We're back once again with our weekly "Take Five" series where we take a deeper look into the hockey Badgers opposition by chatting with local beat writers from around the country. This week Wisconsin is hosting defending National Champion Minnesota-Duluth who also happens to be ranked #1 in the country.
I was able to chat earlier this week with UMD beat writer Kevin Pates (@patesonskates) who covers the Bulldogs for the Duluth News Tribune. Kevin is one of my favorite beat writers in the league and does a really nice job with his Rink and Run blog.
Wisconsin had last weekend off, and swept Mercyhurst the weekend before. Minnesota-Duluth swept Michigan Tech on the road their last time out.
I talked to Kevin about Hobey Baker candidate Jack Connolly, under-rated Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin, and of course I had to get his prediction for this weekends series.B5Q: Minnesota-Duluth is 11-3-2, and ranked #1 in the country. Doesn't seem like there is any championship hangover to me with this club. Did you expect the team to be playing this well out of the gates?
Pates: Take away Mike Connolly, Mike Montgomery, Justin Faulk, Justin Fontaine and Kyle Schmidt from last year, for starters, and there was no way I considered UMD would do so well, so early. But in the opening game at home against Notre Dame, the Bulldogs showed some strength, and despite losing the next three, they recovered. Kenny Reiter has been the key and 4.12 goals per game on offense has backed him up.
B5Q: Jack Connolly is up to his old tricks this season, tied for third in the country in scoring. You've got to think he's in that top tier discussion for the Hobey Baker right?
Pates: Jack Connolly losses his two wingers and the talk is, can he keep things going. He's been with Mike Seidel and Joe Basaraba the last few weeks, as the lineup has gone unchanged, and Connolly has performed like a two-time All-American. He hasn't missed a game in his career, he has 162 points, he scores critical goals and sets up others. He was a Hobey Baker candidate last season and should be even more in the finalist range this season.
B5Q: Goaltender Kenny Reiter seems like he's been on a roll since the Minnesota series the second weekend of the year. In fact the team hasn't lost a game (10-0-2) since that weekend. Goaltending is always important, but what does he mean to this team?
Pates: Kenny Reiter played the final 10 games last season and has started all but one game this season. He's simply been in control and solid. In two critical points this season -- at home against Bemidji State and at Denver -- Reiter has stopped penalty shots, leading to a 1-0 win over Bemidji and 4-0 win over Denver. He has 40 career wins, eighth-most in program history, He's shown his teammates that his performance down the stretch last season wasn't a fluke
B5Q: Is Scott Sandelin under-rated as a coach? I mean you look at the roster this season and there is certainly some star power, but maybe not like some of the other teams in the league. And here are the Bulldogs, coming off of a National Championship, right back in the hunt again with Travis Oleksuk as their leading goal scorer. From an outsiders prospective, it just seems like Sandy is getting a lot out of this group, and it's surprising to me that he's not more highly regarded on a national scale.
Pates: Scott Sandelin is a detailed-oriented coach who attempts to put the right pieces together for a good college team. Many folks like to talk about how many NHL draft picks are on college teams, but UMD is rarely in that discussion. They have six draft picks this season. When they were in the 2004 Frozen Four they had one. In 2009, they had six in going to the NCAAs. Last season seven. College hockey isn't about getting players to the pros, it is about making the best college team possible. That is Sandelin's strength
B5Q: Time to put you on the spot Kevin, what is your prediction for the showdown in Mad-Town this weekend?
Pates: UMD has been going strong, even on the road, and Wisconsin has played its best at home. That leads to a series split
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