Saturday, May 12, 2007

End of Season Grades

Since I've been so lazy since the end of the season, I decided to get my act together and get to work. So without further ado, here's my end of season grades for the Tigers:

James Brannigan : D While Brannigan's playing time went down fairly drastically this season, he still did not perform very well at all. In fact, in terms of statistics Brannigan was pretty much non-existant - only four assists in 30 games. Not to mention his -11 +/- (worst on the team).

Brian Connelly : B+ Connelly was a pleasant surprise this year, putting up an impressive 17 points as a freshman (nearly .50 points per game). While there were initially concerns about his defensive play, he stepped it up later in the season and while his scoring declined, he became a very accountable defenseman.

Braydon Cox : B I was impressed with Braydon Cox this season and thought he really stepped up his game. His numbers (7 g, 9 a, 16 pts. in 38 games) were not spectacular, but I think he did a good job of leading the team and also scoring timely goals.

Addison DeBoer : C+ DeBoer had a decent year (5 g, 5a, 10 pts. in 35 games) for a freshman coming straight from high school, but also showed that he probably could have used another year of development. Nevertheless, I like the way he plays and I think his game will improve in the next few years. Size is still a concern.

Kris Fredheim : B Fredheim put up only four points in 23 games, but played excellent defense this year. I think he should have been used more this season. Look for him to be a top WCHA defenseman in years to come. Kris improved noticeably over the course of the season.

Jake Gannon : B- Gannon had a decent season this year despite putting up only two points in 37 games. His improvement from last season was quite evident. Gannon still seems prone to getting a bit overexcited while he's on the ice, and sometimes his effort to lay out huge hits detracts from his overall defensive play.

Jack Hillen : B+Hillen has been improving constantly since he arrived at CC and has become one of the team's top defenseman. He had another excellent year this season, scoring seven goals and tallying eight assists in 38 games. Also played well defensively.

Chris Kawano : Incomplete Tough to give a grade to the third-string goalie considering the limited playing time, but Kawano gets props for his hard work and commitment to the team.

Jimmy Kilpatrick : A- Kilpatrick emerged this year as one of the top players on the team, putting up 32 points in 37 games. He led the team offensively and was a godsend after the departure of so many top-flight players last season. He brings great energy every time he's on the ice.

Cody Lampl : A- Lampl put up only nine points in 37 games, but emerged as a catalyst for this young CC team. The energy that he brings to the game is absolutely unbelievable, and CC always seems to be playing better when he is on the ice. Without a doubt one of the three or four most important players on this team.

Scott McCulloch : B McCulloch got off to such a red-hot start this year that I was afraid he might bolt to the Blackhawks come the end of the season. I'm not so worried anymore. McCulloch's offensive production literally fell off a cliff at the end of the season and he ended up with only 24 points in 39 games. I still expect him to be a big scorer next season.

Brian McMillin : C Like DeBoer, I wasn't expecting a whole lot out of McMillan considering that he came to CC straight from high school. McMillin did not see a whole lot of playing time this year, and scored only two points in 22 games. Nevertheless, he seems like a hard worker and a solid role-player. I think he'll improve next season.

Drew O'Connell : D+ I had high expectations for O'Connell heading into this season and even expected him to compete with Matt Zaba for the starting job, but he ended up being one of the bigger disappointments (to me, at least) this season. Drew compiled a 2.90 GAA and .886 save percentage this season. These numbers just aren't good enough for the WCHA. While I still think that Drew could be solid if he got regular playing time, with Richard Bachman coming in next season it is looking increasingly doubtful that Drew will ever be a regular starter for this team.

Derek Patrosso : C Patrosso still has not played up to his potential. 10 points (3 g, 7 a) in 30 games isn't terrible but it also isn't anything special.

Brandon Polich : B Polich had a nice year, tallying 19 points in 36 games this season. He had good presence of mind on the ice and was good at creating chances. I also thought he was one of the better defensive forwards this season.

Nate Prosser : B- Prosser played pretty well this year for a freshman, but I was still expecting a bit more production offensively after seeing his numbers from the USHL. I think down the road he will be one of CC's best defensemen, and his offensive production should go way up in the next few seasons.

Dan Quilico : C Quilico saw very limited ice time this season and when he was playing, he wasn't doing much (no points in eight games). I think he will be a good role player for CC teams in the next few years but don't count on him being a top line type of player.

Chad Rau : B If you had asked me prior to the season to guess how many points Chad would put up this year, I would have put the over/under at 50. Thus, while he had a decent season with 31 points in 39 games, I still think the best is yet to come. The nice part about this is that these numbers are not likely to impress the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have Rau's NHL rights. I still expect better next season, however. Rau has the skills to be one of the top players in the WCHA and even the country if he plays to his potential.

Brandon Straub : C Straub was a fairly solid player this year and obviously provided leadership. He seemed to become something of a liability on defense this year, however, with an unimpressive minus 9 +/-.

Billy Sweatt : A+ The younger Sweatt was without a doubt the best player on the Tigers this season. Although he missed a few weeks at the beginning of the season due to mono, he emerged as CC's most potent offensive threat at the end of the year and scored several highlight-reel type goals. Sweatt isn't just an offensive force, he has great size and can throw his body around on defense as well. Billy's speed is absolutely insane - he might be the fastest college hockey player I have ever seen. The only concern to be had about Sweatt is that he is going to be a clear flight-risk after the draft. Billy was rated 27th among North American skaters in the draft and is likely to be drafted fairly high - where he ends up should be a good indication as to how many years he will spend at CC.

Lee Sweatt : A Like his kid brother, Lee Sweatt also had an excellent season. As captain, Lee was the obvious leader of this young team and was also very impressive both offensively and defensively. While Lee went undrafted by NHL teams, he has completed his degree and is playing minor league hockey already, so hopefully one day we will see him on the big stage.

Mike Testwuide : B+ When I first saw Testwuide play this season, I was very worried that he wouldn't be able to keep up. He improved constantly throughout the season though, and also scored some important goals against rival DU (home of his brother, JP Testwuide). By the end of the season, Testwuide had proved to me that he belonged. His size is a big asset on a team that has been pretty small across the board the last few years.

Scott Thauwald : B- Scott had a decent season, scoring 13 points in 39 games, but didn't quite produce the way I expected him to. I hope that he improves next season - I think he has potential to be a very good player.

Andreas Vlassopoulos : A- Andreas rebounded in a big way from his shortened freshman season. In only 24 games, he tallied 16 points and displayed obvious chemistry with his linemates. With Vlassopoulos, B. Sweatt, Connelly, Prosser, and Fredheim, CC has a solid core to build around. Look for both Andreas and Billy Sweatt to put up enormous numbers next season.

Matt Zaba : A One of the best surprises of the season for me, although he shouldn't have been. I was expecting Drew O'Connell to start sharing netminding duties with Zaba, but Matt's play this year put an end to that idea. Zaba is probably the graduating player with the best shot of eventually playing in the NHL.

Scott Owens : B- Owens looked like a miracle worker at the beginning of the season with the great (and unpredicted) success of his young team. While he did better with this group than many people would have anticipated, I still had some issues with his decisions down the stretch (largely goaltending choices), and it's also becoming concerning to watch his teams flame out at the end of the season. Obviously, this year was not as big a disappointment as last season, but it's something to consider. Consider teams like Maine and North Dakota - both had roller coaster seasons (Maine started out great, tanked at the end and barely made it into the tournament. North Dakota started out in pathetic fashion before developing into a powerhouse at the end of the year) but played their best hockey at the end of the season, with both squads making it into the Frozen Four. CC has seemed to do the exact opposite the last two seasons. I think Owens should get a pass on this season because of the youth and inexperience of his team, but if a similar late season tailspin happens next year, it will become a concern.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

News of the Day

Well it's been awhile since I last updated, but I figure if the professionals over at USCHO can take weeks and even months off after the national championship is decided, why can't I? In the meantime, I've let a few pieces of hockey news slip by. First, CC picked up a commitment for next season from defenseman Brett Wysopal of Tri-City (USHL). I don't know a whole lot about Wysopal but from what I've heard he's a nice pickup this late in the year. Another piece of news that I missed was CC once again being at the top of the WCHA in the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate. Nice. The most recent news for CC, however, is not so good; apparently forward James Brannigan will pass up his senior year at CC to play in the ECHL. I think Mr. Dilks at WCH is right in saying that the writing was on the wall in this case. Brannigan's playing time has definitely gone down since his freshman year and probably was not going to increase with the amount of young talent that CC has at forward. It's too bad for Brannigan and the team, but I think it's for the best.

That's the big news of the past two months. Now for some less noticed items:

* As usual a few college hockey players have signed professional contracts during the offseason so far. Here's a list off the top of my head:
- Andrew Cogliano (Michigan) : Edmonton Oilers - Not a big surprise since Cogliano is talented and Edmonton is coming off a disappointing season... Remember the Oilers traded away Ryan Smyth earlier this year - they need some help up front.
- Jack Johnson (Michigan) : Los Angeles Kings - I was surprised that Johnson even stuck around this long.
- Erik Johnson (Minnesota) : St. Louis Blues - I was surprised that this Johnson even played college hockey in the first place.
- Teddy Purcell (Maine) : Los Angeles Kings - Another college puck player headed to LA to live the life. If you don't follow NCAA hockey outside the WCHA, you may not have heard about Purcell, but the freshman phenom was a big reason why Maine made it so far this year.
- Ryan Dingle (Denver) : Anaheim Mighty Ducks - CC fans came to know Dingle well - not for good reasons. It'll be nice not having to face him anymore, although Denver still has plenty of firepower at forward.
- Jack Skille (Wisconsin) : Chicago Blackhawks - Skille was one of the top players in the WCHA last season and his presence/absence largely determined how much success the Badgers had. Once again, a player I won't miss facing.
- Mason Raymond (Minnesota-Duluth) : Vancouver Canucks - UMD fans can't be happy about this one. I'm not sure whether or not Raymond was expected to leave but he was without a doubt one of the Bulldogs' (and the WCHA's) top players last year.

It's a shame we don't get to see these guys play for four years, but that's the price you pay to get this caliber of talent in the NCAA.

* The WCHA recently decided to remain at ten teams for the foreseeable future. A lot of people had been speculating that Bemidji State might be invited to join the league due to the woes of the CHA. The problem is, the WCHA is at a healthy ten teams and is in no hurry to make it eleven. I agree with the WCHA on this one - I don't think letting in Bemidji State is a good solution to this problem. It would make more sense to me to tinker with a league that is already waaaay too big, the CCHA, in looking to accomodate teams that need leagues. I could go on for hours about this issue, but what's the point? You can read everything there is to be written about this issue over at the USCHO forums.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


NCAA scientist hard at work determining tournament seeding.

I'm sure that I'm not the only one left scratching my head trying to figure out how only three WCHA teams made it into the NCAA tournament last week, while Hockey East and the CCHA got in five and four, respectively. Does this make any sense whatsoever? The numbers confirm that the WCHA, as usual, was the best conference this season, so how in the world did western teams fare so badly in the Pairwise Rankings? How can the CCHA on the whole go 6-16-5 against the WCHA and still get more teams into the tournament? Most frustrating of all, had the NCAA used the KRACH formula (which just about everyone agrees is better than the Pairwise) to determine the tournament field, the WCHA would have had a whopping seven teams in the tournament (Minnesota, St. Cloud State, North Dakota, Denver, Wisconsin, Michigan Tech, and Colorado College).

I'm not trying to be a homer and imply that I think CC should have made the tournament, because frankly, I don't. Tournament teams don't lose opening round home playoff series. However, something is seriously wrong when such a strong conference can get jobbed so badly come selection time. I mean, does anyone really think that St. Lawrence and Miami are better than Denver? Of course, the comeback to that is that if Denver wanted to get in, they shouldn't have laid an egg against Wisconsin in their first round series. At the same time, however, when you look at Denver's season on the whole and take into account strength of schedule, there is no way in hell they should be getting passed over in favor of teams from the CCHA and ECAC.

I would hope that a travesty like this would be the straw that breaks the camels back and forces the NCAA to adopt a new way of seeding teams, but I doubt it will happen. If there's one thing that could make matters even worse for the WCHA, it's that Minnesota and North Dakota ended up in the same region, meaning that one of those two will definitely be out of the Frozen Four (I'd be surprised if they didn't play each other to determine who goes).


* How worried is the NCAA about attendance in Denver? Not only are three of the biggest name teams in the country (Minnesota, North Dakota, Michigan) being sent there, but the NCAA even managed to sneak a local team (Air Force) in there as well.

* The NCAA must have been grimacing watching DU and CC's seasons end. DU, which had been as high as 5th in the Pairwise Rankings looked like an absolute lock to make the tourney with just a few weeks left, but fell apart spectacularly down the stretch. CC, even, remained on the bubble as well right up until the end before falling short. When both teams lost their opening playoff series, there must have been some sort of panic going on. At least Air Force managed to give them some consolation.

* How happy is Maine that there's an OOC bonus involved in the Pairwise? Without it, they'd be way on the wrong side of the bubble; with it, they managed to get in. Shows once again the importance of early season non-conference wins - Maine racked up three against Minnesota and North Dakota.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Nice Season, Tigers

Monday, March 05, 2007

Tigers Win Gold Pan But Can't Hang On For Season Sweep

Tiger fans were excited last night as CC reclaimed the Gold Pan for the first time in three years, but that excitement faded when the Tigers coughed up a late two-goal lead and lost a chance to sweep the season series against their archrival. With just four seconds left to play, Denver's senior sniper Ryan Dingle completed the improbable comeback as the World Arena went silent. Five minutes later the game was in the books - a 5-5 tie. Disappointing and surprising, to say the least after taking a quick 3-0 lead and holding onto a two goal lead until the final seconds. Not to mention missing an open net in the final minute by just inches that would have put the game well out of reach. But such was the case on Saturday and the Tigers finished the regular season at 5th in the WCHA for the second straight year after a series that was fairly similar to last year's between the two teams. Last year Denver went 3-0-1 against CC after an early season sweep, a win at CC in March, and then a late and somewhat improbable come-from-behind tie in the final matchup. This year, the Tigers went 3-0-1 against the Pioneers after an early season sweep, a win at DU in March, and an enormously improbable come-from-behind tie in the final game.

Chad Rau had another big series against DU, scoring a goal on Friday night and then two on Saturday. Bill Sweatt and Andreas Vlassapoulos kept up their stellar play of late as well with each tallying three assists on Saturday, and Sweatt scoring a nice goal on Friday. Lee Sweatt also continued to lead the Tigers' defense in scoring with a goal and an assist on the weekend. Mike Testwuide tallied yet another goal against his brother's team. Lastly, Matt Zaba had his second shutout of the season with a great effort on Friday.

Overall, the weekend was a good one- but Tiger fans still wanted more after dominating the Pioneers for most of the game on Saturday and squandering a late lead. The weekend results combined with the results around college hockey dropped CC to 16th in the Pairwise Rankings - out of the tournament, for the time being. The one bright spot on the weekend, in my opinion, are the matchups for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. Denver, which finishes the season one point ahead of CC at 4th in the WCHA, will face No. 7 Wisconsin, while the Tigers will host No. 6 Michigan Tech. Technically, of course, Michigan Tech is the better team since they finished ahead of the Badgers, but I still like the Tigers chances more against the Huskies than I would against last year's champs. Michigan Tech is a much improved team this year and is currently on the bubble for NCAA postseason play, but the Tigers record against Tech at the World Arena is impeccable. Add to that the fact that Wisconsin, defending champs of the whole shabang, are desperate to advance and sneak into the tourney, and they have one of the best goalies in the country, and I think they could be a dangerous team late in the season. Wisconsin has already won one at Magness this season - I wouldn't be surprised to see them steal one or even two from DU in the coming series. Michigan Tech, however, is no slouch. The Huskies took three points from CC in Houghton last month and finished the season with an impressive win at Minnesota, which moved them to a tie for 17th in the Pairwise - right on the Tigers' heels. Both teams are playing to extend their season and get an NCAA bid. The Huskies also have one of the country's top goalies - sophomore Michael-Lee Teslak comes into this series with a .913 save percentage and 2.08 GAA. So, I may be wrong to want to face the Huskies, but I have vivid memories of Wisconsin coming to the World Arena last season and putting on a clinic, and I don't think I'd like to see them in a three game series next week.

I like the Tigers chances for next weekend - the boys should be hungry after the debacle at the end of the game on Saturday, and have a great history against Michigan Tech at the World Arena. I'm sure the veteran players on the team remember last year's disappointing playoff loss to St. Cloud State that kept the Tigers out of the Final Five and will be looking to reverse that trend this season. CC could also be playing for another shot at the Pioneers, if they can beat Wisconsin, as the two would play in the Final Five play-in game if they were to advance.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Tigers Done For?

It sure looks like it after a truly pathetic weekend in Mankato.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tigers Fail to Gain Points Against Minnesota

The Tigers fought hard in two close games this weekend, but in the end came out with nothing to show for it as Minnesota handed CC back to back 3-2 losses. If there is any good news to come out of the weekend, it's that the Tigers played fairly evenly with a superbly talented Minnesota team. That is little consolation however after a weekend that could very likely keep the Tigers out of the NCAA tournament. A tournament berth does remain a possibility, but it will require some great play from the Tigers down the stretch and also a bit of luck. The Tigers now sit at 14th in the Pairwise rankings - which could be either in or out of the tournament depending on the results of league tournaments. Wins against Mankato and DU are a must, and the Tigers probably need to make it all the way to the WCHA championship to really assure themselves of a spot.

A number of things contribute to the "luck" factor:

* Will top teams win their conference tournaments? If there are upsets then autobids could keep CC and other bubble teams out of the mix.

* Will Wisconsin, Michigan Tech, and Mankato remain TUCs? All of these teams are under .500 and if they do not end up in the top 25, wins against them will no longer be of any significant help to the Tigers. Mankato is already out of the top 25 and if CC beats them this weekend (which we have to if we want to remain in the tournament picture) they will continue to fall.

* Will Michigan State, Miami, St. Lawrence, and Boston College finish the season strong, or fade down the stretch? These teams are all close to the Tigers in the standings and have the potential to keep CC in or out.

* The ECAC, as usual, is terrible this year. Could a sleeper (AKA not Clarkson) win their conference tournament this year and grab an additional spot in the tournament? Certainly a possibility.

Anyway, those are just a few scenarios that will have to be played out before selection time, and it's easy to see that CC is in dangerous territory. But hey, it was supposed to be a rebuilding year anyway, wasn't it?

Speaking of rebuilding, this weekend's series has gotten me thinking about next year's team. One thing that was frustrating to see this weekend was how close CC was to Minnesota, without getting any points to show for it. The Tigers pretty much dominated on Saturday night but just couldn't hold it together after a huge tying goal by Mike Testwuide. Well, the silver lining is that the Tigers are going to improve big time next season, while the Gophers will surely "reload" but at the same time, lose most of their top players from a really astounding group. Erik Johnson and Kyle Okposo are almost certainly gone next season. Ryan Stoa and Alex Goligoski could be gone too. Meanwhile, us Tiger fans can look forward to seeing a vast majority of our players back next season.

This CC team has only three current NHL draft picks that are not seniors - Chad Rau, Scott McCulloch, and Kris Fredheim. None of these three should be real flight risks this offseason, although you never know. Billy Sweatt, undoubtedly the top NHL prospect on this current squad, will likely be drafted in a few months and we'll know his situation better once we know where he goes. What I'm getting at is that CC has a lot to look forward to next year, especially with the recruits that we have coming in. So, if you're feeling down about the recent sweep or our tournament chances, take comfort in the fact that next year should be a good one.

Anyway, I don't mean to get ahead of myself on that tangent, because there is still hockey to play this season. The Tigers may not have come away with many points in the last few games, but they have shown that they can play with some of the WCHA's top teams. What am I getting at? The WCHA tournament. It's only weeks away and could present CC's best opportunity to regain a spot in the field. Nevermind winning the Broadmoor Trophy and getting the autobid - just a couple wins against solid WCHA teams could be exactly what the Tigers need to regain their pairwise footing. The next few games (Mankato, Denver) will be very important for determining seeding. Right now CC is tied for 4th in the league along with North Dakota. If we can jump ahead of Denver and get to the 3rd spot, CC could avoid the dreaded play-in game to the Final Five. The Tigers may not have demonstrated the ability to win lately, but they have certainly shown an ability to play hard and compete against top teams - and with persistence, we should get to enjoy some results, and maybe even a tournament berth.