Archive for the 'Postseason' Category

NCHC Prediction: Winner Will Be…

Friday, March 21st, 2014

The inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff kicks off this afternoon from the Target Center in Minneapolis. Denver and Western Michigan, both of whom won on the road last weekend, will square off in Semifinal #1, and will be followed by North Dakota and Miami in the primetime semifinal tonight.

A full preview of the NCHC championship weekend is here, featuring a breakdown of all four teams and exclusive thoughts from North Dakota captain Dillon Simpson, Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray, and Denver head coach Jim Montgomery.

Predictions (though not to be taken seriously, given my lack of success in my March Madness bracket pool so far)…

Denver 3 Western Michigan 1

North Dakota 4 Miami 2

Denver 3 North Dakota 1

Denver looked like a different team over the last two games, outscoring NCHC Player of the Year Josh Archibald and Nebraska-Omaha by a combined 7-1 score in games two and three of their quarterfinal series last weekend. They also boast the NCHC Goaltender of the Year and Richter Award finalist Sam Brittain, who will need to continue to play well if the Pioneers are to win two games this weekend. Of note, a potential Denver/North Dakota championship game would be interesting, as it would feature two of the top defensive units in the country. Five of the six North Dakota starters on the blueline are NHL draft picks.

In speaking with Denver coach Jim Montgomery on Tuesday, he felt that his team finally came together last week in Omaha, away from the distractions of the Mile High City, where his team struggled this season.

“We’ve been a very good road team,” said the first-year coach. “As far as our execution and our effort every night, we’ve been much more consistent on the road than at home. Right now, being on the road is a good thing for Denver hockey.”

Denver and Western Michigan play at 5 p.m. ET, followed by North Dakota and Miami at 8 p.m. ET. Both games will air live on CBS Sports Network.

A Quick Pairwise Look Heading Into Championship Weekend

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Conferences across the nation will crown their league champions, and NCAA automatic qualifiers, this upcoming weekend.

For some teams these will be do-or-die games. For others, there’s a trophy at stake but their tickets to the NCAA tournament have already been punched. Here’s what we know:

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The Takeaway: Wisconsin Advances to the Final Five Defeating Minnesota-Duluth 4-1

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

MADISON – The Kohl Center errupted when the Wisconsin Badgers finished off the first round of the WCHA playoffs by defeating the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 4-1 in Saturday night’s showdown.

The Badgers sounded the horn for the first goal of the night from Jefferson Dahl just under three minutes into the game, followed by another tally from Michael Mersch.  UMD Bulldog Justin Crandall kept the scoreboard active by cutting Wisconsin’s lead in half, 2-1, all within the first five minutes of the game.  Wisconsin’s Kevin Schulze tallied another goal for the Badgers in the first period to send the home team into the locker room with a 3-1 lead.  The second period failed to produce scoring from either team, but Tyler Barnes recorded his 11th goal of the year in the third period, capping off the weekend with a 4-1 win.

With the sweep of Minnesota-Duluth, Wisconsin will play either Colorado College or Denver in the first round of the WCHA Final Five tournament in St. Paul, Minnesota.  The Badgers join the Gophers, who have already swept Bemidji State in teams that will participate in the 2013 Final Five.

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The Takeaway: Wisconsin Takes Game One With 3-1 Win Over Minnesota-Duluth

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

MADISON – The Wisconsin Badgers take the first game with a physical 3-1 victory over Minnesota Duluth.

UMD’s Dan DeLisle was able to add the first tally to the scoreboard, even though the Badgers controlled the first five minutes of play.  Wisconsin answered with two goals in the second period by Nic Kerdiles and John Ramage, followed by a full-ice, empty-net goal by Mark Zengerle to seal the deal for the Badgers in the 3-1 win. (more…)

WCHA Final Five: Thursday Thoughts

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

After missing much of the Final Five last season because of a family vacation, I am exceedingly happy to be back for its entirety this year. Afterall, there is only one of these left after this season before we can expect major changes — not only in the teams, but in the look and feel as well as the locale of this tournament starting in 2014.

If you are not in town and want to follow along, please follow me on Twitter @MyersHockey. I will be providing updates from here all weekend long.

If you’re interested and haven’t yet found my WCHA Final Five preview, please check it out here.

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Wrapping the First Round

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

With the conclusion of the Denver-Wisconsin series tonight in the Mile High City, next weekend’s WCHA Final Five is officially set: Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, Denver, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Michigan Tech.

First, a few thoughts on this weekend: The number of series that lasted only two games was very surprising to me, especially considering how competitive these games were.

- Alaska-Anchorage had Minnesota on the ropes Saturday night, leading 3-1 in the second period. But a series of penalties allowed Minnesota to gain momentum and eventually the dam broke, as the Gophers rallied with six straight goals. That sweep wasn’t a surprise.

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WCHA Playoffs: Looking Ahead (Part 2)

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Part 2 today of my look at the WCHA Playoffs and who these teams would LIKE to play. Should have explained yesterday, but these opinions are based on realistic match-ups for the playoffs. Yeah, St. Cloud State would love to play Alaska-Anchorage (as everyone else probably would), but it’s not going to happen.

Without further ado, here is the top-half of the league, and who they’d like to play:

T4 — North Dakota: The Fighting Sioux have a big series at Denver this weekend, and a pair of wins would vault UND ahead of DU in the standings. At 27 points, North Dakota is just three points out of third place.

Who they want: Bemidji State

The Beavers beat North Dakota 1-0 earlier this season to score their first win over North Dakota. Ever. Safe to say, history resides on the side of the Fighting Sioux in this one.

T4 — Nebraska-Omaha: The Mavericks are hoping to stay within striking distance of Denver this weekend, because UNO hosts the Pioneers next weekend to wrap up the season. Although Omaha is tied with North Dakota in the standings, UNO has to be hoping for a split in the UND-DU series. If it happens, Omaha needs to take care of business against Minnesota.

Who they want: St. Cloud State

The Mavericks took 3 of 4 points against the Huskies in Omaha earlier this season and went 3-0-1 against them last season. Personally, I don’t think the Mavs care who they play, as long as it’s not Bemidji State. For some reason, the Beavers present UNO with a host of problems when they play, and I doubt the Mavericks would enjoy the constant questions in the lead up to that series.

T4 — Colorado College: The Tigers have been an average team virtually all season. After a 4-0 start, CC is just 12-12-2 overall and just a game over .500 in conference play. At 5-7 on the road in WCHA play, maintaining home ice is critically important and provides the Tigers with a distinct advantage.

Who they want: Wisconsin

CC is extremely familiar with the Badgers — the Tigers beat Wisconsin in three games in the first round last year. CC swept Wisconsin in their lone meeting this season at World Arena and are 5-2 against UW over the last two seasons. Plus, Wisconsin has just one road win this season, and a trip to Colorado Springs is probably the second most tedious in the league for the boys from Madison.

1-3 — Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth, Denver: All three of these teams are in a similar spot in terms of who they want to play… obviously only one will get them. Third place Denver and league-leading Minnesota are separated by four points with UMD stuck right in the middle, meaning plenty of shuffling can still take place among the top-3 teams.

Who they want: Alaska-Anchorage

The Seawolves style of play can present problems for any team, but it’s pretty safe to say all three teams would love the opportunity to take on Anchorage, a team that’s a lengthy plane ride away and has won just three times since Thanksgiving. These three teams are a combined 7-1-0 against UAA this season, with the lone Seawolf victory coming against UMD in Anchorage just a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure the Gophers would love the opportunity to avenge last season’s embarrassing playoff ouster at the hands of the Seawolves.

As the Pairwise Turns: Friday Edition

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

The WCHA has caught a bunch of grief for being a pretty weak conference nationally this season. And generally, it has been.

But as I write this, the WCHA would have four teams in the NCAA Tournament if it started tomorrow (Minnesota Duluth, Denver, Minnesota and North Dakota).  Four teams is the same number Hockey East would have in. Only the CCHA, with five, would have more. Obviously, there is a lot of hockey yet to be played. A whole bunch can change between now and Selection Sunday. Heck, a whole lot can, and will, change between now and this time tomorrow night.

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Critical Weekend for WCHA

Friday, January 6th, 2012

I hope everyone had a great holiday season, and I’m excited for what promises to be another great second half of action in the WCHA.

I will jump back into the power rankings prior to next weekend, but I did want to stress how important the nonconference action this weekend should not be overlooked.

Because there are no WCHA games on the schedule, many will look at this weekend’s games and think “who cares?” Well, you shouldn’t care — if all you care about is winning the MacNaughton Cup. January means it’s time to start looking at those Pairwise Rankings a little closer, and for those of you who haven’t checked them out yet, you can find them here.

I am, by no means, a Pairwise expert — very few are. But I can tell you this with certainty: Only two WCHA teams are in good NCAA Tournament position as we head into the second half, as Minnesota Duluth (No.2) and Minnesota (tied for 4th) are the only two locks as of right now. Colorado College is square on the bubble, and would likely be one of the last one or two at-large teams in.

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UMD: An Appreciation

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

I am proud to say I cover hockey. However, I am a fan of the sport first.

I’ve been a UMD season-ticket holder since 2003. I remember sitting in front of the television and yelling to the point of nearly losing my voice as the Bulldogs skated to the 2004 Frozen Four, and then took a two-goal lead in the national semifinal against Denver.

As you are probably aware, not much has gone right for UMD since. They were on their way to a win over St. Cloud State in the first round of the 2007 playoffs, but then Bobby Goepfert stood on his head for four overtimes over two nights. His team was pretty thoroughly outplayed, but part of playing the game is scoring goals, and UMD just couldn’t on those nights. St. Cloud won the series, and UMD was sent to the golf course prematurely, only to find when they got there that the two best players on that 2006-2007 team (Matt Niskanen and Mason Raymond) had signed pro contracts.

Last year’s team was strong defensively, but couldn’t score goals. MacGregor Sharp led the team with 17 points. Andrew Carroll led in goals with eight. It doomed them to an eighth-place finish and a two-game playoff loss to Denver.

With how the regular-season ended, no one saw this coming. The Bulldogs went 0-3-2 down the stretch, with two straight losses to Alaska-Anchorage providing a painful farewell for seven UMD seniors. In retrospect, one of the worst home weekends in a long time may have been a blessing in disguise. UMD deserved to lose those games, and they knew it. Instead of moping or resigning themselves to a one-and-done playoff fate, this Bulldog team used the adversity as a coming-together point.

Since they didn’t know they had to fly to Colorado Springs until the close of play Saturday, they had to set up a rather arduous travel schedule. Fly to Minneapolis and then Denver Wednesday evening, and bus from Denver to Colorado Springs. It was early Thursday morning before they arrived. Instead of being tired after such a difficult late-season trip, UMD looked fresh and prepared Friday. A 4-1 win Friday was followed by a 3-1 triumph Saturday.

By now, you know full well what happened over the weekend in St. Paul. It was the kind of history that you don’t get to see every year, and it was a performance for the ages. In a way, it was fitting, because this team made a commitment to themselves after that Anchorage series, and they’ve played near-perfect hockey since.

The most amazing statistic is that they have yet to trail in the playoffs. In fact, the only time any UMD playoff game this year has been tied has been 0-0. Once UMD has taken the lead, they’ve held it. You can credit Alex Stalock all you want, but the 18 guys in front of him deserve their props, too.

One of my worries about UMD going to Colorado College is that they struggled (3-5-3) on the big sheet during the regular season. They allowed too many goals in most of those games, including four in one at Anchorage, six at St. Cloud State, and five at Minnesota. The defense took a few hits in those games, but they have protected Stalock wondrously in the first five playoff games.

Princeton brings speed, skill, and goaltending to the table Friday night. UMD can’t be looking forward to a potential rematch Saturday with Denver (neither can Denver, for that matter, or it could be Miami vs Princeton in front of 550 friends and family at Mariucci). But they haven’t looked forward to anything yet. They’ve focused on the task at hand, even on Saturday night in the WCHA Final Five championship, when they led 3-0, fans were ready to party, and it would have been easy to lapse. Instead of giving up a lame goal late in the game, UMD only let Denver attempt six shots the whole period (five were blocked).

No matter what, the thousands of Minnesotans who will show up at Mariucci Arena Friday night need to appreciate what this UMD team has done. They not only made history, but they’ve shown that from adversity can come special achievements.

That this group of kids banded together and stormed into the NCAA Tournament is the stuff of stories 20 years from now. Expectations are growing in Duluth, but let’s hope the fans also bring a sense of perspective to the rink Friday. The ride this team has taken us on the last two weeks is one that won’t be forgotten anytime soon, and we thank you for it.