April 01, 2013

SportsFilter: The Monday Huddle:

A place to discuss the sports stories that aren't making news, share links that aren't quite front-page material, and diagram plays on your hand. Remember to count to five Mississippi before commenting in anger.

posted by huddle to general at 06:00 AM - 5 comments

The atmosphere in Louisville must be otherworldly, with the women's team coming up huge against Baylor while the men were prevailing against Duke.

posted by beaverboard at 09:38 AM on April 01

The "Shivering 16" were trimmed to the "Icy 8", and now the "Frozen 4" is set. It will be an all-New England semi-final when Yale and UMass Lowell meet, while St. Cloud State tries to defend Midwest hockey against the 3rd New England squad, Quinnipiac. Pittsburgh will be jumping from April 11 - 13.

Yale was an eye-opener to me, beating Minnesota and North Dakota, and coming from behind in both games. This is their first NCAA hockey championship appearance since 1952. That's a long time, baby. Quinnipiac looked like its reputation was much larger than its ability until the 3rd period against Canisius. Then they woke up and came from behind. I watched Union take apart a good BC team, using its speed, particularly in the defense, to keep BC from getting any momentum. This made me think that Union would handle Quinnipiac easily, but Matthew Peca's natural hat trick in the 1st period brought that to a screeching halt.

UMass Lowell did not surprise me in either of their regional wins. Their win over Wisconsin was more one-sided than I expected, but again, no surprise. New Hampshire had a better game plan than had Wisconsin, but it did no good. Lowell used its size, speed, and really good goaltending to squeeze out the 2-0 win. I was unable to pay a lot of attention to St. Cloud State, and it's my loss. What I saw of them against Miami University showed me that they are easily the most balanced team of the 4, and are very well the deepest.

Now it's time for a couple of predictions for the Frozen 4. Looking at UMass Lowell vs Yale, I have to predict that the Eli will win a tight one. Lowell is in the Frozen 4 for the first time, and they've come a long way from the days when they were Lowell Textile Institute, then Lowell Tech. They're not a team that will score easily, and particularly will not score early. They rely on their defense to hold them in the game, and wait for a miscue to allow transition and a good scoring opportunity. Their goalie, Hellebuyck, describes himself as "big and boring". The boring part refers to his composure in the net. He should also add 'highly competent" to the description. He's probably the best goaltender in the finals. Yale showed me that they are a "grind 'em down" sort of team. They'll try to stay in the game as long as possible, and then, when the other team wears down a bit, they will get the "dirty" goals on rebounds, goal mouth scrambles, and sheer force of will. The key would be to get a big (3+ goal) lead early on Yale, and hold them off, but not by sitting back. Lowell is not the team to do this.

St. Cloud State against Quinnipiac shapes up to be a real battle. Both teams can score, and both have good goaltending. This one could well boil down to the 3rd or 4th line having its best game of the season. If this is the case, St. Cloud State's depth will carry the day.

If the semi-finals go as I expect, Yale will face St. Cloud State. This one belongs to St. Cloud State for 3 reasons: 1. Depth. They won't wear down late in the game as other teams have against Yale. 2. Balance. They have scoring ability on all 4 lines, and their defense is capable of contributing in the offensive zone. They also have solid, if unspectacular, goaltending. 3. Location. One of my rules in ice hockey is that you should never underestimate a team from Minnesota.

One aside concerning the TV coverage of the regional games. ESPNU carried most of them live, and had the rest on delay. Living in New England allowed those of us who receive NESN to get the games involving the New England teams on live broadcast. Suffice it to say I wore out the remote between NCAA hockey, Bruins hockey, and Celtics basketball. During one of the ESPNU games, the announcers did a promo for college lacrosse, then proceeded into some self-congratulation for ESPN promoting the lesser-known college sports. Atypically, they were correct. While there may not be a huge audience for lacrosse, ice hockey, college baseball (in the regular season) and other such sports, having them receive exposure on ESPNU is a positive development for college sports in general. There's more to life than football and basketball.

posted by Howard_T at 04:26 PM on April 01

There is indeed, Howard. Nice analysis of the events so far. I have to agree with your call on St. Cloud State, as they looked brutal in knocking off my alma mater Miami yesterday. Miami owned the better part of the first period and kept finding either iron or goalie when they had opportunities. After escaping the first period with a 1-0 lead, St. Cloud really locked down the second and third periods. Their "3rd" line was as good as any line in this year's tournament.

posted by tahoemoj at 05:22 PM on April 01

I had a lot of misconceptions about JaVale McGee when he came to the Nugget's last year. I saw the lowlights and figured that pretty much summed the guy up but he's become one of my favorites on the team and the player I probably think about the most. This piece by Ben Hochman at the Denver Post is some of the best work I've seen in explaining The Great Adventure that is JaVale McGee.

posted by tron7 at 06:39 PM on April 01

They rely on their defense to hold them in the game, and wait for a miscue to allow transition and a good scoring opportunity.

Great analysis Howard. But I wonder, is Rafa Benitez moonlighting as the Lowell coach? That would explain the recent results at Chelsea, at least a bit.

posted by billsaysthis at 11:40 AM on April 02

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