Hall of Fame Game Preview: UND vs. Michigan State

Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, ND) will be buzzing Saturday night, as the defending NCAA champion and #3-ranked Michigan State Spartans take to the ice against preseason #1 North Dakota in the U.S. Hall of Fame Game.

As the coaches recognize, nonconference results between national powers play a major part in the selection of the 16 teams for the NCAA tournament, even games played in October.

“This game will carry a lot of weight at the end of the season,” UND head coach Dave Hakstol said. “So we want a good start and to get a win in the bank.”

“It’s an honor to play in the Hall of Fame Game,” Michigan State head coach Rick Comley said. “I think it’s a real good, early wake-up test.”

The Fighting Sioux bring back 19 players from last year’s squad, after having lost three seniors to graduation and two sophomores to the pro ranks. The early-departure bug missed the Spartans completely this off-season, as Michigan State returns every eligible player (20 letterwinners in all) from last season’s championship team, Both teams are looking forward to getting the season started after last week’s exhibition wins against Canadian clubs.

“The expectations for us are high,” UND junior defenseman and alternate-captain Taylor Chorney said. “I guess we’ll find early if we’re for real.”

“We got better every period,” said MSU senior defenseman and alternate captain Daniel Vukovic, of his team’s 6-0 victory over the University of Windsor. “It’s a stepping stone. Saturday’s going to be the real test.”

“I think it’s good to get your game intensity up right away,” Sioux senior captain Rylan Kaip said. “It’s a good opportunity to make a statement about our team.”

Michigan State Team Profile

Head Coach: Rick Comley (6th season at MSU, 116-73-19, .603)
Last Season: 26-13-3 (NCAA Champions), 15-10-3 CCHA (4th)
Key Returning Players: Junior F Justin Abdelkader (15 goals, 18 assists last season; 2007 Frozen Four MVP), Senior F Bryan Lerg (23g, 13a), Junior F Tim Kennedy (18g, 25a), Junior G Jeff Lerg (26-13-3, 2.41 GAA, .913 SV)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (4th season at UND, 78-45-11, .623)
Last Season: 24-14-5 (Frozen Four Appearance), 13-10-5 WCHA (3rd)
Key Returning Players: Junior F Ryan Duncan (31g, 26a; 2007 Hobey Baker Award winner), Junior F T.J. Oshie (17g, 35a), Junior D Taylor Chorney (8g, 23a), Senior D Robbie Bina (10g, 22a), Senior G Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (21-12-4, 2.42 GAA, .913 SV)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: October 9, 2005. Michigan State shut out North Dakota 3-0 in the title game of the Lefty McFadden Invitational Tournament (Dayton, Ohio) to snap an 11-game losing streak against the Sioux.
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 21-22, 1980. North Dakota swept the series 6-4 and 5-2 while Michigan State was still a member of the WCHA.
Most important meetings: The Sioux and Spartans have met twice to decide the National Championship, with UND prevailing in both the 1959 and 1987 title games.
All-time: UND leads the all-time series with 61 wins against 35 losses and 2 ties (.633). The Sioux hold a 33-11-1 (.744) record against the Spartans in Grand Forks.

Game News and Notes

Saturday’s game will be the first official game of the 2007-2008 season for both teams. The Spartans are looking to break a two-year streak in which the previous NCAA champion failed to qualify for the post-season. Both Denver (2005) and Wisconsin (2006) failed to make the 16-team field as defending National Champions. This will be the third time UND has hosted the Hall of Fame game, most recently on October 4, 2003, when they hosted the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. UND also hosted Minnesota for the grand opening of the new Ralph Engelstad Arena on October 5, 2001. MSU Junior netminder Jeff Lerg started all 42 games for the Spartans last season and played almost 97% of the minutes between the pipes. Saturday’s tilt will be the 99th meeting between the teams.

The Prediction

I have a feeling that this is a one-goal game either way. The edge goes to North Dakota playing in front of their fans, but keep a close eye on the special teams battle, as whichever side prevails there should win the game. UND 4-3.

Check back after Saturday’s game for news, commentary, and analysis. Thanks for reading, and, as always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Football regional rankings released

The first round of the NCAA Regional Rankings were released on Monday.

Remember, the regional rankings reflect the NCAA tournament selection criteria. The top six teams from each region make the playoffs. There are no auto-qualifiers, though if a conference representative finishes in the top 10 of the regional rankings, that conference’s top team is guaranteed selection (“earned access”).

In the Northwest, the first 7 are:
1. Nebraska-Omaha 5-0
2. North Dakota 6-0
3. Grand Valley 5-0
4. Central Washington 4-1
5. Ashland 3-1
6. South Dakota 3-3
7. Winona State 5-1

(Full rankings for all regions)

A few things probably jump at you. Since UNO, UND, and GVSU are all undefeated, they’re presumably ranked on strength of schedule vs D-II opponents. Excluding common opponents between UNO and UND, UNO has played Nebraska-Kearney (3-2), and NW Missouri St (4-1) [.700], while UND has played Humboldt State (2-4), Central Washington (4-1) [.567].

Notice that at #6, USD is the fourth team from the NCC in the rankings. If the season ended today, USD would get bumped from the playoffs to make room for Winona State via “earned access”.

The numbers are somewhat meaningless at this point given the remaining games — for example, UNO vs. UND this weekend will send one of the two down the charts this weekend) — but it’s never too early to dive into the stats 🙂

Fighting Sioux Men’s Hockey 2007-2008: The Senior Class

The University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux senior class for 2007-08 offers a little bit of everything, from goaltending and grit to memorable goals and big hits. Robbie Bina, Rylan Kaip, Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, and Kyle Radke bring experience, determination, versatility, and heart to this year’s lineup.

As freshmen, this class was not exceptionally large, just extremely talented. UND brought in only five players, and more than one coach said “they went five-for-five” with this recruiting class. Along with Kaip, Lamoureux (2003-04 United States Hockey League Goaltender of the Year), and Radke (2003-04 Albert Junior Hockey League Defenseman of the Year), the 2004-05 incoming freshman class included Rastislav Spirko and Travis Zajac (2003-04 British Columbia Hockey League Most Valuable Player), both of whom gave up their final two seasons of eligibility. Robbie Bina will play his final season with this group after sitting out the 2005-06 season following a broken neck and surgery to repair a shattered vertebra.

Here’s a look at the four Sioux seniors for 2007-2008:

#28 Robbie Bina

Position: Defense
Height/Weight: 5′-8″ 180 lbs.
Born: January 4, 1983
Hometown: Grand Forks, North Dakota
Previous team: Lincoln Stars (USHL)
Awards and Honors: 2007 NCAA West Regional All-Tournament Team, 2006-07 WCHA All-Academic Team
Draft rights: Undrafted

UND Statistics by Season:
1 goal, 7 assists; 6 penalty minutes in 31 games played (2003-04)
0 goals, 9 assists; 8 penalty minutes in 32 games played (2004-05)
10 goals, 22 assists; 46 penalty minutes in 43 games played (2006-07)

UND Career Totals:
11 goals, 38 assists for 49 points; 60 penalty minutes in 106 games played

Season Outlook: Bina became a terrific two-way defenseman last season, and will contend with Taylor Chorney for the top point total among Sioux blueliners. His physical play and ability to join the rush have made him an asset in special teams situations and at even strength.

News and Notes: His 106 career games played rank second to Kyle Radke (110) among returning Sioux players. Bina is best known for coming back from a broken neck suffered during the 2005 WCHA Final Five. He is also famous for scoring a 180 foot, short-handed goal against the University of Minnesota during a two-game sweep in January 2007. (Videos of said goal have been viewed over 230,000 times at last count.) Scored 30 points (9 goals, 21 assists) in his final 29 games of 2006-07 after scoring two (1g, 1a) in the first 14 games of the year and 19 points (2g, 17a) in his first 77 career games.

#17 Rylan Kaip

Position: Center
Height/Weight: 6′-1″ 195 lbs.
Born: January 21, 1984
Hometown: Radville, Saskatchewan
Previous team: Notre Dame Hounds (SJHL)
Awards and Honors: Named UND’s team captain for the 2007-2008 season
Draft rights: Atlanta Thrashers (9th Round, 2003)

UND Statistics by Season:
0 goals, 4 assists; 20 penalty minutes in 22 games played (2004-05)
3 goals, 5 assists; 76 penalty minutes in 42 games played (2005-06)
5 goals, 7 assists; 55 penalty minutes in 38 games played (2006-07)

UND Career Totals:
8 goals, 16 assists for 24 points; 151 penalty minutes in 102 games played

Season Outlook: Kaip has the ability to score timely goals, and adds a physical presence up front. Not one to deliver a fiery speech in the locker room, look for Kaip to lead by example on the ice.

News and Notes: Has seven points (5g, 2a) in 15 career postseason contests. It took Kaip 60 games to notch his first career goal at UND, and less than twenty minutes to notch his second, as UND upended the Wisconsin Badgers 4-3 in the 2006 Final Five semifinal game. In the 2007 postseason, Kaip scored game-winning goals against Minnesota State University-Mankato in the first round of the WCHA playoffs and against Michigan in the semifinal round of the NCAA West Regional. Missed the second half of the 2004-05 season with post-concussion syndrome. Was an assistant captain for the Sioux last season. Rylan has been described as “like Rory McMahon with a touch of Mike Prpich”.

#1 Jean-Philippe Lamoureux

Position: Goaltender
Height/Weight: 5′-8″ 152 lbs.
Born: August 12, 1984
Hometown: Grand Forks, North Dakota
Previous team: Lincoln Stars (USHL)
Awards and Honors: 2003-2004 USHL Goaltender of the Year, 2004-2005 WCHA All-Rookie Team, 2007 WCHA Final Five All-Tournament Team, 2007 NCAA West Regional All-Tournament Team
Draft rights: Undrafted

UND Statistics by Season:
18 games played, 7-8-2 record, 2.19 goals against average, .914 save percentage (2004-05)
14 games played, 5-7-0 record, 2.61 goals against average, .911 save percentage (2005-06)
37 games played, 21-12-4 record, 2.42 goals against average, .913 save percentage (2006-07)

UND Career Totals:
69 games played, 33-27-6 record, 2.39 goals against average, .913 save percentage, 4 career shutouts

Season Outlook: Lamoureux will be the go-to guy between the pipes this season, as the other two goaltenders on the roster, sophomore Anthony Greico (8 games played) and junior Aaron Walski (2 games played), are relatively untested. If Jean-Philippe can post similar numbers to his first three seasons, the Fighting Sioux will contend for the conference title and an eighth national championship.

News and Notes: Started the last 25 games of 2006-07, posting a 17-4-4 record with a 2.20 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. Wore number 34 for his first two seasons before switching to number 1 last year. Had an 11 game unbeaten streak (8-0-3) last season. Career goals against average (2.39) and save percentage (.913) both rank third all-time among UND goaltenders. His father, Jean-Pierre Lamoureux, played for UND from 1979-1982.

#26 Kyle Radke

Position: Defense/Forward
Height/Weight: 6′-0″ 212 lbs.
Born: May 13, 1985
Hometown: Bashaw, Alberta
Previous team: Grande Prairie Storm (AJHL)
Awards and Honors: 2003-2004 AJHL Defenseman of the Year
Draft rights: Undrafted

UND Statistics by Season:
1 goal, 2 assists; 16 penalty minutes in 25 games played (2004-05)
3 goals, 12 assists; 100 penalty minutes in 44 games played (2005-06)
2 goals, 3 assists; 109 penalty minutes in 41 games played (2006-07)

UND Career Totals:
6 goals, 17 assists for 23 points; 215 penalty minutes in 110 games played

Season Outlook: Radke’s toughness and versatility will translate into 40 or more games played for the third season in a row. With five other returning defenseman (and incoming recruits Derrick LaPoint and Jake Marto), he is expected to play primarily at forward for this year’s Fighting Sioux. His point totals will look more like his sophomore season (15 points) than his junior campaign (5 points).

News and Notes: His 110 games played is the most among returning UND players, and he is the only Sioux player to suit up in the last three Frozen Fours. In 2006-2007, Radke played forward for UND’s last 21 contests after playing 19 of his first 20 games on defense. After ranking third on the Fighting Sioux team with 100 penalty minutes in 2005-2006, he led the Sioux in both penalties (49) and penalty minutes (109) last season. The only Sioux players to come from Bashaw, Alberta are Kyle Radke and Brad Berry (who played defense for UND from 1983-86 and was an assistant and associate coach at North Dakota from 2000-06).

This is the first in a four-part series. Check back later for news and notes on UND’s other three classes. I encourage you to check out my WCHA 2007-2008 season preview. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

WCHA pre-season coaches media conference

The WCHA held its annual pre-season media teleconference with the coaches today. Here’s a paraphrased summary of what Coach Hakstol had to say. If it’s not in quotation marks, it’s not a quote, so it would be a mistake to interpret it as such.

Hakstol Opening Remarks

We’re starting off with a tough game against Michigan State and a tough schedule in the first half. We’re different from the last couple years in that we’ll be able to lean on a senior in goal, have seniors and juniors on the blue line and up front. We have a nice base of leadership.

Q: Have you followed Jonathan Toews’ adventures in Chicago?
A: We’ve been in close contact, he had an unfortunate injury but was beginning to get comfortable in camp. As he gets over that injury, hopefully in the next couple days, we think he’s ready to transition to that level.

Q: You had a lot of other guys who could’ve left, but it sounds like a lot bonded together to come back. How do you create that on a team?
A: Some of that “pact” may have been fabricated to a certain extent. They’re a close-knit group of guys. A couple guys made the step, and we had about four who probably could’ve gone but decided to stay. They all had their own reasons. Certainly they talked amongst each other and had common interests. They’re excited for the season and are staying for the right reasons.

Q: College hockey has lost unusually high numbers in the last two years. With the way the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement has changed, do you see less raiding from the NHL in future years?
A: The NHL people are running their business as best they see fit. Every organization has a difference philosophy about developing their players. I don’t look at it as a raiding of players. Part of our job is to develop these guys so they’re ready to play in the National Hockey League. More often than not players are going to make the decision for the right reason and at the right time.

Q: You felt Jonathan was ready to make that step?
A: I think Jonathan had some questions at the end of the year. He went to the World Championships and played extremely well, which gave him an extra boost of confidence. I think a lot of people thought it was a given that he would leave after the season, but that wasn’t the case. He took a lot of time and I think he was ready mentally and physically to step up. He’s going to be able to contribute in the NHL immediately.

Q: With all your pre-season accolades, how are you dealing with those expectations?
A: Pre-season polls and predictions mean nothing. They’re not based on performance, they’re just predictions. Nobody has stepped on the ice or played a game. We talk about it openly, we have good leadership and our guys have their feet on the ground and know we’re going to be judged on our performance and wins and losses this year.

Q: What you have thought on how to replace Toews on that Duncan-Oshie line?
A: We’re going to call Chicago and ask for Johnny back. T.J. and Ryan will play together early on. We feel good about all of our freshman up front, we think Frattin could play there, maybe Brad Miller could step forward. There are different ways of thinking, VandeVelde was playing well at the end of last season, you could put him up the middle. We hope we can find some chemistry earlier than in previous years.

Q: When you had Parise and Bochenski there you could put a folding chair with them and have a good line. Is it like that this year?
A: We’re going to put a block of cheese out there with them. We need to find someone who’s comfortable there. It’ll be a challenge.

Offense for the record books

UND’s offensive production began with 513 yards of offense in the season-opening 59-0 shutout of Humboldt State, and has only gone up from there. UND’s total yards of offense has increased each of the four games this season to a current average of 566 yards of offense per game.

Most Sioux fans already know about Chappell’s record-breaking rushing performance vs. Central Washington, but the splash the 2007 Sioux may soon make in the record books may surprise some.

Fallen individual game records

Record Previous New
Rushing yards 282, Phillip Moore vs. Augustana (1998) 306, Ryan Chappell vs. Central Washington (2007)

Regular season records at risk

Less than half way into the regular season, there are several single-season record tables with a 2007 Sioux already knocking on the door of entering the top ten:

Record Player First 4 games Top ten Top spot
Rushing TDs Chappell 8 11 26
Rushing yds Chappell 705 1043 1771
Receiving TDs Dressler 5 8 11
Receiving yds Dressler 514 676 1210
Passing TDs Freund 13 15 23

Record Tables

1. Phillip Moore (1997) 1,771 	 
2. Phillip Moore (1998) 1,567 	 
3. Shannon Burnell (1991) 1,461 	 
4. Phillip Moore (1996) 1,283 	 
5. Shannon Burnell (1993) 1,224 	 
6. Bill Deutsch (1974) 	1,173 	 
7. Bill Deutsch (1975) 	1,169 	 
8. Milson Jones (1981) 	1,159 	 
9. Milson Jones (1980) 	1,117 	 
10. Shannon Burnell (1992) 1,043 	
1. Mike Deutsch (1972) 	26 	 
2. Dale Kasowski (1975) 16 	 
3. Phillip Moore (1998) 15 	 
4. Phillip Moore (1997) 14 	 
Shannon Burnell (1991) 	14 	 
6. Phillip Moore (1995) 12 	 
Tom Biolo (1979) 12 	 
8. Jed Perkerewicz (2000) 11 	 
Shannon Burnell (1993) 	11 	 
Dale Kasowski (1973) 11 	 
Mark Bellmore (1971) 11 	 

1. Kelby Klosterman (2001) 23 	 
2. John Bowenkamp (2003) 20 	 
3. Kelby Klosterman (2000) 19 	 
Tony Stein (1999) 19 	 
Corey Colehour (1966) 19 	 
6. Chris Belmore (2005) 18 	 
Kevin Klancher (1995) 18 	 
8. Jay Gustafson (1972) 17 	 
9. Chris Belmore (2004) 16 	 
10. Kevin Klancher (1997) 15 	 
Kevin Klancher (1996) 15 	 
Clay Wagner (1994) 15 	 
Kory Wahl (1992) 15 	 
Todd Kovash (1990) 15 	 
Jay Gustafson (1973) 15 	 

Ron Gustafson (1973) 1,210
Jesse Smith (2002) 1,011
Dan Grossman (2005) 1,001
Mike Juhasz (1999) 895
Tracy Martin (1986) 874
Jeff McElroy (1995) 867
7. Willis Stattelman (2003) 792
8. Dan Graf (2001) 714
9. Jim Kleinsasser (1998) 710
10. Mark Poolman (1988) 676

1. Jeff McElroy (1995) 11
2. Ron Gustafson (1973) 10
3. Dan Graf (2001) 9
Mike Juhasz (1999) 9
Tracy Martin (1986) 9
Peter Porinsh (1966) 9
7. Weston Dressler (2005) 8
Luke Schleusner (2001) 8
Jeff McElroy (1994) 8
Josh Ostby (1994) 8

WCHA 2007-2008 Season Preview

by Dave Berger/SiouxSports.com

Senior Night at the rink is one of my favorite nights of the season. The celebration gives me an opportunity to applaud mightily and remember vividly the four years we have spent together, as it were, as player and fan. I enjoy watching a player progress from freshman to senior, growing in skill and leadership and dedication to the program. This celebration has become even more meaningful to me during recent years, as it seems fewer and fewer players are competing for four years at the college level.

If Senior Night is one of my favorite times of the year, the off-season is my least favorite. In addition to the obvious (no hockey!), it is also the period of time where I cross my fingers and hold my breath as pro teams come a’calling, snatching blueliners, lamp-lighters, and puck-stoppers before their time. No team is immune from the early-departure bug, and this off-season was no exception, as more than a dozen WCHA players gave up their remaining eligibility for pro contracts.

I know that these two points are related. The teams in our conference attract top-end, NHL-caliber players, and the coaches and programs have come to accept that those players will play, in most cases, two or three seasons. Potential recruits notice that WCHA schools produce professional hockey players, and the cycle continues. Overall, the talent level is higher than ever, and the trade-off is, as I mentioned above, that we as fans do not get to spend as much “time” with any one particular player.

And it makes the conference race very difficult to predict.

Let’s begin by recapping last season. Records are for conference games only (28 games).

WCHA 2006-07 Final Standings
Minnesota …………….18-7-3…..39
St. Cloud State……..14-7-7…..35
North Dakota……….13-10-5….31
Colorado College…13-12-3….29
Michigan Tech………11-12-5….27

And now, on to this year. Before I begin breaking down the teams and predicting their order of finish, I want to discuss the conference schedule. Many of you know that the WCHA uses an unbalanced schedule, because there aren’t enough games in the season to play each conference opponent 4 times (that would make 36 conference games, and that’s too many!). The conference schedule consists of 28 games, and the breakdown is as follows:

4 games (2 home, 2 away) versus designated rival team

When this schedule was introduced (2001-02), the teams were assigned “rivals”. Some were natural (Colorado College and Denver, for example), and some were somewhat forced (Alaska-Anchorage and MSU-Mankato comes to mind, but as the last two teams to join the league, they deserve each other, in a way). The six remaining schools were a bit more difficult to pair up, and the decision was for Minnesota and Wisconsin to be rival schools (Big Ten). Minnesota-Duluth and Michican Tech were paired up (close travel), and North Dakota and St. Cloud State were put together (both were Division II schools [North Central Conference] in every other sport at the time).

4 games (two home, two away) versus four teams = 16 games
2 games (home) versus two teams = 4 games
2 games (away) versus two teams = 4 games

A four-year cycle determines the number of games against each opponent. For example, in 04-05, North Dakota played Minnesota twice at home. In 05-06, they played home and away (four games). Last season, Minnesota hosted North Dakota (two games), and this season, the teams will again play home and away (four games). Or put more simply, Minnesota plays at North Dakota three out of every four years, and UND travels to Minnesota three years out of every four. Some schools choose to play a home and home series (one game at each school), but the idea is the same.

I bring this up for two reasons. First of all, I took a look at the unbalanced schedule when predicting the conference race, as some teams have fewer games against top opponents. I admit that we don’t yet know how the teams are going to finish, but the top two teams going in are Minnesota and North Dakota, and therefore the fact that Colorado College plays only two games against each of them (@ North Dakota, vs. Minnesota), while Denver plays North Dakota and Minnesota four times each, is significant.

The second and more important reason I bring up the schedule is this: stop complaining about it. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone whine that North Dakota doesn’t play Minnesota four times every year, I could pay Michael Vick’s legal bills. The schedule is what it is, and it’s not changing in the forseeable future, so move on. I for one like the fact that for any future season, the number of games against every opponent, and where the games will be held, is already decided. This system prevents a member school from bringing pressure on the league office to schedule more home games against higher-profile teams in an effort to increase attendance.

I’m thinking to myself that I could have, or, rather, should have, devoted an entire column to league scheduling, but it fit just as well here…

On to the summaries. All statistics are for conference games only (28 games, unless otherwise noted) and teams are listed in order of predicted finish.

#1 University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux

Last year’s record: 13-10-5 (3rd)

Last year’s statistics: 3.32 goals scored/game (1st), 2.68 goals allowed/game (7th)

Key returning players: Junior F Ryan Duncan (22 goals-17 assists-39 points; Hobey Baker winner, WCHA Scoring Champion, WCHA Player of the Year, All-WCHA 1st Team), Junior F T.J. Oshie (10-16-26; All-WCHA 3rd Team), Senior D Robbie Bina (5-15-20), Junior D Taylor Chorney (5-14-19; All-WCHA 2nd Team), Senior G Phillippe Lamoureux (10-8-4, 2.30 goals against average, .915 save percentage)

Early departures: F Jonathan Toews (8-20-28 in 22 games; All-WCHA 2nd Team) and D Brian Lee (1-17-18) sign pro contracts after two years at UND.

Key graduation loss: F Chris Porter (7-9-16) played in a WCHA record 175 consecutive games.

The question marks: Who will replace the “T” from last year’s prolific “D.O.T.” line (Duncan, Oshie, and Toews)? Will the Sioux find more balanced scoring? Will this team start strongly enough to contend for the McNaughton Cup?

The bottom line: All the pieces seem to be in place for a conference title run. The four games against Minnesota might very well decide the race.

#2 University of Minnesota Golden Gophers

Last year’s record: 18-7-3 (1st)

Last year’s statistics: 3.25 goals scored/game (2nd), 2.39 goals allowed/game (3rd)

Key returning players: Sophomore F Kyle Okposo (12-18-30; All-WCHA 2nd Team, All-WCHA Rookie Team), Sophomore F Jay Barriball (10-14-24), Junior F Blake Wheeler (7-12-19), Senior D Derek Peltier (2-9-11), Junior G Jeff Frazee (8-1-1, 2.56 GAA, .904 SV)

Early departures: D Erik Johnson (2-11-13; All-WCHA Rookie Team) goes pro after one season, D Alex Goligoski (4-16-20; WCHA Defensive Player of the Year, All-WCHA 1st Team) forgoes his senior season.

Key graduation losses: D Mike Vannelli (8-9-17; All-WCHA 2nd Team), G Kellen Briggs (10-6-2, 2.21 GAA, .912 SV)

The question marks: Will the Gophers’ D be able to keep them in games? Can Jeff Frazee handle the work load between the pipes?

The bottom line: The Gophers will contend for the McNaughton Cup. As above, the four games against North Dakota could prove the tipping point in the race.

#3 University of Wisconsin Badgers

Last year’s record: 12-13-3 (tied for 6th)

Last year’s statistics: 2.11 goals scored/game (10th), 1.89 goals allowed/game (1st)

Key returning players: Sophomore F Michael Davies (7-9-16), Junior F Ben Street (6-5-11), Sophomore D Jamie McBain (3-10-13; All-WCHA Rookie Team), Senior D Kyle Klubertanz (1-4-5)

Early departures: F Jack Skille (6-8-14) leaves after his sophomore campaign, D Joe Piskula (0-2-2) gives up his final year of eligibility

Key graduation losses: F Andrew Joudrey (5-14-19), F Ross Carlson (5-12-17), F Jake Dowell (11-5-16), D Jeff Likens (1-2-3), G Brian Elliott (11-12-2 1.94 GAA, .930 SV; WCHA Goaltending Champion, All-WCHA 2nd Team)

The question marks: Can junior goaltender Shane Connelly (1-1-1. 0.98 GAA, .963 SV) play at a high enough level to keep the Badgers in games? Will Kyle Turris (or any of the other highly touted recruits) light the lamp for a team desperately in need of scoring?

The bottom line: The Badgers lose half of their goal production from last year’s squad, which finished last in the league at just over 2 goals per contest. The nation’s top recruiting class must contribute and Connelly must be steady for Wisconsin to secure home ice for the conference playoffs. I might have them too high here, but call it a hunch.

#4 Colorado College Tigers

Last year’s record: 13-12-3 (5th)

Last year’s statistics: 2.82 goals scored/game (5th), 2.64 goals allowed/game (6th)

Key returning players: Junior F Chad Rau (13-11-24), Sophomore F Bill Sweatt (8-14-22), Senior F Jimmy Kilpatrick (3-18-21), Senior F Scott McCulloch (10-5-15), Senior D Jack Hillen (6-5-11)

Early departures: none

Key graduation losses: F Brandon Polich (3-12-15), Braydon Cox (4-6-10), D Lee Sweatt (7-13-20; All-WCHA 3rd Team), G Matt Zaba (12-9-3, 2.39 GAA, .917 SV)

The question marks: It’s really just one – what do we make of Drew O’Connell? Will the junior netminder (1-3-0, 3.95 GAA, .850 SV) be good enough?

The bottom line: The Tigers have enough scoring depth and defensive experience to win a lot of games, and could easily find themselves in the top three.

#5 Saint Cloud State University Huskies

Last year’s record: 14-7-7 (2nd)

Last year’s statistics: 3.18 goals scored/game (3rd), 2.50 goals allowed/game (4th)

Key returning players: Sophomore F Ryan Lasch (13-19-32; All-WCHA Rookie Team), Sophomore F Andreas Nodl (11-20-31; WCHA Rookie of the Year; All-WCHA 3rd Team, All-WCHA Rookie Team), Senior F Nate Dey (5-13-18), Senior D Matt Stephenson (2-16-18)

Early departure: F Andrew Gordon (15-13-28; All-WCHA 1st Team)

Key graduation losses: F Dan Kronick (9-8-17), F Nate Raduns (5-4-9), D Justin Fletcher (5-13-18), D Casey Borer (2-6-8), G Bobby Goepfert (11-6-7, 2.19 GAA, .929 SV; Hobey Baker Finalist, All-WCHA 1st Team)

The question marks: Which defenseman will step into the roles vacated by Fletcher, Borer, and Dan Clafton? Will sophomore G Jase Weslosky (3-1-0, 3.76 GAA, .861 SV) give the Huskies the outstanding goaltending they have come to expect?

The bottom line: St. Cloud had better win games early in the season, or a tough second half (10 games against North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Colorado College in ’08) could have them climbing uphill.

#6 Michigan Tech University Huskies

Last year’s record: 11-12-5 (tied for 6th)

Last year’s statistics: 2.46 goals scored/game (7th), 2.29 goals allowed/game (2nd)

Key returning players: Senior F Peter Rouleau (5-19-24), Senior F Tyler Shelast (11-8-19), Senior F Jimmy Kerr (9-5-14), Junior D Geoff Kinrade (4-11-15), Junior G Michael-Lee Teslak (6-5-3, 1.99 GAA, .918 SV; All-WCHA 3rd Team), Junior G Rob Nolan (5-7-2, 2.41 GAA, .906 SV)

Early departures: none

Key graduation losses: F Tyler Skworchinski (5-7-12), D Lars Helminen (1-15-16)

The question marks: If this team figures to be much the same as last year, then which Michigan Tech team is the real one? The team that ended the year sweeping Wisconsin, splitting at Minnesota, and winning two of three at Colorado College to advance to the Final Five? Or the team that went 3-11-2 during a 16 game stretch during the season?

The bottom line: There is reason for optimism in Houghton. The Huskies played ten overtime games last year and won only two. If some of those games tip the other way this year, this team will surprise. A top-five finish is within reach.

#7 University of Denver Pioneers

Last year’s record: 13-11-4 (4th)

Last year’s statistics: 2.61 goals scored/game (6th), 2.61 goals allowed/game (5th)

Key returning players: Sophomore F Tyler Ruegsegger (10-15-25), Sophomore F Rhett Rakhshani (8-17-25), Sophomore F Brock Trotter (11-13-24), Junior D Chris Butler (7-13-20), Senior G Peter Mannino (7-3-2, 2.22 GAA, .920 SV)

Early departures: F Ryan Dingle (15-9-24; All-WCHA 3rd Team) and F Geoff Paukovich (6-7-13) leave Denver after their junior seasons; D Keith Seabrook (2-8-10) forgoes his final three seasons of eligibility

Key graduation loss: G Glenn Fisher (6-8-2, 2.77 GAA, .907 SV)

The question marks: Can the trio of super sophs continue their scoring pace? Will Mannino be able to shoulder the load after splitting the duties last season?

The bottom line: After the way last season ended (only three wins in their last 13 games), I’m not sure what to expect from the Pioneers. With 14 games against North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Colorado College, Denver will have to do well against the bottom teams in the conference if they hope to earn a top-five finish. A final weekend home and home series with Colorado College could have major implications.

#8 Minnesota State University-Mankato Mavericks

Last year’s record: 10-13-5 (8th)

Last year’s statistics: 2.89 goals scored/game (4th), 3.54 goals allowed/game (9th)

Key returning players: Senior F Joel Hanson (11-12-23), Junior F Jon Kalinski (13-6-19), Junior F Mick Berge (9-5-14), Junior G Mike Zacharias (8-8-5, 3.02 GAA, .893 SV)

Early departure: D Steve Wagner (5-18-23; All-WCHA 3rd Team) forgoes his senior season

Key graduation losses: F Travis Morin (13-15-28; All-WCHA 2nd Team), F Kurtis Kisio (3-7-10)

The question marks: Can a team that gave up 3 or more goals 17 times, and 5 or more goals nine times (in 28 league games), tighten up defensively and continue to score?

The bottom line: The Mavericks, who only won three one-goal games in the conference last year, are going to have to start winning more tight contests. The run-and-gun, “first team to six goals wins” approach hasn’t been working for them.

#9 University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

Last year’s record: 8-16-4 (9th)

Last year’s statistics: 2.29 goals scored/game (8th), 3.00 goals allowed/game (8th)

Key returning players: Junior F MacGregor Sharp (5-9-14), Junior F Michael Gergen 5-8-13), Sophomore G Alex Stalock (3-12-2, 3.16 GAA, .889 SV; All-WCHA Rookie Team)

Early departures: F Mason Raymond (10-16-26; All-WCHA 1st Team) and D Matt Niskanen (5-13-18; All-WCHA 1st Team) give up their final two seasons of eligibility

Key graduation loss: F Bryan McGregor (12-9-21),

The question marks: Who will score? (Only one returning Bulldog, junior D Josh Meyers, scored more than five WCHA goals last season, and he had seven.) Will Sandelin still be the head coach at this time next year?

The bottom line: The losses of Raymond and Niskanen were a brutal one-two punch to the Bulldog faithful. What looked to be a promising 07-08 campaign now shapes up as another difficult season in Duluth.

#10 University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves

Last year’s record: 8-19-1 (10th)

Last year’s statistics: 2.21 goals scored/game (9th), 3.61 goals allowed/game (10th)

Key returning players: Sophomore F Paul Crowder (6-11-17), Sophomore F Josh Lunden (8-8-16), Junior D Mat Robinson (2-6-8), Senior D Luke Beaverson (3-2-5)

Early departures: F Jay Beagle (6-6-12) gives up his final two seasons; G Nathan Lawson (6-14-1, 3.28 GAA, .890 SV) leaves after his junior season to pursue professional opportunities.

Key graduation losses: F Justin Bourne (8-12-20), D Chad Anderson (5-7-12), D Mark Smith (4-5-9)

The question marks: As is the case with so many teams in the conference, the question mark is between the pipes. I’m not sure many were expecting Lawson to leave; can sophomore Jon Olthuis (2-5-0, 3.83 GAA, .883 SV) handle the netminding duties?

The bottom line: The Seawolves doubled their WCHA win total from 05-06 to last year, but they won’t double again. A sweep against North Dakota and an overtime win against Minnesota in the first round of the WCHA playoffs last year have fans excited for the upcoming season, but they’ll be in the bottom half of the standings yet again.

So there you have it. My humble predictions and overall outlook on what promises to be an eventful and exciting race for the McNaughton Cup. For an in-depth look at UND’s senior class, click here. I welcome your questions, comments, concerns, and criticisms. Drop the puck!

Potato Bowl USA

It’s Potato Bowl week! What’s that mean for Sioux fans?

Potato Bowl celebration
The Official Potato Bowl site contains a complete calendar of events. Here are some highlights:

  • Monday, September 10: Hugo’s Hidden Medallion Contest Begins! Oops, this week-long contest ended after perennial G.F. hidden item contest winner, Jeff Barta, found it after only one clue.
  • Thursday, September 13: World’s largest french fry feed! Sponsored by Simplot, stop by University Park at 5pm.
  • Saturday, September 15: Potato Bowl Parade 9:30am, downtown.

A football game
NCC History LogoUND’s final conference run in D-II, and the North Central Conference’s final football season, begins on September 15. Recent NCC football affiliate, Central Washington University (1-0), visits Grand Forks for the 42nd Annual Potato Bowl.

Tabbed to finish in the middle of the NCC by the coaches and media, CWU is led by d2football.com preseason All-American signal caller Mike Reilly. In his first two seasons with CWU, the 6’4″ 215lb junior completed 64.5% of his passes for 5356 yards and 51 touchdowns. He has thrown for more than 200 yards in 18 of 21 starts. Reilly is CWU’s best hope for a win over the Sioux; he will test the Sioux secondary, hoping to find a weakness that leads to a shootout with the potent Sioux offense.

Central Washington opened its 2007 campaign with a resounding 44-0 home win over Humboldt State. Reilly threw for 270 yards and 3 TDs, while the CWU defense held Humboldt State to 117 yards of total offense. Bear in mind, however, that for its opener UND comparably blew out Humboldt State, 59-0, with 513 yards of total offense while holding HSU to 181.

Though Freund may be up for a matchup of gunslingers, a lot of Sioux fans would be unhappy to see the secondary bend too much under Reilly’s assault. After seeing the Sioux handily contain SUU quarterback, Wes Marshall, optimism isn’t unjustified.

Stats dump
Head-to-head: UND leads 5-1

  • 2006 @UND 28-14
  • 2005 UND 44-20
  • 2004 @UND 34-0
  • 2002 CWU 43-7
  • 2001 UND 17-14
  • 2000 @UND 52-7

Potato Bowls: UND is 30-11 all-time. UND has won 11 of its past 12 Potato Bowls, including a 34-0 win over CWU in their only previous Potato Bowl matchup in 2004

At Home: UND has won 31 of its last 32 games at home

Central Washington 2007 Statistics
Central Washington 2006 Statistics
UND 2007 Statistics

Links dump
UND game preview
CWU Football Home
SiouxSports.com forums pre-game discussion
Central Washington Live Stats feed (check it out during the game)

Opponent Preview: Southern Utah Thunderbirds (0-1)

As UND prepares to begin its transition to D-I FCS (formerly I-AA) football in 2008, the Sioux have scheduled a road game against a D-I FCS opponent for the second straight year. On Sept. 9 the Sioux will travel to Cedar City, Utah, to face the Southern Utah Thunderbirds.

Though SUU may currently be unfamiliar to most UND fans, the matchup is likely the first of many. SUU has been been a charter member of the Great West Football Conference since 2004, while UND has accepted an invitation to join the GWFC beginning in 2008.

SUU achieved a 3-8 record in 2006 against a grueling schedule. The 2006 Thunderbirds handily defeated their lower-division opponents, crushing NAIA Montana Tech 34-0 and NCAA D-II Western State 55-3. SUU lost 2006 matchups against in-transition former D-II (and NCC) institutions NDSU 7-31 and SDSU 21-31.

The Thunderbirds face an equally difficult schedule in 2007, with all but one opponent having been ranked at the end of 2006. Despite hanging with Montana for the first three quarters of its season opener, SUU faltered in the fourth to lose 17-37. SUU will enter it’s match against UND hungry for a win against its lone lower-division opponent this season.

Fans who watched the matchup with Montana noted in the SiouxSports.com Forums that SUU runs quite a few option plays and confirmed that SUU’s talented quarterback throws pretty well and isn’t afraid to run. They also praised SUU’s defense as keeping them in the game against powerhouse Montana for three quarters, but also noted that they can be run on and gave up some long returns.

The Thunderbirds are returning seven offensive starters and eight defensive starters. Leading SUU on offense is signal caller Wes Marshall. Marshall’s 2006 performance earned him a few slots in the SUU record book with 16 passing TDs (#5), 1942 yds (#4), and 183 completed passes (#2). Also returning are 2nd team all-GWFC running back Jonnny Sanchez (589yds rushing, 15-129yds receiving in 2006) and running back Kyle Coop (378yds 3 TD, 12-116yds TD). The Thunderbirds lost both starting wide receivers from last year’s squad.

Turnovers were a weak point for SUU in 2006, giving up 8 fumbles and 15 interceptions. Head Coach Wes Meier notes, “if you take away a fourth quarter turnover in each of those games [an 18-14 loss at Cal Poly and a 30-27 loss at McNeese State] we start out 5-1 and who knows what would have happened?” SUU gave up three interceptions and lost one fumble in its 2007 opener against Montana.

Southern Utah 2007 Statistics
SiouxSports.com Forums pre-game discussion
Southern Utah Football Media Guide (1/2)
Southern Utah Football Media Guide (2/2)

Stats dump

Head-to-head history: Never met
Common opponents:
Though UND and SUU have not had any common opponents in the past few years, SUU has regularly played recent members of the NCC who had joined the Great West Football Conference.
2006 NDSU L 7-31
2006 SDSU L 21-31
2005 No. Colorado W 20-17 (OT)
2005 NDSU L 21-37
2005 @SDSU L 7-55
2004 @NDSU L 21-27
2004 @No. Colorado L 7-42
2004 SDSU W 23-17 (2OT)
2003 No. Colorado L 25-29

SUU 2006 Final Stats

           Southern Utah Overall Team Statistics (as of Nov 18, 2006)
                                 All games
TEAM STATISTICS                         SUU          OPP
SCORING.......................          215          276
  Points Per Game.............         19.5         25.1
FIRST DOWNS...................          179          212
  Rushing.....................           81          107
  Passing.....................           86           81
  Penalty.....................           12           24
RUSHING YARDAGE...............         1560         1903
  Yards gained rushing........         1805         2172
  Yards lost rushing..........          245          269
  Rushing Attempts............          342          431
  Average Per Rush............          4.6          4.4
  Average Per Game............        141.8        173.0
  TDs Rushing.................           12           17
PASSING YARDAGE...............         1976         1988
  Att-Comp-Int................   333-187-15    278-159-7
  Average Per Pass............          5.9          7.2
  Average Per Catch...........         10.6         12.5
  Average Per Game............        179.6        180.7
  TDs Passing.................           16           18
TOTAL OFFENSE.................         3536         3891
  Total Plays.................          675          709
  Average Per Play............          5.2          5.5
  Average Per Game............        321.5        353.7
KICK RETURNS: #-YARDS.........       36-807       36-745
PUNT RETURNS: #-YARDS.........       23-274       22-225
INT RETURNS: #-YARDS..........         7-18       15-158
KICK RETURN AVERAGE...........         22.4         20.7
PUNT RETURN AVERAGE...........         11.9         10.2
INT RETURN AVERAGE............          2.6         10.5
FUMBLES-LOST..................         19-8        23-11
PENALTIES-YARDS...............       87-781       74-697
  Average Per Game............         71.0         63.4
PUNTS-YARDS...................      54-1917      43-1531
  Average Per Punt............         35.5         35.6
  Net punt average............         31.3         29.2
TIME OF POSSESSION/GAME.......        28:10        30:50
3RD-DOWN CONVERSIONS..........       53/139       65/143
  3rd-Down Pct................          38%          45%
4TH-DOWN CONVERSIONS..........         9/16         6/13
  4th-Down Pct................          56%          46%
SACKS BY-YARDS................       16-117       21-144
MISC YARDS....................           70           21
TOUCHDOWNS SCORED.............           30           35
FIELD GOALS-ATTEMPTS..........          2-8        11-16
PAT-ATTEMPTS..................        27-30        31-34
ATTENDANCE....................        26110        43836
  Games/Avg Per Game..........       5/5222       6/7306

Obstruction: The WCHA Parity “Chicken” Comes To Roost

Not that long ago in my responsibilities as a moderator on SiouxSports.com I read a post from a Gopher fan that captured a concern about the WCHA that I have had for a while. I’ve cleaned it up for re-publishing here.

A poster called “happy” on March 6, 2007, posted (SiouxSports.com post: 236488):

The bottom 6 or 7 teams need obstruction, or else Minnesota, UND and SCSU would blow by them like a piece of pancake flat road kill. So, more than 50% of the WCHA teams never want obstruction called, ever. Shepherd is just doing what he’s told to do by the majority of coaches. It will not change, and the WCHA teams will have a problem with it come NCAA time. …

I agree. I don’t know how much more plainly I can say it. My eyes tell me this is happening. My ears, listening to Commissioner McLeod raving about the parity in the league, tell me it is not a myth.

And, yes, “the WCHA teams will have a problem with it come NCAA time”, and it has arrived. Don’t believe me? Think again.

This season the WCHA had 0.684 winning ratio (51-22-6) against non-WCHA teams. No league had a winning record against the WCHA. Clearly, the WCHA again dominated the face of college hockey.

But somehow, even in the face of this dominance (0.684!), the WCHA struggled to get just three teams into the season ending 16-team NCAA tournament.

And more surprisingly given the above data, this year the NCAA tournament brackets feature five, yes, count them, five Hockey East teams and four Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) teams.

These facts do not align, and I believe I can point to a reason for it, and the reason relates directly back to that post by that Gopher fan, and the problem of manufactured parity it alludes to.

Obstruction allows for lesser skilled teams to compete with highly skilled teams. Not calling this obstruction allows for a manufactured parity in the league. And this parity, based on his praising of it during interviews, is thought to be a good thing by Commissioner McLeod. But is it?

Denver, Colorado College, Wisconsin, and Michigan Tech were all a part of the WCHA non-conference dominance, yet, none made the NCAA tournament.

I say part of the reason is clear: They were “officiated” by the league into near 0.500 conference records to achieve league parity (and I’m working hard to avoid the malapropism of calling it “parody”). And this style of officiating is in direct conflict with the NCAA guidance of strict enforcement of rules regarding obstruction. Why is the WCHA “chicken” to call obstruction?

From third to eighth in the WCHA this year the winning ratio goes from a 0.554 to a 0.446. Put another way, half the league was, well, average (about 0.500) in the WCHA. Obviously only two WCHA teams exceeded a league 0.554 winning ratio.

But is being average (about 0.500) in the WCHA good enough when winning percentage (the majority of which comes from league play) is a key factor in the RPI (and accordingly PWR) calculation used by the NCAA bracket makers?

In the CCHA, four teams exceeded a conference winning percentage of 0.554 and, not surprisingly, those four were in the NCAA field (Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, and Miami of Ohio).

Meanwhile in Hockey East, four teams exceeded a conference winning percentage of 0.554 (UNH, BC, BU, and UMass) and a fifth (Maine) missed it by the slimmest of margins (0.537).

Why is this important? Because “winning percentage” is 25% of a team’s RPI. Washing out a team’s winning percentage to “average” in league play is great at the league gates, and makes for the ability to praise the “competitiveness” and “parity” of the league, but it harms that team at selection time in March.

The last at-large team (Miami of Ohio) finished immediately above Wisconsin, Denver, Michigan Tech, and Colorado College (in a 0.003 bonus quality win PWR comparison).

And Miami beat each of them in the RPI category. (Note: North Dakota barely beat them in the RPI category.)

Let me repeat that: Miami of Ohio had a better conference winning percentage than even WCHA #3 North Dakota, but in a head-to-head far weaker conference (WCHA v. CCHA 16-6-5), and still got into the NCAA field.

Clearly, conference winning percentages matter come selection time.

Not calling obstruction, allowing for tactics to make for “exciting games”, facilitating league parity, may be great for the gate and for the teams that can’t win with skill play. But, unfortunately, it’s also great for Denver and Colorado College this year, if you’re only talking about their golf games in March and April.

The obstruction chicken is home, in Denver, Colorado Springs, Houghton, and Madison.

Welcome to the SiouxSports.com blog

Welcome to the SiouxSports.com blog.

While the world undoubtedly does not need a new blog, I view this as a repackaging of the information you already come to SiouxSports.com to find. It will complement the news listings and message boards by providing much of the same information, but in a different format that may be more accessible and useful to certain audiences.

Like the news listings, we will use it to point out interesting information on the Sioux discovered from media across the Internet and offline. However, like the message board, it will allow us to include some commentary, analysis, and personal experiences with that news. Because a limited group of bloggers can originate new articles, quality will be high and readers can catch up on the latest news even when they don’t have time to engage in the message boards. Categorization of posts will allow you to quickly locate just those posts that reference a topic in which you’re interested.

Finally, this increases your opportunity to participate. All registered SiouxSports.com members can post comments on any blog entry. No new accounts or passwords are required, yet the lack of anonymity should keep spam and trolling to a minimum (as SiouxSports.com members have come to expect).