Five Things I Think I Think After The Minnesota-Duluth Series

Photo Credit: Larry Radloff

New feature this week that I'm starting on the blog that I (plan) to post every Monday morning after a Wisconsin hockey series.

Yes, it's blatantly ripped off from Peter King of Sports Illustrated's "Monday Morning QB," but I'm not afraid to borrow an idea to improve the site. Besides, King is kind of a legend in this industry.

Some weeks it could be five things, some weeks it could be ten. All depends on the week I suppose. I look at this as an outlet to empty out the notebook, or some other cheesy line like that.

Anyways, Wisconsin was up in Duluth over the weekend to open up their final season in the WCHA. The Badgers opened up the series on a positive note Friday, dropping the Bulldogs 2-0. Saturday night was a bit tougher, as UW had to overcome a two-goal deficit in the third to earn a hard fought tie.

The series was an important one for a Badgers club that struggled to earn points on the road last season. In fact, it took Wisconsin until January 13th last season to accumulate three road WCHA points.

1.) Wisconsin has its best goaltender since Brian Elliott

I was tweeting with UMD's radio guy Bruce Ciskie Sunday afternoon about the series and he mentioned that Joel Rumpel's performance in net this weekend (1 shutout, .970 save percentage stopping 64/66 shots) was the best he's seen out of a Wisconsin goaltender since Brian Elliott.

Makes sense, I responded. Because he's Wisconsin best goaltender since Brian Elliott.

Don't get me wrong, I mean no disrespect to Shane Connelly, Scott Gudmandson, or Brett Bennett who were all serviceable for the Badgers and helped lead Wisconsin to many victories. Rumpel plain and simple just has more talent than those guys did and that's not a slight to them because they were pretty darn good.

One of the biggest reasons that I'm as confident as I am that this Badger club is going to win a lot of games this season is what they have between the pipes. Rumpel might be the best goaltender in the WCHA, and his backup Landon Peterson is more than serviceable when he's in the cage.

Wisconsin really relied on Rumpel at certain times this weekend, especially early on Saturday when the Badgers didn't have much jump in their step.

"He gave us a chance to get our feet underneath us," UW head coach Mike Eaves said after the game.

"That's what you need your goaltender to do in some games, and he did that for us tonight."

Rumpel looked much sharper in Duluth than he did in his season opener vs Northern Michigan in Green Bay. After a 29 save shutout on Friday, Eaves came right back with the Saskatchewan native Saturday.

After Saturday's game, I asked Eaves if it was a tough decision to come back with Joel for game two.

"Not at all. When a guy pitches a goose, you're going to give him the ball as quickly as you know that he's ready to go."

2.) Amsoil Arena in Duluth is a phenomenal facility

This weekend marked my first trip to Duluth's new Amsoil Arena, and I wasn't left disappointed. It's just a beautiful barn where UMD is going to have a lot of success for years to come.

I haven't spent a lot of time in press-boxes, but Amsoil's was certainly the nicest one that I've been in so far. The press area is very close to the ice and provides you with a great view of the game.

I got to the rink super early both days because there was a youth hockey tourney going in that featured some future Badgers. It gave me an opportunity to check out views of the rink from different area's of the arena and I'm not sure there is a bad view in the entire place.

Saturday afternoon I walked over to the DECC where UMD used to play its home games and boy, I forgot what a dump that place was. Not to sound insensitive, but it's night and day the facilities that they are working with now compared to what they had. Big improvement for the Bulldogs.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the friendly people of Duluth as well. Got an opportunity to meet Zack Friedli who writes for the Minnesota Hockey Hub and College Hockey News. Really nice guy who does a great job covering the league.

Also got to meet the legendary Kevin Pates from the Duluth News Tribune. Pates is a guy that I've been reading for a long time and he's in my top three favorite WCHA beat writers.

I was blown away with how cool of a guy Pates is. He's the definition of Minnesota nice. We'll miss him on the beat when he retires at the outset of this season. Glad I got a chance to meet him before he hangs it up.

3.) Mike Eaves quotes and stories can be awesome at times

My first experience listening to Mike Eaves came back in the fall of 2004 when I attended a high school coaches clinic that happened to coincide with the Wisconsin and Denver hockey series that was going on that weekend.

We were fortunate enough to get to listen to Pioneers head coach George Gwozdecky, (at the time) Badger assistant Mark Osiecki, and Eaves. Gwoz was coming off of a national title (and would go on to repeat as champions that season), which was cool, but we all were there to listen to Eaves.

While I certainly don't remember everything that I learned in that presentation from Eaves, the thing that always stuck with me was how passionate he was about his craft and what a great public speaker he was. The guy just truly loves to talk about not just hockey, but sports and life in general.

I started covering the Badgers with my blog back sometime around 2006, but last year was the first time that I started covering the games as a credentialed media member. In fact, the first few games attended as a member of the media I was so nervous that I didn't even go down and interview Eaves afterwards.

I quickly learned what I was missing out on.

The guy is such a fun interview, that even after losses I look forward to speaking with him at the games that I'm able to cover.

My favorite sound clip from last weekend was a quote he pulled out from former tennis star Martina Navratilova. It was too long to fit into my game story, but I felt like sharing it as it gives you a glimpse into the mind of the Badgers bench boss.

The quote is in reference to a question asked by the Wisconsin State Journal's Andy Baggot about how last years club wasn't able to come back from third period deficits (they were 0-9 when trailing after two periods last season), and how things may be different this season.

Eaves pulled out this gem:

"I was talking to (Wisconsin radio guy) Brian Posick before the game about confidence. One of my favorite stories about confidence comes from Martina Navratilova, who talks about the fact that you know, you get confidence by being in great shape, you get confidence by practicing hard and getting your skills honed, but you really solidify it when you do stuff in a game. Then she would say then you go back to work again. But, the fact that we were able to do what we did tonight in the third period allows us to get that feeling of hey, we can do this. Now we go to work again and start that process all over."

Who knows, maybe I'm the only one who enjoys quotes like that but I think it's pretty cool. Paul Capobianco who is the Badger hockey team's communications contact usually takes video of the away post game media scrums, and all the home post game press conferences are on UWBadgers.com, so check them out for more Eaves greatness.

4.) Bill Butters on kiss cam was the highlight of the weekend

Anyone who watched Bill Butters play when he was back at Minnesota during his college days or when he was a pro in the WHA or the NHL will tell you what a tough player he was to play against. The guy simply has a presence about him that is noticeable at all times.

Most long time Badger fans will remember the 'Butters is Rancid' banner that some fans at the Coliseum would hang during Butters career with the Gophers every time they were in Madison.

Those people that know him now will also be quick to tell you what a heart that he has as well. A lot of people that follow the Badgers don't realize that Butters stepped away from the coaching world for a while to head up Hockey Ministries.

For those unfamiliar, while with Hockey Ministries Butters would travel around between different college hockey teams around the mid-west including Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, St. Cloud, Minnesota-Duluth, and even Nebraska-Omaha to meet with any players who wanted to talk about Christianity and their faith.

Butters also met with players from the Minnesota Wild or other NHL'ers visiting the twin-cities.

Kevin Allenspach from the St. Cloud Times (who we miss on the WCHA beat) wrote an outstanding article about Butters mission a few years back before he became Wisconsin's assistant coach. It's truly a must read about his journey as a person.

Jess Myers from ESPN1500 in the twin-cities and the now defunct InsideCollegeHockey.com also wrote a nice story on Butters after he was hired at Wisconsin.

Anyways, the reason I bring this up was a moment that happened during the second period Friday night up in Duluth. Many people who have attended sporting events are aware of the popular 'kiss cam' that various arenas will show on their video board.

For the most part, the camera operators will find different couples in the stands who when put on the camera, will give a quick kiss to please the fans.

In Duluth, the arena workers decided to get cute and at the end of the segment focused the cameras on Wisconsin's bench. More specifically, they showed Butters standing next to UW athletic trainer Andy Hrodey. Most people got a quick laugh, but no one was prepared for what was about to happen next.

Instead of brushing it off, Butters grabbed Hrodey by the neck and pulled him in tight and planted a smootch right on his cheek.

I thought the roof was going to blow off of Amsoil Arena. In fact, I'm not sure the building was that loud the rest of the weekend.

Some of the Badger players seemed to get a kick out of their old-school coach showing his lighter side.

"That was funny eh? That's just the type of guy he is. He's always making us laugh and he's a happy go lucky guy," Mark Zengerle said after Friday's game.

One Butter's star students Jake McCabe also was laughing about it when we talked to him after the game.

"You know coach Butters always likes to have a good time. I think Hrodey got a good laugh out of it, and all the fans got a good laugh out of it, so it's fun to see."

Just an outstanding moment from one of college hockey's more undervalued coaches.

5.) It's nice to finally be able to put the Nic Kerdiles situation behind us

I'm not here to make excuses for the team in Green Bay, and I'm certainly not going to blame the losses on the Kerdiles situation, but you can't tell me that it didn't affect the preparation of this Badger club.

Wisconsin first learned of Kerdiles' one-year suspension on Friday before the Badgers first exhibition game vs the U.S. NTDP U18 team. Everyone involved expected the appeal to take place the next Thursday, which was one day before the Badgers would open their season officially vs Northern Michigan in Green Bay.

However, the appeal got pushed back one week, and the drama and media hype around the situation grew exponentially the longer this situation went on.

It wasn't Wisconsin's fault, and it certainly wasn't Kerdiles' fault. There were just a lot of interested people (all over North America), and everyone wanted to know what was going on.

The story grew so much that I was even asked to do an interview on an Edmonton radio station on the popular Jason Gregor Show on the Team 1260.

The Wisconsin players aren't stupid, they were all following what was going on. In a day in age where almost every player on the team has a twitter account, how could they miss all the Kerdiles talk?

At times I almost felt bad for them. It certainly affected out coverage here at Bucky's 5th Quarter. Planned articles like previews of the incoming freshman, and positional previews were replaced with non-stop coverage of the Kerdiles saga.

All-in-all, we've written thirteen stories about Kerdiles since news first broke October 6th. That's a lot of publicity for a kid who's never put on a Badger sweater in a game that mattered.

No one associated with the Badger hockey program will admit that it was a distraction, but there's no way it wasn't.

If you missed it late last week, Kerdiles joined the U.S. U18 team (his former club) to play last weekend vs Minnesota and St. Thomas in a pair of exhibition games. Kerdiles' participation was cleared with both the Big Ten and the NCAA.

Unfortunately, it sounds like Kerdiles got a little banged up in Saturday's game vs St. Thomas.

Not many details have emerged, but a few sources weighed in after the game.

"(Kerdiles) took a high stick at the end of the first period and got shaken up. Played a bit in the second, got in a scuffle (took a roughing penalty), and then I can't remember him playing again. Wasn't out at all for the 3rd period," said one source at the game.

Another person at the game noted that he skated off the ice gingerly, and didn't return, however the NTDP was up 5-1 at the time.

A third person mentioned that it didn't sound serious, but that it could keep Kerdiles off the ice for a few weeks.

Kerdiles posted on his facebook account after the game, "Haha all I can do is laugh about it. What else can go wrong in my life right now..."

Overall, it doesn't sound like anyone really knows the details. Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves will meet with the media Monday afternoon, hopefully he'll have an update on the situation.

Hopefully it's nothing too serious, as the Badgers would love to have a happy and healthy Kerdiles back in the lineup when he's eligible to return November 30th when Wisconsin heads to Denver to take on the Pioneers.

--

Join the Badger conversation on Facebook! Go to our Facebook page and "like" us!

For more Wisconsin hockey coverage, follow Andy on Twitter (@AndyJohnsonB5Q)

You can also reach Andy via e-mail (AndyJohnsonB5Q@gmail.com)

At least now everyone knows when Kerdiles will be back, and can simply move forward with their lives.

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