Tim Bouvine: ‘Dogs depart WCHA with a whimper, brighter days ahead in new conference

Tim Bouvine

Tim Bouvine

The final season of the University of Minnesota-Duluth men’s hockey involvement with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association went out without much bark from the Bulldogs this past weekend, as the team was swept by the Wisconsin Badgers in a best-of-three series in Madison.

The 2012-13 ‘Dogs were again victimized by a lack of scoring as the squad went down 3-1 on Friday night and followed up that meager offensive performance with another one-goal “outburst” in a 4-1 defeat the following night. The Badgers advanced to the WCHA Final Five in St. Paul, while the Bulldogs packed their bags and traveled back to Duluth with their tails between their legs.

The season ended with their Saturday night loss that ended their 47-year participation in what has arguably been labeled the best college hockey conference in the nation for most of its existence. UMD will enter the newly-formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference in 2013-14 that includes Colorado College, Denver University, Miami of Ohio, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Western Michigan and UMD.

Senior defenseman Wade Bergman and the Bulldogs ended the season in a WCHA playoff first-round loss at Wisconsin last weekend. Howie / HowieBlog.com

Senior defenseman Wade Bergman and the Bulldogs ended the season in a WCHA playoff first-round loss at Wisconsin last weekend. Howie / HowieBlog.com

The Bulldogs finished ninth in the 12-team WCHA this season with a 10-13-5 record and compiled a 14-19-5 overall mark that was a precipitous drop from the recent past. The downfall wasn’t unexpected as the program has been depleted by graduation and professional defections since winning the national championship in 2011.

In fact, one could argue that head coach Scott Sandelin got all out of his players logically expected going into this season. By most accounts, the team competed night in and night out, but just seemed to lack the firepower to compete against the upper echelon of the WCHA.

Averaging a meager 2.68 goals per game will not leave much of any margin for error to consistently win in college hockey. The good news for Sandelin’s team is that six of his top 10 scorers for the year are underclassmen that can be expected to contribute at a more productive level moving forward.

Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin looked over the players bench at a conversation referees had following a westling match between his players and USA Under-18 players behind the UMD net. Howie / HowieBlog.com

Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin looked over the players bench at a conversation referees had following a wrestling match between a few players in an exhibition game against the USA Under-18 team at Amsoil Arena. Howie / HowieBlog.com

With the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin leaving the WCHA as well for the inception of the Big Ten Hockey Conference, the Bulldogs should fare somewhat better in the NCHC on a consistent basis in their newly-organized conference.

Short-term, the Bulldogs should be improved with improved offensive output next season and long-term the program should thrive in the new league. There is no reason, nor excuse, for the ‘Dogs not to be in the upper tier of the new eight-team conference each and every season and a perennial top-20 national program moving forward as the university has the facilities, the coaching staff and with all the attractions this area has to offer.

As UMD departs the WCHA, it should be noted that the program has produced three regular season conference championships (1983-84, 1984-85, and 1992-93) and the same number of WCHA playoff titles albeit in slightly different years (1983-84, 1984-85, and 2008-09).

The program entered the WCHA in 1965 as a neophyte and now departs the conference as a solid national hockey program that need not bow their heads to anyone. Sure, there were many lean years in between, but the future looks incredibly bright for the University of Minnesota-Duluth men’s hockey team.

The final season wasn’t much to write home about, but it wasn’t poor by any means either as Sandelin’s team kept its reputation intact as a solid national program.

Goodbye, WCHA, there is many memorable moments and achievements to reminisce about. But in today’s ever-changing college conference shuffling, the future is all about reaching new heights for the program. The NCHC should be considered a step up as what will remain of the WCHA will be undoubtedly a shell of its former self.

It’s time to restore the bark in the Bulldogs next year.

Whimpering definitely does not fit a Bulldog.

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