Friday, March 4, 2011

Natty Light (Part II)

The thrilling conclusion to the mess I started yesterday, previewing the ACHA national championship tournament by examining my pool selections in detail.


3. Ohio (27-6-2) vs. 6. Minot State (26-2-3)

Sunday, 10:00 a.m.
Fred Rust Ice Arena

Quite simply, I want to see the Beavers perform at nationals. When they've made it, I've always felt they were ill-prepared for the grind of rapid-fire games by their "traditional" schedule. But as I mentioned yesterday, those rules are out the window. Now we get to see if they can win two tough games on consecutive days, because as much lip service as I've given their schedule, they haven't really done that this year - series opening wins against Oklahoma and Arizona State were tarnished by shootout losses the next day.

I also have a vested interest in seeing Minot play as many games as possible, just in case one of these beauties is on an eight-year cycle with them or something like that.

A bunch of western Canadians and a chippy Rust Belt contingent? Hey, more unlikely gongshows have happened. The game won't be that great though.

Pick: Ohio, 4-1.

2. Davenport (33-6-4) vs. 10. Penn State (22-10-1)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m.
Fred Rust Ice Arena

In sort of a bizarre way, I think the Icers got a little bit of a break receiving the 10 seed after being ranked 11th in the ranking that determined the tournament participants. Davenport's a great team without a doubt, but (spoiler alert) I'm not convinced that they're better than Ohio. Even if they are, the results of PSU's last games with the Bobcats wouldn't have inspired visions of the semifinals, had that matchup happened here.

Davenport fans are excited about the idea of being outside of Michigan for more than just a weekend.

That said, don't make the mistake of thinking DU is not extremely talented, tough and battle-tested - I'm not exactly thrilled at the idea of playing them either. This is a team that has won three straight D2 national championships, then took three of four points from two-time defending champ Lindenwood in just their second weekend as a D1 team. Defenseman Jeff Slusser is last year's D2 tournament MVP, and he's joined by six teammates who previously played in the NAHL, including goaltender Phil Graveline (who shares duties with former St. Mike's Buzzer Joe D'Elia), Adam Kuhn, who has 66 points this year, and Phil Wendecker, a 6'3" shutdown defenseman. Oh and every single player I've mentioned in this post except Slusser is a freshman. Yikes. I haven't even gotten to the big guns yet, like Jonathan Juliano, Brit Ouellette, Bobby Collar...I'll stop there, scary enough as it is.

Sorry guys, I'm just not seeing the Icers as a semifinal team. I think Penn State can play with - and therefore beat - anyone, but when was the last time PSU demonstrated consistency twice in a row against good teams? (Answer: last season.)

Pick: Davenport, 3-1.

1. Lindenwood (29-3-0) vs. 8. Arizona State (27-7-4)

Sunday, 4:00 p.m.
Fred Rust Ice Arena

Now that the two-time defending champs are actually going to do enough to get some stink on their equipment, I can talk about them a little bit. If Penn State was the model for the "new ACHA," which now includes a bunch of well-run club hockey programs (matching equipment and everything!), Lindenwood's been the model for the "new, new ACHA," which essentially means ACHA programs are treated as varsity programs by the university, but for the technicality of scholarship money. Some would point out that LU works around that technicality, but I'm not going to engage that here.

What I will say is this - the Lions have dominated the ACHA in a way not seen since the Icers from 2000 through 2003. And they're showing no signs of slowing down. They've been the No. 1 team in D1 for the last twenty-five rankings, which of course includes the last two national championships. Former USHLer Colin Long is one of the best defensemen out there, and fellow 2010 Second-Team All-American Cory Spradling leads the offensive effort, along with Grant Gorczyca from the World University Games team.

Arizona State's a good team, but Lindenwood eats "good" for breakfast.

Pick: Lindenwood, 6-1.

4. Adrian (31-6-2) vs. 5. Delaware (29-5-2)

Sunday, 7:00 p.m.
Fred Rust Ice Arena

I think Delaware rolls here, and I think it's surprisingly easy. Because as much as Adrian has a reason to be upset, so do the Blue Hens. It's easy to forget now, with the way both teams have played this year, but Delaware and Rhode Island were last year's Iowa State and Illinois, traditionally good teams that fell victim to the autobid. UD's snub was particularly egregious, as they were denied a spot in the field of 16 despite a 10-2-1 spring semester record, including a 4-2 win against the then-No. 2 Icers down the stretch. This year, they look to be on the road to redemption, and other than a bad loss to Liberty (blame the pink jerseys), the Hens have only lost to Penn State and Rhode Island. I'm sure they are thinking national championship on home ice, in front of a crowd including people who aren't their parents.

It'll be nice to have actual big-game atmosphere for the big games. Yeah, I'm looking at you, John Carroll.

Call it a delayed catharsis after working out the home pressure in the first round, call it Whalers love for coach MF Schurman, call it playing to my audience of Blue Hens, or call it a gut feeling. But I'm calling it.

Pick: Delaware, 6-2.


2. Davenport (33-6-4) vs. 3. Ohio (27-6-2)

Tuesday, 5:00 p.m.*
Fred Rust Ice Arena

As stated, and as much as I complimented them above, I'm less than fully confident that Davenport makes it to this spot - if Rhode Island beats Penn State in the first round, I could very easy see semifinals of URI-Lindenwood and Delaware-Ohio. ESCHL pride.

As for this one, there's actually some series history this season to reference: back in early October, DU collected two wins at Bird Arena, one in a shootout.
The host Bobcats got on the board with two consecutive goals in the opening period.  DU's Ben Dykstra (Kentwood, Mich.) then cut the margin in half late in the first with a power play goal to make the score 2-1 heading into the first intermission.  DU outshot the Bobcats 14-5.

After a scoreless second period, Dykstra then opened the final twenty minutes with a short-handed goal after DU fought off a 5 on 3 power play for Ohio.

Unfortunately, the tie would be short-lived as the Bobcats scored to go up 3-2 but their lead did not last long either as Davenport's Phil Wendecker (Westland, Mich.) tied the game with the first of his two third period goals for the rookie.

With only five minutes remaining, the host Bobcats scored a goal that looked to be the game winner but Davenport hung tough and with only 1:35 remaining, Wendecker scored the equalizer to send the game into overtime.

The extra period was not enough to decide the winner so the two teams went to a shootout.  Davenport got goals from Jeff Slusser (Kentwood, Mich.) and Ben Dykstra (Kentwood, Mich.) and held the host team to zero goals on two shots for the shootout victory.
The Panthers completed the sweep on Saturday.
Ohio got on the board with the only goal in the opening period but DU came back strong in the second with three unanswered goals to take a 3-1 lead after forty minutes of play.

Scoring for Davenport were Sean McWhorter (Lansing, Mich.) and Tyler Forbes (Toronto, Ontario). The rookie Forbes had two of the three goals as they quickly took the crowd out of the game.  Two of DU's three goals came via the power play.

The third period saw many exciting plays and hits as the intensity continued inside Bird Arena but it was the scoring from Adam Kuhn (Southgate, Mich.) and Justin Smith (Sarnia, Ontario) that iced the game for the Panthers as they did allow two Bobcat goals but the host scoring was not enough with DU getting out of Ohio with a two game sweep.
Despite those results, I'm still picking OU. Why? Quite simply, I think they're trending in the right direction, I think they're a team that's well-built for a playoff run...and Davenport lost to Michigan-Dearborn this semester. I just can't put a team that loses to Dearborn in the final, this isn't 1996.

Pick: Ohio, 2-1.

1. Lindenwood (29-3-0) vs. 5. Delaware (29-5-2)

Tuesday, 8:00 p.m.*
Fred Rust Ice Arena

There's no question Delaware is capable of hanging in with Lindenwood, but will they? The problem from the Blue Hens' standpoint is that they have a tougher road to get to this point than any other top-five team, and not by a little. They're the only one to draw a non-autobid in the first round (one that's playing well too), and they're the only one who likely has to play another top-fiver in the second round. UD's vaunted depth will certainly be tested, should they get here. Lindenwood, on the other hand...well, they have Slippery Rock in the first round. I'm thinking if my LU enrollment goes through in time, I might be able to take a couple shifts in that game. Then, as mentioned, Arizona State, a good team, but probably a cut below Adrian (or Penn State/Rhode Island for that matter).

Ultimately, I think another brutally-edited video, like this one from September 24th, goes on Lindenwood's YouTube account.

Pick: Lindenwood, 4-1.

* Times based on Delaware making the semifinals and getting the late game. Which semifinalists play at which times is TBD.

Championship Game

1. Lindenwood (29-3-0) vs. 3. Ohio (27-6-2)

Wednesday, 7:00 p.m.
Fred Rust Ice Arena

Well, there you have it 18 games (including consolations, which I haven't addressed here because I've been going on too damn long as it is, thanks for reading the whole thing) over four total days to give us a rematch of the CSCHL championship game. Nicely done, me. And nicely done, ACHA, if it happens, because this one would have more entertainment potential than probably any other possible pairing.

There's not a whole lot left unsaid at this point, so I'll just present the season series between these teams:

January 28, 2011: Lindenwood 5 at Ohio 1
January 29, 2011: Lindenwood 4 at Ohio 3
February 20, 2011: Ohio 4 vs. Lindenwood 0 (CSCHL Championship - Bensenville, IL)

Maybe it's more a desire to see anyone but the Lions win it more than any actual logic behind this one, but...

Pick: Ohio, 3-1.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry to hear your hotel WiFi sucks, but I hope you are able to enjoy your time in my area with your wife and dog. Yesterday was a great atmosphere, but it was hard to see it was so crowded! But in a positive I see they did add a concession stand to the gold arena! Anyway, we did a full day today there, I wanted to go back and be able to enjoy a few games it was a blast with not nearly as many people in both areas and the boys were happy as they got pictures with several of the Icers and members of other teams in between games
    the Icers looked good today, a good ending to an up and down year. Lets hope we have a great year in our final season in ACHA and hopefully go out on top. By the way was glad to hear Rhode Island get blown out! We were in gold watching Rutgers/SRU and ASU/Minot so I missed it, but i wished I saw it after all the tortue RI has put on us!