Friday, November 28, 2008

Recruit Update: The 09-10 Class

It's deep enough into the junior hockey season to analyze the play of future Seawolves in their various leagues. UAA's freshman class next season will be comprised of 5 players. 3 are playing in the BCHL, 1 in the USHL and 1 in the NAHL. In alphabetical order:

Matthew Bailey
This 6'1", 190lb 17 year old (turns 18 in April) is playing with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. This is Matt's 2nd full year of junior hockey after spending the 07-08 with Neepawa Natives of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Matt tallied 13 goals and 15 assists in 56 games. He was named to the Canada West U17 team. He currently has 4 goals and 9 assists in 18 games this season which puts him at 4th on the Storm roster. His current +/- rating is -2 which must have just recently dropped since I'd been tracking him at a + rating whenever I looked. It's notable because two of the other leading scorers have -12 and -20 ratings. Matt has a pretty nice shooting percentage at .174 and only 6 penalty minutes.

Matt gets described with terms like "top end potential". He was originally tagged as being a 10-11 recruit but his solid performances this season have given the UAA staff the confidence they needed to accelerate Matt to the upcoming season. It will be interesting to watch his remaining season to see if he is able to increase his production. Tri-City had lots of off-season challenges and is virtually starting fresh this season. They are tied for last in the West Division with a 6-13 record. Des Moines in the East Division is 2-10 currently with the poorest record.

I greatly anticipate seeing Matt in a Seawolf sweater. The big question will be how quickly he'll adapt to the college game as an 18 year old. Some kids rock it from the beginning but others take some time before they start making an impact. Matt's coach Tom Rudrud said he "is a strong power forward that skates very well and is good along the walls. He also has displayed a good touch around the net". "... strong power forward"? As a 17 year old in the USHL. I notice that. It tells me that he is competing physically well with older players. I'm going with that as the reason that I think he won't be slow adapting to the college game.

Lee Baldwin
6'3" 210lb defenseman Lee Baldwin is currently manning the blueline for the Victoria Grizzlies in the BCHL. The Grizzlies have the third best point total in the league. Lee has scored 6 goals with 16 helpers in 25 games. 3 of his 6 goals have come on the power play. 3 of his 6 goals have been game winners. Lee's experience is a combined 6 years of Jr. B and Jr. A hockey from 03 through 09. He has progressed regularly and local hockey writer Travis Paterson used Rob Blake as an example for Lee's style of play.

I am not sure how to rate Lee's chances for loads of playing time but I'm sure he'll get more than a few opportunities. The team will have a total of 8 defenseman on the roster to begin the season. When Heisenberg listed Baldwin's verbal, one of the first things I noticed is that Lee wears #77. If a player at his level sees enough of Ray Borque in himself to have the confidence to wear that number then I assume he's got some game. His coaches and UAA's staff have said enough of the right things about Lee to make me a believer.

Gustav Bengtson
So far the 5'9" 175lbs Bengtson is experiencing another junior season filled with uncertainty. Gustav's first junior experience last year was promising in the beginning. He was drafted, tried out and made the very talented Cedar Rapids squad in the USHL. But by the 20 game mark it was pretty clear Gustav was buried down the depth chart. So he hit the road for Texas in the NAHL. Gustav never "tore it up" in Texas but had several nice stretches of play where he contributed and he played every night. Then Texas takes this year off while they build new facilities.

So it's off to Topeka for him. And Topeka has quite the quality roster and looks to be one of the strongest teams, nice... Right? You'd think so but it seems Gustav is lost there. Topeka is 17-3-1 in their first 21 games. He has appeared in 12 games. I heard a rumor that a shoulder injury kept him out of about 3 games but it seems the others have been healthy scratches. There was speculation in a comment here that he was again on the trade "wire". Topeka makes a road swing through Alaska next week with games on the 5th, 6th and 7th against Kenai in Soldotna and the 10th, 12th and 13th against the Avs in Wasilla.

Wes McLeod
In 27 games Wes McLeod has 2 goals and 17 assists for the Prince George Spruce Kings. The Kings are in 6th place in the BCHL Interior Confernce standings with 14-11-1 record. There are two important pieces of information that identify Wes as a quality player. His listing on the NHL's "watch list" as one of only 3 BCHL "B" rated players and his invitation to play in the CJAHL prospects game both peg him as a player with loads of potential.

Wes will turn 19 not long after starting at UAA. I'm going to assume that he'll adapt to the speed of the college game relatively quickly. Shyiak noted that he skates well and is a confident player. Part of the headline for Wes should relate to his future potential. In other words we won't see the best of Wes next season. I expect he'll shows lots of good signs and may even awe a fan or two. But as a sophomore and then upperclassman he should just get better and better.

Mickey Spencer
The 6' 1" 185lb 19 year old is having a reasonably good season so far with Cowichan Valley in the BCHL. He has 13 goals and 13 assists in 31 games for 3rd overall on the team. Last season he scored 27 goals with 12 assists in 53 games. Cowichan is 15-14-1 so far this year for 3rd place in the 4 team Island division.

I'm assuming that Mickey will require some adaptation to the college game. It seems that more than a few Seawolf freshman start off well in non-conference games then level off in production until after the halfway point in the season. Mickey could surprise or he could take a while to get up to speed like ... uh ... perhaps a Tommy Grant?

That's four quality recruit stories and one who engenders many questions. There is reason to believe however that the UAA staff know what they are doing when recruit a kid. Everyone that Shyiak has brought in has shown the skills they were described to have. So in my mind that means Bengtson could be a contributor.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Future Seawolf McLeod Named to CJAHL Prospects Game

Future Seawolf, 6'1" 190lb excellent-skating defenseman Wes McLeod of the BCHL Jr. A Prince George Spruce Kings was named to this year's West Team for the Canadian Junior A Hockey Leagues annual Prospects Game.
The player selection is a combined effort of the CJHL and NHL Central Scouting. Each team will consist of two goaltenders, six defensemen and twelve forwards. The 2008 roster is composed of 5 players from the AJHL and BCHL, 4 players from the MJHL, and 3 players from the SIJHL and SJHL.

The Team West roster of 20 prospects includes 6 players who recently competed at the 2008 World Junior A Challenge in Camrose, Alberta. Nine of the prospects on Team West were listed as "Players to Watch" by NHL Central Scouting in October 2008.
Wes is one of 40 Jr.A players to be invited to this now annual event put together in cooperation with NHL Scouting. This year's game will be on December 16th and 17th on Prince Edward Island.
Scouts from Canadian and American universities, the NHL and the Canadian Hockey League will catch a glimpse of the Canadian Junior Hockey League's (CJHL) top young players at the Annual CJHL Prospects Game on December 16th & 17th.

The city of Summerside, PEI will host the 2008 CJHL Prospects Game, a showcase that will see the best Junior A hockey players in Canada face off at Credit Union Place. The player selection will be a combined effort of the CJHL and NHL Central Scouting.
Both Wes and Assistant General Manager Mike Hawes had the following to say on the Spruce Kings news release:
"I'm excited for the chance to play in the CJHL Prospects game, only a handful of players have this opportunity and I'm fortunate to be one of them. I'm going to do my best to represent myself, the Prince George Spruce Kings and the BCHL at the game."

"This is a great opportunity for Wes to showcase his abilities as a premiere defenceman in the BCHL," said Hawes. "It also gives him an opportunity to use this game as a measuring stick as he will be playing against other highly rated NHL Draft prospects."

Tommy Grant: WCHA Offensive Player of the Week

Congratulations are in order for sophomore Tommy Grant for receiving his second WCHA Player of the Week honor so far this season. Tommy's 3 goal and 2 assist performance on the weekend was best among WCHA players. He is currently tied for 1st in overall goal-scoring for WCHA players with Ryan Stoa of Minnesota. From the WCHA release:
One of his two assists came on teammate Pau Crowder’s shorthanded, game-winning goal in the final period. Then last Saturday (Nov. 22) night, in a 4-3 overtime loss to CC, Grant capped off an impressive series with two more goals, tallying a game-tying goal in the second period and then a shorthanded goal at 14:41 of the third that evened the score at 3-3. In addition to his five points, Grant also fired seven shots on goal in the series and earned a +2 plus/minus rating.
With only 7 points (5g, 2a) under his belt as a freshman, Tommy looks to be having a "super-soph" kind of year so far nabbing 10 goals and 7 assists. Good on him. His production is one of the key reasons that UAA has already surpassed last years league points total. Way to go Tommy. You can have both turkey legs for Thanksgiving if you want 'em.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Seawolves Fall In OT 4-3

Friday night wins are extra nice because they make a sweep possible. Saturday night the Seawolves often looked more than capable of accomplishing one. The referees managed to keep their whistles from deciding the contest and we saw a hard fought hockey game with lots of rushes both ways. Both teams found ways to possess the puck deep and apply pressure throughout the game. Neither team could find a way to get more than a one goal lead. The Seawolf players should take some solace in the fact that in the big picture they did outplay CC tonight. Bottom line though is that 4-3 shows up as a big fat "L" in the record books. It's a shame.

Same deal as last night at this point. I'll be back to finish this later. Talk amongst yourselves as you please.

I thought the 1st period tonight was good hockey. There was a flow to the game that included all the elements you like to see. There were transition rushes and both goalies were forced to come up big. There were some good hits. Both teams managed good offensive production and both defenses found ways to clear the puck.

I thought the Seawolves owned the 2nd period. CC's only reasonable chances it seemed came on their 2 power plays. The Seawolves are making a statement that they can be a very dominant team when the game is 5-on-5.

The 2 shorthanded goals on the weekend both came in the 3rd period. Crowder from Grant and Grant from Crowder. I doubt that's the last time we hear that scoring line in a shorthanded situation this season. Tommy's game tying 3rd goal was a wicked shot. Bachman barely sniffed it. Maybe I'll have to use the "Tommy Gun" nickname that's been waiting in the wings ... mostly just because it's a cheesy nickname. But if the shoe fits then wear it damnit.

Of course the OT turned out to be a disappointment. I wasn't sitting in my seat biting my nails when it started. I really was confident the team would come out of the weekend with at least three points. They had an early chance but there was this other pretty good hockey team out there who were determined to make a chance of their own. And a pucked squirted right to some no name CC dude who shoved it home. Not an undeserved goal I suppose. They were trying.

So how about that Tommy Grant eh? The guy is having a monster season. Know why? Because he believes. He is playing with tons of confidence. He knows he's got the wheels to get it done now. Last year I'd say he wasn't sure about it. No such thing anymore. 10 goals already? He is the sophomore the team needed to step up. I watch kids closely. I like to think that I can see their potential but I have to say that Tommy's speed game this year has been a bit of a surprise to me. With 3 goals and 2 assists on the weekend don't be surprised if he nabs another player of the week award from the WCHA. I haven't looked at other individual stats around the league but a 5 point weekend is always a contender. Paul Crowder's 2 goals and 2 assists on the weekend was pretty sweet as well. How cool it must be to play on the same line as Paul eh? Any linemate he has just needs to make themselves available and a pass will come.

Great to see Kevin Clark score such a gritty but also pretty goal. He fought his way in front of a CC defender after being boxed out initially, he took the defender on his back while getting his stick squarely down and the brilliant Curtis Leinweber delivered the perfect puck. Clarkie has been working so hard and doing so many good things offensively without finding the twine. His goal tonight was exactly the same kind of hard nosed smart play around the net that he has been making all season.

Who isn't a Curtis Leinweber fan by now? If you not extremely high on him and what he brings to this team then you must not be paying attention. His 6 points in 7 games is impressive since he has been in and out of the lineup with first an injury and then the flu. In a couple of early games I thought Curtis looked a little bit over-pumped up, this weekend he was much more composed. He just has great sense with the puck and always seems to make the right decision with the puck. In one play in the CC zone tonight he broke in from the blueline 3 on 2 and had a clear shot from the near the top of the left circle but he saw what could have been a great opening and slide a pass to the center. It didn't click. Everyone though he should have shot it. David commented on the broadcast that the shot was available. I agree it was but I can't fault Curtis one bit for deciding on the pass. Bachman was stepping up and squared up. Curtis could have made him make a tough save. But only a perfect shot was going to score. If the pass had clicked ... it would have been a goal for sure.

I think at this point in the season Brian Bales must have opened up a lot of eyes around the league. He's a big part of the improved Seawolf attack this season. I really noticed his neutral zone play this weekend. It is a strength. He has an impressively quick first couple of strides that helps to key a counter-attack. When he has possession deep in the offensive end he knows how to find his linemates in an open space. As I'm typing this at 2:15am I have no doubt that "Clank", "Ping", "Doink", "Twang" and "Tink" are prominent noises in Brian's nightmares. Beating the mighty Richard Bachman twice but finding iron instead is surely the stuff of bad dreams.

Nils Backstrom played two excellent hockey games this weekend. I think he has taken a big step forward in maturity. He is ultra-responsible in his own end. This weekend he reminded us that in addition to that improved defensive effort, he can motor the puck up the ice. In Detroit Red Wings-land Nils is a bit of a forgotten 9th round draft pick. If he plays the way he did this weekend with consistency I'd think he'll work his way back up their prospects list. He has been absolutely solid this season.

I'd credit Trevor Hunt with greatly improved maturity this season as well. I'm particularly impressed that Trevor is showing great confidence with the puck on his stick and and knows how to take advantage of an opportunity. I'm not quit ready to peg him with a "Spin-o-rama" Hunt nickname but he really made some nifty offensive moves with the puck this weekend. He should be confident. Keep being confident Trevor. It's working.

Shave Lovdahl, Ken Selby and Jeremy Smith had a monster game as far as I'm concerned. By the way he is playing I think Shane is loving playing up on the wing. He dished out some quality punishment tonight. He reintoduced himself particularly rudely to Eric Walsky. He found himself with scoring chances and came close. Jeremy Smith might have bagged two goals tonight if not for at least one circus save from Bachman. Jeremy you got robbed! I never would have imagined that I'd be writing that about Jeremy Smith. He's a quality story this season. I wondered out loud if he was probably the strongest player on the team. He brung it this weekend. So you all know I really like the game Ken Selby plays when he gets the opportunity. This weekend he showed more of the same. I thought he was on fire tonight. He pulled Pavel Bure out of his ass tonight at one point and pwnd three CC defenders with a great stickhandling display from one side of the rink to the other while behind the net. It was sweet. It drew a penalty. He showed this weekend that he can be a serious threat when he takes the puck wide. He had a SICK rush in the 2nd period and after blowing by the D managed to cut back cleanly to the front of the net for a great scoring chance.

Ok. It's too late to keep dishing out "the love" to everyone. So the fact that I didn't mention someone in no way reflects on the contributions they made. Everybody was pretty much "on" this weekend. It was good to see. The whole team should be proud of the efforts they made and the way they played.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Seawolves Beat Refs ... And CC

I'm just making a pit stop here at home before a little post game libation. I'll be back later to recap the most poorly officiated game I've seen in a long long long time.

I'm home in time to catch the 3rd period on the re-telecast of the game. Wow, what a game is the first thing that comes to mind. I liked the way the Seawolves started and thought they played CC even until le tigre got their first at 11:08 of the first on a nice transition rush between Eric Walsky and Chad Rau. The rest of the 1st period belonged to CC.

Three penalties in a row to begin the 2nd period gave CC a substantial advantage in chances through the first 11 minutes or so but UAA showed an ability here and there that they could challenge and ultimately Paul Crowder's goal off a pretty feed from Tommy Grant proved that true. 3 more penalties against UAA was another challenge but as it had been earlier the Seawolf penalty killers were up to the task.

The Seawolves came out in the 3rd and were clearly not going to be denied. Craig Parkinson buried a Tyler Moir rebound on a rush at 2:59 for a 2-1 lead and everyone in the arena knew what was going to be the next event for the boxscore. Yup ... another CC power play. The ref waited a whole 13 seconds to call Ken Selby for a bullshit interference call. So 14 seconds later Paul Crowder busted in with Tommy Grant on a shorthanded chance and buried the puck for a 3-1 lead. If I may revert to 80's speak for a moment, it was so like an "in your face ref" moment. The refs continued to insert themselves whenever possible until Eric Walsky finally scored a power play goal to cut the lead to one at 9:58. The Seawolves empty netter was a well deserved serving of whipped cream on top the the pie. Tommy Grant made no mistake firing it in from the blueline after a hard earned clearance.

I thought the chances came almost alternately all night long for both teams. It was a fast paced game that the coaches probably hated. I can't imagine that there is a faster player in Divsion I than Billy Sweat. That kid split the UAA defense more than once to break into the clear. Jonny O was sharp on EVERY break though. All four of the Seawolves lines contributed quality minutes tonight. UAA absolutely OWNED the 3rd period. Even when they were shorthanded they put together better chances than CC.

There isn't a single person in Seawolf-land that didn't think the refereeing was a flat out joke. Shyiak said it was comedic to them on the bench. I can't blame the referees. I know that sounds odd. But the fault doesn't lie with them. There is a reason that Craig Welker and Karl Olm are referees ... because somebody hired them. The idiot that hired these two morons deserves all the blame. I know to non-Seawolf fans that this sort of referee bashing is looked at as whining. Whatever. It was flat out the worst display of refereeing I can remember seeing.

Trust me ... I fully understand the perception others have for this sort of criticism. "Oh lookie ... the UAA fans are whining about the refereeing blah blah blah ..." Tonight though it is done with full justification. It isn't just that UAA was whistled for 13 penalties and CC only 6. It was when and how the penalties were called. CC had two LONG 5-on-3 chances. UAA got dicked. Easily half the calls against the Seawolves were bullshit. Somone ought to look into which referees are making the calls too. This dolt Welker called at least 10 of the 13 calls against UAA. What the fuck Craig? You hate coming to Anchorage so much that you go out of your way to fuck us over? If you think I say this sort of thing often here you're wrong. The referees can be thanked for getting the crowd into the game I suppose.

Now about the crowd. 3105 people made as much noise at times tonight as 3105 hockey fans ever have. Good on everyone there. Good on ya for coming. But that's where my kudos end. It was an absolute SHIT turnout for a team that is playing as competitively as the Seawolves. For the rest of the season every single person above that 3105 that shows up to see the Seawolves win a game flat out DOESNT DESERVE to be watching these guys. As far as I'm concerned the so-called hockey fans in this town can stay the hell away. Keep going to your precious ECHL games instead of UAA. You're the idiots missing better hockey by doing so.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Promo Potpourri: Arena Plan, Free Tickets and Alumni Game

This article in today's Northern Light school newspaper reveals some of the planning and thoughts with regard to a future home for the UAA Hockey team. Last year initial funding was approved and plans are moving forward for a new sports and recreation center on the piece of property located on Providence Drive and Elmore adjacent to Providence Hospital and the current UAA Student Dormitories. This facility will house all UAA Sports teams with the exception of Hockey. It includes a 3,500 seat multipurpose arena for basketball, volleyball and gymnastics as well as all the necesssary amenities/facilities for the other UAA sports programs. The latest proposal (Phase II) it seems includes plans for a renovation of the current Wells Fargo facility to turn it into the home for UAA Hockey.

The article includes information about the administrative and legislative hurdles this plan faces. It doesn't talk much about the construction hurdles that such a renovation to the existing Wells Fargo center would have. In my mind, in order to make this plan viable (i.e ... keep pace with other WCHA venues) then an absolute minimum of 6,000 seats will need to be in the plan. Whether that is or is not possible is an open question to me. If the plan includes that minimum number of seats then I'd whole-heartedly endorse it. Having the hockey team play it's home games on campus is a necessity in my mind. Not having to share the facility with a professional sports franchise is a huge benefit as well.

This Friday night is Green and Gold night at the Sullivan Arena. A paying adult wearing Green and Gold can get up to four children's tickets for no additional cost. Free hockey for the kids!! Bring the whole damn neighborhood!

This Saturday at 2:00pm at Sullivan Arena the UAA Alumni Hockey game will take place. There's boatloads of former players living in the Anchorage area. A commenter indicates that Dean Larson, Brian Kraft, Chris King, Regg Simon and Jim Mayes will be playing. I'd imagine other names we'll see are Rob Conn, Keith Morris, Jack Kowal, Todd Bethard, Tim Molle, Doug Spooner, Todd Christianson, David Vallieres, Paul Williams etc ... at least any guys that still live in Anchorage anyway. If you know any other names (perhaps Alumni that live out of state but are coming for the game) then please add them in the comments section.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What "Needs" To Happen? A Sweep ...

Allow me to properly set some expectations for action here on the blog this week. There won't be much if any. Colorado College doesn't have a rabid fanbase of mostly vapid Internet chest-thumpers. You see ... there is stuff to do in Colorado Springs versus say a place like um ... Grand Forks. It's only 60 miles away from a real city so when the residents get out of one of the billions of fundamentalist churches, they can go live it up in Denver. I could bash the town and it's inhabitants all day without any concern that someone is going to show up and threaten to beat me up. I know because I did my best hatchet job on the joint last year before the UAA/CC playoff series. Only 3 people showed up to tell me what an asshole I was. But Adam Wodon at College Hockey News seemed to like it (or at least it cracked him up anyway). It also spurred a lifetime acheivement award for me.

This week only two words come to mind when thinking about this series: Seawolves sweep. Take care to note here that I'm not predicting that the Seawolves will sweep. Instead, those two words come to mind because it is what needs to happen. Why does it need to happen? Because the Seawolves are 2-3-2 in their last 7 games. Because the Seawolves are equidistant between 1st place and 10th place (5 points each way) tied with two other teams for 5th. And those two teams (UND and Mankato) are playing the 9th and 10th place teams (UMD and MTU) this weekend.

Once again the words "most important series of the season" are valid. It's been a while since the Seawolves swept Si Si. I remember the series but can't say exactly when it was because ... um ... like I said ... it's been a while. Last year Si Si beat the Seawolves six frigging times. But thankfully, this is a whole new year. This week the players definitely shouldn't think about the past at all. Of course, that isn't really possible is it? Our brains are wired with memory so that we can learn from past mistakes. However, nothing that already happened really matters. I know ... I know. I say that shit all the time.

But the focus has to be on the task at hand. And the task at hand is to earn as many WCHA points as possible THIS weekend. Failure is not an option. A sweep is not only necessary; it is crucial. Players can't go out half-assed on Friday thinking that it's ok because they'll come back and play better on Saturday. Friday night should be played like the season depends on it. Every Seawolf needs to believe that a failure to get all the available points this weekend creates a tougher road for the rest of the season. Because it does.

Yes. When coaches and players say they have to take things one game at a time they are right. You can't think about Saturday (or two weeks ahead) when you're playing on Friday. You have to focus on the task at hand. So all my ranting here about the need to sweep this weekend is perhaps misguided. But damnit. It really really needs to happen. Me, you, the team, the staff and anyone else familiar with this year's Seawolf team knows their potential. This weekend is all about living up to that potential by sweeping the #3 ranked Si Si team.

Freshmen need to play over their heads. Sophomores need to contibute mightily. Juniors need to bang it home. Seniors need to lead the way. Goaltenders need to be walls. Coaches need to motivate. And fans need to SHOW UP!

So every regular Seawolf fan needs to spend this week finding as many people as they can and get them to come to the games this weekend. There's no stupid holiday to keep people away with other social obligations. There's no shopping that can't wait for post Thanksgiving sales. Hockey fans in this city have NO excuse for not showing up this weekend. Don't go to the stupid Alaska Avalanche game at the Subway Center on Friday ... there's not enough seats there anyway. There's no good movies out that you can't wait to see on a Saturday matinee. Get 10 people to come. Get 20 people to come. Run around your office all week, talk up the team and twist arms to get people to come. Do whatever you have to do. If you're a rich alumnus then buy a shitload of tickets and give them to your friends and/or minions. If you're a middle class working guy then round up 4 kids to take with you ... they get in FREE if you wear Green and Gold on Friday. The team deserves better support and a bigger home-ice advantage.

Even the Anchorage Daily News is doing it's bit in a way with this nugget today. They didn't have to print that. It isn't really particularly newsworthy. Why did they do it? I think because they understand that sometimes it is their job to promote a community asset. Good on them. Now let's all do our part too, eh? BRING PEOPLE damnit ... even if they're clueless knobs who'd rather be at some artsy-fartsy dance recital. No Palins though ... ok? Unless you just want to bug me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Potpourri: Random Pontification

I thought today while watching the Minnesota/Michigan Tech game that I'd take a look at the rest of the college hockey world i.e... all things not Seawolf. It turned into more than just that ... blah blah blah ... eh? I looked for a better picture. But I decided against using another Gretchen Mol picture for fear of being accused of being obsessed with her.

Colorado College so far this season has compiled a record of 7-2-3. That's the 2nd best record for a college hockey team in Colorado Springs. Air Force is unbeaten in 10 games. What the hell is that about? Well they haven't exactly played any powerhouse teams, in their conference they've beaten Sacred Heart twice, American International twice, Bentley twice and Holy Cross twice. In their only non-conference games so far they stomped Bemidji State twice. Things are likely to get a bit more difficult with CC and DU at the end of the month but not much else is on the horizon to keep these guys out of the NCAAs at the end of the season. They're a lock unless they suffer some crazy breakdown. Why are they kicking everyone's ass? A Lamoureux (Jacques) is lighting it up. Mrs. Lamoureux is apparently a hockey player factory having popped out one after another; both boys and girls. Her menopause is a loss for the hockey world.

After Air Force guess which team is the only other undefeated team (that's played more than a couple of games that is)? Minnesota is the answer; they haven't had any cupcakes on the schedule either but 4 ties is perhaps a small sign of some possible vulnerability. Out east, Northeastern leads Hockey East and sports a 7-1-2 record overall. B.C. is right on their tails and UMass is somewhat of a surprise in third. I doubt many Manuh's would have figured their team would be 6-3 at this point in the season but they're in the Hockey East mix tied for 4th. Former uaF bench boss Guy Gadowsky has Princeton right in the mix this season as they're currently tied with Dartmouth and Hahvad for 1st place in the ECAC. The CCHA looks similar at the top as it has over the last couple of years (Miami in 1st and Michigan in 2nd tied with upstart Ferris State) with the exception of Michigan State 2-4-2 in conference so far.

This is likely the last season for the CHA. The big question is what is going to happen next year. Of course, there are all sorts of mostly unfounded ideas. The one thing that is going to have some bearing on the situation is a vote next week by WCHA members on whether to remove the current moratorium on expansion. If they do vote to lift it (and it's only a majority vote) then following the season they'll likely be voting on whether to admit Bemidji as a member. I understand that vote will have to be unanimous. I'll cover that whole situation more in depth at another time.

Crap. Minnesota just notched it's first goal against MTU on a 5-on-3 power play. That means spelling practice for the repressed teachers at Mariucci of course. Oh curiste, I barely get those two sentences typed and da Gophs net another one. Sigh. How many kids does MTU have whose last names start with K? 4? What's up with that? There's only 4 other "K" names in the entire WCHA (I looked it up). Mazzacco just said, "Justin St. Louis looking for Kitti". Beavis and Butthead would be laughing their asses off at that. I only grinned slightly.

If you watched yesterday's game you would have seen ultra-fan (that's higher than a superfan) MEg (MeanEgirl) on TV jumping up and down. Always cool to see someone you know on TV but um ... MEg darlin ... get a new entourage. Tech's 1st power play looks pretty good. They moved the puck around nicely and had a couple of good chances. Hey ... I'm "live blogging" (sorta). Aren't I cool?

Denver got swept this weekend. And while I'd normally think that's a cool thing, unfortunately it was St. Cloud that did the deed. I guess that's not too horrible since the Bluffskies have sucked until now. The word is that if you bang Lasch and Roe at the beginning of the game that you can nullify them. I don't know if I buy that. Especially concerning Roe. He's a fairly resiliant little prick with a bit of an attitude. I still think DU has issues. We'll see though.

Bucky took 3 points on the road at Duluth. My bud Donna at RWD won't be happy with that but she'll write something creative and funny anyway. UAA visits the "Kohl Disco Dance Club" the first week in December to face the BADgers. Si Si and MSU-M split this weekend. The first 7 teams in the WCHA standings are within 3 points of one another. If Minnesota wins today's game that won't be the case as they'll be 5 points ahead of UAA, UND and MSU-M.

It's the end of the 1st in Twinkietown. Doug and Rug have been joined in the box by WCHA Supervisor of Officials. Yawn. Listening to him explain over and over and over how the game is being called is boring. Enough of the insipid text questions too eh? Puhlease. I could care less how many years he's been involved in refereeing. The new rule changes haven't changed the "even it up" attitude of WCHA referees. Shepherd says there's no "evening it up" as the third period starts. Laughable.

Who in Yahweh's name dresses John Hill? And by the way, could Dave Hakstol look any more miserable behind the bench? That cat is a future candidate for some mandibular joint issues with all the jaw clenching. Dave ... take a Xanax dude.

Typical!!! MTU dominates the first 4 minutes of the 2nd, hits the post and the first rush up the ice and into the MTU zone and Minnesota scores. Ugh. Doug is wondering how MTU will respond. Puhlease Doug ... if you don't know by now that Jamie Russell teams don't quit then you should quit the TV gig. Ugh ... another 5-on-3 for da Gophs. It occurs to me how ironic it is (after my incendiary posts this past week) that UND fans and I are both cheering against the Gophers right now. OMG ... what a ridiculous hooking penalty on Justin St. Louis.

3-0 at the start of the 3rd. Tech is playing well but haven't been rewarded for the effort. Another power play for Tech and they looked good but of course the referees couldn't allow them to get back into the game so they call Tech for a penalty. Another penalty on Tech. This one for CFB. That pretty puts the game in the bag for Minnesota. Even if they kill off he 5 minutes there's little chance they can come back from the 3-0 deficit. Not much chance that they would have called a 2 minute minor since there was a fair amount of force behind the check. I think the rules changes have eliminated a lot of physical play in the league. Perhaps this particular penalty isn't a great example but it comes to my mind because of it. Of course, now the refs call a questionable hooking call on Minnesota to offset the 5 minute major.

Half the Mariucci crowd looks to be gone already and there's still 10 minutes to play (spoiled jerks). Tech continues to put out a good effort. I think they allowed (or were forced to) play the Gophers game. And now with a little over 2 minutes they call a meaningless penalty to give MTU a 4-on-3 chance. Maybe they can ruin the shutout? Good possesion as they've had all night and the refs see another opportunity to call a penalty when Anderson taps the back of an MTU players boots and he goes down. I say it was a dive.

And the 68 folks left at Mariucci cheer for the Kangas shutout and practice their spelling again.

Another WCHA game ruined by over-officious referees who now have an edict to insert themselves into the game more often. We all know that the ego of referees means there is already a tendency to make themselves visible and/or important to the game. Why else would anyone become a referee? I fear this new enforcement could be more negative overall than everyone anticipated. We'll see.

Well that's it. I'm sure I could continue all day with endless rambling but ... Oh what the hell. Here's a Gretchen pic anyway.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sweep Eludes Seawolves

I thought tonight's game was fairly evenly played game with both teams showing better efforts than the night before. Eidsness was the difference for UND. Bryce Christianson played equally well but the puck luck didn't go his way. Part of that was the effort from UND but part of it was just two fortunate bounces. The Seawolves had a fortunate bounce of their own on their goal. I suppose if you eliminate the "puck-luck" that UND still wins.

Penalties, penalties, penalties. 15 of em? 15 freaking penalties? Sigh. Of all the goals scored against the Seawolves this season a grand total of 11 have come when nobody was in the box. Let me say that again:
The Seawolves have given up ONLY 11 goals when nobody was in the box.
I'm not counting extra-attacker goals or empty net goals which are technically even strength; one was a shorthander. I am counting goals that came just after penalties expired. If that doesn't reinforce the need to stay out of the box then I don't know what does. In only 4 games have the Seawolves taken fewer penalties than their opponent. 3 of those were non-conference games.

Again tonight UAA's power play was unable to take advantage when the opportunities came. I've got no hugely insightful observations about why other than to blame it on mishandled passes. For a power play to click you've got to have solid control of the puck and I thought too often this weekend that incompleted passes cost them. UND aggresively jumped on every missed pass and more often than not on the weekend those situations turned into a puck leaving the offensive zone. When that didn't happen it was still enough of a disruption to ruin any chance that might have otherwise occurred.

You have to be happy to have the two points from the weekend on the road. Hopefully, the guys aren't exactly satisfied with that though. That's about all I've got. I'm never big on writing much following a loss.

Oh yeah ... Tarek Howard = PUTZ.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Seawolves Survive For 3-2 Win

A late power play goal with 2:04 left in the 3rd period gave UND an opening which nearly enabled them to tie the Seawolves. Through the first 57:56 of the game the Seawolf penalty kill was perfect. They killed 31 seconds of a 5-on-3 chance during a span where they killed near back to back to back penalties at 14:33, 17:01 and 18:30 of the 2nd. They killed a 5 minute major beginning at 3:17 of the 3rd period. They did all that by forcing UND to the outside and blocking numerous shot attempts. They were stellar in their efforts and Jonny O was solid saving the few shots that did get through. Yet things weren't settled until the final horn as the power play goal from Ryan Duncan spurred a desparate final couple of minutes with the extra-attacker. The despartion was rewarded with a 2nd goal at 19:19 while the Seawolves were reeling a bit from the pressure. Following a Seawolf timeout they were however able to clear the puck once and win a final faceoff for another clearance.

While I'm sure the Seawolves are happy to have the win and pleased with their shorthanded play I think they might also realize that their play tonight was spotty at times. I thought that perhaps the timing of the penalties they took kept them from establishing the usual game plan. I have to credit an outstanding all-around effort in thier own end however, their own power play chances were ineffective in generating many offensive chances. Both the Backstrom and Leinweber goals were created by good traffic in front of starting goalie Walski. Sean Wiles goal (note that on Sunday I mentioned that he could very well get his first goal this weekend) came from making the best of an opportunity. Paul Crowder's nice pass made it possible and Sean made no mistake beating Walski high on the glove side with a nice first timer.

For tomorrow night they'll have to limit their penalties and find a way to increase their time of possession in the UND end if they hope to sweep. They'll be facing a team that will play harder and be more determined. The look on Hakstol's face tonight during the 3rd period tells me that he won't settle for less than an all-out full-on desparate style tomorrow night. The Seawolves will have to match their intensity shift by shift. A win on the road is a real nice thing to have but a sweep would be special. Congrats to all the boys for their fine play. Keep your heads about you tomorrow night, give it everything you've got and the plane ride home will be a blast.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

UAA Hockey Fan Blog "pwnd" USCHO

The United States College Hockey Online fan forum is often thought to be the premier Internet outlet for college hockey fans to express themselves regarding their favorite teams. Each week of the season fans start threads for each weekly series and have their say. This week though the UAA Hockey Fan Blog 'completely and utterly outclassed the competition' (<--- the definition for "pwnd") with substantially more discussion regarding the series than USCHO. While much of the discussion here wasn't actually about hockey don't assume that the discussion on USCHO was either. Here are the numbers as of this writing:
UAA Fan Blog:
4 posts (comparable to a thread)
estimated word count greater than 8000

USCHO Fan Forum:
1 thread
estimated word count less than 2500
While these numbers don't mean that USCHO is irrelevant (um ... yet) they do indicate a trending away from the only traditional outlet on the World Wide Web. The UAA Fan blog has a liberal policy toward commenters in comparison to USCHO which dictates that only politically correct comments are allowed. Go there and threaten someone with physical harm and you won't be allowed back. Come here and threaten someone with physical harm and there are zero consequences. There are no language restrictions here. On USCHO you can't say "ass" which is a word you'll hear on Prime Time network TV every night of the week. Anonymous comments on USCHO? Not allowed, membership/registration required. Anonymous comments here are the norm. Advertising exists on every page at USCHO and will often cause pages to load slowly. There is no advertising here and I've removed any widgets that could cause slow loading.

Thanks to all the commenters here; both irrational (i.e... 90% of UND fans) and excellent (100% of UAA fans). Feel free to repost this entire piece anywhere you choose.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Seawolves vs. UND Preview

UAA leads UND in virtually every statistical category that I can find. Scoring Offense? UAA is two spots above UND. Scoring Defense? UAA is four spots above UND. Power Play? UAA is 13 of 57 for 22.8% and UND is 7 of 60 for 11.7 percent. Penalty Kill? UAA is 59 of 74 for 79.7% and UND is 38 of 48 for 79.2%. UAA is a -2 special teams net and UND is a -5. UAA has 5 players with 10 or more points, UND's leading scorer has 6 points. Goaltending? UND's Brad Eidsness has a 3.52gaa and .883sv%. UAA's Bryce Christianson has a 1.94gaa and a .903sv%. The only category I could find where UND has a statistical advantage is penalty minutes. UAA is averaging 19.3 minutes per game and UND is averaging 16.9 per game.

Don't allow any of that to fool you into thinking that the Seawolves are in any way the "favorite" this weekend. They're not. It's a rare thing to peg any road team as the favorite in a WCHA series. Statistics or not; the fact is that these two teams are tied in the conference standings. UND is notoriously tough to beat in front of the blood-hungry mob they call fans. They've got all the amenities that gambling profiteer Uncle Ralph could possibly shove into an arena. In the rafters are banners from 7 National Championships that testify to a long and storied excellence in Division 1. But you know what? Banners don't skate. History is the past. The games will be played this Friday and Saturday night and not decided by memories of past accomplishments.

UND has 11 upperclassmen on their roster. It isn't the largest number in the league but it is more than sufficient to provide the rest of their team with valuable leadership. All of their veterans have gone deep into the NCAA tournament. UND's main scoring threats are (#16) senior Ryan Duncan, (#29) junior Chris VandeVelde, (#17) freshman Jason Gregoire. A couple of other upperclassmen have contributed as well; (#14) senior Brad Miller and (#8) senior Ryan Martens. Alaskan Evan Trupp is yet to score this season but should also be considered a possible scorer. Freshman thug (#26) Brett Hextall has popped in a couple of goals. They have 13 NHL draft picks on the team. There may be a weakness this weekend as several regular defenseman are questionable for the series with injuries. I've read that road cone Joe Finley will likely return to action after being out several weeks following a concussion. Their only puck carrying defenseman Chay Genoway is questionable as well.

UND's story so far this season has been pretty much exactly what the more astute prognostictors thought it might be. They've struggled in between the pipes after the departure of Lamoureaux who stood on his head every night last year to lead them to the Frozen Four. There's no Toews to earn the Hobey Baker trophy for Ryan Duncan. There's no TJ Oshie. The result of those departures means that UND is struggling in the early going. They had a nice win on Friday last weekend versus Colorado College before getting pounded by Eric Walsky on Saturday night. The weekend before that they had a tight win (3-2) against a hungry Wisconsin team before getting crushed 5-2 on Saturday. In their 1st WCHA series they split with MSU-M getting blown out 5-1 on Friday before winning a close game on Saturday (oops ... I mean before Mankato "GIFTED" them a win). In their non-conference opening games they were blown out by BU (5-1) and suffered their only close loss to UMass (3-2).

What does all that mean? Again, I'd say it likely doesn't mean much. It is just as much in the past as all their banners. Every player that UND puts out on the ice this weekend will step onto the ice with a winning mindset. They'll think they can win before the puck drops and they'll play like they can win. For the Seawolves that means that their fate is squarely in their own hands. My gut tells me that the difference in this series will be goaltending and penalties. Consequently, scoring on the power play and denying the opponent on the penalty kill will be crucial. To this point in the season, the Seawolves have shown signs that they can dominate at full-strength. They'll need to fully exert themselves in those situations if they hope to impose themselves on UND the same way. The Seawolves will need to continue their excellent shot blocking. They'll need the same sort of offensive zone possession as we've seen in every game. The Seawolves top two lines MUST produce this weekend. And most of all, they'll need whomever is in the crease to outplay Eidsness.

Friday's game is available locally for UAA fans on the NHL Network which can be seen on Dish Network channel 403 and DirectTV channel 215. If you don't have either of those carriers I know that most of the "Sports Bars" in Anchorage do (Peanut Farm for sure). Saturday's game isn't available on conventional broadcast TV in Anchorage since GCI wouldn't pay the exhoribitant fees for rebroadcast rights that Uncle Ralph's carrier deems their signal is worth. It's interesting that they're the only signal provider in the WCHA that GCI is unable to get a reasonable price from (and UND fans call Minnesota fans arrogant?). To watch the game you can go to their hostile and abusive website and sign up for their webcast. I watched it last year. It sucked because you couldn't adjust the window size. I doubt the rubes that run it have corrected that but whatever ... I'll be watching it.

Here's a parody video made by North Dakota State University fans mocking UND. I found it quite funny.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Meat of the Schedule Awaits

Let's take a look at where the team is and what is in the near future eh? With 6 conference games in the books the Seawolves are 2-2-2 in conference and 5-3-2 overall. In terms of conference points the team has bagged 6 our of a possible 12 and sits tied for 5th place with MSU-M and UND. Wisconsin is 1 point ahead in 4th having played 2 more conference games (8) than any other WCHA team.

It is early enough in the season that any 4 point weekend by any team will vault them up in the standings. That fact makes every single point available over the next few weeks very very important indeed.

Following this weekends series against the hostile and abusively named North Dakota team the Seawolves face Colorado College at home, then travel to Wisconsin before going on Xmas break. Not to restate the obvious here but that is only ONE home series remaining in 2008. The Seawolves have been at home or very close to home for all but their two games versus Michigan Tech. The fact that 8 of the next 12 points are to be contested in someone elses barn make this stretch of the schedule particularly difficult.

In one sense, it is an arbitrary definition to take any particular subset of the whole schedule and define it as somehow more important. But doing so in this case allows us to give that area a focus when considering the whole. There are 7 conference series in 2009 prior to the WCHA playoffs each of which won't be any less difficult than what faces the team over the next few weeks however the next six weeks can go a long way in determining the teams fate for the season.

All three of the upcoming opponents are perennial national contenders making the challenge the Seawolves face even greater. 6 points over these next 6 games honestly won't be anything to get excited about in my book. If the team can add 8 points though to their total then I'll be a happy camper at the beginning of 2009.

I don't think 8 points is too much to hope for. With the return of Jade Portwood the team should have an additional line capable of putting the puck in the net. Up to this point pretty much all the scoring has come from the 1st and 2nd lines. I'd characterize the season so far as having a fair amount of injury-related adversity so sitting in the middle of the WCHA pack isn't half bad. Maintaining that position will likely require the 8 points I've already mentioned.

Check back tomorrow for an honest to goodness (mostly normal) preview of UND.

Monday, November 10, 2008

No dUNDerheads Without UND

The astoUNDinly flat expanse encompassed by the borders of the state of North Dakota is inhabited by many more blUNDering fools that you might first imagine. No matter what the poor bastards do to enhance the almost nonexistent cachet of their geographic misfortune they are confoUNDed by the unceasing winds, lack of trees and embarrassing history. It is a conUNDrum for those in charge.

How could it be possible to attract new residents to the state without revealing the truth about the place? If Minnesota is the "State of Hockey" then North Dakota must certainly be the "State of mUNDane".

The U.S. government lists North Dakota as the least visited state in the union. What is there to do in North Dakota? Other than floUNDering on the tUNDra completely dumbfoUNDed, I can't suggest anything. I have to imagine that the majority of the rotUND population is moribUND for most of their adult lives. I suppose all those negatives are part of the reason that Uncle Ralph's marble edifice glorifying the plUNDering of the aboriginal inhabitants is filled every weekend. There is absolutely nothing else to do. Don't act all woUNDed by my assertions that North Dakota is best suited for the UNDead. I'm a dirty rotten scoUNDrel in between loads of filthy laUNDry.

Ever been to South Dakota? Except for the far western portion of the state it is pretty much just as flat as North Dakota. I must therefore ask ... why do we need two of em? It is completely redUNDant isn't it? North and South must be reunited. Ferchrissakes we fought two wars in Asia attempting to unite two other Norths and Souths; but we allow this unnatural separation between two places within our country that are vitually identical in their blandness?

Better Than Being a Sioux Fan

Here's a list of things I'd rather do than be a Sioux fan:
Go to the party on the picture above ...
Rip my nose-hairs out by the dozen with needle-nosed pliers ...
Visit St. Cloud, Minnesota ...
Eat yellow snow ...
Rub cayenne pepper in the my eyes ...
Eat Lutefisk ...
Spend 10 minutes with that shrill harpee Sarah Palin ...
Lose an arm in a wheat thresher ...
Dance in the Badger student section ...
Drink the backwash from WCHA referee Don Adam's beer bottle ...
Attempt to perform fellatio on a Mandrill ...
Go to an appointment with the I.R.S. ...
Have a beer with Matthew Lesko ...
Spend 24 hours with Unabomber Ted Kaczynski in a 12-by-12 cell ...
Wipe anyone's ass ...
Have a root canal without the benefit of Novocaine ...
Lay on an anthill while covered in honey ...
Slide naked down a 60 percent pumice covered slope ...
Eat Chinese food prepared in a Mankato restaurant ...
Fight Kimbo Slice ...
And my list goes on and on and on and on and on ... What about you? What would you rather do than be a Sioux fan?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sunday Potpourri: Seawolves A to Z

It seemed like a good time to review the performances of each player. For one reason, I haven't dedicated myself to doing comprehensive game recaps but instead have just been plastering my overall impressions. The second reason is that (believe it or not) the season is nearing the 1/3 mark with 10 games already gone. At 5-3-2, the Seawolves seem nicely positioned for a decent season if the results remain at their current rate. The 2-2-2 conference record puts them in a 3 way tie with MSU-M and UND at 5th. The statistics are a mix of good and bad. The power play is ranked #1 overall amongst WCHA teams however only Wisconsin has given up more goals than UAA but then again only SCSU, DU and Wisconsin have scored more goals than the Seawolves. Five Seawolves are among the top 20 on the overall league leader scoring table. All in all, as I said the team looks to be fairly well positioned for the final 2/3rds of the games. Now let's take a look at each player's performance alphabetically.

Nils Backstrom
If there was an unsung player award to be given out at this point of the season Nils would be high on the list. This season he has the perhaps less than enviable task of taking a leadership role in the defensive end. He has excelled in that role. Nils is essentially playing mistake free hockey. I recall no blunders or mishandles that led to any chances for an opponent. He is using his size and strength very effectively along the boards rubbing out forwards. On Saturday night versus MSU-M at one point when it looked like he was beaten, he smartly reached around and stripped a guy of the puck. It isn't the first time I've seen Nils exhibit this skill. To be behind a guy who has possession and to take the puck off the guys stick from such a disadvantage isn't something that one can teach. You can either do it or not. Nils can do it. He has been a big part of the shot blocking effort as well.

Brian Bales
Brian's transfer has been a shot in the arm for the Seawolves that it was hoped he'd be. He plays the most cerebral style on the team. He always has his head up and evaluates where he can best help the attack. I don't really dig the term but it's applicable to call Brian a "quarterback" for his smart passing as well as his ability to anticipate the play. He simply reads the ice very well both 5-on-5 and during a power play. He knows what is going to happen before it happens. Brian is tied for second in the assists column for all WCHA players. There isn't a person writing about college hockey that gave Brian any consideration as an impact player for the Seawolves before the season began. Today there shouldn't be a person writing about college hockey who would overlook his contribution. Brian "Brain" Bales is a fitting moniker. This all shouldn't take away from his tenacity and hustle. Brian is one of the most effective and dependable penalty killers on the squad.

Jeff Carlson
Jeff has appeared in one game. That's all I know. Anytime I've seen him on the ice I haven't noted any discrepancies. He can skate. He doesn't look out of place. I guess he's just having a helluva hard time cracking an already strong lineup on D.

Bryce Christianson
Bryce's early season record of 3-0-2 seems to put him on the verge of getting a crack at the #1 job in the Seawolves crease. Bryce is very athletic especially for his size. He gets up and down as well as any netminder. He has a very quick glove hand. He handles the puck very well sometimes adding that 3rd defenseman role for the team. On Saturday night, he floated a sweet pass over the opposition to a breaking player. Unfortunately, the player chose to try to catch the pass with a high stick. So the play didn't quite "click". But it's a sign of the good potential that exists in Bryce's stick.

Kevin Clark
Kevin is perhaps the favorite player among the UAA fanbase. His intensity is matched by his skills. His puck handling, passing and ability to score are his three primary strengths. But the aforementioned intensity earns him the fans adoration. At 5'9" you wouldn't expect to hear physical play listed as a strength. But in Kevin's case it is very applicable. He likes to dish it out. He is capable of taking it in return. And always he will right in the opponents ear. Kevin is a pest in the best tradition of a guy like the old Flyers player Kenny Linseman. All that said, I have a critical observation to add. Sometimes, it seems like Kevin is gripping the stick a little too tightly. He is a guy that wants to make something happen every shift. As a game progresses he can wind himself up a bit too much perhaps; he should remember that opposition teams are going to key on him and his line. Nevertheless, Kevin is a key player for the Seawolves. They are a much better team with him on the ice.

Paul Crowder
Senior Tim Crowder of the Michigan State Spartans is Paul's older brother (oops ... no he is not.  As a commenter pointed out Paul is the older brother). Since their days playing junior hockey Tim has been the more highly regarded prospect. In his 1st three season he put up number fattened by his teams success; 17g-13a in 05-06, 13g-10a in 06-07 and 15g-23a last season. In Paul's freshamn year (05-06) he outscored his sophomore brother by one point with 11g-13a. Last season Tim won the scoring battle as Paul managed just 7g-16a. But this year looks to be shaping up nicely for Paul with his 6g-7a versus Tim's 2g-3a. No doubt this all makes for some interesting dinner table trash talking at the Crowder house. Paul has stepped up his game this season in my eyes. He is playing like a man among boys at times. It seems to me that when he decides he is going to do something that there is little to be done to deny him. His determined treks to the goal mouth are becoming the norm instead of the exception. His physical game is equally maturing. He responds to being hit with more intense play. I'd peg him as being the MVP of the penalty kill. He WILL get some shorthanded points as the season goes along. Paul always surprises and delights as the architect of some unbelievable passes that leave us sitting in our seats saying, "Wow!". His 13 points this season puts him in a tie for 2nd among leading WCHA scorers.

Tommy Grant
Tommy is THE pleasant surprise of the season for the Seawolves. Prior to the beginning of the season the sophomore class looked to me to be somewhat crucial for the teams success. The departure of Daychief and McCabe threw a bit of wrench into the expected output that the sophomores would provide. But Tommy's timely finishing has filled the hole. His 7 goals are tied for 1st in the WCHA with Ryan Stoa and Eric Walsky. To my eyes, Tommy is exponentially more confident with the puck on his stick this season. His improved strength has added the phrase "strong on the puck" to his resume. His willingness to drive to the net both with the puck and without is the big reason for his goal scoring (and of course linemate Paul Crowder with great passes). Tommy and Paul have good chemistry together. He's a threat to bury the puck from both in tight and in the slot. He works hard on the cycle and he is ever vigilant for any opportunity to take the puck to the net.

Nick Haddad
Nick has been filling a couple of different roles through the early part of the season. He has skated on a number of different lines and this past weekend found himself skating with Brian Bales and Kevin Clark as Shyiak often double-shifted Clark/Bales switching with Haddad and Lunden. Nick's size and strength are keys to his play. Whatever line he skates on he makes space for his linemates by drawing and tying up oppostion players. Nick is yet to add his name to the scorers sheet with a goal but that will change as the season progresses. He'll find himself with chances and he'll finish some of them. I don't expect any sort of double-digit production from Nick. But he will fill whatever role the coaching staff defines to him and he'll do it well.

Trevor Hunt
Now in his third year it seems to me that Trevor has found his stride as a WCHA defenseman. His first ten games this year have been among the best ten games of his career at UAA. Trevor is actively carrying the puck up the ice in transition and is being highly effective in doing so. Trevor has been strong in his own end as well paired with Nils Backstrom. They are no doubt the top defensive pair. Trevor is no longer the leading penalty getter for the Seawolves but he could still take fewer penalties I suppose. As the season goes along his sort of consistent defensive execution will help the team succeed.

Kane Lafranchise
I can't help but say I love everything that Kane brings to the rink in furtherence of Seawolf success. Kane has all the tools you look for in a WCHA blueliner but perhaps the strongest attribute he brings is his grace under pressure. Whether its the opposition attacking or a series of chances in the offensive end, Kane is solid. He doesn't make mistakes. He always moves the puck to a position of advantage for the team. He sees the ice well and can cover any distance in a minimum of time. He can skate, shoot, pass and carry the puck at the highest level. He is always smart. As the season progresses I expect Kane to become an even more dynamic and effective player offensively.

Curtis Leinweber
I'm blown away by what I imagine that Curtis might do over his career at UAA. And that is after he has only played in 4 games which were interrupted by a groin strain. Curtis picked up 4 assists this past weekend versus Mankato. And all 4 of those assists were vitally important contributions. Leinweber is definitely the best Curtis to come to UAA from Alberta since Glencross. I don't think I'd offend any other player if I called Curtis the fastest player on the team. If he isn't then he is certainly the quickest acting. Curtis jumps on opportunities when they present themselves. He can skate and handle the puck well enough to make something happen when he does. Curtis had a coupla/three bumbles this past weekend. In all those cases, I could see the reason why. He was just simply soo excited to be out there; he was wound very tightly. As he settles in and gains more confidence the sky is the limit for him. Seriously, he very well could become a player that will make a difference in every game. Phenom maybe? We'll see. I don't mind saying his play has been phenomonal.

Shane Lovdahl
Shane is my poster boy for being a Seawolf. At times over his career Shane has found himself watching the games from the stands in favor of someone with faster feet. Far be it for me to argue with the coach but if Shane isn't the quickest player on the ice, his other skills are enough for me to want him in the lineup every night. Shane showed some of that value this weekend while playing up on the wing. He possesses one of the best sets of hands on the team. His stickhandling ability is exceptional and his foot speed is certainly more than adequate to allow him to stickhandle around defenders. He did so more than once this past weekend and has shown the same thing over his career. I always have an extra spot in my "fan-heart" for the local boys and a local kid in his last season is something worth noting. I just hope at some point during the season I get to witness his heavy shot burning some poor WCHA goalie from the blueline.

Josh Lunden
By the end of the season if Josh Lunden isn't leading the Seawolves in scoring then I'll be surprised. Josh has learned over his first two years exactly what it takes to put the puck in the back of the net in the WCHA. So far this season he has been putting those lessons to work and has bagged a fat 6 goals. Josh has continued his stellar power-forward style. He is relentless when the puck is deep in the opponents zone. He uses his size and strength to dominate opposition backcheckers and never forgets exactly where the front of the net is. Josh is seeing loads of minutes this season on the power play, the penalty kill and extra shifts. Along with Kevin Clark and Brian Bales, Josh and the #1 line of the Seawolves is a threat to score anytime against any team matched up against any line. The potential is there for him to put up more than 30 points. The closer he gets to 20 goals the better for the team this season and Josh is fully capable of being the first Seawolf since Curtis Glencross to accomplish that.

Tyler Moir
Tyler is the only freshman to have played in all 10 games this season. He has bagged his first collegiate goal and added a couple of assists. He has been a nice +3 for the season and has 10 shots on goal. Tyler seems to have adapted to the speed of the D-1 game. For other than the elite doing so is part of the freshman equation. Tyler hasn't put the rookie label behind him as yet. But I expect at some point during the season by his deeds, we'll all recognize that he is no longer a freshman. Tyler is the Shyiak prototype forward. He can skate well, he has the size and strength to do the hard work in the corners and has been having success doing so. For the 1st 8 games Tyler skated well and looked good with Crowder and Grant. This past weekend saw Sean Wiles move up for the opportunity to skate with the #2 line. Tyler's development is continuing.

Jon Olthuis
By every account Jonny O is a great kid. He is without a doubt one of the most unflappable goalies I've ever seen at UAA. Nothing seems to throw him off his game. I wonder if there is a downside to that stable attitude though. Jon is a big tall drink of water at 6'4" and takes up a big portion of the net. He plays the angles well and usually gets squared up to the shooter. Whether or not he is to "blame" though Jonny has given up a fair share of softies over the first couple of years. This year I haven't seen anything I would call "soft" in the same sense as last season. So far he is a better netminder than last year and I'll attribute that to the competition for playing time from Bryce. For now ... it appears the table has turned in Bryce's favor (I might be overstepping by saying that) but I have no doubts that if/when Bryce falters that Jonny O will step in and give us all reason to question if there really is a #1 goalie on the squad.

Craig Parkinson
Craig had an exceptionally nice freshman introduction to the WCHA. His 7g-9a lead all freshman and he was featured on INCH as a "player to watch" for UAA. I don't know what Craig's faceoff winning percentage has been during his career. I don't really know how well he did in that area as a freshman. But I sure have noticed him winning most of his faceoffs this season; especially this past weekend. Having a player on the team that can get that job done is important. Paul Crowder does good work on faceoffs, adding Craig to that list can't be a bad thing. I think that he should look to Josh Lunden as an example for success. Craig has much the same skill set as Josh though he is slightly smaller. But imitation of the game Josh plays will lead to success for Craig. They both have good hands, can skate and shoot the puck well. Josh takes it to the next level with his intensity and I see much of the same determined intense style from Craig.

Jade Portwood
It figures that I'd give a good nickname to a new player ("Wings" Portwood) and that kid gets hurt and is out for weeks. I like to think I would have been typing "Wings" all over the blog had Jade not gotten injured at the end of the Mercyhurst game. Honestly, it was a shitty play by Mercyhursts captain at the end of game. If I'd been his coach I would have stripped the captaincy off that kids chest for that kind of play. I understand that Jade is currently day to day which makes it seem that he might be playing this weekend in North Dakota. I hope so. He was showing promise before that injury.

Mat Robinson
Ok. I know this place sometimes seems like a Robbie love-fest. I can drone on and on about what a great player I think he is. We saw more of the same this weekend. Robbie never disappoints for effort. He may not play a perfect game every weekend but he makes such a judgement pretty close. This season Mat has done a little bit of everything and has done it all very well. You can't dock the kid for his skating; you can't downgrade him for defensive play; you can't say anything bad about his transition play; you can't find anything wrong with his puck-handling abilities ... to summarize: there ain't anything wrong with the guy. He levels guys with smart timely checks. He sets up scoring chances left and right with his playmaking. He is a showing all sorts of leadership on the ice. Robbie is "da man". Nothing else needs to be said.

Ken Selby
I love skaters. Let me rephrase that ... I love a guy who can burn up and down the ice. I doubt anyone on the Seawolf roster could beat Ken in a goal line to goal line sprint. I understand that Ken works really hard in practice. But for various manpower/roster reasons he hasn't seen a substantially regular role in the lineup. I always like what Ken brings to the party when he does play. I can only hope that the circumstances that keep him in the stands more often than on the ice resolve themselves in favor of him being on the ice.

Dusan Sidor
What can I say about a kid that has only seen one period of exhibition play so far this season? Not much. I did find a YouTube video calling him a "ninja goalie" for his way of getting set before a faceoff. I'm looking forward to see all that live.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy is a great story. He spent two years not even playing hockey at the end of his junior career. No colleges came-a-calling. He came home. Bummed around for a while then decided to go to school. He showed up at the rink to try out and earned himself a spot on the roster. He got into one game last year. This year he played in the first nine regular season games. Over the first couple of weekends it looked as if Jeremy and his linemates had earned themselves a permanent job. For four games they were the most effective forechecking line on the ice. I'd vote Jeremy as the guy I'd least want to fight. His intensity on the ice matches the intensity on his face in his roster picture. He just looks ready to eat babies. Unfortunately, I would expect that Jeremy's time on the ice will likely lessen as injured players return to the lineup. I have no doubt that when opportunities arise for him to get back onto the ice that his effort won't ever be a disappointment. Gawd .. I hope he gets a goal sometime! And I don't care who has to sit but he oughta be on the ice for both games against UAF.

Jared Tuton
I've said it before but Jared Tuton is a coaches dream. In his UAA career he has played EVERY position except goalie in a Division 1 game. This past weekend, Jared played center. I think he liked it. I liked the couple of back-to-back faceoffs he took where he got shots off on Zacharias. He left the ice with a huge grin. At center Jared had a little more freedom than playing on the wing. In other words, he was freer to create havoc. The kid likes to hit. Jared just returned from a broken leg so his contributions are just beginning. Expect him to paste plenty of foes to the boards. And if he can pot a few goals then ... BONUS. It sure must get tiresome for opponents to have all these 6'2" 200+lb forwards flying at you for 60 minutes.

Luka Vidmar
Luka converted to defense from forward the last year of his junior career in Chicago. Luka impressed me with his solid play on the blueline in his first year. He showed enough flashes in transition to expect that more often during this season. And so far that is exactly what he has brought to the ice. Luka has quality wheels and his passing improves game to game. His defensive play is solid. He's been a victim of the new rules enforcement a few times too often this season. Luka's participation in UAA's improved transition game is important and he is contributing importantly in that area.

Sean Wiles
Sean gets right in line behind Tommy Grant for the biggest surprise so far this season. Sean looks like a completely different player than last year. He looks bigger and stronger. He looks confident. He looks hungry. His skating is much improved. He uses his reach very effectively. Sean is yet to score his first collegiate goal after playing in a combined 24 games in his first two seasons. But it will come sooner rather than later with the way he has been playing. This weekend he showed he could "hang" with the big boys on UAA's 2nd line with Grant and Crowder. If he continues in that role look for him to perhaps score this coming weekend versus UND.

I apologize if as I went along my assessments tended to be shorter. It's no indication of anyone's particular importance so much as one of my growing tiredness. This took pretty much all day to complete. Granted it wasn't a continuous effort but the fact that it was broken up didn't resolve my desire to finish it.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Seawolves/Mavericks Saturday Night

Saturday night was much the same as Friday night. The Seawolves dominated 5-on-5. No let me correct that, they pwnd. The Mavericks were occasionally able to apply some pressure in the UAA end but that was only about one shift out of five or six or on the PP. Someone stopped me after the 2nd period tonight and said,"Can you please tell me how you outplay someone by that much and not be winning". I didn't have an answer.

We all saw a mix of things both nights. Overall, I thought the level of play from the Seawolves was pretty high on the weekend ... let's say B+. More often than not passes connected and chances developed. They were responsible and quick enough in their own end to negate potential scoring chances. The transition game was good. But we also saw critical mistakes.

The only even strength goal the Mavericks managed on the weekend was due to a rare but costly dual-mistake when Brian Bales tried a blind behind the back clearance from his zone that landed right on a Maverick stick then during the ensuing pressure, Luka Vidmar assumed he had help behind him and from behind his net cleared a puck to a wating Maverick in the corner instead. Not to focus on that one incident when both of those guys did numerous other good things both nights. As I said last night, I can't finger anyone for substandard play.

Now what I don't want to talk about. Goaltending. Without Zacharias in net the Mavericks don't leave Anchorage with 3 points. If you combine Jonny O and Bryce's performance they don't match Zacharias over the weekend. I constructed that sentence carefully. I did so because I don't intend anything negative about their performance. That said, I think I'd say that Christianson has the definite upperhand in any discussion of earning the #1 spot. Bryce is unbeaten. And while there are reasons beyond his performance that contribute to that fact, it is what it is. He hasn't lost. Bottom line.

This weekend has a bit of last year in it from my perspective. It was a definite coulda. It was for sure a shoulda. One point? It's not nothing I guess; but ... ya know? It's not enough.

I had a plan for a post tomorrow that I'm abandoning in favor of a hockey related post. So instead of Electric/Plasma Universe theories, I'll provide my impressions of each Seawolf player's performance so far this year.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Friday Night Suckage

Major amounts of suckage accompanied everything tonight. Suckage for the fans in attendance. Suckage for the players. Suckage for the staff. Suckage all around served up by a hard working team. For the most part the Seawolves didn't suck though. But for about 20 of 60 minutes in MSU's favor, UAA outplayed and outchanced 'em. Once again though, the Seawolves out-penaltied the opposition and exactly what we all know will happen did so. The team with more power play goals came out on top. Mankato went 3 for 9 on their chances. UAA went 1 for 6. The Maverick's best sustained play of the night came in the 3rd period. Anytime you're in a close WCHA game and you outplay the opposition in the final period you're going to come out with points.

Almost scoring is loads of suckage. The Seawolves almost scored more times than I can remember. Don't get me wrong. The team didn't play badly but, they did get whistled for too many penalties. There were a couple more penalties that might have been called against the Mavericks. One of their power play goals developed from a play that should have been whistled offside. But the suckage being felt by Seawolf players, staff and fans can't be put on the zebra's shoulders. Plain and simple the Seawolves had their chances. I thought UAA's penalty kill looked good. The numbers tell a different story though don't they? One of the power play goals did come at the end of yet another 5-on-3 kill (1 minute 27 seconds worth) just 14 seconds before the 2nd penalty would have ended. The crowd had just settled back in from a rousing ovation for the excellent work the penalty killers had done up to that point. That was Suckage-o-rama.

Zacharias made 3 or 4 excellent saves but more often it seemed the one needed bounce wasn't there. They say hard working teams make their own luck. I'd have to agree. One of MSU's goals was the definition of getting a good bounce and even the empty netter was the result of a fortunate bounce. Not to take away credit from Bruess who's hustle earned him the bounce.

Sometimes the result just doesn't come your way. Suckage galore!

For the Seawolves Paul Crowder was definitely the player of the game. He was everywhere and picked up two goals ... one on the power play and one greasy one when he swooped in to bury a rebound past a goal mouth scramble. I'm not going to pin the loss on goaltending as I didn't think you could blame Jonny O for anything bad. Perhaps he was a bit late coming back across? I'll have to watch the game again to see. On the other side of the Jonny coin though, he made a fantastic save near the end of the first and in quick transition Tommy Grant scored a beauty. The 4th line tonight was Smith, Tuton, Lovdahl. That was a little odd to see. The other change was to swap Sean Wiles and Tyler Moir's line assignments. I'd tend to think the change was made in response to Sean's play the last two weekends. I thought he was effective in making a bit more room for Crowder and Grant. The 1st line was buzzing for most of the game with Lunden and Clark getting most of the good chances. And they had more than a few (all the "almosts" I mentioned earlier).

I can't say anyone played badly. Every defenseman at one point or another made a excellent play in their own end. Every defenseman at one point or another made a nice play on transition. Mat Robinson had a couple of nightmares where pucks showed up in his skates instead of his stick while he was cruising unchecked through the slot. One chance he missed and the other Zacharias made his first excellent save of the night. Sigh ... just suckage all around.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

3 Stars for 3 Seawolf Recruits

There was an interesting turn of events over a couple of midweek games in the BCHL that involved all three UAA Seawolf recruits. Defenseman Lee Baldwin of the Victoria Grizzlies; Forward Mickey Spencer of the Cowichan Valley Capitals and Defenseman Wes McLeod of Prince George Spruce Kings.

On Tuesday night Victoria faced Cowichan Valley. Victoria got the win 6-3 and Lee Baldwin's goal and assist earned him the #1 star of the game. Mickey Spencer's goal, assist (and fight) earned him the 3rd star of the game. On Wednesday night, future UAA blueliner and current Prince George Spruce King Wes McLeod was named the 2nd star of the game in a 2-1 OT victory versus Quesnel. McLeod assisted on the first goal and scored the game winner 1:13 seconds into overtime.

Nice outings for all three guys. I will do a full-blown recruit update/analysis sometime late this month.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Mavericks: Slaughter, Butcher Then Broil

The 08-09 edition of the Minnesota St. - Mankato Mavericks won't look too much different from last years squad to most fans. They'll challenge for every loose puck. They'll buzz on the forecheck trying to create turnovers. They'll have the same excellent goaltender. Regular readers will recognize my Chuck Wepner (one time heavyweight boxer on whom the Rocky series is loosely based) analogy for their overacheiving style of play. It still applies. The Jutting-style is nothing if not consistent. There doesn't look to be any added subtlty to the game plan. The Mavericks are going to come at the Seawolves as hard and as fast as their skates can carry them.

The Mavericks have three lines with fairly evenly spread talent. There are no likely future NHLer's amongst them but many are fully capable of inflicting damage here in D1 world. I was going to do the whole ... the fist line of blah, blah and blah have accomplished this and that in this part of this post but forget it. Not only does that bore me to tears; their scoring could come from anywhere in the lineup. They're reasonably experienced but not flashy on the blueline. I suppose the fact that the great majority of their roster is from Minnesota has something to do with my non-inspiration. Seriously, after the Gophers, Wisconsin, UND, Si Si, DU, UMD and SCSU get their choices of Minnesota based talent what is left? The Mavericks. Disdain for the lower echelon of Minnesota hockey talent aside. They've all played at a high enough level to be pretty damned competitive. Don't expect UAA to blow them out.

I watched most of both Maverick games versus the Gophers last weekend. In Friday's game whenever the Gophers looked to pull away the Mavericks snuck back in. They were very opportunistic in the Goph's zone and made them pay during the few openings/chances they had. The Gophers played right into the Mavericks defensive hands though with excessive cross-ice passing attempts both on the PP and at even strength. The Mavericks broke most of that up. On Saturday night the Gophers moved to a more possession oriented passing game and if not for stellar goaltending they would have blown the Mavericks out of the building.

For the Seawolves I think play away from the puck is going to be just as important as what happens on the puck. Guys are going to have to get to spots where teammates can make an easy pass to them. Puck handlers shouldn't be shy to pretend they're playing for the old Red Army team of the 70's and circle back with the puck if there isn't a clear opening. Trying to force the puck against the opportunistic Mavericks will lead to turnovers. Keeping the puck and working for quality chances will frustrate their style. Putting the puck on a teammates stick will be more important than it's been all year. The Maverick's WILL BE the most "in your face" team that the Seawolves have faced.

I also believe the Mavericks may be susceptible to secondary pressure from the blueline. An accurate and timely drop pass from a forward in the Mankato zone back could be a very effective tactic. Defensemen joining a rush and being active in the other zone are already key parts of the Seawolves offensive scheme so focusing on utilizing that to it's best potential will be important. It will contribute to the possesion ethos that I've already mentioned. The longer the Seawolves can keep the puck on their sticks the better. Is all this sounding overly obvious?

Keeping Zacharias from seeing the puck will be another key this weekend. Traffic in front of the net will translate to goals. Expect both teams to make the now usual parade to the penalty box. Expect the team who visits less often to have the upper-hand. Yep ... it could be THE theme for the year eh?