INCH Measures Up: Minnesota-Duluth's T.J. Caig
Minnesota-Duluth freshman T.J. Caig
has helped lead the Bulldogs to their first Final
Five appearance since 1998.
weekend tickets: Visit www.ticketmaster.com
Five Team Previews
1 Colorado College
Record: 28-5-5 (19-4-5 WCHA)
Tiger Fact: During the three consecutive
seasons in the 1990s when the Tigers won the WCHA's
regular season title, the best they could do in the
league playoffs was second place. In 1994 they were
upset by No. 10 Michigan Tech in the opening round.
They fell to Wisconsin in overtime in the 1995 title
game, and finished third in 1996.
How CC wins: Start at the top –
the top line that is. In Peter Sejna and Noah Clarke,
the Tigers have two of the nation's top three scorers.
As the top seed in the tournament, coach Scott Owens
should be able to use his "last change" privileges
to avoid that pair having to face a checking line too
often. The other key is rebounds. The Tiger forwards
feast on them, but if goalie Curtis McElhinney gives
up too many, it will mean trouble.
Record: 22-8-9 (15-6-7 WCHA)
Golden Gopher Fact: In WCHA playoff
championships played in St. Paul, the Gophers haven't
fared well. Since the league went to a single-site postseason
tournament format in 1988, two of the three playoff
titles won by Minnesota were captured in Milwaukee.
The Gophers are 1-5 all-time in WCHA playoff championship
games played just down the street from Mickey's Diner.
How UM wins: Get a good Grant. Thomas
Vanek, Troy Riddle, Barry Tallackson and Matt Koalska
are all very good forwards, but the Gophers are 10-2-4
since Grant Potulny returned to the lineup in January.
The junior team captain whose overtime goal won the
NCAA title last spring on this same sheet of ice is
the heart and soul of the Gophers. As he goes, so goes
Minnesota's chances of winning the Broadmoor Trophy.
3 Minnesota State, Mankato
Record: 20-8-10 (15-6-7 WCHA)
Maverick Fact: Since a home loss to
Colorado College on December 13, the Mavericks are 16-1-6,
including a pair of ties at Minnesota. And the Mavs
don't tend to panic in close games. Last weekend's double-overtime
win versus Wisconsin marked the 12th time this year
the MSU has rallied from a third-period deficit to win
How MSU, Mankato wins: Play it clean.
Here's a potentially alarming statistic for fans of
the purple and gold: the Mavs lead the league in penalties,
and have statistically the worst penalty kill in the
league. To win a game or two this weekend, the Mavs
are going to have to not be awed by their surroundings
and let their offense go to work.
4 North Dakota
Record: 26-10-5 (14-9-5 WCHA)
Fighting Sioux Fact: North Dakota hockey
sports information director Dan Benson, a 17-year member
of the Army Reserve, was called for active duty in late
February. While our eyes are on the ice this weekend,
thoughts will certainly be with troops like Dan.
How UND wins: Man the blue line like
you mean it. The much-tormented Sioux goalies are a
fragile bunch these days. They need some support from
their teammates, and North Dakota's crew of huge defensemen
has the physical presence to do the trick. The Sioux
forwards are capable of so many fireworks that above-average
defense and goaltending could get them past the play-in
Record: 20-14-5 (14-10-4 WCHA)
Bulldog Fact: Minnesota-Duluth will
have a skeleton crew from its athletic department
in St. Paul this weekend, as the school is hosting
the NCAA Women's Frozen Four at the DECC on Friday
and Sunday. The Bulldog pep band will stay in Duluth,
but one of the school's two mascots (Champ the Bulldog
and the Maroon Loon) will be making the trip to St.
How UMD wins: Let the kids play.
Freshmen Tim Stapleton and T.J. Caig have provided
a return to offensive heroics for the program that
produced Bill Watson, Brett Hull and Derek Plante.
If the Bulldogs (20 goals in four games) can keep
their recent "five goals per game on average"
thing going in St. Paul, they could earn a Friday
afternoon date with Colorado College.
T.J. Caig didn't start the year like a typical freshman.
Saddled with eligibility issues because of major junior
experience, Caig's orientation didn't truly take place until
after the new year. Meanwhile, Bulldog fans waited anxiously
for the player who broke Paul Kariya's scoring record with
the BCHL's Penticton Panthers.
safe to say that he's made up for lost time. In 21 games
since making his college hockey debut, Caig has eight goals
and 15 assists, good for 23 points and sixth on the Bulldogs
in scoring. Zach Parise (North Dakota), Hugh Jessiman (Dartmouth)
and Thomas Vanek (Minnesota) are the nation's only freshmen
with more points per game than Caig (1.10).
impact has helped bring Minnesota-Duluth – which is
9-3-1 over its last 13 games – to its first Final
Five since 1998. Inside College Hockey caught up with Caig
to discuss his first season following the Bulldogs' first-round
series win over St. Cloud State.
College Hockey: How much time did you go without playing
a game after arriving at UMD?
Caig: I came here in December of 2001 and didn't
play until January of this year, so it was a little more
year I had off.
Had you ever had that much time between games before?
What did you do to stay sane?
Caig: I just had to get what I could out of practices.
I definitely missed game situations, but I was able to keep
my focus on what I was here to do. Honestly, I thought I
handled the time off really well and I'm
starting to get back in the swing of things now.
Prior to your debut, Bulldog fans kept mentioning you and
Brett Hull in the same sentence. Did you realize there was
that pressure on you right from the start?
Caig: My personal expectations were way too high.
But I don't listen to that kind of talk. I just show up
to play and try to do what I can do to benefit the team.
I guess the high expectations of others don't really bother
What were your personal expectations?
Caig: My personal goal was to get 20 points in
this half of the season. I accomplished that, so my next
goal is to win a NCAA championship with the team, and the
Final Five is the first step toward that.
What has been the key to UMD getting to the Final Five this
year, having not been there for five years?
Caig: The coaches have done a great job of recruiting,
and they're just like the guys on the team. You can talk
to them just like they're not a level up on you, which really
helps the team relax.
Did the year off allow you to get ahead in school at all?
Caig: My schooling has gone really well so far.
During the year off I got a 3.2 grade-point average. I'm
majoring in Criminology, and I'm doing really well in school.
So that helps me progress as a student at the same time
as I'm making some progress in hockey.
British Columbia is a long way from Northern Minnesota.
Why did you choose UMD?
Caig: I'd heard about a lot of big guns from B.C.
who had come here and had some success, especially Brett
Hull. I played for the same junior team as Brett, so I heard
a lot about UMD there. And my best friend's uncle is Chico
Resch, who played here, so I heard about UMD there, too.
But most important is that the coaches were behind me 100
percent with getting into school and making me feel welcomed
as a part of the team throughout the year off.