The Denver Pioneers come to Minneapolis this weekend as the final home opponent of the regular season for the Gophers. I went looking for a Pio fan who was willing to talk with me and found crickets. So now I hate Denver. Good work DU blogosphere. You'll soon rue the day you ignored (well, probably just missed) my email asking you to participate in this Q&A. Also, I found someone who is younger (maybe), cooler (definitely, he responded to me), and smarter (despite being from Bahston) than you. So there.
The Daily Gopher: Coming into the weekend Denver is tied with Wisconsin for 6th place in the WCHA. If you were a DU fan, would you be pleased or disappointed by the season thus far? Do you see DU making it into the tournament as an at large (or by winning the WCHA tourney)?
Scott McLaughlin: I think Denver fans have to be pretty happy with this season, although they probably can't help but wonder how much better it would be if they hadn't had such a bad stretch at the end of the first semester. The fact that the Pioneers have gotten back to being a winning team in the second half eases some of that pain, though. They're still in decent shape in the league and they're still in position to get an NCAA bid. I think they'll end up getting an at-large bid. They might have to win their first-round series to make sure of it, but that should be doable.
TDG: I'll be honest, I know next to nothing about DU. In your mind, who should I be keeping an eye on this weekend and why?
SM: The player to watch is whoever they put in net. Juho Olkinuora has been their best player most of the season, but he's really struggled the last three games and he ended up getting yanked his last time out. It'll be interesting to see if they give Sam Brittain a chance or if they stick with Olkinuora. And if they do stick with Olkinuora, it'll be interesting to see how he responds. Aside from that, I think the Pioneers' most intriguing players are Joey LaLeggia, David Makowski and Nolan Zajac -- three defensemen who also play a big role in their offense.
TDG: One thing I've discussed with everyone I've done Q&A's with is the demise of the current WCHA. What are you thoughts on the changes in the landscape of college hockey? Do you see benefits to the demise of a traditional powerhouse league? And what are your thoughts about the new B1G/NCHC hockey conferences?
SM: I don't like change. It pains me to see a great conference like the WCHA being greatly weakened, and it pains me even more to see another great league -- the CCHA -- disappearing completely. (ED NOTE: I totally forgot the CCHA was getting wiped out.) Really the only positive in my mind is that now there's the potential for more Big Ten schools to add hockey. And Alabama-Huntsville finally found a home, which is obviously good.
As far as the new leagues go, it'll be interesting. Based on how its teams are playing this year, it looks like the Big Ten might not be as strong as it would like next year. They'll be fine long-term, though. I think there's a chance the NCHC could trend in the opposite direction. They'll be either the strongest or second-strongest league in the country next year (along with Hockey East), but I'll be interested to see if all of those rograms can maintain this level of play for the next 10, 15, 20 years. Outside of Denver, North Dakota and maybe Colorado College, none of them are really what you'd consider a traditional power.
TDG: I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the Minnesota Cup. Are you a fan of the format or do you think there is a better way to run things? Any ideas for the name? Because the current one is...underwhelming.
SM: I love it. I'm from Boston, and I'm a huge fan of the Beanpot. It's a great tournament for Boston fans to rally around, and it basically decides city bragging rights. I think the Minnesota Cup would do the same thing, except obviously on a state level instead of city. The only thing I'm not a huge fan of is the idea that the Gophers would automatically be in it every year, even if they finish last. But I guess they kind of need to be there for attendance purposes. As far as the name, I'll leave that up to you guys out there.
TDG: As of now, what four teams do you see making the Frozen Four this year?
SM: Really putting me on the spot here... I'll say Minnesota, Quinnipiac, Miami and, for my surprise pick, UMass-Lowell.
TDG: Do you think Minnesota has any real shot of catching SCSU and winning one final McNaughton?
SM: St. Cloud obviously has the inside track, but I don't think it's out of the question for Minnesota to at least catch them. The Gophers would probably have to win out, though, because I don't really see St. Cloud dropping any more than two points the rest of the way.
TDG: What do you think is the best rivalry in college hockey? And no, you don't have to suck up and pick one involving Minnesota.
SM: As I mentioned earlier, I'm from Boston, which means I have to pick BU-BC. The two campuses are separated by just three miles. Both teams are always competitive -- not just at the conference level, but also the national level. They have two of the most legendary coaches in the sport's history. There are just so many great stories from throughout the rivalry's history, but what really separates it from any other rivalry in my mind is how close together the two schools are.
TDG: Returning focus to this weekend's matchup between the U and DU, what do you think the Pioneers need to do in order to beat the Gophers?
TDG: Three things- 1) Get good goaltending. Like I said earlier, Olkinuora has been struggling lately. Whoever's in goal is going to be tested, so they better be on top of their game. 2) Play better defense. The Pioneers have been giving up way too many shots the last couple weeks, and that's obviously played a part in the goaltending struggles. The Gophers are going to generate chances no matter what, but you have to at least make them for work for it. 3) Stay out of the box. The Pioneers have taken a lot of penalties all season. Against Minnesota's power play, that could be a recipe for disaster.
TDG: Prediction time...how do you see the UM/DU series going?
SM: I think Denver finds a way to take a point, but that's it. I'll say 3-3 on Friday, 5-2 Gophers on Saturday.
Thanks to Scott for taking the time to answer my questions! As always, be sure to stop back on Friday and Saturday nights for the always exciting hockey OPEN THREADS.