Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"The Law" Moves On

One of my commenters on the Matthew Gordon post below (Larissa) noticed on the early local news Tuesday that they reported Lawson wouldn't be returning. I watched at 10pm and sure enough; the story said the university announced it this afternoon. Well ... that makes official what had been the general speculation for about a month now. So what is the potential effect to the team? I have to say that I'm not a believer that a team can't succeed without talented goaltending. There are any number of examples of championship teams with average goaltending. There are likewise any number of examples of great goaltenders who carried their team all year only to see the team go down in flames when it counted most.

Success in the WCHA comes from team play. Jonny-O showed he could get the job done last year. I'll hope that Matt Gordon will show the confidence that Olthuis had when he got his chances to play last season and maybe even create some competition for playing time. I'd imagine the job is Jon's to keep. I see no reason why he wouldn't be up to it. I don't think there's any real strategic or tactical adaptations that the team would have to make with Jon in the nets instead of Nathan. So all in all Lawson's departure doesn't really have any negative impact. Note: I'm not saying that the Seawolves aren't losing a good goalie. They are. But the negative impact will likely be negligible.

Nathan's an ambitious hockey player and I think overall respected well enough for his play to get a decent shot with a good AHL team (and then his real work will begin). I won't underestimate his chances to move up but crease monkey is always the toughest road to the NHL. He's very talented and I don't think he'll have a problem catching on somewhere. I don't follow those leagues that much so I'll just hope he gets a fair shot and lives up to his talent when his chance does come. And so I can start and finish this post with my nickname for him ... When Nathan is "on" there is absolutely no breakin "The Law".

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

WCHA Needs Better Names

In my estimation there are 3 decent nicknames in the WCHA. The Seawolves, the Badgers and the Pioneers. The Gophers, Mavericks, Sioux, Tigers, Bulldogs, Huskies and Huskies should all change their names. Why do I say those are all those crappy nicknames? Lemme 'splain; A good nickname would represent the region the school inhabits in some way. It should conjur a positive image for it's students, fans and players. It should probably be combative in some manner. For example: The UAA Forgetmenots might represent the region nicely and even be a positive image but it isn't exactly going to inspire any sort of fear in opponents unless their asthmatic. In general, I'm all about identifying things in life that are stupid or weak in some way but being so is akin to nothing more than simple complaining if you don't provide solutions. So first here's some explanations about why 7 WCHA teams have crappy nicknames and afterward of course I've got solutions.

The Crappy Names
The Gophers is an unacceptable nickname for a number of reasons. It's a prey animal that scurries into a hole when threatened. What sort of identity is that to have? A rodent? "My Aunt Linda" on Saturday Night live would give that "3 Gaa's and a Jeezzzus".

The Mavericks? In Minnesota? Yeah that's what I think of when I imagine Minnesota. The great open prairie filled with cattle ranches. Um ... huh? Sure there are connotations for the word Maverick that aren't related to an "unbranded calf, cow, or steer, esp. an unbranded calf that is separated from its mother". We might think of a ruggedly individualistic person who strikes off on their own. Or even a powerful Air-to-Ground tank busting missile. But that big purple longhorn used as a mascot sorta invalidates that eh?

Next are the Sioux. When the North Dakota State University chose the nickname Bison way back in the 20's there was a bit of a panic down the road in Grand Forks at their rivals school. The Flickertails of the University of North Dakota knew they'd been one-upped. A Bison was way more intimidating than Bambi. So the frat boys and girls got together and came to the conclusion that the one thing in North Dakota that could push a Bison around was a Human Being. So instead of calling themselves "The Caucasian Train Riders with .50 Caliber Rifles Who Nearly Obliterated All of North American's Largest Ungulate" they decided to use the name of the people who'd had a respectful thousand year predator/prey relationship with the Bison. The Sioux. Then of course they had to add the word "Fighting". This name meets a couple of my definitions above for a decent name. It's respresents the region and it has a combative element. It isn't however really a positive image is it?

Next on my list ... The Colorado College Tigers. The closest non-zoo Tiger to Colorado Springs is about 10,000 miles away in Indonesia. And while it's a nickname that has been traditionally used in Major League sports for a hundred years or so it just isn't appropriate. It is no less "bad" for Detroit's baseball team. I have no idea how they came up with it but it's ridiculous by my standards. It has absolutely nothing to do with the region.

The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs? What does a Bulldog have to do with that region? Yeah ... Bulldogs are terrifying and all (when you get passed their wheezing) but excuse me if I don't get how a dog breed that originated in the UK has anything to do with an American college on the shores of Lake Superior.

Then there's our two Huskies. The originals in Michigan and the other one. It seems that Husky is a general term for any sort of dog who pulls a sled. Cool ... there's a whole lot of dog mushing history in Michigan and Minnesota eh? What? There isn't? Oh crap. All right ... so dozens of colleges use the nickname. Does that make it good? Nah. It's weak.

The Better Names
University of Minnesota:
Lakers might be a good alternative but the pro basketball team that moved to L.A. had it first and it would seem cheesy to adopt it. About 50% of the regions population is of Scandanavian ancestry so maybe they could call themselves the Fighting Blondes? Nah. Certainly better than Gophers but it's not real intimidating. Another reasonably good name would be the Wolves but the current pro basketball team is using it so that wouldn't work either. Vikings is obviously out. So the one name that I like having pondered this difficult question is The Moose. It is the largest wild mammal indigenous to Minnesota and UMTC is the largest campus in the UM system. Not a lot of other schools use it and best of all every once in a while a Moose ends up pissing down a Gopher hole.

University of Minnesota-Mankato:
The Mankato region in Minnesota isn't particularly inspirational in any way. It's not specifically lake-country though there are a few lakes in the region. It isn't particularly forested as it's a transition region toward the great plains. It might be simple to use some other indiginous wildlife like a Bear or a Wolf. However, I think a historical reference is better in this case. Mankato was originally a settlement that grew from a U.S. Cavalry fort. I think honoring that history is the best respresentation. So my solution to the inappropriate Maverick nickname would be to change it to Troopers. There is an ugly incident that might make some people a bit uncomfortable but the area's heritage is what it is. A cool Cavalry logo and the name Troopers would be about a thousand times better than Mavericks. Plus it's got that whole honoring the military theme that everyone loves.

University of North Dakota:
If there is a single defining characteristic of North Dakota (besides the flatness) it would be the wind. The Greek God of the west wind (the overwhelming primary direction in that area) was called Zephyr. The Fighting Sioux are actually the one team in the WCHA that suffers actual criticism for it's name. Not many people there favor any sort of name change. But in my book the University of North Dakota Zephyr is a BILLION times better than Fighting Sioux.

Colorado College:
This is the simplest of the seven. Tigers is beyond stupid when there are Black Bears alive and well living in the wild within 100 miles of the school. It's such a slam dunk better nickname that from now on I refuse to call them the Tigers. I'll use CC and/or call them the Black Bears.

Univesity of Minnesota-Duluth:
What built Duluth? What is that areas history? I'd tend to think it's dominated by cities location on Lake Superior and it's connection to shipping and commerce. So should they call themselves the Edmund Fitzgeralds? Or the Tankers? How about the Longshoremen? Nah. The other major connection to the history of the area is Minnesota's "famed" Iron Range. Even today about 40 percent of the iron that goes into making steel in the U.S. comes from the Iron Range. So I'd propose changing from the overused (and weak) moniker of Bulldogs to the Iron Rangers. A cool industrial style logo with some care taken to ensure that there's no association with the NY NHL franchise and you've got a winner in my book.

Michigan Technoligical University:
MTU was originally called Michigan College of Mines. I can't think of any way to better pay respect to that history than to change the nickname from Huskies to Miners. The area's history is one of copper mining even though there is no active mining today. The name would reflect that tradition nicely.

St. Cloud State University:
It's honestly difficult to suggest a new nickname for this school without making a Bluffskies joke so I'll just settle for having made the reference. The area has less of an inspiring history than Mankato. There really is so little that is remarkable. St. Cloud grew from three settlements called Upper Town, Middle Town and Lower Town. Yawn. So there's really nothing to do but resort to natural history. I'm not sure if Minnesotan's classify St. Cloud as part of "lake-country" but the density of lakes in the vicinity is reasonably high enough (and it's close enough) for the school to adopt the name Lakers.

So that's that except to say that Pioneers, Badgers and Seawolves are all appropriate names. They each reflect something of the region in a positive manner and have enough of a combative connotation to set them apart from the other seven. I was a bit conflicted about the Pioneers but in the end gave them the benefit of the doubt even though they've had two of the worst logos (Disney Boone and Jelly Donut) in sports history.

Goaltender to UAA: Matthew Gordon

This past season 19 year old Matthew Gordon (6'2" 190lbs) was 28-20 in 51 regular season games with a .905 SP and a 3.08 GAA for the Burnaby Express of the BCHL. In 14 playoff games he was 7-7 with a .909 SP and a 3.52 GAA.

During Burnaby's 05-06 season long run to the RBC Jr. A National Championship Matt was Bryce Luker's backup playing in 17 games with .897 SP and a 3.42 GAA. He did not play in the playoffs.

There doesn't appear to be a lot of scouting information about Matt so if any reader has seen him play please feel free to let us know in the comments section what you've seen or know about him. He obviously played well enough on one of the top teams in the league to take the team to the BCHL finals.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Seawolves 07-08 Schedule

I'm not sure what to think about the timing of such things but coincidence is second to irony in my book. UAA released the 07-08 schedule today.

For the first time in a number of years the Nye Frontier tournament doesn't include a WCHA team. I think that's a good thing. It isn't exactly what I'd call a strong field though with Robert Morris, Wayne State and Boston University. It is also a continuation of the match-up system instead of a true tournament format. That situation could have caused an embarrassing problem last year. If UAA had lost their second game then Colorado College would have been awarded the trophy in abstentia since they bolted for the airport right after their afternoon game.

The schedule continues the 4 game series against UAF for the Governor's Cup with the second series on Dec. 28th and 29th in Fairbanks. Expect that this will be the last year for that 4 game series which will be a good thing for UAA scheduling possibly making them available for a Holiday tournament; something I've been advocating for a few years. Lastly, I don't see any back to back weekends on the road. In the past such scheduling meant that UAA would stay in the lower 48 for an extended "team building" opportunity. It's best that student-athletes get as much time as possible in their actual classes so that is a good thing as well.

Home games are in Caps:
Nov. 2-3 at St. Cloud State
Nov. 16-17 at Minnesota
Dec. 7-8 at Minnesota Duluth
Dec. 14-15 DENVER
Dec. 28-29 at Alaska Fairbanks
Jan. 11-12 at Colorado College
Jan. 18-19 WISCONSIN
Jan. 25-26 at North Dakota
Feb. 8-9 at Minnesota State
Feb. 15-16 ST. CLOUD STATE
Feb. 22-23 at Denver
Feb. 29-Mar.1 MINNESOTA
Mar. 14-16 WCHA First Round Playoffs (in Anchorage eh? ...)
Mar. 20-22 WCHA Final Five

First 09 Recruit: Gustav Bengtson

Since ignoring off-season stuff isn't working out quite the way I wanted, I figured I might as well post something that's interesting to me (while we continue to wait for an official announcement from Coach Shyiak regarding the 07-08 and/or 08-09 signees). Chris Heisenberg has added an 09-10 recruit for the Seawolves.

Gustav Bengtson is a 17 year old center (5'9" 165lb from Stockholm) who played this past season with the Northwest Regulators (Salt Lake City Midget AAA). He was just taken in the recent USHL draft by the Cedar Rapids Roughriders for next season. Gustav was the leading scorer for the Regulators with 36 points (17g-19a) in 34 games. In reading through their website it became apparent that the team was fairly competitive in some Midget tournaments. No doubt the next couple of years in the USHL will be telling in how much potential Gustav has to contribute to the Seawolves but here are some comments from his Coach (and the full article from the website):
“What sticks out for the scouts when they watch him are his tremendous skills”, stated Gronborg. “Gustav can be a dynamic player with his skating and stick handling at a very high speed."

"Mixed with being a very ‘coachable’ athlete you can consider him a ‘dream player’ for our staff. His commitment also shows in his approach to school where he is an honor student”

“Gustav was a pretty accomplished player when he came over to the US. However I would like to commend his work ethic on and off the ice especially in areas such as his defensive play, his play in traffic, and keeping a consistent high level of play, which he needs to continue to improve in order to make the next step. There is always a transition period for an European player to come over to play North American hockey and I think that Gustav has handled it great”