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Rebuilding is more than just a word when it comes to WCHA men’s hockey. UMD and Wisconsin collided twice at AMSOIL Arena, and with both teams in different rebuilding stages, the Badgers left after taking three of the four possible points from UMD.
In the bigger picture, we have to wonder how long it will be before we see Wisconsin’s men back at AMSOIL to face the Bulldogs. After this season, Wisconsin is off to the new Big Ten hockey league, while UMD ventures off the other direction, to the National Collegiate Hockey Association. Both programs have had their moments of prominence in the WCHA, and while this season should be a mad scramble for WCHA positioning, last weekend was a huge success for the Badgers, who have had an extra year of rebuilding.
Interesting, but looking at UMD’s lineup, only three Canadian players -- Joe Basaraba, Cory Danberg and defenseman Wade Bergman -- suited up Friday, and only two on Saturday, when Danberg came out for freshman Austyn Young. That may well be the fewest players from Canada ever to play for UMD since the program went Division 1. Remarkably, Wisconsin had only two players from Canada in the lineup, with forward Morgan Zulinickand goaltender Joel Rumpel, That is not to discredit Canadian prospects, but it shows how far U.S. players have advanced. The Badgers had eight homestate players, five from Minnesota, two each from Canada and Illinois, and one each from New York, California and Missouri.
Rumpel, a sophomore from Swift Current, Saskatchewan, shut out UMD 2-0 in the first game, behind goals by Tyler Barnes, who cashed in on a Mark Zengerle rebound from a scramble in the first period, and by Michael Mersch, who deflected a Zengerle shot in for a power-play goal in the second period.
Both teams skated hard, but Wisconsin matched or exceeded UMD’s quickness, moved the puck better, and cornered the market on scoring threats through the first two periods. Rumpel had such an easy shutout that when Joe Basaraba broke up the right side for a threatening shot at 8:17 of the third period, a cynic suggested it was the first tough shot Rumpel had seen since warm-ups.
UMD outshot the Badgers 11-5 in the third period, though, aided by a 5-minute power play.
UMD had scored a nation-leading seven power-play goals, getting at least one in each of the first four games.But the power play was blanked both games by the Badgers, who blocked 14 shots on Friday, seven on the 5-minute major. The penalty kill showed symptoms of Bill Butters, who spent much of his career with the Gophers, Fighting Saints and North Stars hurling his body in front of opposing shots. In his second year as assistant to Mike Eaves at Wisconsin, his influence is obvious by the way the defensemen interact and support each other.
Zengerle, a junior center from Rochester, N.Y., the offensive triggerman for Wisconsin, not only assisted on both goals and was 19-7 on faceoffs, but he also was vital in the shot-blocking, which is rare for an offensive standout. “I was like that in juniors,” Zengerle said. “I could hear the guys going nuts on the bench, and it drives you to keep going.”
When he took the shot resulting the second Badger goal, Zengerle didn’t realize it was deflected, but he gave full credit to teammate Mersch. “I new it went in off the pipe,” said Zengerle. “Michael Mersch does a good job in front. The goalie can’t see over him -- he’s got a huge butt.”
We can’t be certain that Mersch used that part of his anatomy to get the deflection, but it could have been a butt-shot. Butters, meanwhile, is totally dedicated while play is on, but when it stops, he makes the most of it.
At AMSOIL Arena, as well as most other arenas, the trend is to have a “Kiss Cam” at some point, where the big screen shows close-ups of couples in the stands, presumably husband-wife or boyfriend-girlfriend combinations. When they’re on the screen, they’re supposed to kiss, which could be a real benefit to break the ice, so to speak, on a first date. After showing a half-dozen couples, who comply with the tradition, the camera always ends up focusing on the visiting bench, trying to get two male coaches on screen. The crowd never seems to tire of it, and Friday night, the camera showed Butters next to the team’s trainer. Suddenly Butters leaned over as if to kiss the trainer on the cheek, but he evaded him, causing one of the biggest roars of the night.
Defenseman Jake McCabe said he didn’t see the video. “Actually, I saw it live,” he said. “One the ice, nobody is more serious than Coach Butters, but off the ice, he likes to joke around.”
“That’s the type of guy he is,” said Zengerle. “Always making us laugh.”
AMSOIL Arena is arranged so that the media has full and easy access to visiting coaches and players, who are almost always accessible after every game. On the other side, UMD’s dressing area is inaccessible except to a select few media folks, and boosters such as the ubiquitous John Goldfine. In this case, the Bulldogs remained behind locked doors both nights, even though UMD played much better in the second game, with all four lines juggled. They now have a week off to regroup so it didn’t matter. Besides, the accessible Badgers were full of praise for the Bulldogs.
Freshman Tony Cameranesi was elevated to first-line center, and gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead in the first period when he converted the rebound of Andy Wilenski’s blocked shot. Keegan Flaherty made it 2-0 late in the first period when he carried up the right side and drilled a shot from the top of the right circle into the far edge past Rumpel.
“They had a lot more shots in the second game,” said Rumpel, who stopped 35 of them and seemed happier than the night before, when he had trouble remembering any tough saves. “Honestly, I don’t like games with only 15 shots,” he added.
It appeared UMD freshman goalie Matt McNeely, who started both games, might reverse Rumpel’s shutout, but in the third period, the Bulldogs left a couple of openings, and the Badgers capitalized when Eaves double-shifted his top line. “They were out there to start the period and had a short shift,” Eaves said. “So trying to find an edge, I threw ‘em right back out there.” Zengerle scored at 1:36 after Tyler Barnes fed him off a UMD turnover.
With 5:13 remaining in the game, Mersch -- he of the huge butt -- proved to have pretty good hands as well, sniping from the slot past some congestion to snare the upper left corner. “Their goalie goes down in a butterfly almost all the time,” said Mersch. “So I knew I had to put it up high. There were some bodies between me and the net, but I saw it go in.”
Eaves views each game as a stepping stone of learning, and was more than satisfied. “We finally figured out that we had to play ‘big boy’ hockey against a team that was upset,” said Eaves. “They were fiercely competitive tonight, and that’s a credit to them.Our goalkeeper gave us a chance to get our feet underneath us, and getting a tie on the road makes the busride home a lot easier.”
HOCKEY A HIGHLIGHT
AT MAIN U
Turmoil surrounds the University of Minnesota football and basketball programs. The football team is under fire for refusing to play competitive nonconference games, a fact driven home in a story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that pointed out how Minnesota had paid $800,000 to North Carolina to get out of a home and home set the next two years. That’s North Carolina, the basketball power that also plays football. No team in the country is reluctant to take on North Carolina, except the only Big Ten team to not even have one nonconference foe from a Bowl Championship Series conference.
After beating four patsies, the Gophers struggled in the Big Ten, down in powerhouse teams though it is. But they erupted to hammer Purdue last Saturday setting off all sorts of celebratory writings and proclamations from the Twin Cities media. Even the Big Ten network said they knew the explosion was coming, and here it was. That comment came when it was a blowout like 44-7 or 44-14. It ended up, by the way, less than a blowout at 44-28, and the media is whining that the smallest crowd at TCF Stadium of something less than the announced 41,062 showed up.
The reality is even dedicated Gopher fans are tired of paying full tariff for pushover preseason games that fail to prepare the Gophers for even mediocre Big Ten foes. And they are wiser than the media in realizing that Purdue is having an awful season and that “exploding” for points against possibly the only Big Ten team weaker than the Gophers would not be the attraction they were seeking.
In basketball, the Gophers have the Trevor Mbakwe situation, where the kid -- man? -- is a very good basketball players but with a penchant for getting into trouble. He was on probationary status for a felony battery charge in his hometown Miami when he got busted in Minneapolis for violating a harassment restraining order by contacting an ex-girlfriend. He had already been granted a sixth year of eligibility after tearing an ACL in the seventh game last season, but this past summer he got busted for driving under the influence. Coach Tubby Smith reinstated him, saying he would give him another chance because he thought his troubled star was good enough to have a future in pro basketball. Huh?
In other words, a more marginal player would have been disciplined? Of course, the university had to sweat it out while a Miami judge ruled on whether Mbakwe’s obvious violation -- make that violations -- of probation would require jail time. The judge relented, but warned Mbakwe that one of these days, he’s going to run out of chances. Not, apparently, at Minnesota.
Norwood Teague, the new athletic director, who backed Jerry Kill’s desire to not play any good nonconference foes in order to fatten the record and gain a fourth-tier bowl game with just two Big Ten victories, backed Smith’s move as well. Then an assistant basketball coach was also busted for DWI, and the coach and athletic director nailed him up with suspensions without pay, but aren’t firing him. Turns out, the assistant is Tubby Smith’s son. Teague wrote an opinion-page piece in the Star Tribune last week explaining why he is disciplining the assistant basketball coach but not dismissing (nor should he), but he avoided explaining why disciplining an assistant coach because he’s a role model is more important than executing any discipline for a player who is a repeat offender.
By comparison, UMD athletic director Bob Nielson has a walk in the park. Nielson, of course, is the Bulldog football coach as well, which means neither the AD nor the coach has any worries about football. The Bulldogs are at home Saturday at 1 p.m. against the University of Mary, from Bismarck, N.D., and before you think any disparaging thoughts about Mary, they are nicknamed the Marauders, and it’s just happenstance that Jerry Kill hasn’t heard of them as a future foe.
Nielson also has women’s volleyball in a prominent position to charge into the Northern Sun and NCAA tournaments, and the women’s soccer team made a late run to gain the Northern Sun tournament, where they had to go to top-seeded MSU-Mankato Thursday in an elimination game, while men’s basketball faced UWS in its first game, Thursday night at Romano Gym, with nary a felon in the starting lineup.
The Division I sports on campus are men’s and women’s hockey, and both of them have been highly competitive and very clean. Teague can only envy Nielson’s job. On the other hand, maybe Teague can coach football, like Nielson. It is hockey that will bring peace to ol’ Norwood after he began his job amid turmoil.
The Gophers are Golden in both men’s and women’s hockey. The men started strong, even if you dismiss their 2-2 tie with the U.S. Development lads last Friday and a stunningly slim 1-0 victory over Canisius on Sunday. Canisius? (Did Jerry Kill arrange the hockey schedule, too?) With a high-scoring lineup, the powerful Gophers are the WCHA favorite.
Ah, but when it comes to invincibility, coach Brad Frost’s Gopher women are as close as any women’s team has ever been to being unbeatable. Maybe this team isn’t as dominant as the Krissy Wendell-Natalie Darwitz teams, but the competition was much stronger at the top in those days. This year, the Gophers have blitzed everyone in their path so far, standing 6-0 atop the Women’s WCHA, and 10-0 as the No. 1 ranked team in the country. In their 10 -0 start, the Gophers have outscored those foes 64-6, and 35-6 in the six WCHA games. That means all four of their nonconference games were shutouts, two over Colgate (7-0, 11-0), and two at St. Lawrence (5-0, 6-0). In WCHA play, a 7-1, 4-1 home-and-home sweep against St. Cloud was followed by 7-2, 8-0 thrashings of Ohio State, right after Ohio State had swept UMD in AMSOIL Arena to open the season. Last weekend, Minnesota went to North Dakota for their biggest tests, and won 5-1 and 4-2.
This weekend, goaltender Noora Raty, junior center Amanda Kessel, and the rest of the prolific Gophers come to AMSOIL, to face a UMD team that has been amazingly inconsistent. For example, the Bulldogs are 2-3-1 in WCHA play, with the two victories over Wisconsin, while going 0-2 against Ohio State and 0-1-1 at MSU-Mankato. Both games this weekend are at 7 p.m., and it will be, by far, the biggest test the Bulldogs will face this season.
GIANTS SERIES CHAMP
Before the World Series started, if someone predicted one team would win in a four-game sweep, the unanimous concensus would have been the Detroit Tigers. Instead, the Giants pulled off an incredible feat by sweeping the Tigers in four straight.
It was an inspiring Series for a Giants team of basically unsung heroes. Before the Series, or at least before the playoffs, who ever heard of Pablo Sandoval, Marco Scutaro, Brandon Crawford, Gregor Blanco, Buster Posey, Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong, Matt Cain or Sergio Romo, or Hunter Pence. Among others. They rose up together and formed a perfect explanation to the overworked term “chemistry.” This team had it. They chased Justin Verlander, the best pitcher in baseball, in Game 1, and they never looked back.
Posey is the Joe Mauer of the National League. Not only a superb catcher, he led the Major Leagues in hitting, but few realized it, because the Giants play way out West, after East Coast newspapers and ESPN have gone to sleep. I did say, after the league playoffs, and the stirring rallies San Francisco made to beat Cincinnati and St. Louis from seemingly hopeless deficits, that I thought the underdog Giants had far better defense than the Tigers. Turns out, once they beat Verlander in Game 1, the edge in pitching shifted decidedly to the NLers. And after watching closely, I believe Brandon Crawford might be the best shortstop in baseball. And Gregor Blanco didn’t have to come through with his game-breaking hits to be a hero after his sensational catches in left field. Scutaro was just as brilliant as he was while earning the NL playoff MVP honors.
And now we, as basically American League loyalists, listen to the alibis that Detroit got rusty from the long layoff after sweeping the Yankees. Think about that. Sweeping the Yankees, which was considered impossible, is now being transformed to a liability! Too bad about the slump, people say. Slump? They said the same thing about the Yankees in the AL final against Detroit. It’s just that we trade the names Rodriguez and Cano for Cabrera and Fielder.
Face it, a great-hitting and red-hot Tiger team was completely outplayed by the magical Giants. The last out of the Series was a perfect microcosm of the Series: Cabrera, the AL triple-crown winner, comes up for a last chance against Romo, the Giant closer who looked like he had gotten a bad deal from a costume shop when he tried to buy a fake Rasputin beard. Romo has a good fastball, but he throws a slider that genuinely appears impossible to hit. It starts breaking when it leaves his hand, and it keeps breaking, although he seems to be able to control how much it breaks by its velocity.
I made the comment that with his slider, why would Romo ever bother throwing a fastball? He went after Cabrera, slider-slider-slider-slider-slider...Strikes, foul balls, it was a classic duel. Romo wound up one more time, and everybody at Comerica Park knew it would be one more slider . Cabrera knew it, too, and he was ready. Instead, Romo fired a fastball, low and on the inside corner. Cabrera froze, and took the pitch. Called strike three. Game over. Series over.
Congratulations, San Francisco Giants.