Friday, October 24, 2014

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Pioneers Pounce on UMD Mistakes

For UMD, there's been a lot of talk about starting games better.

"Every coach talks about it," head coach Scott Sandelin said earlier this week. "The first four, five shifts, five or ten minutes of a game, is critical. It's not like it hasn't been discussed. I don't have the answer. The guys have to do it. They have to prepare mentally for a tough start.

"I don't know how you can't be ready to play."

Friday night, UMD started its top line, centered by Dominic Toninato, along with the defensive pairing of Derik Johnson and Willie Raskob. A lost faceoff, two UMD defensive zone turnovers, and a wired Ty Loney shot later, UMD trailed 1-0 at the 33 second mark of the game.

Yikes.

There were more bad plays in the defensive zone before the night was done. Unfortunately, struggles in the back were just the beginning for a scattershot -- at best -- offensive effort as Denver won 3-1 in both teams' NCHC opener.

A few things:
  • UMD has now lost five straight home games going back to last season: The finale to Omaha, two playoff games to Western Michigan, last Friday to Minnesota State, and Friday to Denver. UMD has scored 11 goals in those five games. UMD was 5-10-3 at home last year, 0-2 this year.
  • Speaking of not winning at home, there have been five NCHC games so far this season. The road team is 5-0. Combined score? 21-6. Average score? 4.2-1.2. UMD has its own issues at home, but so far the NCHC has been owned by away teams. It's an insanely small sample, and I have no other explanation for it at this point. 
  • Then again, I've been watching UMD struggle at Amsoil Arena for a while now, and I still can't figure that out. It's easy to blame empty seats or a general malaise that sets in too easily with our crowd. That's been the case since we were at the DECC. And UMD has won plenty of road games in front of large gobs of empty seats (Omaha comes to mind because of that huge arena they play in for one more year, and there were tons of empty seats at the Ice Breaker). I know those empty gold seats down in front are an eyesore, but they aren't a viable excuse for the Bulldogs' struggles at home.
  • For a third straight game, a UMD player got ejected. This time, it was Sammy Spurrell for a highly questionable checking from behind call. Questionable or not, this is how reputations are developed. And they aren't good reputations. Through the early part of the season, only Bentley (26.5) is averaging more penalty minutes per game than UMD (23).
  • UMD's power play cashed in for the fifth straight game to start the season. That's great, but the other four power plays were more like power outages. The last one -- a five-minute power play that ran until 11 seconds were left in the game -- produced five shots on goal, but Denver blocked a bunch, and the first half of that major power play was ugly at times, as UMD flubbed passes, failed to support the puck, and struggled to set anything of note up.
The blue line was a focal point for UMD. It was badly outplayed by DU's group, led by the elite senior Joey LaLeggia, along with Nolan Zajac and Will Butcher. We knew the Bulldogs weren't elite on defense, but they have to be better than they were on Friday.

Raskob and Willie Corrin struggled, I thought. Raskob had issues making plays all over the ice, especially in his own zone. More than once, he panicked and threw the puck up the boards, only to have it intercepted with ease at the point. Corrin made mistakes with the puck, too. They weren't the only ones. UMD's puck management in general was very poor on Friday, with silly turnovers playing right into Denver's hands, because the Pioneers just don't make many of those mistakes. When UMD established a forecheck, it was effective. But the lack of crisp passing and solid puck management made it really difficult to keep that forecheck going.

Earlier this week, Sandelin said freshman Blake Young would make his UMD debut this weekend, so I'd expect at least one forward to come out to allow for that Saturday. On defense, freshman Nick McCormack should play, but I'm not sure who comes out.

No reason for a change in goal. Kasimir Kaskisuo had a pretty solid effort, and he made a couple significant stops in the second to keep his team in the game when they just couldn't generate any sustained attack.

If UMD can get more going offensively, it should mean more pressure on whoever plays goal for Denver Saturday (we'd heard this week that Tanner Jaillet would get a game, but can Jim Montgomery take Evan Cowley out after another strong performance from him?).

The good news is that Denver didn't run UMD out of the building. But the Bulldogs showed that there is still plenty to work on.

It starts with the start.

******

The NCHC didn't have a great night. Union pounced on St. Cloud State early, putting up three in the first half of the first period on its way to a 5-1 win. The defending national champions held SCSU off the scoreboard until the final seconds of the game.

In another matchup of ranked teams, North Dakota beat Providence 6-1 at The Ralph. Drake Caggiula had a goal and three assists, while the Brothers Schmaltz combined for five assists (Jordan had three).

In other games, Boston College beat Colorado College 6-2, Alaska-Fairbanks got a third-period power play goal to upend Western Michigan 1-0, and St. Lawrence jumped to a 5-1 lead and held on to beat Miami 5-4.

Ouch.

Game 5: Denver at UMD

You know, it's almost too nice outside.

Almost.

We're here and ready to open the NCHC season with a two-game series against Denver.

What's that picture? Well, it's something covered by a black curtain. That's what it is.

Oh, you want a more specific answer?

I haven't been told, but my senses indicate it's the banner that will commemorate Bill Watson's jersey retirement in the first intermission of this Friday night tilt. Something tells me I don't have to be told, because it seems somewhat obvious.

Watson will join us in the Glass Case of Emotion after the second period for what should be an interesting conversation. I'm not sure I've ever had a boring conversation with Bill.

Anyway, Denver brings another member of the Shore family (junior center Quentin), one of the top defensemen in the country (Joey LaLeggia), and a goalie carrying a .976 save percentage (no, not Sam Brittain, it's Evan Cowley).

Same ol' Pioneers.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Boehm
Sampair - Decowski - Spurrell

Soucy - Welinski
Johnson - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Fons

DU
Moore - Doremus - Loney
Larraza - Shore - Heinen
Romig - Levin - Marcinew
Jacobson - Tabrum - Arnold

LaLeggia - Zajac
Butcher - Didier
Plant - VanVoorhis

Cowley - Jaillet

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Parade of Ranked Opponents Continues for UMD

Opening weekend, it was No. 1 Minnesota and No. 12 Notre Dame on the road.

(I guess, technically, Minnesota was a neutral site, but you get the point.)

Last week, a home-and-home with No. 12 Minnesota State.

Now, the UMD Bulldogs continue to run the gauntlet in their early-season schedule. A visit from No. 11/No. 13 Denver looms for the 19th ranked (votes but no ranking in USA Today poll) Bulldogs.

Assistant coach Derek Plante referenced the schedule when we spoke this week, talking about how it compares to a 2013-14 schedule that was ranked as one of the toughest in the nation.

We're doing it again.

After Denver, UMD entertains ranked Miami next weekend before heading down Highway 23 to take on ranked St. Cloud State in two weeks. After that, a non-conference home and home series against current (almost-undisputed) No. 1 Minnesota.

The Bulldogs are off a split against MSU which followed a split (loss to Minnesota and win over Notre Dame) at the Ice Breaker. Once again last weekend, Plante says they only felt they got "four out of six periods" out of the team.

"We spotted them three goals," head coach Scott Sandelin said this week when referencing last Friday's 5-4 overtime loss to Minnesota State. "Yeah, we tied it, but you can get away with it once in a while.

"We can't keep doing that. It's a lot more fun to play like we did against Notre Dame, and in Mankato."

In Saturday's win over the Mavericks, "they kind of stormed us a little bit," Sandelin said of the first period. But he never felt they were going the wrong direction because they weathered that storm and started taking the play to MSU in the second period.

Finding that consistency will be the next challenge.

"Every coach talks about it," Sandelin says. "The first four, five shifts, five or ten minutes of a game, is critical. It's not like it hasn't been discussed. I don't have the answer. The guys have to do it. They have to prepare mentally for a tough start.

"I don't know how you can't be ready to play. I don't think guys aren't ready, but sometimes that stuff happens."

The Pioneers are formidable. Denver is led by its backline, primarily senior Joey LaLeggia, who might be the best defenseman in college hockey. He's the kind of player who has always been dangerous with the puck, but he's really developed his skills without it. LaLeggia isn't a big guy, so he'll never be a thumper, but he uses his stick really well, understands leverage, and knows how to play his position.

He isn't the only dangerous defenseman for second-year coach Jim Montgomery. He also has Nolan Zajac and Will Butcher at his disposal, and all three can wreak havoc offensively. The Pioneers have been known to use three defensemen on the power play, with Zajac working down low as a forward-type. That's how dangerous these players are in the offensive zone.

If that's not enough, Montgomery has some nice pieces up front. The 48th Shore family member to play hockey for DU, Quentin, is one of the Pioneers' centers. You'll notice guys like Ty Loney, Zac Larazza (probably best-known for scoring the winner in the 2012 Final Five double-overtime semi against UMD), and Trevor Moore.

In goal, Montgomery started both Evan Cowley and Tanner Jaillet last week, but the latter was upended by Zach Schroeder of RPI less than 2:30 into Saturday's game and left with an injury, so Cowley ended up playing over 117 minutes on the weekend. Stepping in for the graduated Sam Brittain, the two only combined to stop 42 of 43 RPI shots in a weekend sweep.

Montgomery has indicated that both will play this weekend, as he tries to sort through what he has at the position.

Sandelin is still trying to do the same thing at all positions, but he was happy with freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo on Saturday. Expect him to start Friday's game.

As for other positions, when asked about the tough decisions he has to make about the lineup for every game, Sandelin said "It sucks, actually. But it's nice to have a depth problem.

"Our guys were kindly reminded by me that it doesn't matter who you are. If you're not playing the way we think you can play, we have other guys who can step in. We have some guys who are chomping at the bit to play more. We don't have time to wait."

That quote from earlier this week is in line with what Sandelin told me Saturday, when he added that he is "not a patient person."

While he generally liked what he saw in Saturday's game, look for a few changes throughout the weekend. Most notably, Sandelin said freshman left winger Blake Young will make his debut this weekend, though he wouldn't say which night. Young is the only skater yet to appear in a game. We've discussed the logjam at left wing before, and he's been firmly caught up in it.

******

Don't forget that former UMD star Bill Watson's No. 14 will be retired after the first period of Friday's game. Sandelin calls it an "awesome honor" for a "good friend." Bill will join our broadcast after the second period Friday.

Also want to welcome Matt Wellens to the UMD hockey beat. Matt is the Duluth News Tribune's new UMD men's hockey dude. He's an all-around nice guy, a Packers fan, and a dog owner. He worked in Marquette prior, and put in a good amount of time analyzing Walt Kyle's mock turtlenecks while covering Northern Michigan hockey.

His Twitter is @mattwellens, and he will be blogging on the team here. Give him a follow and check out the blog.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

UMD Hockey: Where Are They Now?

Haven't done this in a few years, but we'll give a whirl and try to update it somewhat regularly.

I've tried -- using Google, Hockey DB, and social media -- to compile a list of former UMD Bulldogs playing professional hockey anywhere in the world.

Find the Google doc here.

If you have info on a player not listed but who is playing pro hockey this year, please comment, email me, or tweet me and I'll make sure I get the relevant details.

I know a few guys who have been playing pro are missing, so hopefully someone can help clue us in.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Go Bananas in Third, Split with Mavericks

For UMD, Saturday brought a few welcome sights.

To start, it was clear very early in the game that freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo was seeing the puck very well. The lanky Finn was victimized on the first two shots he faced in his debut against Minnesota, but since then he has stopped 54 of the 58 shots sent his way (.931 save percentage).

He made a couple athletic stops Saturday in Mankato, but Kaskisuo was basically asked to play a solid game. He controlled his rebounds very well, showed poise and some aggressiveness when covering pucks a couple times, and played the puck for really the first time, as he didn't do it much (if at all) against Minnesota. You can see his puck-playing needs work, but he took positive steps in every area on Saturday.

UMD started slowly on Saturday. While MSU only led 1-0 after one, it could have been worse. The Mavericks had the puck a lot, and UMD just didn't do much positive when it had possession. The Bulldogs began to assert themselves more offensively in the second period. It was nice to see Kyle Osterberg and Justin Crandall get on the scoresheet as UMD took a 2-1 lead.

But when the third period started 2-2, the Bulldogs leaned on the guys they've leaned on all season to this point. And sophomores Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo didn't disappoint. Iafallo set up Toninato in front for a short-handed goal early in the third. It's Dom's fifth goal, second short-handed goal, and Iafallo's fourth assist of the season. The two combined to set up Hermantown's Jared Thomas for a power-play goal about halfway through the third to make it 4-2. That was Thomas' first collegiate point.

Through four games, Toninato has five goals and seven points, Iafallo one goal and six points. Tony Cameranesi and Carson Soucy each have two goals and five points.

******

I said before the season there would be real competition for spots in the lineup, especially at forward.

Scott Sandelin has to be pleased with the idea of two home weekends before he has to leave players at home for an NCHC road trip (Nov. 7-8 at St. Cloud State). There will be a very difficult decision to be made if things keep going as they are now.

Thomas has already placed himself in a position to play more than he had been. He's smart, responsible, and clearly has some real skill. His ascension has caused sophomore Sammy Spurrell to sit three of the first four games this season. It's nothing Spurrell has necessarily done wrong, but Thomas gives UMD even more depth in the middle than it already had.

Also, freshman left wing Blake Young hasn't made it in the lineup yet, but largely because he's a left wing on a team that goes four-deep there (Iafallo, Austin Farley, Osterberg, and Charlie Sampair). He isn't redshirting, so he will play at some point.

On the blue line, Willie Raskob is off to a slow start and was a surprise scratch Saturday. He's healthy, so clearly the coaches are trying to send a message. The blue line as a whole didn't have a great weekend. Too many turnovers and generally some questionable puck management, especially on the power play. The group did a better job Saturday keeping MSU players from the front of the net and giving Kaskisuo a chance to see the puck on virtually every one of those 38 shots he faced.

I think the competition there is much less defined at this point, which is another reason to be pleased that this team is at home for four straight games and can make any lineup change it wants from one game to the next.

(When they board the bus for St. Cloud sometime during the afternoon on Nov. 6, they will be limited to 22 players. Typically, you'll see them take 13 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goalies.)

******

Lots of comments over the weekend about discipline. Now, I'm going to tread carefully, but I do have some thoughts.

I thought UMD did a much better job playing with a composed edge on Saturday than it did Friday. This team is talented. Guys can't afford to get mad because someone lost the puck on the power play. That chop from behind on the puck carrier -- when you're on a power play, no less -- is probably getting called 95-98 times out of 100.

That doesn't mean that a player shouldn't compete for that puck. But guys have to compete within the rules.

"No matter what point of the game, you're up or you're down, you get an opportunity on the power play, you can't give that up 30 or 40 seconds in," Sandelin said.

"You have to keep your composure. Things aren't going to go your way and you're going to miss opportunities. You keep your composure. We can't take penalties behind the play. Whether they were or not (penalties) is not to be argued. Don't put yourself in those positions."

Everything was fine Saturday, outside of what I thought was a silly and unnecessary kneeing penalty on Derik Johnson that led to his early shower. Johnson had a huge issue with bad penalties as a sophomore, but he did a great job cleaning up his game last year. With that came more playing time as he gained the coaches' trust.

I have not seen a replay of Saturday's hit, but I did not think it was a good one. Not sure I'd say it's worthy of supplemental from the NCHC, but I didn't like it because we were up three goals and cruising to a win. Just didn't need to happen.

No matter your feelings about that hit, UMD's discipline continues to be an issue and it has to get better. As it improves, it has to last more than a couple weeks. The occasional blowup is going to happen to even a team full of choir boys, but the Bulldogs have to avoid the penalty bug and stick to what works.

Then again, with the way this team is scoring short-handed all of a sudden, maybe it should take more penalties.

I'm kidding.

Maybe.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Game 4: UMD at Minnesota State

MANKATO, Minn. -- Salutations from Mankato, where UMD is going to try to salvage the second game of this non-conference series, after Minnesota State used a Zeb Knutson power-play goal in overtime to win 5-4 in Duluth Friday.

Simply put, UMD has to put that one behind them and continue to work toward being a more consistent and cohesive unit. Not enough experienced players are hitting on the necessary cylinders at the moment, and that's something that must be fixed.

It's only three games, but Austin Farley, Kyle Osterberg, Justin Crandall, and Cal Decowski have combined for as many points as I have. This isn't to call those individuals out as if they're all playing poorly, but UMD won't win without its older players carrying the water. The Bulldogs also need consistent production from more than just Dominic Toninato's line, which added two more goals Friday and has now combined for six of the Bulldogs' ten goals this season. In addition, the line was on the ice for Andy Welinski's goal against Minnesota.

So you can see the need for more production from the other lines. Tony Cameranesi, Farley, and freshman Karson Kuhlman were going on Friday, so hopefully that's a good sign for "Bug" and he'll get on the board soon.

Saturday night would work for all of us.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Crandall
Sampair - Decowski - Boehm

Soucy - Welinski
Johnson - Corrin
McCormack - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely

MSU
Franklin - Leitner - Gervais
Stepan - Blueger - Knutson
LaFontaine - Margonari - McClure
Grant - Nelson (Jordan) - Gaede

Palmquist - Foguth
Stern - Thompson
Flanagan - Nelson (Casey)

Huggins - Williams - Nelson (Aaron)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Dig Another Hole, Climb Out, Fall Back In

This won't be as expansive as last week's. Hoping to maximize sleep, get some house-cleaning done, then it's a dress-and-drive to Mankato for Saturday's second game.

Anyway, tough loss on home ice for UMD.

This is not a recording.

The Bulldogs have to find a way to win these types of games at home. Discipline, goaltending, bounces, and execution all betrayed them at times on Friday, and Minnesota State took advantage of a somewhat controversial call in overtime to win 5-4.

We'll get to that. The officials get enough crap, frankly, and don't need it in writing here. Things tend to calm down after games, and rational thinking (usually) takes over.

And that rational thinking shows us that UMD did more than enough to lose this game without any outside assistance.

The Bulldogs nullified their first three power plays by taking penalties (happened 23 times last year, already five times in three games this year). Was one of those calls questionable? Yes. But I continue to contend that -- in a vacuum independent from any other calls made or not made -- that this call on Kyle Osterberg is, at the very least, defensible. It might be argued this is a good call, but I'm not into splitting hairs. I can't yell about it. You know they're calling ticky-tack stuff on you and nullifying power plays. Don't blow up a guy along the boards where you could subject yourself to a major if he turns at the last second.

The problem on those power plays was pretty much universal. UMD did a poor job managing the puck. Mistakes led to turnovers, which led to chasing, which led to stick fouls (or, in Osterberg's case, a blowup hit gone wrong). When Minnesota State took over on the power play after Osterberg's ejection, the Mavericks took advantage of some poor coverage by UMD to score twice and open a 4-1 lead.

UMD's comeback was very impressive, in large part because the power play stayed quite ineffective, outside of the final 54 seconds of the second period, where UMD racked up three shots and did a great job pressuring MSU goalie Stephon Williams. That was about it. The power play just couldn't possess the puck enough to do anything significant.

Junior goalie Matt McNeely struggled, I thought. Minnesota State did a very good job taking his eyes away, and UMD's defense had issues with coverage all night. Guys were open down low, winning battles, and making themselves available for tips. Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings says his team likes to "get up and down the rink," but MSU is more like North Dakota than it is like Minnesota. The Mavs have some guys who can get in your face. They go hard to the net and make life really difficult for defenders. Minnesota isn't a non-physical team by any stretch, but their forwards want to play with more pace than MSU does. Works for the Gophers, and this works for Hastings and Minnesota State.

McNeely let a couple tough ones get by him, but it just seemed he wasn't as sharp as Sunday against Notre Dame. He saw everything Sunday, not so much Friday. I'd imagine UMD comes back with freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo Saturday in Mankato, as the rotation continues.

Bottom line: UMD has a ways to go. That's fine, because the team that has it all figured out in October is probably lying. Or maybe it's Union. But it isn't us. A spirited comeback from 4-1 down showed again that this team has resolve, and that's great. But the poor start from the goalie out is what created the 4-1 deficit. 31 more penalty minutes shows a continued lack of discipline, and no team with average goaltending is going to survive giving a quality team ten power plays in a game.

******

We're not here to rag on the officials. They didn't have a good night. Neither did the home team.

I'm confident Scott Sandelin isn't going to cue up clips of questionable calls for his players to watch Saturday. Instead, I'm guessing Sandelin will show clips of defensive miscues, poor puck management, and missed opportunities.

That should be enough to get the players' attention.

Take care of those things, and the officials having a bad night -- if that's what you feel happened -- isn't a factor in the game.

******

Other scores around the NCHC Friday night:

Omaha 5, Western Michigan 2
North Dakota 3, Colorado College 1
Miami 5, Ohio State 1
Denver 3, RPI 0

Talk to you Saturday afternoon from Mankato.

Game 3: Minnesota State at UMD

This game is on FSN PLUS.

This game is on FSN PLUS.

This game is on FSN PLUS.

This game is on FSN PLUS.

This game is on FSN PLUS.

This game is on FSN PLUS.

This game is on FSN PLUS.

This game is on FSN PLUS.

This game is on FSN PLUS.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Decowski - Crandall
Sampair - Thomas - Young (Austyn)

Soucy - Welinski
Johnson - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

McNeely - Kaskisuo - Fons

MSU
Franklin - Leitner - Gervais
Stepan - Blueger - Knutson
LaFontaine - Margonari - McClure
Grant - Nelson - Gaede

Palmquist - Schmeisser
Stern - Foguth
Flanagan - Nelson

Williams - Huggins

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bulldogs, Mavericks Both Rely on Experience, Good Leadership

As we work our way to Friday's home opener, it's interesting to look at how similar UMD is to this week's opponent, Minnesota State.

There are differences. Mike Hastings has led MSU to the NCAA Tournament in each of his two years at the helm in Mankato. The Mavericks have gotten there, in part, thanks to quality goaltending. Stephon Williams led MSU to a .910 team save percentage in 2012-13, and Cole Huggins helped MSU post a .908 save percentage last season. Both years, the Mavericks dwarfed UMD's team save percentage, which was .896 in each season.

Not surprisingly, Hastings is impressed by his team's opponent this weekend.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect (for UMD)," he told me this week, noting UMD did a great job against a Notre Dame team we all knew would come out desperate on Sunday. "I think we mirror each other a little bit. Strengths up front, you look at (Dominic) Toninato, (Alex) Iafallo, (Tony) Cameranesi, (Austin) Farley I could keep going there. They've got different guys that can beat you up front. And the guys on the back end are guys who can play offense, defense, play 200 feet.

"I think you're going to see two styles that are comparable. Both teams like to get up and down the rink. It should be very challenging for both teams, but very entertaining for the people that are coming through the turnstiles."

Want similarities? MSU has nine players -- Zach Palmquist, J.P. LaFontaine, Matt Leitner, Chase Grant, Brett Stern, Bryce Gervais, Max Gaede, Dylan Margonari, and Teddy Blueger -- who have combined to play 820 games for the Mavs. Those nine have combined for 521 career points (188 goals). Guys like Palmquist, LaFontaine, and Leitner have been consistent scoring threats, but all nine have been significant players.

UMD has six players -- Justin Crandall, Adam Krause, Andy Welinski, Tony Cameranesi, Derik Johnson, and Austin Farley -- who have combined for 504 career games. Those six have a total of 236 points between them (92 goals).

The key difference? As Krause notes, he, Crandall, and Johnson weren't expected to step in and play major minutes in their freshman seasons (the 2011-12 season). UMD had enough significant players back that they didn't need the freshmen to step in as top-line players. They could learn their way a little bit.

"That was the situation when I came in as a freshman," Krause said. "I wasn't really looked at to contribute. I think the last couple years we relied a lot on our freshmen.

"I think it hurt us in some spots for sure."

This is where it benefits UMD, however. That junior class -- even the sophomores -- bring a lot of experience to the table, and it's up to them to carry the water.

Over the weekend, sophomores Toninato and Iafallo did that. So did juniors Welinski and Cameranesi. And seniors Krause, Crandall, and Johnson.

Freshmen had their moments, but this is a team that will lean on its experience, not its lack thereof.

So will Minnesota State.

See? Similarities.

"When you start looking at teams that are there in the end, very seldom do you see teams that are freshman- and sophomore-oriented," Hastings says. "I think that leadership is something that needs to be earned over time. The more experience you have, the better decisions you're going to make."

MSU's head coach also spoke glowingly of -- arguably -- his top three players: LaFontaine, Leitner, and Palmquist.

"Palmquist could have left after last year, and decided that it was important for him to come back and develop as a player, and to get his degree. We're leaning on these guys right now.

"Leitner and LaFontaine are two guys that just love playing. And I love their commitment level this time of year."

Hastings gave those three players a ton of the credit for the team's turnaround from a 5-3 loss last Friday in Omaha to a 4-2 win Saturday. In the Saturday game, MSU rallied from an early 2-0 hole by out-shooting UNO 31-9 over the last 40 minutes and scoring four times in the second period.

When UMD is on, it's playing like it was on Sunday. Still wasn't perfect (never is), but the Bulldogs had an edge, an intensity to their game, that was really impressive. It's the way this team has to play all the time, but it won't happen immediately. But Sunday was a very good step. In all, Scott Sandelin and his staff are probably happy with 75-90 of the 120 minutes UMD played in South Bend, depending on their level of pickiness.

It was a good first step, but look at this schedule:

No. 12 Minnesota State (home and home)
No. 16 Denver (home)
No. 11 Miami (home)
No. 8 St. Cloud State (away)
No. 1 Minnesota (home and home)

Then it gets easier, as we head to Omaha the weekend before Thanksgiving.

(Note sarcasm. Nothing's easy about UNO.)

UMD has to ramp things up every week, win some games, and get through what will again this year be one of the top schedules in the nation. If the Bulldogs can do that, they'll be a factor in the end, for certain.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Split the Weekend in South Bend, Goalie Derby, Toninato Line Starts Hot

Typical "Monday after a road trip during hockey season" in the office. Lots to catch up on, but wanted to throw a few thoughts on here from Sunday's UMD win at Notre Dame and the weekend as a whole.

First off, a tip of the cap to UMD athletic director Josh Berlo, who had to be thrilled to return to a place he spent a long time at. Berlo spearheaded this trip, and it's safe to say everyone on it really enjoyed themselves.

Now, on to the games. We covered Minnesota in this post here, so I won't belabor much. Obviously, UMD was looking for a better start. The Bulldogs got that better start, as they picked up the game's first seven shots. UMD wasn't necessarily peppering Notre Dame freshman goalie Cal Petersen, but it was generating offense.

Tony Cameranesi buried a rebound off a goalmouth scramble for a power-play goal to get UMD on the board less than eight minutes in. Notre Dame got a bunch of shots on a two-man advantage, but eventually UMD sophomore Dominic Toninato -- who was a beast all weekend -- took the puck up along the right wing boards, cleared the defensive zone, and drew a holding penalty in the neutral zone to negate the two-man advantage and what was left of ND's power play time.

(Ticky-tack call, probably, but so was the hook that put UMD down two men. Sunday's game was more tightly-officiated than the Minnesota game was on Friday, but it was relatively consistent, so that's okay. And Toninato earned that call by controlling the puck, moving his feet, and using his strength to force the puck to center ice.)

Junior goalie Matt McNeely wasn't eye-popping, but he was solid. He got out to the top of the crease and stayed aggressive throughout the game. When a 6-3 goalie is playing as smart and aggressively as Matt was Sunday, he's very difficult to beat, especially when you have a solid team defense in front of him.

Once UMD led 2-0, Notre Dame got desperate. The Bulldogs started getting odd-man rushes (including a four-on-one), and the Irish were forced to defend more than they wanted to. UMD did a good job avoiding mistakes that cost it puck possession and just played a solid game once it got the lead.

Nice win over a ranked team on the road, and a ranked team that had to be desperate after losing both an exhibition and its home opener (3-2 Friday to RPI).

As mentioned, Toninato had a great weekend (three goals, one assist). Linemate Alex Iafallo (one goal, two assists) made a great play to set up Toninato's second goal against Minnesota, and he exploded by the Notre Dame defense for a ridiculous goal Sunday. Andy Welinski (one goal, one assist) was a rock.

Toninato and Iafallo showed tremendous chemistry last year. Now that they are stronger, faster, and more experienced, look for that chemistry to pay off even more. If you can find the highlights, watch Toninato in front of the net on the third goal. Notre Dame is hopeless to defend him. Granted, the Irish dressed nine freshmen, but they had experienced players on the ice when Dom scored. And they had no chance.

The goalie battle will continue indefinitely. McNeely definitely put his best foot forward, but there was more to like about Kasimir Kaskisuo's debut (four goals on 22 shots) than the stats indicate. "Kaz" bounced back after a rough start to the game, playing with a lot of poise and maturity in the second half of the game. He responded well, and that will be duly noted by the UMD staff as it weighs options for this weekend's home and home with No. 12 Minnesota State.