Friday, February 24, 2017

Game 32: Miami at UMD

Senior Night should be a good one. UMD comes in unbeaten in ten straight, and needing a win to keep the heat on Denver as it opens its series with St. Cloud State at 9 Central, meaning the Bulldog game will be in the third period before DU and SCSU even face off.

We'll see if UMD can clean up some rush coverage that burned it for a couple Miami goals Thursday night. Also, we'll find out if the RedHawks can bring it like they did on Thursday, consistency has been a problem for this very young team (20 freshmen and sophomores).

Meet the new lines, same as the old lines. For both teams. No changes.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Anderson
Osterberg - Johnson - Mackay
Tufte - Peterson - Kuhlman
Young - Thomas - Exell

Soucy - Raskob
Pionk - Kotyk
Wolff - Molenaar

Miska - Deery - Shepard

Miami
Lemirande - Johnson - Siroky
Bachman - Greenberg - Knierim
LaValle - Sherwood - Green
Louis - Melnick - Meyer

Brandt - Hutton
Dornbrock - Sullivan
Switzer - Frederic

Larkin - Munroe - Masters

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts on a Friday: Power Play Comes Through as UMD Wins Late

The rare Thursday night game worked out for UMD, as the Bulldogs got a late power play goal from Avery Peterson for a 4-3 victory over Miami.

The win runs UMD's unbeaten streak to ten games (8-0-2), the Bulldogs' longest since a school-record 17-game streak in the 2011-12 season. It was also UMD's 20th win of the season, marking the school's 18th 20-win season all-time. Scott Sandelin and Mike Sertich each led the way for eight of them.

It furthers the argument that UMD is a mortal lock for the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season, something that has only happened one other time (1983-85) in school history.

Ahead of Senior Night Friday, a few thoughts first on the series opener, and a quick look at the NCHC weekend ahead.

For starters, UMD lost 2-0 and 3-2 leads in this game, but recovered thanks to a key penalty kill in the final seven minutes, followed by Peterson's gigantic goal. Riley Tufte took an outlet pass from Neal Pionk and skated up the left wing. He got into the offensive zone and occupied two defenders before leaving the puck in the left circle for Peterson, who wired a shot by Miami goalie Ryan Larkin for his third game-winning goal out of six scored this season (14 games).

Pionk added a power-play goal earlier in the third off a great setup by Adam Johnson, who scored in the first period by banking a shot off the back of Larkin from behind the goal line. It's at least the third time Johnson has scored a goal in a similar situation this season.

Senior captain Dominic Toninato also scored for UMD, running his point streak to five games (4-3-7). In 21 NCHC games, Toninato has 17 points (nine goals, eight assists), second on team to Alex Iafallo (10-16-26 in league play).

The UMD power play has now scored in five straight games (7-for-23, 30.4 percent) after going 5-for-34 (14.7 percent) over eight games in January. Overall, the Bulldogs are scoring on 20 percent of man advantage opportunities after that number dipped to 17 percent and change in January.

The kill was solid again, only allowing a goal during a five-on-three Miami chance in the second period, where Grant Hutton's blast got by Hunter Miska with traffic in front. There were some key penalty kills, including late in the first period after Johnson had given UMD a 1-0 lead (no Miami shots), and two in the third (one shot on each) with the game still very much in doubt.

Ten power plays combined, but there was much more five on five flow for big stretches of the game, especially in the first and second periods. Miami's two even strength goals came off rushes, and UMD's coverage was especially poor on the third goal, as RedHawks forward Carson Meyer was left alone skating down the slot and deposited a loose puck by Miska.

******

Unfortunately, one of the stories of the game was officiating for a second straight game. The UMD bench was visibly frustrated with a couple calls that weren't made on Miami, most notably a potential boarding call involving a hit on Toninato during a UMD power play. That drew frustration because of a pretty soft boarding call on UMD's Brenden Kotyk that gave Miami the five-on-three it scored on in the second period.

There were also pretty blatant misses on a slash to Kyle Osterberg and a trip/interference play involving Willie Raskob in the third period.

On the bright side, 1) UMD won the game; and 2) the missed calls and obvious frustration woke up the crowd, even when some strong play by UMD earlier in the game really couldn't do that.

The situation was pretty similar to Saturday in Colorado Springs, where calls made against UMD were all legit, but similar plays by the adversary didn't lead to penalties the other way.

It's, frankly, frustrating to watch. I like a lot of the folks responsible for what we see every week. The NCHC does very good work with its officials. It's great to see Derek Shepherd, always a strong presence on the ice, still very much involved in the evaluation of the on-ice officials during and after games. Mike Schmidt, who works as a supervisor, cares an unbelievable amount about the product and is a great listener. Don Adam runs the show, so to speak, for the conference and also cares a great deal about what happens on the ice.

The league is fully committed to giving the officials as many tools as possible to improve, along with constant feedback from qualified supervisors.

But what we've seen these last two games isn't good enough for me. Maybe the influx of penalty minutes in the second half has changed UMD's rep a little bit, but the Bulldogs struggled to get calls in the first half of the year, when they weren't at all a big-PIM team. So I'm not sure I buy the idea that UMD's penalty minutes have ticked up in the second half and now officials are looking for its players to do something wrong.

Whatever the issue is, it's happened in two straight games now, and I don't remember the last time I thought UMD had some legit gripes about the officials for two straight games. They'll happen here and there, and everyone has calls they don't agree with. But it's amazing how many times slow-motion replay backs up what the official thought he saw live action.

Hopefully, it's just some bad luck for UMD and not the start of a trend. I still believe in what this conference stands for and all the work put into its officiating.

******

Thursday's win lifted UMD back into the top spot of the PairWise and the NCHC standings, the latter by one point over Denver. With only one game left this weekend compared to Denver's two, UMD still needs help to claim a Penrose Cup championship. Denver hosts St. Cloud State this weekend. A UMD win Friday and Denver split or worse against SCSU would guarantee the Bulldogs will carry the league lead into the final weekend of the regular season.

Elsewhere, Omaha visits North Dakota, with both teams trying desperately to stay alive for home ice. Also, Western Michigan tries to seal home ice with two games at Colorado College.

Finally, the UMD women beat St. Cloud State 5-0 Thursday in Game 1 of their best-of-three series. Lara Stalder -- hours after being named a top ten finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award -- scored twice and added an assist, while fellow senior Demi Crossman scored two goals. Game 2 is Friday at 3pm. UMD advances to the WCHA Final Faceoff and virtually seals an NCAA bid with a win.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Game 31: Miami at UMD

Yes, it's a Thursday. Yes, there's hockey.

I mean, the schedule's only been out for six months ... 😈

Should be a fun series. Big contrast in styles between Colorado College and Miami. The RedHawks are more like UMD, only probably a little heavier style, but still more of a pace game. It isn't going to be easy, as Miami tends to play with good intensity and likes to be physical. But the pace should be more to UMD's favor, no question.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Anderson
Osterberg - Johnson - Mackay
Tufte - Peterson - Kuhlman
Young - Thomas - Exell

Soucy - Raskob
Pionk - Kotyk
Wolff - Molenaar

Miska - Deery - Shepard

Miami
Lemirande - Johnson - Siroky
Bachman - Greenberg - Knierim
LaValle - Sherwood - Green
Louis - Melnick - Meyer

Brandt - Hutton
Dornbrock - Sullivan
Switzer - Frederic

Larkin - Munroe - Masters

Bulldogs Celebrate Impactful Senior Class, Face Improving Miami Team in Final Home Series

UMD's seven-man senior class isn't about to complain about this not actually being their Amsoil Arena swan song.

That said, the traditional Senior Night celebration Friday will be an emotional one.

Forwards Alex Iafallo, Kyle Osterberg, and captain Dominic Toninato, along with defensemen Brenden Kotyk, Dan Molenaar, Willie Raskob, and Carson Soucy have combined to play in 856 games for UMD. They bring 156 goals (led by Toninato's 47) and 385 career points (Iafallo has 102) into this weekend's series against Miami, but that doesn't even begin to tell the story of their impact on the program.

"For us as coaches," longtime head coach Scott Sandelin said this week, "the fun part is watching those guys grow and mature. They're all leaders for us. They play big time roles for us. They've been very successful. They set examples on and off the rink by working hard and being good teammates. They've helped continue the culture we've tried to have here."

All seven have been big parts of this season, which will be the third straight for them that ends in the NCAA Tournament. This year's seniors are the first for UMD since 1984-85 to lead the team to three straight national tournament bids.

The group is led by a local captain, Toninato, who might not be producing big offensive numbers but is having one of his best years for UMD. He's second (to Karson Kuhlman) in blocked shots among UMD forwards. He's vastly improved in the faceoff circle at .503 for the season (he credits teammate Jared Thomas for helping him with his technique). And as conference play has heated up, so has his production. Eight of his nine goals and 16 of his 19 points have come in 20 NCHC games.

That he's the captain of his hometown college team makes it all the better for him.

"I honestly couldn't ask for anything better right now," he said last week. "We have some more goals that we want to accomplish, but as of right now I couldn't ask for a better year."

UMD's senior class has shepherded the program through the transition from the 2011-12 senior class led by Hobey Baker winner Jack Connolly. That class finished with a four-year record of 95-40-19 (.679 winning percentage). This group is at 75-53-18 (.575), but one of Sandelin's long-term goals was to see this program become an every-year tournament contender. UMD will make its third straight NCAA tourney for the first time in 32 years, so I'd say they've done a lot to help accomplish the proverbial mission.

******

As expected, Sandelin was asked about the Saturday tie against Colorado College during his Wednesday media session. As expected, he took up for his team a bit, but was able to avoid any direct criticism of the officials.

I wrote a bit about this on Monday. Anyone who listened Saturday knows what I think of what happened on the ice. But at the same time, UMD took penalties that were out of character for this group. Dustups behind the play, unnecessary contact penalties, stuff like that ... stuff UMD has largely avoided all season.

"The curse was the first period," Sandelin said. "Maybe we thought things would be easy, but we couldn't get the third (goal). I think some frustration set in, and those things built over the game.

"We had a couple calls that, for me, were going on the whole game. But I can specifically look at three or four penalties on our team that were very unnecessary. We had a good discussion this week. I think our guys learned a lesson."

The Bulldogs are now second in the NCHC at 13-plus penalty minutes per game. Only Western Michigan has more. But a deeper dive shows UMD has only faced 141 power plays this season, 22 fewer than Western Michigan and fourth-most in the NCHC (Miami, Colorado College, and Omaha have also had more penalty kill attempts than UMD).

(In conference play only, UMD leads with 14.9 penalty minutes per game -- Western is at 13.3 -- but its 96 penalty kills faced is eight fewer than Western Michigan. The point? The uptick in penalty minutes is due to an uptick in major penalties, which usually come complete with a game misconduct that counts for ten minutes toward a team's total.)

The Bulldogs need to play with more discipline, yes, but they're not out of control or anything extreme like that.

******

Miami visits this weekend for the teams' only scheduled meeting this season. Coach Rico Blasi talked in September about getting his team to do things "the right way" on a more consistent basis and restoring the strong culture his program had for years prior.

"When you don't do things the right way for an entire season, karma is a you know what," he said at NCHC Media Day. "For me, it's about going back to your culture and doing things the right way. If you play the game the right way, you'll get the bounces."

Blasi probably picked a good time to talk about big-picture things like restoring the Miami culture. His team is insanely young this year, with 14 freshmen and six sophomores. One of the three seniors, Anthony Louis, is one of the nation's more underrated players. He leads the RedHawks with 13 goals and 33 points, has developed into a player who Blasi can rely on in all situations, and he is one of just three active NCHC players -- Iafallo and Omaha's Austin Ortega are the others -- with 100-plus career points.

Also formidable is sophomore power forward Kiefer Sherwood, who has 11 goals and 30 points and is over a point per game in NCHC play. Sherwood continues to grow into his six-foot frame, but he's tough to defend when going to the net and he's not afraid of the tough areas. He's a good player, as is sophomore Josh Melnick, who's a little smaller and a lot shiftier. Like Toninato for UMD, Melnick has stepped up his production in conference play, with eight of his nine goals coming against NCHC rivals.

In goal, Miami has used freshman Ryan Larkin for all but two games in goal. He carries a 2.68 goals against and .913 save percentage. Like the team, which was swept at home by Denver last weekend, he has experienced some ups and downs. After playing very well in St. Cloud -- despite the Huskies sweeping the series -- he gave up nine goals (one empty-netter) on 69 shots against Denver.

6:30 pregames both Thursday and Friday on 92.1 The Fan. UMD has already clinched home ice, but these six points are vital for the Bulldogs to stay alive in the NCHC title race. Also be a #GOHUSKIESWOOOOO type of weekend for UMD, as fans should be rooting for St. Cloud State at Denver, no matter how weird it might be to do that.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday Musings: Colorado College Rallies for Tie, UMD Penalty Kill Saves Standings Point

Lots of frustration on the UMD side of the Broadmoor World Arena Saturday night. The Bulldogs couldn't have asked for a better start, getting two goals inside of the first two minutes and holding a 2-0 lead after one. Dominic Toninato tipped in a Neal Pionk wrist shot for a power-play goal 58 seconds in, then Alex Iafallo raced by the Colorado College power play for a breakaway shortie 49 seconds later.

For most of the first period, outside of Colorado College's three power plays, the Bulldogs controlled the puck, were content to let the Tigers chase, and had their way with things.

(More on this in a second. I'll be circling back.)

Things went quickly south, however, as the penalties racked up. Despite UMD's strong depth of killers, players started to tire from all the chasing, which led to more penalties. In all, UMD took a season-high 35 penalty minutes, and Colorado College had ten power plays on the night, including 4:52 of time during three-on-three overtime that UMD was somehow able to kill.

After that incredible PK work, Iafallo was able to score in the first round of a sudden-death shootout to rescue an extra point in the NCHC standings for the Bulldogs, who are now two points behind Denver for first place.

Unfortunately, the penalties were the big story for UMD. We've seen some small discipline breakdowns over the course of the season, and a good chunk of that is basic human nature. It's going to happen every now and then. But what happened Saturday was the worst we've seen this year. It was a team-wide calamity that never let up, even in the latter stages of the game and in overtime.

Could an argument be framed that the officials applied a different standard after the first period? Yes. Even watching the game back, there are more than a couple instances of UMD players being held, hooked, or interfered with that weren't called. On the Tigers' tying goal, the turnover that led to the rush started with blatant interference on UMD's Parker Mackay that was not called (though similar contact was called against UMD earlier). So I get this can be really difficult for fans to stomach, and I'm sure the players and coaches were livid on the bench and probably after the game, too. And anyone who listened to the game knows I was displeased, too.

But this stuff happens in hockey, UMD knows this (it's happened already this season, multiple times), and the Bulldogs failed to make any adjustments to how the officials started calling the game in the second period. The penalty trouble continued until CC pulled within one in the final seconds of the middle frame.

Carson Soucy took four penalties for 19 minutes, including a major for contact to the head in overtime that we'll discuss, Willie Raskob three for six minutes, Riley Tufte and Avery Peterson each two for four minutes.

And they were all penalties. This is undeniable. By the letter of the law, each call was correct. Again, can you argue the home team should have had more than it did? Yes. But UMD can't control how the adversary plays or how the officials officiate. It didn't do a good enough job controlling what it could control in this game.

Three of the four biggest offenders are older players who simply have to know better. One is a captain. This simply can't happen, no matter how frustrating the circumstances might be.

Talking to a couple guys on the trip home Sunday, I'm not concerned long-term. This will go down as a lesson learned, and the Bulldogs will move on. 

******

Soucy's major for a check to the head of Colorado College forward Tanner Ockey came in the final seconds of overtime. It carried over to three-on-three overtime, which meant CC had a four-on-three power play for 4:52. At that point, getting the full allotment of three points was out the window, and frankly the thought of getting two points wasn't exactly top of mind.

(By the way, I expect the NCHC to suspend Soucy for the hit, forcing him to miss Thursday's opener against Miami. It was pretty flagrant head contact, and it came late enough in the game that precedent would suggest he'll have to sit a game for it. Plus, it was similar enough to Soucy's hit on Bemidji State's Leo Fitzgerald -- or Myles, or Gerry, honestly I can't remember which one -- that justifiably drew a one-game suspension last season.)

(UPDATE: Sounds like no suspension for Soucy, certainly good news for UMD.)

But somehow, UMD survived that long power play for the Tigers. CC had three shots on goal, two of them from distance by defensemen. UMD blocked five shots and one other attempt missed the net. Particularly exemplary over the long kill were senior forward Kyle Osterberg and junior Karson Kuhlman. Iafallo and Toninato get marks as well, though some of their better work came during the myriad of CC power plays in regulation time.

Assistant coach Jason Herter does a lot of the penalty kill work, and it was great this past weekend. The Bulldogs killed two majors and allowed just six shots on goal combined. Somehow with three guys out on an Olympic surface, CC still got more shots blocked than it got on goal.

With everything that went wrong on Saturday, UMD should consider itself fortunate to have gotten one point out of that game, much less two. The penalty kill saved the bacon. It's a shame so many fans have forgotten how good they were amid panic over the lost point and how it might affect the Bulldogs' Penrose Cup chances.

******

The penalty trouble wrecked what was probably the best 20 minutes UMD's started a game with all season. All four lines were in on the action, generating gobs of puck possession and quality scoring chances. What was a 2-0 game could have been, by any rights, 3-0 or 4-0 after one, the Bulldogs were that good.

It adds to the frustration over how the game evolved in the second period. UMD was dominating the game at even strength, and it didn't matter which line was on the ice. But the team took four penalties in the second, all of them completely unnecessary. Eventually, the Tigers -- as much as their power play struggled -- were going to cash in. It was just a matter of time.

But Scott Sandelin preached a puck possession game plan, and the players executed it to perfection for 20 minutes. Then the wheels started coming off.

******

UMD dropped to second in the Pairwise behind Denver, thanks to Denver's gigantic edge in RPI rating after the weekend games. DU is .6033, UMD .6032, and that one-onethousandth of a point is the difference between the No. 1 and No. 2 overall teams in the ranking. If it flips back to UMD's favor, the Bulldogs will regain the top spot in the Pairwise. That's how close those two teams are right now.

If you use the College Hockey News page, you can project future results. If you put UMD down for a loss in each remaining game, it drops the Bulldogs all the way to fourth, still a No. 1 regional seed. Let that one process for a second.

Speaking of CHN, they also have what's called a "probability matrix" that lists the chance of a team getting in the tournament and also the best percentage chances at various seeds in the tournament. A few notes:
  • UMD is 100 percent in the tournament
  • UMD has an 83 percent chance of being the No. 1 or No. 2 overall seed
  • The chances of UMD not being a No. 1 regional seed are less than one percent
  • The 20,000 simulations generated for the matrix do not find any where UMD is seeded below eighth.
  • Denver is also 100 percent in, and No. 5 overall Western Michigan is at 99.5. Murky beyond that for the NCHC. North Dakota is at 37 percent, St. Cloud State 35, Omaha only at 12 percent.
Miami is in town for games Thursday and Friday this week. The short week is necessitated by Amsoil Arena being booked for high school hockey sectional games Saturday (7AA during the day, 7A at night). The RedHawks were swept by Denver this past weekend by matching 5-2 scores. Both games were tied 2-2 before DU erupted for the last three goals of the game. On the season, Miami is seventh in the conference, 1-7-1 in its last nine games. Anthony Louis is still putting up points (33 in 30 games this year), Kiefer Sherwood is having a solid season, and freshman goalie Ryan Larkin has put up a .914 save percentage in conference play.

Not only do we have to watch and see if Soucy is punished by the conference, but senior defenseman Brenden Kotyk missed Saturday's game with a lower-body injury. It's hard to imagine -- no matter how badly UMD might want to win a conference championship -- any chances will be taken with the big man on a short week, especially considering the short week means they'll have an extra day to get ready for the trip to Kalamazoo next week.

UMD will announce the winner of its annual Fan Favorite voting Thursday, and Friday is Senior Night.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Game 30: UMD at Colorado College

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Another picture-perfect day in Colorado Springs, as it sounds like it was back in Minnesota. Another big game here for UMD, as the Bulldogs look to at the minimum keep pace with Denver atop the NCHC.

UMD found a way to win on Friday. Colorado College kept to its structure very well and played a pretty strong defensive game, but the Bulldogs missed on some potentially glorious opportunities they don't normally miss on. Can they find that little bit of extra poise and make those plays if they're there again?

One lineup change for UMD. Senior defenseman Brenden Kotyk missed a good chunk of Friday with a lower-body injury. He sits, and in his place freshman Jarod Hilderman plays. It'll be just the second game for Hilderman since Oct. 15, and only his fifth game overall. He's paired with fellow rookie Nick Wolff, but don't be surprised if pairings are mixed up based on matchups. What you see on the chart is likely not always what you'll get on the ice, methinks.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Anderson
Osterberg - Johnson - Mackay
Tufte - Peterson - Kuhlman
Young - Thomas - Exell

Soucy - Raskob
Pionk - Molenaar
Wolff - Hilderman

Miska - Deery

CC
Bergh - Gerdes - Hansen
Berardinelli - Rothstein - Van Horn
Gooch - Kehoe - Michaud
Heil - Ockey - Makara

Blumenschein - Farny
McCaskill - Pernitsky
Kivihalme - Israel

Leclerc - Shatzer

CC lists David Radke, a sophomore who has played in one game this season, as an extra skater for warmup. If he plays, we'll update via Twitter @BruceCiskie.

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Grind Out Win Over Colorado College to Run Unbeaten Streak to Eight

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Was it pretty? Not even close.

When you look at the standings, however, you'll see it doesn't matter if it was pretty or not. They all count the same, and Adam Johnson's late power-play goal gave UMD a 2-1 win over Colorado College Friday night.

The win run's UMD's unbeaten streak to eight. It also improves UMD to 11-1-2 away from Duluth this season, an .857 winning percentage that leads the country. The Bulldogs also stay within one point of Denver for the top spot in the NCHC, as the Pioneers won at Miami 5-2.

As I said at the top, this wasn't in any way a beautiful game. Under third-year coach Mike Haviland, Colorado College is playing a much more disciplined defensive style. Part of that is out of necessity, as Haviland found a pretty bare cupboard upon his arrival in this fair city and needed to do some quick recruiting just to fill his roster. The 2016-17 roster features 31 players, but only six seniors, and only three of the six play regularly.

Haviland is steadfast in his belief the program is making progress. Freshman goalie Alex Leclerc has benefitted from more consistent play in front of him and has put together a solid season. The Tigers struggle mightily to score goals, but Leclerc and Haviland's defensive system -- when played well -- keep this team in games.

"It's a tough thing to rebuild," Haviland told me Friday. "It doesn't happen overnight, especially when you have to play (No.) 2 and then (No.) 1 every other weekend. There's not a lot of letup in this conference. We're starting to get some guys down the road. It's not pro hockey. It takes three, four, five years to really start to see the (benefits) of the recruiting wars you have to get into."

Haviland also noted that CC's starting goalie has been a freshman in each of his three years on the job. Last year, it was Jacob Nehama, who has been injured most of this year. Before that, Chase Perry was tabbed as the guy before he lost the job to sophomore Tyler Marble, who hadn't played a college game before that season.

Do I expect the Tigers to be trying to grind down opponents five years from now? I don't know. But they are now, and it continues to be a good test for UMD, which finds it more difficult to play its preferred style of hockey against Colorado College.

There were a couple segments of Friday where it looked like UMD was getting a little frustrated. But give the visitors credit. Even when nothing was really going all that well, the Bulldogs didn't sacrifice defensive structure or posture while trying to create offense. UMD used stretch plays to try to open things up a bit. There were a couple times the Bulldogs eschewed a controlled breakout and flew a wing up the rink, and it worked for one Joey Anderson breakaway and should have worked a second time, but he couldn't control the outlet pass.

That was an issue a couple different times during the game. UMD missed out on good rush opportunities when players couldn't keep control of the puck or fanned on shots or passes. Scott Sandelin referenced it postgame with Matt Wellens, using the term "moxie", which works pretty well.
“I thought we could have done a little bit better job with a little more poise or moxie with the shots,” Sandelin said. “We fired some with our head down right into them, but they clawed and got up. They are good at blocking shots.
“We just have to do a little bit better job, but you know what? I don’t care. I don’t worry about how many shots you’re getting because I’d rather have the puck and make them defend. Hopefully we can do more of that and when you do that, maybe things will open up.”
By the way, CC's power play goal in the first period broke a couple long streaks. Freshman goalie Hunter Miska's scoreless run stopped at exactly 97 minutes. Also, UMD hadn't allowed a goal in the Broadmoor World Arena since the 2013-14 season, and its overall scoreless streak in that building ended at 156 minutes, 56 seconds. Three goalies -- Aaron Crandall, Kasimir Kaskisuo, and Miska -- contributed to that stretch for UMD.

******

The turning point of the game came at the 1:48 mark of the third period, when UMD junior Karson Kuhlman was given a five-minute major for boarding good friend and Tigers sophomore Westin Michaud. Live action, it looked like textbook boarding, though the major may have been an overreaction to Michaud being banged up and having to leave the game. The only replay I saw was basically live action from the main TV camera, and did nothing to change that opinion. However, based on the reaction I saw on Twitter, the slow-motion replays on CBS Sports Network -- which did the game Friday -- showed very little contact between the two at all.

I still have not seen these replays and can't comment further.

What I can comment on was it was one of UMD's better penalty kills of the season. CC had three shots over the five minutes, all from far away by defenseman Teemu Kivihalme, none of them a very serious threat to get by Miska, who was strong again when he had to be but didn't have to be spectacular, something Sandelin referenced before the game as he implored his team to play a stronger game defensively.

"Overall, we've been a little loose defensively," Sandelin said before Friday's tilt. "Structurally, we need to make sure we're doing the things we need to and helping each other out. We don't want Hunter to have to be great every game. I want him to be comfortable and just play his game and not feel like he's got to win games."

For at least one night, Sandelin got his wish, and that major penalty kill was a huge example of it. Senior Kyle Osterberg hustled to loose pucks and killed precious time. The kill structure was good, keeping things to the outside, and CC didn't have any way to get the puck to the middle of the rink, as UMD defended the slot wonderfully. The Tigers also couldn't get pucks through to Miska, and when they did, he was all over them.

From the point Kuhlman was released from the box to the end of the game, with 13:12 left in the third period, the Tigers had just two shots on goal, both of them in quick succession right after the penalty ended. CC had no shots for the last 12-plus minutes of the game. Better yet for UMD, the Tigers only attempted three shots, two wide and one blocked, both after UMD had taken the lead on Johnson's power-play goal.

******

Another example of the in-game improvement Friday:

After a good start in the faceoff circle, things went south for UMD in the second period. Colorado College won 16 of 21 second-period draws, including a couple key offensive-zone faceoffs that forced UMD to retreat when it should have been attacking.

But UMD turned the tables in the third, winning 12 of 17 faceoffs and forcing Colorado College to defend.

I don't care how good a team is on the defensive side of the game. When you're consistently forcing them to play defense, it's a good recipe to wear down the adversary, which is how mistakes happen. Then you can be in good position to take advantage of the lapses in coverage brought on by fatigue.

UMD did a much better job of attacking the Tigers Friday than it did in the previous series in Duluth. Players showed more willingness to go to the tough areas, even if they didn't make plays when there. The next step in this rematch Saturday is to make those quick plays that can lead to more offense. UMD left a few good scoring chances on the table Friday, chances that the Bulldogs have typically been pretty good at bearing down on. I'll take my chances with that kind of performance over the long haul.

******

I asked the Twitter people for questions. Here are a few.

Peter Sandelin (@sand0393): Why does college hockey/NCHC struggle with such inconsistency on the 5 minute major call? Ex: Kuhlman. Its such a game-changer.

Got a lot of tweets on the Kuhlman major. I can't comment on it, as mentioned above, because I didn't see the decisive replay angle.

But I can make a comparison to a play that happened in the NHL Thursday night. Wild forward Nino Niederreiter was assessed a major penalty for interference after what appeared at first glance to be a dirty hit on Dallas Stars forward and model Patrick Sharp. Just look at the animation in this article. Looks terrible, right?

But what that piece of animation doesn't show is that Niederreiter was clipped and knocked off balance by Dallas' Radek Faksa and had no time to avoid the contact on Sharp, who had no chance to avoid Niederreiter.

Until officials are allowed to look at video replay on a hit like this -- and possibly Kuhlman's as well -- you're going to continue to see these vast inconsistencies on calls. And let's call it like it is. Officials see a hit like this out of the corner of their eye because it's far enough away from the puck, and they are human beings who see a dangerous play and try to construct how it really happened. Sometimes, they aren't going to be right. All the more reason to allow video replay of the hit.

Look at the replay of that hit by Niederreiter, and it's a minor penalty (by the rule the NCAA uses in the postseason, a penalty must be called in order for it to be reviewed). It's unfathomable to me that officials are still not allowed to look at these plays. And it's not their fault. They don't make the rules.

Kendal (@KendalKillian): I hate this kind of logic normally, but are we sure we as UMD fans want the #1 seed and another date with this CC club?

Probably not. 😄

I get it. This isn't an easy style to play against, and it can be hard on the eyes for fans. But you're kidding yourselves if you think Colorado College is the only team out there that tries to lock teams down defensively.

I mean, Bemidji State, anyone? And if the season ended today, the Beavers would be UMD's first round opponent in the NCAA Tournament.

Cornell, UMass-Lowell, and Providence are other teams currently in the field that can make life a living hell for a team like UMD.

My point? The Bulldogs have to beat this style when it matters most. The more experience they get against it, the better.

(I admit it: I joked privately about this during the game Friday. But UMD isn't throwing the league title to avoid Colorado College in the first round. I can promise you that.)

Eric Burton (@goon48): still want to go to Fargo?

I'm happy to travel to whatever regional UMD is assigned to play in. Good luck sucking me into that trap.

Pat Micheletti (@patmick2626): Who is the best team in the country?

I believe both John Buccigross -- who calls the Frozen Four for ESPN -- and College Hockey News' Joe Meloni have both opined this, so it's not an original thought.

Having only seen Boston University and Harvard on TV makes this tough, but I think UMD and Denver have separated themselves a little bit from everyone else.

Who's better between UMD and Denver? Good luck getting me to answer that. I just hope the Bulldogs get to play DU two more times to find out (NCHC and NCAA tourneys).

Kjestine (@kjestine15): do you think a slower paced game with lots of whistles, like the 1st last night is better for our opponents or us?

Not sure it matters a ton, but it probably leans toward the adversary. This UMD team is pretty good at playing with patience and discipline and taking what is given to it. As long as that continues, I don't see it being a huge issue when teams try to slow the game down. Obviously, it does create some close games, which can be problematic in the NCAAs, which of course are a one-game out. But I'm willing to take my chances with this team.

Thanks to everyone for the questions.

******

Elsewhere in the NCHC, Denver got three late goals to get by Miami 5-2. Will Butcher started the rally with the winner after Miami scored twice early in the third to rally from 2-0 down for a tie. Dylan Gambrell scored twice for DU.

In Kalamazoo, Sheldon Dries broke a 2-2 tie with just under seven minutes to play, and Western Michigan went on to beat North Dakota 4-2. Ben Blacker made 32 saves for the Broncos, who opened up a four-point lead on idle St. Cloud State for third place in the conference.

The updated NCHC standings, followed by the max points for each team, are listed below.

CURRENT STANDINGS
Denver 44
UMD 43
Western Michigan 32
St. Cloud State 28
North Dakota 26
Omaha 26
Miami 21
Colorado College 11

MAX POINTS
Denver 59
UMD 58
Western Michigan 47
North Dakota 41
St. Cloud State 40
Omaha 38
Miami 36
Colorado College 26

Also Friday, the UMD women got goals from Katie McGovern and Sydney Brodt in a 2-1 win over St. Cloud State at Amsoil Arena. UMD honors its senior class after Saturday's 4pm game against the Huskies. UMD will more than likely finish third in the WCHA (needs to beat SCSU and have Wisconsin sweep Minnesota in Minneapolis to move to second), which means a home series against the sixth-place team starting Thursday. That sixth-place team will be either Bemidji State, Ohio State, or St. Cloud State, depending on how the rest of the weekend goes. Too many scenarios to try to lay everything out.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Game 29: UMD at Colorado College

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Since back-to-back 2-1 losses to Colorado College and St. Cloud State, UMD hasn't lost in seven games. The Bulldogs have ground out low-scoring wins, fought their way from behind, and jumped on teams.

The lineup you see in the series opener is one that I think UMD can roll into the postseason with, provided a couple things.

  • Obviously, everyone has to stay healthy. This team's been pretty fortunate when it comes to man-games lost, and let's not take that for granted. Parker Mackay missed six games, and Nick McCormack is out with a practice injury, but UMD has been lucky with its front-line guys, who play a ton of minutes. Captain Dominic Toninato has twice left games, once after blocking a shot and once after taking what appeared to be a check near the head after a shot. But he's barely missed a shift.
  • There have been tweaks. Players who were moved to different lines need to be willing to embrace their new roles. Specifically, Adam Johnson has to be more consistent as a center. He improved greatly on faceoffs as he gained experience, but he wasn't always a solid defensive player. With Johnson's speed and playmaking ability (he can make plays at full speed that most guys wish they could make a three-quarters speed), he should be a force in the middle. Also, Jared Thomas has to be willing to be a fourth-line center. He's been killing penalties more and more lately, partially because of Mackay's injury, but he acquitted himself well. One of Thomas' best games of the second half was Jan. 14 against St. Cloud State, when he played on the fourth line. He won draws, was physical, and it made his line better.
I was a huge fan of junior Blake Young's game against Omaha before break. That and two good weeks of practice are why he's in the lineup. He can stay there if he doesn't forget what made his game so good against the Mavericks. He needs to be physical, win battles and races, and use his size and underrated skating ability to be a factor on the forecheck against the smallish Colorado College defense.

Looking forward to this series. As I wrote in the preview, CC is markedly worse at home (1-11, 53-24 goals) versus in road/neutral games (6-8-2, 41-34 goals). I believe the Bulldogs are going to try to carry pucks into the offensive zone, taking advantage of the extra room on the Olympic ice. If UMD can play with its traditional speed -- something I don't believe happened against this team in Duluth -- it can accomplish that task, making things much more difficult on the Tigers' defense.


Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Anderson
Osterberg - Johnson - Mackay
Tufte - Peterson - Kuhlman
Young - Thomas - Exell

Soucy - Raskob
Pionk - Kotyk
Wolff - Molenaar

Miska - Deery

CC
Bergh - Gerdes - Hansen
Berardinelli - Rothstein - Van Horn
Gooch - Kehoe - Michaud
Heil - Ockey - Makara

Blumenschein - Farny
McCaskill - Pernitsky
Kivihalme - Israel

Leclerc - Shatzer

CC lists David Radke, a sophomore who has played in one game this season, as an extra skater for warmup. If he plays, we'll update via Twitter @BruceCiskie.um

Thursday, February 16, 2017

UMD Men Enter Stretch Run in Search of Payback

(NOTE: Check my earlier update on Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalists, including a lot of local and UMD flavor, here.)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- With Denver and UMD both sitting at six games left in the regular season, and the Pioneers a one-point lead on the Bulldogs in the conference standings, it's obvious what UMD needs for the league title it so covets.

(And make no mistake, guys, UMD wants this. Ask any of the players. Ask the coaches. This means something to them, and they're operating right now with the full intention of going for the NCHC title and not resting in the final weeks now that a home-ice spot is clinched. UPDATE: Or maybe it isn't clinched. UMD still needs one point. Long story. Please don't make me tell it. Thanks to Michael Weisman of the NCHC for setting the record straight.)

The stretch run should be fun for fans of both teams. Obviously, there are bigger fish to fry, but I've been given no indication that either team is going to fade away and just be happy with home ice in the first round.

For UMD, it starts here in beautiful Colorado Springs. Great weather greeted the team as it arrived Thursday, and that theme is expected to continue into the weekend. Of course, the focus is elsewhere.

Normally, the No. 1 team in the polls and PairWise facing a seven-win team that is last in its conference wouldn't lead to a lot of conversation. However, Colorado College got the better of a two-game series in Duluth last month, and that fact has the undivided attention of these Bulldogs.

UMD coach Scott Sandelin was blunt this week in talking about what happened in that January weekend set.

"I don't think we gave them enough respect," he said. "I thought they were the hungrier team."

If that was an issue in January, it isn't now.

"Especially them coming into our building and taking those four points," senior captain Dominic Toninato said this week, "it makes us want it more."

What has to happen?

Well, for starters, UMD can't be shocked into playing, as the coaches might say. The home team fell behind early to CC in a 2-1 loss on Jan. 7. The Bulldogs never led, and weren't a serious threat once CC took the lead for good in the second period. It just wasn't a great night, as UMD made mistakes in the neutral zone and fed into the Tigers' defensive ways.

"We didn't get inside the dots very much," Sandelin said. "They just wanted it more than we did, and we didn't respond very well."

The Bulldogs struggled against Colorado College freshman Alex Leclerc, who made 69 saves on 72 shots in what was his best weekend of the season. Leclerc was pressed into duty when incumbent Jacob Nehama proved insufficently recovered from offseason surgery and was once again shelved. He's had his moments, including the win and tie in Duluth and a 3-0 shutout of North Dakota Jan. 28 that still stands as CC's only home win this season to date. After a tough start, Leclerc has rebounded a bit to a .901 save percentage on the season, as CC's team save percentage has improved to .894.

Part of that is predicated on third-year coach Mike Haviland getting his team to buy in to his more defensive-minded system. Under Scott Owens, Colorado College was as wide-open a team as any you could find. The older guys -- namely senior forwards Luc Gerdes, Sam Rothstein, and Matt Hansen -- are holdovers from that system. That they're among CC's leading scorers this season, along with being among the top guys in plus-minus, underscores the buy-in Haviland is getting.

******

What appears to be true, however, is that Haviland's system is tougher to perfect on the Olympic ice sheet CC calls home.

In 12 games at the Broadmoor World Arena, Colorado College is 1-11, outscored by adversaries 53-24, basically 4.5 goals allowed per game to two scored.

In 16 road/neutral site games (all but one played on NHL-size ice), the Tigers are 6-8-2, and that goal differential is only 41-34.

The sample size isn't exactly gargantuan, so this could be a coincidence. But it's worth noting that the Tigers succeeded against UMD, in large part, by forcing the Bulldogs to dump pucks and win races and/or battles to gain offensive zone possession.

On the big sheet, will UMD have to resort to dump-and-chase hockey? I doubt it. The extra width of the rink could very well play to the Bulldogs' advantage this weekend. Now, this is predicated on UMD maintaining an attack mentality, playing with speed, and executing the plan, three things that didn't really happen against CC in Duluth. Combine a better commitment to that style of hockey with the additional room players will have in Colorado Springs, and you could be looking at a better recipe for much-needed NCHC points this weekend.

Sandelin said a couple different times this week that clean plays will be very hard to come by against this team. The Bulldogs have thrived on transition opportunities and odd-man rushes this season. We're hard-pressed to think of any of either happening in the earlier meeting between these teams. A bigger ice sheet isn't going to create them, either. UMD is still going to have to show a willingness to win board battles, win races for loose pucks and to be smart about puck placement when it's time to dump the puck and go after it.

"Hopefully the bigger rink will help," Sandelin said, "but they're a team that doesn't give up very much. Sometimes, you have to be patient and take what the game gives you.

"If we can get cleaner transition out of the (defensive) zone, come through the neutral zone with some speed and get pucks behind their D, and if you're going to do that you have to forecheck."

******

One thing that works in UMD's favor this weekend is a roster as close to full health as it's been all season.

Sophomore forward Parker Mackay returns after missing six games with an upper-body injury. He was able to skate while he was out, but it's doubtful he'll be in full game shape this fast. That said, no one will complain about his return.

"I'm not expecting him to go in there and be where he'll be a week or two from now," Sandelin said. "I hope he brings that energy and is a good 200-foot player.

"His impact, the type of player he is, we've missed that. He's kind of that gritty power forward type guy who has some skill. Can kill penalties, too. It'll be nice to have him. One of our most competitive guys."

Mackay should slot on the second or third line, which will necessitate some changes to UMD's forwards. Projections below. If everything works out well, UMD will be as heavy a team as it's been all season, and there will be smart 200-foot players on all four lines. The Bulldogs are never going to be a big-hitting type of team, but the third and fourth lines will present good size and intensity and difficult matchups for opposing coaches.

Projected UMD lines
Iafallo - Toninato - Anderson
Osterberg - Johnson - Mackay
Tufte - Peterson - Kuhlman
Young - Thomas - Exell

Soucy - Raskob
Pionk - Kotyk
Wolff - Molenaar

Miska - Deery

******

Back in Duluth, the UMD women finish the regular season with Friday night and Saturday afternoon games against St. Cloud State. The Bulldogs still have a small chance to finish second in the WCHA standings, as UMD trails Minnesota by four points in the standings heading into the weekend. Minnesota is home to take on Wisconsin, which is unbeaten in 14 games since losing to Minnesota in early December.

No matter what, the Bulldogs know they'll host a first-round WCHA playoff series next weekend (SCSU, Bemidji State, or Ohio State will visit). That will be a Thursday-Friday-Sunday (if necessary) series, so make your plans now.

Wins this weekend will also help UMD keep in position to host an NCAA playoff game, something second-year coach Maura Crowell doesn't want to look at now ("We haven't talked about the home games coming up," she said, "just what's right in front of us"), but certainly a source of pride for everyone involved in the program.

(UMD is No. 2 in the PairWise rankings, but Minnesota is right behind the Bulldogs in third, and there's a chance even a split against Wisconsin is enough to push the Gophers past UMD. The top four host quarterfinal games, but UMD needs wins this weekend to avoid needing another big win to stay in the top four. One thing is certain: The WCHA is getting at least three teams in the NCAA Tournament after years of only getting two despite being the strongest league in the country. And there's a money chance three WCHA teams are hosting quarterfinals. Break out the checkbook, NCAA. You'll be flying teams west this year, whether you want to or not.)

Another source of pride: The five-player senior class (six players when you count junior Maria Lindh, who will also be honored after Saturday's game). Two-year captain Ashleigh Brykaliuk and two-year assistant Sidney Morin will play their final regular-season game in Duluth Saturday, along with forwards Demi Crossman, Lara Stalder, and Katie McGovern.

The impact of the six is not measured in numbers. But if you'd like, they average 126 career games between them, and they're over 400 points with nearly 175 career goals.

"I can't say enough about them," Crowell said. "I love them. They empty the tank every game. They go as we go. The character and personality of the team is based on them. They set the tone every day in practice."

Minnesota Mr. Hockey 2017 Finalists Include Much UMD, Local Flavor

MINNEAPOLIS -- Greetings from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Getting ready to head out to Colorado for this weekend's series. Preview coming later in the day, but for now wanted to get some other news out there.

Three UMD recruits are among ten finalists for Minnesota Mr. Hockey, given annually by the Minnesota Minute Men to the top senior boys' hockey player in the state. Two more local players not headed to UMD made the list, so half the ten finalists have a tie to our area.

(NOTE: Your humble correspondent is a proud member of the Mr. Hockey voting committee.)

Defenseman Matt Anderson (Holy Family Catholic) is signed to join UMD next season, while forward Noah Cates (Stillwater) and defenseman Dylan Samberg (Hermantown) should arrive in 2018. In addition, Hermantown forward Ryan Sandelin -- son of UMD coach Scott -- and Grand Rapids forward Micah Miller are finalists.

Here's the full list from the Minnesota Minute Men release.

MATT ANDERSON, D, HOLY FAMILY CATHOLIC (committed to UMD)
Anderson is tied for second on No. 4-2A Holy Family Catholic (19-3-1) with 18 assists and also has three goals for 21 total points. He tallied 15 points during a nine-game streak between Jan. 6 and Feb. 2 and has recorded a point or more in 12 of 18 games played.

NOAH CATES, F, STILLWATER (UMD)
Cates leads No. 5-2A Stillwater with 38 assists and 56 points. He is also tied for second on the team with 18 goals, helping guide the Ponies to a 19-3 record. He is averaging 2.55 points per game and has contributed three or more points in 14 games this season.

NICK LEIVERMANN, D, EDEN PRAIRIE (Notre Dame)
Leivermann has helped No.1-2A Eden Prairie to a 17-4-2 record this season by registering points in 14 games, including eight with two or more points. He ranks third on the Eagles with 22 assists and has nine goals for 31 points.

BEN MEYERS, F, DELANO (Maine)
Meyers ranks second in the state in goals (39) and first in assists (50) and points (89). He has registered at least one point in all 23 contests he’s played this season for No. 3-1A Delano (18-3-1) and owns a 3.87 points-per-game average. Meyers posted four or more points in 14 games and tallied five or more in each of the Tigers' first seven contests.

CASEY MITTELSTADT, F, EDEN PRAIRIE (Minnesota)
Mittelstadt ranks second in the state in assists (39) and also leads the Eagles in goals (18) and points (57). He has points in 21 of 23 games played and has four or more points in six contests.

MICAH MILLER, F, GRAND RAPIDS (St. Cloud State)
Miller leads No. 10-2A Grand Rapids (16-6-1) in goals (20), assists (32) and points (52). He started the season registering a point or more in 14 consecutive games, including a season-high six points in a 9-3 win over Warroad on Dec. 10. The forward has scored a point in 20 of 23 games.

BAUER NEUDECKER, F, ST. LOUIS PARK (Uncommitted)
Neudecker ranks third in the state in both goals (38) and points (72). He averages 3.00 points per game, helping St. Louis Park to a 17-6-1 record. The forward has a point in 22 of 24 games played, with four or more in nine contests.

NICK PERBIX, D, ELK RIVER (St. Cloud State)
Perbix has helped keep the offense rolling for No. 3-2A Elk River (18-6), recording a team-high 30 assists and 39 points. He has 13 points in his last six games and has tallied the game-winning goal in three contests.

DYLAN SAMBERG, D, HERMANTOWN (UMD)
Samberg has helped No. 1-1A Hermantown to a 21-1-1 record, posting nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points. He scored a season-high five points in an 11-2 win over Greenway on Jan. 3.

RYAN SANDELIN, F, HERMANTOWN (Minnesota State)
Sandelin leads the Hawks in goals (26), assists (32) and points (58). He began the season with an 11-game point streak, and now has a point in 21 of 23 games (a 2.52 points-per-game average). Sandelin scored a season-high six points in a 9-2 win over Mahtomedi.

It's not common for UMD recruits to make up that much of the finalist list. Going back to 2002, only once have three players committed to UMD been named Mr. Hockey finalists.

2016: Riley Tufte (won)
2015: None
2014: Nick Wolff
2013: Adam Johnson
2012: Charlie Sampair (was not committed at the time), Jared Thomas, Dominic Toninato
2011: Tony Cameranesi
2010: Cal Decowski, Caleb Herbert, Adam Krause
2009: Dan DeLisle, Max Tardy
2008: JT Brown, Drew Olson
2007: None
2006: David Grun
2005: Matt Niskanen, Mitch Ryan
2004: None
2003: None
2002: None

2013 winner Avery Peterson transferred to UMD from Omaha and is actually in this airport right now (I can vouch, saw him going through security). That's why he isn't listed. He was committed to Omaha at the time of being named a finalist.

Sampair didn't commit to UMD until May 2012 when a spot on the roster opened up. If memory serves, he didn't debut for UMD until November 2012, quite a ways into the season.

Also, Hermantown's Cade McEwen is one of two finalists for the Frank Brimsek Award, which goes to the state's top senior goaltender. Current UMD freshman Hunter Shepard won the award in 2014.

Congratulations to all this year's finalists. More on the UMD-Colorado College series once we get to Colorado Springs.