Sioux could shed slow start tag

UND currently is ranked seventh nationally, sitting in third in conference play and it has a chance to shed the “slow start” tag that’s been put on them the last few years.

If the Sioux can manage 6 of 8 possible points in the next two weekends against St. Cloud State and MSU-Mankato, the Sioux would have their best winning percentage at the holiday break under seventh-year coach Dave Hakstol.

The Sioux currently have a .625 winning percentage, which is a touch behind the .636 that the 2004-05 squad posted in the first half of the season. If they grab six of eight points against the Huskies and Mavericks, they would be at .650. If they grab five of eight points, they would be at .625 — tying the second-best first half under Hakstol.

Considering the schedule to this point — rated by far the most difficult in the country by KRACH — UND would have to be happy with that.

The Sioux have lost only once in the last six games (all against top 13 teams) and are in the midst of a stretch where they play 10 of 13 games at home. It will be a nice change from the grueling travel schedule that the first two months provided and UND needs to take advantage of it.

KRACH strength of schedule ratings

1. North Dakota 60.0000
2. Wisconsin 42.2696
3. Omaha 39.1284
4. Michigan 38.8568
5. Bemidji State 35.8518
6. Notre Dame 35.2448
7. Michigan Tech 34.1572
8. New Hampshire 34.1066
9. Brown 33.6028
10. Boston University 33.0478

Jackson: Power brokers need to talk

On Friday afternoon, Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson spoke at a booster luncheon in Grand Forks. One fan in attendance asked Jackson for his thoughts on the looming Big Ten Hockey Conference and Jackson talked at length on the subject.

His first comment was that everybody needs to slow down. This is still three or four years away from happening.

His second comment was that he thinks college hockey’s power brokers need to sit down and talk this over and figure out what’s best for the sport. He said the Big Ten absolutely has the right to form the league, but it might not be in the sport’s best interest — or even in the best interest of the Big Ten schools. Is a six-team league any good?

The most interesting idea he mentioned — one that I hadn’t heard before — is that the WCHA and CCHA could join forces, more-or-less combine the leagues, and run like the NHL does with divisions.

Jackson said that you could have a Big Ten Division, which would still allow those schools to get their wish of playing each other twice a season. It also would give them extra conference games, which would make their non-conference scheduling easier.

It also will ensure that potential orphan schools like Lake Superior (a program Jackson coached to national titles in 1992 and 1994) have a home and get big-named teams at home. Jackson said he feels strongly about those schools.

Without much thought, here’s what I imagined for possible divisions (don’t analyze these too deeply, I’m just throwing this out there for people to visualize).

North Division
North Dakota
Duluth
Bemidji State
St. Cloud State
Northern Michigan
Michigan Tech

Western Division
Fairbanks
Anchorage
Colorado College
Denver
Omaha
Mankato

Big Ten Division
Minnesota
Wisconsin
Ohio State
Michigan
Michigan State
Penn State

Great Lakes Division
Notre Dame
Miami
Lake Superior
Bowling Green
Western Michigan
Ferris State

Again, please don’t analyze my divisions closely, I just threw these together for the sake of estimating what the divisions could look like.

Each team would play its division home and away. That makes 20 league games. Then you have eight to 10 other league games that can be scheduled somehow. . . perhaps keeping some traditional rivalries like Notre Dame-Michigan and North Dakota-Minnesota in place.

The idea certainly is intriguing and “outside-the-box.” I’m sure creative minds like Jackson could figure out how to work the conference postseason tournament(s) and the NCAA auto-berths. One of the big drawbacks, however, would be that this setup wouldn’t really encourage expansion (or find a home for Huntsville).

Is this a longshot? Of course it is. Something like this would take massive cooperation from a very large number of parties. That just doesn’t happen very often.

Is it worth talking about new ideas and some outside-the-box thinking? For sure. I think that’s what Jackson was getting at. The powers need to sit down, chat, and decide what’s best for the sport’s future.

Is it best to keep the WCHA/CCHA alignments and incorporate Big Ten games into the nonconference schedule? Is it best to try something like Jackson’s idea? Or is it best for the Big Ten to form and leave the WCHA and CCHA where they are?

There are a lot of smart people in the college hockey world. They should have some sort of a say in what ultimately happens with college hockey realignment — Big Ten or not.

Poll time

UND is seventh this week in both national polls and sixth in the INCH power rankings. The women are eighth in the USCHO poll.

USCHO poll

 1 Minnesota-Duluth    (49)  11-1-2   999     1
 2 Boston University   ( 1)   7-1-5   901     2
 2 Yale                       8-1-0   901     3
 4 Nebraska-Omaha             9-2-1   845     4
 5 New Hampshire              7-2-4   775     6
 6 Miami                      9-4-3   731     5
 7 North Dakota               9-5-2   689     9
 8 Boston College             9-5-0   640     7
 9 Maine                      6-3-3   598    10
10 Denver                    10-4-2   550    12
11 Michigan                   8-4-4   546     8
12 Notre Dame                 9-4-2   455    11
13 Union                      7-2-3   404    13
14 Alaska                     8-5-3   324    14
15 Wisconsin                  7-6-3   254    16
16 Rensselaer                 7-3-3   231    17
17 Minnesota                  8-5-1   230    15
18 Merrimack                  5-3-4   178    18
19 Western Michigan           7-4-3   124    19
20 Ferris State               7-5-3    75    20

USA Today poll

1University of Minnesota Duluth, 510 (34)111-1-29
2Yale University, 45438-1-09
3Boston University, 44827-1-59
4University of Nebraska Omaha, 40549-2-17
5University of New Hampshire, 36867-2-49
6Miami University, 32559-4-39
7University of North Dakota, 299109-5-29
8Boston College, 25679-5-09
9University of Maine, 23396-3-39
10University of Denver, 1951310-4-29
11University of Michigan, 19488-4-49
12University of Notre Dame, 132119-4-26
13Union College, 126127-2-36
14University of Alaska, 70148-5-38
15Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 20NR7-3-31

INCH power rankings

1. Minnesota-Duluth
2. Yale
3. Nebraska-Omaha
4. Boston University
5. Maine
6. North Dakota
7. New Hampshire
8. Union
9. Miami
10. Michigan
11. Denver
12. Notre Dame
13. Boston College
14. Alaska
15. Wisconsin
16. RPI
17. Merrimack
18. Ferris State
19. Minnesota
20. Western Michigan

USCHO women’s poll

 1 Cornell             ( 7)  10-1-0   139     2
 2 Wisconsin           ( 8)  12-2-0   138     1
 3 Mercyhurst                10-2-0   114     3
 3 Minnesota-Duluth          10-4-0   114     4
 5 Boston University         11-2-3    88     5
 6 Boston College            10-2-4    82     6
 7 Minnesota                 10-5-0    56     7
 8 North Dakota               8-4-2    45     8
 9 Ohio State                 8-6-2    22    10
10 Northeastern               9-3-4     8    NR
10 Providence                11-5-1     8    NR

Showdowns coming for women

The UND women’s hockey team took care of business last weekend, picking up a necessary six points (yes, you get three for a win) against a bad St. Cloud State team at home, setting up four big games to end the first half of the season.

UND will take on No. 1 Wisconsin at home this weekend (2:07 Saturday and Sunday), then travel to No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth the following weekend. If the Sioux can find a way to come out of those series with a .500 mark, it will put them in great position to earn home ice advantage for the first round of the WCHA playoffs for the first time in program history.

The second-half schedule is easier than the first half for the Sioux, who will be finished with Duluth after next weekend. Also, instead of playing a stacked Boston University team in nonconference, the Sioux travel to take on a Vermont team that is 1-7-8 (Vermont did tie BU twice and BC once, and judging by the scores, has decided to trap and pack it in around the net and play 2-1 games all year).

The Badgers, unanimously No. 1 last week, are going to provide a huge challenge for the Sioux. Wisconsin is 12-2, led by U.S. Olympians Hilary Knight and Meghan Duggan, who have combined for 51 points in 14 games this season.

But the Sioux have been hot. They are 7-1 in their last eight games they’ve played with the Lamoureux twins (0-1-2 in the three games without them).

UND will still be playing with a short lineup, but if they can pull out some points in the next two weekends, it will greatly increase the chances that the athletic department and REA officials will have to use their contingency plan (I know they’ve already thought of this scenario) for the weekend of Feb. 25-26-27. That’s the weekend that the Sioux women could potentially host a first-round series and also a weekend that the building has booked the UND-Bemidji State men’s series and North Dakota state boys and girls hockey.

Olympic rink? Purpur? Bet on one of those if the Sioux reach the top four.

Saturday night rewind

For today’s game story in the Herald, I wrote about captain Chay Genoway’s self-imposed, personal bag-skate after the 2-2 tie with Notre Dame on Saturday night. Then, I realized (and was told several times) that bag-skate isn’t a well-known term. So, I apologize for any confusion. For those wondering what a bag-skate is, think of something like this. For the gamers:

Grand Forks Herald

FightingSioux.com

USCHO.com

Other notes:

  • I should point out that Genoway did not make a scene or let anyone know he was heading over to the Olympic rink to skate himself. I happened to stumble upon it after doing my interviews with Aaron Dell and Matt Frattin (I doubt he even knows I saw). He was not looking to gain attention, he was upset with the way he played in the game. Genoway fought the puck a little bit Saturday, which is quite unusual for the captain.
  • Many people thought that Mike Cichy had scored midway through the second, including the guy who runs the goal horn. Before there was a whistle, Derek Rodwell scored anyway. They never reviewed it, but upon watching replays in the press box, it appeared that Cichy’s shot went off the post. Had it gone in, and had they reviewed it and called it a goal, everything that happened after that point would have been wiped out.
  • The Sioux are now 5-2-1 in their last eight games with the two losses being in overtime and with 0:00.3 left in regulation.
  • UND has just three nonconference games left — the Hall of Fame Game against Duluth on Dec. 30 and a home series against Robert Morris in early January.
  • If you look at the KRACH strength of schedule, nobody in the country has played a schedule even close to as difficult as UND’s.
  • Mike Cichy didn’t get one to go tonight, but he looks far more confident than he did last season.
  • Corban Knight led the team in faceoffs with a 12-6 mark.
  • Aaron Dell continues to be a major storyline for this team. He had another solid game Saturday. His teammates had a lot of good things to say about his play.
  • As expected, UND was able to sell-out both games this weekend, despite students being on break. That is very impressive.
  • The Sioux host St. Cloud State next weekend, then travel to MSU-Mankato to close out the pre-Christmas part of the schedule. The Sioux also have an exhibition against the U.S. Under-18 team after the Mankato series. Possible bad news for fans who are hoping to see Rocco Grimaldi that night. If Grimaldi makes the World Junior team, he probably won’t be in Grand Forks. Possible first-round pick J.T. Miller figures to be here, though.

Gameday final: UND 2, Notre Dame 2, tie

TO ENTER THE LIVE CHAT, click here.

First period

No scoring.

Second period

UND 1, Notre Dame 0 — Derek Rodwell (Derek Forbort, Mario Lamoureux) 10:42. Rodwell, standing near the crease, deflects a Forbort point shot to make it 1-0 Sioux.

UND 1, Notre Dame 1 — T.J. Tynan (Riley Sheahan) 14:57 (sh). Sheahan takes a backhand from a poor angle and Dell makes the stop, but as the Sioux get ready to turn it the other way, Sheahan knocks the puck to Tynan, who was trailing the play and snapped a quick shot past Dell.

Third period

UND 2, Notre Dame 1 — Matt Frattin (Chay Genoway) 1:31 (pp). Frattin snaps a wrist shot from the point through traffic for his 13th of the year. Malone causing havoc in front.

UND 2, Notre Dame 2 — Sam Calabrese (T.J. Tynan, Jeff Costello) 16:57. The Irish enter the zone on a rush. Dell makes the initial saves, but with bodies crashing the crease, the puck slips in the net to tie the game. 

Overtime

No scoring.

UND’s lines

17 Jason Gregoire–10 Corban Knight–26 Brett Hextall
19 Evan Trupp–22 Brad Malone–21 Matt Frattin
8 Mike Cichy–29 Brock Nelson–7 Danny Kristo
11 Derek Rodwell–9 Mario Lamoureux–27 Carter Rowney

24 Ben Blood–5 Chay Genoway
2 Andrew MacWilliam–4 Derek Forbort
3 Derrick LaPoint–25 Jake Marto

32 Aaron Dell
31 Brad Eidsness
35 Tate Maris

Notre Dame’s lines

9 Anders Lee–19 Ben Ryan–27 Ryan Guentzel
11 Jeff Costello–4 Riley Sheahan–17 Billy Maday
22 Calle Ridderwall–18 T.J. Tynan–21 Bryan Rust
26 Nick Larson–10 David Gerths–16 Mike Voran

33 Joe Lavin–28 Stephen Johns
8 Sam Calabrese–24 Sean Lorenz
3 Shayne Taker–29 Jared Beers

32 Mike Johnson
1 Steven Summerhays

Friday night rewind

UND stayed hot, winning for the fourth time in five games against a top-13 opponent. The 6-3 Sioux victory over Notre Dame will be a big one come the Pairwise Rankings at the end of the season. Game stories (there was a small crowd of reporters in the press box last night):

Grand Forks Herald
FightingSioux.com

Other notes:

  • When you score six goals, the goalie is usually forgotten, but I thought Aaron Dell was fantastic on Friday night. He’s getting better with every game. He was great positionally in denying Ben Ryan on his breakaway. He also made a huge glove save on Ryan Guentzel in the third period. In the last five games, Dell is 4-1 with a 1.63 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage. Dell is earning all of the starts that he’s getting.
  • The defensive pairing of Chay Genoway and Ben Blood was a combined plus-6. They were both plus-3.
  • Brad Malone had a nice night in the circle, going 14-4 in faceoffs.
  • Mike Cichy has four points in the last four games. He’s scored two nice goals from in-tight and continues to earn power-play time. He had a goal waved off because Danny Kristo was offsides, but that was a rocket from inside the blue line. His emergence could be big for the Sioux.
  • Speaking of Kristo, I thought he was very good last night. He did a great job setting up teammates for scoring chances, and if he continues to play like that, the points will come for him.
  • Mario Lamoureux had a team-high six shots. Kristo and Genoway both had five.
  • From the replay we got in the press box, Matt Frattin’s goal should have counted. The puck appeared to go off of a Notre Dame player and not Frattin’s skate. After the play, someone on the live chat said it was no problem, because the Sioux would just go score another one. That’s exactly what they did. Gregoire made a great play to take the puck to the net and Corban Knight pounded in the rebound just minutes later.
  • During the week, UND coach Dave Hakstol said the Sioux need to get some more dirty goals around the net. The Sioux got plenty of those on Friday night.

Gameday final: UND 6, Notre Dame 3

TO ENTER LIVE CHAT, click here.

First period

UND 1, Notre Dame 0 — Mike Cichy (Ben Blood) 7:16. Blood not only holds the puck in the zone at the line, he quickly snaps a shot right on net. Johnson makes the save, but Cichy pounces on the rebound.

UND 2, Notre Dame 0 — Corban Knight (Jason Gregoire, Dillon Simpson) 16:57. Gregoire dangles around Taker behind the goal and carries it to the crease. Summerhays stops the first shot, but Knight pounds the rebound in.

Second period

UND 2, Notre Dame 1 — David Gerths (Nick Larson, Sean Lorenz) 9:44. Larson has two chances down low, but Dell makes great stops. Gerths crashes the crease and pounds in the third rebound chance.

UND 3, Notre Dame 1 — Evan Trupp (Matt Frattin, Derrick LaPoint) 10:37. Frattin settled down a loose puck in the right circle and fed Trupp in the slot. Trupp knocked it past Johnson.

UND 3, Notre Dame 2 — Ryan Guentzel 11:23 (dp). Guentzel intercepts a LaPoint pass, takes it in, absorbs a slash by LaPoint and scores. Irish still get the power play because of the new rule.

UND 4, Notre Dame 2 — Chay Genoway (Danny Kristo, Brad Malone) 18:22. Genoway unleashes a blast from the point with loads of traffic in front.

Third period

UND 5, Notre Dame 2 — Jason Gregoire (Mike Cichy, Corban Knight) 1:13 (pp). Cichy intercepted a puck and shot it from the high slot. Gregoire picked it up on top of the crease with his backhand and reached past Johnson’s extended pad for the goal.

UND 5, Notre Dame 3 — Jeff Costello (Billy Maday, Shayne Taker) 17:57 (pp). Maday fought off a check to send a cross-crease feed to Costello, who had an open net to look at.

UND 6, Notre Dame 3 — Jason Gregoire 18:26. Notre Dame tries to get Johnson off the ice, but Gregoire picks up the puck in the neutral zone. Johnson raced back to try to get back in position, but Gregoire sniped the side of the net from the top of the left circle.

UND’s lines

17 Jason Gregoire–10 Corban Knight–26 Brett Hextall
19 Evan Trupp–22 Brad Malone–21 Matt Frattin
8 Mike Cichy–29 Brock Nelson–7 Danny Kristo
11 Derek Rodwell–9 Mario Lamoureux–20 Joe Gleason

24 Ben Blood–5 Chay Genoway
3 Derrick LaPoint–25 Jake Marto
2 Andrew MacWilliam–18 Dillon Simpson

32 Aaron Dell
31 Brad Eidsness

Notre Dame’s lines

11 Jeff Costello–4 Riley Sheahan–17 Bill Maday
22 Calle Ridderwall–19 Ben Ryan–27 Ryan Guentzel
9 Anders Lee–18 T.J. Tynan–16 Mike Voran
26 Nick Larson–10 David Gerths–21 Bryan Rust

33 Joe Lavin–28 Stephen Johns
3 Shayne Taker–24 Sean Lorenz
25 Kevin Lind–8 Sam Calabrese

32 Mike Johnson
1 Steven Summerhays

Friday morning reading

There are a few tickets left for each night, but by the time the Black Friday shoppers are done and return home for the afternoon, the UND-Notre Dame series is expected to be sold out.

Considering that the students are all gone on break, that’s a pretty impressive achievement. But it’s not something new for the team and the program.

In today’s notebook, I take a look at the numbers that UND is drawing at home (in comparison to some NHL and major college basketball teams) as well as the large crowds they are drawing on the road. Some of the numbers surprised me when I was looking them up.

Also in the notebook, I detail why this series will have a big impact on the Pairwise and we also take a look at UND’s schedule to date, which is rated by KRACH as the toughest in the nation.

In Thursday’s paper, I wrote about where Matt Frattin is scoring his goals from this season. Believe it or not, he has not scored from below the dots yet this year. That’s a ridiculous stat considering he moved into the national lead in goals on Friday (a Niagara player reclaimed the lead Tuesday).

When you go to the story, click the .pdf that’s attached on the side for a graphic of where he’s scored from.

In that story, I also talked to goalie Brad Eidsness about what makes Frattin’s shot so hard to stop. Eidsness also compared and contrasted it with the shot of Andrew Kozek, who could unleash a wrister.

Frattin credited teammates and Brad Malone for screening the goalie on a lot of his goals. Frattin said he doesn’t think the goalie has seen many of his shots. I asked Eidsness about Malone’s ability to screen the goalie, which has resulted in a lot of Sioux goals over the past two years.

“He’s really difficult,” Eidsness said of Malone. “One of the things he’s really good at is mirroring a goalie’s movement and being able to be in the same spots you are and understanding movements a goalie has to make and the angles he’s trying to look for. So, I think he’s been really good at being able to plant himself right in front of your face, and to look around him, you have to almost put yourself out of position. When that happens, Fratty can go the other way. I think you saw it last year, too, on the power play with Vandy.”

I also did a short Q&A with Corban Knight, who is known as one of the nicest guys around. Knight talked about the role his parents have had in his life. His father, Jack, used to be a pastor and is now a hockey chaplain, reaching out to teams in Canada to deliver messages. Corban said it was hard to go down the wrong path with his upbringing. I don’t see the Q&A online right now, so I’ll try to link it on the Friday night rewind blog post.

The Irish, meanwhile, are winning with a mix of talented freshmen and returning players who are upset with the way last season went.

Notre Dame also made some news this week with a couple of newspapers reporting that the Irish have an invite from the Big Ten Hockey Conference, although the reports also say it is contingent on the Irish joining for other sports. So in other words, nothing has changed since the summer, when Notre Dame turned down the Big Ten to stay independent in football.

**********

Six other WCHA teams are in action this weekend, only one is a WCHA matchup.

Michigan/Michigan State at Wisconsin/Minnesota: The final College Hockey Showcase will take place in the West this year with the CCHA schools traveling to the WCHA. The Wisconsin paper has a Q&A with Derek Lee.

Northern Michigan at Bemidji State: Finally, the Beavers are playing a nonconference series. Bemidji coach Tom Serratore says this could be a regular nonconference series for the Beavers in the future.

Lake Superior/Air Force at Denver: The Pioneers host a couple of nonconference games this weekend. We can only hope things get better for the Martin family. Jesse Martin’s father reportedly suffered a heart attack this week.

Alaska-Anchorage at Colorado College: The only WCHA series of the weekend pits the Seawolves against the Tigers, who have been getting strong play out of Stephen Schultz. That’s big for the Tigers, who have been carried offensively by the Schwartz brothers to this point.

MSU-Mankato at UMass-Lowell: The Mavericks will travel out to the East Coast for this nonconference, and for the first time all season, the Mavs will have everyone available.

Week off: Michigan Tech (which is 0-6 after starting the season on a five-game unbeaten streak), Nebraska-Omaha (time to digest last week’s thrilling win over UND), Minnesota-Duluth (nice break after working overtime much of the first half) and St. Cloud State (which will use the week off to prepare for UND next weekend).

We’ll have the live blog fired up around 7 p.m. tonight. Look forward to chatting with those who aren’t able to make the game.

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Weekly Wednesday update

I just heard that some tickets have been released to the public for this weekend’s series. There are somewhere between 200 and 300 left for each night. You can get coupons for discounted tickets at www.subwayrewards.com. The Notre Dame series is the annual Subway Holiday Classic.

We’re on the eve of Thanksgiving and maybe it’s a good thing that the Sioux are staying put this weekend. With winter weather approaching and roads deteriorating, travel might not be very fun. Hopefully, the Irish get in with no problems.

As for the big Thanksgiving day dinner, the players are all lining up meals. Dave Hakstol said he won’t be cooking because that could be a problem for his team. Corban Knight mentioned the possibility of going to Derrick LaPoint’s or Jake Marto’s.

Speaking of Knight, he will be the subject of the short Q&A this week. It should be a good one. Knight talked about the important role that his parents have played in his life. Knight’s father, Jack, is a pastor.

I’m also working on a couple of other stories for this week that will hopefully be interesting. One of them revolves around an interview with Brad Eidsness about Matt Frattin’s shot (he compared and contrasted it to Andrew Kozek) and Brad Malone’s screens. It’s always interesting to hear a goalie talk about those things.

One point that Hakstol made today at the press conference was that UND needs to get some more garbage goals — some goals from the top of the crease. It is not lost on the team that they don’t have a single tip-in goal yet this season. Chris VandeVelde was very good at that. Jason Gregoire also is skilled at tip-in goals, but hasn’t been able to do it yet this year.

Both Hakstol and defenseman Andrew MacWilliam discussed the importance of this nonconference series. We all know how important nonconference series are when it comes to the Pairwise Rankings. Considering UND’s current 1-2-1 mark out of the WCHA, I believe it makes this weekend even more important.

For anyone that might be traveling this weekend, stay safe and have a great Thanksgiving.