Friday, April 8, 2011

Can Duluth win their first NC?

Hello from the Twin Cities metro area.  Yesterday was an exciting day of hockey at the Xcel Energy Center, not to mention some enjoyable beer drinking before the game.

In the first game, Minnesota-Duluth took on Notre Dame.  Before I could even get into my seat, I watched Notre Dame score a soft goal on Duluth's Reiter, less than a minute into play, by WI kid Jeff Costello.  Duluth didn't take long to answer back on their first PP.  Notre Dame reclaimed the lead about half way through the 1st, which was quickly answered by Duluth.  The Bulldogs added another PP goal later in the 1st to head to intermission up 3-2.  The craziness didn't carry over far into the 2nd, Duluth scored their 3rd PP goal early, and controlled play much of the period, but the game settled down.  Notre Dame scored early in the 3rd, and controlled play for long portions of the final period, making a strong push at the end, but Duluth held on and heads to their 2nd Championship game.  Final score 4-3.  Neither goalie was partically impressive, but Reiter did enough to win after he settled down from a rough start.  Notre Dame spent too much time in the penalty box, which allowed Duluth's high powered PP to take advantage and was the difference in the game.

You notice a lot of things when your team isn't playing and you are keying on them and not the opponent.  Duluth has some nice young players.  I was very impressed by JT Brown and Justin Faulk.  Should the Connolly's leave for pro contract tomorrow night, Duluth still has some young studs to grow on next year.  If the Connolly's return, Duluth is going to be strong in the WCHA again next season.

In the second semi-final, the Fighting Sioux took on the One Song Band from Michigan.  The X was filled to the brim w/ green jersey/shirts/sweatshirts.  Of the 19,000+ in attendence, I'm guessing half were Sioux fans, a strong and loud showing, though they didn't have much to cheer about after the puck dropped.  North Dakota came out flat, it was like watching the Badgers at the end of the season.  Passes were off by just a little bit, decision making wasn't sharp, and when they had a PP it took most of the 2 minutes to get organized.  A little over half way through the first period, Michigan scored, what would eventually be the game winner, on one of those plays where (after watching enough hockey games) you just knew something bad was going to happen for the defense.  North Dakota controlled play much of the 2nd and 3rd periods, and have a nice run late in the 2nd where they had several nices chances, but to no avail.  As the 3rd period waned, the One Song Band clamped down on defense and employed the trap, which really stymied North Dakota.  They again worked hard for some nice looks, but in the end, Hakstol pulled Dell and Michigan filled the open net to win 2-0.

The Sioux fans cleared out in droves after the ENG, and I have to wonder how many of them will stick around for saturday's championship game or head back for the hills.  I expect a stronger showing from Sioux fans than gophers fans had the same thing happened to their team.  The "state of hockey" indeed.  There should be a lot of tickets available for Duluth fans looking to fill the X.

I was hoping for an all WCHA final, but to no avail, but I still have a team to cheer for.  Duluth will have my backing tomorrow night, as they get a great opportunity to add their name to the list of National Champions for the first time.  Michigan goes for the 10th NC, but only their 3rd in the modern era.  I can find no reason to cheer for fans who wear t-shirts w/ wolverine "stripes" on their shoulders (think their stupid helmets on a yellow t-shirt).

Based on the semi-finals, these are my keys to the game.  Duluth has to use their high powered 1st unit and PP when the advantage is theirs, it was the key to their win against Notre Dame.  Reiter needs to again play well enough for Duluth to win.  Personally, I thought he was pretty sieve like last night too often for a Championship team, but tomorrow is a new night.  For Michigan, they need to stay out of the box, putting Duluth's PP on the ice, and they need to use their big bodies to their advantage.  Michigan is a big strong team.  After too good games last night, hopefully tomorrow's game is close to as good as the NC game in DC two years, which was a classic.

I'm seen at least 30 schools respected already, going to do some more jersey watching when I get to the X tomorrow.

Tonight the Hobey Baker is handed out.  If Justin Schultz was a hat trick finalist, I'd pay the $13 and go, but this isn't worth my time.  Not sure who will win, but Matt Frattin had a great season and 36 goals is nothing to laugh at.  Cam Atkinson and Andy Mielle are both nice players too.  No clear cut winner, no Blake Geoffrion type greatest (and shitty looking, though awesome mustache) for the stage this year.

I hear rumors of a Badger tailgate at the Bandana Best Western tomorrow.