UND HOCKEY: Risk, Reward on the Line for Underclassmen Fighting Hawks Going Pro

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Midco Sports Network’s Alex Heinert pointed out that there has been a helluva lot of underclassmen leaving school early and going pro. Who can blame them, honestly– when the next level is calling and money is being thrown your way– why not take it?? You can’t blame them to get the money and go for their dream job when they can before they have some kind of injury that really shelves their potential.

The University of North Dakota have two players leaving early to go onto their professional career. Last week, both Christian Wolanin and Shane Gersich signed their pro deals in two nation’s capitals– Wolanin with Ottawa and Gersich with Washington. It’s another year for UND to lose players early. Last season, they lost three players early– Tucker Poolman, Tyson Jost, and Brock Boeser and after their 2015-16 National Championship run, they lost Troy Stetcher, Keaton Thompson, Nick Schmaltz, Luke Johnson, and Paul LaDue to the pros. There’s a reason why University of North Dakota is on the cusp of having 100 players to play in the NHL.

When it comes to someone like Poolman, he really couldn’t do much more with UND. He was NHL-ready and that junior season was the icing on the cake for Poolman to try and repeat as a National Champion. The same could be said for Wolanin, who came into his own during the off-season and transferred it to his junior season, becoming the first defenseman since 1983 to lead UND in scoring for the season. Of course, on a rebuilding team and probably being a key cog in that, there’s going to be a lot of weight on Wolanin’s shoulders– especially given his pedigree being the son of a former NHLer.

Of course– there’s risks involved from leaving college early and not living up to the hype that has been out there right off the bat. That could leave people to wonder if it was worth leaving school early for. That’s something that I wonder when it come to Shane Gersich. Last season, alongside Jost and Boeser; Gersich made his name known with 21 goals and 37 points in 40 games. This season was solid for Gersich, if not frustrating at times. With only five goals and six assists in his first 20 games, you could see Gersich fighting the puck during his struggles. However, new year– new Shane as Gersich finished with eight goals and 10 assists in the second half to have some mojo going into his last games with the Fighting Hawks.

One recent example against the move for Gersich could be his former linemate in Jost, who left the University of North Dakota after his freshman season last year to sign with the Colorado Avalanche (after some alleged heavy/annoying persuading by the Avalanche brass). With only nine goals and 19 points in 59 games this season, you could argue that Jost wasn’t ready for that jump and could have used the time to stay at UND to grow more. Granted, you can’t take injuries into effect when they sign that deal, but it happens and you adapt from it.

Conversely– there’s players who may not look like they’re ready, but surprise plenty of naysayers– like Gersich’s other linemate in Boeser, who was a heavy Calder Trophy favorite with 29 goals (10 on the power play) and 55 points in 62 games until his season-ending back injury this year. Boeser could have probably went pro after his freshman year and winning a National Championship– but he decided to stick around. I’ll say upfront I didn’t think it was best for Boeser to do that, as he didn’t look that great to close out his sophomore season– but I’m glad he proved me wrong on that.

Both Gersich and Wolanin will face some hardships when they get into the big leagues– it happens with most every player, whether they leave early or stay all four years in college. There’s probably going to be questions of if they should have stayed one more year or if they should even be with the team that drafted them. In the end, they made the choice right for them and you have to respect them for it regardless of personal view now or down the road.

Will Avalanche of Wins Make Colorado a Contender??

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Am I to trust the Colorado Avalanche?? Is this ten-game winning streak (as of this writing) something I should be excited for?? With all the promise this team had in the past, it’s hard to get excited when they had 52 wins one season and then haven’t made the playoffs since. For a team that holds their alumni in as high regard as the Edmonton Oilers did throughout the 2000s and early 2010s, there was plenty of dysfunction to go around.

However, it seems that whatever Jared Bednar has been preaching to the team has finally stuck with them. Nathan MacKinnon has been a stud this season while ranking up with the NHL’s top scorers thus far. Not to mention how well Jonathan Bernier has been playing since taking over for the injured Semyon Varlamov (9-0-0 since December 31st), the Avalanche may be onto something good for once.

They’re holding onto the last Wild Card spot in a very hectic Western Conference and it almost seems like getting rid of Matt Duchene is what turned this team around for the better, at least according to MacKinnon. The Avs have have gone 19-10-3 in the subsequent 33 games since the trade, while MacKinnon has 47 points in those 33 games. More over, Mikko Rantanen is better than point-per-game thus far, while Alex Kerfoot has been a welcome surprise to the defensive corps, while adding plenty on the offensive side.

For all the guff that Joe Sakic has gotten– and maybe most of it warranted– the Duchene deal could be the thing that turned the attitude around for the Avalanche; though he could have gotten a little better in return during the summer, though hindsight is always 20/20. It’s a bit of a redemption for Sakic considering how many people have ripped him for what happened with the Duchene thing early in the season and his overall takeover of the GM from the cardboard cut-out that was purportedly Greg Sherman for those last few years Sherman had that title.

Of course, you can’t always take long winning-streaks as a hard-and-fast rule of teams coming out of a funk. Hell, last year’s Flyers had one and then missed the playoffs entirely. But maybe, just for this short time, the Avalanche can have a little bit of relieve considering the turmoil they had to deal with this off-season and into the early part of this season.

Time to Right the Schedule, AHL

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With the announcement of the Colorado Eagles moving to the AHL, as well as the San Antonio Rampage announcing a multi-year affiliation deal with the St. Louis Blues, and barring any unforeseen circumstances with other teams around the league; the AHL team roster has been set for 2018-19 already– which is nice, but brings up some other questions, at least in my mind.

Of course, with Colorado being in there– the divisional alignment is going to be pretty straight forward. The seven teams west of Texas– Stockton, Bakersfield, San Jose, San Diego, Ontario, Tucson, and now Colorado– will mostly likely make up the Pacific Division. This will move the Texas Stars and Rampage to the Central Division, thus pushing Cleveland to the North Division. Simple enough. It also leaves some room for when/if Seattle gets a team and wants to put their affiliate in the Pacific Northwest with them.

The bigger question now is what to do with the schedule. With all seven teams on the equal footing, does the AHL finally pull the trigger on making those Pacific Division team play a full 76-game season or so they think that 68 will be smarter for all the teams, despite having their own division. In either situation, the idea of using percentage points as a deciding factor gets thrown out the window and really shouldn’t be the default playoff that always comes up on TheAHL.com.

My thought on this is that this is the perfect time to sell the 76-game schedule to the Pacific teams. Look, they had a nice run of playing eight less games, though it really hasn’t make much a different in the playoffs for them, but it’s time for the AHL to put their foot down and say, “If you want to play in our league now– it’s time to play by our rules and play the full 76-game slate.”

It’s an easy sell now. There’s seven teams in their division, they won’t have to make “big trips” to Texas to play and could find a way to still keep to themselves, but at the same time– actually be a part of the league in playing an actual full schedule for once. Hell, it’s almost paramount of the AHL to make this happen rather than keep letting them get away with the 68-game slate. If they keep doing that– who’s really in charge?? Why have these teams in the league, even with their full division within a reasonable travel destination, if they don’t play the same amount of games that the other 24 teams do.

As you know, this isn’t my first ranting piece about the AHL schedule, but I hope it will be my last. You can’t have a league that’s touting itself as the step-below The Show, if you have two different set of rules in terms of scheduling for the league. This is the time now to really show that the league is in charge and that eight more games against others in the league are going to be okay and the players will be able to get through the travel. If they want to make the show, they’ll have to deal with some travel here and there anyway– so why not get them used to it and have them earn their stripes (and their reward miles) rather then steal eight games away from there throughout the season.

How To Solve A Problem Like Matt Duchene

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The ideas that are going around about what to do with Matt Duchene has taken a more vocal tone recently, especially after comments that former Avalanche star Peter Forsberg mad about the much maligned current Avalanche forward.

If you missed it, Forsberg told a Swedish publication that the Avalanche should bench and then trade Duchene. Now, I think think everyone is in agreement in the latter part in trading Duchene since he’s been on the rumor mill for the better part of two years now. To bench him, however, would be smart to keep him healthy, but silly because as a team in the condition the Avalanche is in; you can’t keep a top forward (at least for Colorado) on the sidelines when you’re trying to improve your team.

Of course, his coach backed Duchene up and Duchene brushed off the comments– so it’s not like there’s anymore internal drama than there needs to be. And there’s plenty.

Granted, another way to improve your team was to trade Duchene at the Draft or sometime during the summer in order to get a veteran defenseman, but who am I to say?? I’m sure the Colorado Avalanche front office has a handle on this, right?? Where’s Greg Sherman when you need him??┬áIf Duchene became a distraction in the locker room, that’s when you start to think about making him a healthy scratch and ramp up trade talks– which, when dealing with a disgruntled player, always gets the team trading said disgruntled player a great return.

This whole Duchene thing has been a calamity of errors for the Avalanche, which just adds to their laundry list of errors they have made in the past few seasons– like being the old boys club that ruined the Edmonton Oilers for years. It didn’t help that Duchene’s comments at training camp about “being here to honor my contract” came from his lips. It’s a craptastic situation on both sides, but neither did anything to make things better in the off-season.

Now, with all this said– the Avs aren’t playing terrible hockey…yet. Duchene has two points in three games, and things seem to be going contently enough. Maybe the winning and playing well with change Duchene’s mind. Maybe doing well enough will get a bigger return for Joe Sakic and the crew. Maybe it’s just going to be this merry-go-round again until the next Draft. The sky is the limit in the Mile-High City and to be honest, it’s just another added form of drama to this team who once was the class of the NHL.

At the end of the day, if the Avalanche are going to try a full rebuild, they need to do it like a band-aid and rip it off rather than being this cautious during it. They’ve had no plan with Duchene for the longest time and their best chance to land something of substance went bye-bye when Travis Hamonic was dealt to the Flames. The Duchene thing has the ability to get worse rather than get better. If things go south quickly, you have to wonder how much longer and how many teammates will become as disenchanted as Duchene.

Rebooting the Avalanche

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The odds are good that the Colorado Avalanche will be bad this season.

In all honesty, unless there’s some kind of change at the top, this will continue to be norm.

On paper, this is a team that should be competing for a Wild Card spot every year. However, something isn’t clicking. Sure, the defense is a bit thin, the goaltending has “FRAGILE” stamped over it, and their once star player seems like he’s going to sabotage the team from within if he’s not traded soon.

This team reminds me of the 2000s Edmonton Oilers. Old players were brought back into prominent positions in the front office, but didn’t know what the hell they were doing. That’s the road that Joe Sakic is going down right now. He doesn’t know what to do with Matt Duchene (though he could have gotten him for Travis Hamonic if he asked nice enough), his hires are very interesting, and it just seems like the cardboard cut-out that was Greg Sherman could do just as good a job as Sakic is doing right now.

The young talent on this team is real up front. Mikko Rantanen and Tyson Jost are the next wave to help compliment Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. While it’s great to score goals, a problem is keeping them out. Like I said, very thin on the blue line and as of this point– only have four defensemen on their NHL roster under contract. As solid as Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Nikita Zadorov, and Mark Barberio could be…there seems to be a lot left to be desire. The outlook for the defense does look a little bright with Andrei Mironov and Nicolas Meloche coming into the fold– though you wonder if they’ll stand up or be in a holding pattern like Chris Bigras and Duncan Siemens have been in– which has been a couple years now.

However, the biggest issue is the amount of “glory days” Avalanche members in front office roles. Sakic is one of them, Patrick Roy was another before he left/forcibly resigned, and Craig Billington as the assistant GM, though he’s been in the organization for years now. When you look up and down the list– it’s amazing how many more of these guys are in the hockey ops side: Nolan Pratt (assistant coach, 2000-01), Brett Clark (player development consultant, 2003-09), and Brian Willsie (player development consultant, 1999-2003 and 2008-10). Adam Foote just left the organization in August, but it seems like he could have seen how downhill this team was going and wanted out.

This once great team is turning into a tire fire– if it’s not there already. One has to wonder how much longer the Kroenke family will allow this to go on. However, who knows how much the family is paying attention to the team with their other sporting interests they have to deal with. They should be paying attention and should be seeing that this is a team in need of a huge reboot. Get the nostalgia out of there, get some people who know what they’re doing in there, and fix this team that’s gone in such a tailspin that they may finish below the expansion team this year

Where are they going to get this new blood?? That’s a question for someone far smarter than me to address– but the loyalty needs to be thrown out the window if that’s the reason why Joe Sakic is still in his spot. Kroenke does owe something to Sakic for helping make Denver a true hockey town– but there comes a point where enough is enough and they need to do something to stay relevant in the hockey landscape rather than just be a laughingstock. You can’t look from within because there’s more of the same. The pickings could be slim outside because who knows how many people see the Avalanche as a desirable fit or just a dead destination. It’ll take a lot of convincing, money, and the idea they’ll get total control of their decisions to convince an assistant GM or someone like that to be the next GM of the Avalanche and really turn the ship around.

I’m sure there’s people out there willing enough to take on this task as a vanity project to show how smart they are, but at the same time– you have to hope they don’t get ahead of themselves to think it’ll be a quick fix. The roster may not need to be blown up, but it may need plenty of renovation to get it back to their glory they once had.

 

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TEPID TAKE: Jerseys Aren’t THAT Bad

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Look– the Nashville Predators jerseys are bad. Like…Sears Christmas Catalog looking bad. But, for me, it’s really the only one that stood out as truly awful in the new Adidas Adizero jersey reveal. The rest of the looks are pretty much the same, but the design of them brought about pretty big reactions. Of course, the Vegas Golden Knights finally getting an identity was a huge get, too.

There are some things I’m annoyed by already by Adidas, one of which is the designers calling them “tops” instead of jerseys. I know it’s just a lingo thing, but if we’re going to try to keep some tradition, let’s keep it at jerseys. Also, some teams stealing the NBA gimmick and putting the Stanley Cup years into the collar just doesn’t sit right– looking at you, New Jersey.

However, there were improvement to me. The Avalanche going back to their old design is a massive upgrade over the tripe they’ve had to deal with the past couple of years. Only when the third jerseys are back will they have a chance to ruin their identity again– but for now, they get a nice pass. The Hurricanes also reverting back to the old school and reintroducing the storm flags is a nice touch.

The biggest thing going in was the Vegas Golden Knights uniforms. Overall, they look like something the German National Team would wear. It’s a nice look, don’t get me wrong, but doesn’t scream Vegas to me. The white gloves with gold cuff and fingers does scream Vegas to me, which I’m glad they were brave enough to make that change and make white gloves not just for All-Star Games anymore.

Overall, the jerseys are kind of buy the book, with the exception of the Minnesota Wild hacking onto the Canadiens mid-stripe look. The biggest thing to overcome for me is going to be collar area, which everyone got a preview to in the World Cup of Hockey. I’m sure they’ll look better on the ice and grow on me as the Reebok Edge eventually did.