Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Do Rubes Taste Like Chicken?



This isn't a preview of this weekend's series.  Instead, it's just a semi-organized collection of my thoughts about this year's Minnesota Golden Gophers.  The Gophers are the easiest team in college hockey to research.  There is typically more written about them in Internet venues than any other Division I team.

When the Seawolves face a Mercyhurst, RPI or Robert Morris I've got to do a bit of digging.  I've got to infer what I can from past boxscores and current rosters.  I've got to hope there is some blogger somewhere who knows what he/she is talking about.  But when it comes to the Gophers, that problem doesn't exist.  The plethora of published opinion presents only one limited challenge.

You've just got to separate the wheat from the chaff; the rubes from the knowledgeable.  That effort isn't too difficult in any season.  Here's some examples so you can tell one from the other:

Rubes say stuff like: 
"If it were not for an unassisted tally by Boston University junior forward Joe Pereira with less than three minutes left in regulation, the top three teams in the nation would have fallen victim to major upsets."
"Outscored 13-3, shutout three times, and currently 0-3-1 - at what point does "it's early" become "this team is mediocre at best"?"
"It depends on what happens next weekend. If they struggle against UAA then we can throw in the towel."
"They hardly lost anyone after last season. Shouldn't this mean that MN would be ready to start the season and not look this putrid?"
"As for the the weekend against the seawolves... I'm not too optimistic. I think we're gonna dick around a lot like we have been and I'll be happy to get a win. More likely scenario is we tie twice to a mediocre team."
"I'm predicting sweep. I like what I heard from the coach this week, the game is on big ice, and UAA has only two players who can skate with the entire Gopher squad."
"I also believe there will be a parade of penalties as UAA does a lot of hooking and holding. The rest are big and slow with bookend sieves."

The knowledgeable say stuff like:
"While the Gophers have a heck of a lot of work to do, for the most part its all very correctable stuff. Its all fundamentals."
"If there is one thing I have learned in my years of watching college hockey, it is that the way a team looks at the start of the year is no indication of the way they will look at the end of the year."
"Scoring looks like it will be a challenge, but the D and goaltending should be good, so I don't think they need to be a high-scoring team to do well. While no one appears to be a big goal scorer, look top to bottom at the players on this team and there were a lot of points these players generated in their past."
"I anticipate a hard fought series with UAA."
So I think it's apparent that the rubes outnumber the knowledgeable; note here that the first "rube" comment above was the lead for USCHO's story covering the weekend.  BU beating Michigan, Miami losing once to Michigan State and UND losing one to UAA are by no measure "devasting" events.

The rube/knowledgeable proportion probably holds true for every base of hockey fans at every level (excepting Seawolves fans of course).  So the bigger point here (other than outing rubes) is that even through the fog of massive hand wringing and general bovine excrement that I think I've gotten a good idea about this year's Gopher squad.  I've seen them play; I've read most of the critiques and so ... here's my analysis.

The Gophers haven't come together as a team.  I've always said that managing personalities of all the NHL draft picks is Don Lucia's biggest problem in any year.  In some ways, that challenge is perhaps less for him this season.  The "primadonna" factor isn't what it's been in the past.  They've played two difficult teams so far.  We already know that UND's biggest strength is their ability to draw on their emotions and play at a high level.  They did exactly that to Minnesota.

Denver on the other hand was motivated to play their best all-around games of the year after they hadn't exactly come out of the gate looking like the best college hockey team ever put together.  So, it's meaningless that the Gophers are 0-3-1.  Entirely.  Judging a team by their record and only looking at W's is superficial.  Rubes do that.  People that know the game, look deeper into situations to see the truth.

The truth here is that the Gophers are a talented team.  They've been playing decently in their own end.  They just haven't mustered the offensive troops in the proper formations.  It takes a few games for any coach to see who works together well offensively.  Practice can give him an idea but until there are actual game situations challenging players one can't really know for sure if there is any chemistry between linemates.

Much has been made of the Gopher's lack of power play production.  See above.  Allow another example here.  UAA's power play was the first to score on UND this season.  Prior to scoring Saturday night the Seawolves had been less than sparkling on the PP.  But Coach Shyiak made a key change in the power play setup that probably helped it click.  So, there's every reason to expect that Coach Lucia can make whatever necessary adaptations to help his team's power play to succeed.

My last point here is that inconsistency early in the hockey season is a wide-spread phenomenon.  The effort to teach young players exactly what level of play they need to acheive doesn't happen overnight.  Look to your own life for an example.  Didn't the best lessons you learned come via your failures?  Same thing with hockey players.  A baby has to learn to pick his foot up when there's a rock in his path.  Tripping on the rock and getting a skinned knee brings that home.

The Seawolves will be facing a dangerous, hungry and talented Gopher team this weekend.  Don't begin to allow yourself to think that the Gopher's record or statistics tell a different story.  Don't be a rube.

22 comments:

Jeff said...

I wonder if SHyiak is going to stick with the loaded line of CLark, Lunden , and Grant. They seemed to work very well together on Saturday. I think one of those "rubes" you are talking about failed to realize that UAA plays on big ice as well :D

Donald Dunlop said...

I would bet that he does.

Anonymous said...

I thought Hunt played damn good last weekend after not having been thru contact practices. Wonder if Leinwebber moves up to forward when we get all the D back.
Dan

Anonymous said...

UAA is:
Ahead after 1: 2-0-0
Behind after 1: 0-3-0
Even after 1: 1-0-0

We need goals in the first, and the ability if we fall behind.

Anonymous said...

Did Baldwin have any penalties against the Sioux?

Donald Dunlop said...

The defenseman discussion is an interesting one ...

First, Baldwin had a penalty free weekend.

The next question is the status of Backstrom and Vidmar ...

Vidmar was an upper leg/groin ... so who knows the extent of that ...

Backstrom and Hunt had similar surgeries from what I heard. I'm guessing he's close to being ready to go ...

So if we assume Nils is ready to go ... but Vidmar is still out then I think it all hinges on how much the coaching staff likes Drew Darwitz's play.

I see Baldwin as top 6 guy no matter who is healthy. He's been solid. He's mature. He's got a good shot. Good on both ends so far. Good along the boards. I see no major flaws in his game.

Darwitz honestly had a couple of shaky moments in the first couple of games. But I have to give him credit here and say that he hasn't made the same sort of mistakes since then.

Curtis is a really dynamic player. I think what he might offer offensively is tempting as hell.

Let's not forget that Jared Tuton has played a whole lotta forward as a Seawolf. And he's been a forechecking monster hitter in the past.

I'll just say it will be interesting to see what Shyiak does. He'll have more choices in the 2nd half when Gorham is eligible to play.

Donald Dunlop said...

I'll say it tomorrow in my post but I'm going to predict that Ken Selby makes the trip and plays.

Anonymous said...

who Starts in Net? No Brainer?

Anonymous said...

Defensively, Baldwin had a decent series against NoDak. Leave Tuton as a checking 4th liner. Baldwin/Hunt, Leinweiber/LaFranchise, Darwitz/Backstrom.

Having a few injuries may actually lead to improved depth as Darwitz is getting valuable ice time and Baldwin is finding his way. As they get more solid look for LaFranchise and Leinweiber to be able to take more offensive opportunities.

Donald Dunlop said...

With no disrespect to Jonny O ... I say Bryce seems like a no brainer choice to me.

A Seawolves Fanatic said...

Let's all vote for other's, though I had to tip my hat so far to ?Marc? Cheverie....

We screen Kangas, take some rocket shots, spray a little ice, (Clark you should have the honor's) and most importantly attack Minnysoda instead of defeneding them, we get much important points in league play.

http://www.westerncollegehockeyblog.com/2009/10/27/1103594/who-is-the-wchas-best-player

Anonymous said...

You dont change one flippin thing after the North Dakota game.How big was staying out of the box and team disipline. Its that important.

Anonymous said...

Is the game going to be tape-delayed on gci channel 1? I heard FS-North is delaying the game because of the Wild and Channel 302 or whatever Fox College Sports channel it is(Atlantic or Central?) is going to tape delay the game too?

I guess I'm simply asking what option if any is there to watch this live?

Anonymous said...

Not sure why clark plays 2nd line power play, when he leads the team in points this year, and last year was tops in power play pts.
Let's not save him, clark, lunden and grant on power play.
This line is capable of 2 to three goals a game. We can still use them on penalty kill and power play. We have the goaltending and defense coming back, let clark and lunden tear up the league, it is the there last year. We are shooting for a playoff spot. This is great chance to get minnesota when they are down, if it was us they would bury us.

All the best to all the freshman on the there first trip to minni.

Fan

Donald Dunlop said...

I'd try not to think of a "1st" versus "2nd" power play. On a 2 minute power play you're going to have two units have a turn. It doesn't really matter what order they hit the ice does it?

The key power play thing to be happy about is that in the 2nd UND game Shyiak abandoned the "umbrella" in favor of the classic style with two D-men on the points.

guy@hockeybias.com said...

I think you've done a good job describing the Gophers. They will likley come out flying. One thing I have noticed about them this year and last, once they get behind, they do not seem to come back very often.

Donald Dunlop said...

Getting on the board first will be one of my keys in tomorrow's preview.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately on 2 man unit power plays, the 2nd group very rarely gets there whole unit out there for more than 30 seconds.
Makes no sense not to have clark not with lunden and grant. They play and practise together all the time. Clark was on the point at the start of the year, now 2nd line power play, use his skills around the net.
Do not understand shyiak on this one.
fan

Donald Dunlop said...

If I were a coach I wouldn't necessarily throw out my #1 unit first. You have to take into account what group of penalty killers you're facing.

I just think you're being a bit too critical in this case. It might be true that SOMETIMES a 2nd unit doesn't get a full "turn". But more often than not a 1st unit doesn't spend a full minute on the ice.

Over the course of the season Lunden, Clark and Grant will get plenty of opportunities to contribute. They'll get more ice time than any other three players on the team.

Donald Dunlop said...

And I meant to add ...

Clark on the point looks to be over. That's a good thing.

Suze said...

The game is listed on GCI as airing at 4:00 on channel 1.

Bubba said...

Good thing the Gophers haven't come together as a team, I'd hate to see what the score would have been if they were.

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