Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"Meet The Coaches" Thoughts

*Kyle Bangen discussed the challenges of preparing such a large freshman class for the rigors of WCHA hockey. He did a good job explaining what he did, including working with the new players via phone and e-mail, until they arrived for the start of a rigorous August conditioning program that the whole team took part in. The entire month went very well, as everyone on the team held themselves and their teammates accountable for their conditioning responsibilties.

Someone asked Kyle, "You stated when you were first hired that your goal was to ensure that Jamie was coaching the best-conditioned team in the entire conference. Do you feel you've attained that goal?"

He pointed back to the end of the 06-07 campaign, when the Huskies defeated Colorado College on the road in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. "In the third period of the Sunday game, I believe that CC registered only two shots on goal, and we basically skated them out of their own arena, so if you had asked me then, I would have said yes." However, Kyle went on to explain that this season, with nine freshman on the roster, such an assertion would probably be too bold at the moment. Nonetheless, he will work hard to ensure that while Tech may not necessarily be the best-conditioned team in the league this season, we will certainly remain among the top half.

*The assistants discussed our recruits for Fall 2009, including Steven Seigo, Tommy Brown, Evan Witt, Jake Hauswirth, Anthony Schooley, and Jacob Johnstone.

  • Seigo, a defenseman, received special permission from the NC$$ to practice with an Austrain Elite team over the summer (one his father apparently works for), and while he wasn't permitted to scrimmage with them, the experience seems to be paying dividends. Seigo already has a 7-7-14 line though 9 regular season games in his second season with the Bonnyville Pontiacs of the AJHL, including 5 PPG.
  • Defenseman Brown will be playing with Melfort of the SJHL again this season, and while his team is allegedly not as stacked as it was last season, his coaches report that he has taken on a leadership role up there and is doing well.
  • Witt is a C/W who will be playing his second season with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs of the BCHL, and after posting an 11-24-35 line with them in his rookie season, expectations for him will be higher. Coaches Mikesch and Tok mentioned that at 5'11" and 190 lb. he's already filling out his frame pretty well and they're excited to bring him in next year.
  • Much buzz surrounded Hauswirth (a LW) this summer, who was a surprise standout at the Washington Capitals' rookie dev camp. He received quite a bit of media attention and there was even discussion of the Caps trying to sign him and send him off to MJ, but thankfully that was averted. Hauswirth will begin his second season with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL, after winning the national championship with them last year. His coaches report that he is expected to wear a letter and perform well all year long as a leader and a scorer.
  • Jacob Johnstone and Anthony Schooley (both fowards) will be playing together in Green Bay this year, after Schooley received a trade from Waterloo. In spite of Johnstone's numbers on a poorly coached Gamblers team last season, Tech's coaches feel that he has great vision out on the ice, is excellent on the powerplay, and possesses a "lethal shot". Schooley's USHL career has been dogged by two unfortunate injuries, leaving him on IR for much of the past year and a half. He is just now getting back out on the ice after recovering from his second injury, and naturally is not anywhere near 100%, however Tok and Mikesch explained that they still feel he's got good hockey sense, does a nice job of getting open for passes/shots, and has pretty good hands. Hopefully he can get back up to speed with a fresh start on a new team this season (including a new coaching staff, if I'm not mistaken).

*Russell talked about the recruiting situation, and how a few years ago, they were going after mostly the character players (Malekoff, Batovanja, etc.), whereas now they are starting to pick up more skill players (Kattelus, Soley, etc.). With this in mind, it would appear that recruiting is looking brighter each year, and based on the last couple of classes, I would agree.

*Somewhat in relation to the above, Russell also mentioned that they are now gradually tweaking the style of our game to focus more on puck possession.

*With regards to this season, Jamie was very clear that Nolan must step up to the plate and make this his year. He's done his time playing second fiddle to Teslak, and now it's his turn to help lead by having a solid, consistent season. He is expected to be between the pipes for a majority of the minutes, as long as he plays well enough.

*Finally, I commend Russell for taking a stand against the use of shootouts in college hockey, and concur with his logic that hockey is first and foremost a team sport, not a sport of one skater's talent versus a goaltender's reflexes. Russell also pointed out that while shootouts may work in the NHL with their 80-some game schedule, college hockey schedules are simply too short for the idea to be viable. The example he gave is thus...

"Say we go out to North Dakota, a pretty tough place to play, and manage to take 3 of 4 points from them that weekend - that's significant. Now consider if North Dakota picked up a shootout win on Saturday, rather than the teams just skating to a tie. In that case, they pick up two points, and the three we get suddenly have less impact on our place in the standings." Jamie is right - with a regular season schedule of 38 games or less, shootout victories would significantly impact the regular season standings for every team in the league, much more so than in the NHL, where teams have a greater chance of making up some of those points down the road.

Following a few quick thoughts on the Toronto series, the meeting broke into a couple tour groups, and I took a facilities tour that included a skating treadmill demonstration courtesy of Kyle Bangen and freshman Seth Soley (who seems to have nice stride and acceleration, I might add), and a peek into the locker & weight rooms, which seem to have come a long way in the last five years or so with recent improvements.

Bottom line: While this season may not look too great for Tech (at least on paper), I think the future is still bright for the Husky program. With Jamie Russell having the full support of the administration and the majority of the community, there is a sense of stability in place where the revolving door of coaching staff has finally come to a stop, excellent plans are in place, and the recruiting networks are well-established. I look foward to watching further progress over the next three years or so.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

For Better or Worse... comes the 08-09 campaign.

After a long summer of hibernation in my drone cube at Ford IT of Houghton, pretending I knew how to design complex software, classes have resumed and exhibition hockey is now just over two weeks away.

While there are large question marks on offense, I think we can point back to the 06-07 season to prove that there are going to be players who will step up and fill the void of consistent scorers left behind by the likes of Rouleau and Shelast. The question is, how many of them are going to?

All I ask of this year's team is that they play complete, 60-minute games. Far too many times last year they either skated out unprepared to play or lost focus mid-way through the game. They simply can't do that anymore.

You can expect my 08-09 overview and predictions in the coming days.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The 07-08 NCAA Bracket...

This will be interesting to fill out.

For instance, SCSU is playing Clarkson. The two teams split in a non-con series during the regular season. Clarkson has only won a single NCAA game in the past 17 years, but do I go ahead and pick St. Cloud to chalk up their 7th first round loss anyway?

Wisconsin snuck into the field with a losing record, but will be playing on home ice in the Madison regional, with a majority friendly crowd and a clean slate. Could they make an improbable run? Two wins puts you in the Frozen Four.

The Colorado Springs regional looks rough, with UNH, CC, MSU, and Notre Dame. Between Regan, Bachman, Lerg, and Pearce, any of those goaltenders could catch fire. CC has home ice, but faces tough opponents.

Air Force, Princeton, and Niagara are in the mix, thanks to autobids. They will face Miami, North Dakota, and Michigan, respectively. Could any of them pull off the upset?

Minnesota may not score a lot, but Kangas has really saved their bacon in the second half. Can he keep up his strong play in net long enough for the Gophers to grind out some close wins?

These questions, and many more, to be answered soon.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Look Back

Way back in September, I took a stab at predicting the WCHA final standings for the 07-08 season. My predictions were:

1. North Dakota
2. Minnesota
3. St. Cloud State
4. Michigan Tech
5. Wisconsin
6. Colorado College
7. Denver
8. Minnesota State
9. Alaska-Anchorage
10. Minnesota-Duluth

Here's how things actually turned out...

1. CC (+5)
2. UND (-1)
3. DU (+4)
4. MSU-M (+4)
5. SCSU (-2)
6. Wisconsin (-1)
7. Minnesota (-5)
8. Minnesota-Duluth (+2)
9. Michigan Tech (-5)
10. Alaska-Anchorage (-1)

So, it appears I underestimated a few teams and drank a little too much Kool-Aid when placing a couple others. While I don't think anyone saw Richard Bachman having the freshman season that he did (undoubtedly the biggest reason why CC won the MacNaughton Cup), here's what I had to say about the Tigers roughly six months ago, when summarizing my pre-season observations:

6. Colorado College

I considered placing CC higher, until it was announced that Jimmy Kilpatrick will be out until Thanksgiving to recover from surgery. Since they will be missing the guy who appears to be their top playmaker for the majority of the first-half, they will be more vulnerable. With a large question mark in goal, CC will need to rely on their defense heavily, and hope someone can fill Kilpatrick's skates while he is out. A first-half schedule that includes Minnesota, New Hampshire and North Dakota in their first six games, plus St. Cloud State in December could make for a rough start.

So, I was obviously wrong about Kilpatrick, since Rau was able to really step in and fill that role. The question mark in net turned out to be a brick wall, although I was correct about that tough first-half schedule (even if Minnesota wasn't all that great this year). In fact, discussing CC in greater detail in an earlier post, this is also what I mentioned:

If the Tigers can hammer out their goaltending issues early on, they could be pretty good this year. Assuming they get past a seemingly-suicidal opening stretch against Minnesota, New Hampshire and North Dakota with a 3-3 or even 2-4 record, they will be a team to keep an eye on.

Their record in those first six games? 3-3

A few other anomalies in my predictions this season:

2. Minnesota

Lots of people say they are too young on defense, but let's be honest - they are the Gophers. They have strong recruits and will adapt quickly, I'm sure. Their offensive depth is top-notch and I'm sure Frazee will be fine, in spite of the occasional meltdown.

You have no idea how amusing I find those two calls right now. Turns out, freshman netminder Alex Kangas had to get to work saving the Gophers from complete embarrassment for most of the regular season.

4. Michigan Tech

On paper, Tech returns almost all of the defense that propelled them to last year's results, plus both of their goalies. With a decent recruiting class, the question is - who will step into the leadership roles left behind by Helminen, Batovanja, and Skworchinski? The Huskies' schedule is pretty well-balanced, so they could get burned if they don't find their legs quickly.

OK, so call me a homer. I really think this team suffered with the loss of senior defensemen Jake Wilkens to injury right at the beginning of the year, coupled with the graduations of big leaders like Helminen and Batty the previous season. Combine that with captain Jimmy Kerr leading the team in penalty minutes, and apparently I was right to suspect leadership might be a problem for the 07-08 Huskies.

8. Minnesota State-Mankato

Now that their top goaltender has recovered from an injury, he will need to work his way back into top form for the Mavericks to have a chance at moving up in the world. Without Steve Wagner and Travis Morin to lead MSU-M, they will need to rely on players like Kalinski and Berge to step into those roles.

Step into those roles they did, and Zacharias did a great job in net to vault the Mavs into the top-half of the league this season, after a tough start.

9. Alaska-Anchorage

With a large class containing some surprisingly decent recruits, it seems that Dave Shyiak could be laying the foundations for the Seawolves. They've got a ways to go however, and this year they will need to find players into step into the voids left by Jay Beagle and Justin Borune. Still, they should be good enough to avoid rock bottom.

Not quite. However, this year's did UAA look better than Seawolf teams from the last several seasons.

So, it's been an interesting year. I can only hope to improve from here.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

To the Lady Seated in Section G, Row 13, Seat 2...

OK, so I promised myself that I'd rant about this incident here rather than at THB. Here we go.

Let's set the scene - last Saturday, my friend (wrapped in duct tape - don't ask) and I spent the third period in a couple of empty seats about 2/3 of the way up Section G at the JMSIA.

The Pep Band began playing "No Beer" and my friend and I started singing along. This is, of course, the infamous "other side" of the JMSIA, where most people (with a few notable exceptions) can't be bothered to get off their ass and make some noise. With such intelligent people as the lady I'm about to discuss seated over there, it's little wonder why they don't. She'd probably squawk if they so much as raised their arm to join in a "Sieve!" chant.

We got to the "Refs" verse, and by that point Campion had started going on his rampage of shitty ass calls against MTU, so my friend and I were singing it extra loud for his listening pleasure. All the while, this woman (who was probably between 40 and 50) was giving us a dirty look and I could tell she was going to say something if we started in on the "Sex" verse.

So sure enough, we start in with "In heaven there is no sex, that's why we use Brand X (latex!)" No sooner did my friend shout "Latex!" when she stretched across her husband, grabbed his arm, and (from what I could hear over the band) told him, "If you want to use that kind of language, go over with the band or the student section. There are kids over here!"

So, let's analyze the situation. You're objecting to the use of the words 'sex' and 'latex' around children. First of all, do you really think that the average person under the age of 12 has any clue what is implied by the word 'latex'? I think not. Secondly, even if we were to head over to the student section, don't you think your precious little children could still hear the Misfits and the band singing along from across the arena? The answer here is a resounding yes! So basically, this isn't about children at all, is it? This is about you being a prude and how you are somehow embarrassed or annoyed at having to sit next to a couple of loud people, isn't it? Congratulations lady, I've called your bluff.

If I may make a suggestion, you should've taken your kids to a high school game, an Ojibwa Eagles game, or even a Finlandia game. Any of those would be reasonably quiet and peaceful for you, and maybe they'll even host a nice, friendly ice cream social for everyone afterwards.

Of course, I was there to watch hockey and cheer for my team. So as much as I would've LOVED to have this little discussion with her, I knew where my priorities were. I was so mad, I actually didn't think until afterwards to ask if her name happened to be Judy Szyysyzkjdfjddkoski (or however that particular woman's last name was spelled), but I'm sure there are more 'other siders' like her anyway. Frankly, I wish they'd just leave us to our antics if they're so "offended".

I will say though, I was proud that the BS band that came over behind Mannino during the second period had the courage to use 'balls' during the S-H-A-V-E taunt instead of toeing the $uzanne line. Thank you.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Worth a Weekend's Fun?

Yes, the ugly, red-faced mug on the right is me. :D

So the question remains - after spending $40 on tickets to the game, $95 on two nights in a motel, about $125 on gas, and approximately $60 on food and drinks, was my first WCHA road trip worth it?

To examine this scenario, we'll take the categorical approach...

The Games - Royally sucked, from a results standpoint, but in no way can I say that I didn't see it coming - we have failed to extract a victory from the confines of the National Concrete Center since 1998. The no hardware Huskies converted on their chances and in spite of generating opportunities of our own, Tech did not. Weslosky was good all weekend, making some Hasek-like saves and he had a wicked-fast glove on more than one occasion. Unfortunately, even when Tech had a clear shot at an open net, somehow they would find a way to miss it. I knew the sweep was imminent on Saturday when my Huskies dominated the majority of the 1st period, failed to score even once, then watched Nolan give up a soft goal with less than a minute left. Gwilliam's CFB major in the 2nd, followed by another Nolan softy was just the nail in the coffin.

The Arena - The National Hockey Center is actually a decent place to see a game, in spite of the derogatory "Concrete Center" moniker. The small Tech contingent was placed in one of the upper corners, but the sight lines are good in virtually every section, sans maybe the very highest parts of the corners. The atmosphere could be pretty good, considering that the majority of the crowd (young and old) gets into the "Sieve! You Suck!" cheer after SCSU scores and it's loud. Otherwise it's mostly SCSU's student section (The Dog Pound) trying to fill a building which is just a bit too large to hear any sort of cheer or chant they were attempting all the way in the opposite corner of the arena. All the concrete turned out to be good in the end though - it made the perfect surface for tapping out the PK Ditty. :P

Post-Game Entertainment - The Red Carpet and various local watering holes are basically the extent of nightlife in St. Cloud. Friday was spent partially at MC's Dugout and partially at the Martini Lounge inside The Red Carpet. Saturday evening was spent at McRudy's, where the above photo was taken. Of the three, McRudy's was probably my favorite - it's hard for me not to like a place that has big glasses of Newcastle on tap, knows how to make a good whiskey sour, and has $2 Captain & Cokes on special. Of course, there's also nothing quite like MEg pestering you on multiple occasions (this was after 3+ drinks) about writing for THB, watching your entire table drunkenly attempting to sing Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'", bigblue_dl's random black jokes, the humor in seeing CSPAN on TV in a bar, etc.

Other Notes - Val's is a must - it looks like an ordinary greasy spoon, but they have great, made-to-order burgers, fries, and shakes in this dumpy little shack on the east side of the river (take-out only), and it's reasonably priced to boot.

So yes, St. Cloud is indeed worth a weekend's fun for the average college hockey fan. Additionally, all the SCSU fans we met over the weekend were pretty cool.


And so now, with basically any discussion of home ice all but over, Tech looks to position themselves as high as possible to try and earn a trip to a weaker team's barn for the WCHA playoffs.

It's Denver weekend, with the Pioneers hitting Ho-town for two games on senior weekend. I anticipate that Gwoz will probably have his boys on a tight leash after last year's incidents, which they certainly will not be permitted to forget thanks to the Misfits and tSBFitW. With Mannino in the nets, look for a revival of all the "Ice Cream Headache" jokes, don't be surprised to see a few sections of "wall" with holes punched through them, and definitely be on the lookout for some new things too. Perhaps something that might help give Tech a mental boost - we'll see.

***Takes a big gulp of tTech Kool-Aid™, specially prepared by Twitch Boy***

Friday: Motivated by senior weekend and my top-secret "mental booster", the Huskies deliver 50 hits in the first period. Mannino cries for his mommy by the middle of the 2nd after he gives up his 3rd goal and the "Ugly Goalie!" chant is busted out. He is pulled for Chevy who is so shell-shocked by the antics of the Tech fanbase that he fails to notice the play in front of him. Tech wins 5-1.

Saturday: Marc "Like A Rock" Chevy gets the starting nod, and backstops Denver to a 2-0 lead at the end of the second. Twitch Boy, in a fit of rage, grabs a contingent of Pep Band members and invades the Tech locker room, where he delivers a rousing motivational speech which is followed, on cue, by a flawless performance of the fight song. Meanwhile, the bad beef that mysteriously found its way into Chevy's pre-game meal suddenly takes effect at the start of the 3rd, and the distracting symptoms of food poisoning cause him to give up three goals. In a twist of cruel irony, Randy Schmidt has returned to the reffing ranks, and disallows the tying DU goal with 0:00.4 seconds remaining on the clock after deciding he'd rather hit the bar and get wasted with Tech fans than play an overtime period. The Huskies win 3-2.