How To Influence Stock Holders and Ruin Young Player’s Trust

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If you haven’t heard of the USA Central Hockey League, and judging by the numbers– you haven’t; it’s a new junior league that was announced in March of 2018. By all accounts, the league was going to be free of USA Hockey involvement and was marketed as a “free-to-play” system much like the USHL and NAHL, while players are able to keep their college eligibility– but much, much poorer.

This seems to be a branch off the horribly planned Central 1 Hockey League, which also was supposed to be the next big thing in junior hockey with no USA Hockey affiliation and the same stuff that this USACHL wanted to be. However, it was announced in 2016 and never hit the ice, taking a lot of bigger markets in Oklahoma City, El Paso, and Fort Collins out of the WSHL and into obscurity.

While the USACHL promised six teams at their announcement by league owner Bill Davidson– they currently have three teams, which could be down to zero by the time this is published. The Texas Lawmen folded when players left, the coach resigned and money was owed to a lot of people; while the Wichita Falls Force having been locked out of their building and according to billets, their kids have packed up and left. Davidson says that the Force are not folding, but it doesn’t look all that great either. Parents of players in Laredo are trying to get their kids home as they have been told the league is done.

A great write-up about what’s going on was done by Cilla Hagle of JuniorHockey.com, though it’s to be said that a prime writer for the website, Stephen Heisler, was a paid consultant for the league and had a number of his clients put into the league. His and people who go to him for comment may have their opinions skewed on what they experienced. However, where there’s smoke, there’s fire– and after reading a lot about this– I’m tending to agree with Heisler’s words.

Forget for a second that this whole thing was a disaster from the word go because of the fail ventures of previous incarnations of Central Hockey Leagues, but this is something that affects the players who trusted Davidson to give them a place to play and give them exposure into the NCAA ranks and beyond. You want to ruin a player’s trust and make them question the decisions they have made and will make in the future– this is a prime example of how that is to happen. Hell, it could cause these kids to lash out against their next coaches, GMs, owners, and so on. There’s a lot of collateral damage being done by a league like this. While this shouldn’t matter to teams looking for solid caliber players, especially when they went to this league on the hope of getting the exposure they were initially told was there.

Not only the players, but the parents of these players are going to start protecting their kid more– and rightfully so. There’s been no transparency from the league, not one member being upfront about what’s going on with teams and players– it’s just the CEO in Davidson trying to say it’s not his fault, it’s everyone else’s. Newspapers are learning from Facebook posts, billets are keeping fans and families up to date when the teams and league aren’t.

This is how you push people away– not just from playing, but from supporting hockey. It’s snake-oil salesmen like Davidson who really give people the wrong impression of hockey people and if they’re well-meaning or not. This whole thing is a case of how not to build, promote, or have anything to do with the hockey world.

UND HOCKEY: Frantic Third, Lifts Hawks to Sweep of Seawolves

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Photo by Jen Conway (@NHLHistorygirl)

GRAND FORKS, ND– They needed all 60 minutes, but the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks were able to sweep the University of Alaska-Anchorage this weekend, getting three unanswered goals in 1:24 to lift them to a 4-3 victory.

Adam Scheel got the call in net for North Dakota after Peter Thome played last night. However, Scheel got a bad break, after a pop-fly pass on front gave Nicolas Erb-Ekholm his second goal of the weekend, after the puck got deflected on a cross-ice pass and may have been batted down by Joel Janatuinen for the first goal of the game. While it was a slow start, the Fighting Hawks had their chances later in the frame, but Kristian Stead was able to keep the Seawolves ahead, stopping both Rhett Gardner and Janatuinen point-blank to preserve the lead.

“They came out pretty hard, I didn’t mind our start, but they had a better one,” mentioned captain Colton Poolman. “We kind of settled down (after the first goal). That’s maybe where we failed before. We looked at each other said this isn’t impossible. It was that collectiveness.”

“After winning Friday’s game, the first couple shifts– that wasn’t us and we were on our heels,” head coach Brad Berry stated after the game. “That’s one thing we’ll address and next time we get into the situation, we can adjust.”

Another bad bounce got Erb-Ekholm his second of the game, as he tried a cross-ice pass, but Cole Smith got a stick on it trying to deflect it and it went behind Scheel to make it 2-0 Anchorage. It took a while, but UND got a bounce of their own, after Stead made an amazing save at the side of the net, only to have a shot by Jacob Bernard-Docker go off his glove and in the net. Bernard-Docker registered his third goal of the season. Ninety seconds later and after a Jonny Tychonick penalty, Anchorage got the two-goal lead back after an Eric Sinclair was set up by Tom Hiekkavirta for a one-timer that went high-glove on Scheel.

While Anchorage kept the chances for UND to the outside, the Fighting Hawks broke through on the power play after Jordan Kawaguchi picked up a loose puck in the slot, dished it off to Matt Kiersted, who put away his third of the season past a sprawling Stead. Forty-three seconds later, UND scored on another power play, with Rhett Gardner tipping a Bernard-Docker shot to even the game. Forty-one seconds after that, Gardner got his second of the game, picking up a loose puck at the Seawolves blue line, driving to the net, and backhanding one passed Stead to pick up his seventh and eighth goals of the season in under a minute.

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Rhett Gardner/Photo by Jen Conway

“I was excited,” mentioned Gardner about the game-winner. “Kind of a relief. A couple bad bounces on their first two goals. So to see a couple bounces go our way felt good.”

Anchorage’s best chance to come back was with Hiekkavirta ringing a slapper off the cross-bar with a minute remaining and Stead on the bench, but thanks to the likes of Mark Senden and Janatuinen selling out their bodies to block shots, UND gets the sweep with a 4-3 victory.

“We knew were going to win that game, it was a matter of how we were going to do it,” remaked Gardner. “We knew after the second period it was a must-win game and there was no way we were going to lose it.”

“Take a sigh of relief after that,” mentioned Poolman. “That wasn’t our prettiest hockey. They had a gameplan and stuck to it. We stuck through a lot of crappy bounces and we got to it and we pulled through.”

“When we were trying to catch a game last weekend, everyone went in a different direction,” said Berry. “There was care, but everybody wasn’t on the same page of the structure. This weekend, I thought there was patience to our play even though there was desperation, all five guys were on the same page.”

The Fighting Hawks will now travel to Duluth to get back into NCHC competition against the Bulldogs.

UND HOCKEY: Defensive Lapses Doom Hawks, Lose 6-2 to Broncos

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks' logo

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– It was a weekend to forget for the University of North Dakota, as they were swept at home for the first time since January 2017, as Western Michigan closed out the two-game series with a 6-2 victory on Saturday night and got their first sweep against North Dakota in the program’s history.

North Dakota struck first, making the most of their power play chances. Jasper Weatherby got his first NCAA goal after crashing the net and finding a Colton Poolman rebound off the pads of Trevor Gorsuch and hitting the back of the net as he dove to make sure he got the rebound off. Colt Conrad got it back for Western Michigan later in the frame, as during a scrum in front, he found the loose puck and flicked it with the toe of his stick to the back-bar to tie the game at one, which is where the frame would end.

Midway through the second, the bad bounces haunted UND again, as a Corey Schueneman broke his stick on a one-timer, but the puck bounced off UND’s Andrew Peski for a 2-1 Broncos’ lead. Two minutes later, WMU struck again on the power play, as Wade Allison went top-shelf on Adam Scheel to make it 3-1 for the Broncos. The Broncos continued their second period charge, as Josh Passolt ended Adam Scheel’s night by rifling a wrister from the top of the circle high blocker on Scheel making it 4-1 and putting Peter Thome in the cage for UND. Defensively, the Fighting Hawks weren’t the best this weekend. Blowing coverages, ill-advised passes, bad transitioning– not a good look after an otherwise solid start to the season.

The start of the third showed the lack of defensive coverage, as Colt Conrad and Josh Passolt had a give-and-go on an odd-man rush, ending with Passolt scoring on a wide-open cage to make it 5-1. Penalty troubles for UND put them two-men down and the Broncos capitalized late with Hugh McGing banging home a one-timer to make it 6-1. With 10.2 seconds left, Rhett Gardner tipped home a Matt Kiersted shot to make it 6-2 and then it ended with UND being swept at home for the first time since January 2017 against Minnesota-Duluth.

Post-game, you could see how distraught the Fighting Hawks were to this loss, especially given their disappointing defensive performance. Captain Colton Poolman seemed to take the loss very hard, coming into the interview room almost at a loss for words about not only Saturday, but the weekend as a whole.

“I think we lost our cool,” Poolman said trying to control his emotions. “We turned on each other for a little bit. It’s hard to say but that’s the truth. We just didn’t play well. We just started trying to do things by ourselves. Some guys tried to do too much. Some guys weren’t going enough. That’s what happens. That’s pretty embarrassing. That’s not Sioux hockey. That’s not what we do as a family, but we call a spade a spade when we put performances like that. That’s not good enough for the caliber of program we should be.”

“Tonight, it seemed everyone was on a different page as far as D-men stepping up and out of the neutral zone, forwards not coming back through the neutral zone,” said head coach Brad Berry. “We weren’t crisp in our team play and that resulted in what you saw. We had guys doing things that we normally don’t do. Over the course of our first 10 games, our play away from the puck has been impeccable, giving up less than probably 10 scoring chances per game.”

The Fighting Hawks are probably in for a big week of practice before the annual Thanksgiving weekend set, this year welcoming in Alaska-Anchorage. The upside is that the Seawolves come into these games with only one win on the season. The downside is that the Hawks need to really show their skill and will on the weekend to show they’re back on the right track and gelling together as a unit rather than individuals.

UND HOCKEY: Bad Bounces, Missing Net Doom Fighting Hawks in 2-0 Loss to Western Michigan

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks' logo

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– Coming off a split in their first NCHC weekend, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks came back to The Ralph to kick off the home side of their conference schedule against Western Michigan University. For the first time in six contest, sophomore Peter Thome was in net for the Fighting Hawks, a crease that freshman Adam Scheel had carved out for his own.

“Obviously exciting to get back in there,” said Thome. “We were playing great hockey. Sucks sitting out, but it’s all about being a good teammate. When you’re winning games, you can’t say coach should change the line-up.”

“(Thome) worked hard in practice,” said head coach Brad Berry of his roster change. “Last couple of weeks he’s been doing all the right things that warranted the opportunity to play. I thought he was sharp and has looked that way the last couple of weeks.”

The first period was controlled by UND for the most part. With 16 shots in the first period, they had their chances, especially with three power plays in the frame. However, Western Michigan’s Trevor Gorsuch was solid thanks to his defense in front of him keeping high percentage shots to a minimum and allowing Gorsuch to see a lot of the Fighting Hawks best chances. The same story for the second period, less the power plays. North Dakota kept making Gorsuch look good with shots right into his pads.

“It’s hockey sometimes,” captain Colton Poolman remarked after the game. “You can do all the little things and then maybe they won’t go. The goalie played really well, they blocked a lot of shots. We got frustrated in the second. It’s something we have to address in the locker room. Sometimes things will go that way. We just got to keep plugging away.”

Luck struck for Western Michigan in the third, as an errand pass to Josh Passolt went off his stick, then off the toe of Hayden Shaw’s skate and behind Thome for the 1-0 Broncos’ lead. UND pressed and pulled Thome with about three minutes left, but the Broncos kept the Hawks off the scoresheet, got it out of the zone, and killed time with their passing before Colt Conrad was able to bury the empty-netter.

“Always have to look at yourself,” mentioned Thome. “It’s a tough play, but tough plays happen. If I would have found a way to have that one stay out, we’d probably still be out there, but it was a tough bounce.”

“You’re defending and boxing the guy out and doing all the things right to prevent a goal and that’s hockey,” said Berry about the bounce on the game-winning goal. “Hopefully the bounces even out and we can get some tomorrow.”

As mentioned before, UND seemed to get frustrated. Plenty of shots at Gorsuch, but nothing getting through. It was another game that the Hawks outshot their opposition by double-digits, but didn’t have a win to show for it. As the game went along, the biggest thing for the Hawks was to keep things level-headed.

“It’s just on the bench, just trying to keep things up,” Poolman said of the frustration level. “You know, you may not score on the shift, but you got to keep the momentum going. You’re not going to take a negative on the shift. Shift-by-shift you got to keep the calm kind of demeanor out there.”

“You got to stay with and the way to stay with it is to play the third period like you played the first two period,” mentioned Berry of the frustration level. “I think there’s a little desperation on our part to stretch a little bit or do things out of the normal of our system. One thing that was evident tonight was we had some pretty good chances and we missed the net. When we have those chance, you have to hit the net. If you don’t score, you can create a rebound.”

North Dakota will try to get that win back Saturday night at The Ralph before going into the Thanksgiving holiday.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Stay Strong Against Old Rivals

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks' logo

University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ logo

GRAND FORKS, ND– On a night where a main instigator of the most infamous UND/Wisconsin brawl in their rivalry was given his “One Last Shift” by the University of North Dakota, the Fighting Hawks did Jim Archibald’s honor proud by taking it to Wisconsin from the start and beating the Badgers 5-0 to start the weekend on a great note and give Adam Scheel his first NCAA shutout.

“It’s good to get it under my belt, but it goes to how well the team played as a whole,” said Scheel post-game. ”I feel I’m pretty comfortable so I think I’m pretty adjusted.”

Scoring started with a great play on the forecheck for UND, as Ludvig Hoff was able to keep the play alive during a Fighting Hawks line change, find a streaking Collin Adams, who made a nice little pass over to Rhett Gardner to make it 1-0 UND. It was the first goal by a senior this year for the Hawks.

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Rhett Gardner/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

“When you don’t score to start the beginning of the year, you wonder if you’re ever going to score all year,” mentioned Gardner. “I just wanted one to break out of it, but I thought I had a good game against Minnesota and just try to keep it rolling and stay hot.”

Aside from the scoring, the forecheck for UND was a big story as they created many turnovers on the penalty kill and by Wisconsin not being able to get a clean break-out from their zone. After the senior’s goal early, a freshman potted the second one, with Jacob Bernard-Docker getting his first NCAA goal with a laser from the point to go high blocker on Jack Berry. JBD froze Berry with a nice little toe-drag to get a better shot angle and pot it upstairs.

“It was super cool to do it at home, but getting more comfortable, it was a matter of time,” said JBD post-game. “We just talked about locking them up and if they’re going down, we’re pulling around them. I was just lucky enough my guy went down and ripped it.”

Less than 30 seconds into the second period, Gardner struck again, picking up an errant rebound to make it 3-0. It took until half-way through the second for UND to strike again, with Colton Poolman just throwing it at the net, which luckily redirected off Wisconsin’s Peter Tischke and into the net giving Poolman his third of the season. Not long after, Jack Berry was lifted with 7:04 left in the second after giving up four goals on 15 shots.

It took halfway through the third for Rhett Gardner to complete his hat-trick almost how it started, with a one-timer in the high slot off another wonderful pass by Collin Adams and going past Daniel Lebedeff to make it a 5-0 lead. Not too much excitement until Tyler Inamoto and Dixon Bowen got into it, resulting in Bowen getting a ten-minute misconduct for a slash, but also jawing a little too much.

However, after a bit of a stumble out of the gate, coach Brad Berry liked what he saw out of his team and how they’ll play going forward.

“The first part of the season, something was missing. We’ve done a better job through practices to play a 60-minute game. We’ve got some chemistry with lines and we’re gelling, but more importantly playing a consistent, 60-minute game.”

The two teams have the rematch on Saturday at 7:07 at The Ralph.

UND HOCKEY: Split Weekend Tough for UND to Swallow

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Photo Courtesy UND Men’s Hockey Twitter

GRAND FORKS, ND– After a heart-breaking 2-1 lost in Bemidji, the University of North Dakota came back to the comfy confines of the Ralph Engelstad Arena for the back-end of the home-and-home against the Beavers. It was a different look for the Fighting Hawks, as freshman goalie Adam Scheel got the nod in net for his first career start.

“I thought it was exciting to wake up and find out I was playing,” said Scheel post-game. “This morning when I showed up to the rink and I found out after pre-game skate.”

However, the offense wasn’t able to muster up any goal support for the freshman, tying Bemidji State 1-1 and leaving a lot of questions to be answered for the North Dakota offense.

It didn’t look that way early, as UND struck first just 2:31 into the first with Grant Mismash picking up a rebound off a scramble in front over the reaching Zach Driscoll to put the Hawks up 1-0. Nick Jones and Gavin Hain had the helpers and were one of the more impressive lines in the first 20 minutes.

The second period was much more methodical in the play, with both teams not getting many quality chances, despite UND have two power plays in the period. It stayed that way until 16:46 in the third period, when Charlie Combs ripped a wrist-shot over the glove of Scheel to tie the game at one. It would stay that way at the end of regulation, with shots being 21-13 for UND over the sixty minutes.

North Dakota put the pedal to the metal in OT, with plenty of quality chances at the start of the period. However, Driscoll was equal to the task, shrugging off shot after shot. The game ended in a 1-1 tie, much to the dismay of the North Dakota players and fans.

“We got one point out of the weekend,” said coach Brad Berry, “And that’s not our expectations to come out of the weekend. Obviously we found out a little more information. We have to work on a few different things as far as our game.”

“When you take away both games, unacceptable, disappointing, we just can’t have that,” said senior Nick Jones when asked about the weekend games. “To come out with a loss and a tie, it’s…..embarrassing is the only word I’ve got.”

On the weekend, the Fighting Hawks were zero for eight on the power play and were only able to muster two goals total in six periods and overtime. Coupled with trouble mustering offense in their exhibition, there’s an aura of the offensive woes continuing in the short-term.

When asked about the offensive woes, Jones was quite blunt.: “It starts on the power play. The past two times I’ve been (in front of the media), I’ve been optimistic. Tonight, there’s nothing to be optimistic about. Couldn’t even get set-up. It was dreadful.”

“We didn’t start with the puck,” said Berry, “They won draws and they cleared the puck 90-95% of the time. You saw how tough it was to get the zone five-on-five, it was equally tough on the power play. Once we got in the zone, it was about trying to keep it simple and I think we didn’t do that.”

“The easy thing is to point fingers and go off in a different tangent and that’s not what do here,” continued Berry. “There’s a focus here. There’s a team and there’s a culture here. It’s early in the season, but that’s not excuse. We have a great leadership group and we have to get better in that area.”

Another non-conference weekend coming up next week with Minnesota State-Mankato coming into The Ralph for a Friday and Saturday set. Mankato is coming off two big wins against Boston University this past weekend and should be in the top-ten of the NCAA rankings by next week.

On the Topic Of Training Camp and Prospects

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Training Camps are when hope springs eternal for some teams. Other teams it’s just a chance to see how good a team will be two or three or more years down the line. However, the idea that there are people who are actually “fighting” for a spot on the team is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, there’s going to be pressure on some guys, but by in large, the depth charts are pretty set.

Not only that, but it’s very odd hockey where it’s much like spring training where there’s split squads and some fans go overboard with the results– both positively and negatively. It often gets annoying and makes me want to speed up to opening night to make the idea of “position battles” go away for another year.

The thing that irks me the most is keeping the kids who have junior eligibility in the camp far longer than they should be. In all honesty, the only time a player with junior eligibility should be at an NHL camp is when it’s the prospects camp early in the summer. The NHL really should look at an “exceptional player” rule to allow some of these junior players the chance to make the team out of camp, but it would also allow the other ones who really don’t have a chance the ability to train and then play for their junior team because their seasons start earlier than the NHL’s.

It just seems a bit silly to have over sixty players in a camp when they’re going to send 15-20 home on their first few days, a majority of them going back to their junior team. I understand that technically those players are the property of the NHL teams, but does it really do them any good to have that short of an experience and miss some time with the team they’re going to spend the majority of the season with?? It’s almost the same as my disdain for keeping players up for nine games when they know they aren’t going to play there for the entirety of the season.

The idea of raising the draft age is a smart one. Even if it’s just a year, it’ll allow the player to mature more in juniors, which would do them a world of good. When you look at the amount of players who are going the NCAA route, it just shows that if you raise the age or not, those players aren’t going to be jumping into The Show right away; which is maybe what teams want with some of the contracts that they give to players being a placeholder for the prospects spot.

Maybe I’m just not into the training camp hype. One player does amazing against junior or AAAA-level talent and then people wonder why he’s a bust during the year when playing against actual pro level talent. Let the kids be kids in the junior area or the NCAA area. They don’t need to be jumped into the league when you not only lack the room for them, but also could destroy their confidence down the rode for being pushed ahead too early.

Weekend Wrap: UND Picks, Carlson Deals, Others Dealt

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It’s been a bit since I’ve written something, mostly basking in the afterglow of the Capitals Cup victory and then waiting to play out what’s gonna happen leading up to the NHL Draft that happened this past weekend in Dallas. While nothing crazy really happened, some moves were made in order to prepare for next season. For that– here’s a little high-speed rundown of some notable things.

NORTH DAKOTA FOUR INCOMING PLAYERS GET PICKED

This weekend, I did my work for the University of North Dakota, which saw four of it’s incoming class get selected. Jacob Bernard-Docker (OTT), Jonny Tychonick (OTT), Jasper Weatherby (SJ), and Gavin Hain (PHI) were all picked and I was able to get stories on three out of the four players (I don’t believe Weatherby was in attendance that I saw), as well as head coach Brad Berry. Links are below.

Berry reflects on draft, hockey growth in Dallas
For Bernard-Docker, road to NHL runs through UND
The draft wait now over, Tychonick ready to roll
Flyers’ pick Hain looks forward to next chapter

CAPS LOCK UP CARLSON

As I was getting home from Dallas, I got the news that the Caps took one of the most sought after free agents off the market in signing John Carlson to an eight-year extension worth $64M. For a guy who is 28 and just hitting his stride it seems, it’s a great deal for the Caps to keep him locked up and part of the core for a long time. Carlson is coming off a career year in goals (15), assists (53), and obviously points (68), while also being a huge contributor in the Stanley Cup playoffs with five goals and 20 points in 24 games. It also gives the Caps some room to get others key parts signed. However, in order to do that– they had to shed some money, too.

GRUBAUER, ORPIK DEALT

On Friday before the Draft, the Caps trades Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche for some picks in return. Both players were going to be rumored to move anyway, but for Grubauer– he turned it into a new deal with the Avalanche for three more seasons, while Orpik was bought out by the Avalanche in order to help get them to the floor of the salary cap. Grubauer will be the primary back-up for the Avalanche it seems, mostly grooming to probably take over for Semyon Varlamov– who is a free agent at the end of the 2018-19 season. Orpik may return to the Capitals at a value deal, but we’ll see how it all pans out.

HAMILTON DRAMA NOT ON STAGE

This whole thing with Dougie Hamilton is very weird and makes you wonder how much one player going out of his way to do things on his own is a detriment to his character. When he left Boston, rumors went around that Hamilton was a guy who was a bit of a “loner,” as it were– not really hanging out with teammates as much as some people would have liked him to be. It seems that stuff like that continued in Calgary; which lead to him and Micheal Ferland being moved to Carolina for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm.

Hamilton was tied for the league lead for defensemen in goals with 17, but apparently was all too content with the Flames losing down the stretch and may have taken offense to the Flames releasing his brother Freddie in January…which really is something you take with a grain of salt until you hear it from the man himself. GM Brad Treliving mentioned he’s going to keep stuff internal, but the gossip about Hamilton’s character keeps buzzing around.

Honestly, if a player doesn’t want to be around his team 24/7 during the season– I could see that. It shouldn’t be a knock on his reputation if he needs a little time to himself. Of course, the hockey culture of being with your teammates constantly is something I acknowledge, as well. It does seem odd for a guy to just go rogue like that– but maybe it’s something that’s needed for him to reboot now and again– especially if the team isn’t doing great and he needs to get away from that scene.

Regardless, the fact that this is the second time he’s been traded despite people saying he’s a top-tier defenseman should raise an eyebrow or two to why he keeps being moved around so much.

TIME FOR TALKING IS NOW

Another anxious time for fans, as unrestricted free agents have their week period of talking with other teams and hearing their offers before the July 1st “Frenzy.” Focus is going to all be on John Tavares, of course. He’ll take is time listening to offers, all the while new Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello is sitting in his office– lights out, shades drawn, and the hit of light from a screen in the background as he waits by his phone for a call. While Rick Nash and Toby Enstrom may be doing the same, Tavares’ name will be the one most looked at when it comes to this period– especially for Isles fans who want to keep him around.

Wanna Fix the NHL Playoffs?? Put in the Pairwise

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People are really talking about changing the NHL playoff format?? The hell is wrong with y’all??

I know you’re never going to make everyone happy. The divisional way to go about the playoffs is what people thought they wanted– but they hate that already. The top-eight isn’t something that people wanted due to times of a weak divisional leader skewing the leaders. The top-16 regardless of conference was something people didn’t like at first, but seem to be warming up to. The idea of all the teams getting in is being put out there with Seattle coming into the fold.

You know whatever is chosen– if anything– people will get behind it and subsequently loathe it two years later when they feel their favorite team gets screwed because of positioning or whatever.

But you know what will really piss everyone off with the exception of a scant few?? Put a Pairwise situation together for the NHL playoffs. Do it like the NCAA and really get the FancyStats heroes get their calculators and algorithms going. As someone who had to deal with figuring out the Pairwise (and still haven’t)– there’s nothing more frustrating that having to deal with other teams in order to get your strength of schedule up and going.

It’s a long-shot, but it’s just as good as suggestions everyone else is throwing out there. The evolution of stats would make this the ideal thing to do and get people really interested in it. And in all honesty, what’s the best way to get people interested in teams all across the league?? Make it so that if you put the top-16 teams into the playoffs; the Rangers have to root for the Sharks to win a divisional game in order to boost the Rangers Pairwise ranking, despite maybe not having as good a record.

Let’s put something to rest, too– the SPHL format of picking your opponent WON’T WORK. NHL heads are still too traditional for that. Not only that, but that is more a minor league gimmick– let that be in the minor leagues. The NHL gets enough guff from the sporting world that they don’t need to be the professional league that makes their league like “Whose Line Is It Anyway!?” where the points don’t matter and you make it up as you go along.

There’s nothing wrong with the way the playoffs are as it is right now. It helps promote rivalry within the division and make those several games a year mean something. Plus, it helps push the NBCSN farce of a Rivalry Night every Wednesday– which is why it won’t change. It’s not perfect– nothing will be. People are fickle and so is sport. Best to just enjoy what you got until your team gets screwed by the system and then have this debate all over again…..next season.

UND HOCKEY: Jones’s Late Heroics Lift North Dakota in Sweep of Omaha

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Photo from @UNDmhockey

GRAND FORKS, ND– On Saturday, it was a story of two teams desperate for different reasons. North Dakota was desperate to end the series in a sweep to help their Pairwise ranking and to get an extra day of rest. For Omaha, they were desperate to extend the series and hope for the best in a Game Three. It took extra time, but North Dakota got the best of Omaha in overtime to send the 10,351 at Ralph Engelstad Arena home happy and sweep the playoff series and move on to the Frozen Faceoff next weekend in St. Paul.

The energy was up for UND, creating plenty of chances in the first five minutes, but showing nothing for it. UND was getting to the hot spot and tried to spread out the game, but Evan Weninger was equal to the task early on in the game. The first goal cam on a loopy call, as Matt Kierstad’s shot went in off the post, bounced off Weninger’s back-end and into the net to make it 1-0 after a lengthy review. Minutes later, Dixon Bowen made it 2-0 after taking a lovely pass off the boards from Trevor Olson and beating Weninger on the backhand. After the under-five media timeout, Teemu Pulkkinen tipped a Lukas Buchta shot to put Omaha within one. Shots after the first were in UND’s favor by the count of 11-4.

“It’s been a while,” mentioned Bowen of his goalless drought, which happened on November 11th against Miami. “It’s good to get the monkey off my back. It’s playoff hockey and anything can happen.”

Five minutes into the second, right after Hayden Shaw’s penalty expired, Pulkkinen got his second of the night after the Fighting Hawks couldn’t get it out of the zone. After yet another two-goal lead slipped away, UND looked to be playing on their heels a bit in the second with giveaways and a bit of an inability to get the puck deep enough to create many chances for themselves. Though they had some sustained pressured towards the end of second, no goals were to show for it and the period ended tied at 2.

The third period started with a goal review for Omaha that was waved off due to inconclusive evidence, but Omaha officially broke the tie when Jake Randolph scored off a crazy scramble in front that had Cam Johnson flailing all over his goal crease. UND tied the game at the mid-point of the third after Nick Jones tipped home a Colton Poolman blast on the power play. Chances on either side were few and far between, which lead to the game going into overtime.

“When we went down there, we showed a lot of character to get one back,” said Bowen after the game. “We never gave up. We’re glad to get down to the cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul) and check off another box.”

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Nick Jones/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl

The overtime was quick and dirty, as Nick Jones banked a Jordan Kawaguchi shot off Weninger to win it just 53 seconds into the overtime to advance UND to the Frozen Faceoff.

“You see goals like that all the time, just throwing it at the goalie,” said Jones of his game-winner. “I’ve tried that 15, 20 times and just lucky to get a bounce this time. He was playing pretty far out of his net and I just threw it out there hoping for a bounce.”

“He picked a good time to score,” said coach Brad Berry of Jones after the game. “He bring instant experience to your lineup. He was in another program, went back to juniors, as an older player with college experience; he’s a seasoned vet. He does all the little things and his leadership qualities are impeccable.”

It is the 16th-straight year that UND will move on from the first round, but they’ll have to wait to see who their opponent in the second round will be. Both the Miami/St. Cloud and Denver/Colorado College series are going to a third and final game. The standings will be re-seeded after the first round with Miami and Colorado College both seeded lower than UND could cause a little havoc going into the semifinals.