The Shootout Showdown
Denver coach George Gwozdecky might not remember much about his team’s lone experience with a shootout, but he remembers the crowd’s reaction.
Two years ago in the Denver Cup, the Pioneers tied with Notre Dame in a semifinal game. This was 1999-2000, the first year the NCAA allowed shootouts to be used to determine winners in regular-season tournament games.
“It was probably the most exciting part of the game,” Gwozdecky said. “The game itself wasn’t really well played. It had it’s moments, but boy, the shootout was extremely exciting. The fans in attendance were on the edge of their seats. We were fortunate to be able to score and advance to the championship game, but it was probably the most exciting point of the game.”
Here’s where we come to the problem. Some coaches will tell you they hate the shootout as a way to decide games — it stresses individualism in a team game — but even they can’t help but notice the enthusiasm from the crowd.
It was the same situation in Milwaukee last weekend, when Wisconsin played Colorado College to a tie in the third-place game of the Badger Hockey Showdown.
It was your average third-place game: The play wasn’t exactly stellar. The crowd wasn’t really into the early Friday-afternoon game.
This was one game that benefited from the option of playing a shootout. If Wisconsin and CC had played more overtimes to decide a winner, the championship game surely wouldn’t have started before 9 p.m.
The shootout wasn’t only a winner with the Badgers, it appeared to be a winner with the crowd as well. It was the only time all night that the masses at the Bradley Center appeared interested in the game (there was a brawl that got them going, but I digress).
So how can you overlook the potential for fan excitement the shootout brings? Shouldn’t it be a natural for college hockey?
Not according to some WCHA coaches.
“I don’t like shootouts,” North Dakota coach Dean Blais said. “I think you work too hard. It’s exciting for the fans and it’s OK for the Christmas tournaments and everything.”
But for the regular season? No way.
“They’ve done that in the Olympics,” Blais said. “I remember when Sweden beat Canada for the gold medal. [Peter] Forsberg scored the winning goal and they won a medal. That was an awful way to separate the gold and silver medal, I thought. Play overtime, right down to the wire.”
It would be just so easy to play overtime until there’s a winner, until you think about how long some NCAA tournament games have gone.
On the other hand, few really like ending a game in a tie, unless you’re a coach on the road just happy with some points.
“There are times where maybe you’re on the road in the second night of a series and you’re going into overtime with a tie and you’re going, ‘I’m happy. Let’s just get out of this damn thing with a tie,'” Gwozdecky said.
So where’s the happy medium when it comes to overtime? Maybe there isn’t one.
“From a coach’s perspective, I would like to be able to decide the game in overtime, 5-on-5,” Gwozdecky said. “I don’t think either coach likes the idea of finishing up in a tie.
“You work so hard for 60 minutes, I like the idea of being able to get rewarded for it. I don’t like the idea of going 4-on-4 in overtime [like the NHL does]. I think that really takes away from everybody on the ice. In the college game, when you don’t have the red line, staying 5-on-5 is fine because there’s so much ice to work with.”
In the end, that leaves college hockey all tied up.
Quite A Debut
Your first game as a collegian is in front of an announced 18,819 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, a crowd that rivals those for national championship games.
Your first game is against national power Michigan State and its backbone in goal, Ryan Miller, the defending Hobey Baker Award winner.
Your first game is for the championship of one of the most prestigious holiday tournaments in the nation.
Just to make it complete, your first game goes to overtime.
Welcome to college hockey, Josh Siembida.
Siembida made his first start for North Dakota two days after joining the team in the Minneapolis airport. He lost a 4-1 lead last Saturday, but Brandon Bochenski bailed him out with an overtime winner for the Sioux.
Wait, let’s go back over that one again. He played for the Sioux two days after meeting them. That conversation must have been interesting.
“Hi, how are you? Nice to meet you. Go get in goal.”
Siembida was so new to the team that he didn’t even have his name on his back (never a bad thing for a goalie, though — it makes it tougher for the fans to razz you).
But he did quite all right for himself. The product of the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks made 30 saves for the victory.
“The main concern was that he’s not ready for the challenge,” Blais said. “You throw him in there and he gets bombed, confidence-wise and everything else, it would be tough. But we didn’t have too many other choices. We’re at Minnesota [this weekend] and we’re certainly not going to throw him right in there.”
Siembida met up with the team in Minneapolis on Thursday for the trip to Detroit. He practiced with the Sioux later that day and again on Friday morning.
He suited up for the game against Michigan on Friday, to go through the team’s pregame routine. He watched the Sioux win that one in overtime while Jake Brandt played in goal, and then went to the coaches.
“On Friday night after the game, he came down and said he was ready to play Saturday,” Blais said. “He felt the speed of the game and the speed of the shots would be a little bit different, but he said he was ready to play.”
Apparently, he was.
There are periods of complete, utter domination, and then there are those like Denver had in its first period against Bowling Green in the Denver Cup.
The shots were 27-2 for the Pioneers, but the score was only 1-0. Frustrated? Sure, but we’ll talk more about Colorado College later.
Pioneers coach Gwozdecky credits his team’s maturity and having gone through that experience before as the factor that helped it stay focused and chisel out a 3-1 victory.
The Pioneers have been in that boat before. It’s yet another one of the examples from last year that have carried over to make the 2001-02 Pioneers a better team.
“Experience is so invaluable,” Gwozdecky said. “We ran into situations like that last year where we had good pressure and many good goal-scoring opportunities, but we couldn’t score. We would come into the locker room and a number of the players would be frustrated by that and it would carry over into the next period.
“But it’s a good example of how experience and maturity help develop our team. We maintained our course, maintained our direction, we didn’t get overly concerned. We just kept trying to do the things we have done.”
This is a familiar situation for the WCHA teams from Colorado. CC took 100 shots last weekend at the Badger Hockey Showdown and came away with five goals, a loss and a tie and fourth place.
The frustration mounted for the Tigers, which could have clouded their vision of the work ahead. That’s where Gwozdecky said his team differed.
“A number of the experiences we went through last year, and situations very similar to what we experienced on Friday night, helped us an awful lot in getting through that and understanding that what’s past is past,” Gwozdecky said.
“There’s always that tendency that when you start to press, you start to get a little frustrated, you give up something defensively. You make a mistake, you press too hard, you’re a little too aggressive in your pursuit of the puck, your desire to keep the puck in the zone, your desire to get it back quicker. … All of a sudden, boom, the other team gets one opportunity, it seems. They come down, they’ve got you outnumbered and they put the puck in the back of the net.
“That’s where at times last year we were our own worst enemy. I think you can only learn that and understand that … through experiences that you go through that show you what you have to guard against. Eventually, if you stay the course, you’re going to wear your opponent down. You’re going to be able to get that good bounce. It might not come in the very first minute of the period; it might come in the last minute. The odds are that, if you continue to play the way that’s giving you success and goal-scoring opportunities up to that point, it’s usually going to result in good things.”
To this point for Denver, again No. 1 in the Pairwise Rankings, it has.
St. Cloud State appears to be settling in nicely at No. 1 in the USCHO.com poll. Good thing, too, because the Huskies have the potential to be there for a while.
They don’t figure to earn many strength-of-schedule points, at least until the last two weekends of the regular season. To put it bluntly, they may have the easiest second-half schedule of any of the three MacNaughton Cup contenders.
In the next seven weeks of the season, they have home games against UMass-Amherst, Minnesota-Duluth (two), Alabama-Huntsville (two) and Alaska-Anchorage (two). On the road, they play Brown, Providence, Wisconsin (two) and Michigan Tech (two).
Nonetheless, the last two weekends may make up for it all. The Huskies play at Denver on Feb. 22 and 23, and close out the season with a home-and-home series with Minnesota on March 1 and 2.
Those last four games, though, could be the only time St. Cloud plays a team with a winning record in the second half (Huntsville is the only other team currently above .500 — 10-9-1).
It sets up the odd scenario that the Huskies could not lose a game before Feb. 2 and still find themselves No. 1 in the country and in second place in the WCHA. If Denver also wins out in that period, it will have taken over first place in the league.
Coming Along Nicely
North Dakota’s Blais knew what was coming all along. With 10 freshmen in the lineup nightly, growing pains were unavoidable.
Is this the time the Sioux brings it all together?
Before the season, Blais predicted a fair share of downs for his team in the first half, and especially for his freshmen.
“We could take a beating until Christmas, and after Christmas, they’ll come along,” he said.
It’s too early to tell if this is a trend, but North Dakota is 2-0 after Christmas, with impressive, if not convincing, victories over Michigan and Michigan State last weekend at the Great Lakes Invitational.
Blais now thinks his young players are figuring out how to play as a team.
“We took our lumps early with 10 freshmen. They had to learn how to play without the puck,” Blais said. “When they came here, you could see it in the first month — they weren’t used to backchecking and playing their position as strictly as they have to here. I think they’re all there now. They’re all contributing that way too.
“They had a problem when we’d win if they didn’t get any points. I think they realize right now that there’s other things that are as important in the game.”
Filling The Shoes
The questions about Scott Kabotoff were the usual ones that accompany new Wisconsin starting goaltenders.
Will he be as good as (last goaltender here)?
Can he hold up for a whole season?
Who is this guy?
Well, maybe that last one was saved exclusively for Kabotoff. When he started the season, no one really knew what to expect from him because they had seen so little of him.
In Kabotoff’s first two seasons in Madison, Graham Melanson ran the show. This year, though, Kabotoff has started to make a name for himself.
“I remember last spring, the only guy I heard from that gave Scott Kabotoff any chance at all of being the kind of goaltender that would be able to step into Graham Melanson’s shoes was Graham Melanson,” said Gwozdecky, whose Pioneers host the Badgers this weekend. “I don’t think anybody expected Scott to be able to do the things he’s done. He’s been terrific for Wisconsin.”
Kabotoff’s crowning performance to date was probably the Badger Showdown third-place game against Colorado College last Friday. A night after missing a game because of the flu, he made a career-high 56 saves and earned the Badgers a 3-3 tie.
He then stopped six of seven shootout attempts to get Wisconsin third place.
Kabotoff’s stats have been part of the surprise this season. He has a 2.57 goals against average and a .929 save percentage.
If the season ended today, Kabotoff would have the fifth-best season GAA in Wisconsin history and the best save percentage (he is, however, one game short of the 14 needed to enter the Wisconsin record books for a season).
“He’s been … the surprise goaltender of the year, without a doubt,” Gwozdecky said. “There are probably many coaches in this league who didn’t even know who Scott Kabotoff was before the season began. They knew who Melanson was, but they had no idea who the backup was.”
Kabotoff’s performance should make for quite a goaltending battle this weekend at Denver. He’ll face the Pioneers’ Wade Dubielewicz and Adam Berkhoel, probably the best 1-2 goalie punch in the country.
Lucia Tabbed For All-Star Team
Minnesota coach Don Lucia has been selected as the head coach of the WCHA’s all-star team for its trip to Italy this summer.
His assistants are North Dakota’s Blais, Wisconsin assistant coach Mark Johnson and Denver assistant coach Steve Miller.
Out Of The Fire
After a week off, the outlook has changed for Minnesota State-Mankato.
Its last two series of 2001 were against No. 1 St. Cloud State and then-No. 3 Denver. Four losses sent the Mavericks into the new year on a down note.
This weekend, though, they stand a good chance to get back in gear. The Mavs play a pair at Alabama-Huntsville, a team that they are 6-2-2 against in their last 10 games.
Oh, the forecast for Mankato, Minn., this weekend? Highs in the upper 20s. For Huntsville, Ala.? Highs near 50 and sunny.
Into The Depths
Colorado College defenseman Mike Stuart is doubtful for this weekend’s series with Minnesota-Duluth after suffering an injury against Wisconsin last weekend.
Stuart reportedly suffered a broken leg in a fight near the end of overtime in a 3-3 tie. This was the same fight in which Wisconsin forward Kent Davyduke was assessed a fighting major (later changed to roughing) for, essentially, curling up into a ball.
It would have been Davyduke’s second fighting major of the season, but Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer appealed immediately after the game to WCHA supervisor of officials Greg Shepherd, who was the game’s replay judge.
The replay judge, under NCAA rules, can review fights to see who has participated. Shepherd changed Davyduke’s penalty to a roughing major.
The game disqualification penalty Davyduke received was his second of the season, meaning he will miss two games — both this weekend against Denver. Sauer is appealing the disqualification.
Thanks For Staying
Hats off to those in Wisconsin and Colorado College jerseys who stuck around for the third period of the Bank One Badger Hockey Showdown championship game last Friday.
You know who you are. Heck, since there were only about 200 people left in the 18,000-seat arena at the end, everyone knows who you are.
Hats off again if you can say you stuck around for all nine New Hampshire goals in the last 20 minutes.