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Friday, November 30, 2007

The Best Loss of the Season

I think tonights game was definitely the best loss of the season. Absolutely no shame for any Seawolf player tonight. The team played one of the better games they've played so far this season. It'd be a stretch (perhaps) to call Drew O'Connell's play inspired or otherwise spectacular but he certainly didn't let one get past. He certainly played well enough to make a case for more playing time. He owes a lot tonight to the CC defense too; they plugged up shooting lanes when and if such lanes actually manifested themselves. They kept UAA to the outside and were excellent getting to rebounds and challenging for the puck. It was also the fastest up and down game of the season without a doubt. Both teams used the big ice well to open things up and skated the sort of game that ought to be played on Olympic sized sheets.

The Seawolf players tonight were flat out all over CC for large portions of time. Zone domination reached points where you could call the ice tilted in UAA's favor. CC executed very very well in their own end. If and when UAA created a turnover for a chance there always seemed to be someone in a bumblebee uniform covering up. I thought it looked like when Seawolf players wanted to create a chance that they could. The much balleyhooed speed differential was never an issue as UAA skated with CC all night and won more than their share of races to the puck. CC had more odd man rushes than UAA though; but never really made much of any of them. The puck that got past Jonny O was the result of a bit of a bad break for UAA after a broken stick turnover. The Seawolves inability to bury one of the many many goal-mouth mad-scrambles in front of O'Connell was the main theme of the game though. Lotsa guys had good looks at the goal tonight. Every forward contributed in some important way on virtually every shift. All the Seawolf blueliners contributed in some important way in the CC zone tonight; whether it was keeping a critical puck in the zone or by stepping up to create or pick up a rebound chance. O'Connell gave up just enough juicy rebounds (few as they were) to frustrate an anxious fan though.

While giving credit to CC's effort on defense it would be wrong to overlook UAA's own efforts in their zone. On more than one occassion Seawolf defenders broke up good chances or made excellent plays to deny CC. 3 or 4 times (without Jonny O being real sharp) CC could have put the game away.

I honestly thought it was the best loss of the season. No head hanging. They were in a tough fast-paced entertaining hockey game that they lost on a good bounce for the other team. I think they played at a pretty consistently high pace. Passing (and receiving) was better tonight than in either game vs. the gophers so that's a positive in my book. Telling ourselves that tomorrow is another night I guess is the best way to deal with this loss.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Series Preview: CC at UAA

The Colorado College Black Bears come to the Sully this weekend sitting at #4 in those all-important (sic) polls. I use that opening sarcastic barrage to indicate not only the silliness of CC's nickname but also to impugn anything that a "poll" in November might have to say about reality. The reality is that CC sits in first place in the league after WCHA wins with a record of 8-2-0. The only two league losses they've experienced have been at the hands of the still overrated (just over .500) UND (soon to be named) Zephyr and ultra-rival DU this past weekend. This weekend is the beginning of a long series of games for CC away from home. The Black Bears opened their WCHA season with a solid sweep of the UMTC Inepts before splitting with the aforementioned Zephyr. Then they took all four points from UMD WheezingDogs before sweeping the constipated Badgers. Before the season here's what I said about CC;
I'd have to say that there should be an expectation in Colorado Springs for the 07-08 team to have a helluva good season. The Black Bears return 4 of their top 5 scorers. Their recruiting class for this season may be small but it's all quality. Freshman goalie Richard Bachman might just provide competition for playing time for Drew O'Connell. Tyler Johnson could prove to be the top rookie in the WCHA. UAA fans know that Eric Walsky has mad skills. And Nick Dineen is apparently no slouch. Look for this team to go deep into the NCAA's. You heard it here first.
CC's record to this point certainly doesn't make me question those preseason thoughts. They did get swept at UNH early this season to make their overall record 8-4. It's nice for once to go up against a highly ranked opponent who's fanbase isn't proclaiming them National Champions in November. CC fans still seem to be in "show me" mode and I'd have to agree. While the Black Bears have played some strong hockey they've got more than a few challenges ahead. Their next 8 games are all on the road; after this series they travel to Jan Brady State then go on their holiday break before a tournament back east then they travel to the Kohl Center in Madison for against the Badgers. It's a stretch that they should consider a success if they come through above .500.

The Seawolves have a few things on paper this weekend that could be considered as positives when compared to CC. They've played 12 games and lost 4. UAA has played 10 games and lost 3. The Seawolves are about 10lbs bigger on average and a little over an inch taller. CC is scoring 3.42 goals per game and UAA is at 3.1 per. Their power play is 17% and UAA's is 15.8%; their penalty kill is 90.2% and UAA's is 85.5%. All in all these are statistics that would make you think the teams are fairly evenly matched. CC always has a reputation for speed and playing a wide open style and those two things seem to be true again this year. UAA's reputation for skating and hitting is growing and I haven't seen any opponent out skate them yet. I believe the numbers are to be heeded this weekend. I fully expect to very close exciting high-paced hockey games.

After some difficult losses and tight results in some key games the Seawolves should be ready to come out with a bit of a chip on their shoulder as far as proving their mettle. The win the second night at UMTC is something to build on. Many people put lots of stock into polls to measure a team's potential; so getting 4 points this weekend from the #4 team in the country would be just what the doctor ordered at this point in UAA's season. Only 4 points currently separate UAA (currently in 8th place) from UND at 5th and having two games in hand is a promising sitution. This is UAA's most important series of the season to this point. That's how it is in this league. Each new weekend in this league tends to be more important than the previous weekend.

I reviewed a some UAA games recently and a couple of things became abundantly clear to me. The first is that success in the offensive end was a result of committed play in the defensive end. Whenever players "gave it up" by blocking shots it often created transition chances and opportunities for the Seawolves to cycle the puck deep in the opposition zone. The Seawolf offense essentially started best high in it's own zone. The breakout has been mostly effective but when having to go the whole length of the rink the chances tended to be shorter lived. So for this weekend I believe the Seawolves must focus on disrupting CC's entry to the UAA zone and double up on the commitment aspect by playing the body well and blocking shots. The Seawolves need to dictate the tone and pace of the game this weekend. There are skilled and talented puck handlers on the CC squad and those guys will undoubtedly create some chances through good individual play. Jonny O will have to be sharp and defensemen will have to be Jonny-on-the-spot to limit second chances as well. I expect CC goaltending to be sharp regardless of who plays so UAA shooters will need to bury their chances when they come as well as be responsible when CC regains the puck in their own zone. They transition as well as anyone in D1 with their high quality defensive players. I think this all sounds more obvious than specific (now that I've typed it all out) but, nevertheless it is what I think needs to happen in order to bag those all important 4 points.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Tales of Two Birds

This coming weekend two kids from Anchorage playing for le tigre come home under completely different circumstances. Drew O'Connell graduated from Service High School and went to the Sante Fe Roadrunners of the NAHL then to the Waterloo Blackhawks in the USHL. Eric Walsky went to East High and was the Alaska High School Player of the Year before moving onto the River City Lancers of the USHL. When the time came to choose a college at which to play, Eric chose UAA and Drew chose CC. I don't know if UAA had recruited Drew. Goaltender openings don't happen every year in a D1 program so it's possible the kid would have chosen to stay home if he'd had the choice but saying that; I do seem to remember hearing that UAA was recruiting the #2 guy in the BCHL that year, so UAA may or may not have been talking to him. In any case, they both moved onto D1 with high hopes of succeeding. Neither has reached the heights that they probably hoped for though.

At Waterloo Drew had a nice save percentage of .906 and a gaa of 2.53 and won the USHL Rookie of the Year award. All in all very promising stats and accolades for an incoming Division 1 goalie. However, those were the best numbers of his post high school career. I've followed his career at CC with some interest and I can't remember Owens ever saying anything publicly that would help Drew become more confident. In my book, Owens has let this kid down. After his difficult freshman year (where Owens virtually ignored the kid) Drew suited up for his 2nd campaign but a combination of hot play from Matt Zaba (36 games) and no confidence from Scott Owens limited his action again to only 8 games. And now as a junior he is faced with fighting for playing time with a freshman who by all accounts is standing on his head most nights. No doubt it's been a frustrating experience for Drew playing at CC. Will Drew play this weekend? I'm sure he'll get the start one night; if Owens doesn't start him I'd be surprised ... Drew deserves a chance and if he doesn't get a start I'd tell him to look for somewhere else to play if hockey is the most important thing to him. It seems he is doing well in school so perhaps he can take getting a good education as some solace. If there was ever a situation for a kid that was tailor-made to jump start a career it would be this weekend. If he can dominate a game in his hometown then maybe he'd finally get a little respect from CC coach Ron Jeremy.

Eric Walsky is a player most of us UAA fans have lots of familiarity with. As a freshman he suffered a couple of injuries that limited his playing time but everytime we saw him play he brought something special to the ice. I guess it was Doyle Woody who labeled him as being able to "stickhandle in a phone booth". Very true even if my attribution is incorrect. We saw much the same in his second year but it seemed Eric always had difficulty finding someone to be the recipient of his passes. It was unknown to me at the time but apparently Eric wasn't happy playing for new coach Dave Shyiak that year. There was much finger-pointing and consternation when Eric was denied a transfer to rejoin John Hill at UMTC. In particular, I believe that John broke the NCAA contact rules and tried to lure Eric. My guess is that Dr. Cobb suspected something along the same lines when he denied Eric's request. At that point Minnesota fans immediately jumped to the "he sucks anyway" line of reasoning while at the same time decrying the denial. In any case, Eric found a home at CC. In his first 10 games in a CC uniform Eric has 5 goals and many CC fans are excited about his addition to the team. They see the same things we UAA fans saw. A player that can dominate a shift with individual puck possession. Yet it seems that Eric might be having the same problem finding someone to pass to at CC as he is yet to have an assist on his stat sheet. Regardless, this is a kid that has got to be seriously pumped to return to Anchorage to play in front of family and friends against his old school. I find it equally likely that there are a couple of UAA players that will be more than happy to see Eric on the ice this weekend.

To me those are two pretty compelling stories for this weekend. How will these two returning birds do on their arrival back at their hometown roost? How will fans greet them? I wouldn't begin to predict any major drama arising from this situation though. Who knows? I'll be interested to see what if anything transpires. The last potentially compelling story is that the last time these two teams met there was a fight at the end of the game resulting in a boatload of DQ's and 1 game suspensions for both squads. Will anything from that night carry over to this series? My first guess to that question would be no; but again ... who knows?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday Potpourri: Drained

Big surprise announcement here: I can be wrong. Sorta. Ok well ... I was wrong about something and waffling with a sorta won't change that. About 3 years ago on USCHO I went with a definitive statement and I've been proven wrong. Like I said, big surprise. What did I say? I said that a kid playing for the Nanooks who couldn't skate his way out of a wet paper bag and scored as many goals with his thigh as his stick would never ever skate in the NHL. Mostly, it was a reaction to a segment of UAF fans that touted the kid like he was the second earthly appearance of Yahweh. Yep. I figured that NHL scouts would look at him skating and then take a pass on him. Well, they know more than me. Another big surprise eh? Eric Carlson of the UAF Hockey Blog (whom I respect and greatly admire) has quite rightly taken me to task for that statement. The guy has now skated in the NHL and scored 3 goals (guess how he scored his first one) for the Minnesota Wild. And yes ... despite indications to the contrary they actually are an NHL team. I was definitely wrong. Is this an apology for being wrong? Nope. But hey, I was wrong. Make your calendar.

Speaking of Fairbanks; Gustav Bengtson's first three games in a Texas Tornado jersey were against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Gustav warmed up to the future rivalry between UAA and UAF with a slash in game 1, a GWG in game 2 and an assist in game 3. Unfortunately, the Tornado lost two of three games to Fairbanks over the holiday weekend. At least Gustav won't have to worry about that when he gets to UAA. UAF remains the one team in Division 1 so far this season without a victory. It's been tough sledding so far for the Nanooks but they did manage to gain a tie this weekend vs. UNO. In other games of interest SCSU split with Clarkson, Minnesota tied Michigan State and was drubbed by Michigan, Wisconsin had the same results as the Gophs tieing MSU and losing (albeit not getting owned) to Michigan. DU and CC both won in their own rinks in their home and home series but CC really pasted DU the first night. UND split with UMD at the Ralph to maintain their destined 2008 National Championship run from 5th place in the WCHA. I've got to say here that with as much whining about refereeing as I saw on the Interweb this weekend from a couple of those fanbases means we UAA fans should never again worry about being called-out for criticizing WCHA refereeing. Speaking of refereeing. The SCSU Angels got called for 14 penalties this weekend with their first exposure to referees that weren't indoctrinated/brainwashed with the whole Bob "we're going to play clean hockey" Motzko bullshit propaganda. Hopefully, the WCHA refs will recognize how they've been manipulated by the media and start calling the Bluffskies games the same way they call every other WCHA series.

There's no change in the WCHA standings during UAA's bye week because of the splits this weekend. That's a good thing as always. The more that other WCHA teams split, the more chances UAA will have to improve themselves in the standings. We're currently in 8th place. Points this coming weekend (like all of them) against CC are going to be very important. There is still a pretty big variance in the number of conference games by all the WCHA teams with three teams (CC, UMD and MTU) having played 10; four teams having played 8 (DU, UND, UMTC and MSUM); and three teams (SCSU, UAA and UW) having played only 6. After the last bye-week UAA admittedly came out sluggish in their first game versus UMTC but this coming weekend against CC that sort of thing just won't fly. The team will have to be sharp from minute 0 to minute 120 of next weekends games. Anything less and 1st place CC will take advantage of it.

From every indication I have the Seawolves will dress two players in the second half that we've yet to see on the ice. I could be wrong (not like it is unprecedented eh?) but expect to see former NAHL Minnesota Express defenseman Jeff Carlson turn up and be added to the already deep blueliner crew. Reports would indicate that Jeff is another likely future power play quarterback. Jeff is not in school yet and so hasn't practiced with the team but was one of the top scoring defenseman in that league last season. I don't necessarily have any big expectations for any impact from him during the 2nd half but ya never know eh? Unlike Jeff, Brian Bales is in school and has been practicing with the team. He's sitting out the first half since he is a transfer but Coach Shyiak has said that Brian would be in the lineup today if he were eligible. I do have some "hopes" that Brian can be an impactful player as he has maturity and experience. His career at Bowling Green was a bust but lets not forget he was one of the top players in the USHL (61pts in 54 games with a +31 rating and was Sioux City's captain) before enrolling at BGSU.

I love turkey sandwiches don't you? I cooked my ass off on Friday but haven't been able to do the dishes because I stopped-up the damn drain with potato peels. ARGH! It's a very very stupid stupid drain and my efforts so far to clear it (valiant as they have been) have all proven futile to this point. My advice to others; never ever run hot water down the drain after you've put the potato peels through the disposal. I thought the thing was clear but didn't run enough cold water prior to using the hot. ARGH! And yes, I've tried everything but taking the pipes apart to clear it. You can't snake the damn thing since it's the disposal side! I guess the pleasure of eating the banana cream and pumpkin pies will have to work as some sort of offset to the pain that damn drain is causing me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Kane Lafranchise: WCHA ROTW

Congratualtions to Kane Lafranchise on being named to receive the WCHA Red Baron Rookie of the Week award. Kane played two of his better games of the season this past weekend though I'd add that his play has been strong in every game this season. Besides notching his first goal and contributing the shot on Brad McCabe's tip in (both on Saturday) he blocked quite a few shots and was solid (if not stellar) on the penalty kill. Here's what I said about Kane in my evaluation of him last Monday:
Kane Lafranchise has been everything that I'd hoped he'd be as a freshman defenseman (and more). He is very poised. Very. His skating is fluid and his passing is true. His head is always up allowing him to see the ice well. By every measure and/or indication I can muster he is a top notch defenseman. He has future power play quarterback written all over him. He is leading all blueliners in shot attempts and I've been impressed with his abilities getting that shot off. He's got a quick release on wristers and excellent coordination on the one-timers. In his own end he is all about responsibility and is adept at coming up with the puck. All in all he looks to grow into a stud and perhaps become an All-WCHA performer at some point in his career.
Nothing he did this past weekend would change any of that. He was definitely the best freshman defenseman on the ice last weekend. This the second Rookie of the Week award for a Seawolf freshman this season. Here's what the WCHA release said:
University of Alaska Anchorage defenseman Kane LaFranchise, who played a key role in a two-game conference series at Minnesota last weekend, has been named Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week for Nov. 20-26.

A 6-1, 198-pound freshman from Edmonton, Alberta, LaFranchise recorded his first collegiate goal and multiple-point game last Saturday (Nov. 17) to help the visiting Seawolves to a 4-2 victory over the two-time defending league champion Golden Gophers at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. He scored a game-tying goal at 15:56 of the first period and then drew an assist on teammate Brad McCabe's insurance goal at 10:02 of the third.

LaFranchise, who skated on UAA's top defensive pairing, also helped his team kill 10 of 11 opponent power-plays in the series, earned a +2 plus-minus rating, and fired four shots on goal.
Once again congratulations to Kane. Let's hope that it's just the first in a long series of awards during a long career at UAA.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bengtson to NAHL's Texas Tornado

UAA's lone confirmed recruit for 2009 Gustav Bengtson has left the USHL Cedar Rapids Roughriders for the Texas Tornado according to a post on Cedar Rapids Fan Forum. The Pointstreak transaction listing for November 17th confirms this trade. The Texas Tornado website doesn't have him listed on their roster as yet.

Bengtson had played in only 7 of 13 games for Cedar Rapids so I have to imagine that as a highly touted player he felt that he wasn't getting enough ice time on what is admittedly a very good Cedar Rapids team this season (they have more than a few highly touted players). I've been checking on Bengtson weekly and was planning a post at some point though I was waiting for some noteworthy accomplishment. He seemed to be very effective in the preseason for Roughriders notching a couple of goals in 3 games but for whatever reason apparently didn't impress coach Mark Carlson as much as players with roots closer to Cedar Rapids.

This should prove to be a good move for Gustav. Being on the ice playing hockey is better for your development than watching from the stands. I hope he finds the move a good fit for him and flourishes in Texas. The Tornado have one road trip to Alaska on their schedule when they play the Ice Dogs, Brown Bears and Avalanche near the end of February.

Sunday Potpourri: Split Edition

Win at home, split on the road. "The" #1 WCHA coaches mantra. This weekend UAA was the only team in the conference to live up to the split on the road portion of that mantra. Denver swept Mankato at home with a close 2-1 game on Friday but a serious 7-0 Piowning on Saturday night. CC swept Wisconsin at home with a close 4-3 result on Friday night and a big 6-1 margin and for the second weekend in a row there was chippiness at the end of a Wisconsin loss. Duluth came damn close to holding up their end at home but only managed a 1-1 tie with MTU at the DECC on Friday. It sounded like a fitting result for what I've read was a boring icing filled defensive battle. Saturday thought UMD got the job done with a 4-1 victory which included 2 empty net goals at the end. I cheer for splits every weekend (excepting the UAA series of course where I always want the Seawolves to sweep) because it means that nobody in the league takes those big steps up in the standings. But because of this weekends results there is a bit of a separation in the early league table. UAA's next opponent is sitting at 14 points with DU at 10 (and two games in hand). Those two teams meet (home and home) this coming weekend in probably the most important WCHA series so far this season. If CC gets 4 points they'll solidify a lead that could be long lasting.

Looking at various league stats today I have to note one that jumped out at me. It's important to note before I talk about it that not everybody has played the same number of conference games. That said, UAA opponents have had by far the fewest penalties called against them. Referees have only whistled 19 penalties on UAA opponents in six games. The next closest team in that regard is Wisconsin at 24 (in six games) whose opponents have all apparently been angels as well. In order MTU, UMTC and SCSU opponents have all been gooning it up. There have been 9 CFB's so far this year in the WCHA. UAA has 4 of them. With all that in mind UAA is still only 5th in total penalty minutes at 16.7 per game; UND leads with 27.7 per game (six games) and the SCSU Angels sitting at 9 minutes per. UAA is ranked #1 league-wide in the "combined special teams" category which is in large part due it's good penalty kill which is almost 85 percent. DU's penalty kill is a crazy 100 percent and CC's is 94.

I enjoyed Luke Beaverson's interview after the game last night. His big wide gap toothed grin and his attitude were great to see. Nice to see the UAA faithful in the background as well with all their big smiles! It was apparent to those of us watching how quiet the joint was as the UAA fans cheering after the UAA goals was very audible on the broadcast. Way to go UAA fans! Great stuff! For us sitting back at home it's always great to see and hear ANY support for the guys on the road. I think the players noticed too.

I shouldn't read too much other coverage of the games. I know that Don Lucia didn't say that if Tom Pohl had scored (instead of hitting the post) that "the outcome would have been different". He said "the outcome could have been different". Note to recappers out there ... could and would are two entirely different words. Get your quotes correct if you're going to use them eh? And oh yeah ... if you're pretending to be some sort of unbiased journalist then give equal space to the descriptions of UAA's goals as you do to the losing team. Especially, if the byline after your name says "Publisher" eh? Nuff said USCHO? Note to Don Lucia, your team wasn't the only one that hit posts that "could" have impacted the outcome this weekend had they not.

Man oh man I seriously hope that UAA can get to the Final Five this year. In their one appearance a few years ago the crowd really adopted them. I'd love to be a part of that. If they don't manage to get there I'm still looking forward to the experience. It'll be a great chance to meet some other bloggers and Internet loudmouths like me. While my fund-raising for the trip isn't what I'd call going great at this point, I still plan to attend. I'm embarking on a little venture which should allow me to deposit a bigger portion of the funds to that effort but I'm still hoping readers here will find what I do worthy of donations. So if you like what you read and are feeling magnanimous then jump on the link to the right and Pay Pal me. Thanks in advance and once again thanks to all those folks who have already donated.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Game Two: Hells Yeah

Never again will I do a stupid period-by-period breakdown. I did it last night for something different. I didn't mind doing it really but tonight I decided for purely selfish reasons to forego all that. The difference? Last night when I did so, the team lost. Tonight I didn't, and the team won. I hate listening to all the "plucky", "determined" et al comments from the Gopher broadcasters because even though they're trying to give credit to the Seawolves for the victory it is still condescending; but that dolt Dubay is a joy to listen to. Last night (according to him) it was as if the Gophers had the world on a platter. They were everything they should have been blah blah blah. Then tonight chicken-little starts waving the sky is falling banner. LOL. What a boob. I don't get why ANY Gopher fan would tune into that overly-negative major league "the end is nigh"-chanting putz.

Tonight the Seawolves had 4 seconds of power play. The Gophers had 12 minutes. Whenever UAA wasn't killing penalties they were dominating the play 5 on 5. Last night I talked about UAA going with some trapping but didn't think they'd do much. They did however trap tonight after they got the 2 goal lead. And they did it very well. The penalty killers deserve mad phat props for their work all weekend. They kept the Gophers to one goal on 20+ minutes off man-advantages. Stellar. Great job PKers! Jonny O was sharp all weekend after giving up the one soft goal. He kept the game closer than it would have otherwise been on Friday and tonight he played mistake free and was very good controlling rebounds. There were very few and when they were available it was more often than not that a Seawolf defender handled it first. As I thought was the case last night, I think the defensemen played with maturity and poise again.

I wasn't overly fond of the refereeing tonight not because I think there were any particularly bad calls against UAA but because Hunt and homer-boy Buerline didn't see any of the infractions committed by their favorite team. An actual power play would have been nice to have tonight. I will say bullshit to slashing calls when a guy (Lunden in this case) simply knocks the stick out of the other guys hands. If there is no contact with the body then in my book it isn't a slash. The CFB against Vidmar is quite simply a call that is gonna get made in this league. It wasn't dangerous and maybe a different referee would have gone with a 2 minute minor but I won't dispute it.

This was the sort of effort and execution that UAA will need every night for the rest of the year. Extended play like that and ne'er say die effort (where you keep coming back again and again creating turnovers and making offensive things happen) can deflate the other teams confidence regadless of the logo on the front of their sweater. Tonight the Seawolves accomplished that with their 2nd period 5 on 5 play, the penalty kill and everything they did in the 3rd on both ends of the ice.

Every point in the WCHA is an important one. A split on the road is NEVER a bad thing. The plane trip home has got to be a lot more enjoyable with 2 points in your pocket. Congratulations to the team and coaching staff. Enjoy another bye week!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Game One: Period By Period

I'll be updating this entry today following each period. The computer is right next to me so I'll take advantage of the freshness in my mind of the period for some analysis. I'll come back later in the evening with thoughts after whatever transpires has been properly digested.

Period One:
Overall Minnesota dominated the period. They maintained good puck possession whether on their two power plays or 5-on-5. The only line that had any sort of effective offensive effort for the Seawolves was Lunden-Clark-Crowder. My initial thought that the goal was soft was tempered a bit by the replay when I thought the puck looked to be a knuckle-baller. In either case though it was definitely one that Jonny O would like to have another chance at. 99 out of 100 would be his average on a shot like that. Oh well, the positives are that overall the Seawolves looked really pretty poised on in their end. There was no panic, they blocked a decent number of shot attempts and were challenging well for the puck no matter where it was. Both PK's did a good job of covering any backdoor chances and I thought on the short rebounds UAA did a good job of getting them clear. Breaking out of the defensive zone though wasn't a strength that period. The puck seemed to be bouncing a bit I thought (bad ice?? .... seems unlikely but two more periods will tell if that was the case ... Mariucci doesn't have a bad reputation for ice so it'd be surprising if there was some issue) but I'd agree with Doug and Frank that both teams were creating a high pace. Only a few real opportunities for the Seawolves; a hit post from ""Crowder?"" followed a good chance in the first minute which matched a decent 1st Gopher chance 18 seconds into the game and much later good hustling play from Tarkir that almost worked out. The UAA's one PP was a little tentative I thought but also well defended. I'd speculate that maybe the team was a little bit "deer-in-the-headlights" with the dominant play of the Gophers.

Period Two:
It was a much better period for the Seawolves. Both power plays saw good chances created and 5 on 5 they got the cycle going a few times to create chances. The Penalty Kill remained good. Minnesota definitely had more close chances in the period. Jonny O made a couple of great back to back saves on two extra man chances to keep UAA in the game. Blair Tassone created a nice chance and Shave Lovdahl came up with the puck real nicely to finish and almost got the puck to go. I didn't notice any excessive puck bouncing that period so whatever it was (my imagination??) wasn't a factor. Doug and Frank were all about mentioning that UAA had built some momentum off the Power Play chances and they were right. Funny how they didn't mention that in the first period when Minnesota had a couple of back to back chances that created momentum for them. The effort has been there both periods in any case; so being in the game going into the third is important. I'll expect a continued good effort in the third. The defense continued to look poised with no observable panic. Commitment in the defensive zone was good with plenty of willingness to block shots. Humping the puck out of the zone was improved from the first period as well. For the final twenty I think UAA has to find a way to convert while keeping the Gophers off the board. Rug and Doug's favorite comment is how important the next goal is and when they say that later in the third they'll be right.

Third Period:
More important than getting the third goal was the fact that UAA really didn't ever seem to get any kind of momentum going through the period. The Seawolves had a couple of decent sustained chances with the cycle and the power play possession was reasonable and created chances as well. Things just seemed to be a couple of inches away. Whether it was a Gopher getting to a puck a millisecond before a Seawolf or a chance where a stick was about 80 percent of where it needed to be for a deflection. Woog pointed out right after the second goal that Luka Vidmar seemed to stop on the play and I'd agree. If he'd stayed with Okposo on that play it might not have been such a clean chance at least. Write that off to a rookie error. Frazee made a couple of good stops in key places. He didn't so much "earn" the shutout per se as he had it given to him by the Seawolves offense and the Gophers defense. Credit to the Gopher offense as well even though I thought all night the the defense did a good job. The Gopher forwards were able to make UAA go 200ft tonight and I think that more than anything else was the difference in the game.

I said I'd be back later with digested thoughts. I'll go eat some dinner now, let it and the game digest a bit then come back in a couple of hours with final thoughts.

Digested Thoughts:
Those Buffalo-style chicken strips are not exactly sitting well in my gut and the game hasn't worked it's way through my system to any sort of contentment. I guess the most obvious point here is that if you don't score any goals you ain't gonna win a game. I don't think I can offer much more other than to say that the Gophers ate UAA's lunch on this one. They got the puck into UAA's zone and kept it there. I'll stick with my assessment that they made UAA go 200ft. I say the Seawolves should trap tomorrow night. It's one method that could at least create a transition game by creating some neutral zone turnovers. Some points are necessary. Whether it is one or two. A trapping game might be the only way to accomplish that. I don't expect it to happen. I expect Coach Shyiak and his staff will try to get the guys to double their efforts and try to find ways to get and keep some momentum. But a little bit of Jacques Lemaire hockey is probably what is needed.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Game Plan: Make Them Go 200ft

I watched the Dave Shyiak Show last night; click this link to view it. When asked what the game plan for the Gophers was this weekend Coach Shyiak said, "Make em go 200ft". They discussed what that meant a bit and here's my take. It means to get the puck deep into the Gophers zone as often as possible and possess it for as long as possible. It means to cycle the puck down low. It means a good offense is the best defense. It means to challenge them (i.e... put a body on them) every time they touch the puck. It means to forecheck like a bat out of hell. It means that the Seawolves will have to skate with the Gophers when they transition but limit those transitions as much as possible. The cycling offensive strategy shouldn't be anything new by now for us UAA fans. I've talked often here as well about the hitting game. Going with what they do best and what they've been practicing is what it is all about this weekend.

Knowing the hitting game this weekend will be an important factor; I took a look (as always) at the College Hockey News "Tale of the Tape" and it reveals that the Seawolves are a fair bit bigger on average than the Gophers. UAA is 2nd tallest team in D1 and the 6th heaviest. UMTC is 10th tallest but only the 38th heaviest. UAA is also about 10 months older per player. Size and maturity are advantages that UAA will need to utilize. Looking at various trends in past statistics revealed only one really meaningful thing to me. When the Seawolves score 3 or more goals they are 12-7-5 against the Gophers all time. So far this season the 'Wolves are averaging 3.38 goals per game. Let's hope both of those statistical trends are continued this weekend.

Last week was the NCAA's official Fall Signing Period for recruits. Coach Shyiak discussed a bit about their recruiting philosophy and mentioned that last week he was on the road talking with players (and I assume "signing" some of them) that Campbell and Damon had previously identified. I don't know how many new signings to expect. Perhaps only 3 or so even though there are 5 seniors to replace. As after every signing period I'm hopeful we'll hear something via an official release sooner rather than later. Last year though, the release came out on December 5th.

This should be a big weekend for Luke Beaverson. Luke is the lone Minnesota born player on the squad this year. He's from Vadnais Heights and it is on the Northeast corner of the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. I can't help but imagine that Luke will have a good portion of his family and friends at the Mariucci to see him play. He hasn't played the last two series due to his ankle injury so I have to believe that he'll be psyched to get back out on the ice and what better place than in your hometown? He doesn't just hit the ice as another Minnesota boy though, he comes to town as the Captain of a WCHA opponent. It has all the makings of a nice story. Last year he scored an OT goal to give game 2 of the WCHA playoffs to UAA and hand the Gophers their first ever WCHA home playoff loss. If he can lead UAA to some success there this season then it is all stuff that'll show up on his permanent hockey resume. Good luck this weekend to him. I hope he has a great series and enjoys every minute of it.

Finally (instead of saying "lastly" like I usually do), in case you didn't see this fun tidbit. Last weekend when Lucia's shoeshine boy John Hill was being interviewed by FSN ultra-homer Kevin Gorg he mentioned that they "had to do a lot of tinkering with our units tonight". That knock on his noodle that he took here last year when skating at the Sully seems to have done more damage than we first suspected.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

How to Beat a Gopher

In previous editions of "How to Beat ..." I've generally come up with some straightforward measures that can be applied to the task. For example, a nice sized freshly cut Willow branch does the trick for a stubborn Bulldog. Since Gophers though aren't normally domesticated getting next to one with a stick isn't an easy task. Thankfully, a segment of our fine society has done all the thinking for me on this one. The difficulty here is distance. But that fun loving group to which I'm referring has a solution ... its called 4000 feet per second with a .223 caliber 40 grain bullet and a high power scope. Here's what all that will do for ya if ya need to Beat a Gopher ...

I certainly can't honestly advocate that method this weekend though. For the Seawolves purposes it just wouldn't seem sporting. Piercing "varmint" heads from 2 or 3 hundred yards is only metaphorical this week however apt it may seem. The real trick in getting into the Gophers heads will be to frustrate them.

Over the past several years it has become apparent to this blogger that while many aspects of Don Lucia's job are easier than any other D1 head coaching position the one that isn't easy is almost overwhelmingly difficult. That aspect is motivation. Donnie just has to point to the program in order to score the best players. He doesn't have to develop complex systems to play. There's no need for disguised traps and/or swedish torpedo's in the twin cities. They've got all the talent in the world; 12 NHL draft picks are on the roster by my count. That's half an NHL team. Heck, the Gophers would probably give this year's Edmonton Oilers a run for their money if they played since the Oiler's only have half an NHL team too. We all know draft picks = college hockey dominance don't we? Ok, I'm being a little bit facetious with that last statement but everything else is true. So all Mr. Lucia has to do screw everybody's head on tightly and get them to play up to their potential. Not that difficult sounding to you? Wrong. It has got to be difficult. Half his teams eyes are on the next level and their thoughts are more like "What can I do tonight to get more bonus money?" versus "How do I help my team win?". I feel a bit sorry for Don. Through the years he probably thought he was building a career to develop and teach hockey players at a high level and instead he has ended up with a job just managing the personalities of 20 year olds.

This season has seen the fruits of those difficulties as the Gophers have by failed to live up to the lofty expectations of the most demanding fanbase in hockey. I have to say here that the hand-wringing, teeth-gnashing lamentations of those fans has been very entertaining so far this year.

All that glee aside, that trend I mentioned over the past couple of years sure seems to be the case this year as well. Get the Gopher players frustrated and you can steal the game. Keep them off the scoreboard and they'll start playing like the primadonnas some of them are instead of like a team. Don't think for a second that 12 minutes into the game and zero goals on the scoreboard that virtually every draft pick on that squad isn't thinking to himself ... "I'll just go do this myself!" Once one guy on the squad starts playing like that they all will.

Frustrating them in this manner is for sure easier said than done. What does it require? It requires commitment. And by commitment I mean finishing checks, blocking shots and keeping their offense on the outside. Deny them the slot. Clog up the passing lanes. Drop down and block shots. That's how the Seawolves can frustrate the Gophers. If they do those things for 120 minutes this coming weekend then they'll have a good plane ride home.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Early Season Player Evals

For whatever it's worth here are my evaluations of the players so far this season. Without any additional preamble:

Nils Backstrom's second season in a UAA sweater has been mostly quality early on. Nils missed the SCSU series with an unspecified leg injury after being upended by a Mankato stick and going into the boards awkwardly. Nils has been strong moving forward and has been doing the job well defensively. I'd still like to see him take a few more shots but perhaps the situations haven't presented themselves often. Nils was a healthy scratch on one occassion and my best guess as to the reasons were that he had a couple of defensive miscues in coverage the night before. Nils strengths are his skating and passing.

Luke Beaverson had a strong beginning to his final season as a Seawolf but has been out the last two series with a high ankle sprain. I've got no criticism of his play in the first four games. He was a leader on the ice defensively and was the strong physical presence his size allows him to be. I'm hopeful he'll be available and ready to play his final series this weekend at the Mariucci in front of family and friends.

Peter Cartwright has started the season strong. In the first 8 games there is every indication that he's on his way to his best season in his last year. We've seen creativity as well as strong physical play. He's been good on the forecheck and strong along the boards. He's been going to the net with gusto as well. He's yet to find the net this season but his 4 assists and +4 rating are good indicators of his positive contributions. As it should be he is playing with confidence and as that continues he'll certainly begin to find the net.

Kevin Clark has an underrated attribute. His desire is immense. His 10 points (4g-6a) lead the team after 8 games but that doesn't really tell the story of his contribution. Kevin is a dynamic player that can change the game. If he wants to. I'm not questioning his commitment here but it's clear to me that every shift he takes could be something special. Unfortunately, not every shift is something special, sometimes they're just average. Admittedly though, one guy can't do everything and perhaps Kevin puts a little too much pressure on himself at times resulting in unevenly effective shifts. Kevin is young (still 19) and so my assumption is that as he continues to mature (and he matured a lot in my book since last season) the positive shifts will begin to greatly outnumber the average. My expectation is that Kevin will notch the highest point total for a Seawolf in many years by the end of the season.

Paul Crowder has shown us many of his strengths in his second season. One of those strengths is his ability to combine with virtually any linemate for positive effect. Paul has been moved around between different lines in an attempt to spread his ability to create play around. I know everyone has heard my praises for his backhand but I think it's worth emphasizing. He did miss a good opportunity in OT vs. SCSU with a backhand shot but hey nobody is perfect. Paul has created lots of chances and is second on the team in assists. With only one so far finding the net I'd be looking for the coaching staff to put him in more situations where that number can climb. He is a legitimate goal scoring threat. His utilization of his size and strength have been more in evidence this season.

Winston Daychief's early rookie season has been one of ups and downs. While he sits 3rd on the scoring charts with 4 goals and 2 assists and he has received a WCHA award as ROTW he has found himself on the ice when the other team scored more often than any other Seawolf. A -3 rating isn't necessarily all the individual's responsibility (there are 4 other skaters on the ice ya know) but it is something of which to be aware. Winston has filled a regular role on the power play and has a good knack for being in the right place at the right time. I think he is strong on his skates and hardworking along the boards. His physical play is above the average WCHA freshman and as the year progresses I hope his goal production will continue at near the same rate.

Matthew Gordon has only played one game in the crease so far this season. My complete and total guess is that we'll see him one night vs. the Gophers this coming weekend. Matthew will only be with the team this year and next since he completed some college work before coming here. Getting him playing time is important. An evaluation is difficult but I'd have to say his play in the one game sure seemed confident. He got the victory. His size and style are comparable to Jon Olthuis and at some point I'd think he and Jon could become a "duo" splitting duties each weekend.

Tommy Grant left an impression on me the first time I saw him skate. At the one preseason practice I attended I thought I spotted a "goofy-footed" skater. I strained to see helmet numbers that day but was pretty sure it was Grant. I don't know how to describe it other than to say the guy looked "loose" in the ankles. I don't know what it was but I haven't seen it since. In fact every time I've seen him skate since I've been impressed positively with his speed and skating. I haven't seen anymore wobbly ankles. Maybe the skates he was wearing that day sucked. What I see now though is a guy that appears hungry for the net. He is tied for the 3rd highest shot attempt total on the team. His two goals so far this season have been nice to see and I've no doubt he'll keep looking for and finding offensive opportunities. Like Winston Daychief, he has a negative +/- rating of -1 but I don't find that to be a huge downside. They'll both become more responsible as they mature to the speed of play in the league.

Nick Haddad has cracked the lineup 3 times this season in the first 8 games. In each of his appearances I liked what I saw. He is definitely big and strong and carries himself up and down the ice looking that way. He certainly didn't look out of place in any way. As he gets more opportunities I'll have to focus on him a bit more. Sometimes that's hard since as a fan, I'm more interested in the games as a whole instead of just one player.

Trevor Hunt does many things well. He hits like a truck. He has a heavy shot and is adept moving the puck with either passing or by rushing the puck. In his 2nd season there is only one concern I have; stick penalties. In 15 games as a freshman Trevor had 9 minors called against him. So far this season in 8 games he's been nailed 6 times. I think a couple of them have been of the "selfish" variety (slashing retaliations etc) but those don't concern me as much as the hooking calls. If Trevor can focus on keeping his feet moving he should overcome his only negative tendency. All that said, Trevor does have a +2 rating in his favor. He has been very good in the defensive end. He mans up well and is plenty strong enough to deal with any opposition player.

Kane Lafranchise has been everything that I'd hoped he'd be as a freshman defenseman (and more). He is very poised. Very. His skating is fluid and his passing is true. His head is always up allowing him to see the ice well. By every measure and/or indication I can muster he is a top notch defenseman. He has future power play quarterback written all over him. He is leading all blueliners in shot attempts and I've been impressed with his abilities getting that shot off. He's got a quick release on wristers and excellent coordination on the one-timers. In his own end he is all about responsibility and is adept at coming up with the puck. All in all he looks to grow into a stud and perhaps become an All-WCHA performer at some point in his career.

Shane Lovdahl is one of my favorite players. All my previous cannon-in-the-stick and rocket-of-a-shot comments aside, Shane can be a dominating physical presence and is always looking to lay someone out if given the opportunity. Last year I think I questioned (in a small way) his foot speed and I think that has improved this year to the point where it really isn't an issue. Shane doesn't get the power play time that I think his shot warrants. He is good in his end and hasn't taken any bad penalties. I've noticed him playing with a lot of desire so far this season as evidenced by his increased rushing of the puck and depth into the offensive zone he will go in order to pinch.

Josh Lunden is probably the main guy Seawolves fans were counting on to put the puck in the net this season. His 5 goals and 4 assists in just 8 games hasn't diminished those fan expectations; for me they've increased. Josh has looked consistently good so far this season. He is always a threat to score whether via an individual effort or from a Kevin Clark setup (with whom he is well-matched). Josh played on the highest scoring line in the BCHL in his last year as a junior. From my perspective his linemates got all the press and I'd partly assumed that he was contributing but also riding their coattails. I was wrong. Neither of his former linemates are doing or have done anything of note in Division 1 while Josh has been doing extremely well. This kid knows how to score. He might not be goal scorer in the "pure" sense but he'll find a way to find the back of the net. If anything Josh's play might be considered understated. There never seems to be a lack of effort though. Josh could bag 20 goals this season. I'm sure hoping he does.

Brad McCabe has surprised me in his first year with his strength and physical play. I haven't been surprised by his ability to shoot the puck. Keith Morris told me that he had a high-caliber shot and he does. If anything his release is reminiscent of Keith's (which was reminiscent of Brett Hull's). I know that's high praise so early in the season but Brad has already shown he can get a strong shot off even when the puck is in his skates. Like his freshman teammates Daychief and Grant, Brad still needs to adapt to the flow of the WCHA and become more responsible as a backchecker. That will come though. No doubt we haven't seen his full goal scoring potential yet.

Jon Olthuis played in 14 games last season in a backup role primarily. In all those games though he gave every indication that he was capable of being a solid starter in the league. So far this season there's no reason from his play in the crease to believe otherwise. He handles the puck well. I said it in the recent team evaluation and probably a couple of other times so far this season but Jonny O is unflappable. He doesn't get rattled by giving up a softie. He is mature and plays that way. Over the next three seasons we're all going to see a lot of Jon between the pipes. I think he plays with confidence and as a fan that gives me confidence. His play in the 2nd game versus SCSU (the last series) was absolutely stellar. He did give up a soft goal, but he racked up 4 robberies as well. He will give this team a chance to win most nights and you can't ask for much more than that.

Craig Parkinson was a summer addition to this year squad and has been a very pleasant surprise. He had good numbers as a junior player in the "B" so it shouldn't be a that much of a surprise that he has 3 goals and 3 assists in 7 games this season. He's got all the skills we've come to expect in quality recruits from that league. Craig has been spending a good portion of time skating with Josh Lunden and Kevin Clark; as well as on the power play which accounts for his +1 rating while the other rookies numbers are in the negative range. Craig should continue to grow into a scoring role.

Mat Robinson couldn't rate any higher in my book. The first time I noticed him was in his first game when he made an absolute laser of a cross ice pass from deep in his own zone onto a rushing forwards stick. It was a thing of beauty and since then that sort of play has continued consistently. As an undersized defensemen his play is huge. How many beauty hip-checks has he delivered this year? There was a word I used last year to describe the play of former Gopher Tyler Hirsch. It applies to Robbie as well ... that word is elegant. He is smart smart smart. He is quick as a bee. And he'll rock your world with a hit out of nowhere. He's great along the boards coming up with the puck out of a scrum. He is leading the blueliners with 1 goal and 5 assists and there's no reason to expect those numbers won't grow into something real nice by years end.

Ken Selby's status is a mystery to me. He has only played in one game so far this season after appearing in 12 as a freshman. I don't know if it is the depth of the roster or perhaps the early season performance of freshman. I believe the kid is a potentially fine D1 hockey player. I know he can skate like the wind. I know he can handle the puck. I can only hope circumstances allow him to get more opportunities and that when he does get them that things go his way. I'm always preferential toward speed and Ken has it in spades. Let's hope he gets the opportunity to prove me right by the end of the season.

Chris Tarkir has been a bit of an enigma to me throughout his Seawolf career. Now in his final year I'm seeing some of the potential I've always thought was there. I made the mistake of labeling him the next Curtis Glencross early in his freshman year. And while much of his play was similar in a hitting and skating sense, he never has been able to match the goal scoring touch I expected. That's on me. Chris has always worked hard and through the early games this season we've seen exactly that sort of work. But but ... he's got 2 goals this year in the first 8 games. I don't know if that means he'll have the same sort of years as the last two when he scored 8g and 6g or if suddenly he'll break out? He still looks to me like he's got a helluva nice shot. He still bangs in the corners and skates well. He is doing his job in the defensive end. Time will tell. Some seniors find their way by relaxing and enjoying their final season. Whether he bags a boatload of goals or not this year I hope Chris enjoys wearing the sweater.

Blair Tassone is a role player again this year. It's been so for each of his years at UAA. Unfortunately for him his role the first two years was mostly to sit in the stands. But through those adverse personal times Blair has turned into the consummate team player. He "gives it up" in every way. So far this year that has continued to be the case. Blair has emerged as a leader this year. I think one of the events that lead to that coming of age for him was the fight last year in Colorado Springs. You wouldn't have to see the number on his back to know when Blair is on the ice this year. If you see a buzzsaw on the ice it's Blair. Blair is a +2 so far this year and that is while leading the team in penalty minutes and skating a regular shift on the PK. I know he wears #24 but he should switch numbers to #49. Not only would I be honored to have him wear the number that represents the state Alaska (even if he is a Canadian) it would be an appropriate honor to his former teammate Justin Johnson who wore the buzzsaw moniker before him.

Jared Tuton has my admiration. He converted from offense to defense from midgets to juniors. He converted from defense to offense last year as a freshman and played in 36 games. With Luke Beaverson and Nils Backstrom out last weekend Jared converted back to defense and did a reasonably good job. I thought a couple of times he looked a little bit out of place or uncomfortable but overall his play was solid. If one of those guys is back next weekend I'd expect to see Jared back up front filling his important role on the energy/checking line. His physical play and his ability to deny the puck to other teams top lines is an important and valuable contribution. He performs that role very very well as his +2 rating shows.

Luka Vidmar was another late addition to the roster this past summer. His former assistant coach with the Chicago Steel Jon Waibel told me in an email that he thought Luka might flourish here at UAA on the big ice. He was right. Luka is flourishing. He is blossoming. He is growing into not only a solid defensive player but also an important offensive threat. I've been impressed with his vision and passing. I've been surprised and delighted at his shot selection and the weight of those shots. He can definitely crank it. His 1 goal and 2 assists so far are hopefully just the tip of the iceberg. Like Kane Lafranchise I see him growing into a quality power play quarterback.

Merit Waldrop is another kid whose play I love. So far this season we've continued to see playmaking, puck-handling and dominance during shifts that are delightful and entertaining. Merit is the guy on the team that I most expect to produce a "Wow!" moment at any time. Merit's numbers have never been indicative of his skills. He's hit a helluva lotta posts over his first three years in a Seawolf jersey. He is tied for 3rd on the team in shots attempted through the first 8 games but has only managed to find the twine once. Whether it's havin been snakebitten, linemates that didn't mesh or just gripping the stick too tightly this is Merit's last year and I hope he overcomes whatever little things are keeping him from finding the numbers that his play deserves. I always enjoy what he does with the puck even if it doesn't go into the back of the net as often as it should.

Sean Wiles is the last of the summer additions to the rosters. I know he came in with high expectations and/or hopes but so far he's only cracked the lineup in three games. In his first outing my impression was that he left the ice a few times huffing and puffing, so perhaps the pace was a little faster than he expected. I thought he looked more confident in the next two games he played. He's got a real nice reach and covers ground well with long strides. He is a bit in the same mold as Paul Crowder and I think he needs some experience before we see him reach that potential. A good development curve for him would be to get another 10 or 12 games under his belt as well as improve his foot speed a little then next year I'd expect him to start producing with regular playing time. I don't really know if he can shoot the puck but he did have one nice scoring chance against SCSU that didn't quite click.

I didn't talk about Aaron Mayo, Jeremy Smith or Brian Bales as they haven't seen any action. I heard that Jeremy made the trip last weekend to SCSU but didn't get on the ice. I'm sure with two years off he'll have to impress in practice and wait for the right opportunity to crack the deep lineup on D. Aaron is unlikely to play this season as the #3 goaltender but who knows. Any ding on either Jonny O or Matt Gordon and Aaron could end up in net. It wouldn't be the first time that a #3 was called onto perform. I hear Brian Bales has been excellent in practice. I think Coach Shyiak said that if he were eligible this semester that he'd be in the lineup.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday Potpourri: Surviving

If you're a viewer of either the Discovery or Science Channel then you probably have some passing familiarity with one or both of the "survival" programs they show. The first of the genre is called Survivorman and is hosted by Les Stroud; a Canadian "expert" on the outdoors and survival. The ripoff version is called Man vs. Wild and is hosted by this cat called Bear Grylls; an Englishman and former British special services soldier. Les goes out completely on his own with loads of camera gear and covers a lot of ground twice in order to get the necessary shots. Bear (if that is his real name) has a film crew following him. It's clear that some number of the shots they use on Man vs. Wild are "setup" in order to illustrate some survival point. Everything that Les shoots is as it occurs; no "setups" per se. It's too bad these two guys couldn't get together and have a "survivor-off" of some sort. I'd really like to see an emaciated Mr. Gryll's wanker-carcass laying in some forlorn wilderness while Les proudly steps over it.

Sunday's are my favorite time to write. I get to prattle on about whatever suits my fancy. I don't restrain myself and whatever comes to mind ends up on my fingertips. Since it's a bye week there's really been little to cover about the Seawolves and as a consequence I haven't exactly been in any danger of finger cramps. I did hear a rumor. I won't share it. I'll write the early season player-by-player evals I've promised sometime tomorrow.

In an interesting move this past week, that I don't recall many (if any) other instances, WCHA Supervisor of Officials Greg Shepherd gave an additional one-game suspension to CC's Derek Patrosso for a CFB he committed against UMD last weekend. It gives me a small measure of hope with regard to an incident this weekend. I watched 3 hockey games this weekend. I watched the first Mankato/UMTC game. I've got no commentary other than to say that it went pretty much as I expected until I decided to run up to the little store near the end when I figured it was all but over. Mankato manufactured a nice little comeback but fell short. A split in that series would have been nice but the Gophers played well enough to secure all 4 points. I watched a fair amount of the UAF/Michigan game and thought UAF just looked overwhelmed. I'm pulling for UAF in their games this season (sans emotion) just for the sake of UAA's future RPI. The third game though is the reason I mention the WCHA disciplining Patrosso. With less than three minutes remaining in a game they'd absolutely dominated and holding a 3-0 lead UND captain Rylan (someone named their kid that? ... what's a Rylan? clap clap ... clap clap clap) Kaip blew into a vulnerable Brendan Smith of Wisconsin with vicious charge. Smith was doubled over and in the middle of a scrum in the corner with a teammate and a UND player when Kaip blasted right into his head with his shoulder. Here's the video.

He was only given a 2 minute minor for charging. It was a brutal check against a player in a vulnerable position and easily could have resulted in serious injury. It's definitely worthy of review by WCHA officials (no doubt they've seen it) and in my book the nature of the hit warrants further action. If Dave Hakstol doesn't discipline Kaip by removing his captaincy then I say Haks is a woman. It was a cheap shot by a guy that has no business playing college hockey. Kaip is an talentless enforcer in a league where enforcers are entirely unecessary. He'll fit in well next year on the 4th line of some bullshit ECHL team and I've few doubts that Brendan Smith will survive up in the NHL after his career at UW. The two teams split the series which is a good thing from the perspective of the rest of the WCHA. Unfortunately, it was the only split in the league this weekend. SCSU took it's angel act on the road and earned 4 points vs. MTU and UMD was unable to manage any points in their trip to CC. Denver (like UAA) had a bye week.

I was a little surprised how many UND fans on the big series of tubes defended the hit and/or said it wasn't even a penalty after the ruckus they created about the Paukovich cheap-shot on Bina a couple of years ago. Don't think I didn't express that surprise in other venues; not doing so would be unlike me. So I did. The result? More Sioux fans than ever don't dig me. They called me Donald Duck and quacked at me. OMG. I'm so quitting the big series of tubes now! One interesting sideshow to the whole affair was a confrontation between Mike Eaves and Haks after the game. I saw someone say they figured Haks would have put a beatin on Eaves had it come to that. But I guess that person doesn't recall that Eaves son Patrick missed 20 games due to neck injury during a D1 game vs. Maine. So they probably underestimated the vested interest (i.e... supressed anger) that Eaves has regarding such incidents. Hell, I'd have taken Eaves and given odds if they'd come to blows.

Fundraising for my Final Five trip remains mostly stagnant. My anonymous and untraceable text-message widget continues to be intermittently active. And I've been receiving some positive feedback for the blog; thanks for those messages to those senders. I'm still hoping that a "deep throat" will emerge and enlighten me to anything truly important. This coming weekend the team travels to Minneapolis to face the 8th place Gophers. I'll do what I can throughout the week to preview the Gophers. At least I know more about them than any Gopher fan knows about the Seawolves.

Lastly, (I say that too often when I write methinks) let me know the reasoning behind posting that picture for this entry and you'll win the Question of the Week contest. No prizes though. Just bragging rights.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Bye Week: Early Evaluation

There's 8 games in the book and it's an off-week. As promised, this is an early season evaluation of the team. I've decided rather than just go with descriptions and analysis that I'd add some grading criteria. Of course I could go with scholastic grading A thru F or a standard 1-10 system but that's boring and it's all been done before. I'll be using the just created on-the-fly copyright protected undeniably accurate super-duper ranking system.
AHS - Absolute Head Shaker
- Not Getting It Done
- It Ain't Stinkin But...
- Not Quite Effective
- Better Than Last Year
- Definitely Got My Attention
- Floatin My Boat
- What More Could Ya Want
I'll break everything down into several categories. Offense, Defense, Power Play, Penalty Kill, Goaltending and Desire.

Offense: DGMA
Perhaps the biggest piece of the offensive puzzle to get my attention so far this season is the play of the blueliners. In every game so far this season the defensemen (bar none) have created numerous chances with excellent starts on the transition and well-timed rushes. For the past couple of years opponents have been effective bottling up the Seawolves in their own zone. So far this year (with only Mankato's trapping in game one being the exception), the D-men have effectively started the offensive flow. The next thing that's been going mostly good is the physical play deep in the opponents end. The cycling and forechecking behind the net has been pretty effective. Some work remains getting the puck to the net a little more often perhaps; but I wouldn't focus too much on that. With time and experience together I'm sure we'll all see more chances come to the front. I also like the way the offense has been gaining the zone on the fly. When forced to dump the puck the wingers have done a good job of getting to and challenging. When they've carried the puck in, the forwards have done a good job of going to the net and we've seen a lot of close chances at tip-ins. They've also found the trailing player more often than we've seen in the past. The forwards are mostly choosing good times to shoot waiting for screens to develop instead of just throwing into the netminders glove. I say mostly because I'd like to see a few more low shots that create rebounds. The early freshman production has been great to see and only bodes well for the rest of the season. So with good support from the back end, reasonably good shot selection, good play deep and guys going to the net well it all looks pretty good to me. My boat may not be floatin yet but it's damn close to that. I guess the only thing I could ask for would be to see more rubber meeting some twine.

Defense: FMB
I'm going with Floating My Boat for a number of reasons (even though the goals against isn't the prettiest statistic so far). Number one is the veteran-like play of all the freshman blueliners. These guys as a group are doing a stellar job. They've manned-up nicely and maintained good positioning. They've hit and controlled play along the boards well. Backchecking by the forwards has been mostly good. Guys have gotten back and covered well but perhaps could improve some. Not to single anyone out but there were several instances I remember where a extra forward or two's presence in the D end would have been helpful. I don't think that second chances for opponents have been too frequent. The other main reason for the FMB is the quality we've seen clearing the zone. I mentioned this in the evaluation of the offense but reinforce it here because it is so much improved from the past. Whether its a good tape to tape cross ice pass or an individual rush to neutral ice it has been Floating My Boat.

Power Play: IASB
It Ain't Stinkin But it ain't clicking either is it? At 18.8 percent so far the power play doesn't quite measure up to the standard of 20% that coaches would like to see. Puck possession and movement have been good. And I'd like to think that we're seeing more shots from the point than last year when we almost never did. But perhaps we could be seeing more shots? The Seawolves set up with an umbrella up top which allows the two flanking point men to drop down as necessary. Maybe it doesn't encourage shooting from the point though? I'm not an expert in such things but it seems to me that spreading the puck from point to point without the guy up top in the middle provides better angles for shooting. If and when the shots come from the middle there certainly are more chances for the "greasy" kinds of goals that are necessary but I think there's something to be said for spreading the shorthanded team out with passing. The down side might be that you open yourself up to more breakaway chances? In any case, the number has to climb. Cashing in on power play chances is one of the most important factors for success.

Penalty Kill: BTLY
Perhaps it should be rated more than just Better Than Last Year but I'm sticking with my first thought. An 84.4 percent effectiveness is reasonable when every other team wants to achieve that 20 percent rating against you. The only reason I don't go with a higher rating is because the team has simply taken too many penalties. It may not be perfectly fair to give a less than great rating to the PK because the team has taken more penalties than it should have but I've got to mention that fact somewhere. WCHA success comes and goes with special teams. The penalty killers have been asked to do more than they should. So far they've done a good job of it but I have no doubt the numbers would be better if the number of penalties taken would go down.

Goaltending: NQE
An effective save percentage is one above .900. GAA isn't a good measure of a goalies play. Jonny O's sv% so far this season is .872 in all games and he's given up 22 goals. And now for the difficult part for me; I don't like saying it but he's given up at least 5 softies. My favorite part of having him in the crease is that he is unflappable. If he does give up a soft goal he doesn't let it affect his play. No matter how good a defensive effort is, the other WCHA team is going to get some quality scoring chances. What your goaltender does with those quality chances is important to success. Inconsistency is a word that I'd prefer to stay away from because I don't think it paints a really accurate picture. We've only seen Matthew Gordon once so far this season but I'd expect him to play again soon. He was solid enough in that game to come up with a win but he did give up 3 goals on 15 shots.

Desire: FMB
There's only been one real game where I'd classify the effort as less than acceptable. There is always a natural ebb and flow in game situations and the Seawolves have seen a few minutes here and there where they didn't seem to be at full stride. That said, those minutes haven't been overly detrimental to success. So I guess I'd say that out of 60 minutes per game the Seawolves have been playing at 100 percent for around 50 minutes. That's good. It can be better.

Overall: BTLY
With no AHS ratings and no NGID's I'm pretty optimistic about how things have gone. There's room for improvement. The team wouldn't have to be undefeated and/or tearing it up for me to give a WMCYW rating. As a "die-hard" fan though I honestly believe they could be undefeated at this point with a couple of breaks. So I think they're on the cusp. I think they're close. I like what I hear the coaching staff saying in the media. I like what I hear the players saying. I mostly like being 3-2-3 overall. I'm not all about being 0-2-2 so far in the conference. The saving grace at this point is that there are another 24 conference games to be played.

I'll be back on Sunday with a Potpouri entry. And before or after (depending on nothing other than my desire to sit in front of the computer) I'll give my thoughts on each player. Don't expect "ratings" on the players.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Monday Mania

I skipped the regular Sunday Potpourri post. So you're getting this instead. A day late and a better title. It's a bye week for UAA but fear not; I'll have some content. I'll try to do a series of early assessments since the team has played 8 games. It might only be one-sixth of the season but what's the harm? I'll look at offense, defense, special-teams and try to give my impressions of each of the players so far. I don't know how I'll format all that or in what order it'll come.

Thanks to the exceptionally excellent and wonderful Glen Coulson at UAA's School of JPC it looks as if I'll finally have access to some highlight video that I can begin posting here. Blogger only allows 10 meg per item and I'll have some tweaking to do in order to get the large files down to that limit but I have every expectation that it will happen. I won't be posting anything that Glen doesn't have clear rights to so for now it may only be home game highlights.

The Seawolves are tops nationally in one statistic. Ties. Nobody else has 3 ties! There's a bunch of schools with 2 but only UAA has 3! UMTC is in last place in the WCHA standings. If they can manage more than 2 points against MSUM this coming weekend they'll leapfrog over UAA for 9th. UAA's next series is against UMTC so that looks like an early battle to climb out of the basement for both teams. UAA will of course have games in hand. Exciting stuff eh? I'm sure that Gopher fans are "all Carly Simon" with anticipation. If UAF knows what's good for UAA they better start winning a couple of games in their conference. Ok ok; I exaggerate. They've only played two CCHA games. Michigan State swept them this past weekend and they go on road to Ann Arbor to try and put up their first W of the season. In case you were in a cave, DU swept the Gophers at Mariucci for the first time in 187 years (or something like that) this past weekend. Tech and Wisconsin split;UND and CC split.

I've mostly ignored (not intentionally mind you) providing any sort of contribution to the College Hockey and Other Stuff Blog for the last couple of months. I know that A. Allen is busy with going to college in (ugh) Michigan and in particular this week he noted how busy he is and declared a hiatus. I'd had an idea rattling around so I did all the proper research, documented the data and came up with some conclusions. I took a look at production from the freshman and sophomore classes in the WCHA over the past 7 years (or was it 6?). Click here to take a look at the results of all that Donald-cogitation. My name's on the joint too (right under A. Allen's), so I should contribute something every once in a while.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Twelve to Four the Difference

In analyzing the loss on Friday and the failure to win on Saturday I come to one single over-riding conclusion. When the opponent gets 12 power plays and you get 4 power plays there is little chance for success. I don't think there's much more to be said. St. Cloud went 3 for 12 on the weekend for 25%. The Seawolves went 2 for 4 for 50%. I guess it's lucky for the Huskies that they weren't whistled for more penalties. I guess that's how it goes some weekends. No doubt I'm a huge homer; of course I'm biased. Look at the title on the blog. "UAA Fan" ... it's disappointing when you watch two otherwise competitive hockey games and one team is called for 3 times more penalties. 12 -4? Were the Seawolves that undisciplined? Nah. Were the Huskies a bunch of angels? Nope. Did Derek Shepherd do a good job? Not in the least. Did Garrett Roe sell his dives? Yep. Should a Seawolf ocassionally fall to the ice in a heap when an opponent hits them from behind? Probably so.

Regardless of all that distastefulness; the Seawolves had their chances to win on Saturday night and fell just inches short. Some great saves from Jonny O helped keep the lead. He wasn't perfect on the night but sure came up big plenty of times. I sure don't want to blame or criticize any finishing efforts but just one more would have been nice eh?

I heard Merit Waldrop mention during his interview with the St. Cloud TV that the streak of never having won wasn't on the players minds. Fine, I guess. I know it's on my mind. Most of the players on this years Seawolf team were little kids the last time UAA won a game in that town. I wasn't. I was a Seawolf fan. As a player you've certainly got to have your own motivation for winning a hockey game. But would there really be something wrong with using the long-suffering fanbase's desire to see an ugly stat erased as motivation. You know ... a big "hey...let's get this one for all those long time fans eh guys?". I dunno.

It's sickening that the guys couldn't quite pull it off. I know they busted their asses Saturday night. They played a good game. I wouldn't give it a 10 out of 10 in terms of living up to their potential but I would score it that way for their effort. They played with spark and emotion; they clearly wanted to win the game. But their effort and desire doesn't mitigate the crappy taste in my mouth. Maybe it's selfish of me to say those things. I've got no doubt that plenty of the players feel crappy about the result. But 20 years of support met very often with frustration gets old sometimes. Yeah, it's just a game ... but we fans put our hearts into games. We live and die with our team's successes and failures. On the whole I'm one of the most optimistic people you'll find with regard to the Seawolves. So you'll just have to forgive me my current disappointment (or don't).

I'm glad it's an off week.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

2nd Worst Preview Ever

I took a couple of days off. It isn't that SCSU doesn't inspire me to write. If you've read me for almost any length of time you'll have seen me disrespect them pretty much more often than any other school UAA plays. On Monday I spent some hours working up a post directed to Morris Kurtz (the AD at SCSU) in which I gave various rationale for him to dump Motzko and hire me as head coach. It was all obviously tongue-in-cheek but I didn't like the way it turned out, so I bagged it (hence the reason for a couple of days off).

Sure ... the fact that I wear Levi's short pants instead of stuck in the 80's Guess "designer" jeans is reason enough to gain Kurtz's preferential treatment but it just wouldn't be fair to do to the guy. I know I'm not a member of the "Coaching Fraternity" and so pulling a "Troy Ward" on Motzko wouldn't really be against the unwritten rules. But I have to assume that all my reasons to Morris Kurtz would have been positively received and I'd get the job immediately. And then I would be a member of the "Coaching Fraternity" and I'd feel guilty. I'll wait to apply for the Motzko job; he'll bail and return to UofM as an assistant when Guentzel thinks he's ready and takes the head coaching job at MSU-M. I'm sorry to say that when all that comes to fruition (btw ... Pope Skeeterman will be my only bench assistant and Bobby Knight will do my recruiting) I'll no longer be writing this blog.

Looking at CHN's Tale of the Tape this week and UAA versus SCSU looks to be a real nice college hockey matchup. Both teams have 3 wins. SCSU has scored 21 goals in 6 games and UAA has scored 20 in the same number of games. St. Cloud has been a bit stingier in giving up just 11 to UAA's 16. They've got a nice looking PP% and PK%. UAA is about 3/4 of an inch taller on average and more than 5lbs heavier per player. They've gotten the majority of their scoring from the freshman and sophomore classes: same for UAA. Hopefully, this means entertaining fast-paced competitive hockey on the telly and/or puter. So no matter how you're watching the games, put a half-rack on ice and enjoy. Hopefully, a good effort by our guys this weekend will mean an end to the "never won at the NHC" stat.

From all indications, UAA will continue to use the offensive philosophy that we saw was effective in the first 4 games. I've speculated a bit in some comments about the likelihood of seeing another trapping strategy by this weekends opponent and I'd say that Motzko is real unlikely to employ that on his home rink unless UAA throttles them on Friday night. There's just as much uncertainty in St. Cloud about whether their team is good or perhaps just average as we've been having up here. Motzko will definitely want to gauge his team's abilities this weekend and having UAA as an opponent will be a good test. Similarly, Dave Shyiak will be looking at how his team performs during it's first road series. This all sounds a bit obvious perhaps but it's better than my (not as funny as I wanted it to be) application for Motzko's job.

The UAA Coaches Show is archived on the web so those of you without access to GCI Channel 1 can now view them. I have to warn that these archives aren't exactly small (80meg+ each) but if you've got broadband access it shouldn't be a long download/stream time. I've only watched one for test purposes for about a minute. In any case, here is the link and much thanks again to Glen Coulson for providing the information. They're doing a great job producing this program and as a Seawolf fan I have to say a weekly coaches show is long overdue. So all the rest of the credit to Dave Shyiak for doing it.