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.)

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.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Musings: Denver Sweeps CC, Takes NCHC Lead From Idle UMD; Bulldogs Head to Colorado Next

Hope everyone enjoyed the bye weekend. Last one of the season for UMD, so naturally instead of sitting on the couch, I went to Wild games Friday and Sunday. Great time both trips, thanks for asking. 😜😎

UMD continues its prep for the stretch run this week, as the Bulldogs' NCHC title hopes will be determined by six games over the next three weekends to finish the regular season.

And UMD now knows it will start that stretch run from a chase position.

Denver took care of business over the weekend, sweeping longtime rival Colorado College in a home-and-home series to run its winning streak against the Tigers to 12 and taking a one-point lead on UMD for the top spot in the NCHC. DU won 2-1 at home Friday before routing the Tigers 5-1 in Colorado Springs Saturday. The Pioneers are playing incredibly well, with five straight wins and an 8-2 record since the calendar flipped to 2017. Over that ten-game run, DU has six games of five or more goals.

Of course, UMD has been no slouch since the break. The Bulldogs stumbled out of the gates in January, going 0-2-1 over the first three games. Since then, UMD is 6-0-1, including a two-game sweep at North Dakota and a championship at the North Star College Cup. The Bulldogs also have tightened defensively as of late, giving up just five goals over five games with two Hunter Miska shutouts thrown in. Only two of those five goals were scored at even strength.

******

It's a two-horse race in the NCHC, with Denver (41 points) and UMD (40) both having clinched home ice for the NCHC playoffs and UMD 11 points up on third-place Western Michigan in the standings. Let's look at the remaining schedules for both.

Denver
at Miami -- the teams tied twice in Denver Nov. 18-19, with DU winning both shootouts
vs St. Cloud State -- they split Jan. 20-21 in St. Cloud
at Omaha -- DU swept a home series from the Mavs Jan. 27-28

UMD
at Colorado College -- we all know what happened Jan. 6-7 in Duluth, ugh
vs Miami -- first meeting this season
at Western Michigan -- they split Nov. 11-12 in Duluth

You can't base a ton off the early-season meetings, but it's clear that both teams have difficult paths to the end of the regular season. Miami will give them both fits, thanks to an improving group of forwards and the play of freshman goalie Ryan Larkin, who has a very solid .920 save percentage despite his team not giving him a ton of run support. St. Cloud State is playing exceptionally well right now and just got a huge home sweep of Miami, but UMD has to deal with the Colorado Springs trip and fun with altitude off a bye week. And the Tigers beat UMD in Duluth in their last meeting.

So don't be shocked if the league title isn't decided until the last week of the season, with Denver in Omaha and UMD in Kalamazoo. And on the surface, the edge has to go to Denver with that in mind. Little explanation should be necessary.

(Both Omaha and WMU can be overly reliant on special teams to create goals, which isn't optimal as we enter a time of the season where there are usually not as many penalties in games. However, UNO is explosive up front, and Western might be the most underrated team in the league offensively.)

As for the rest of the league, here's how it looks.

DU 41
UMD 40
WMU 29
SCSU 28 (but only four games left)
UND 26
UNO 26 (but only four games left)
Miami 21
CC 11

Max point totals:
DU 59
UMD 58
WMU 47
UND 44
SCSU 40
Miami 39
UNO 38
CC 29

We don't know much. UMD and Denver will be at home for the first round (SCSU can only tie UMD, but UMD has the tiebreaker based on head to head wins) no matter what. Colorado College will be on the road. Nothing else is decided, as UNO and Miami could get home ice by going on a late run, and there's still time for someone currently in a home-ice position to fade out of it.

******

UMD heads to beautiful Colorado Springs this weekend. Usually, I'd openly wonder how good the Bulldogs will be coming out of a bye and playing at high altitude, but I don't doubt they'll be ready for this series. CC waltzed into Amsoil Arena and took four points from UMD Jan. 6-7 in what's easily been the low point of UMD's season to date. I can't guarantee UMD will play well, but I can be virtually certain this team will be prepared to play.

The Bulldogs have seen much success on Olympic ice in recent years, a story I love rehashing whenever they play at Minnesota. St. Cloud State, or Colorado College, the last bastions of the big sheet that this team plays on even a semi-regular basis.

In the last 12 games UMD has played on the big ice, it is 11-1, with the only loss last season to Northern Michigan. Over its last 30 games going back to the 2011-12 season, UMD is 18-9-3.

Should be a fun weekend. Weather looks fantastic, and TV VOX Zach Schneider is traveling on this trip. We'll show him the ropes. Or I'll sunbathe at the hotel while watching Baskets on Hulu. One or the other. Either way, talk next from Colorado barring any big and unexpected news at media day Wednesday. Follow @BruceCiskie on Twitter for the other stuff that happens.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Monday Musings: UMD Tramples Omaha for Five-Point Weekend

UMD coach Scott Sandelin made it abundantly clear before Saturday's game that a repeat of Friday -- a 2-2 tie and shootout win against Omaha -- wouldn't be good enough.

In lauding his captain, Dominic Toninato, for a strong game Friday, he also took time to express disappointment in other players.

"You talk about playing the game the right way, you get rewarded, and Dom got rewarded," Sandelin said. "We didn't have as many (players) as we needed (Friday night). There are some guys who need to get going. We had some passengers, and that's not a good thing. We need everyone pulling on the same chain. It's a little frustrating to see that out of some guys that we count on."

Sandelin wanted a better, more composed performance out of his entire group. He got what he wanted.

UMD used two quick power play goals in the second period to open up a lead, and the top-ranked Bulldogs cruised past Omaha 5-0 Saturday night in front of a standing room only crowd at Amsoil Arena.

After Omaha had three power plays come up empty in the first 22 minutes of the game, the Mavericks finally took their first penalties about five minutes later. The first lasted just 15 seconds before Toninato basically centered a pass to Alex Iafallo off the pad of Omaha goalie Evan Weninger. Iafallo had an open net to shoot at for a 2-0 lead. 1:35 later, Joey Anderson tipped an Adam Johnson center point shot for a 3-0 lead. That goal came 11 seconds into a power play, so the Bulldogs had two power play goals in all of 26 seconds of man advantage time. #Efficiency

Leading 3-0 into the third, there were a couple chances for the Mavericks to get back in the game. Kyle Osterberg took a tripping penalty while trying to deliver a hip check along the boards during an Omaha rush. The Mavericks got pressure on that power play, with three shots on goal, but Hunter Miska held his ground well in net. Shortly after that, Teemu Pulkkinen had a golden chance with Miska down and out in the crease, but the freshman goalie was able to get a glove on the shot for a save you'll probably see in the NCHC weekly highlight package when it comes out Tuesday.

UMD put the game out of reach at 12:50 of the third when Avery Peterson tipped a Brenden Kotyk point shot by Weninger to make it 4-0. Neal Pionk got open on the back door and took a perfect shot-pass from Iafallo at 17:31 to cap the scoring, and UMD finished off Miska's fifth shutout of the season. That ties the school single-season record held by Brant Nicklin (currently UMD's volunteer goalie coach), Alex Stalock, and Kasimir Kaskisuo.

******

Besides Miska, lots of stellar performances to talk about from Saturday.

Toninato was a beast both nights. I still believe Anderson will eventually return to that line, maybe that happens when Parker Mackay returns from his upper-body injury. But Johnson was very good on Saturday after a bit of a so-so Friday.

(Mackay skated last week and will presumably be able to continue doing that during the bye week. Sandelin was vague last week about a prognosis, but one has to think the Colorado College series isn't out of the question for Mackay. Based on the four-to-six week timeline that was mentioned when he went down, CC is at least a small possibility. Whenever he returns, expect another line shuffle. Maybe Johnson moves back to center, but certainly there will be moving parts.)

I thought this was one of Willie Raskob's better games of the year. Moved the puck well, was involved defensively, and Carson Soucy was a beast all weekend. Outside of a couple flubs with the puck from Nick Wolff early in the game, the defensemen were really good on this night.

Also, the fourth line of Sammy Spurrell, Billy Exell, and Blake Young -- who played for the first time in 11 games -- was on point. Spurrell was ejected in the second period for facemasking, but before that the trio turned in a strong performance. Spurrell won five of seven draws, Young was physical, and Exell used his speed to create a couple scoring chances.

******

Up next is a vast nothingness. UMD takes a week off before the trip to Colorado Springs Feb. 17-18. Just a shot in the dark, but I'll guess the team doesn't need any kind of reminder of what happened when Colorado College was in Duluth Jan. 6-7. That two-point weekend serves as the only serious blip in what's been a stellar season to date, and it leaves UMD still with precious little margin for error in the NCHC championship race.

The Bulldogs head into break with a five-point lead on Denver for first place, however the Pioneers face the Tigers this weekend for a home and home having won ten straight meetings against CC.

Both those teams were off last week, but when we last saw CC, Tigers goalie Alex Leclerc, who stymied UMD over two games in Duluth, was doing the same thing to defending national champion North Dakota. Over a two-game split at the Broadmoor World Arena, Leclerc stopped 83 of 88 shots -- including a 45-save shutout in the Saturday game. 

So not much has changed with Colorado College. The Tigers are playing enough defense in front of a talented young goalie whose confidence has to be sky-high at this point. Should be interesting to see if they can reverse their fortunes against the rival Pioneers this weekend.

As far as the blog, nothing new here until probably next Monday, barring news. Last bye of the season, so R-E-L-A-X, enjoy having the No. 1 team in the land, and we'll reconvene next week.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Game 28: Omaha at UMD

Might as well empty the proverbial gas tank in this one. After closing out this two-game series against the Omaha Mavericks, UMD will take its final break of the season before embarking on what it hopes is a long run that ends at the Madhouse on Madison.

The top-ranked Bulldogs had to settle for a 2-2 tie in Friday's series opener after Ian Brady found a puck in the left circle and beat Hunter Miska -- who had been in a collision with teammate Dan Molenaar and lost his stick seconds earlier -- five-hole. Alex Iafallo got UMD a second point in the NCHC standings with a shootout goal. But as discussed on the previous blog, UMD really can ill afford to miss out on more points in this weekend set. Denver is idle and returns against Colorado College next weekend, the last place team in the league and one DU has beaten in ten straight meetings.

To get the full three, a few things to look for improvement on in this game:

  • Starts. UMD was sloppy to begin the first and third periods. Omaha was equally sloppy in the first, so that didn't burn the Bulldogs, but Brady's goal came 92 seconds into the third and on a play where UMD was all sorts of out of sorts defensively.
  • Better execution in front. The Bulldogs missed on a number of glorious chances Friday, including a partial two-on-zero in overtime where they didn't even get a shot on goal. Even if you're like me and you think this team is one of the best in the country, scoring chances are going to diminish the deeper into the season we go. Games will become tighter, and the ability to take advantage of those more-limited chances will be a gigantic key.
  • Tighten up in the defensive zone. Miska made some great saves on Friday, including a how-did-he-do-that number on Teemu Pulkkinen in the final seconds of the second period. That came after Pulkkinen made a move from the left to the middle and got around his defender. Too much of that going on right now. 
That said, we're nitpicking. We're looking at a team that is 17-5-5, No. 1 in the meaningless human polls, No. 1 in the (admittedly meaningless until mid-March) PairWise, No. 1 in other computer rankings (RPI and KRACH), and first place in the NCHC. Let's be on the level here. This team is going to the NCAA Tournament and will be four wins away from a national championship once the tourney gets started March 24 or 25. That'll be the case no matter what happens in the next seven regular-season games or in the NCHC playoffs.

And UMD has earned this place in the college hockey world. The Bulldogs have gotten significant contributions from everyone along the way. They play the game with pace and intensity and have a ton of experience across all four forward lines and three defensive pairings.

I don't mean to try to render upcoming games meaningless, because UMD has areas to improve and still needs to refine its game before March 24 arrives. Just trying to be honest about the big picture. This isn't last season, where the Bulldogs had to scratch and claw to get home ice in the NCHC playoffs and make the NCAA Tournament as the last at-large team in. It's a different kind of year, one that presents different challenges along the way. Now, instead of trying to figure out why a veteran team with good skill and leadership can't score, we're trying to find way to tweak what's being done to make the team even better.

One lineup change for UMD, as junior Blake Young plays for freshman Jade Miller on the fourth line. For Young, it's his first game since Dec. 16 against Bemidji and his 11th of the season.

Lines?

Lines.

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

Soucy - Raskob
Pionk - Kotyk
Wolff - Molenaar

Miska - Deery - Shepard

UNO
Morelli - Vesel - Ortega
Oloffson - Pulkkinen - Parizek
Keck - Spinner - Galt
Randolph - Alferd - Grannary

Snuggerud - Messner
Jones - Brady
Klehr - Stewart

Weninger - Oldham

Friday, February 03, 2017

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Settle for Series Opening Tie Against Omaha

Relatively quick blog, instead of the 1,500-word masterpiece (😏) you're used to reading from me.

Weird game Friday. UMD and Omaha combined for one whole shot on goal (by Omaha) in the first ten minutes. The first period ended with shots 5-3 UMD, and there was no real great flow to a game we expected to have a lot of pace and intensity to it.

That pace quickened in the second and stayed that way most of the game, and it was a goal by Ian Brady early in the third that gave Omaha a 2-2 tie with the Bulldogs at Amsoil Arena. UMD's Alex Iafallo scored in the shootout to give UMD an extra point in the NCHC standings.

Senior captain Dominic Toninato scored twice in the second period for UMD, his first two home goals of the season. He also missed on a late partial break that could have given UMD the win, but it was good to see Toninato take advantage of a couple great chances in the middle frame. By no means has he struggled this season -- he's probably been UMD's best center from the outset of the season -- but the offense hasn't come like most of us had probably expected.

Lots of good to solid performances on this night. Toninato had two goals and six shots. Iafallo had the shootout goal and four shots in the game. Freshman Joey Anderson had eight shots on goal. Hunter Miska made some spectactular saves among his 23 on the night. Jared Thomas won 11 of 15 faceoffs.

The power play got only the one Toninato goal late in the second on four chances, but it produced 11 shots on goal. UMD's penalty kill, victimized by six power play goals in Omaha, surrendered one in two chances Friday, but its successful kill included a minute of always-dangerous four-on-three time for the Mavericks.

UMD got things cranked up in the third period. Looked like UNO wore down a bit, and the Bulldogs were all over Omaha goalie Evan Weninger, who was rock-solid with 37 saves. UMD outshot the Mavs 14-10 in the third, then 5-0 in standard overtime. They stop counting the stats after that, but shots in the three on three overtime were 5-0, UMD.

The first period was a big box of strange. Never thought we'd get through ten minutes with just one shot for either team, and no one really remembered what that shot looked like. Both teams seemed to struggle handling the puck and advancing it in a way that anyone could make a play.

But once things cranked up in the second, it was just as enjoyable as expected. In the end, UMD was probably the better team, but Weninger and a little luck allowed Omaha to grab a point and tie North Dakota -- a 3-1 loser to St. Cloud State in the other NCHC game Friday -- for fourth place in the conference.

UMD is now two points up on Denver, but the three points available Saturday are absolutely essential. DU plays Colorado College home and home next week while the Bulldogs play against air.

That's about it for now. More before the game Saturday. Also, check out the UMD women as they go for a sweep against North Dakota Saturday afternoon. 3pm start, with $1 tickets available, or you can get in free by bringing a non-perishable food donation to the game. UMD won Friday 2-0 behind goals by Lara Stalder and Sidney Morin, along with 24 saves from sophomore goalie Maddie Rooney.