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Monday, December 28, 2009
The Twelve Year Itch?

With a 8-9-1 mark heading into this weekend's Dodge Holiday Hockey Clunker (sorry, but when none of the four participating teams are ranked in the top twenty, you simply cannot refer to the event as "Classic"), the Gopher hockey team is once again falling short of expectations. This is the third year in a row that the Gophers have struggled and it's sparked conversation within hockey circles about how the team recruits and why they've been coming up short of late. One thing that hasn't been much discussed--at least not that I've heard--is whether a change at the top may be in order. I'm not necessarily proposing that it's time for Don Lucia to move on after nearly eleven years as Gopher coach, but when you look at the numbers you have to wonder whether his best days are behind him.

For instance, when you consider winning percentage over the years you can see that Lucia is definitely tailing off. You can argue that there's more to college hockey success than winning percentage (regular season finishes, playoff record, Frozen Four appearances, etc.), but it's a handy tool for statistical purposes. This chart shows Lucia's winning percentage by year coached compared with Doug Woog, the coach he replaced at Minnesota. (click to enlarge)
In his first ten seasons, Woog's lowest winning percentage was .625 and he had a higher winning percentage than Lucia for six of the first ten seasons when you compare them head to head. Woog's drop off was dramatic as his teams finished below .500 in each of his last two seasons. So far Lucia hasn't fallen that far, but the trend seems to be going in that direction

Okay, now for the qualifiers. The biggest argument in Lucia's favor is that, unlike Woog, he has won two national championships (2001-02, 2002-03) during his tenure. Those rings carry a lot of weight with Gopher fans, especially after the long drought years from 1980-2001. So while Lucia's Gophers haven't done much lately, the two titles in pocket make it likely that fans will be more patient with him than Woog. And it's still possible that Lucia could turn this year around. While the Gophers are unlikely to be serious contenders for a national championship, they do have talent and if they could just get more consistent play from their better players they could end up having a decent year.

Or maybe the numbers do indicate that we're seeing the beginning of the end for Lucia. In his first six seasons as coach of the Gophers, Woog had a cumulative winning percentage of .703. In his last six he was .556. Lucia was .623 in his first six seasons and through almost four-and-a-half years on the back end, he's .551. If I were in Lucia's place, I'd find those numbers to be a little too close for comfort.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Cup For Sale

Don't you hate it when teams with the most money use their wealth to "buy" championships, making it difficult for the poorer teams to even compete much less win titles? I'm not talking about baseball either. I've long maintained that spending is usually equated with success in the NHL. Yesterday's WSJ had the data showing that the NHL Is Where Dollars Buy the Most Wins (sub req):

Many sports fans assume baseball is the game that's most driven by owners' pocketbooks. For proof, they could point to the 2009 playoffs, where the final four teams were all near the top of the league in payroll. But the sport where spending money most closely equates to winning games is played on ice, not grass and dirt.

From 2000 to 2008, NHL teams' winning percentage has a 0.49 correlation to their payroll (where 1 represents a direct correlation and 0 represents no correlation at all). This number doesn't suggest an airtight relationship, but it's a stronger correlation than the three other major sports leagues. Major League Baseball has a 0.43 correlation, and the NFL is at a nearly meaningless 0.15, according to a new study by Dave Berri, a professor of economics at Southern Utah University.

The numbers make sense when you scan the standings. In hockey, the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins have consistently made the playoffs in recent years, and they're the teams willing to use the league's salary cap to its full extent. The data are a bit skewed by the spending binges some teams thrived on before the cap was implemented during the 2004-05 lockout, but even since then, the correlation has held true.


This correlation does not bode well for Minnesota Wild fans. While the team has loosened the purse strings a bit of late, they still rank in the middle of NHL payrolls. In hockey, more often than not, you get what you pay for.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Stirring The Pot

Good front page article in today's WSJ on the amazing rivalry between Boston University and Boston College in hockey, including the personal one between coaches Jack Parker and Jerry York:

On New Year's Eve in 1962, Jack Parker and Jerry York lined up against each other in a high-school ice-hockey game--and started a rivalry that has become one of the most extraordinary in college sports.

After high school, Mr. Parker played at Boston University and Mr. York at Boston College. Mr. Parker later became the coach at BU, and Mr. York at BC.

Now, after nearly half a century of going toe-to-toe, each man's success is unexcelled--and they are still fierce competitors. Mr. York has accumulated more wins--827--than any other active college coach. Mr. Parker is only seven wins behind him.

In 2008, BC won the NCAA championship, giving Mr. York three national titles, one more than Mr. Parker. The BU coach, not to be outdone, cracked the whip and won the 2009 crown this past spring, with the help of a hockey miracle. The championship left Mr. Parker with 30 career wins in NCAA tournament games, breaking the record of 29, which had been held by you-know-who.

The teams meet next on Saturday, and the rivalry is now getting some attention beyond the small college-hockey fraternity. Earlier this month, a documentary on BU-BC hockey aired on NESN, a New England cable-television channel. The title, "The Battle of Commonwealth Avenue," is a reference to the street the schools share, albeit four miles apart. More attention will come in January when the schools face off in an outdoor game at Fenway Park, the home of baseball's Boston Red Sox.

Even without the coaches' personal history, BU-BC hockey stands practically alone among collegiate feuds.

"People talk about Michigan and Ohio State in football, but imagine if they were located right next to each other, and their players all knew each other growing up, and they played not once but three or four times a year," says Bernie Corbett, the longtime radio voice of BU hockey. "Every game is like a Boston civil war."


While I've been somewhat dismissive in the past of non-WCHA college hockey, there's no denying that Hockey East has found its mojo once again and that the BU-BC rivalry is one of the best in all of college sport. I'm hoping that the January game at Fenway will be televised nationally so college hockey fans across the country can get a taste of what the Beantown battles are all about.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009
He's Had A Few

After watching the depressing and all-too-predictable outcome of the Twins-Yanks game last night, I caught Peter Berg's Kings Ransom on ESPN ('cause I just haven't watched enough sports lately). It's part of their "30 for 30" documentary film series to celebrate the channel's anniversary. Since I love sports and documentaries, the series sounds very appealing. When the topic involves hockey, it's must-see television.

"Kings Ransom" is the story behind the story of the Wayne Gretzky trade from Edmonton to L.A.:

On August 9, 1988, the NHL was forever changed with the single stroke of a pen. The Edmonton Oilers, fresh off their fourth Stanley Cup victory in five years, signed a deal that sent Wayne Gretzky, a Canadian national treasure and the greatest hockey player ever to play the game, to the Los Angeles Kings in a multi-player, multi-million dollar deal. As bewildered Oiler fans struggled to make sense of the unthinkable, fans in Los Angeles were rushing to purchase season tickets at a rate so fast it overwhelmed the Kings box office. Overnight, a franchise largely overlooked in its 21-year existence was suddenly playing to sellout crowds and standing ovations, and a league often relegated to "little brother" status exploded from 21 teams to 30 in less than a decade. Acclaimed director Peter Berg presents the captivating story of the trade that knocked the wind out of an entire country, and placed a star-studded city right at the humble feet of a 27-year-old kid, known simply as "The Great One."

Hockey fans who were old enough to remember the trade recall how shocking it was at the point. I had forgotten that Gretzky was right in the prime of his career at the time. He enjoyed so much success at Edmonton that you assume his peak years were spent playing there, yet he became a King at a mere twenty-seven.

The film explores the important role the Oilers played in the life of the people Edmonton (compared to that of the Packers in Green Bay and also described as a "religion"). They were the only game in town and their success elevated the team and its players to a revered status. Being the best of the best and the best hockey player in the world at that time, made Gretzky a living legend. At the time, it was hard to understand the impact that the trade had on the community, but the the film shows how devastating it was.

The fans in Edmonton found plenty of targets to direct their ire at. The main villain was Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, who was burned in effigy in protests and had death threats after the trade. Janet Jones--who married Gretzky right before the trade--also came in for abuse as the Hollywood harlot who had stolen the city's favorite. While there was some bitterness toward Gretzky, most fans did not blame him. And when he returned to Edmonton in a Kings jersey early in the 1988 season, he received a warm welcome from the home crowd.

Interestingly, one person who played a significant part in the drama that wasn't obvious at the time was Gretzky's father. Before the 1988 Stanley Cup Finals, he warned Wayne that he better accept the fact that he was going to be sold to the highest bidder at some point soon. His attitude seemed to have helped harden Gretzky's heart and make him more willing to agree to the trade.

I've never heard Gretzky talk much about the trade previously. In "Kings Ransom" he opens up quite a bit and helps us understand how the wheels were set in motion and why it was so hard to stop them once they were. It's only sports, but in some ways the story has elements of a Greek tragedy to it. You get the feeling that many of the principle players--with the exceptions of the two team owners--had misgivings about what was taking place, but felt powerless to stop it as if it was fated to be.

There's a profound sense of regret that hangs over the film. Even though Gretzky himself assures us that if he had to do it all over again he would not change anything, it feels like he's still trying to convince himself of that. While on the driving range, Berg asks Gretzky how many Stanley Cups he won in Edmonton.

Four.

And how many in L.A.?

None.

How many more could you have won had you stayed in Edmonton?

Gretzky hits a shot, takes a deep breathe, and speculates, "I don't know, maybe four more."

Berg asks, "Do you ever think about that?"

Gretzky answers immediately, "All the time."

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Monday, October 05, 2009
Discriminating Tastes

Those at the top end of the income brackets tend to use their wealth to enjoy the finer things in life. Homes, cars, food, drink, and--as this piece in today's WSJ notes--even sports:

If you think of most hockey fans as beer-swilling blue-collar McKenzie brothers, the dim-witted Canadians of SCTV fame, think again. Visitors to the NHL's Web site have higher incomes than visitors to the other major professional sports leagues' sites.

Marketing-research firm comScore analyzed online traffic to nhl.com, nba.com, nfl.com and mlb.com in the U.S., and found that more than half the puckheads had household incomes of at least $75,000. About 36% came from households making six-figure sums or higher. Baseball ranked second with 32.7 percent of its web-browsing fans in the $100,000 or more bracket, followed by football with 28.3 percent. Nba.com, by contrast, had only 27.7% of its users among the top-earning households, giving it the least-affluent fan base.

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Monday, June 01, 2009
Never The Answer

Although the ends may be worthy, we should never justify means that run counter to all we hold dear.

Case in point:

Despite having its best season ever, the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets are hemorrhaging money. The owner's solution: increase taxes on beer (as well as wine, liquor, and cigarettes). According to proponents of the plan, raising duties on a gallon of beer by 25 cents, a gallon of wine by 32 cents, a gallon of spirits by $3.00, and a pack of cigarettes by 4.5 cents would increase tax revenue by $65 million, which "would help offset team losses and help the county pay for a bond sale to buy the arena."

Keeping your hockey team in town is a noble goal. But raising beer taxes to realize that goal is not the answer.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
1979 Semi-Finalist

The NHL conference semi-final playoff series could really have not gone any better so far.

In the West, the Blackhawks--my adopted team for this year's Cup run--knocked off the hated Canucks in six. Meanwhile, the not-quite-as-hated Ducks have pushed the despised Red Wings to a seventh game. If the Ducks win the series, I'll be happy because the Wings will be dead. If Detroit wins, it sets up a terrific conference final matchup between the Wings and the Hawks. Yes, there is some history there.

In the East, the Bruins have come on strong in the last two games to knot their series with the hated 'Canes at three. I expect that they will be able to dispatch Carolina at home in Game Seven on Thursday. If not, much shame and ridicule will be heaped upon them.

Then we have the Caps and Pens. Three of the first six games in this series have gone to OT and its featured some of the best playoff hockey in years. It's more than just Ovechkin and Crosby too. Both teams feature highly-skilled players who are not afraid to open it up. Not a lot of neutral zone trapping or left wing locking going on with these teams. Just a lot of fast-paced, high-intensity skating, passing, shooting, stick-handling, and hitting. It has been a joy to watch and the only disappointing thing about tonight's Game Seven showdown is that the series has to end.

6pm central tonight on Versus. You don't want to miss this one.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Off With His Cred

It's been nearly five years since I dropped my subscription to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. One of the hardest things about giving up the local paper is missing out on the sports coverage. Yes, you can get everything a paper provides and more on the 'net, but there's still something lacking when you don't have it at your fingertips.

So I was pleased When the Wall Street Journal recently expanded their sports coverage. They now offer a small daily dose of sports in addition to the irregular articles that usually appear in the weekend editions. It's only a page, but it's better than naught.

This expanded coverage has meant more hockey stories too. Not nearly enough to sate my appetite, but again better than before.

After reading one article last month on Why the Red Wings Are Such Sackless Wusses (actual title "Why The Red Wings Don't Fight") I was tempted to upbraid the author, Reed Albergotti, for a glaring misstatement:

Fights have always broken out during physical hockey games, but in the 1960s it became a strategy. The Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers used intimidation to win Stanley Cups between 1969 and 1975. Without players who specialized in fisticuffs, a team's star players would be beaten to a pulp.

In the 1980s, the NHL doubled the number of divisional games teams played, creating more intense inter-divisional rivalries that sparked even more fighting and led to the advent of the bench-clearing brawl. The league averaged an all-time high of one fight per game in the mid-80s.


The advent of the bench-clearing brawl occurred in the 1980s? Not bloody likely. While there may have been more bench-clearers in the 80s than in other decades, they started long before that. You can find easily find videos online of a 1970 brawl between Montreal and Boston.

But don't just take my word for it. Take this:

The NHL instituted Rule 72, just months later, in the summer of 1987 - basically suspending any player for leaving the bench for 10 games, without pay. Coaches also faced suspension and fines as high as $10,000.

The rule was seen as a slow, but necessary, reaction by the NHL to what really started in the early 1970s shortly after expansion. When the league grew by six teams in 1967-68, then added two more in 1972-73 and another pair in 1974-75, the talent pool became diluted. Clubs lacking skill found that fighting and intimidation created another avenue to winning hockey games - highlighted by two Stanley Cup wins by the notorious Philadelphia Flyers.

Bench-clearing was in decline by the mid-1980s, and was nearly completely eradicated from the game after Rule 72 hit the books.


More evidence is supplied by this list of NHL Bench-Clearing Brawls by year. This particular one will bring back fond memories for North Star fans.

So no, the advent of the bench-clearing brawl did not happen in the 1980s. But being a generous sort I elected to give Mr. Albergotti a pass on his error at the time (plus I was a little concerned about the sort of associations a gentleman with his surname might have).

However, this claim by Albergotti in another hockey piece in Friday's WSJ on Alex Ovechkin called A Game-Changer From Moscow, forces me to break my silence (and possibly enter the witness protection program):

With the Ovechkin-Crosby matchup, the NHL finally got its long-desired showcase for talent. Hockey has had terrible luck in its playoff matchups. Its last set of superstars, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, never met in the postseason, even though their careers overlapped for 12 seasons. In the first game of the series, Messrs. Ovechkin and Crosby both scored in the first period. In the second game, they scored three goals each, the fourth time two opposing players have done that in the playoffs. And Wednesday night, the game went into overtime. Pittsburgh is 43-28, all time, against the Capitals in playoffs.

Hockey has had terrible luck its playoff matchups? Really? Funny 'cause I've been a hockey fan for a long, long time and I've never heard that before.

While it is true that some of the recent Finals matchups haven't been classics, it's because the teams involved aren't traditional hockey powers. When you have Carolina, Anaheim, and Tampa Bay playing for (and winning) the Cup, it does take a little luster off the most famous trophy in all of sport. But that's hardly what I would call "terrible luck."

Yes, it would have been interesting if Gretzky and Lemieux had met in the playoffs. But the comparison between them and Ovechkin and Crosby is quite inapt. While their careers did overlap, they weren't both at the top of their game at that same time as Ovechkin (23 years old) and Crosby (21) are now. Gretzky's best five years were probably 81-82 through 85-86 while Lemieux's were 87-88 through 92-93 (he was hurt most of the 90-91 season--except for the playoffs of course).

But worse than that is falling into the tired trap of comparing the NHL to the NBA. This isn't about loving hockey or hatin' on basketball. The games and leagues are just different and the constant comparisons are annoying.

The NBA is all about individual stars, matchups, and one on one battles. For the most part, the NHL is not. The reason that NHL playoffs series are great is not because of the star players involved, it's because of the teams. The rivalries, the geography, and the history is what usually sets them apart.

Yes, Gretzky was part of the great Edmonton teams of the 80s. But he wasn't the main reason the Oilers-Flames playoff series were so heated. Think about Detroit-Colorado during the Nineties or the Boston-Montreal playoff rivalry that has been rekindled during recent years. The great players on those teams are part of the story no doubt, but they are not the keys to those compelling playoff plots.

So instead of worrying about whether Ovechkin vs. Crosby will end up being the NHL's version of Bird vs. Magic, why not just enjoy it for what it is? Two tremondously talented, fabulously fun to watch hockey players are leading their teams on the quest for Lord Stanley's Cup. That alone should be reason enough to watch. Especially on Wednesday night when they face off in a series deciding Game Seven in Washington.

As for Mr. Albergotti, I will continue to read his work in the Journal. But until he proves otherwise, his hockey credibility is on ice.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009
One For The Books?

The WSJ's Darren Eversen says that Bemidji State reaching the Frozen Four is already one of the greatest upsets in college sports history:

Bemidji State, a liberal-arts school in northern Minnesota, has an endowment of about $12 million. Notre Dame, a somewhat more prominent university in northern Indiana, spent roughly five times that much on athletics last year.

This is why Bemidji State's ascension to college hockey's Frozen Four -- which included a 5-1 rout of No. 2 Notre Dame Saturday -- is one of the greatest upsets in collegiate sports history.

No upset may ever match Chaminade's 1982 victory over Virginia in men's basketball. Virginia entered that game ranked No. 1, while Chaminade had recently lost to Wayland Baptist. Still, it was just a regular-season game.

If one also takes into account the direct impact the upset had on its sport's championship, others rank higher. Michigan's title chances ended in Appalachian State's landmark 2007 football upset. Top-seeded Stanford became the first (and only) team to fall to a No. 16 seed, when it lost to Harvard in the 1998 women's basketball tournament.

The closest parallel to Bemidji State is last year's Fresno State baseball team, which became the lowest-seeded team to win an NCAA title (the Bulldogs were seeded below 48 of 64 teams). But Bemidji State is by far the lowest-ranked team in this year's hockey tournament, plus the Beavers hail from a four-team conference that is in danger of disbanding. So if they keep their run going, they may become the biggest surprise of all.


He ranks the Beavers making the Frozen Four as the third greatest upset in college sports history. That seems like a debatable claim, but if BSU does win the national title, their place in history would be difficult to dispute.

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Monday, March 30, 2009
This Year, The Skate Fits

This was easily the wildest weekend in NCAA hockey tournament action that I can ever recall. Three number one seeds were knocked off by four seeds in the regionals. Two of those four seeds went on to reach the Frozen Four and the other lost in two overtimes to a three seed. The only top seed who took care of business and punched their ticket to D.C. was Boston University and even they required a goal with fifteen seconds left in regulation to get past New Hampshire.

Needless to say such unexpected outcomes played havoc with my predictions as they did with nearly everyone else's. I went 4-4 in the opening games and 1-3 in the next round. Which is pretty dismal. Currently, I'm in 8th place in the pool I'm in. If BU wins the championship I can finish third, but no higher.

A third place finish brings me no solace as I enter these pools to win and put my hockey cred on the line in doing so. However, what does bring me solace is seeing how my good friend The Nihilist In Golf Pants has fared. The Nihilist is a Notre Dame apologist alum, whose confidence--bordering on cockiness--in the Irish hockey squad had him laying plans for a championship celebration before the tourney's first puck had even been dropped.

So there was definitely an element of schadenfreude when Notre Dame was dispatched with extreme prejudice by unheralded Bemidji State in the opening round. That joy was only magnified when I checked the predictions standings in the pool that we both participated in today and found the NIGP firmly ensconced in last place in the standings. Not only in last place, but in last place with all of ONE point and no hope of picking up any more. In fact, in he only managed to pick ONE game correctly of the opening eight. A toddler picking teams based on his favorite color could have done better than that. A blind-folded monkey throwing darts could have done better. Heck, even a college puck neophyte like Learned Foot could have done better than that.

Since I've often written about the prominence of the WCHA in college hockey in the past, it's only fair that I note that the balance of power seems to have shifted. This is the first Frozen Four since 1999 with no representation from the WCHA. This officially spells an end to a period of dominance that now appears to have lasted from 2000-2006. During that time, WCHA teams won six of seven national championships (in 2001 UND lost to BC in the title game in OT) and in 2005 all four teams at the Frozen Four were from the conference.

I knew the league was down this year, but didn't realize just how much weak it was really was. North Dakota getting beat wasn't a surprise and even if they hadn't blown the game against New Hampshire, they would have been hard-pressed to knock off BU. But with Denver and UMD both playing in the Minneapolis regional as the top two seeds, I would have thought one of those two squads would have advanced.

It still remains an open question of where the power in college hockey has shifted to. Prior to this weekend, I would have said East to both the CCHA and Hockey East. While Hockey East has two schools in this year's Frozen Four (BU & Vermont) and the CCHA one (Miami), I now wonder if what we're seeing isn't as much a shift from one conference to another as much as it a diffusion of power among the schools. The traditional power houses seem to have been significantly impacted by the growing trend of top players leaving school early for the pros. This has allowed some of the other schools to become relatively stronger by keeping and developing their players and it seems like the gap between the best and the rest has narrowed to the point where any team from any conference can compete.

We saw that this weekend with the success of teams like Bemidji State (CHA) and Air Force (Atlantic) from conferences that you don't usually hear from and teams from prominent conferences like Vermont (Hockey East) and Miami (CCHA) that you don't usually find in the NCAA tourney mix. It makes me wonder if college hockey going through a phase somewhat similar to what college basketball went through some years ago, where some of the traditional power house teams struggled to adapt to the era of star players leaving early. If you look at what's happened of late in college hoops, these top teams seem to have recovered and once again established their place at the top. While you still may get a surprise with a team like George Mason a few years ago, the teams appearing in the Final Four are mostly from the schools with a strong basketball history.

Given my position as a Gopher fan, this is a pattern that I'd like to see repeated in college hockey. Sooner rather than later. Especially since the 2011 Frozen Four will be hosted in Saint Paul. Until then, I'll have to be content to cheer on the scrappy Bemidji State Beavers when they take the ice against Miami in a national semi on April 9th. They aren't a WCHA team, but after this weekend they more than ever deserve to be one.

UPDATE: Darren Everson in the WSJ on Why You Should Have Watched Hockey:

If only Jim Valvano had coached college hockey. Then the phrase "survive and advance" -- which the late North Carolina State basketball coach used to describe college basketball's grueling tournament -- would be where it truly belongs.

There is arguably no major event in sports more chaotic than the Division I hockey tournament. By its nature, hockey is more capricious than basketball and football, since one player (the goalie) can have an outsized impact -- for better or worse -- on a single game's outcome.

Baseball is similar, because of the pitcher's influence. But unlike baseball's double-elimination College World Series, the college hockey tournament is a one-and-done event, like basketball.

Result: Three of the four No. 1 seeds in this year's tournament didn't even survive their first games over the weekend. Michigan fell to Air Force, 2-0, due almost entirely to the play of Falcons goaltender Andrew Volkening (Michigan took 43 shots to Air Force's 13); Denver lost to Miami University, 4-2; and Notre Dame was buried by Bemidji State, 5-1.

Denver's loss and even Michigan's actually weren't that shocking -- Air Force, which subsequently was eliminated Saturday by Vermont, came within an eyelash of first-round upsets the previous two years -- but Notre Dame's defeat was the equivalent of Radford dismissing North Carolina by double digits.

Notre Dame, which led the nation in winning percentage and goals-against average, was facing the country's 37th-best team, according to the Ratings Percentage Index ranking system. There are only 58 teams in Division I. But Notre Dame goalie Jordan Pearce got rattled early, giving up the opening goal after a strange bounce off the boards, and the chaos was underway.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009
Divine Intervention?

Last week, it is announced that Notre Dame has invited President Obama to speak at their commencement and receive honorary degree. Last night, the Fighting Irish hockey team--ranked #2 among sixteen teams in the NCAA tourney--gets shellacked by the sixteenth seed Bemidji State in a game where BSU reportedly "got all the bounces" (giving the Beavers their first even NCAA tourney win--one more than St. Cloud State). Just sayin'.

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Monday, March 23, 2009
Selective Appeal

This time of year you can't escape the talk about "March Madness." It's impossible to deny that the annual NCAA basketball tournament has firmly established its place on the current American pop culture landscape. The schools, the games, the players, the television coverage, the analysis, the brackets, and the betting have become a sports phenomena that only seems to getting more popular with each passing year.

It's also impossible to deny that the interest in college hockey pales in comparison. Far fewer schools have hockey programs and the sport itself is still largely regional in the followers it attracts. Only diehards fill out NCAA hockey brackets and the television coverage of the hockey tournament and the audience it attracts is a but a small sliver of the attention that basketball garners.

Having said all that, I still find these attendance numbers from last weekend at least worthy of mention.

Thursday night WCHA Final Five play in game between Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth: 17611

Friday afternoon WCHA Final semi-final between Denver and Wisconsin: 14722

Friday night WCHA Final Five semi-final between North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth: 17729

Saturday afternoon WCHA Final Five third place game between North Dakota and Wisconsin: 15254

Saturday night WCHA Final Five championship game between Denver and Minnesota-Duluth: 16749

These numbers are taken from the box scores of each game. From what I understand from people who were done at the Xcel Energy this weekend, the crowds were lighter than usual so I assume these figures are based on tickets sold. Still, considering that the hometown Gophers only played in one game, the average attendance of 16,413 is pretty good.

With all the hype and attention that the NCAA basketball tournament receives, you would have imagined that hoops fans in the Twin Cities would have been ecstatic to learn the one of the regional sites for the opening rounds of 2009 big dance was the Metrodome in Minneapolis. And with North Dakota State bringing regional interest and big names like Kansas and Michigan State among the eight schools in the bracket, you might have expected that these fans would turn out in droves to catch the action in person.

Again, let's go to the box scores.

Thursday afternoon NCAA basketball regional session: 15794

Thursday evening NCAA basketball regional session: 12814

Sunday afternoon NCAA basketball regional session: 14279

So even on Sunday afternoon, with the prospect of a ticket to the Sweet Sixteen on the line, only slightly more than 14,000 people showed up at the Dome? I guess all the blue seats we were seeing on television were an indication of the crowd and not just the size of the venue.

Like I said, I'm not drawing any grand conclusions from these numbers, I just find them interesting to consider.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009
When The Cup Comes To Town

The most venerable trophy in sports is coming to town:

The The Shjon Podein Children's Foundation (AKA: Team 25) is bringing the Stanley Cup to MN on March 23rd and 24th for a "Charity Cup Tour." We are excited to bring this opportunity to the great hockey fans of MN and at the same time help out a great cause, our local food shelves. In these challenging times, it is important that we come together to support the basic needs of our own communities.

Shjon will have the Stanley Cup at the St. Louis Park Rec Center on Monday March 23 from 2:00pm-6:30pm and then at O'Gara's Garage in St. Paul (adults only) on Monday from 9pm-12am. Shjon and the Stanley Cup will then travel to Rochester, MN on Tuesday March 24th and will be at Graham Arenas from 2:00pm-7:00pm and at McMurphy's Sports Bar in Rochester from 9pm-12am.

We ask that you make a cash donation to have a photo taken with the Cup. Donations taken will benefit the Second Harvest Heartland Food Bank in the Twin Cities area, Channel One Food Bank in Rochester, and Families Serving the Troops through O'Gara's. (Brian Leighton of G.B. Leighton will play an acoustic set at O'Gara's on Monday night at 9pm, further entertainment tbd.)


Interestingly enough, after Podein won the Stanley Cup (which JB used to irreverently refer to as the "Stanley Strap") with the Avs in '01, my wife had a chance to see the prize up close and personal when the bachelorette party she was with happened to cross paths with Podein, who--in the great tradition of NHL champions--was escorting Lord Stanley's trophy about town. Needless to say, she wasn't nearly as impressed by the chance encounter as I was.

This is a great opportunity for local hockey fans to catch a glimpse of hockey history and help a very worthy cause.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Times That Try Men's Souls

It's not easy being a hockey fan in Minnesota these days. The inconsistent Wild are struggling for the eighth and final playoff spot in the wild Western Conference. Their scoring is spotty and their defensive effort--usually a hallmark of a Lemaire club--is sporadic; at times stout, at times sieve-like. Even all star goalie Niklas Backstrom has looked shaky at times lately. Meanwhile, the once high-flying Gophers are still mired in a second-half of the season swoon (3-6-1 in conference play in '09). They too have trouble scoring and their defense too often plays soft and looks worn out. And goaltender Alex Kangas, who was the foundation of the team's first half success, has been ordinary so far in 2009. You know things are bad when taking three of four points from Alaska-Anchorage at home is hopefully viewed as a turnaround.

To add insult to injury for local pucksters, last week's rain and above average temps did a number on the outdoor ice rinks and pretty much ended the season in most communities. While there's still a lot of winter to endure, playing hockey outside is no longer an option to help make it more bearable.

If all of the above wasn't bad enough, we must also endure the bizarre machinations of the hockey scheduling wizards. It seems like the Wild have played more back to back games on consecutive days than ever before. And they're almost always a home-road or road-home combo. Nothing wrong with that in principle. But then we also have the inexplicable gaps in games to deal with. For example, on Saturday night the Wild coughed up a 3-0 lead and kicked away a game to the Senators at home. The next time they take the ice? Thursday against Calgary. At home.

So right in the thick of the season, with 27 games left and the team fighting for a playoff spot, fans have to wait four days between games? Inexplicable. How are you supposed to stay interested and engaged when you have gaps like this? Gaps that often alternate with flurries of back-to back games. You either have nothing or a deluge. There's got to be a better way to schedule than this.

But don't look to college hockey for the answer. One of the nice things about following WCHA puck is you don't (or at least shouldn't) have to worry about the vagaries of the schedule. With a few exceptions, your squad plays on Friday and Saturday nights. After a long week of work, you know that when you get home on Friday night you can crack a beer, flip on the tele, and catch a game. Or at least you used to.

This year it seems like there have been more "off" weekends for the Gophers than in recent memory. The long December-January break is bad enough to go through (who do these guys think they are anyway? students?), but this year the Gophers came back from said break to play the Dodge Holiday Cupcake Classic, played North Dakota one weekend, SCSU the next, and then were off. Why? There are ten WCHA teams so there should not be a need for byes.

This schedule plays havoc with the rhythm of the season and also complicates the standings at a critical juncture of the season. With three weeks left in the WCHA, this should be a time of high drama with teams fighting for the conference title, home playoff seeds, and favorable matchups. But when you look at the standings, you can't just worry about points, you also have to consider the dreaded "games in hand."

Right now, four teams have played 24 conference games, two have played 23, and four have played 22. Considering that nine points separate the first place team from the ninth place team, there is still a lot of movement possible within the standings. The Gophers for example are one point behind SCSU and CC for fourth and fifth place (and a home playoff seed). And they've also got one game in hand against CC and two against SCSU. So of those three teams who's really in the best position? Who knows? You can't just look at who they play the rest of the way, you also have to work the schedule differences.

Life is already complicated and chaotic enough already. Is it too much to ask for a little order and symmetry in our hockey?

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Monday, January 26, 2009
Pond's Good For Me


For the fourth straight year I had the good fortune, along with over a thousand other puckheads, to participate in the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, which for the third straight year was held on Lake Nokomis in South Minneapolis. Once again, the squad I played on wasn't in the hunt for the vaunted Golden Shovel. Our goals are limited to having fun and winning a game or two if the opportunities present themselves.

This year we went 2-2, which easily met our modest expectations considering our team was composed of three guys well north of thirty, a goalie skating out, and a couple of talented younger guys. And we had a great deal of fun, especially in our last game where we faced No Defense Outdoors, a team featuring former Gopher Matt Koalska and a couple of other guys who played for SCSU. In fact, I think everyone on the team played junior hockey for the Twin City Vulcans.

Since both teams knew we weren't going anywhere, we played a loose, enjoyable game. They probably could have run it up on us a bit more if they really wanted to, but we managed to hang in and put out a respectable effort losing 13-10. No shame there.

While the tourney is very well organized and run, there are a couple of areas for improvement. Both come via one of my teammates:

1. Instead of one tent where players change, visitors warm up, and both purchase food and drink, they should have one tent set aside for the players to gear up and down in and one for beer, food, and visitors. Perhaps a hallway of sorts could connect them. As it is now, the mixing of everything in one places leads to a lot of chaos and confusion. And it's really not an attractive atmosphere for non-players to hang in.

2. One of the biggest pains in playing is just getting out to the rink. After you lace 'em up in the tent, you ease you way down the stairs, hit a small area of ice where you can skate, and then struggle through a thin layer of packed snow to reach one of twenty-four rinks. Why not lay down an ice path that connects all the rinks and allows players to skate out to the rinks?

3. While I'm a huge fan of Summit Brewing and much enjoy the Summit Extra Pale Ale that is served at the tourney, it would be good to offer up a little more variety, especially some lighter beer fare. You don't have to pour Miller Lite, but at least have a couple of taps of Summit Pilsener.

And while Lake Nokomis has proven a workable location, it would be nice to host it on a lake with better parking and closer to critical amenities such as bars and restaurants.

Small gripes no doubt, but you need to consider them if you want to make a good and growing event truly great.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008
State of the Sport

There's a on-line auction underway at work to raise money for the United Way. If you look at the current high bids for some of the tickets to local sporting events, it says a lot about the level of interest in the respective teams.

We start with two pairs of tickets to a Gopher football game against Northwestern. Current high bids are $25 and $35. A little low consider the Gophers are 6-1 (snicker) and ranked in the Top 25. Maybe people are waiting for the new stadium next year?

Next up, two pair of tickets to a Gopher hockey game against New Hampshire. Current high bids are $55 and $50. Well, this is the state of hockey after all.

Two pair of club level tickets to a Wild game against Phoenix. Current high bids $100 and $80. Not surprising considering the team's 4-0 and their overall popularity.

Four pair of tickets to the Vikings game against Houston. Current high bids are three at $40 and one at $75. I know the Texans aren't the most exciting team, but forty bones for two Vikes ducs? Purple Pride has become Purple Apathy.

Two pair of tickets to the Vikings game against the Packers. Current high bids are both $100. Carpetbagging Cheeseheads.

Finally, two pairs of tickets to a Timberwolves game against Dallas. Current high bids for TWO TICKETS to an NBA game? Against a good team? $21. Ouch.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008
Perspective

The chaos and tumult of the political campaign season can cause one to lose one's bearings and forget that not only are politics not everything, they're far from the most important things in life. So it's good on occasion to step back from the fray and remember what really matters.

Like the Wild being 3-0 and the Gophers opening their season with a 3-2 win over SCSU last night.

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Friday, October 17, 2008
It Was A Nice Run

Denis Savard fired as Chicago Blackhawks coach:

Four games into his third season as the Hawks' coach and 25th as a member of the organization as a star player, assistant coach and its 36th head coach, Savard was fired Thursday after the team's 1-2-1 start. Joel Quenneville replaces him.

The dismissal came after a season in which the Hawks improved 17 points from the previous one and missed the Western Conference playoffs by three points.


As a player, Dennis Savard was a whirling dervish whose speed and nifty moves (especially the spin) drove North Star fans to fear and despise (just the hit the little bastard!) him back in the hey day of the Hawks-Stars rivalry. But we had to respect him as a player. I'll also never forget the image of him sitting in the room after a game where he skated his arse off contentedly pulling on a heater. Those were the days.

It sounds like he did a decent job as Hawks coach and probably deserved a better fate. Hopefully he'll land on his feet and get another shot behind the bench.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Sofia's Choice

Slovakia routs Bulgaria 82-0 in women's hockey:

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP)--With more goals than minutes in the game, Slovakia's women's ice hockey team claimed an amazing 82-0 victory over Bulgaria in Olympic qualifying.

Slovakia outshot the Bulgarians 139-0 during the 60-minute game, played in Latvia. The margin of victory is a record for a women's International Ice Hockey Federation-sanctioned event.


Geez. Giving up eighty-two goals is bad enough, but the Bulgarian keeper only faced 139 shots. That's a pathetic .410 save percentage. Even the most sieve-like of goalies should be able to stop half the shots that come their way just by standing in the crease.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Lightning The Lamp

Wild trade Brian Rolston to Lightning:

Knowing they had no shot to sign Brian Rolston before he becomes a free agent on Tuesday, the Minnesota Wild traded him late Sunday to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rolston and the Wild had been talking about a deal since the season ended in late April with a first-round playoff loss to Colorado. But the Wild had made three offers without a counteroffer from Rolston's agent, Steve Bartlett, and talks unofficially died last week.


Not welcome news for Wild fans. Rolston was one of the few Wild players who has an established track record as a legitimate scorer. Yes, he was inconsistent at times, but you don't find many players with his skills and ability to finish. The only bright side of the deal is that at least he wasn't traded to Boston.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008
So Close They Could Taste It

If the Wings fall in OT after being on the verge of winning the Cup and I'm unable to watch the game, is it still a classic? Most definitely. Now, we just need the Pens to come through in Game Six and force a Game Seven on Saturday. For once in my life, I'm happy about the unnatural schedule delay dictated by television.

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Friday, May 23, 2008
Beginning To See The Light

Gary Bettman finally realizes that his true goal should be To Make Fans Love Hockey (WSJ-sub req):

As the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings face off in the Stanley Cup finals, which start Saturday, Mr. Bettman, 55 years old, is that rare top executive who was behind the wheel when his business went over a cliff and now has the opportunity to put it back together. He is doing so by making a classic management choice: Instead of obsessing over growth, he is concentrating on keeping the league's existing customers happy.

What a novel concept! I await Bettman's forthcoming apology for the years that he did spend obsessing over growth and damn near completely ruining the game.

Mr. Bettman moves quickly, whether he is striding across his office to pull a book off a shelf or fetching a cookie for his wife on the other side of a Madison Square Garden luxury suite. He grew up in Queens, N.Y., and even in one-on-one conversation, he often speaks as though he is yelling on a street corner.

Mr. Bettman made his name as the bulldog general counsel for the National Basketball Association.


This is the root cause of the troubles with the Bettman administration. He was a basketball guy brought in to "fix" the NHL.

The problem was (and is) that what works for the NBA does not necessarily work for the NHL. Basketball is a simple sport: put the ball in the hoop.

I would imagine that the vast majority of all Americans across the country have at one time or another shot a ball at a hoop be it in a gym, on a playground, or in a driveway. By contrast, only a small fraction have ever laced up skates to hit the ice and even a smaller fraction have ever thrown a stick and puck into the mix.

If an average American happens across an NBA playoff game on TV, they will have a basic understanding of what's going on. They won't appreciate all the nuances obviously, but they'll know that this team is trying to put the ball in this basket and that team is trying to stop them without committing a foul.

Again contrast that to the NHL. Those of us who grew up with the sport fail to appreciate how complicated the game can seem to a newcomer. The most common question I hear from novice hockey fans is, "Why did they blow the whistle?" Offsides, icing, goalies freezing the puck, and especially penalties are often difficult to explain.

This is why Bettman's plan to grow the sport by attracting legions of new fans in non-hockey areas was doomed to failure. In the United States, hockey will always be a sport with limited appeal. Rather than trying to appeal to the masses, the NHL would be much better served by working within its limits and better serving those that already appreciate the game.

If I was running the NHL, I would be pursing expansion of a sort. Expansion back into Canadian cities like Winnipeg and Quebec City that once hosted NHL franchises. After that, I might look at smaller cities in American markets where hockey is known. Instead of trying to duplicate the other major pro sports leagues in the US, the NHL should try to come up with a scaled down model that allows them to put teams into towns that will support them rather than pushing into new areas in a futile attempt to build national appeal.

The truth of the matter is that hockey is and always will be a niche sport. There's nothing wrong with that as long as those managing the sport understand and accept that. It took a long time (too long), but it looks like that reality has finally dawned on Gary Bettman.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Hoopstown

David e-mails to take exception with my post from last week on the demise of Hockeytown:

A couple of points. Large blocks of tickets at all professional sports events, including Wild games, are bought by businesses. Business is terrible in Detroit, so ticket sales are down. Unemployment is at least 10% and climbing fast, so individuals can't afford tickets. So "Hockeytown" started in the marketing dept. "State of Hockey" didn't? Red Wing fans follow every game of the season and not just the playoff games. Don't be so smug. I'd hate to see 10% unemployment here in MN but if it happened, I'd bet there'd be a few empty seats at Xcel.

In theory, that sounds like a good explanation and the state of Detroit's economy was cited in the WSJ story. However, it doesn't jive with the reality that the Detroit Pistons Topped the NBA in Attendance:

AUBURN HILLS, Mich.--In 41 home games this season, the Detroit Pistons were absolutely perfect. Sure, their record on the court was 34-7, but in the stands the Pistons were 41-0.

For the fifth time in six seasons, the Detroit Pistons are the attendance champs in the NBA. With 41 straight sell-outs and an average of 22,076 per game, the Pistons hosted 905,116 fans during the 2007-08 regular season.

"Our sell-out streak and leading the league in attendance are two things that we take a great deal of pride in," said Pistons CEO Tom Wilson. "They are an indication of the quality of the fan experience we provide, the excellence of our team, and, most importantly, they demonstrate the strong commitment and fierce loyalty of Detroit Pistons fans."


While economic conditions in Detroit are less than ideal, it's pretty clear that the fans and corporations are still willing to pay the price to support the Pistons. Therefore, it would be perfectly legitimate for the city to claim the title "Hoopstown." Hockeytown however is no longer an appropriate moniker.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008
They Say These Fans Are Going Boys And They Ain't Comin' Back

For years, I've wondered what the origin of Detroit's claim to the title "Hockeytown" was. I assumed it had something to do with the glory days of the Red Wings when the likes of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Sid Abel skated in the Motor City. In a piece in today's WSJ called What Happened to Hockeytown? (sub req), we learn the cold truth:

After a dozen years of serving as the signature of the Motor City's sports fever, Hockeytown appears to have caught a cold.

First conceived in 1996 as a marketing slogan aimed at revving up Detroit Red Wings fans starving for a Stanley Cup, Hockeytown evolved into part of the hardscrabble city's identity. Along the way, the team collected three championships. But after a generation of sellouts, the franchise is struggling to re-establish itself.


So the whole "Hockeytown" mystique was nothing more than a marketing gimmick? For some reason I'm not surprised. I can recall the apathy of Detroit toward the Wings during the late Seventies and early Eighties when the team was struggling. The problem with such marketing gimmicks of course is that over time their appeal tends to fade even if the team continues to do well.

So far the Wings have played nine home games in the post season, and Mr. Catallo hasn't bought tickets to a single one. He's not alone, either. With conference finals tickets starting at $75, the Wings have struggled to sell out Joe Louis Arena. At their last home game--a riveting 2-1 win Saturday over the Dallas Stars--swaths of red seats remained empty throughout the arena. Blocks of four tickets could be purchased online three hours before Game 2; blocks of 10 could be had before Game 1. Outside the arena, scalpers peddled tickets below face value.

The whole concept of "Hockeytown" isn't about how good your team is on the ice. It's about how the city and fans embrace and support the game.

The Red Wings also saw regular-season attendance drop nearly 6%, to an average of 18,912 fans, according to ESPN.com. That ranked them seventh in the NHL; they ranked second in 2006-07.

I think it's safe to say that the "Hockeytown" title can officially be stripped from Detroit. It's time to move on from cheap marketing gimmicks and embrace a more authentic and genuine moniker that truly captures an area's passion for hockey. Something like "The State of Hockey*" perhaps.

*Trademark Minnesota Wild 2000--Any reproduction or other use of "The State of Hockey" without the express written consent of the Minnesota Wild is strictly prohibited.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Third Round's The Charm?

The second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs proved to be a bit of a dud. Other than the four-overtime thriller that sent the Stars past the Sharks in six, the other series lacked excitement. Detroit throttled the Avs in four, proving just how pathetic it was that the Wild lost to the Avs in the first round. The Pens handled the Rangers without too much trouble in five games. While the Flyers taking out Montreal in five was an upset, it wasn't all that interesting of series. In summary, of the four second round series one was done in four games, two in five, and one in six.

Compare this to the first round where three series went the full seven games, three went six, and one each finished in five and four games respectively. Long series make for more drama, more intensity, and more interest. There's nothing better than a Game Seven, especially if it goes into overtime. Plus short series lead to ridiculous gaps in the NHL playoff schedule, as we're suffering through now with Sunday's Sharks-Stars game being followed by THREE DAYS of no hockey. Yeah, that helps create and hold interest.

Let's hope that the third round matchups bring back the level of excitement that playoff hockey should have. I hate to say it, but I find myself in the uncomfortable position of pulling for Detroit in the Western Conference Finals. Two reasons:

#1 The last three Stanley Cups have been won by Anaheim, Carolina, and Tampa Bay. If that doesn't make the hockey purist in you wince, I don't know what will. Thankfully, the only non-traditional hockey team still left in this year's Cup chase is Dallas.

#2 From the perspective of purely entertaining hockey, the best Finals matchup would be Detroit and Pittsburgh. That would be a lot of fun to watch.

Of course, I'd then be pulling for the Pens to knock off the Red Wings and win the Cup. In no less than seven games.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008
Pond's Good For You

2008 MPLS/St. Paul International Film Festival--Pond Hockey:

SCREENINGS:
THURSDAY, APRIL 24, 7:15PM; ST. ANTHONY (LIMITED SEATING)

FRIDAY, APRIL 25, 7:00; OAK STREET--PARTY TO FOLLOW

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 30, 7:30PM; ST. ANTHONY

Director: Tommy Haines

Pond Hockey examines the changing culture of sports through insightful interviews with hockey stars, experts, journalists and local rink rats who are all searching the open ice for the true meaning of sport.

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Friday, April 18, 2008
The Play's The Thing

During the regular season, I didn't think the Wild television announcers were too bad. But after five playoff games, I don't know how much more of their cliché-riddled babbling I can take.

Here's one cliché that they (and certain Wild fans) should try: players make plays. It doesn't matter how many shots on goal you get. It doesn't matter if you "completely dominate" a period. If doesn't matter that you're "not getting any breaks." If you don't make plays, none of it matters.

Last night, Jose Theodore made plays. Niklas Backstrom didn't. Yeah, I know. None of the goals were his fault blah blah blah. The bottom line is that Theodore made plays that saved what looked like sure goals, Backstrom did not.

Andrew Brunette made a play. Yes, it was a bit of a lucky bounce. But he still finished it. As did Stastny. Gaborik didn't. Fedoruk didn't. You can continue through the Wild lineup ad nauseum (literally).

If the Wild show up and make plays on Saturday, they can win and force a game seven. If they don't, their season is over. It's really very simple and doesn't require employing every clichéd excuse in the book.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Beyond Amateur

Earlier today, I took a run at Mark Kiszla's ridiculous piece on the Wild-Avs series that appeared in today's Denver Post. Now, Matt delivers the knockout blow in a letter he sent to Kiszla:

I know you didn't write that article - it had to be written by a 5th grader who's emotionally torn up over the home team's loss. I know a professional columnist couldn't possibly write such an ignorant article devoid of facts. It's also clear the author has never played hockey--on this point, I'm not sure if that fits your description or not.

Both the Wild and Avalanche are more finesse than tough. Most teams get their nastiness from the blueline. Looking at the two teams defensive units, it's pretty clear Colorado has the more stout blueline as evidenced by its average penalty minutes per games played. I wouldn't be surprised if the Wild had the lowest penalized group of defensemen in the league. This wouldn't support your case though, so I can understand how you wouldn't do any research to see if your emotional tirade checked out with the actual facts.



You're going to say, but it's Minnesota's forwards (Simon, Boogaard, Fedoruk and Voros) that are the problem. You're making some ground up here, but taking a closer look at the two teams and one will find Colorado has 3 guys with more than 100 PIMs and the Wild with 2 (if you threw Salei into this mix [98 PIMs], the Avalanche would have 4 guys with more than 100 PIMs). If you were to exclude the goaltenders and look both rosters and its PIMs and GP, one would find the Avalanche average .72 PIMs/GP versus the Wild at .77 PIMs/GP over the course of the regular season. At this rate, the difference is almost statistically insignificant. Furthermore, I would argue that the regular season is more heavily refereed and so if the Wild were truly a "goon it up bunch" as you refer to them as, it would flow threw the numbers over 82 games.

Additionally, don't lie to yourself - Simon didn't play the first two games of the playoffs and logged exactly 5 minutes and 50 seconds last night. Boogaard logged 3 minutes and 43 seconds last night and has averaged just over 6 minutes per game in these playoffs. Translation: these guys are never on the ice. Voros wasn't dressed in game one, played 7 minutes in game two and was then used much more in game 3 (+14 minutes) as a result of Parrish and Radivojevic going down with injuries. These guys don't get hurt - Voros doesn't play this series. So now we're talking the Wild have Todd Fedoruk to try and neutralize Cody McLeod and the idiot that is Ian Laperriere. You see, when you actually look at what's going on - Lemaire is dressing Boogaard and Simon only to serve as reminders for the opponent to be careful. Call it mental warfare if you will.

Finally, over the 82 game regular season, your 'free-flowing-offensive-minded' Avalanche scored 227 goals - exactly 7 more than the 'goon-it-up-clutch-and-grab-defensive-minded' Wild. More unbelievable, you try and justify your tale because Minnesota is located in the upper-Midwest with cold winters and that the Wild uniforms are ugly. This is as bad as journalism gets - it's beyond amateur. I think you probably have a job only because your readership doesn't actually understand than game quite like Minnesotans (of which I'm not) - which of course allows you to write whatever nonsense you choose...


And the linesmen are stepping in to stop the beating.

By the way, the comments on Kiszla's article (378 at last count) are also priceless and almost uniformally dismissive:

Could the Post please send Kiszla back to covering the latest in ladies handbags, and Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids and let someone who knows something about hockey fill up space on the page. If you're looking for someone, there are thousands of 12 year old girls in Minnesota who would be much better suited for the job.

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Rocky Mountain High

Up to this point, I've been holding back from writing anything on the Wild-Avs series. I thought it better to let the action on the ice speak for itself. So far we've had three hard-fought contests, all going into overtime, and all being decided by 3-2 scores. Solid Stanley Cup playoff hockey.

But then Mark Kiszla at the Denver Post decided to get a head start on "recreating '68" by consuming vast quantities of psychotropic drugs before writing this column on the series. How else to explain his complete detachment from reality?

Let the mugging begin.

It's the only way the Minnesota Wild can win.

To advance in the NHL playoffs, the Avalanche must embrace the darkness. When playing this goon-it- up Wild bunch, hockey is a no-holds- barred battle of attrition, not skill.

The only good thing that can be said about Minnesota's 3-2 overtime victory against Colorado was the game lasted so deep into the night that it ended past the bedtime of most kids who could be frightened by the way the Wild mauls all the beauty from the sport.


Those who actually understand hockey saw a completely different game last night. Except for a few stretches (including too many power plays) when the Avs put pressure in the Wild end, the Wild for the most part controlled the game. They completely dominated the overtime and were clearly the better team.

Minnesota, the land of 10,000 dead car batteries, has an inferiority about this hockey team. The Wild's style of play is as ugly and obnoxious as the uniforms, which look as if designed by a toddler who randomly pulled two crayons from the box of 64 and began scribbling.

Here's a quick compare and contrast: Wild home and Avs home jerseys. Case closed.

This hard truth makes the Wild faithful grumpier than they are after waking up to yet another subzero morning. But why deny what makes the team so successful?

It figures. On a play that could have ended on an icing call, a weird, lucky bounce instead allowed the winning goal to be scored by Minnesota's Pierre-Marc Bouchard almost 12 minutes deep into the extra period. The Wild likes overtime, because it gives these grunts more time to knock the spirit from you with every cheap shot.


Yes, it could have ended on an icing call if Brian Rolston (skill) hadn't hustled down the ice and beaten Jeff Finger (former SCSU Husky) to the puck and fed it to Pierre-Marc Bouchard (all skill). If you look at the three Wild goals last night, they all involved nice passing plays to guys who can finish. The play that Demitra made on the shorty was an unbelievable example of the finest of hockey skills.

I missed the first Avs goal, but the second one--where Sakic knocked a weak backhander past Backstrom after an Avs player had fallen on top of him--was hardly a thing of beauty. By the way, how many times have the "skilled" Avs run the Wild goalie so far anyway? I know that the one last night was not intentional, but plenty more have been.

At this point, Kislza's trip enters another dimension:

When Avs forward Peter Forsberg turns his back, even for a second, he will get jumped and roughed up, in true back-alley fashion, by some Minnesota mugger.

Or did you miss the assault on Forsberg during the second period by Wild defenseman Sean Hill, who owns the dubious distinction of being the first NHL player suspended from the league for steroids?


Sniff, sniff. Are the big bad Wild being mean to sweet innocent little Peter Forsberg? The same Forsberg who has dished out more than his fair share of cheap shots over his career (ask Brendan Shanahan)? The same Peter Forsberg who Marty McSorely described playing against in The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL thusly?

For instance, whenever I played against Peter Forsberg I knew that I was going to get slashed and whacked and chopped.

The same Peter Forsberg whose diving skills were lauded in the The Code with this comparison?

He has made embellishing almost an art form.

Yes, Peter Forsberg is a skilled hockey player. He's also a skilled agitator, diver, and all around pain in the arse. He's the clichéd "guy you love when he's on your team and hate when he's on the other side." Weep not for Peter Forsberg.

And speaking of cheap shots, Kislza's steriod snipe was real classy.

Kislza continues to trip:

The dark hockey arts are practiced by every member of the Wild. Even a player as remarkably talented as Minnesota center Mikko Koivu is not adverse to hacking and tripping when Colorado's Ryan Smyth is carrying the puck on goal.

Clearly he's referring to the penalty called on Koivu last night when he had good defensive position on Smyth, who then dove toward the Wild goal over Koivu's legs and stick and got a cheap penalty call out of it. Apparently Kislza suffers from the same inability to distinguish legitimate penalties that the crowd at Pepsi Center exhibited last night when they booed every penalty called on the Avs and whined for a call every time the shadow of a Wild player crossed one of the beloved Nordiques Avs.

It's really too bad that a muddle-headed stoner like Kislza had to pen such an astonishingly ignorant piece and tarnish a series that was shaping up to be a classic. In the future, he should stick to a sport that he and his Colorado readers actually understand. The pow is really phat, dude--let's shred this half-pipe and then head in for a bipe and a dugan.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008
Siouxy

6-1? I haven't seen a Frozen Four butchering like that since '94 in Saint Paul when JB and I watched Lake Superior State slice and dice BU 9-1. My slim bracket hopes were dashed along with North Dakota's dream of a national championship.

UPDATE: Another shocker in progress as the Irish lead Michigan 3-0 after one. You know I thought the Wolverines had gay helmets, but those "golden domes" are the most God awful hockey lids I've ever seen.

UPDATE II: Midway through the second, Michigan scores twice in fifteen seconds to cut the lead to one. We got ourselves a hockey game now.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008
The 'Offs Are On

Stock the fridge. Take the phone off the hook. Settle in your favorite arse-groove on your couch. The Stanley Cup playoffs start tonight. Wild and Avs at 8pm.

Tonight, tomorrow night, and for weeks thereafter we get to watch NHL playoff games. Tomorrow night, we have the Frozen Four semis with the national championship game on Saturday. You gotta love this time of year.

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Monday, April 07, 2008
And None Of That Stinkin' Root Beer!

Good site here to keep track of your favorite Wild pugilist:

http://www.wildenforcers.com/index.php

You can watch Avalanche player Ian (pronounced "een") Lapierre cheaply go after Marian (John Wayne) Gaborik in yesterday's game.

It will be interesting to see which Wild enforcer gets to him first for payback when the playoffs open on Wednesday. Voros, Simon, Fedoruk, Boogie...so many to choose from.

I'll go with Fedoruk.

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Friday, April 04, 2008
Like A Bag Of Dirt

Check out this KO from last night's NHL activity:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFplN_FTMpE

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Thursday, April 03, 2008
You Gotta Take 29 To Give 30

All this talk by the Elder of fighting in the NHL has me missing my yoot, the Glory Days of fighting.

Check this one out from the late 80's (okay, so I wasn't exactly a yoot at the time)

Bob Probert and Craig Coxe:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FrpduV5vTU

Players do not fight like this any more. Now it's all grabbing and ducking and clutching and hoping for the one big KO punch. Can't blame the dudes, I guess. But look at these two animals go at each other. They just stand there and throw, knowing that they are going to be tagged, hoping that they land more than the other guy and he'll go down.

I can imagine both guys were thinking "Holy crap, I've hit this guy square in the face like 30 times now but he won't go down!"

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Nothing Personal

A quick example for you on why The Code: The Unwritten Rules Of Fighting And Retaliation In The NHL is such a great read. This is Rob Ray talking about fighting friends:

My best friend in hockey, Matthew Barnaby, I fought him three different times. We even went into business after I retired, and we own a construction company together up here in Buffalo. Once I knocked four of his teeth out. I will never forget it. He had been traded away to Pittsburgh, and during a game one time he was just running his mouth and he wouldn't stop yapping at our coach Lindy Ruff. I was just praying in the back of my mind that he would shut up before anything happened, but he didn't. So, sure enough, Lindy had finally had enough and he sent me out there after him. Hey, you can't disobey your coach in those situations, so I had to go out and fight him. I was actually really pissed at Barney because he knew that if he kept running his mouth the way he was that something was eventually going to have to happen. He just laughed about it afterward, but I thought his wife was going to kill the both of us.

During his playing days, Rob Ray was one of the toughest guys in the NHL. He knocks out four of his friend's teeth durng a fight and what is he afraid of? His friend's wife. Classic.

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Monday, March 31, 2008
Lost Weekend

A few thoughts following this weekend's NCAA tourney action:

- As previously mentioned, it was a brutal weekend for prognostication. I went 6-6 and only have two of the Frozen Four teams. The good news is that I doubt if many people had a Frozen Four with BC, Notre Dame, North Dakota, and Michigan and I still could go 3-0 in Denver.

- The Gophers loss to BC on Saturday wasn't surprising. At one point in the second period with the score tied 1-1 it looked like they had the Eagles on the ropes. But following a season-long pattern, they couldn't get the big goal when they needed it. The critical sequence of the game came when Barriball, Wheeler, and Carmen (I think) came down on a three on two. It was a great chance for the Gophs to score and take the lead, but they couldn't make the play. BC then went the other way and scored on a nice two on one passing play to go up 2-1. That was pretty much all she wrote.

The good news is that the Gophers have found a goalie they can rely on and have developed a nice core of young defensemen. It forwards like White and Hoeffel can step up the scoring and the freshmen class delivers as expected, the Gophers should be back at the top of the heap next year.

- The WCHA had a record six teams in the tourney, yet only one reached the Frozen Four. Meanwhile, the CCHA has two teams going to Denver and two more that played in regional finals. Top to bottom, I still think the WCHA is a stronger conference, but I will say that the top half of the CCHA is better than the WCHA. Next year's tourney should be seven CCHA teams, seven WCHA teams, BC, and one of the ECAC teams drawn from a hat.

- The lack of television coverage is a disgrace. The opening weekend of the tourney used to be wall-to-wall college hockey. It was great to watch teams from around the country playing in venues that you don't normally get to see. This year--unless you had the Dish network--we had a total of TWO games available here in the Twin Cities. Not a good way to increase interest in the sport. Thanks NCAA.

- The fact that Wisconsin--a team that finished below .500, sixth in their conference, and lost their two WCHA playoff games--was able to play on home ice and came within an eyelash of reaching the Frozen Four is also a disgrace. I understand the Pairwise rankings and I understand the attendance needs, but it's really hard to defend the integrity of the NCAA hockey tournament when you have something like that go down. Wisconsin probably did deserve to be in the tournament, but they did not deserve home ice.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008
Justice Is Served

Gameday final: UND 3, Wisconsin 2, OT.

It was a tough weekend for my picks and even tougher since I wasn't able to watch any of the action today. I only managed to get two of the Frozen Four right and North Dakota had to overcome a two-goal third period deficit to come back and beat Wisconsin. Hopefully, they will play better in Denver as my slim bracket hopes rest on UND winning it all.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008
Blogging Versus Bureaucracy

When it comes to bureaucracy, few can match the NCAA. And when it comes to stupid bureaucratic policies that do far more harm (to the games and the fans) than good, they're in a league all of their own.

Two recent examples from the NCAA hockey tourney.

Blog Police In The House:

Upon picking up credentials yesterday, the NCAA required all media members to sign a three-page document on blogging restrictions. Ridiculous, yes.

I'm allowed to update the blog three times per period and once at the end of the period.

At first, the NCAA wanted to limit blogging because they felt it was a live representation of the game -- one that TV networks already paid for. (Do you really think anyone with access to the game on television is going to turn it off and sit on the computer and repeatedly click refresh on a blog?)


Well, maybe Captain Ed...

Yesterday, I'm told that blogging limits include every NCAA tournament. That is correct -- no blogging the Division II wrestling tournament. They feel that bloggers are getting away with a live representation of the game without paying for it.

While the only people that would follow a Division II wrestling blog would probably be family of a competing wrestler, the NCAA would rather the family not be able to follow live coverage of their son since they are not going to make money off of it. So don't believe any garbage about the NCAA caring more about student-athletes than money.


The idea that live-blogging could ever compete with live television coverage is ridiculous. What's even more ridiculous is that for most of us there isn't even television coverage available for most of the NCAA hockey games this year.

More on Liveblogging, ESPN and the NCAA:

Like I said yesterday, the NCAA will eventually lose this one, or back down. It's completely absurd epecially when you consider that ESPN is monopolizing the NCAA games. We've gone back 10 years with this tournament as a result. ESPN has the TV rights to all NCAA events. It bought them as a package. But in the last few years, they didn't have a natural home for regionals, so it would offer them up to stations around the country. Now, with ESPN-U in existence, ESPN is hoarding the games there - which would be fine, if anyone could get ESPN-U. Mainly, it's only people with the DirecTV sports pack. If you have Comcast Cable, forget it.

Funny thing is, I've worked for both Comcast and ESPN in the past, and I have absolutely no love for Comcast or cable providers in general. In fact, they are pretty evil. But even if ESPN is "right" in its fight with Comcast, it doesn't make this situation right. Bottom line is, college hockey fans can't see the games. This is where the NCAA needs to jump in, but it hasn't. Instead, it invokes live blogging policies that has scared the be-jeezus from anyone wishing to live blog.


Instead of trying to deliver more games to more fans (and maybe, I don't know actually try to promote the sport), the NCAA is spending its time and energy cracking down on live blogging. Bureaucracy at its worst.

UPDATE: Bill e-mails with more:

Liked your post on this subject. Lord is the NCAA ridiculous. Shhh...don't tell them about the forum at uscho.com where people provide scoring updates on college hockey games! Oh wait, it's probably okay to post about a game if you're watching on TV or on your computer - you just can't post about it if you're actually there.

Regionals weekend used to be the best - usually six to eight games this weekend ... two on Friday, three or four on Saturday, and another one or two on Sunday. Load up the fridge with beer and stock the snack bar! Now we get whatever FSN North decides to pick up, which this year was only two games featuring Minnesota and North Dakota - two teams I see all season long anyway. Yeah, nice way to promote the sport. Good job NCAA and ESPN.


Now that the Gophers are out, I'm wondering if we're even going to get to see the Sioux-undeserving Badger regional final today. No chance that we'd be lucky enough to see BC-Miami.

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Friday, March 28, 2008
Dog Day

Clarkson reaches East Region hockey final:

Shea Guthrie muscled his way through two defenders and backhanded a shot under the crossbar to break a tie and give Clarkson a 2-1 victory over St. Cloud State in a semifinal game of the NCAA East Hockey Regional at Times Union Center Friday.

Lousy no-good Huskies. Nice call Sisyphus.

UPDATE: Notre Dame 7 New Hampshire 3? This is not the start I expected. Lousy no-good Wildcats.

UPDATE II: Nailing the Michigan score (5-1) provides a little consolation.

UPDATE III: Spartans beat the Tigers 3-1. Sigh. A 1-3 day with one of my Frozen Four teams (CC) knocked out. A tough way to open for me. And for the WCHA which went 0-2. The CCHA meanwhile went three for three.

It has to get better tomorrow, right?

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Oh, Oh, Oh The Sweetest Thing

Another great weekend of hockey on the horizon. The Wild wind down their regular season by taking on Vancouver tonight and Colorado on Sunday. And the NCAA tournament (the much sweeter sixteen) kicks off today at 3pm central when the pucks drops at the East Regional in Albany.

Unlike Sisyphus, I've actually enjoyed some measure of success with my NCAA brackets. Last year, I won a nice Alexander Ovechin jersey for coming out on top in a local pool. This year, I'll be gunning for another fabulous prize and, more importantly, adding to my vast reservoir of hockey cred.

Once again, the St. Cloud Times Bracket Challenge is a great way to make your picks and follow your progress. And once again, a bunch of delusional Husky fans are picking SCSU to win the NCAA title (11% at last count).

The toughest first round pick for me was SCSU against Clarkson. Normally, I would ALWAYS take a WCHA team over an ECAC squad, but the Huskies have a history of choking like dogs (pun intended) in the NCAA tourney. In fact, they've NEVER won a single game in the tourney. Yet this year some fans think they'll win the whole thing? Not bloody likely. Against my better judgment, I did go with SCSU over Clarkson by a score of 4-3. However, I wouldn't be shocked to see them wearing the choke collar once again.

Since we started in the East, let's get on to the rest of that region's picks.

Michigan has no problem with Niagara 5-1.

Then they put down the Huskies 4-2 to reach the Frozen Four in Denver.

In the West, New Hampshire defeats the Golden Domers 3-2 while hometown CC staves off Michigan State 2-1.

CC then sends UNH packing and punches their ticket to Denver with a 3-2 win.

In the Midwest, the back-in Badgers--probably the least deserving team to ever reach the NCAA tourney and get home ice--will lose to Denver 3-1. And there will be much rejoicing throughout the college hockey world. Meanwhile, North Dakota will run down the pretty boys from Princeton 4-2 setting up an all-WCHA regional final the way God intended.

Denver looked great last weekend at the WCHA Final Five, but beating the talented Sioux twice in two weeks is a tough task. UND nips Denver 2-1 in OT to deny the Pioneers a chance to return home to the Frozen Four.

Finally, the Nordeast. High-flying Miami should have little trouble grounding Air Force 5-2. Then the heart vs head game. The Gophers have had a nice run and good goaltending can make all the difference in the world (ask last year's champion Michigan State Spartans), but I think the lack of firepower--especially on the power play--will catch up to Minnesota on Saturday. Let's say BC 3-2.

In the final, Miami will be too much for BC to handle and the Red Hawks will thrill the hockey fans of Ohio--all 63 of them--by reaching the Frozen Four.

Which sets up an all WCHA/CCHA field in Denver. Not exactly a shocking prediction. Both semi games should be close and an overtime or two is a distinct possibility. I like Michigan to beat CC 3-2 and North Dakota to clip Miami 4-3 giving us a Wolverine-Sioux national championship matchup.

This is the same final pairing that Sisyphus has, but unlike him I see North Dakota coming out on top 3-2. The Sioux have the most talented team in the country. If they can keep their heads and play smart, they should win it all. But they've shown a propensity for gooning it up this year. They got away with a lot of that in the WCHA. However, in the NCAA tourney the refs usually call a much tighter game and if the Sioux try to intimidate their way to a national title, they will fall short. If you spend too much in the box and give your opponent too many power plays, you will lose no matter how talented you are.

I'm betting that wiser, calmer heads will prevail during the tournament and North Dakota will come through. Based on the behavior of the Sioux during the regular season, betting on North Dakota's better angels may turn out to be a foolish wager.

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Monday, March 24, 2008
No Stinkin' Badgers

What a great weekend for local sports on television. The Wild continued their quest for a Northwest Division title by taking on the Canucks on Friday night and the Flames on Saturday. A split of those two games along with their tie in San Jose gave them three of six points so far on a critical road trip.

Meanwhile, the Gophers--unlike the NIGP on his most recent job review--continued to exceed expectations by reaching the championship game of the WCHA Final Five. They fell to Denver 2-1 on Saturday night, but their two previous Final Five wins over SCSU (Thursday) and Colorado College (Friday) assured them a place in the NCAA tourney. All in all it was a great weekend for hockey. What, is there some basketball tournament going on or something?

The field of sixteen for the NCAA Division One hockey tournament was released on Sunday. It includes a record six teams from the WCHA. Throw in four from the CCHA and you can see how far west the balance of power in college hockey has moved in recent years.

The Gophers will face a tough challenge in their first game having to play Boston College in Worcester, MA (one of JB's favorite cities). But considering where they were at just a few weeks ago, everything is gravy at this point.

Notre Dame's inclusion means we won't have to hear any whining from the NIGP about how unfair the Pairwise Rankings are. Said whining will begin after the Irish lose their first round game to UNH.

According to all the analysis I've read, the selections did reflect the Pairwise Rankings and were pretty predictable. But the one obvious travesty is that the Wisconsin Badgers were invited. Yes, the 15-16-7 Badgers, who finished sixth in the WCHA, fresh of being swept by SCSU in the first round of the WCHA playoffs are in the NCAA tourney.

And even better, they get to play their opening game in MADISON. Some might have a problem with a Gopher fan complaining of unfair home ice advantage given the numerous NCAA Regionals at Mariucci over the years that have featured the Gophers, but at least those Minnesota teams had an above .500 record.

Having the Badgers in the tourney wouldn't be such am egregious affront to all that is good and holy if it was simply a matter of including them instead of one of those overrated Eastern schools. But the team whose bubble they popped was the Minnesota State Mavericks. The same Mavericks who finished fourth in the WCHA and lost a classic three game playoff series--with all the games decided in OT--to the Gophers. They don't get in and the Badgers do? Life is indeed not fair.

Here's how College Hockey News and one of the committee members explains it:

That leaves the final question--which those of us who follow the process know the answer to, but needs to be asked anyway: Why did a sub-.500 Wisconsin make it over Minnesota State. The answer, of course, is because Wisconsin had better Pairwise criteria--when all was said and done--than the Mavericks. But it does look funny to some. And should Wisconsin get in at under .500.

"In all honesty, that's a discussion for the summer and our AHCA coaches meeting," Maturi said. "But the reality is, these are the directions we've been given (to follow the numbers). It's something the college hockey coaches have always wanted. It really takes it out of the hands of the committee as to who makes the field. As a result, there was no extensive discussion about it.

"As challenging it might be to explain how they got there (to those unfamiliar with the process), how hard would it be to explain how they didn't get there when the numbers say they should....And I should mention, (Wisconsin) hosting had absolutely nothing to do with it."


Cough, bulls***, cough.

In the interests of justice, we can only hope that Denver destroys the Badgers in front of their besotted faithful on Saturday. In the meantime, there's plenty of time to work on your brackets. The road to Denver begins on Friday.

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I Take It All Back!

I was one of the critical naysayers when the WILD! picked up Chris Simon from the Islanders.

But Saturday night he proved me wrong with a great bout.

Check it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzhLkmZOfoM

Count the lefts that hit paydirt.

The Elder Adds: I like Simon's fighting skills, but I can't believe how slow he is on his feet. When you watch him skate it's hard to tell if it's a live shot or a slow-mo replay. Lots of cement in them boots.

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Monday, March 17, 2008
Ole, Ole, Ole

This weekend's best-of-three WCHA first round playoff series between Mankato State Minnesota State Mankato and the University of Minnesota was one of the most dramatic and entertaining multi-game college hockey playoff matchups in years. In most years, the WCHA's first round is just a perfunctory prelude to the WCHA Final Five and NCAA playoffs, but this series was something special.

The hockey itself was not great. The passing, stick-handling, skating, and shooting on display reflected the mediocre offensive skills of both teams. But those shortcoming were more than made up for by the grit, passion, and determination on display throughout the weekend. Did I mention the stellar goal tending from both keepers?

The two teams could not have been more closely matched and it made for a fun, but nerve-wracking weekend of hockey. It started on Friday night, when the squads battled to a scoreless tie in regulation. It wasn't for wont of scoring chances. It was the two goalies coming up big again and again. The game finally ended in the second OT when the Gophers went on the power play and...

...the Mavericks scored a short-handed goal at the ninety-seven minute thirty-six second mark. For the game, the Gopher power play was a pathetic oh for five (more on that later). Alex Kangas stopped 44 Maverick shots and Mike Zacharias turned away 34 as he prophesied his way to a shutout. A heck of a game all the way around.

Followed by Saturday's contest, where the Gophers drew even in the series with a goal by Mike Carman 7:33 into overtime giving them a 2-1 win. Another close game, another overtime, another goalie dual with Kangas stopping 27 of 28 Maverick shots and Zacharias 35 of 37 Gopher attempts.

So it all comes down to Sunday night. No way we could get another overtime, right?

[Dana Carvey doing his John McLaughlin voice]

Wrong!

[/Dana Carvey doing John McLaughlin voice]

Try another double overtime, which finally ended with 3:01 remaining when Tony Lucia (who I had been savaging pretty much all weekend) poked a loose puck past Zacharias. Three OT games in a row with progressing scores of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2. Great goaltending again, with Kangas stopping 44 shots and Zacharias 47.

I thought the first goal that Kangas gave up was a little soft, but it's hard to rip a guy who had the weekend he did. He faced 119 shots and allowed 4 goals. A .966 save percentage ain't too shabby. Zacharias meanwhile saw 121 shots and only let 5 past him for a .959 save percentage. Those performances are outstanding any way you look at them.

For a more Mav-centric look at the series, you can check out this blog, although I notice that it hasn't been updated since Sunday's game. Hmmm...

The Gophers now move on to face St. Cloud State in St. Paul in the opening game of the WCHA Final Five (you think the tourney organizers might have been celebrating a bit on Sunday night?). It looks like they're probably secured a place in the NCAA tourney with last night's win (currently sitting at #11 in the Pairwise), but you never know how these things will shake out. If they hope to ensure that they keep playing past Thursday, they'll need the following against SCSU:

- Kangas keeps playing great. He's been the bright light in what otherwise has been a pretty dismal season by Minnesota standards. No matter how the Gophers season ends this year, it looks like they've found a goalie for the future. If he stands on his head again, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Gophers trip up the Huskies.

- The big names need to step up. Big names? Yes, they haven't all left early. It was nice to see Jay Barriball roof one on Sunday night, but the Gophers still need more from him and Blake Wheeler. Wheeler had a lot of shots in the series against the Mavs. Mostly shots from far out that posed little danger. He needs to go stronger and harder to the net and use his size and speed to create space for better scoring chances.

- The power play against Minnesota State was about as potent as UN peacekeepers. I believe they were 0-13 during the series, gave up one shorthanded goal, and seemed to generate better scoring chances at even strength than with the man advantage. It was beyond anemic and reached the point where you almost wish they could decline the penalty like in football. I don't know what the exact answer is, but if they don't take advantage of power play opportunities (at least one!) against SCSU, it could be a long night on Thursday.

Finally, there was this bracing news from Sunday night:

Minnesota senior Tom Pohl is in intensive care following surgery resulting from an injury suffered in the Golden Gophers' double overtime victory over Minnesota State on Sunday in Mankato.

Pohl sustained a skull fracture when his head hit the boards in front of the team's bench at 6:09 of the second period. The injury resulted in bleeding on the brain and Pohl was airlifted to St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester. Successful surgery was performed to stop the bleeding and stabilize the fracture. Pohl remains at the hospital for further observation.


Our wishes for a full and complete recovery go out to Tom Pohl.

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TALK O' THE TOWN
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