December 18, 2010

Midseason Report and Letter Grades

With the Sioux on a little bit of a break, aside from playing some of the best young players in the game of hockey, I thought it might be a good time to blog about the WCHA and give each team a letter grade based on how they are doing. Feel free to add comments and whatnot. We'll go from top of the standings to the bottom.

North Dakota: A-
The only thing preventing me from giving the Sioux an A is the fact that they were swept by Maine early in the season. North Dakota is playing very well right now, with a solid goaltender in Aaron Dell and Matt Frattin leading the league in scoring. Chay is playing well and assisting his team quite nicely. This is an unusual start for a Hakstol-led team, but Sioux fans are enjoying being in first place at Christmastime.

Denver: A
For as much as I hate DU's fanbase and find their coach arrogant and egotistical, I'm very proud of this Denver team. Responding well to Jesse Martin's very unfortunate neck injury, DU has overachieved with a team of freshman and sophomores. Combine that with Sam Brittain in net who has done absolutely fantastic, and DU is in a great place at the break. I picked DU to finish in the top half, but still...I didn't think they would be this good.

Minnesota-Duluth: A-
Sandelin has had some really good teams and some really bad teams in his tenure at UMD. This is a really good team. The Connolly's are fantastic and both are Hobey worthy. The only reason I'm ranking UMD at an A- is they faltered a bit last weekend at the Gophers, but not for effort; UMD outplayed the Gophers in every aspect of the game except the scoreboard. This is a dangerous team; I look for them to return to the Frozen Four for the first time since Junior Lessard.

Nebraska-Omaha: A+
Mark Blehm convinced me to up them from an A to an A+, if nothing else then they were predicted to finish anywhere from 7th-9th in the WCHA. This UNO team is ranked, and ranked highly in the poll. Dean Blais, a coach Goon predicts will be in the Hockey Hall of Fame someday, has recruited a solid team that plays hard, physical, WCHA hockey. They are not the most talented, but certainly they work hard each night. I don't know if the grind of the WCHA will wear them down, but we shall see. So far, so good for UNO.

Colorado College: B
Had CC decided to show up earlier in the season, they very well could be a top 3 team right now in the WCHA. Jaden Schwartz, who made Canada's World Junior Roster, is a fantastic young player and leader for the WCHA ROTY. CC is one of those teams you cannot plan to walk all over; they will show up each night and play. I think they are overachieving right now and will come down to earth a bit, but Scott Owens has this team on the right track for now.

Minnesota: C-
Which team shows up on any given night? The Minnesota Golden Gophers that are able to dominate a team and showcase flashes of brilliance, or the Gophers that roll over and play dead? In the past few years, Minnesota has been struggling to find its identity, and this year is no different. Cepis has been absent for the most part, Barriball hasn't been playing well, and the goalie situation is a mess. The Gophers have way too much talent to not play better, but who knows if they can at this point.

Wisconsin: C
What to say about Wisconsin? They are falling right about where we all thought they would. They showcase some great talent, but for the most part, their freshman are struggling right now and their home crowd has booed the team, which never seems to happen in any Wisconsin stadium, ever. It's Wisconsin, so never count them out...but at the same time...this team isn't anything special this year, either.

I figured by this point UAA would be hovering in 11th or 12th place, with only a few points. Instead, UAA is playing very well at home. Shyiak might not have the top tier program recruitment, but he's recruited some freshman that are doing quite well, like Jordan Kwas who is 2nd on the team in points. Matt Bailey, another freshman, is 3rd on the team in points. UAA is one of those teams we all root for to do well and they usually end up disappointing their fans and us, but this UAA team might be different. We'll see.

Mankato: C
A couple weeks ago, Mankato was getting close to cracking the top-20 in the polls. But they've quickly come back down to earth. I don't doubt Mankato; in fact I believe they are always capable. However, they lack the killer instinct and because of that, they never seem to get over the hump. We'll see what they are capable of in the 2nd half.

Bemidji: D
No one can say they saw this coming. No one. Bemidji was picked to do pretty well in the WCHA this year. They opened a new arena, they had traditionally done well against the WCHA in non-conference play and were in the Frozen Four two years ago. What's happened? I think a lot of things, but mostly the players are probably a little star-struck. After all, the WCHA isn't the CHA; this league features some of the best talent at this level of hockey. Don't write Bemidji off yet; a sweep of UNO showed that they can beat teams. But they have an uphill battle to prove they belong in the top of the WCHA.

St. Cloud State: F
This team is too good to be where they are in the standings. But they are 11th and let's face it: they aren't climbing out of the cellar anytime soon. They play uninspired hockey and show no interest in showcasing the talent they have. Plus let's be honest: Bob Motzko is a crappy coach. A good alternative to Dahl maybe, but he's lackluster and better fit for the minors or juniors. St. Cloud will probably be back in the 2nd half, but we'll see.

Michigan Tech: D-
Mark Blehm again mentioned to me a few things about Tech: basically, they suck. They lack the winning instinct. They don't try hard enough. And from my observations, they are just not that good. It's rare that there's a team in the WCHA you can sleep on and win. Tech is one of those. The only reason they don't get an F is they cracked the top 20 early in the season. Otherwise, Tech is flat out bad and will continue to be so until Russell is fired, IMO.

December 11, 2010

Big Win!

You can say this team is mature. You can say they are experienced. Say what you want, whatever it is. This Sioux team is under its best start with Hakstol driving it and showed something in last night's win, coming back and scoring 3 quick goals to beat the purple Mavericks 4-3 on the road.

Granted, last night was far from the Sioux's best performance. They were lackluster for most of the game and the Mavs had 20 shots on goal in the 2nd period alone. However, the Sioux, down 2-1 going into the 3rd, took advantage of the Mavs mistakes and took the lead 4-2, eventually holding on for a 4-3 win.

Schloss had the fact that UND is 15-1-1 against the Mavericks in their last 17 games. This stat surprised me; I had always though of the Mavericks as a team that gave the Sioux problems. Of course, I remember in the 2001-2002 season the Mavs beating the Sioux 6-0 at the Engelstad, so maybe that memory has clouded my judgment...but regardless, the Sioux certainly seem to have their number as of late.

Kristo continues to not find the back of the net. I'm hoping he can shake the 1st half blues off in the new year and start lighting the lamp. I know he has the ability to; I just think he's ridiculously snakebitten right now. I like Kristo a lot and think he's an amazing talent. I think it will just come down to having a 2 goal game or something like that. Once that's done, he will regain the star form we all know he has.

I won't be able to catch most of the game since I'm working, but I might grab the 3rd period. Head over to the Schloss's blog to check out the goals scored last night. Frattin and Chay are highlight reel worthy.

December 8, 2010

USA Favorite to win World Juniors?

I'm in Canada watching TSN Sportscentre, which is so much better then Sportscenter in America, because they show a ridiculous amount of hockey. Anyway, just saw a piece on the World Juniors and the US is apparently the favorite to win the event again this year. Never mind that it's in Buffalo; it's the fact that the US roster is ridiculously stacked. D'Amigo is back, who was probably the best player on the team last year, but in addition, guys like Nick Leddy, Drew Shore, and John Ramage are attempting to play on the team, and the Sioux are sending both Derek Forbort and Brock Nelson to the tryout. In addition, Sioux recruit Rocco Grimaldi is in the mix.

I'm excited for the World Juniors this year. It should come down to Canada and the US again, but I wouldn't count out Russia or Switzerland.

December 7, 2010

Tuesday Reflections

Since I was in Vegas last weekend running a 1/2 marathon, I haven't had any time to blog, but I'm back in Denver and am able to get it done now.

A great performance by the Sioux on both nights, dominating St. Cloud and sweeping their hated rivals. Moreso, they did it by playing clean, smart hockey. There was no retaliation on Aaron Marvin; the Sioux decided the best revenge was beating them on the scoreboard.

One of the things that continues to impress me as a Sioux fan is the play of Dell. We barely saw him in action last year and when we did, there was nothing to indicate he would be the starter this season, or even get any playing time. While no Sioux fan anywhere has ever said Eidsness is the greatest goalie, certainly his performance last year indicated he would be the starter this year and be good enough to lead the Sioux to a title. But Eidsness struggled early and Dell was given the opportunities. And he seems to be making the most of them. Granted, it's easy to look good when you're spotted big leads like he was for the Wisconsin Saturday game and St. Cloud Saturday game, but regardless, Dell is sharp and solid. I like him and see no reason to go with Eidsness at this point.

Another thing I like is the scoring is being spread around. A lot of guys got their first goals of the season on Saturday night. With Gregoire and Hextall out with injuries, it's great to see others able to step up into their roles. That should continue this weekend against Mankato, as I don't see either player able to return.

All in all, this season so far is quite pleasant; I think the Sioux are playing very well so far and have very few complaints. Let's keep it up.

December 3, 2010

Friday. Here we go

Alright, the tinderbox has been filled. Let's see what is going to cause it to go up in flames this weekend.

Truly, I don't think it will. I think both teams are very eager to prove that the incident of last year is behind them and they are both moving on. Neither team is going to do anything stupid this weekend. UND needs this sweep badly to gain some standing in the WCHA. St. Cloud needs the sweep, or hell, a win, just to assert themselves in the WCHA. Neither team needs to put guys in the box for no reason, so I don't think that will happen. Instead, I anticipate a hard-fought series where points will be difficult to come by. Whoever gets the points this weekend will earn them either night.

So who will win?

Both teams. I'm calling split. UND Friday, SCSU Saturday.

December 1, 2010

No Love Lost

We all know by now that the Sioux and the Huskies of Minnesota don't like each other. I've never thought of St. Cloud as a big Sioux rival, but last year, that all changed.

Aaron Marvin, the goon of the NCAA, decided to take a run at the Sioux's leader and captain, Chay Genoway, skating nearly 200 feet to put a punishing elbow into Chay's head and effectively ending Genoway's season. Aaron at first was not even penalized for the hit, but later was assessed a game misconduct for it. St. Cloud fans felt that this was a gross injustice. After all, it was a clean hit and certainly Aaron didn't have any intention of knocking Genoway out of the game, right?


Here's a review of the hit. Again.

You can clearly see that Marvin throws his elbow into Chay's head. You can also see that Marvin has no intention of playing the puck; he is a man on a mission, and that mission was to knock Chay out of the game and possibly end his career.

He nearly succeeded.

Instead, Chay is back and emphasizing the best way to pay back the Huskies is to win. Certainly this is the right attitude to have, as St. Cloud is quite frankly a disappointment this season. It will be a hard-fought game and I'm looking forward to it.