The Fixer…

Being a playmaker requires Des Moines center Gasper Kopitar to make the best decision available and that was the case at the beginning of the WHL season.

Kopitar was in his second season with the Portland Winterhawks and things just weren’t going well for him. He was on a team that’s turned out to be the best in the WHL but wasn’t getting much playing him in his first year and had thoughts about leaving the team until he was convinced to return.

“I had about three games in and they sat me down and said that was I wasn’t being productive enough and they were going to sit me,” Kopitar said. “That’s when I said I couldn’t do this anymore.”

Kopitar left the Winterhawks organization and word got around to Des Moines that he was looking for a place to play for the 2010-11 season. The 18-year-old brother of Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar was contacted by the Buccaneers organization about playing for them.

Kopitar made the move to the Midwest and has enjoyed success as a two-way forward. He has 21 points through 50 games this season including a goal on Thursday against the Fargo Force.

His goal came when he got out of the penalty box, recovered a loose puck and put a shot on net. The puck went off North Dakota commit Zane Gothberg and to Buccaneers’ forward Doug Clifford.

“Doug made a heads up play and was able to get me the puck and I scored,” Kopitar said.

Bucs defenseman and Alaska-Anchorage commit Austin Coldwell is roommates with Kopitar and said he’s learned quite a bit from him.

Coldwell said because Kopitar played against quite a few systems in the WHL, he’s able to take what he’s learned and pass it down to his teammates.

Kopitar’s knowledge of the game could certainly help with the Bucs just two points out of the sixth and final playoff spot heading into Friday’s game against the Sioux City Musketeers, who hold the final spot by just two points.

“He knows a lot about the game,” Coldwell said. “Having the brother he was helps too.’

Kopitar said his brother gets a chance to watch his games and with Anze being on the disabled list, he’s had a chance to watch a lot of games lately.

After every game, Kopitar gets a phone call from his brother and they go over what was good and bad about his game.

Ah. The luxuries of having a brother that just happens to be a stud NHL centerman.

The Kopitars grew up in Yugoslavia, but what is now known as Slovenia in the town of Jessenice. Their father played pro hockey in the nation and that’s how the brothers fell in love with the game.

“Because it was really cold in the winter time, our dad would flood the backyard,” Kopitar said. “We’d skate for hours and hours. We loved being out there.”

Obviously, the time on the family rink turned his brother into a bonafide NHL star.

Kopitar could go the same route if things pan out. Playing Major Junior means he cannot play college hockey but he does plan to stay in Des Moines next year.

“From there,” he said. “We will see where things go.”

Nothing To Worry About…

The USHL season is winding down with many teams having four games left to play and for the final time during the regular season, here are the final predictions for the USHL’s awards race.

Player of the Year: 1.Blake Coleman, forward, Indiana Ice (Miami): There hasn’t been a forward and perhaps a player that has dominated the USHL this year like Coleman. He emerged from what appeared to be a tight race for the league’s scoring champ and broke away from the pack. Coleman’s season surprised many given that last season he was a third-or-fourth liner that turned into a dominant scorer and playmaker. He has 82 points (30 goals, 52 assists) heading into the weekend. He also has a league-high plus-48 rating.

Others to mention: 2. Brady Hjelle, goaltender, Cedar Rapids (Ohio State). 3. John Gaudreau, Dubuque (Northeastern)

Forward of the Year: Ryan Dzingel, Lincoln Stars (Ohio State): Sure, Coleman is the obvious choice for this award but let’s assume he doesn’t win it and the award goes to someone else. Dzingel is a solid option for the following reasons. Coleman has help in Daniil Tarasov and Brian Ferlin. Gaudreau has former BU product and Thrashers draft pick Vinny Saponari. Dzingel’s that guy who is Lincoln’s catalyst and playmaker and doesn’t have the weapons like everyone else has. He’s also helped Lincoln overcome a bit of a slow start to be a player in the Western Conference playoff race. He’s scored 15 goals but has chipped in an impressive 42 assists for a 57-point season.

Others to mention: 2. Coleman 3. Jayson Megna, Cedar Rapids (Nebraska-Omaha)

Defenseman of the Year: 1. Ben Marshall, Omaha (Minnesota): There were three picks for this award and you couldn’t go wrong with any of them. Scott Mayfield is the best pro-ready defensive prospect in the USHL. Nick Mattson has having a great year under a new coach in Indiana and has gone from a third-line d-man to an easy top-line guy. But when it comes down to who might do the most for their team, it could be Marshall. Omaha’s had the talent all year between him and potential first-round pick Seth Ambroz, but it did take time.  Marshall’s a guy to be recognize because he does so many things well. Namely, he’s always a force on the blue line from quarterbacking the power play to being a shutdown guy. He has 31 points, which is fifth among defenseman. Tri-City radio man Skip Berry said two weeks ago that Marshall was by far, the best defenseman he’s watched all year. He’s not alone in that department. And considering how many talented d-men there are this year, that’s saying something.

Others to consider: 2. Mattson (North Dakota) 3. Mayfield (Denver)

Goalie of the Year: 1.Brady Hjelle, Cedar Rapids (Ohio State): Hjelle has been the best and most consistent goalie this season in the USHL. He’s played in 48 games this season and potentially could reach 50 in a league that has a 60-game schedule. That alone is proof that he’s trusted by his coaches. Then there’s his 37 wins, which are a league-high and a league record that could be padded. Coaches are often saying that a goalie needs to give its team a chance to win. Hjelle does just that.

Others to consider: 2. Matt Morris, Dubuque (Maine). 3.  Ryan Massa, Fargo (Nebraska-Omaha).

Rookie of the Year: 1. John Gaudreau, Dubuque (Northeastern):Really, this is a toss up between Gaudreau and Morris, his Dubuque teammate. Both have had good seasons but here’s why the edge goes to Gaudreau. At 5-6, 140 pounds he’s not the biggest guy and in a league that’s about physicality, he’s managed to survive. He’s managed to come in and learn from a guy like Vinny Saponari about the game, staying in good shape and how to use his speed. Scoring 69 points (35 goals, 34 assists) in 55 games is impressive for any player but for a rookie, it says a lot. He’s got 15 power play goals but what could seal the deal is Gaudreau has seven game-winning goals this season. That’s tied for second in the league and for a rookie that says a lot.

Others to consider: 2. Morris, Dubuque (Maine). 3. Jimmy Mullin, Fargo (Miami).

Coach of the Year: 1. Kevin Hartzell, Sioux Falls: There are plenty of coaches that deserve consideration for this award. There are rookies like Jim Montgomery, Eric Rud and Jason Herter that deserve a lot of praise. But this year, it might have to go a veteran coach in Hartzell. Sioux Falls had a bit of a slow start to the season but managed to turn things around an turn what some thought was a two-horse Western Conference race into a four-team race once Omaha got active.  Hartzell has made Sioux Falls a physical team that’s hard to beat but more than anything, doesn’t back down. That kind of attitude will be needed in the Western Conference playoffs where no one is going to be getting any cream puff games.

Others to consider: 2. Jim Montgomery, Dubuque. 3. Eric Rud, Green Bay/Jason Herter, Fargo.

Quality Control…

In case you haven’t heard, the North American Hockey League is coming to Minot, according to the Minot Daily News.

And that’s great for Minot, which people say is a place that will get fans. Minot’s downfall in previous hockey ventures has been sorry ownership, but it doesn’t appear that will be a problem.

This sounds like a winner for Minot, but is it really a winner for the NAHL? It has nothing to do with bringing a team to Minot. It has to do with the league now having 30 teams heading into next season.

Having 30 teams in any non-professional league is a gamble given the fickle nature of teams, owners and fans. Junior hockey can work, but no league has the perfect model because it all depends upon the location. Take Fargo as an example. Junior hockey has failed four times but the Force are said to have a better fate because they are playing in a new building making it easy to attract fans.

Or take the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, a major junior league, that plays musical chairs what appears to be every two or three years.

Minot’s team has already created an initiative to remodel the the arena there but what good is having a team and a building when the competition they go up against isn’t that great? People can comment about this being a “USHL blog.” Yes, this is a blog that talks about the USHL but by no means is it a pro-USHL or pro-anything blog.

This is a blog that looks at a variety of things involving the USHL and junior hockey as a whole. In this case, let’s face it, the NAHL just doesn’t have the talent the USHL or the Canadian Hockey League teams have. Your top American junior players have one of three choices that are the most likely to consider: 1. The CHL route. 2. College Hockey route. 3. The USHL.

There are really good players around the NAHL and those guys usually don’t last because a USHL team will come in and grab them (i.e. Ryan Massa).

The most updated college commits list on the NAHL’s Web site lists it with 62 Division I commits with 13 of them being alumni like Massa that have gone on to the USHL. The USHL already had 69 commits just by counting the first five teams listed on the D1 commits page. The USHL has 185 D1 commits excluding the NTDP and with the program has 220 commits among its 16 teams.

Yep, the USHL has half the teams and three-and-a-half times the commits compared to the NAHL.

Having 30 teams, for now, appears to be good for the argument of growing the game and attracting fans. But how do you hold onto those fans when best talent are opting for leagues in better locales, arenas and more importantly, exposure?

Every league wants to have success but in this case there’s no such thing as power in numbers.

Lucky You…

Aside from those schools in the Frozen Four, everyone else is forced to think about what could have been and what could happen in the future.

That’s where recruiting comes in. Head coaches and assistants have spent the season retooling for the future, but what are the programs with the best recruiting classes? Here’s a look at Slightly Chilled’s picks for the nation’s Top 10 recruiting classes based off current commitments per Chris Heisenberg’s 2011 recruit list.

10. New Hampshire (Hockey East)

Notable names: Trevor van Riemsdyk (D), Casey DeSmith (G), Ryan Randall (D)

Dick Umile and Co. have 18 players committed to them over the next few years for what is one of this year’s deepest recruiting classes. What’s likable about this class is who they have coming in on defense. There’s van Riemsdyk, who at 6-2, 185 has pretty good size and is the kind of player that was a strong offensive defenseman playing for the New Hampshire Monarchs in the Eastern Junior Hockey League. He scored 16 goals and 22 assists, but his strength is the power play where he scored seven goals and chipped in with 13 assists. UNH has six defenseman committed. Another solid pickup is DeSmith, who plays in the USHL with the Indiana Ice. DeSmith as 21 wins and a 2.50 GAA on a team that could be a contender to win the league’s Eastern Conference title.

9. Boston University (Hockey East)

Notable names: Robert Polesello (F), Matt Grzelcyk (D), Matthew O’Connor (G)

The Terriers have a 10-player recruiting class that has a good mix of forwards and defenseman. Polesello might be the biggest name on this list even if he his 5-7, 160 pounds. Polesello was recently featured by Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News as being a guy to watch given the playmaking ability he’s showed in the Ontario Junior A Hockey League. He scored 47 points for Vaughan in the during the regular season and heading into last weekend had six points through nine playoff games. Polesello isn’t the player with offensive upside in this class. Forward Cason Hohmann, who is playing with Cedar Rapids in the USHL, has 50 points in 49 games this year. Another trend with this class is they aren’t big on size with a number of players around that 5-9, 5-10 range.

8. Michigan (CCHA)

Notable names: John Gibson (G), Connor Carrick (D), Travis Lynch (F)

Michigan has a good situation going on because it has a mix of players that can come in immediately and guys waiting in the wings still playing juniors. Lynch is one of those guys that is set to come in next year. Here’s what’s to like about Lynch. At 5-11, 176 pounds, he has some decent size but has room to grow. He’s also a pretty smart player too. Lynch only has 11 PIM in 56 games this season with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL. Throw in his 40 points this year and it appears he could fill a two-way role for the Wolverines. Another advantage Michigan has with this class is size and Gibson is proof given his 6-3, 175-pound frame that’s only going to grow. Gibson, potentially, could be the next solid goalie to come through Michigan if he continues to develop. As for the future, Michigan has four kids coming up through the infamous Detroit Honeybaked system. Having chemistry with freshman isn’t a bad thing either.

7. Boston College (Hockey East)

Notable names: Sam Piazza (D), Michael Sit (F), Ted Doherty (D)

BC has a class that’s a bit similar to UNH and Michigan by having players that can come in right away and having players that can develop. A guy that is said to come in right away is Sit, who played at Edina, arguably the best high school program in Minnesota. He was part of an Edina team that won a state title when he was a junior. His senior year wasn’t bad helping Edina finish fourth in the state tournament. Sit can do a variety of things but his strength is setting up players. He scored 31 points in 24 games for Edina and 21 of those points were assists. The big name in the up-and-comers group is Piazza out of the Chicago Mission youth system. Piazza is a offensive defenseman that likes to score, which if things keep progressing, could work out well for the Eagles. Most of BC’s current commits won’t arrive for another year or two, maybe longer. Even still, it is a young class with promise that should challenge for a Hockey East title once it gets on track.

6. Ohio State (CCHA)

Notable names: Brady Hjelle (G), Zach Stepan (F), Ryan Dzingel (F)

Ohio State is listed at having 22 commits with six of them slated to come in the future. Either way, this is a deep class that’s got strengths all over the board especially at defense. There are a number of d-men that stick out such as Alex McLean, who plays for Omaha in the USHL. McLean is that guy with good size who at 6-2 185 pounds is a presence at the back. Another guy Ohio State fans should be familiar with if they aren’t already is Hjelle. He’s done nothing but set the USHL record for most wins by a goaltender in a season and has played in virtually every game for his season. Hjelle is a workhorse and really hasn’t had a point in the season where he’s looked weak. Hjelle is 37-7-4 with a 2.22 GAA. The future of this class is also bright when looking at Stepan, who plays at the infamous Shattuck-St. Mary’s boarding school that produced NHLers like Sidney Crosby and Zach Parise. Stepan finished his junior season by being third in the team in scoring with 61 points in 48 games this season. This is a solid, solid recruiting class.

5. Minnesota-Duluth (WCHA)

Notable names: Tony Cameranesi (F), Matt McNeely (G), Tim Smith (D)

This is a very, very solid and respectable recruiting class that could surprise a few people over the next few years. Getting a guy like Cameranesi gives the Bulldogs speed up front just based off what he did at Wayzata during the Minnesota High School season. UM-D fans are excited about Cameranesi because of his speed and because he was a player that created a lot of discussion for the state’s Mr. Hockey Award. Cameranesi had 63 points in 28 games but did a lot of damage by creating scoring chances, which was evidenced by his 46 assists. Getting McNeely was a big, big thing for the Bulldogs too. Having a guy from the NTDP come to the program is proof Sandelin is doing the right things to get guys there. Also, Adam Johnson, a sophomore at Hibbing/Chisholm, won’t be there for a while, but he is a good guy to grab. He was electric during the Class A Minnesota State High School tourney and if it wasn’t for Kyle Rau, he might have been the most exciting player to watch during this tournament.

4. Miami (CCHA)

Notable names:  Connor Murphy (D), Blake Coleman (F), Tyler Biggs (F)

Miami, just based of the USHL alone, has arguably the most dangerous scoring potential of any incoming class. Coleman leads the USHL in points while Jimmy Mullin is an electric player that can rack up points too. Don’t forget Biggs, who will be a lunch-money stealing bully with his size. Miami also has four defensemen in this class headlined by Murphy too. Putting Miami at No. 4 was hard given the potential this group has. Speaking of the USHL, of the 10 players slated to come in next season, all of them played in the USHL. Making that jump, of course, will provide challenges but having a group of freshman with a year or more of juniors under their belt isn’t a bad thing. If there is such a thing, this is my pick for the sleeper class.

3. North Dakota (WCHA)

Notable names: Rocco Grimaldi (F),  Zane Gothberg (G),  Jordan Schmaltz (D)

Damn. That’s really what anyone can say when looking at the Fighting Sioux’s class, which is ridiculously sick. Putting this class in the No. 3 spot has a hard choice given how much talent should be rolling in over the next few years. Forget size, Grimaldi is the real deal. He’s got a quick shot and speed that makes him so dynamic and hard to contain. Gothberg, who won’t enter until 2012, has looked sharp at times in the USHL. He could be the starting goaltender next year in Fargo and that experience could prove well for the Boston Bruins draft pick. Then there is Schmaltz has been the kind of player to dominate games from the blue line. UND fans have had a chance to watch him as he’s had some pretty good games in Fargo. Schmaltz comes in 2012 along with Gothberg, but the future is bright. And a guy to pay attention to is defenseman Andrew Panzarella. He has good size at 6-2, 190 pounds and strong footwork too. Really, an argument can be made that there are more guys to watch for the Sioux, which isn’t a surprise. This is a class that should do a lot of great things over the next few years.

2. Minnesota (WCHA)

Notable names: A.J. Michaelson (F), Seth Ambroz (F), Ben Marshall (D)

Any year, this would win the prize for best recruiting class. Just not this year. Don Lucia has crafted and recruited a class that not only fits that whole “Minnesota-born” philosophy Gopher fans love or in some cases, love to hate, but he captured the best players that state has to offer. What Minnesota has coming through next year in Ambroz, Marshall and Michaelson alone is a lot to be proud of. Ambroz is a player that some NHL Draft experts have going in the first round and well, that’s really all that needs to be said. Marshall, for some, is the clear choice as the USHL’s best defenseman. He keeps an active stick and his positioning allows him to be near the puck whether its on the offensive or defensive end. Michaelson, who just finished his junior year at Apple Valley (Minn.), had 60 points (29 goals, 31 assists) in 25 regular season games. He turned down an invite to play for the NTDP yet will play in the USHL next season for Waterloo. Michaelson, if he had stayed, would have been a favorite to win Mr. Hockey along with being a favorite for a state title.

But there’s more players like Christian Isackson, who has been slapping kids around the USHL like they’re a Raggedy Andy doll with how active he is. He’s not really physical but he’s around the puck constantly. Isackson puts himself in great position most of the time he’s on the ice. Then there’s the O’Reilly twins, who are speedy and have already gained a partnership with Isackson by playing on the same line as him from time-to-time. And then there’s something about some Kyle Rau kid. No one ever really writes about him, but he might have recently won a state title and some Mr. Hockey award too. Eh, hopefully the kid can get some more exposure. Cry about Lucia and what he hasn’t done the last few years all you want. Man can recruit and this class is proof. End of discussion.

1. Nebraska-Omaha (WCHA)

Notable names: Brian Cooper (D), Josh Archibald (F), Nick Seeler (D)

Here’s why UNO wins the award for best recruiting class. Minnesota and North Dakota have more “blue chip” players but UNO has constructed a more-than solid, reliable class that has a ton of potential. The thing about getting too many “blue chip” players is that they could potentially leave early. Maybe that happens with a few players in UNO’s incoming class, but it doesn’t appear that way for now. One of the higher-end players in this class is Cooper, a guy that the Gophers made a hard push at but opted for UNO instead. There were some upset people that Cooper did not head to Minnesota and a lot of that has to do with the fact he’d fit in that system given his speed and strength. Cooper is 5-9, 180 pounds and is built like a rock. He’s the kind of player that can provide that big, booming hit and is a puck-moving defenseman that can do multiple things from set up the power play to flying down the ice and scoring.

Archibald, perhaps, might be the sleeper of this class for those not familiar with Minnesota High School Hockey. Some might knock him because he played at Brainerd, which isn’t exactly a hockey power. But he was a Mr. Hockey candidate and Dave Morinville, the head coach at Moorhead and a former NHL scout, said that he’s told other scouts to draft Archibald because of what he can do. Morinville, who faced the likes of Camernesi, Rau and two other Mr. Hockey candidates this season, said Archibald, by far, was the best player he coached against all year.

Half of this class is expected to come in over the next few years giving them time to develop. Four of those players play with Penticton of the British Columbia Hockey League, which can create familiarity for the future. Another guy to watch could be Tanner Lane. Lane as a junior in high school scored 90 points resulting in him being sixth-round Atlanta Thrashers draft pick. He’s finishing his first year of juniors in the USHL, but could really showcase his talents next season with a year of experience in his pocket.

It might not have be like having Grimaldi or Michaelson, but based off what these prospects have done in juniors and in high school, this is a class with a lot of upside. Minnesota and North Dakota have that upside too, but there’s just something about this class that just make it a little bit better. That and every time you looked up, you kept hearing about UNO getting this kid or that kid and this is proof of that.

Those are pretty much my picks for the Top 10 best recruiting classes in the nation. Surely, there are going to be disagreements so let the debate begin.

Luxurious…

Aside from having brackets ruined one of the more obvious points to notice with this year’s NCAA Hockey Tournament is the glaring omission of any real television coverage.

College hockey doesn’t have the biggest following but it has a strong enough following that people are willing to be glued to their computers to stream games on ESPN3. Then, of course, there is ESPNU, which has been bringing games.

But at this point, wouldn’t it make sense to put these games on ESPN or ESPN2 instead of leaving them on a channel that a good amount of viewers might not be able to access?

This is where ESPN fails in its hockey coverage. Then again, one can argue that started once it decided to let the NHL walk to Versus but that is neither here nor there. Yet what most hockey fans can agree on is that there’s no excuse why these games cannot be televised on ESPN or ESPN 2.

Women’s college basketball is on one of the networks and that’s such a money maker where it is understandable why ESPN would promote it by having the games air at separate times on both networks. But you know what’s on ESPN while the women’s basketball tournament is on ESPN 2? PBA Bowling and the World Series of Poker.

Something says those two “sports” probably don’t draw the way college hockey does and that might be a choice the World Wide Leader might want to rethink.

Hasn’t it been boasted by various sources that last year’s Olympics along with a Stanley Cup finals featuring two respected franchises helped energize hockey on American television?

So why not get the message Bristol? People want to watch college hockey. There are some states, i.e. New Hampshire, North Dakota, that will stand still and those states will offer more viewers than Walter Ray Williams breaking a 7-10 split or some goatee sporting, sunglasses wearing “athlete” holding some cards could ever draw.

Just saying.

You Oughta Know…

It could be argued that this weekend, perhaps more than any other, could be the most important weekend for the United States Hockey League.

With the NCAA Hockey Tournament going on this weekend, this showcases the kind of talent that comes from the USHL. The USHL’s calling card is often promoting that it can produce talent that goes onto to college programs and win.

There are a 133 USHL alumni that played/are still playing in the tournament, according to a release from the league office. At the end of this post, there will be a breakdown of how many teams have USHL alumni but the team with the most alumni is Nebraska-Omaha with 20 and the team with the least is Union College/Merrimack College with three.

But there’s more than just players representing the league and what it could have to offer. The USHL is often discussed as a development league for coaches and that’s certainly the case with five coaches having coached in the USHL. Those five are Dean Blais (UNO/Fargo Force),  first-year coach Jeff Blashill (Western Michigan/Indiana Ice), Dave Hakstol (North Dakota/Sioux City Musketeers), Scott Owens (Colorado College/Madison Capitals-Des Moines Buccaneers) and Frank Serratore (Air Force/Austin Mavericks-Rochester Mustangs-Omaha Lancers).

There’s also the fact that the Resch Center in Green Bay is home to the Green Bay Gamblers.

Throw in the playoff race where teams are scrambling for position with two weeks left and it is shaping up to be a time of year where the USHL is in the spotlight.

Here’s the breakdown of USHL alumni by team and then the USHL teams with the most alumni playing in the tournament:

University of Nebraska-Omaha – 20

University of Notre Dame – 18

Western Michigan University – 17

Miami University – 16

University of New Hampshire – 15

Colorado College – 14

University of Minnesota-Duluth – 14

University of Michigan – 13

University of North Dakota – 13

University of Denver – 12

Boston College – 10

Yale University – 10

Air Force Academy – 9

RPI – 6

Merrimack College – 3

Union College – 3

Alumni in the NCAA Tournament by USHL team

Indiana Ice – 26

Waterloo Black Hawks – 22

Cedar Rapids RoughRiders – 21

Des Moines Buccaneers – 21

Tri-City Storm – 19

Chicago Steel – 16

Green Bay Gamblers – 16

Sioux Falls Stampede – 16

Lincoln Stars – 13

Omaha Lancers – 13

Sioux City Musketeers – 13

Team USA – 12

Fargo Force – 7

Youngstown Phantoms – 1

*Ohio Jr. Blue Jackets – 10

*Danville Wings – 2

*Teams no longer in the USHL

Have a good Sunday everybody.

The Fight Song…

Seeing all the Twitter chatter and message boards leading up the Frozen Four got me thinking.

Hockey fans, of course, are passionate but what would happen if the national championship was decided by the fan base literally willing to fight their way to the title? Using the actual bracket for this year’s tourney, here’s what would happen. Please remember this is all in good fun as it is meant to be humorous.

East Region:

Game 1: Yale vs. Air Force: The Air Force is nothing to mess with given the kind of shape those guys are in. Plus, we all know if this was just a street fight, Air Force would win hands down. But this is Yale and Yale produces presidents. Presidents run countries and control the Air Force. Sorry, no aiming high here. Yale wins.

Game 2: Union vs. Minnesota-Duluth: Interesting match-up given the differences in regards to public versus private school and we all know how much people in Minnesota love that. Because Duluth has some devout fans that aren’t willing to back down from anything, they win this one easily.

East Regional: Yale vs. Minnesota-Duluth: There’s just something about facing the future leaders of the world that could be unnerving. Duluth fans don’t care. They can jump across the border to Canada if things go wrong. They have nothing to lose and that’s why UM-D fans win this one.

Northeast Region:

Game 3: Merrimack vs. Notre Dame: Don’t be fooled by the nice campus and the religious backdrop. They’re called Fighting Irish for a reason. Not to mention, South Bend is a gritty town having been there. Notre Dame wins this one easy.

Game 4: New Hampshire vs. Miami (Ohio): With this one actually being in New Hampshire, it doesn’t look good for Miami fans. Those who’ve never been to New Hampshire, please know that UNH fans are rabid. Maybe the most rabid in Hockey East. They’ll go after you, your mother, girlfriend, it does not matter. If hockey was a Batman comic book, they’d be the Scarecrow with all the mind games they play. UNH wins.

Northeast Regional: Notre Dame vs. New Hampshire: You can’t argue with home advantage and UNH excels at that. Playing BC every year makes UNH say it could care less about Notre Dame and Rudy. That and those UNH fans weren’t so hot on Lord of the Rings either and that will just give them more motivation to take down Rudy and the Irish. UNH advances.

West Region:

Game 5: Boston College vs. Colorado College: Oh boy. Both are great programs but let’s look at the facts. BC fans are a pretty strong bunch. They can dodge cabs, buses and subways making them pretty agile. Plus, have you been to Logan International Airport? Even air has to go through a security check there. Colorado College, however, they’ve got good gripping power because they hang out in the Rockies like the beer commercials suggest. They’re mountain people yet BC can climb this mountain giving the edge to them.

Game 6: Michigan vs. Nebraska-Omaha: Another tough one. Michigan fans are kind of a classy, upper-crust bunch. Omaha-Nebraska fans are a hungry group that wants wins. You’d be hungry too if you’re town was known for steaks. Also, there were rumors of Warren Buffet trying to bribe the committee, however, his debit card was declined. This is where it comes down to coaches and let me ask you this? Do you want to face the Red Baron in a street fight? Didn’t think so. Michigan wins.

West Regional: BC vs. Michigan: Fans have stopped so they could see a match-up featuring Berenson vs. Jerry York. We know Berenson is a tough guy but don’t discount York. York and his fake Twitter account persona will double-team Berenson and Michigan for the win.

Midwest Region:

Game 7: Denver vs. Western Michigan: Folks from Western can easily hold their own in a fight. Then again so can people from Denver. They’ve been punched repeatedly this year having dealt with the Broncos, ‘Melogate, the Broncos, the Avs and did we mention the Broncos? Denver needs this one more and that’s enough to move on.

Game 8: RPI vs. North Dakota: RPI can build a bridge or a death ray and that’s hard to fight. Then again, have you been through a North Dakota winter? It isn’t fun. Sure, the death ray can kill but can it compare to -35 everyday for a week? Probably not. If RPI was facing any other fan base in this bracket, maybe they win. But until they start dealing with cruddy winters, flooding and hearing those bad accents like in the movie “Fargo” year-round like North Dakota fans, then they can talk. North Dakota wins.

Midwest Regional: Denver vs. North Dakota: Nothing against Denver, but when it snows there, it’s pretty. In North Dakota, it just means it’s harder to find the missing money. This will be a tough one, but all the Coors in the world won’t help the Denver fan base in this one just because those North Dakotans know how to fight. My first weekend here, I saw a woman punch out a guy and make him bleed. You don’t see that in Denver. North Dakota moves on.

Frozen Four:

Minnesota-Duluth vs. New Hampshire: UNH isn’t on home turf anymore and given how it traditionally fairs in clutch situations this one is tricky. Duluth is still feeling that home state love and that’s a big thing. Not to mention, they just got a new arena up there and life’s pretty good for them. But in the end, we have to ask this simple question: Who can win between a Bulldog and a Wildcat? Yeah, Wildcats eat puppy chow. UNH moves onto the finals.

Boston College vs. North Dakota: Yes, North Dakota winters are tough. Then again, have you heard a really bad Boston accent? Yikes. Both of these fan bases are worthy champions with something to gain. BC wants a piece of UNH badly in the finals. Those fake Twitter accounts are proof. But if you don’t think UND wants a chance to celebrate a victory on Gopher territory, you are mistaken. That is enough to stop the Eagles from squawking. UND advances.

Finals:

New Hampshire vs. North Dakota: Years of training by having their cars climb Mount Washington has helped UNH arrive at this point. North Dakota doesn’t have mountains, just oil fields and floods and those things are hard to work through too. Yet when it comes down to it, UNH will fight hard. But like the Mountain of the Old Man, UNH will lose its face. UND fans will fill the streets of St. Paul screaming “Don’t Toews Me Bro” as police and the guy that punched Goldie the Gopher come to meet them. Congratulations UND, you are the national champs of throwing down.

Here For The Party…

Judging by the hits and no complaints, it appears that people like the new format of highlighting a player to watch for Friday’s games.

Here it is, the five games and five players to look out for.

1. Lincoln at Team USA, 7 p.m.

Player to watch: Ryan Dzingel, forward, Lincoln: Dzingel is an Ohio State commit that has been on a bit of a hot streak for the Stars. Actually that’s false. Dzingel, perhaps, might be the most consistent player in the USHL over the last month or so. He has nine points over a five-game scoring streak and has picked up a point in 14 of his last 18 games. The Stars are in fifth, which is a somewhat cushy spot to be in. Dzingel, who is 6-feet, 180 pounds, is a big reason why. He could be the key that drives Lincoln towards making a run for the No. 4 seed.

2. Des Moines at Indiana, 7:05 p.m.

Player to watch: Austin Coldwell, defenseman, Des Moines: Coldwell gets the task of not only trying to stop arguably the league’s most potent scoring line, but he also gets to try and contain leading scorer Blake Coleman all while trying to claim a playoff spot. Yay! Coldwell, an Alaska-Anchorage commit, will have to be a shutdown defenseman something he proved he could do last weekend in a 2-1 OT loss to Cedar Rapids, which isn’t short on scorers. Doing that means making smart decisions and with him only having 24 PIMs this season, it appears he can be counted on to do make the right choices.

3. Green Bay at Dubuque, 7 p.m.

Player to watch: Ryan McKay, goaltender, Green Bay: McKay is putting up one of the better seasons for a goalie in the league this year. He’s just been overshadowed by the big numbers of Cedar Rapids’ Brady Hjelle and Dubuque’s Matt Morris. McKay plays in a two-goalie system like Fargo where he gets most of the playing time. Sure, there’s the Morris vs. McKay match up but McKay gets to go against a top line of Gaudreau and Saponari that scores and creates. Should be a good test for the Miami (Ohio) commit who has 23 wins, a 2.00 goals against average and a .928 save percentage.

4. Youngstown at Cedar Rapids, 7 p.m.

Player to watch: Nolan Zajac, defenseman, Cedar Rapids: Travis’ little brother has been on a bit of a tear offensively riding a four-game point streak where he’s had six points. All six points, however, are assists, which is a testament to his playmaking abilities. Zajacm at 5-10 and 181 pounds, is a puck-moving defenseman that can quarterback an offense and a power play. He has 12 power play assists and that’s tied for third among defenseman in the league. Given Youngstown’s penchant for getting in the box, Zajac’s passing could really spread the attack and set up his teammates for what should be a victory.

5. Sioux City at Tri City, 7:05 p.m.

Player to watch: Rick Pinkston, defenseman, Tri-City: Pinkston’s mission is simple: Don’t get hurt. Tri-City has taken a beating this year and in its most recent series against Fargo had to play with three true defenseman before falling to two after Bill Eiserman left the game after taking a puck to the head. The Storm are all but out of the Western Conference race and a large part of that has been injuries. They’ve lost what’s come out to 100 or so games from players being injured. Pinkston, a Dartmouth commit, has been consistently in the lineup having played 48 games, the second-most among Tri-City defenseman.

That’s pretty much the skinny on the guys to watch for Friday. Have a good one everybody.

Baby Boy…

Max Domi hasn’t even played a minute in the United States Hockey League yet he’s already generating discussion.

Those not familiar with Domi, know this. He’s considered to be one of the brighter prospects in Canadian hockey and he’s the son of former NHL enforcer Tie Domi. Domi generated a large amount of emotions when he decided that he’d opt for the USHL instead of playing in the Ontario Hockey League, which is part of the infamous Canadian Hockey League.

His father told the Toronto Sun that he and his ex-wife came to the conclusion that the USHL route would be best so their son could have his college eligibility.

Domi’s choice has created some angst in his native Canada because there’s a feeling that him leaving is a fleecing of the Canadian system and it could handicap any team looking to get him.

Maybe that’s a bit overboard given that it is just one kid. There’s no denying that the OHL might rival the Western Hockey League for that nation’s if not the world’s best junior league. The amount of top prospect that league churns out is impressive but will losing one player really make a difference?

In the grand scheme of it all, not really. The OHL is not a junior league that needs every superstar it can get to stay relevant because its other “top stars” somehow flame out professionally despite putting up video game numbers during the regular season.

Really, this is a move that will probably continue to benefit the USHL more than anything. In truth, no one should be dissed for wanting to get a college education because let’s face it, making the NHL isn’t easy and there’s no guarantee it will happen.

Playing in college is the thing the USHL does to attract players and though it might not be the fast route to the NHL like the CHL, it does give kids options. Take Colorado College’s Jaden Schwartz. Schwartz is easily one of that nation’s best future prospects and he went the USHL route.

There are times we get lost in a family’s decision to do what is best for a child. Fans want the best players and that’s fine but at the end of the day, who cares what someone owning a ticket wants when your future needs to be decided?

Maybe Domi lives up to the hype, performs well, plays college hockey for a year or two and then go onto the NHL. Jonathan Toews didn’t go the USHL route but he did go to college and no one’s complaining about the road he decided to take.

I’ve heard/read arguments that one of the reasons this is so controversial is because the OHL is losing a player to a “lesser” junior league. Honestly, who cares? Yeah, the USHL doesn’t and may never have the kind of talent the OHL or WHL will ever have. But it has made strides and it has been around longer than most of us have been on this earth.

What Domi and his family did should really be about making the best decision for the future. Not the future of the OHL or the USHL. But his future and his future alone.

Stop and Stare…

On Monday, this blog had a feature about the Twitter accounts of some fake Hockey East coaches.

A few of the people behind the accounts agreed to talk for this entry regarding the accounts and what made them do it. Just know this, these accounts are all in good fun. The people behind them are just Hockey East fans that were looking to have some fun and get a laugh or two.

Three of the people behind the accounts agreed to do an interview and here’s what they had to say. But you’ve been warned, some of these answers are a mix of serious and sarcasm.

“FakeJackParker and DickUmile had been around for a couple weeks,” wrote the FakeJerryYork. “And a friend of mine had just gotten me on Twitter on my actual username (not to be disclosed haha). The two of us saw these and thought it would be funny to do a Jerry York account that mimicked his mannerisms, how he spoke, etc. Yes, JerryYork is in fact run by 2 people.”

FakeCronin wrote that he saw the three accounts but decided to join in because they were not being pushed to their full potential. Since then, FakeCronin has come in and added jabs to balance the salty Parker, classy York and tempestuous Umile.

Then of course, came Maine’s NotTimWhitehead.

It was only a matter of time before a Twitter account honoring the Sting look-a-like came into play. He’s only been around for a few days, but his impact could be everlasting. Now of course, the real Whitehead said Monday that he had no plans to look at the page. His doppelganger hopes that won’t last forever.

“The “real” Tim Whitehead has a lot more important things to worry about than what people are saying about him on Twitter or Internet message boards,” NotTimWhitehead wrote. “I know Laura Reed will be checking the page from time to time (Hi Laura!) and have followed her so it’ll be easier for her. I don’t expect any of the “real” coaches to publicly endorse us, but privately I hope they do enjoy the lampooning.”

FakeJerryYork wrote that he hadn’t been contacted by Boston College while FakeCronin said he hasn’t been contacted.

All three wrote that a lot of this has to do with the fact they are all Hockey East fans. With most of the people reading this blog being WCHA and CCHA fans, here’s a chance to give some insight.

Hockey East fans are devout to their school. In some cases, like Texas High School Football devout. The Wall Street Journal rated Maine’s Alfond Arena as having the best atmosphere while the arenas at most school have seen a fair share of college hockey history. BU and BC have coaching legends that have constructed a program and even in a town heavy on Celtics, Pats, Bruins and Sox, BC, BU and Northeastern have staked a claim in the sports landscape there.

NotTimWhitehead said he’d actually like to see this trend make its way west so Gopher and Sioux fans, if you’re feeling creative, you’ll have fans back east willing to support.

And perhaps here’s the other tidbit that some may find surprising, some of the people doing these accounts don’t know each other. Here’s one thing we’ll all learn, they’re all competitive.

Two of the fake coaches were asked who’d win in a Final Five if all five accounts were coaching against each other.

FakeJerryYork said he’d win because his team’s postseason record speaks for itself. FakeCronin said he’d win for the following reasons.

“That one depends, really,” FakeCronin wrote. “York is always going to bed early, so if it was a late game, he’s probably out. Of all the coaches, I think I get more out of less than anyone. But Parker’s a great recruiter. And Whitehead’s just such a great coach, but his recruiting has let him down lately because he’s focused so hard on recruiting offense. And March isn’t Umile’s time of year at all. So probably me.”

This question wasn’t put to NotTimWhitehead but here’s what he did have to say about the interviewing process.

“You know, for a reporter you’re incredibly polite,” NotTimWhitehead wrote. “But you’re also a Maine grad, so I shouldn’t be surprised.”

Well everyone, I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did on my end. Have a good Wednesday and I should be back tomorrow barring another snowstorm. Those of you not from the region know this, Fargo winters last six months.

See you later everybody.