Archive for March, 2011

Who’s out there for Michigan Tech?

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Ah, yes, it’s just about Frozen Four time and the WCHA is well represented. Much of the talk on this site and others (at least in terms of content) will be about North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth.

I wanted to check in and talk Michigan Tech. Remember them?

Us media jackals had our fun with the Minnesota coaching position in recent weeks. But the position in Houghton is the only one that’s open right now — and its the first opening in the WCHA in quite awhile. Off the top of my head, I believe Bob Motzko succeeding Craig Dahl in St. Cloud was the last coaching change in the league. Dave Shyiak got the UAA job that same offseason, but that came after John Hill left voluntarily to take an assistant job with the Gophers. When Russell took over the year before that, it came on the heels of Mike Sertich’s second retirement.

My point is — coaches in this league don’t get fired very often. They’ll either “move on,” like Dahl and Doug Woog did, or they’ll retire.

Back to Tech. As I tweeted (@CHNDanMyers if you’re not following already) Tuesday, I was reading a message board where Husky fans were naming potential candidates of coaches they’d like to see. Some I agree with (as you’ll see below). Some I don’t (I doubt Woog is coming back to coaching, much less in Houghton). This is completely speculative on my part, and simply an opinion on who I’d pursue if I were in charge of the search. Here’s my top 5, in order of how I’d go after them:

UNO assistant Mike Guentzel — For a team like Michigan Tech, in need of someone who’s experienced and knows the league, Guentzel would be the perfect fit. The guy’s won two national championships as an assistant, has coached under some of the best coaches in the country (Woog, Lucia, Scott Owens, Dean Blais), and was a former player at Minnesota. For many years, Guentzel was seen as the coach in waiting at Minnesota before the Gophers decided on Lucia after Woog’s “promotion,” and how the guy has never gotten a shot at a head coaching gig in the WCHA, or anywhere else in college hockey, is beyond me. Guentzel has three children — two of which play Division I hockey — and a third that will be a junior in high school back in Minnesota. He’s been on the move for much of the last four years, so moving to Houghton would likely not be an issue.

UND assistant Cary Eades — He might be the best recruiter in the country, although recruiting to Houghton would be a much stiffer challenge. He’s won everywhere he’s gone, spending more than a decade (two stints) as an assistant at UND under Gino Gasperini and now Dave Hakstol. He was a highly successful high school coach at Warroad and was some 40-games over .500 as a head coach an GM in the USHL. Eades will turn 50 in October, so he’s in his coaching prime right now. But with children in their teenage years, is he willing to uproot them for a job that probably doesn’t pay much more than he’s making at UND?

Green Bay (USHL) head coach Eric Rud — He has coached in the WCHA at St. Cloud State and Colorado College and played at the WCHA, also at CC. He helped turn SCSU from a perennial bottom-half team to a contender and has a successful recruiting background. He’s gaining experience as a head coach with the Green Bay Gamblers right now, because he likely wants an NCAA head coaching gig. The Gamblers are 38-14-4 in Rud’s first season and will contend for the Clark Cup this season. Rud and his wife have three young children, so moving now and dropping some roots in Northern Michigan is probably do-able.

Air Force head coach Frank Serratore — Would he leave the Falcons and Atlantic Hockey for a chance to coach in the WCHA? Air Force is a perennial contender for the NCAA tournament because they play in a weak league. Serratore’s teams are always competitive, though, and have been some of the toughest outs in those NCAA tournaments. His brother Tom is the head coach at Bemidji State, and while coaching success and bloodlines don’t always run hand-in-hand, they seem to here. Frank has experience with hard-working, overachieving teams and that’s exactly how Tech will win in the modern WCHA. He passion and attitude would make him a fan favorite in the U.P. He has four teenage children, so moving away from Colorado Springs could be an issue. Only one of those four is under the age of 18, though. He also has Michigan roots; he was a goalie at Western Michigan University.

Former NHL head coach Andy Murray — This may be shooting for the stars here, but it doesn’t hurt to ask? He was fired as head coach of the St. Louis Blues last season after his team started 17-17-6 (a dream season at Tech, no?), but before that, had only three losing seasons in 10 NHL seasons. His teams never finished more than four games under .500 and he led his team to the playoffs four times. Over the last 30 years, Murray has coached at all levels, spending much of his career as an assistant in the NHL and AHL. He was also the head coach at Brandon University in Canada in the late 70s and early 80s and served one season as head coach at Shattuck-St. Mary’s High School in the late 90s before accepting the Los Angeles Kings head coaching job. He would recruit Canada like no other and perhaps give the Huskies an edge in European recruiting, as Murray has coached a couple of different stints in Switzerland. At 60, he may not be a long term solution for Michigan Tech — but if he could turn things around over the next decade and give the reigns to a hand-picked successor, he’d be a great hire.

Others on my radar: Brent Brekke (Miami), Steve Rohlik (Ohio State), Paul Pooley (Notre Dame), Danton Cole (USNDT), Steve Miller (Denver), Mike Gibbons (St. Cloud State), Mike Hastings (Nebraska-Omaha), Dane Jackson (North Dakota).

What do you think?

Is Lucia still the right man for the job?

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve debated several Gopher fans on whether Don Lucia is the right man to be leading the University of Minnesota hockey program.

On one hand, the guy has won a pair of national championships. Been to Frozen Fours. Won MacNaughton Cups and Broadmoor Trophies. The man has indeed built up some equity and a chance to turn this thing around.

On the other hand, in this world of “what have you done for me lately,” the question needs to be asked: What has Lucia done to prove the game hasn’t passed him by?

I often find myself thinking about the second question and remember the Gopher teams of the early 2000s. Yes, they won back-to-back national championships in 2002 and 2003. But in addition to being very talented, those Gopher teams just played the game differently. It seemed as though, back then, when Minnesota was put on the power play, the puck was going to wind up in your net. They would put on passing clinics, moving the puck two, three, four times until someone was wide open on the doorstep for the easy goal.

That’s simply not the case anymore. Perhaps its a personnel thing. But this year’s Gopher team had more NHL Draft picks than the ones during Lucia’s salad days in Dinkytown.

Speaking of NHL Draft picks, and more specifically, developing talent, what has happened there? In the last four years, Minnesota has watched players like Patrick White, Jake Hansen, Alex Kangas Aaron Ness and Cade Fairchild come and go with very little in the way of upward bounds. Those players didn’t necessarily get worse at Minnesota, but they certainly never developed like many thought they would.

Much has been said about Lucia’s recruiting classes, and even he has said he must find ways to get four-year players into the program. But when Lucia recruits those four-year guys, he finds players like Kevin Wehrs and Tom Serratore — two fine players in their own right, but probably not game changers. And certainly not like in the mold of a Matt Frattin or a Jason Gregoire at North Dakota or a Blake Geoffrion at Wisconsin or a Rhett Rakhshani at Denver. These are the kinds of guys Lucia needs. Are they difficult to keep all four years? Absolutely. But somehow, Denver did it. And Wisconsin did it. And North Dakota is doing it.

Why they can and Minnesota can’t is up for debate. They used to, back when guys like Jordan Leopold and Johnny Pohl and Grant Potulny stayed for four years. Perhaps Lucia needs to worry less about sending guys to the pros and more about winning at all costs at Minnesota. While sending guys to the pros reflects positively on your program, nothing short of winning championships will save Lucia’s job in Minneapolis.

And right now, that championship attitude at Minnesota is long-gone. Whether or not he finds it in the next 12 months will decide the long-term future of Minnesota’s Pride on Ice.

Pairwise Live Blog, 2011

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

10:08 p.m. — OK, that’s all from here … head over to the main site for a final bracket projection when the Denver-North Dakota game is done. The only issue is whether Denver winning makes things a little tricky from an intra-conference matchup perspective. If Denver is 5, it causes issues with No. 12 UNO — and likewise, Mich. bumping to 7 would cause conflict with No. 10 Western Michigan. If Denver loses the final, it stays 7 and Michigan 5, and so there’s no issue.

10:06 p.m. – Dartmouth wins the head-to-head comparison against RPI … but RPI wins 3 comparisons with teams above – Notre Dame, UNO and New Hampshire. That is the razor-thin difference. Those three comparisons for RPI are won on the strength of victories this year against Boston University and Bowling Green. Also, UNO had a loss to Huntsville while RPI swept Huntsville. That was the difference there. …. So, had Nebraska-Omaha not lost to Huntsville earlier this season, Dartmouth would be in the NCAAs right now, not RPI.

9:52 p.m. — Looks like Miami will win – up 5-2 late – so we’re basically down to 2 scenarios. The one we’ve had all day — and one with Denver winning. The main difference there is Michigan and Denver flip-flop, with Denver going to 5 and Mich. to 7. The rest stays the same, except BC and NoDak flip, though that’s pretty inconsequential.

9:43 p.m. – With the ECAC game a foregone conclusion, it means 2 games are up for grabs … which means there are only 4 remaining scenarios. One – if North Dakota and Miami win – is the projection we’ve been working off all day. Michigan has the widest remaining swing. If North Dakota and WMU win, Michigan is No. 4 overall … If Denver and Miami win, Michigan is No. 7 … In the other two scenarios, Michigan is No. 5.

9:32 p.m. — Boston College with late goal to win another Hockey East title. Things continue to go according to form. Our projected bracket still holds. Great run for Merrimack, and it’s not over yet.

9:24 p.m. — Air Force becomes the first team to officially earn an NCAA bid … 1-0 win. It has no effect on the rest of the bracket. AFA will return to Bridgeport, where it defeated Michigan in the 2009 Regional. Also – a delicious rematch with Yale.

8:04 p.m. — With everything remaining according to form so far today, the brackets we projected earlier would hold.

6:19 p.m. — Dartmouth is about to win. That rules out 4 ECAC teams in the tournament. Michigan has won its consolation game. That means Nebraska-Omaha is now in. Combined with Dartmouth’s impending win, it means Colorado College is now in too. So we’re down to RPI or Cornell for the final spot.

5:02 p.m. — More sighs of relief for anyone but Rensselaer fans, as Dartmouth takes a 2-1 lead. (Note: Having “Rensselaer” a possible NCAA Tournament team just makes life miserable for writers — having to write out “Rensselaer” every time, so as not to confuse RPI with the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). Waah.)

4:29 p.m. — Strange dynamic as teams take the ice for the ECAC consolation: Dartmouth thinks it has a shot at the NCAAs, but it doesn’t. And losing would help the league potentially get 4 teams in the NCAAs.

4:17 p.m. — 2-1 Michigan after one. Omaha breathes easier for now.

3:55 p.m. Saturday — Notre Dame up early on Michigan in consolation game. Omaha fans starting to sweat a little.

11:56 a.m. Saturday (ET) — Check out the new Bracket ABCs article for a team-by-team breakdown of where things stand, and a first-look at a potential bracket.

11:43 p.m. — As a reader points out, if Denver, BC, Cornell, Colgate, Michigan, Miami and Air Force win … then Colorado College slips to No. 15 and is out.

11:03 p.m. — Ties for Colgate or Notre Dame would also be enough for UNO. … But other than that scenario, and some other fringe possibilities — it’s essentially down to this … Cornell wins, it’s in, obviously.  Cornell loses – then RPI sneaks in.

10:58 p.m. — Thanks to UNOmavmania on Twitter … if Cornell, Colgate, Notre Dame and Western win tomorrow, then UNO drops to 15th in Pairwise, and thus out, since Cornell would take that slot.  Otherwise, UNO is 14th and safe, even if Cornell makes it.

10:13 p.m. – Assuming Western holds on — other than the Cornell possibility, dare we say the NCAA field is set, and RPI will make it. As will UNO.

10:10 p.m. — Under “normal” scenario, no way now for Dartmouth to get in. This assumes Western holds on.

9:48 p.m. — Tick, tick, tick on Dartmouth

9:19 p.m. — Dartmouth trailing 2-0 going into the third, while Western Michigan up 2-0 over Michigan … Not looking good for the poor Big Green. How many times can they come close and then bomb out in the ECAC final four and fall short?

7:01 p.m. — Wins by Yale, Miami (pending) and RIT again, don’t move the needle much. These are all higher seeds winning, as projected. That helps the likes of Rensselaer though, and Colorado College, and Dartmouth (if Dartmouth can win this game tonight).

5:49 p.m. — Denver’s 6-2 win doesn’t mean much, except that Bemidji State is out of the mix for upsetting the apple cart.

4:58 p.m. Friday (ET) — Here we are, with five semifinal games going on. We won’t know any more than yesterday until some results start rolling in. Miami is winning big over Notre Dame right now, so Miami could be playing for a No. 1 seed tomorrow. Yale is tied with Colgate — if Yale wins, it clinches the No. 1 overall seed.

10:48 Thursday (ET) — Colorado College tops UAA, and improves its NCAA hopes dramatically. But not totally out of the woods yet. CC also hurts RPI’s (the school’s) chances, though the Engineers still have a good shot to make it despite not having played in two weeks. RPI’s chances now hinge on the following: Need Western Michigan to lose twice, need New Hampshire not to win Hockey East. Though the Engineers an absorb one of those if Dartmouth loses twice. A scenario where RPI is bumped out by New Hampshire winning HEA, or by Dartmouth not losing twice, is also the scenario that gets Boston University in.

7:21 Thursday (ET) — Bemidji State kicks off the weekend by winning on a power play in overtime. This will start making some people sweat, but it still must get through two more very tough games to continue the Cinderella run. This has no effect, because Minnesota-Duluth is safe, but UMD will now be a No. 3 seed instead of a possible No. 2 or No. 1.

WCHA playoff matchups set

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

With Denver’s late victory over St. Cloud State, the Pioneers finally solved the mystery 10 of the league’s 12 teams were waiting to have answered. Even after five of the WCHA’s six games were completed, only Michigan Tech and North Dakota knew where they were going.

Here are the final standings for the regular season:

1 – North Dakota

2 – Denver

3 – Nebraska-Omaha

4 – Minnesota Duluth

5 – Minnesota

6 – Colorado College

7 – Wisconsin

8 – Alaska-Anchorage

9 – St. Cloud State

10 – Bemidji State

11 – Minnesota State

12 – Michigan Tech

 

Here are the playoff matchups for next weekend:

Michigan Tech at North Dakota

Minnesota State at Denver

Bemidji State at Nebraska-Omaha

St. Cloud State at Minnesota Duluth

Alaska-Anchorage at Minnesota

Wisconsin at Colorado College

 

There are definitely some intriguing series mixed in. North Dakota is really the only runaway favorite in all of those contests. Even Minnesota State gave Denver a run (led late in both games, but ended up with only one point) two months ago when the teams met in Mankato. Bemidji finished the year 3-0-1 against UNO. Anchorage split with Minnesota at Mariucci in early February. Wisconsin and CC split this weekend in their only meeting of the year. St. Cloud hammered Duluth 8-2 Feb. 11 before adding a tie the following night at Amsoil Arena last month.

WCHA Playoff Prognosticating

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

After a couple of weeks to take care of some personal stuff, I’m back (try and hold your enthusiasm to a minimum, please). And just in time too. It’s just about playoff time, which for us college hockey fans, is the best time of the year. I’m always confused by the amount of movement in the Pairwise Rankings this time of year, too. It seems that some teams can sit stagnant for weeks at a time, and all of the sudden, they climb like mad over the last two weeks. I’m not going to try and understand how it all works, all I know is, 16 days from now, we know who the 16 teams headed to the NCAA Tournament will be.

In the WCHA, there is still plenty to be decided. A vast majority of the home ice slots have been awarded, but there are still two left. And of course, who is going where, is still extremely fluid — unless you play for Michigan Tech or North Dakota.

That’s what this column will try and predict. We can come back in about 60 hours and dissect it all, and I’ll probably be more wrong than right. But it’s fun to play around anyways.

Here is what we know for sure: Perhaps Michigan Tech can just ride back to Grand Forks Saturday night with North Dakota. The two teams play in Houghton this weekend and will play next weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena. As the MacNaughton Cup champions, UND is the No. 1 seed for the entire playoffs. Tech’s season is likely to end in 9 days.

Denver, Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota Duluth will also play at home. Against who? That’s left to be decided. UNO and UMD meet this weekend in Duluth to decide third place, although either team could jump into second place if Denver stumbles. The red Mavs lead the Bulldogs by one point.

Minnesota and Colorado College (and its opponent this weekend, Wisconsin) all control their own home ice destiny. With one point at Bemidji State, the Gophers wrap up home ice. CC leads the Badgers by one point for the final home ice slot.

Here is where things get tricky: St. Cloud State is still in the mix for home ice. They need the Tigers and UW to split at the Kohl Center (very possible). They also need to sweep at Denver (not likely).St. Cloud could also finish as low as 10th (also unlikely).

Alaska-Anchorage and Minnesota State follow St. Cloud and play each other this weekend. Neither team can finish sixth, Anchorage could finish seventh and the highest the Mavericks could go is eighth. In theory, either could also finish in 11th. UAA enters play at the Verizon Wireless Center two points up on the home team. MSU took three points from the Seawolves at Sullivan Arena early in the year, so if these two squads finish tied, Minnesota State would have the edge.

Bemidji State hosts Minnesota tied with the purple Mavericks at 20 points for 10th place — although the Beavers have that edge in a head-to-head tie.

THIS WEEKEND’S MATCH-UPS AND SOME PREDICTIONS

North Dakota at Michigan Tech — Sioux sweep

Colorado College at Wisconsin — Split

Alaska-Anchorage at Minnesota State — Mavericks sweep

Minnesota at Bemidji State — Split

St. Cloud State at Denver — Pioneers sweep

Nebraska-Omaha at Minnesota Duluth — Split

THAT WOULD MEAN…

(1) North Dakota

(2) Denver

(3) Nebraska-Omaha

(4) Minnesota Duluth

(5) Minnesota

(6) Colorado College

(7) Wisconsin

(8) Minnesota State

(9) St. Cloud State

(10) Alaska-Anchorage

(11) Bemidji State

(12) Michigan Tech

MY PLAYOFF MATCH-UPS

(12) Michigan Tech at (1) North Dakota

(11) Bemidji State at (2) Denver

(10) Alaska-Anchorage at (3) Nebraska-Omaha

(9) St. Cloud State at (4) Minnesota Duluth

(8) Minnesota State at (5) Minnesota

(7) Wisconsin at (6) Colorado College

That would be some fantastic playoff match-ups, with plenty of room for some high seeds to go down. I would be especially intrigued by SCSU at UMD and MSU at Minnesota. The Mavericks and Gophers had an epic playoff battle three years ago, and I would love to see it again. It would also feature two series with rematches of games this weekend (Tech-UND, CC-UW).

What do you think?