
Butcher - Neville

Cowley - Jaillet

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Controversial Winning Goal Sends UMD to Brink of NCHC Tourney Elimination

DENVER -- Well, that sure was interesting.

In a game slowed by two long video reviews, Denver's third goal of the third period -- and third of the game for Ty Loney -- stood as the difference in a 4-3 win over UMD Friday night. Denver takes a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three into Saturday's Game 2.

There was no shortage of controversy. A long video review led to a Denver short-handed goal being disallowed in the second period. I believe it was because Danton Heinen made contact with UMD goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo, though it was never made clear over the PA system.

(Closed circuit to the NCHC: I know I've whined about this before, but if we're not going to mic the officials and make them explain this stuff themselves, and if we're not going to put a shock collar on PA guys to make them relay the info, can we at least get a statement from the league on any video review, ala the NHL Situation Room? Not asking much, just "play was reviewed because of X, goal either stands or doesn't stand, and why that ruling was reached.

I'm pretty sure I am not the only radio guy in the sport who has struggled to get this information in real time because we have jobs to do and can't necessarily drop everything to listen to a PA announcement, assuming there is one. Seems like an easy thing to do that wouldn't require the NCAA be on board. I've put this to the league's attention and probably will again.)

Then after Denver had tied and re-tied the game, the Pioneers scored to go ahead with less than five to play. Loney's goal stood after a lengthy review.

(UMD fan @CampBenCh on Twitter puts together awesome animations of these plays. Give him a follow. Best part is you can pause and rewind them.)

It's a high stick. I'd almost bet my plane ticket home, that's how confident I am. But it is what it is. I'll go back to what I said on the air during the video review, high sticks are very tough to call, both live action and on replay. When reviewing, you almost always need multiple angles, and if it isn't a clean look -- and this is not a clean look, at least not with the angles Ben was able to get on the video he posted -- it's going to be tough for the referees to overturn the existing call. Makes it even tougher when the offensive player is motioning downward with his stick as he makes contact.

(More telling to me than the high stick were the immediate reactions of the players in the area, especially Loney, who reacted as if he was certain he had just done something to keep that goal from counting. You'd think someone would be a little more joyous after completing a hat trick in a playoff game to give his team the lead. But maybe I'm thinking too much. It happens.)

If you're going to rag on the officials, who get enough crap from the coaches (Denver's Jim Montgomery got so angry at one point that his face turned almost redder than a tomato, and Scott Sandelin was quite irate at the end of the game) and don't need our input, that's fine. But I'd rather you pointed your frustrations toward the fact that this hit from behind didn't lead to an ejection, and this hit wasn't called at all.

(The first hit, by DU's Josiah Didier on UMD's Justin Crandall, was a straight five-minute major for boarding, and not a check from behind, which would have been an automatic game misconduct. Looks like a textbook check from behind. Remember, even if you think Crandall turned, the rule clearly states that in a play like this along the boards, the onus is on the checking player to deliver a clean hit [Taken from Rule 50.1: "The committee reminds coaches and players that the responsibility remains with the player approaching an opponent along the boards in this rule. While players turning to draw penalties are a concern, the positive change in behavior the committee observed outweighs this issue. Any penalty in relation to this rule along the boards or into the goal cage must be a major penalty and a game misconduct or disqualification."]. The second hit, by Denver forward Larkin Jacobson on Andy Welinski, was where Sandelin went off in frustration. It might have been more of a combination of things than a reaction to this single hit, but clearly he wasn't happy with the men in stripes.)

In the end, the officials cost UMD nothing. Players still have to play, and DU was able to make a couple big plays in the third period. For the fifth time this season, these two entertained everyone in attendance. I expect that number to grow to six and maybe seven  before the weekend is out.

******

To be perfectly honest, I thought Denver had the puck too much in the third period. UMD started to run around a little bit in the defensive zone, and that usually leads to trouble for any team. Denver made a couple big plays and took advantage of its offensive zone time. The Pioneers then defended pretty darn well when UMD had Kasimir Kaskisuo pulled for an extra attacker.

That said, UMD did a great job forechecking, especially in the first half of the game. DU couldn't get a whole lot going, and it started in its own zone, where UMD was all over the puck. The Bulldogs did a great job pressuring in the right places, the right situations, and on the right people. It disrupted Denver's ability to make plays up the rink. When facing a team like the Pioneers that is so good off the rush and so good in transition, the ability to slow them down before they get started is critical.

It's little things when you're in a tight matchup like this one. UMD put forth a very good effort on Friday, one of its best efforts of the season when you consider the absences the Bulldogs are dealing with. If you just crawled out from under a rock, Adam Krause was suspended for this game because of his kneeing major last weekend against Western Michigan. Oh, and Alex Iafallo has mono. They're both here, and Iafallo has been skating, but I don't foresee him playing. With Blake Young left home injured, UMD had ten actual forwards dressed Friday, with defensemen Dan Molenaar and Nick McCormack playing on the third and fourth lines, respectively.

Even that wasn't a permanent condition. Austyn Young played some right wing with Jared Thomas and Cal Decowski, with the two masquerading defensemen and Charlie Sampair all used a little more sparingly than normal fourth-liners might be.

Getting Krause back will help UMD's wall play a little bit. The Bulldogs are usually pretty strong on the boards, but I thought they lost a few more puck battles than usual. Makes sense considering Krause is probably their best player on the wall and he was in a suit. Hopefully Crandall's injury isn't too serious, because that would be a blow to UMD's grit, as well as the penalty kill. He was able to finish the game, but without knowing the nature of his injury, it's impossible to say if he can continue in the series or not. We'll have to wait and see.

If Crandall and Krause both play Saturday, one of the defensemen will come out, and UMD will have three full forward lines and a fourth line that features a blue-liner but can at least be used occasionally. I did think DU was a little fresher in the third, but the gap wasn't as significant as I expected, considering the Pioneers used their fourth line more often and we were playing at altitude (a bit of an overrated factor in some ways, but still a factor for sure).

I expect UMD will force a Game 3 if it can give the kind of effort it did on Friday. There will be adjustments by both teams, but everything the coaches will want to do starts with a strong effort. Without that, they've got nothing. And it's not fair to just blame the bounces. Those matter, but I firmly believe UMD will be just fine if it can duplicate its Friday effort.

******

Only one road team won in the NCHC Friday, and it took double overtime for it to happen. St. Cloud State's David Morley scored his second of the game in the second OT as the Huskies won at Omaha 2-1. Morley opened the scoring in the first period before UNO's Austin Ortega scored short-handed to draw the Mavericks even in the second.

Miami trailed Western Michigan 3-2 in the third before getting the final three goals in a 5-3 victory. Blake Coleman tallied twice, including the game-winner, and had two assists for Miami. Riley Barber had two apples, while Sheldon Dries led Western with a goal and an assist. Miami is now 4-0-1 against Western Michigan this season.

In Grand Forks, the top seed North Dakota breezed by Colorado College 5-1. Senior defenseman Nick Mattson remains on a tear, with a goal and two assists on Friday.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Game 37: UMD at Denver (NCHC Playoffs Game 1)

DENVER -- A new journey begins now.

UMD is in Denver to open the NCHC playoffs against the Pioneers. Don't worry. The irony of the nation's third-ranked (PairWise) team being on the road and seeded fifth in its own league tournament is not lost.

It speaks volumes to the strength of the Bulldogs' schedule. And the No. 1-ranked schedule in the country is not taking a break this weekend. Denver is no slouch, eighth in the PairWise and fifth in schedule strength.

Let's get the proverbial party started.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Osterberg - Toninato - Crandall
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Decowski - Thomas - Molenaar
McCormack - Young (Austyn) - Sampair

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely

DU
Moore - Doremus - Heinen
Janssen - Shore - Loney
Larazza - Levin - Romig
Jacobson - Tabrum - Arnold

LaLeggia - Zajac
Plant - Didier
Butcher - Neville

Jaillet - Cowley