Saturday, January 24, 2015

Game 24: UMD vs Minnesota (North Star College Cup)

ST. PAUL -- That's the last time I heed warnings about ridiculous traffic.

"Get there before 2. It's going to be suffocating!"

Um, no.

Anyway, we're ready to go for the consolation game of the North Star College Cup. Just like everyone predicted earlier in the season, it's UMD vs. Minnesota.

UMD is 0-3-1 in its last four games. We'll call it a mini-slump, because Minnesota is 4-7-2 in its last 13 games, starting with that home-and-home sweep UMD put on them in November. The Gophers haven't played very well since October, and we'll ask Don Lucia why in a conversation you'll hear during the broadcast.

That Minnesota funk has dropped the Gophers to 20th in the Pairwise, making UMD's position of sixth much less precarious.

Stylistically, this is certainly a better matchup for UMD. There should be a good pace to this game, and I can't imagine the 14 Minnesotans -- plus honorary Minnesotan Austin Farley, a guy Gopher fans still don't like after last year's championship game -- in the Bullog lineup wouldn't love another piece of the Gophers.

Lines?

Lines.

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

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

McNeely - Kaskisuo - Fons

UMTC
Rau - Kloos - Reilly (Connor)
Warning - Boyd - Fasching
Cammarata - Lettieri - Ambroz
Michaelson - Isackson - Bristedt

Skjei - Glover
Reilly (Mike) - Bischoff
Marshall - Brodzinski

Wilcox - Lehr - Coyne

(Note: Minnesota's line chart always says the listed order of the goalies does not indicate the starter. Usually, I don't believe that, but we'll see what we're told when we get pregame availability.)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Turn in Clunker at North Star College Cup; Questions From Twitter

ST. PAUL -- You guys probably know me well enough by now.

I'm not much of a sugarcoater.

(Yes, I know that's not a word. The squiggly red line under it is plenty of evidence of that.)

So I'm not going to sugarcoat what we saw Friday afternoon/evening at XCel Energy Center. It wasn't very good. In fact, it was about as putrid a performance as we've seen all season. Probably not even close, to be frank.

Bemidji State took it to UMD for the better part of 60 minutes in a 4-0 win here that sends the Beavers to Saturday's championship game. UMD will play Minnesota, a 4-2 loser to Minnesota State, for third place at 4pm Saturday. It's the fourth meeting this season between the longtime rivals, and they've come at four different venues (Notre Dame's Compton Family Ice Arena, Mariucci Arena, Amsoil Arena, and now XCel Energy Center).

Things didn't start great for UMD, and they got much worse. Bemidji had four shots on goal before UMD even got close to one, but the Bulldogs generated some pressure after the first media timeout, which came just past the five-minute mark of the period.

UMD took a couple of penalties in a row, and Bemidji burned the Bulldogs on the second one, as Matt Prapavessis pinched from the center point to the high slot and put a screened shot by UMD goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo for a 1-0 lead. I would question the screen, as it appeared obvious there was a BSU player screening Kaskisuo while his skates were in the blue paint. By NCAA rule, that should be a no goal.

(The relevant part of the Rule 73.1 goes like this: "The overriding rationale of this rule is that a goalkeeper should have the ability to move freely within the goal crease without being hindered by the actions of an attacking player. If an attacking player enters the goal crease and, by these actions, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to defend the goal either visually or physically, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed."

There is no question that if you watch this animation of the goal, Markus Gerbrandt's skate or skates are in the crease when the puck comes through. It's also clear Gerbrandt is doing his job, providing a screen and making it hard for Kaskisuo to see the shot. Letter of the law, this is supposed to be a "no goal" call, and I've seen it reviewed to that "letter of the law" standard on multiple occasions in my years on this job.)

Luckily, any controversy was averted by the rest of the game (note some sarcasm there). It wasn't good for the Bulldogs.

The Beavers made it 2-0 halfway through the second when the Fitzgerald triplets struck. Well, two of them, as Gerry fed Leo for a shot from the slot. It was an example of UMD's not-very-good puck management and defensive coverage in this game. BSU took control of the puck in the defensive zone and UMD just didn't get back well enough.

Bemidji State tacked on two more goals in the third off UMD turnovers to get to the 4-0 final score. It hastened the inevitable, because even at 2-0 after two, I remarked to someone in the press box that it felt like 8-0. UMD just didn't have anything going.

UMD had scoring chances, but the Bulldogs missed the net on 15 of 55 shot attempts in the game, and didn't do enough to make freshman goalie Michael Bitzer's life difficult. In 23 games, I'm not sure I've seen the kind of poor execution and battle level in the offensive zone that plagued UMD Friday. And it was a near-constant from start to finish. Races and puck battles were lost all over the rink, and those types of things will kill a team when it's on the power play.

It did that on this day, for sure.

UMD's power play struggled through a five-minute chance in the first period when Gerbrandt leveled Kyle Osterberg and was whistled for a charging major. Five shots on goal in five minutes isn't terrible, but UMD lacked the prime scoring area shots ... then and throughout the game.

Credit to Bemidji State. They were ready to play. The Beavers have more speed -- not just with the Fitzgerald kids, who are going to be a hoot to watch get better, because man you can see there's talent there -- than they've had in the past, but they still bring the proverbial lunch buckets to the game. Even with improved talent, it's the work ethic that will win them hockey games, just like Friday.

This isn't necessarily on Kaskisuo. Coach Scott Sandelin told me before the game that Kaskisuo's .865 save percentage over his previous five starts was a combo platter. Kaskisuo's play -- in a sense -- reflected that of the guys in front of him. Uneven, yes, but probably not solely responsible for the poor stat line in those starts.

Well, now it's .862 over six starts. And Friday was more of the same. I'd expect Sandelin to start Matt McNeely on Saturday against Minnesota, but I honestly thought McNeely might get the call Friday. So now you know what I know.

For UMD, getting beat is fine. It happens. The Western Michigan series was a dogfight from start to finish, and UMD didn't back down. Even when the Bulldogs weren't playing their best, they were battling. They won races, fought through checks, and found ways to make plays to the net.

None of those things really happened Friday. It was Bemidji State winning puck battles, winning races, and getting to the UMD net. More than anything, that's almost assuredly what concerned the coaching staff as it watched the events unfold.

******

What's the answer?

Honestly, it isn't that easy. Without Matt Wellens of the Duluth News Tribune tweeting that there was a players-only meeting after the game, I could have predicted that outcome.

I'm not a big "blame the coaches" guy. At least, I'm not anymore. And especially in hockey. Coaches can't do anything for the players, outside of try their damndest to prepare them for what lies ahead. They can't execute the plan for the players, as badly as they might want to sometimes. This isn't football, where coaches are constantly making decisions from the sideline that can change the course of a game.

When you have a game like this one -- an absolute throw-the-tape-in-the-garbage clunker -- it's probably time for the players to take a look at what they're doing.

It's hard to believe that only two Fridays ago, UMD was largely carrying the play against then-No. 1 North Dakota. But as hard as it is to fathom UMD falling this far in just two weeks, it's only been two weeks. And there is a lot of hockey left to be played.

UMD has 13 games left, starting Saturday against the Gophers. It only took four to get to this point, and there's no reason the Bulldogs can't get back where they were just as quickly.

But it starts in that room, hence the players-only meeting. They have to figure out where they went wrong and get back to what was going so well.

******

Because of the early start, I had decided on the drive down Friday that I would take questions after the game from fans via Twitter. Never did I think the game would go the way it did, but I figured I'd do it anyway.

The only stipulation was I would not accept questions or comments that went after individual players. This isn't the NHL. No one played well Friday, and no individual deserves to be called out in a public forum.

So here are a few questions from actual Twitter followers @bruceciskie. Thanks to all who submitted on the fly Friday for asking good questions and not letting frustration get to them.

@biddco: "why do we have this slump around this time of year? Teams figure us and we don’t adjust?"

It's a common thought that we have this kind of slump every year. Here's what the numbers say. They're 0-3-1 in the last four, and we hope it doesn't get worse than that. But it's a slump, for sure.

UMD had a four-game slide in February of last year, but the losses came to very good St. Cloud State and North Dakota teams. UMD responded by winning three straight. There was no big slump outside of that, really.

The 2012-13 team was up and down all year, so I'm not sure a winless streak that hit nine games (eight in February) really was all that meaningful towards this argument.

2011-12's team, a very good one, went 1-3-1 over a five-game stretch that included a 5-0 loss to Michigan Tech and a loss to Alaska-Anchorage.  UMD responded by going unbeaten in its next five games on its way to the NCAA Tournament.

The 2010-11 team had a pretty famous 8-2 loss to St. Cloud State as the big negative in a six-game run where it went 1-3-2. That season ended well.

So there have been three pronounced slumps in the last five years. I'm not sure that makes or breaks that question, but I think it's just part of the normal ebb and flow of a season. It's not fun, for sure, but I don't see it as being anything more than that, unless it keeps going.

Tony Schmaltz asks "Was this by far, the sloppiest game of the season?"

I don't think there's a question. The only game where UMD was close to being this poor offensively was the Friday game at home against Denver in October. And no disrespect to Bemidji State, but Denver's blue line is elite. The Pioneers make a lot of teams look virtually inept offensively.

UMD wasn't hard on pucks, didn't make good decisions (the multiple turnovers during a five-on-three should provide plenty of evidence of this), and just didn't have enough battle level to win this game. Those things haven't all been the case in any other game to this point, in my opinion.

Craig Berry asks "Were they looking past Bemidji to UofM or Mankato?"

Geez, I'd hope not. You'd have to ask the players to be sure. I'd imagine that wasn't the case.

Oh, and it's "Minnesota State," Craig.

Corey Lange: "what's it gonna take to bring back the teams intensity and drive?"
Jon Fischer: "how can the bulldogs get back to how they were playing before the break."

Would hope it doesn't take much. It was just there a week ago.

See, I could argue a lot of things about UMD's games against Western Michigan. But I can't argue that the Bulldogs lacked intensity or drive last weekend. They didn't execute well enough, but it wasn't for a lack of effort.

I didn't like the effort level on Friday, but that's quite the rarity with this group, even going back to previous seasons.

As for Jon's question, which was somewhat similar to Corey's, I'd argue the Bulldogs are very similar to the Wild. They aren't built on a star player with a bunch of followers. For UMD to win, it takes a 20-man effort. Everyone has to "pull on the same chain." Sandelin coined "sticktoitness" when we were chatting on Friday. When UMD is going good, it sticks to the game plan and plays the way Sandelin wants the team to play.

When it goes off the rails, like Friday, those things don't happen.

It isn't as simple as flipping a switch, but UMD can get it back as quickly as it seems to have lost it.

Paul Clusiau: "Here's a question. Why are we turning over the puck so much lately?"

It's a combination.

There have been times this season where forwards have been caught up the rink before the puck is out of the defensive zone. It's almost as if they're hoping the puck gets out, and they're thinking a few seconds ahead of where the play is at. If everyone executes and does their job, this isn't a huge deal.

But teams are putting more and more pressure on the defense, which means forwards need to help out and give the blue-liners options to get the puck out of trouble. Flying up the rink isn't providing that option.

The lack of options will make the blue-liners look sloppy. To get the train back on the tracks, UMD must first get back to the 200-foot game it was playing so effectively before Christmas.

Finally, Al Onken asks, "Game #2 at Grand Forks took a lot more out of this team than anyone thought at the time, I think. Agree/Disagree?"

I don't know that I do.

What I do think is that UND exposed UMD's defensive zone issues that I just discussed. Now it's time for the Bulldogs to adjust.

It doesn't matter if you win a game 1-0 or 8-5, but the 1-0 game will be much easier to watch if the guys are taking care of their goalie and their own end of the rink first.

There have been times this season where UMD's defensive breakdowns have been caused not by a lack of defensive acumen, but instead by players thinking too much about the offensive side of things. There have been quite a few odd-man rushes lately, and many of them have been caused by players being caught too far up the rink because they're trying to make things happen offensively.

More than anything on Saturday, I want to see UMD take care of its own zone, whether it's McNeely or Kaskisuo in net. If that happens, I'll be happy regardless of the end result, because I know that other things will take care of themselves.

They have to be good defensively first.

******

As mentioned, No. 1 Minnesota State beat Minnesota 4-2 in the other NSCC semifinal. Bryce Gervais scored twice for the Mavericks. Hopefully the Gophers have forgotten about that home-and-home sweep in November. Ah, who are we kidding? The third-place game should be very salty Saturday afternoon.

In the NCHC, North Dakota got a short-handed goal from Michael Parks in the third period to beat Colorado College 2-1. Zane McIntyre made 30 saves as CC actually led in shots 31-27. Just when CC was looking like an easy out for the NCHC regular-season champion, the Tigers are playing much better hockey. That could mean no easy outs for any home team in the league tournament.

Denver went into Oxford and beat Miami 3-1. With the score tied at one in the second, DU killed off a five-minute major on Ty Loney, who was ejected for a check from behind. Then Trevor Moore scored twice in the third, including an empty-netter with ten seconds left. Tanner Jaillet got the win in goal with 27 saves.

St. Cloud State blasted Western Michigan 7-0, sending the red-hot Broncos to just a second loss in 11 games. Western had been 7-1-2 over ten games, an impressive run that came against some strong competition. But WMU had nothing for the Huskies Friday night. David Morley scored twice, while Joey Benik had four assists for SCSU while Charlie Lindgren pitched a 23-save shutout.

Game 23: UMD vs Bemidji State (North Star College Cup)

ST. PAUL -- The second annual North Star College Cup features a first-time participant.

Bemidji State wasn't here last year, just like UMD won't be here next year.

Coach Tom Serratore says he's excited, and he hopes his team's fans are, too. No matter how excited Beaver Nation is, don't expect a huge crowd for this first game. It's a 4pm local time start on a Friday, tickets are single-session both days, and traffic around here is supposedly going to be the epitome of awfulness all weekend.

We'll see how that affects turnout.

Anyway, check out my game preview. Also, UMD had one male and one female nominated for the awesome Hockey Humanitarian Award. And Red Rock Radio signed on for two more years of UMD football and men's hockey coverage.

Lines?

Lines.

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

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Fons

BSU
Gerbrandt - Arentz - Parker
Fitzgerald (Leo) - Fitzgerald (Gerry) - Fitzgerald (Myles)
O'Connor - Ward - Harms
Marinaccio - Bauman - Brewer

Rendle - Windle
Beauvais - Prapavessis
Pedan - McCormack

Bitzer - Walsh - Mimmack

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bulldogs Venture Out of NCHC to Battle 'Baby Geniuses,' Bemidji State, at North Star College Cup

For UMD, it's time to put last weekend's disappointment in the rear-view mirror.

One point against Western Michigan? Sucks, but it's time to move on.

A new challenge awaits, as the Bulldogs head to XCel Energy Center for a Friday date with Bemidji State in the North Star College Cup.

Head coach Scott Sandelin has been quick this week to point out that this isn't the Bemidji State that Bulldog fans are used to seeing. Virtually gone are the days where it seemed a good hockey play for the Beavers was "chip the puck off the glass and hope someone beats an opponent to it."

That said, you're dead wrong if you don't think Tom Serratore's team will work hard in every game it plays. It's just that the Beavers aren't as big as Western Michigan, last week's difficult opponent. That doesn't mean anything will come easier for UMD. It means this game will be different, no matter how many similarities exist in the teams' styles.

"They don't have the size that Western does," Sandelin said this week. "They're a different team this year. They've got a little more skill, trying to play a different game themselves. But they've always been good defensively. They always work hard. They compete extremely hard."

"They're probably one of the hardest working teams in the nation," senior forward Justin Crandall said. "It's a team you want to get off to a good start against."
"Overall, I like our team," Serratore said. "I think we have a lot of good pieces in place."

Bemidji has plenty of youth. Of course, the way Serratore and his staff recruits, "younger players" are still 20. The Beavers had a seven-game losing streak in October and November, a frustrating run but one where Serratore was still not completely displeased.

"They kept their nose to the grindstone," he said, "and their work ethic never wavered. We were outshooting teams. I think over the course of the streak, five of the seven games we had more scoring chances. That's the picture you want to paint for your guys.

"We got out of it pretty good and had a little success."

However, Serratore says his team "took a step back" last weekend against Lake Superior State. In 1-0 and 4-2 losses, he said "our urgency was never there."

He said shot numbers on Friday (44 for his team) were inflated. Oh, and he wasn't happy with the net-front traffic.

"It's what I told our guys before the second game. 'I don't want you around the cage,'" Serratore said. "'I want you in front of the cage.' There's a difference. I thought we were just around the cage. This day and age, you have to manufacture offense any way you can."

Bemidji State has always been good at this, and I would expect it to be better on Friday. They'll get their noses dirty and make UMD outwork them to stop them from getting second or third chances on the Bulldog net.

They'll also reunite their triplet line.

Yes, BSU has a triplet line.

Not just any ol' triplets.

Myles, Leo, and Gerry Fitzgerald are freshmen for Bemidji State. They're not the biggest guys, but they lit up the BCHL last year and they have played well for Serratore so far. They got a little bit of buzz when they committed because of their background. The three appeared in the 1999 blockbuster hit movie "Baby Geniuses" with such luminaries as Dom Delouise and Kathleen Turner.

Gerry has played in every game, while Myles has missed two and Leo seven. They've combined for eight goals (Myles has four), 16 assists (Gerry has eight), and 24 points (Gerry leads the trio with 11). Myles missed last weekend, but all three should be in the lineup Friday. It's a play-by-play guy's dream nightmare.

"They're fun players," Serratore said. "They're clever out there. They skate. They compete. We're fortunate to have them. I think their body of work over the course of four years is going to be pretty exciting."

(At least Serratore said the plan is to keep them on the same line, as they were before Myles was injured. Or was it Gerry who was injured? Or Leo? Great, I'm already mixing them up and it's not even gametime yet.)

It's a similar game plan that we expect UMD to employ. Sandelin has made it clear this week that he wasn't happy with the missed scoring opportunities his team had against Western Michigan. The Broncos don't give the opponent much, and when the door was open last week, UMD didn't take full advantage nearly as often as necessary.

"We left some chances out there," Sandelin said.

The fact UMD led for exactly 0:00 out of the 125:00 played last weekend is a clear part of why the Bulldogs only got one point. I've seen UMD sweep series that they never led in (overtime goals to win games that were either tied or saw the opponent ahead the entire time prior), but that wasn't the ideal opponent for testing that kind of strategy.

This isn't, either. UMD has to get out to a lead, no matter what the pace of play is. That can't be an excuse. The Bulldogs have to bear down in the offensive zone, get pucks and bodies to the net, and bang away for second chance opportunities. Michael Bitzer and Andrew Walsh have been solid in goal for Bemidji, but neither has dazzled. Throw in seven empty-net goals allowed late in games, and BSU's team save percentage is a pedestrian .894. UMD needs to drive the net and pounce on pucks. Play with pace and wear down Bemidji State.

At the other end of the rink, UMD has to manage the puck better. There have been too many own-zone turnovers in the last few games, and there's no question those turnovers and defensive play that isn't as good as it was overall are big reasons why freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo has a .865 save percentage in his last five starts. It's absolutely not all on him, and that number won't improve without a better team effort in front of the goalie.

As the season goes on, it will be harder to score, not easier. The teams that best do the little things will be the successful teams.

******

One interesting nugget in the tournament format this year is this: Last year's UMD-Minnesota shootout for the NSCC championship will not be repeated.

Tournament organizers have decided to go with NCAA Tournament overtime rules for the championship game of this event. That allows for 20-minute overtimes as we keep playing until someone puts the puck in the net.

Sandelin said he didn't know about it until this week. Neither did the rest of us.

"Last year's game, how could you not want to keep playing?," Sandelin said. "The kids want to decide it the right way, I think. It's good."

Asked if he's concerned about continuous overtime in a midseason tournament, Sandelin quipped, "If it goes too long we'll just give them two days off (during the week)."

"That's awesome," Crandall said. "I think I'm one of the advocates for doing that all year. You only play two games on a weekend.

"I think we were all pretty unsatisfied, including the fans, last year, having a great hockey game ending in a shootout. Hopefully it doesn't get there, but if it does, that will be a little bit better for everybody."

UMD's Adam Krause, Zoe Hickel Nominated for Hockey Humanitarian Award

This is a big deal.

15 nominees for the prestigious Hockey Humanitarian Award were announced Thursday.

UMD has two of them.

Men's hockey captain Adam Krause of Hermantown and women's co-captain Zoe Hickel are on the list of nominees for the award, which recognizes "college hockey’s finest citizen – a student-athlete who makes significant contributions not only to his or her team, but also to the community-at-large through leadership in volunteerism."

Krause also earned a nomination this week for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. Unlike that award, this particular honor is not exclusive to seniors. The 15 finalists include 11 seniors, three juniors, and a sophomore.

Both Hickel -- who hails from Anchorage and has developed into one of UMD's top players over her time at the school -- and Krause are active in the community. Frankly, you couldn't draw up two better representatives for the UMD Bulldogs. They're good with kids, good with the media, and obviously recognized by their teammates as great leaders in the room and on the ice.

The Hockey Humanitarian Award will pare down to five finalists in February, with the winner announced April 10 in conjunction with the Frozen Four in Boston.

UMD and Wisconsin (Brittany Ammerman and Joel Rumpel) lead the way with two nominees each.

Red Rock Radio, UMD Extend Radio Partnership Through 2016-17

Happy to announce that UMD football and men's hockey will be staying with Red Rock Radio through the 2016-17 athletic season.

Please see the below for more information.
Red Rock Radio and the University of Minnesota Duluth are proud to announce the extension of their radio rights contract. Red Rock Radio and UMD have signed a two-year extension, keeping rights for UMD football and men’s hockey radio coverage with Red Rock Radio until the end of the 2016-17 athletic season.

“We're very excited that we were able to come to terms with UMD for another two-year sports agreement,” said Shawn Skramstad, President of Red Rock Radio. “We have had a very good working relationship with the college and are delighted to be able to bring all of UMD's football and men's hockey action to the Northland.”

The deal continues a relationship that first began in the fall of 2009. UMD football coverage airs on KQDS-AM “The Fan 1490,” while men’s hockey is found in the Duluth area on KZIO-FM 94.1 (“94X”). Games also air on a recently-expanded network throughout northeast Minnesota, with games on KBAJ-FM 105.5 (Deer River/Grand Rapids), KAOD-FM 106.7 (Babbitt/Ely), KKIN-AM 930 (Aitkin), and WXCX-FM 105.7 (Pine City/Siren).

“It’s great that we’ve come to this agreement,” stated Bruce Ciskie, Sports Director for Red Rock Radio and play-by-play voice of UMD men’s hockey. “I’ve had a great time working with UMD all these years, and I’m excited to continue what I think has been a great relationship for everyone involved, including Bulldog fans all over the Northland.”

In addition to continuing to air UMD men’s hockey and football, Red Rock Radio will continue to air the Bulldog Blitz Thursdays on the KQ Morning Show (KQDS-FM 94.9) and The Fan 1490 between August and April.

"UMD Athletics is very pleased to extend our partnership with the Red Rock family of radio stations to bring the Bulldog Men's Hockey and Football broadcasts to more stations and more of Bulldog Country than ever before.  In addition, we are excited about the expanded the Bulldog Blitz coach and student athlete weekly spotlight to both KQ Morning Show and The Fan 1490. We look forward to continuing to grow this strong partnership." said Josh Berlo, UMD Athletic Director.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Struggle With Broncos, Settle For Single Point

Not the best weekend for our favorite college hockey team. I knew it would be a struggle with a big, tough, and deceptively-skilled Western Michigan group. But a number of factors made it a bigger struggle than even I thought it would be.
  • Western Michigan stuck to its game plan and played very well. While UMD was largely burned by "older guys" throughout the weekend (Nolan LaPorte and Colton Hargrove did a ton of damage), Andy Murray was able to get quality shifts from younger guys like freshman Frederik Tiffels and defenseman Matt Stewart. Goalie Lukas Hafner was rock-solid. It was a 20-man effort for the Broncos, and it was an impressive one. Credit where it's due. That's how we roll around here.
  • (It's also not a stretch to give that credit. Western is 7-1-2 over its last ten games. Murray has them positioned to make a lot of noise in the second half of the season.)
  • UMD missed a number of opportunities, especially with three empty power play chances on Saturday in the second period. Two of those overlapped by a couple seconds, giving UMD 3:58 of contiguous power play time with no goals. The power play is now four for its last 38 going back to before Christmas. 
  • The Bulldogs failed to lead for even one second against WMU. Considering how tough the Broncos are in their own zone and how adept they are at taking room away from opponents, it's just too difficult to get into the pace game UMD wants to play without getting a lead. There's nothing to "suck" Western Michigan into that style when what the Broncos are doing is working as well as it was over the weekend.
  • UMD goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo is struggling a bit. No time for panic on this, but we'll have more on it in a moment.
Back to the beginning. Start this by giving Western Michigan credit. LaPorte shook off an obvious knee injury to score once Friday and add the shootout winner. Hargrove scored twice Saturday, once off a bad and wholly uncharacteristic Andy Welinski turnover that he turned into a goal with a wicked wrist shot, and the other on an unreal bank shot into the empty net.

When I chatted with Murray during the week, he noted that he had a lot of young players, but it was his upperclassmen carrying a lot of the water over the weekend. That's how it should be for everyone. You'll notice that UMD teams that relied too much on freshmen weren't as successful as those that had a good mix of classes with the older guys doing the bulk of the work.

The Bulldogs need to do a better job around the net. Whether it's screening goalies or driving the net to get after loose pucks, UMD isn't quite as effective as it could be. This team is not built on pure goal-scoring talent. UMD wants to play a pace game, wear down opponents, and score goals by driving the net and making life difficult on defensemen and goalies. Not having the goal-scoring leader, sophomore Dominic Toninato, in the lineup Saturday because of an NCHC suspension exasperated the problem, because it put more of a premium on getting to the net and breaking down Western's strong team defense. When that didn't happen, UMD was in a lot of trouble.

The power play looked better at times this weekend after some tweaks were made during the week. I know the coaching staff is frustrated with the lack of production as of late, but I doubt we'll see a ton more changes there immediately. At least some of the things they tried were working in a small sample. Might be worth it to stick with this plan against Bemidji on Friday and see how it goes.

******

To me, one of the biggest stories this season has been Kaskisuo. Just last week, coach Scott Sandelin talked about how he stepped in and solidified such a position of need for his team.

"We knew Aaron Crandall was leaving, and we identified him, and he's had a pretty good year," Sandelin said. "He's got a long way to go. He's certainly stabilized that position."

Kaskisuo had some huge games early in the season for UMD. He played very well in a win at now-No. 1 Minnesota State in October, and he was superb when tested in back-to-back wins over then-No. 1 Minnesota in November. His numbers were great for a while, but they've tailed off lately.

In Kaskisuo's last five starts, he has stopped 90 of 104 shots for a save percentage of .865. That's dropped his season number to .914 for a peak in the low-.920s earlier in the season.

It's far from panic time. However, UMD needs Kaskisuo to get back to the form he showed in the fall, or at least get close to that. I don't know if a night off is in his future, but I do know that backup Matt McNeely played well enough at Michigan Tech and then at Lakehead to earn a chance if it comes to that.

******

The North Star College Cup is this week at XCel Energy Center in St. Paul. Outside of small crowds for the afternoon games, the event was a success last year, and I'm sure there's optimism for better ticket sales this year, given Minnesota isn't playing in an outdoor game the week before the tournament this time around.

UMD will take on Bemidji State (7-12-3) Friday afternoon, while Minnesota and Minnesota State clash Friday night. You know the drill on Saturday.

The Beavers are off a sweep at the hands of Lake Superior State over the weekend. On Friday, the Lakers scored a power-play goal with one second left to beat BSU 1-0. Saturday, Lake State jumped to a 4-0 lead and won 4-2.

Bemidji is 2-2 against the NCHC this season, thanks to splits against North Dakota and St. Cloud State. No secrets here: Bemidji will work hard, and they have some skill with Cory Ward and the Fitzgerald twins. UMD will need to be ready, because it can ill afford to let this winless run hit four games on Friday.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Game 22: Western Michigan at UMD

Here we go with Game 2.

Lines?

Lines.

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

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Fons

WMU
Osborn - Pitt - Tiffels
Kovacs - Kessel - Muir
McKee - Nong-Lambert - Hadley
Hargrove - Dries - Laporte

Dienes - Fleming
Goff - Moldenhauer
Stewart - Morrison

Slubowski - Hafner

(Western Michigan does not list goalies by who is starting. I'm assuming it'll be Hafner until proven wrong.) 

Dominic Toninato Suspended by NCHC

The NCHC has suspended UMD sophomore forward Dominic Toninato for Saturday's series finale against Western Michigan as a result of his knee-on-knee hit to Nolan LaPorte of Western Michigan Friday night.

Here is the relevant portion of the league's statement from earlier Saturday (UNO's Brian O'Rourke got a two-game ban for a hit to head against Colorado College, but I'm not including that in this copy/paste).
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) has issued suspensions to both Omaha senior defenseman Brian O’Rourke and Minnesota Duluth sophomore forward Dominic Toninato, in accordance with the conference’s supplemental discipline policy, the NCHC announced Saturday, Jan. 17. The suspensions stem from illegal hits during their respective games on Friday, Jan. 16.

Toninato was suspended one game following a review of the play in which knee-on-knee contact was made with a Western Michigan player at 13:31 of the first period of Friday’s game with the Broncos. Toninato was issued a five-minute major for kneeing on the play. He will be required to serve the suspension during Saturday’s series finale with WMU and is eligible to return next weekend, Jan. 23 against Bemidji State in the North Star College Cup.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Battles Back for Tie

Well, that was as advertised. It looked like there was nothing fun at all about playing that game.

My job is awesome, but that was about as much fun as going to the dentist. And no one hit me during the game.

Quick blog because we have a busy day at a youth hockey tournament Saturday. More thoughts on Twitter @bruceciskie.

Western Michigan isn't a flashy team. The Broncos work hard, sell out for their system, and just don't give their opponents much.

And for the first period, UMD didn't get much of anything.

The Broncos used a Dominic Toninato kneeing major to get a 2-0 lead late in the first. Toninato wasn't ejected for the hit. Live action with no replay, I agreed with the call. I'll stand by that. Sad thing it wasn't the dumbest penalty we took on the night.

UMD needs to get back to good discipline. As analyst Lee Davidson pointed out in the postgame, this wasn't a physical enough game for the penalties that were taken. It might have been frustration or something else, but the Bulldogs have to play their game, no matter how difficult it might be to get that going.

I expect UMD to be sharper on Saturday, which will hopefully lead to more pucks to Lukas Hafner, the Western Michigan goalie who played quite well on Friday.

The Bulldogs battled back again after trailing 2-0. Defenseman Brenden Kotyk scored his first career goal in the second period on a short UMD power play, then his point shot was headed in by Justin Crandall to tie the game in the third.

(Yes, headed.)

Kotyk played his best game for UMD. Hopefully there's more of that to come. He was great in all phases, and if he can continue to emerge, it will do a lot to strengthen UMD's defensive depth.

Western's shootout win was buzzkill, but I'm not turning down that point.

That'll be all for now. UMD is third in the PairWise as we shut down for the evening. I don't expect the UAF-UAA game to have a big impact on it.

Again, more thoughts on Twitter as I have time Saturday, so give that a follow if you haven't already.