We're back once again with our weekly "View from the other side" series where we take a deeper look into the Badgers opposition by chatting with local media from around the country. This week Wisconsin is packing up the bus and hitting the road as they travel to Minnesota-Duluth to take on the Bulldogs.
Earlier this week I was able to chat with UMD radio play-by-play man Bruce Ciskie (@BruceCiskie). Bruce also does a great job covering not only UMD, but sports in general on his personal website, The Ciskie Blog. Bruce also works for like 15 other websites but we'd be here all day if I were to pimp all of them out.
Getting down to business, the Bulldogs are coming off a road split at Notre Dame. UMD took it to the Irish on a rare Thursday night showdown, but weren't able to complete the sweep on Friday. The Badgers were off last weekend, but were swept by Northern Michigan in their season opening series.
Bucky's 5th Quarter: Minnesota-Duluth has won the opening game of both series they've played (Ohio State, Notre Dame), and lost the second game both weekends. What's your early assessment of this year's club in relation to your expectations?
Bruce Ciskie: It's about where I expected it to be. Coach Scott Sandelin likes his team, and really likes his freshmen, but the reality is that freshmen usually need some time to get their feet wet. He has enough experience back to let those youngsters take their time getting acclimated to the pace and intensity of Division I hockey.
The win over Notre Dame Thursday is going to end up looking quite good for UMD by the end of the season. That's a solid team, and it's only going to be better when Mario Lucia puts the skates on and gets cleared to play. UMD was very good in that game, but has shown a tendency to be sloppy with the puck in the second games of series so far. It's too early to label that a problem, as we're only four games in, but no matter Friday's result, it sure would be nice to see UMD get a lead and play well on Saturday.
B5Q: How has the team handled the transition out of the Jack Connolly era (leadership, scoring, etc.)?
Ciskie: This has to be a different team, and I think most of the guys -- if not all of them -- have an understanding of that. Top-line center Caleb Herbert, for example, is more of a shooter than Connolly was, and it would be silly for him to try to be Jack Connolly. It's not in his DNA. He needs to use his speed and shot to be at his highest possible level. I think UMD is more of a greasy-goal team than it's been in the past, with guys like Mike Seidel and Austin Farley not blessed with great size, but still possessing a superb net-front presence that can create hard-work goals and drive goaltenders battier than they already are.
Sixth-year senior Cody Danberg does just fine in the leadership department, and the senior class is generally long on will and heart.
B5Q: Kenny Reiter was far from Patrick Roy, but at least he was reliable. How is the goalie competition shaking out for the Bulldogs, and who should we expect to see between the pipes this weekend?
Ciskie: Well, Reiter was indeed a good college goalie, and I think he could end up having a nice pro career, even if he never really makes it in the NHL. He's a winner, a competitor, and a hard worker. Very smart guy.
He leaves behind a trio of guys who are -- according to Sandelin -- all capable. We've seen junior Aaron Crandall play pretty well out of the gates. His only bugaboo so far has been a couple of five-hole goals against Ohio State that he reacted to like a goalie who really wanted a second chance at them. He was sharp Friday against Notre Dame, but was victimized by turnovers and a glut of Grade-A scoring chances.
(The shot chart from that game was enough to make me want to wretch. Way too many quality opportunities.)
I thought freshman Matt McNeely looked good on Thursday in South Bend. He seemed to shake off some early nerves and play very well in his debut. The other freshman, Alex Fons, appears to be a clear No. 3 right now, but I've been told he's going to be ready if needed.
I've been wrong about the goaltending rotation both weekends (I thought Crandall and McNeely would play both games against Ohio State, and I thought Crandall would start the opener against Notre Dame), but being wrong has never stopped me from guessing at things I don't know about. I think you'll see McNeely on Friday. I'm not about to get into Saturday's game.
B5Q: How was that tripping not called when Jake Gardiner got hauled down two years ago in Madison that led to the over-time winner? Oh...just kidding. UMD has brought in another strong freshman class. Who has caught your eye so far early in the season?
Ciskie: I love when you bring that up, because it gives me a chance to remind you that Gardiner went down like a ton of bricks. It was as if he instantly became a soccer player the second Mike Connolly decided he wanted the puck more than Gardiner did. Oh, and Jack Connolly was pulled down right before scoring on a rebound a minute earlier, which would have ended the game. :)
Anyway, I was really impressed by McNeely's first start, defenseman Andy Welinski has played well so far, and forward Austyn Young had a great debut on Friday. Young forwards Tony Camaranesi and Austin Farley have been a little more up and down, but both have shown some real flashes of ability, and I think they'll end up being really good players here.
B5Q: Ok Mr. Ciskie, time to put you on the spot. What are your predictions for this weekends games?
Ciskie: I hate making predictions. In fact, if I hadn't penned the "Press Box Viewpoint" piece for the UMD game program this weekend, I wouldn't be making one. But they make me make one.
I think UMD takes three points. I don't think the Bulldogs are good enough to sweep anyone, much less a solid defensive team like UW. But I also don't think UW has enough muscle up front to score the necessary goals right now.
One thing is certain in my view: Neither team is a lock for home ice, even though I picked both to earn it. But what is a lock is that no one is going to want to play Wisconsin or UMD in the playoffs. By then, the youngsters that look green at times now will be very good players. And Nic Kerdiles will probably still be pissed off that a stupid hotel room cost him the first part of a season he's been looking forward to since he was 15. So good luck playing defense against that, WCHA.
Thanks again to Bruce Ciskie for taking the time to chat with us this week. Make sure you check him out on twitter (@BruceCiskie) where he'll likely be complaining about the officials this weekend. Just kiding Bruce (but seriously though). Don't forget to stop by his website for tidbits and line charts and everything for this weekend's WCHA showdown between the Badgers and the Bulldogs at The Ciskie Blog.
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)