TCF Bank Stadium Offers Real College Football Potential

I’m a relatively casual college football fan. I get into it at the beginning of the year but there’s so much of it that I tend to get burned out by midseason. The fact that there isn’t a competent team in the vicinity to follow probably plays into it too.

I’m talking DI here specifically. Naturally I pay attention to the two-time NCAA DII champion UMD Bulldogs, but that’s tough to do from the Twin Cities.Contrary to what many of my friends think, I want the U of M to be good, in everything except hockey. My allegiance for UMD trumps where I live. But in all the other sports, I consider myself a Gopher fan.

So on Saturday I finally got to my first game at TCF Bank stadium for Gophers v. Miami (Ohio) Redhawks. I don’t own any Gopher fare, so I sported a maroon UMD t-shirt and hat. Hey, at least the color matches. I was excited to experience big-school college football, but wasn’t expecting the kind of atmosphere we saw last weekend for Notre Dame v. Michigan (obviously).

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What I found was very comfortable stadium, even without the fancy cushioned seat backs everyone else around us had. We were in the upper level, section 236. The metal bench seating was a bit tough on the back, but there is plenty of legroom between rows. The Bank is aesthetically pretty. We had a nice view of downtown Minneapolis, Williams Arena, and Mariucci (Engelstadt East as my wife calls it). Gopher pride is represented well, with M logos everywhere and acknowledgement of Minnesota’s aging football glory days.

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So what of the atmosphere? Best way I can describe it is potential. Again, I’m a guy who hasn’t been to Madison, Michigan, Ohio State, Florida, or even Iowa State. But I got a piece of the college football vibe yesterday. You had a good student section. You had the band. You had a handful of “regular people” in the rest of the crowd that got into the game. There was a guy and a gal in their early 30s who would do the band moves along with them, including the run in place bit – so clearly they were in the band at the U. There was an older couple next to us that got into some of the traditional student cheers, including the “First Down” hand coordination. Luckily, the guy was willing to share the insight from the radio broadcast he was listening to…with everyone.

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The missing link was the entire stadium getting into it. Besides the students, there would only be a handful of people getting up for third down plays or getting loud when the Gophers really needed it. So it got loud, but not deafening. I’ll give Gopher fans a bit of a pass given how bad the team has been for so long. But there’s a good vibe around the program with Coach Kill. He appears dedicated to building a program that the people of Minnesota will be proud of. If that happens, I think the Bank could rival a place like Madison. And I have a feeling that’s all it would take for me to become a real college football fan.

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Great Weekend of College Hockey

The Bulldogs allowed the Gophers into Amsoil Arena this weekend, and it was a great weekend of hockey. They played to a 2-2 tie on Friday night and Saturday the Dogs won 6-4  thanks to 5 goals from Mike Connolly. He had an absolutely dominant game to pull UMD into a tie with Denver for the WCHA lead.

Contrary to the babble of FS-North’s Lapanta and Gorg, the Dogs did play a better game than the Gophers. They had a goal disallowed because of goaltender interference and Gorg maintained that he was pushed in. Umm…no. The Bulldog defenseman went for the stick, they bumped each other, and then the Gopher went into the goalie. No way he was pushed in. But of course, that’s why the Gophers lost…because of a bad call.

How about the Gophers lost because the Dogs kept coming. Each time the Gophers got closer tonight, the Dogs (i.e., Mike Connolly) matched them. But perhaps the biggest goal came in the 3rd and it wasn’t Connolly. Travis Oleksuk scored to give the Dogs a 2-goal lead in the 3rd and that turned out to be the big goal.

So with 8 games left, UMD and Denver are tied for first and North Dakota is 1 point back in the WCHA. Should be fun down the stretch.

Watching this series on FS North (in HD even) gave me my first real good look at Amsoil, and from what I could see it is beautiful. I’m heading up in March for UMD v. Nebraska Omaha and I can’t wait. While in Friday night’s game there were lulls in the crowd, tonight they seemed into it from the start. Good chants from the student section and great reaction to the goals.

Holy Hjelle!

The UMD Bulldogs got back in the win column last night with a great 3-0 win over the Minnesota Gophers. It was UMD G Brady Hjelle’s 1st collegiate shutout, which also was UMD’s 1st shutout of UMTC since 1980. By my math, that’s 30 years. Put that in perspective…these teams usually play each other 4 times a season.

The win clinches a home playoff series in the 1st round of the WCHA playoffs for the Dogs. One last playoff series at the old DECC.

The Dogs make the trip to Alaska Anchorage next weekend, then it’s playoff time. Hopefully last night’s win kicks off a little run for the Dogs.

UMD Sad Faced Again

UMD loses to Minnesota 3-2 tonight at the DECC, in the first game of weekend series with the school’s biggest rival. The Dogs now have lost 3 in a row and 7 of 9 down the stretch of the WCHA schedule. They entered the weekend at #11 in the nation and still do not have a home ice playoff series wrapped up.

Gophers had a 1-0 lead through most of the 1st and 2nd period and really there wasn’t much going on in the game. Midway through the 2nd, the Dogs killed a 5-minute penalty (which was a marginal boarding major call on Brady Lamb) and gained some momentum, then finally they broke through UMTC G Alex Kangas on the powerplay with 3 seconds left in the period.

The third turned out to be pretty entertaining at least. And as usual in a WCHA game, the referees played a big role. But this was a bit ridiculous. Midway through the period, as a UMD PP expired, Gopher Cade Fairchild sprang out of the penalty box and took a pass in alone on UMD G Brady HJelle. UMD D Chad Huttel jumped off the bench on a line change and had an opportunity to catch Fairchild, but referee Scott Bokal got in the way and bumped him off his feet. Fairchild beat Peanut Butter Hjelle Time five hole and the Gophers had the lead. This resulted in a “**** you ref” chant from the tUMD student section and hot dogs thrown on the ice.

UMD did answer on the PP shortly after that fiasco, but the Gophers scored with about 5 minutes to go and the Dogs weren’t able to counter. UMTC wins.

Big Saturday Night
With only one WCHA weekend plus tomorrow’s game left, UMD is fading fast for home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

Hey Coach Sandy – could you maybe light a fire under your squad??? Oh, and PLEASE never wear those bumblebee wanna-be sweaters again. Also, to the DECC crowd tomorrow, could you please show up and make noise? The Gophers are in your barn!

WARNING! THIS BLOG HAS BEEN HIJACKED!

 

My regular readers know I am a huge University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs hockey rube. After an impressive upset in the first round of the WCHA playoffs over Colorado College last weekend, the Dogs earned a rare birth in the WCHA Final Five. Tonight was their play-in game, against our (and about 5 other team’s) biggest rival, the University of Minnesota Gophers. This house was riled up. My wife is from Grand Forks, ND, and is a Fighting Sioux fan, so clearly we both were looking for a Bulldog victory.

And that is exactly what we got…UMD 2, UMTC 1. It was a really good game. The Dogs went up 1-0 early in the first period and also killed an extended 5 on 3 Gopher powerplay. They got another goal in the 2nd to go up 2-0, and the Gophers seemed to be disinterested the rest of the second period. Even the homer Gopher announcers for FSN noted that they just didn’t seem to have life.

But as everyone would expect, the Gophers brought it in the third. They got a goal about midway into the period on a deflection and the Dogs held on for dear life. A key point in the game was with about two minutes left, after playing almost all of the period in their own defensive zone, UMD put a little pressure on the Gophers and came up with a couple good scoring chances. That was enough to run out the clock, although as time expired UMTC had a nice little last-second opportunity and a UMD player got a hook in to draw a penalty, but time expired and the Dogs get the W. UMD goalie Alex Stalock has been getting a TON of press around the Twin Cities about how he is the best goalie in the WCHA right now and one of the best in the country, and he absolutely lived up to the hype. He kept the Dogs in the lead in this one.

Sweet victory for me. I am a UMD fan living and working in Gopher-land. Gopher fans were looking past tonight’s game to a matchup with North Dakota in the semifinal. I hate to pile on UMTC fans after the basketball team was ousted early in the NCAA tournament, but then maybe they shouldn’t be so sure of themselves every time they get the opportunity.

UMD v. UND
So that sets up a Final Five matchup for my Dogs v. my wife’s Sioux in St Paul. UND won the WCHA regular season title, UMD finished 7th. UND is an unbelievable second-half of the season team, UMD is on an influential run. UMD beat and tied UND in two games this season. Tomorrow night should be fun. Julie and I will head to St. Paul and try to score a couple tickets from disgruntled Gopher fans unloading their ducats. If we are successful, come back here for some pics.

And all I can hope for is a competitive game and a chance to win at the end – and to only hear “Sioux Yeah Yeah” a minimal of times.

GO DOGS!

College Hockey Side Note

UMD @ UMTC this weekend. Bulldogs need to show some life. Somehow the Pairwise rankings have us in 13th. That means we would make the NCAA tournament. That’s sad, because we’re under .500 and can’t score.

That said, this weekend’s series against the Gophers is big. A UMD sweep would put us in 7th in the WCHA and likely set up for a playoff series v. Wisconsin or Minnesota State. We can play against those teams. Friday is on FSN tape delayed after the Wild, Saturday’s is at 7.

96JerseyLogoGo Dogs!