Todd: Well, Jim, we’ve reached Thanksgiving week — in the U.S., anyway; Canada had its version a few weeks ago — and it became pretty clear to me last weekend that Minnesota-Duluth has a lot to be thankful for this season. Thankful for being able to pull together so much talent in the top forward lines. Thankful for a early schedule that has tested the Bulldogs and given them a good deal of confidence.
But maybe most of all, the Bulldogs should be thankful for overtime. Half of their 14 games have gone past regulation, and they’ve managed to win five of those. Since the start of the 2008-09 season, they’re 11-1-11 in overtime games. These are just stunning figures, and they have to make people around UMD think there might be something going this season, don’t you think?
Jim: No doubt. When I saw that Saturday’s game was yet another overtime win, I couldn’t believe it. Average teams simply don’t have success like UMD has over the past two years in the extra session. I guess that part of it is that success breeds success. If you win a few overtime games, you feel like it is your destiny. But if you never play overtimes or are constantly losing, you might have that ominous feeling when those extra five minutes go up on the clock.
I will say that overtime confidence and success make a big difference in the postseason. When you’re playing in a winner-take-all scenario, I’d rather have seven or eight guys on my roster who have scored overtime game-winners than have a lineup of players untested in sudden death.
You were in Madison this weekend for both games. What makes this Bulldogs team so impressive?
Todd: I think it’s what makes them successful in overtime that tells a lot of the story. They have two top-notch forward lines and two more really good ones. They’re getting saves when they absolutely need them. And, when faced with some adversity (down 3-1 in Wisconsin’s building on Friday), they don’t seem to panic. It really seems like a formula that could work long-term this season.
The other side of that coin is Wisconsin, which now hasn’t won in 25 straight overtime games. Coach Mike Eaves said after Friday night’s game that his team doesn’t think about it when that five minutes goes up, like you talked about, but you’ve got to think that the more they hear about it, the more it works against them. Ever seen anything like that?
Jim: I can recall a time in the mid-’90s when I was working at Massachusetts-Lowell when overtime was disastrous for the team. I’m thinking in a four-to-five-year span, the River Hawks had just one or two overtime victories, a large number of ties and far too many heartbreaking losses. Knowing that team well, I will say sometimes it really felt like doom once you didn’t score in regulation. I can even remember one opponent needing a win and pulling their goaltender in the final minute of overtime and Lowell still couldn’t score. Things like that begin to get into your psyche. That seems to be what’s happened to Wisconsin. Twenty-five OT games without once being able to jump over the boards in celebration is just depressing; no other word for it.
Todd: How depressing do you think it was for Maine to come away with only one goal from two games at Boston College? Things seemed to be going pretty well for the Black Bears. One person I know called them the best team he’s seen all year, but the offense seemed to drop out over the weekend. What did you see happen there?
Jim: It definitely was a disappointing weekend for Maine. Their offense couldn’t seem to get going and when it did, namely on Sunday when the Black Bears peppered the BC net, John Muse was there for the Eagles. Maine went 0-for-12 on the power play and you could tell they missed Will O’Neill, who was injured coming into the series, and Jeff Dimmen, who was hurt on the first shift of the second period on Friday. BC’s penalty kill stifled the Maine power play, which surprised me. Not that BC was a great penalty killing team — they always have been. But I watched the Maine power play light up a North Dakota team a few weeks back.
One issue for the Black Bears might be heralded forward Gustav Nyquist. He was virtually invisible this weekend, save for missing a penalty shot early in the opening period Friday that easily could’ve swung the entire momentum of the series the other way. Another issue is Maine’s ability to win on the road. The Black Bears have just one win away from Alfond Arena this year while they’re 5-0-1 in the friendly confines of home.
Todd: Interesting that Nyquist is just one point off his pace from a year ago, yet in the 11th and 12th games of last season, he put up two goals and an assist on Boston College. Speaking of being on the road, the great road show that is Alabama-Huntsville’s 2010-11 season continues this weekend with a trip to the RPI Holiday Tournament in Troy, N.Y. To this point, the Chargers have played just four home games around an eight-game road stretch. They’re 1-10-1 this season and don’t have what you’d consider to be any cupcakes the rest of the way.
My feeling is that UAH just has to hold on for a couple of years until the likely Big Ten shakeup happens, and there should be a conference spot available somewhere. I just hope a season like this doesn’t get people thinking otherwise.
Jim: I have been thinking the same thing about the Chargers. Obviously being a Division I independent is tough. But that is further amplified when much of your schedule is on the road. It seemed when they were first homeless a year or so ago that their administration was sticking by them. They will need that continued support, particularly if this becomes a three- or four-win season.
Todd: Let’s turn to the rest of the action this week. There are six games on the schedule for Tuesday of this Thanksgiving week, but on the weekend out West, we get the last installment of what has been a fixture for most of the lives of the players that will take the ice. The College Hockey Showcase has its 18th and final go-around, with Wisconsin and Minnesota hosting Michigan and Michigan State. Yes, it may have run its course and the timing always has been questionable because few students are around because of the holiday, but it usually brings some good hockey.
I’ll also be interested to see how Notre Dame’s series at North Dakota turns out. What’s shaking in the East?
Jim: In Hockey East, one of the games to watch is the Merrimack-Boston College matinee on Friday. The Warriors have given BC fits at Lawler Arena and I expect this game to be no different whatsoever. This weekend also marks one of the oldest holiday tournaments — the RPI Holiday Tournament — with Bowling Green facing the aforementioned Alabama-Huntsvile in the opener and the host Engineers facing Connecticut in the nightcap. Though this isn’t the strongest field of all time, it’s nice to see such a long-standing tradition still going strong. Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers. Until next week …